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They are so wide, his hands, like honey

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They are so wide, his hands, when he spreads them,
his knuckles are knobby, but smooth

The way the paint has caked outlines his fingerprints
He wasn't even using that color today...
How old is that?


A smooth vein in his forearm;
he's got... what is that smudge
Is that a yellow or is that gold?
you swear it's like sparkling….
what is this, arts and crafts?
he is very messy


his wrists have that notch

That notch is everything
it is the air in my lungs

It is very pronounced—
maybe because his palms are so wide,
but his arms are so lean?

Long, thin fingers
almost feminine, 
but decidedly not .

the tips are stubbly.
they are masculine fingertips
on, yes, long, and elegant fingers.

Not skeletal or arthritic,
or too thick, or chubby

but there are callouses

The way fingers should be
index and thumb knuckles
holding brushes, pens, pencils—
charcoal smudges at the corner of his temple
where he wiped his face
with the back of his hand
deepening the shadows that
flit across when the tendons flex

He is very focused.
He has work to do.


Squinting just slightly,

sitting too close to his work

The way his thumb beats against the page.
Little frustrated rhythms.
He does not notice it.

An elbow propping his head up,
fist curled under his chin

his elbow juts out just
a little too awkwardly.

Tapping the tip of a single foot
in some half-remembered rhythm
only he could identify
Humming breaths of a tune, absently


He clenches his jaw,
not even realizing how tight
he's holding his teeth together,
until the fine work is complete.
He puts the back of his hand against his mouth.


A quick flash of the crinkling
at the corners of his eyes, a single exhale,
something amusing to him….
Rolling his shoulders back—not a full stretch

he tilts his torso a little,
just right and left,
his lower back pops
he is frustrated when one side
goes and the other doesn't.

thumb pressed to his slightly parted lips
tapping at the lower one with a furrowed brow—
Licking his lips distractedly .

 

he leans back in to add the detail.
his other forearm draped to hold the work in place.
his knee jiggles under the table

lips settling, but not quite closed,
the wet shine barely noticeable
Eyes close, rolling his head back on his neck 
before falling back into his trance again


his hand stretches as he tilts the work,
turning it round to mirror the detailing on this side.
spread firmly in place
his fingers press


He cracks his pinky knuckle
but not the rest....
How can he stop at just the one?


Well he tries, for a while. He doesn't feel
like he needs to crack the others.
Habit.
But then, not trying,
just distractedly, he tests the others.


The
tiniest whisper of a smile 
just grazing the corner of his mouth,
an almost upward-curl

The ring finger on his right hand goes, the others don't.

 

"Tsk—"
And he moves to smudge a line he didn't like

It makes it worse.

Clicking his tongue against his teeth
irksome, but patient

He touches his thumb to the middle of his head,
presses for a moment

Tracing the half-crescent scar on his brow, briefly

then he brings the thumb down to his tongue

Rolling it over the very edge of the nail. That split never quite smoothed,
so his tongue finds it by habit

Sucking—quick, unthinking
—the tip of the thumb

A sudden low chuckle,
deep and teasing in the back of his throat
A brow quirked in amused query

he breathes in on the end of his own laugh,
the snort shaking his shoulders

And his pencil slips
another long, marring scratch across the paper
but he just smirks wryly

there's just a hint of a wrinkle between his brows.
just a ghost of irritation behind his interest.

Then a soft sigh...
such a little thing in so much time....
nothing to fluster over

He has had such mishaps before.
there is experience here, to guide him.
he knows a trick, or two.
he knows what to do.

A small nod, as if to himself...
patience, he's worked so hard master

to achieve the desired effect.

And what effect would that be, Hahren?

A curve here…
The particular drape of the cloth, here;
Movement suggesting its sheerness

Hints with playful shadows—
Almost youthful, the way he plays with the shading


He passes a knuckle over his bottom lip.
Rubs over and back,
Slow.

Coming on an idea,
the knuckle drags lightly up to his top lip,
tap-taps there
he nods to himself

A sudden glance up at the sound of a raven shifting,
Just the flash of sea-storm grey and ice blue,
raised to the birds and a loose feather fluttering down,
landing in the center of his work
before dropping his eyes again,
a small smile at the blue-black plume

a slow, even breath

Sudden, violent sneeze
(he's allergic to the birds)


A call of "Maker bless!"
from up in the tower

A soft hum of gratitude, loud enough to carry

pinching a cloth in his finger and thumb,
he raises it just to touch under his nose

A small cold breeze, wind slipping through
the loosely hung wooden door

he doesn't need it,

(gods don't get runny noses)

 

but he is fussy about making certain

Old habits and all....
He finds a lot of them, lately

It makes him feel closer to them.

Knee-jerk reactions—
unnecessary now in this foggy world

He has caught himself mirroring, on occasion,
the way one of them sits
or crosses their legs
around the campfire

Hand hovering near his face

unintentionally.

Until he realizes
folding them back in his lap….
Sketching the movement the fire gives their skin
even though they often sit still and silent,
lost in their thoughts

 

It is like this way. He had forgotten.
Being around other people.
Their impressions.
Influences.
On movement.

before a comment stirs them,
or a bottle is passed around

The way they react to one another.
The way their bodies mimic
a gesture
a shift of weight

Child-like in their shamelessness, unaware of their own dance

 

He leans over the work

Watching one touch another so casually,
just fingertips under an elbow

The transfer of touch

Like their movements don't ripple out into the air,
Oblivious, child-things….
When did he grow so old?

he does not notice he has picked up the pen.
it fiddles in the grip of his pointer and middle fingers
tapping
balanced between his knuckles
stained with paint

 

Do they notice how nervous they make him?
They're so fragile and fleeting,
so he tries to keep his distance....

He puts the paper between himself and their bodies
and the way their movements beckon

Their body-heat seeps through
.
He can see the flutter of their pulses
at their throats, hear their hearts sputter
and slow, even out...
So alive...how could he forget how alive?

 

The study: the sketching;
what is meant to make them easy to see
makes them real instead.

Their every emotion flashing across their faces
—if only for a moment

He is not like that.
He is careful.
Has grown careful.
Has been made careful.

He wonders if he even remembers how to be at ease.
They think him so indifferent, always sleeping—even then,
he struggles to loosen his muscles, settle into sleep
How could they think otherwise?


He looks at the work. 
Can he really salvage it, with the mark cut through?

Does it matter?
It was merely a diversion.
Something to concentrate on...

He had been certain
he could correct the mistake, at first.
But the marring is too deep.
It would take time.
And energy.


He pulls away from the project, the necessity of it.
He is tired.

He is always tired.

And then, not from
that bone-deep exhaustion,
but just by force of habit,
he yawns.


One of them glances at him, surprised
,
as if they had forgotten he could move .

They yawn as well

And he...chuckles—despite himself
More mirroring

The paper is not a shield against them,
nor alchemy to render them inert and safe
and solid.

He is here with them.


His hands close, his fingers
stroking the insides of his palms, unthinking twitch.

He feels a panic raise in his throat
suddenly wanting to gasp for air

his tongue feels like a heavy weight
falling back, choking down his throat.

 

And then contact—
A hand between his shoulder-blades

He tenses reflexively

barely-there pressure,
and then the sound of a slow, deliberate inhale
like one would show a child
how to calm themselves

 

He grimaces, so that he will not cry.

He mirrors, once again

A ridiculous urge.

Slow, steady inhale

his chest, stomach rise
and fall

if he closes his eyes,
he can hide the shaky sound

He shifts, just slightly away.

The hand withdraws, 
an obvious flinch, wounded feelings…

He centers his own panic,
resolves and tucks it firmly, now, away.
Turns back.

There will be a kernel of strain
within him, until he can meditate.
Enter the Fade
and ease back into his most comfortable
version of himself.


He offers a curt thanks—

A tension, while he hides it.
He is always tense around them.
He is always tired.

A weak, half-attempted bow,
slight bend at the waist,
then laces his fingers behind him again—
straightening his shoulders,
breathing is easier….


He adjusts, just a little.
Lifts his shoulders up, back, and down.
His nail on one finger chips
at the paint dried on another

His disguise is easier some days
but tonight it's heavier

Why?

A volcano can play at a mountain for millennia...
But the pressure always builds

Natural shifts.


And he cannot bear the constant,
ceaseless sensation of...homelessness
Like a refugee, alone in a foreign land.
Nothing to cling to….
No home or hearth, no comfort to calm him.
Just his duty,
and sleep... slipping back over the veil

It is there he feels the weight lift.
Or... shift.
It has always been easier there.

Though, the Fade is now reminiscent of a warm bath
that, while not yet cold,
is no longer the right temperature.
Nevertheless, a warm bath in a foreign land....
And an old friend or two, perhaps,
if they seek him out.

He tries to populate the world inside his mind
with old friends, spirits, but feels a yearning even so.
Then he thinks of them.
He has tried to settle into them,
against his better judgment.
After all,
he has been, at times, intrigued.

What were Cole's words, again?
Like counting birds against the sun....
Not what he has come to anticipate
from this muted reality—


He collects the paper.
The brushes. The ink.
This will get ruined, left here.

He could sob, if he let himself.
He mulls over the thought
for only a moment

Part of him finds relief in these small acts
of erasing his presence from their lives.

Not here, not now.
Protecting them, he thinks—

He knows what is best.

But, he knows...
he's protecting himself


He balances the items in his hands,
on his forearms
He almost lets the thought solidify, 
almost lets himself think the truth

Dispels it.
Focusing on the uneven binding of the paper,
the creased and soft-worn edges


What does he do when he hears them call him back?
He had meant to slip away unnoticed.
The pens, pencils, fall to the ground as he turns
bouncing almost without a sound
in the soft, loose earth
He spares them a brief, and vacant, look


A blanket
Offered by a nervous smile

"It's colder tonight than usual"


He shakes his head,
his chin just bobbing to one side
then
he swallows.
He does feel cold.

His hand is already moving to take it
He hadn't meant to—


The smile bent,
and is picking up the pens and pencils
—hair covering that smile

The heat from the nervous little thing still burning
where they brushed knuckles

They straighten and offer the fistful of implements….

The sensation burning like a hot coal, he hesitates;
they push his supplies into his hand, hurriedly—


He recoils—

Trying to rush off, head ducked

He hopes not too visibly

They don't seem to notice, 
won't raise their face.
Hiding behind a curtain of hair….


He feels ashamed now, too.
Or maybe that is the heat of the contact.
He is burning through his skin.
He is so cold.

Like a startled rabbit….

He has the blanket

It smells like wood smoke and Crystal Grace
and horse hay and hard sunshine….

Suddenly, he wants to wrap himself in it and
just lie alone,
not sleeping;
just looking at the stars and feeling the night.

He holds it to his face a moment too long

And then he feels it.
The itch to fall away in dreams.
The smell fades or he grows more used to it.
His fingers trace the weft of weave,
the ribs of hardy cloth.

The faint, weakly hopeful sensation eases

over the ache that he had grown used to,
nestled into the center of his chest.
Like honey on an aching throat.