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Poising

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After Dolly and his gang of policemen leave, the house is quiet for days. Thaniel suspects that won’t last. Six is working out the rules of this new arrangement— still helping Mori in the shop, still wary of asking for anything lest it come with strings attached. Her more exuberant moments occur outside. Thaniel can’t help thinking that under her too-adult skin, she has a little girl’s fear that if she breaks a single thing inside the workshop, she’ll be sent back to the workhouse. He’s not sure how to prove it isn’t true without destroying something himself, which he doesn’t want to resort to because the rules are undoubtedly different for adults. Mentions of elephant-proofing do not seem to impress her, although they do lead to a promise to take her to the zoo again soon.

Mori— Keita —does not have exuberant moments. Thaniel never expected him to. But the shade of his voice tints warmer from time to time, and sometimes he hums. Thaniel doesn’t recognize all of the tunes, and he hopes that he won’t for years.

Thaniel’s own happiness feels like a coat one size too large. It’s warm, and it’s comfortable, but every now and then he shifts and something drags, and the seams don’t line up with his body anymore. He suspects that in time, he will grow to fill it, but for now he can only wait for these moments to pass.

Some of the causes are large, obvious events. Like the afternoon when a man and woman visit the shop to purchase a grandfather clock for their new home together, an heirloom in the making. Thaniel can’t help but grate at the endless adoring repetitions of the words “my wife.” Others are small. Worst, because it’s most frequent, is the way that Keita’s eyes sometimes stray to cupboards or corners of the room, as if he expects to see movement where there’s only polished wood.

This, Thaniel thinks, he could do something about. He just isn’t sure if he should.

Mori doesn’t remember where Katsu is, but the man isn’t an idiot. He weighs probabilities on a daily basis, reacting in reverse. There’s no doubt that with just a little more information, he could piece together the full story of the day he almost died.

Despite knowing this, the idea doesn’t disappear. It itches at the fringes of Thaniel’s thoughts, working its way to the tip of his tongue at the most unexpected times. Sometimes he sees Keita look up at him with a guarded expression on his face, the kind Thaniel is learning means he’s in a moment of limbo, not entirely sure of what’s about to happen next or if he’s supposed to have responded to it already. And as Thaniel is often the only catalyst in the room, it follows that he must be so close to speaking that the watchmaker can sense the words.

 

In the end, it’s the diamonds that decide him. Not because he cares about the cost. It’s Keita’s money, and if he doesn’t mind losing it then there’s certainly nothing for Thaniel to say. But he’s fairly sure that the stones themselves are indestructible. They might shatter or chip, but it’s difficult to believe that even a blast of gunpowder could disintegrate them completely. He has hopes for the steel too, but the diamonds actually worry him. Sooner or later, someone will find them. The idea of a mad scramble of hopeful millionaires fighting over Katsu’s remains like so many vultures makes his heart twist. Even if he could convince himself that the little octopus was never more than a set of random actions in a cephalopod shell, it still seems like a disrespectful end for Mori’s clockwork.

He still doesn’t tell Keita. But he begins to visit the village to help sort through the remaining wreckage whenever he has the time. Even with the help of the unnatural rain that kept the fires from spreading, the damage is still impressive. More accurately it’s unnerving, thinking of what he could have been digging out of this forest of blackened wood and twisted metal.

He finds the remains of the elevator grille, and searches outwards from there.

The people he works alongside seem grateful for his help; any nationalists in the community are wisely laying low for the time being. It makes Thaniel feel like a fraud. He stopped Yuki because Mori put him there, not even as a solution but a third-string precaution, a side-effect of an entirely different, impulsive gift. Now he’s here for strictly selfish reasons of his own.

He doesn’t mention any of this, no matter how many shy smiles he’s given. He has a feeling that telling anyone outright that he’s fallen in love with Keita Mori and wants to watch his eyes light up when he brings him a small octopus would have far-reaching effects in the Japanese community, unrelated to the ridiculousness of the statement.

 

A few days later, and he’s beginning to feel he’s miscalculated. Maybe the cache has already been discovered, picked clean and carried away in evenings when most of the volunteers have gone home. Done in secret, so the finder didn’t have to share. That would make sense.

Then comes the morning that Mori wakes up next to him, and Thaniel sees the other man smiling and brushing tears away with the tips of his spindly fingers for no reason he seems consciously aware of.

Thaniel wants to look away, embarrassed by the expression in a way that makes no sense given the proximity of their sleep-heavy bodies, but Mori catches his hands and smiles, and he’s suddenly sure he knows what this day will bring.

He hesitates. It’s cowardly, and he’s not proud of himself, but the question spills out like ink soaking through a rag.

“If I do this—” (But it’s when, not if, and he knows it.) “—Do you think you could promise me not to ask too many questions? Or. No, you won’t have to. But at least say that you won't... do anything.” He’s aware that the request is damnably vague, like a morning fog that can’t stand up to the full heat of the sun. Or the intensity of Mori’s gaze, in this case.

“If you do this... I don't think I'll care to,” said Mori, in the sleepwalking tone of a man who is only half present in the conversation, and unsure what the topic is. “That is... I want very much…” His eyes go a bit hazy, confused.

Thaniel hates the half-spoken conversation. Keita trails off when he doesn’t respond and the momentum of the moment breaks down. He looks suddenly tired. Not angry, so this is better than Thaniel deserves. But not happy anymore either. He slips out of bed with his customary reserve fully back in place.

“I’ll be out for a few hours today,” Thaniel says, which is as much comfort as he can give in advance. He promises himself that he’ll do better later.

 

Katsu, it turns out, has not been blown into diamond-crusted bits. Thaniel shifts an especially long strut of timber and finds him flattened into the ground, but looking for all the world as though his mechanisms have just run down. He might even be fully intact, waiting for the chance to spring into action. Thaniel’s heart leaps, dazed with luck and happiness, and it’s fortunate that Katsu isn’t flesh and blood or the shock of being hoisted into the air so suddenly might well have been the last straw for him.

The steel casing that forms the little octopus’ body is sooty and star-scarred by the explosion, and his guts rattle ominously when Thaniel stoops to pick him up. His legs seem to have taken the brunt of the damage, they stretch and and dangle crazily from the safety of Thaniel’s arms. On closer examination he realizes that one of them is gone altogether, nowhere in sight in the nearby debris. But surely Keita can fix all of that.

“It’s all right,” he says, foolishly, as though the mechanical creature were an actual victim he’d dug out of the collapse. And, following up the pointless with the maudlin— “I’m sorry.” —and he thinks he may as well admit that in his eyes, Katsu is as real and as much Mori’s friend as any living thing could hope to be. “I’ll take you home.”

He walks there, almost oblivious to the curious stares of the other pedestrians whose Sunday best is a stark contrast to his own soot-covered appearance. Perhaps this is the price for living on Filigree Street, and now he’s doomed to stagger home covered in the dust and ash of at least one calamity per year.

He doesn’t really believe that, but he’d accept those terms if necessary.

“Almost there,” he tells his featherweight burden, and looks up the street just in time to see Keita open the front door for them, making the probable true at last.