[fic] Vagrant Story, "Upon a Winter's Eve"
Upon a Winter's Eve Sydney/Ashley Vagrant Story (Mostly?) Safe for work
Ashley rubs his hands together and dusts off some of the snow that has gathered on his gloves; it hands in the air before dispersing with the wind, and he sighs slightly at the movement, tilts his head back as the air fogs before his face.
His back gives a sudden stabbing pain that he doesn't respond to in movement, doesn't even let the pain show on his face. A moment later it lets up and there's a boy standing in the snow beside him.
"A cold day," Sydney says. "Very nearly a cold night."
"It is," Ashley says. "The snow's making for slow going; I won't be making it through the Rift any time soon."
"The Rift's always been hard going," Sydney agrees. "But should you make it through before it's too late, there is a town beyond where you should be able to rest up. A small town, but lacking most of the paranoia of its kind; the town's kept cooperation as an ideal since its founding. It's a wonder it's lasted so long."
"Aren't you the font of knowledge about it," Ashley says. He blows on his hands, cold even through his gloves; the childlike form beside him is underdressed, wearing the clothes a nobleman's child might at a summer estate. Sydney tilts his head, almost curiously, as if he were thinking over a reply to Ashley's words.
But he merely shakes his head, dismissively. "Press on, Riskbreaker," he says, and as the snow picks up and visibility dies, Sydney is gone again.
It's yet before midnight by the time Ashley comes within sight of the lights of a town, undoubtedly the town that Sydney had named before. The mountain looms in the distance behind it, and although Ashley is not suffering, exactly -- cold and tired and hungry, but not suffering and not likely to be endangered -- he thinks gratefully of an inn and a warm bed.
The night watch is on duty as he passes through the gate, and despite Sydney's earlier words he expects a certain amount of trouble for the hour of his arrival and his lack of provable identity.
"State your business."
"Pilgrim's journey to the mountain," Ashley says, and gently, subtly, begins to call on the Dark in order to make his words go down more smoothly, and to blur his own appearance in the guards' memories, so that once he passes he'll be just another traveler. "I was held up by the storm."
"It's a nasty one," one of the guards agree. "Where are you from, pilgrim?"
"Near Archades," Ashley says; it's far enough away from the truth to not bring up any associations, but still matches his accent.
"Quite a way aways," a guard says.
"Quite," Ashley agrees.
He doesn't volunteer any more, and after a moment, one of the guards gestures him through. "Saint Iocus watch your journey," he says.
"Ah," Ashley says, with a humour that he imagines the guards will think to come from the novelty of hearing a Valendian saint's name this far away. "And with you."
Ashley eats a plain but hearty meal of stew and bread served with ale, and enjoys it quite a bit; it warms him from the inside out. He keeps to himself, making vague pleasant small-talk with the server as she comes by -- the innkeeper's daughter, and flirting less than he'd expect from his experience with the kind; perhaps married already, perhaps uninterested in drawing the eye of a vagrant. Perhaps just satisfied with her life; most of them only flirt in the hopes of getting out of a future of serving. The fireplace chases the last of his cold away, and he retires to the room he's bought only a short while later.
As he is taking off his boots, movement catches his eye and he looks up to see Sydney sitting on the end of the bed.
"Something I should know?" Ashley asks.
"No," Sydney says. He sounds amused, perhaps a bit sardonic. "No plots against you, no ill intentions whispered on the wind, nobody to sell you out tonight."
"A good night, then," Ashley says, "compared to some."
"Aye," Sydney says. "A good night." He stretches, as though he were tired, and in the process he grows, changes, is a young man out of childhood but of indeterminate age otherwise, hair down, the blood on his back seeping through his coat. "Are you cold, Riskbreaker?"
"Somewhat," Ashley says. There is no fire in the room itself, and though he is content enough from the evening, the chill is seeping in again.
A corner of Sydney's lips twitches. "I cannot warm you."
"No," Ashley says. "But the blankets are heavy, by the look of them." He finishes undressing, and he goes to bed.
He opens his eyes in the dark some time later to find Sydney still there, leaning over him. Sydney's blood is dripping forward onto Ashley, because of how Sydney is sitting, and Ashley resists the urge to wipe it off entirely because he knows that the result will be the same either way.
"Can you not sleep?" Ashley asks, though he knows it's inane even as he does so.
"No," Sydney agrees; he doesn't seem to mind the question, at least. "I cannot sleep. Were you dreaming?"
"I don't recall."
"You must have been." Sydney puts a hand on Ashley's chest; his hand is flesh and blood. "Your eyes were moving."
"Then I must have been," Ashley says. "Did you want something?"
Sydney tilts his head, and there's a glimmer of fey in his dark eyes. "Yes," he says. "To dream with you."
It is a statement, but it is also a request; Ashley's back stings and he is not certain what it entails. Still, he says, "If you wish."
"Always a gentleman, Riskbreaker," Sydney says, and leans down. Ashley thinks, for a moment, that Sydney will kiss him; instead Sydney's forehead touches his own, and Ashley falls back asleep into a tumble of dream and nightmares intertwined: blood, pain, dragging himself through a city still rocked with tremors, his arms aching and unable to catch himself as he falls, uncertain why he cannot. Metal grating between doorways that will not stop him from passing through if he touches it. Whispers around him, moans and screams and beyond it all the most disconcerting: murmurs of discontent, nothing more than an inability to be satisfied. Ashley dreams of a sunlit day on a hill, and he dreams of dreaming about it, standing back to watch himself dream. He dreams of tracking a deer through a forest and firing on it, catching it between the shoulder blades to watch it fall. He dreams of green eyes and brown eyes and blue eyes, caught in glimpses between shadows so he cannot pick out individuals. He dreams of heroes and war; he dreams of sex with women and sex with men, turning his head aside from his partner to see a boy sitting in the window watching him and kicking his feet, and he feels ashamed. He dreams of candlelight and he dreams of fire.
Through it all, always of fire.
He wakes with the dawn and dresses without any particular hurry, a little bit slow, perhaps. He heads down to breakfast -- egg and sausage and bread served with beer -- and he watches the snow fall outside the window.
"Are you heading out to the mountain today?" the server asks, more with the tone of someone talking to keep herself awake than because she is interested in the answer.
Ashley considers it and finds himself unsure of his destination. "I think so," he says, and that seems to satisfy her.
It will do for himself as well, for now; he will intend to head for the mountain, and see where his steps may take him instead.