Feathers

Re: Feathers

Postby Niabh » Sat Nov 13, 2021 9:03 am

The stubbornness in him would not let her leave without an agreement—stubbornness, aye, but perhaps a touch of desperation, too, a child’s need to be reassured that what was promised would surely come to pass. That thought was all the kindness she could muster for him: that in the end, he could yield enough to admit a little vulnerability. Not that sympathy made this any easier, but it kept her from doing anything too reckless.

She gave a slow, silent nod of agreement before finally, irrevocably, she stepped away from him, her fingertips gliding down the side of his jaw until she could no longer reach. Her face was solemn, a little sad, the great black eyes as meltingly soft as a doe’s. The moment they disconnected, a sharp snap severed the air between them, nearly audible, a knot popping in the fire.

There might have been half a memory of her withdrawal from the room, a whisper of the glamoured gown slithering across the floor. Open your eyes: she was already gone. She might have never been there at all, only she left evidence: a white china cup smashed on the floor, the ghostly imprint of her skin against his, and a scarlet blouse, half-dried, hanging over the fire screen.

* * *


Out in the night, in the rain, she walked briskly but without urgency. The streets were empty this late; this was a decent part of town, where folks snuffed out their candles and went to bed after dark, and no one was about and carousing. There was no one to see a tall, striking woman whose hair and gown did not flatten in the downpour, who did not blink when the raindrops touched her eyelids. As she walked, her breath became harsher, her face harder, until finally she found a corner and threw herself into the black gap between a brick wall and a whitewashed fence and braced herself. Her head tipped back against the brick. She managed a laugh, but it hurt, tearing out of her chest as though ripping up roots.
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Re: Feathers

Postby Glenn » Tue Nov 16, 2021 9:10 am

Their in-person interactions could be counted upon with one hand, but each and every one was exhausting. In better times, they would try to fit in too much, something that might have been solved eventuality with regularity alone. Rarely was it better times however. Here she had been irrational, not in the sense of some sort of value judgment, but as something definitional. She defied ration. She defied reason. She had no footing. At times, in the heat of their conversation, he lost sight of this. That was the price of caring. It was the price of many things, a lifetime which had led to something somewhat less than reasonable in himself.

Point being, this had been exhausting in multiple ways and he sank down to the floor now, laying prone upon his back in the midst of the mess and unrest as only he could. "You can come out now, or come in. Unless she bound you three times over and turned you into a rock on top of that, not that anyone would well know the difference, there was no way that you weren't listening to that. It was your doing anyway." He extended his legs as far as they'd go (for the room was large enough and he small enough), though it took some maneuvering around the chair. Some but not much. "She'll be cross at you either way, but not nearly as cross as she is with me. We had one shot at that, Benedict, even if I bought us something else entirely, and obviously, obviously I couldn't do it without you."

He shut his eyes then for there was no point to them anymore this evening. He could speak and he could hear without looking at anything. Despite his fatigue he wasn't about to fall asleep. "There was enough lingering between us to get her here, to get her to leave his embrace and her blissful oblivion, but there was too much lingering between us for me to do a damn thing more once she got here. Not on my own at least."
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Re: Feathers

Postby Niabh » Tue Nov 16, 2021 12:53 pm

The only answer he received was rain gushing down the gutters, wind whistling faintly through the gaps in the window putty, the fire crackling in contentment to itself, and an oppressive silence that grew in weight the longer it went unbroken. Let it grow long enough and it could swell to fill a whole house, crowding out the occupants.

Then the raven fluttered up to the back of the chair, leaning forward to peer balefully at Glenn, with a click and a disapproving cluck. “Yeah, well what if I hadn’t been here, huh? You would’ve looked pretty foolish just now, lyin’ on the floor talkin’ to nothing.”

Not that it would have mattered. He remembered a joke the lady had made in better days, about how, if Glenn was on a roll, you could probably tiptoe out of the room and he would carry on talking, heedless that his audience had escaped. He tsk-tsked at the mess on the floor, which now included Glenn. The shiny white fragments interested him in spite of himself. He coasted down for a closer examination, strutting near Glenn’s feet.

“I was somewhere between paying attention to the important stuff and trying not to notice the rest. You two were gettin’ a little embarrassing.” The curved handle of the cup had survived unbroken. He set it aside for later procurement. “At least she talked. She wouldn’t’ve said all that if she’d known I was here, because I know her too well. I would’ve called her out.”

The raven made a neat circuit of Glenn's outline and fetched up right beside his face, trying to figure out just how awake he was. “She was tryin’ to wrangle a bargain out of you, and you didn’t bite. Good for you.”
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Re: Feathers

Postby Glenn » Tue Nov 16, 2021 1:41 pm

What if he hadn't really been there? That was the bird's question, and as he asked it, Burnie barely twitched. He may have groaned a bit, which was a good sign. It meant he was not just alive but probably awake. The groan turned into a throaty mumble. Something about duty and how Benedict would be shirking it if he hadn't been there. It wasn't the noise that the emissary would ever want to mimic, except, potentially, for the sheer challenge of it. No one would have recognized it as Glenn anyway, and he likely would have denied it if pressed.

That allowed the newcomer to press on, to mention how things had gotten fairly embarrassing at one point, at what a good thing it was that Burnie had actually gotten her to talk, and then finally, at how good a job he did avoiding a bargain. At the start of it, Glenn hadn't been looking in Benedict's direction at all. Thankfully, it had been three, separate, disparate, eye-rolling sentiments and at the end of the third, human eyes were staring askew at feathers, beak, and talons, blurrily and blearily enough that it wasn't the sort of gaze that might inspire paranoia in the smaller creature.

"Benedict," he began, as so often he did, "I am fatigued and exasperated, and as such, I will do something once, this once, and it will not be a precedent, and I think we'll never speak of it again," for it was another thing Glenn Burnie would deny. "I know well what bargain I made to but barely salvage this hopeless situation you put me in alone, but tell me, clearly and plainly, what bargain she was trying to wrangle and that I did not bite upon. For I have no idea of what you speak."
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Re: Feathers

Postby Niabh » Fri Nov 19, 2021 12:35 am

The room was thick with the dregs of glamourie. Or else it stank of it. He’d never paused to examine the blurring of those two senses; he had only the foggiest idea that anyone else might perceive them as separate. Had he only entered after the lady departed, he still would have known she had been there, as surely as if she had left a trace of perfume. No wonder Glenn had to have a little lie-down.

Glenn opened his eyes and the raven hopped back warily, then craned his ruffled neck forward again as if sniffing the man’s breath for alcohol. “A bargain? When did you bargain, the letter thing? That wasn’t a bargain. You came to an agreement. That’s entirely different. You can still break an agreement. Then you’re just a liar. Nah, she was trying to get you to keep quiet about the kid. She was fishin’ to make you promise or vow or swear, anything she could get her hooks into. If you’d done that, she could enforce it.”
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Re: Feathers

Postby Glenn » Fri Nov 19, 2021 1:36 am

Glenn listened. He'd asked the question after all, that rare question, the one that showed that he didn't understand something. At the end, it felt like a bit of a waste. Did that mean that there was little harm in it? Little harm in showing that he wasn't, couldn't even, be aware of everything all the time? No, no need to run wild here. There'd been enough of that and it caused such a lapse as much as anything else. "I see," was the first response, one of those responses that had meaning but mostly meant a chance to stall and gather one's thoughts more.

With a barely audible groan, he tried to sit up. The trial led to failure. The failure led to resignation. He'd stay on the ground a bit longer then. "It was all quite a bit, I admit, and it's hard to sort it all out as of yet. She has a way of ensuring the focus is on her and not anything around, child or no," said as if he'd normal focus on a child more than anything at all, hardly the truth and they both knew it. Still, sometimes even he would fall back to societal norms and values.

"How ironclad," carefully chosen or carelessly chosen, the word meant all the more given the context, "is the agreement she made when it came to the child, then? That felt like a bargain to me." It had been an impossible puzzle, the end to everything that they were or could have been. Yet he had found some way through it that was acceptable to all parties (and even as beneficial as possible to the mother, whether she knew it or not), even if it satisfied none. "It was the neatest bit of business I'd managed in quite a while, Benedict. And the only path forward for she and I together. I'd hate for it all have been a lie on either side."
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Re: Feathers

Postby Niabh » Fri Nov 19, 2021 7:25 am

By the raven’s count, this was the second time this evening Glenn had been blindsided by information…or at least, the second time he’d come right out and admitted it, which seemed a more alarming prospect than the first, if not exactly a surprising one, considering the lady’s performance.

Performance? The raven fluffed himself in rejection. Maybe it meant something that he’d jumped right to that word. While it was happening, it hadn’t seemed calculated. But then, it wouldn’t’ve, would it, if she was really on her game. He shivered again. If he kept up this back-and-forth, he’d end up just as spoggly as Glenn. Better to just answer the question, straightforward, as requested.

“As far as ironclad goes? Not at all. She didn’t swear, she didn’t promise. She said she’d heed you, but as far as that goes, that all depends on being honorable. As far as you two go?” The raven squinted at him. “She’s always played straight with you. This morning, I’d’ve told you she’s too far gone to dissemble, but she also wasn’t talkin’ then, so who even knows.”

And maybe that was the raven being more generous than realistic, offering the man a thin string of hope that all his machinations hadn’t been for nothing. Maybe under the circumstances, hope wasn’t as kind as it could have been. “I do not and will never understand exactly what is going on between you two, but I do know one thing: she told you the truth when she said you didn’t understand how bad she wants that kid. It all just felt like she gave up too easy.”

He sifted sadly through the broken shards of cup, with a desolate sort of obligation—as though he knew ravens should be fascinated by little crumbs of junk, but was only going through the motions for the sake of company. They tinkled as he scraped his claws through them. “She was right about one thing, though. I don’t think you need to get involved in this one. I thought you could talk some sense into her. Now I don’t know. I don’t know if you could stand up to her if it came down to something she really wanted. Look at you, man. You can’t even peel yourself off the floor right now.”

His head lifted in a particularly bleak, baleful look. "Was it, though? A lie on your side, I mean."
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Re: Feathers

Postby Glenn » Mon Nov 22, 2021 9:44 am

"It wasn't." That was the easy part, the easy truth. It came quickly, soundly, firmly. It she was hiding in the room beyond his ability to detect waiting to hear what he and Benedict would say, then she'd probably be pleased by the speed of the response, if not the response itself. There was no reason to think she was, but then there had been no reason to think a number of things before the raven had opened his beak. "No, I was completely genuine with her, absolutely genuine. That was the only way any of this was going to work. I wanted a path forward where we could continue having each other in our lives and in time, any sort of lie would have made that impossible."

That, in itself, that realization which he had already realized, even if his friend had not, gave him strength to sit up. "Listen close, Benedict, for this is a twisty path." And while it was tempting here to stare forward, eye to eye, fully focused, experience had taught him this would cause more distraction than an askew look, one that lingered but did not at all stay in any one place. "There's danger in a lie that is false for yourself and your wishes but truer to the world than what those wishes might be. She said it plain. Were she to continue her path, there was no point. There could be nothing further between us. She'd do us both a favor by ending things now without hesitation. That's not just saying goodbye and walking away; it's preventing me from speaking of things. It's eliminating the risk."

Past the first part, maybe it hadn't been twisty or windy at all. "That was the truth of it. If she wasn't willing to give this a shot, if she didn't think it was worth it to wait a time, to do things differently than she'd planned, to make a lifetime out of her satisfaction instead of a grabby moment, then she'd do better to eliminate the threat entirely. This half measure of getting me to agree? If it was with a lie, she'd see that lie in every moment. It'd turn our friendship to ash and in that case, better to just eliminate the threat of me more soundly." He ran both hands back past his palm and through his hair, shutting his eyes as he did. When he opened them, it was with a tiny smile. "Now, maybe a game of it, a jousting with me, the lie as an end and not a means, maybe that had a worth. Maybe she realized that she couldn't have me and the child, not on her timeline at least, and at least she'd have a game instead of me and the child, but i think we both know what she values and what she doesn't. If we speak of her as her own entity and not just as of her people, the game is a consolation prize that she would never choose over a deeper connection."
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Re: Feathers

Postby Niabh » Fri Nov 26, 2021 12:22 pm

It was hard to pinpoint the precise moment the raven’s eyes glazed over, or even if he had that ability in light of how his face was constructed. Maybe there was no visible outward change. All the raven knew was that whenever Glenn went on like this, it felt exactly like the first time he’d flown straight into a window—the dazed stupor, followed by wondering what the hell just happened; it seemed like the air slammed a door in his face. The memory set him swaying, punch-drunk. At the end of it, he shook himself and let out a tiny whistle.

“That path’s only about as twisty as you wanner make it, wanker.” No tone was flatter than an unamused raven trying to make a point. “I didn’t ask for your whole feckin’ thesis, I asked if you were hookin’ her along. I think you are greatly underestimating the ability of a Tuatha queen to live with a lie as long as it gets her what she wants.”

What did she want? She wanted the kid. Benedict was convinced of that, and not all convinced that she would simply give up that plan without a hellacious fuss solely on the basis of a little cuddling and not even a kiss at the end of it. She wanted Catch; she wanted to stay in his good graces. May the gods help them all, it actually seemed like she wanted Glenn, at least enough that she’d rather nudge him into trapping himself rather than twisting his arm—or simply getting rid of him, which was what the raven, hovering nervously in the shadows, had been afraid of witnessing. It had been a very near thing. But Glenn seemed more interested in the mechanics than the outcome, which infuriated and baffled Benedict.

The smile caught his attention; he mistrusted it at once. For safety’s sake, he left off trying to reassemble the cup and vaporized, a black swirl of smoke that regathered itself upon the arm of the chair, slightly above the level of an upright Glenn.

“I don’t know what you bought. Maybe a stall. Maybe she’ll go underground and come up with another plan. If she does, I know I’m out of it; she knows I’ll squeal now. Now is the time for me to be a good, quiet, obedient little birdie and deliver the letters without commentary, though I don’t even know if that’ll fool her for long. She’s pretty pissed with me. What do you want me to do?”

Tell me what to do. The very thing she told Glenn, the words that raised all the hackles on the raven’s neck. Powerful words. And she knew it.
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Re: Feathers

Postby Glenn » Wed Dec 01, 2021 4:59 am

"I was working out my thesis," Burnie retorted, though his tone was even-handed enough. It was a clarification that was also a difference of opinion, but it was done to instruct more so than argue, as if the bird simply might not realize that was what was happening, that it was what had been necessary. "There's a value in talking this through with someone. At the very least, it makes you feel less mad than talking to yourself. Oddly, writing to yourself doesn't raise that same stigma. It's all a bit capricious when you think of it."

Which led, of course, to a large yawn that he didn't even bother to try covering. Time had folded in upon itself and it had all taken a toll on him. It wasn't about refusing her. It wasn't about the power she brought to bear just by being herself. It wasn't even about the afflicted reactions he had experienced for much of the last few years, which apparently more or less abated since the experience with Catch. It was about the emotional weight of it all, but it was hard to explain that to anyone, Benedict, even himself, when there were such other obvious issues at play. He barely began to work through any of that in his own head when the second yawn came, followed by a little laugh and an arcing back of his head.

"I'll need a bit of distance from this all, to really examine it. Until you arrived, I hadn't figured she'd go to such lengths for a lie when there were far less painful truths. I still don't, but then she is capricious too, isn't she?" Finally, suddenly, alarmingly even, at least for small winged creatures who were prone to alarm as survival instincts, he sat up and dusted off his front, his chest and his knees, even though those hadn't been the parts touching the floor. They were just more accessible and it was some sort of ingrained social gesture. "There's only one thing to do though. I have to carry forward as if we were both acting in good faith. Even the doubt of it threatens to collapse the entire edifice. If it turns out that she's acting otherwise, there'll be signs of it and I'll spot them whether I want to or not. I won't actively go looking for them though."

That answered the question of what Burnie would do next, but then there was the question of Benedict. "Honestly, the moment for you to act was hours ago, minutes ago, however long ago it was that she and I were talking about this. There were bountiful windows of opportunity and you took none of them. I even mentioned you. That was a cue for you to enter. You and I together could have accomplished more, or at least more productive things, than what I did alone. Now? Now you can either retreat within yourself, which serves nothing, or you can redouble your undeniable proclivity for affronts. You love her. You like me. You are duty bound to her. We all want many of the same, positive things. If she won't trust you as her emissary, then be her friend. She has very few in this land."
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Re: Feathers

Postby Niabh » Mon Dec 06, 2021 9:05 am

“I know it was my cue,” replied the raven, all too calmly, “but I also figgered, she was right. That was between you and her, and it wasn’t fair for you to try to bring me into it. If something had come up where it was my place to step in, I would’ve. It’s just that that wasn’t.”

Glenn might have his arguments on that point but Benedict braced himself to hold firm to his instincts, setting both his gnarled feet firmly against the rippled upholstery and pointing his whole sharp face at Glenn in defiance.

“I don’t love her. She’s Queen. It doesn’t matter if I love her, like her, or hate her guts—she’s still Queen. That’s all she’ll ever be to me. Fortunately, as far as Queens go, she’s pretty likeable, so yeah, I like her a little, too. But it wouldn’t matter if I didn’t, see? It just makes my job a little easier that I do. You, meanwhile—you’re in a much better position than me. She likes you. For whatever reason, she listens to you—usually. I don’t know if she’ll listen to you on this one, though. But she still likes you well enough that she wants to keep you around. That’s the sort of thing you gotter put up with, with Queens; in the end, all they’re really doing is tolerating you. Until they don’t want to anymore.”

Glenn forgot. Maybe it was easier for him to forget; she wasn’t his queen, after all, and Glenn had always been rather casually dismissive of the whole queen thing, anyway. One had the feeling it wouldn’t matter if she was his queen or not, he’d treat her just the same. That idea kindled a little flame of memory for the raven.

“You know, she said once that she liked you because you treat everyone just the same. Granted, you treat ’em like shit, but I always got the feeling you treat everyone like the same kind of shit. Very democratic. She said she knew no matter what, you’d always be straight with her. And in this case, I’m not sure if it’s a good idea for the Queen of Cnoch-na-Niall to know that you’ll always be anything. Even honest. Then she can count on you keeping your word while she breaks hers.”

One would think that a raven, of all creatures, would be inured to being the bearer of bad news. Usually the news was never personal; there was always some distance. Here it was both personal and paired with helplessness. No matter what the outcome, he wouldn’t have much say in it. Well, say—he could say whatever he wanted. It was agency he lacked.

“Distance you bought. I think there’s still time on this, the whole kidnapping-the-kid part. I don’t know what sort of schedule she’s on, only she wants the kid before it gets too old. But that wasn’t even the main reason I was concerned; I just told you that part so’s you’d know everything that’s been going on. Mostly I’m concerned about her. She perked up with you. I’m afraid she’s gonner go right back to the big guy and fall asleep again.”
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Re: Feathers

Postby Glenn » Wed Dec 08, 2021 4:00 am

"You instigated the conversation, Benedict. You had a responsibility to be part of it. It cost you something professional and it cost me something personal." Obviously, there was no direct one to one comparison between the life of a raven messenger of the Tuatha court and a human who had befriended a Queen, but Burnie seemed more than willing to smooth out all differences and weigh them upon the scales of his own judgment.

Even that would be all too easy for the three of them. That had simply been him dragging the rock up the hill. Now it was time to push it off the other side. "Unless you're actually going to listen to me in the first place." He scooted a bit closer to the bird but had not advanced past a seated position. "Both of you are the only piece of your old lives that you have here. Had I not been in the mix at all, the two of you would have grown closer out of necessity. Oh, one might think that societal norms and propriety would have calcified your roles and you'd cling to the soulless rigidity of it all instead of one another, but this is Myrken and you'd both be too miserable for that. Instead, I gave an outlet for each of you to do anything but outwardly care for one another as actual sentient being instead of just symbolic entities. The time for that gilded, worthless, cowardly luxury has passed." Finally, he'd stare at his friend dead on, but only for a moment, only for long enough to say these next words. "You asked me what to do next. There it is. If you ignore me again, I'll tell you again."

Then he'd look away, though for whose sake would be anyone's guess, given the topic at hand. "I will be honest, and she knows this, only until I feel that the situation has changed to the point where whatever I said, whatever I felt, whatever I thought was right, and therefore was right, is no longer accurate. If she changes the playing field (and that's simply a metaphor; I don't see this as a game currently), then I will adapt accordingly." Benedict might not be able to read human faces well, but he knew voices, and knew this man's especially. If he knew what shame sounded like in Glenn Burnie's voice, he'd find none of it here. "As I said, she knows that. She'll count on my honesty to a point. She'll count on my stubbornness and assuredness even further. That might be more of a deterrence to her than a more formal binding."

When he stood, there was an air of finality to it. "So go back to her and stoke friendship by expressing your concern. Awake her interest by telling her everything I told you and all of your insights. Make amends by spying upon me for her. You have my permission. Don't tell her that part though."
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Re: Feathers

Postby Niabh » Fri Dec 24, 2021 7:25 am

“Some days I don’t even know who I’m spying on anymore,” the raven grumbled. “Don’t worry. I won’t tell her. I wouldn’t tell her that part even if you hadn’t said not to. Not worth my stringy neck.”

Glenn stood, and the raven’s sharp wedge face craned upward to follow him. The raven was a big bird; the size differential was approximately the same as between the Queen and Glenn, or at least it felt that way. Maybe it only felt that way because the raven was feeling the painful split between two masters. Turning against one to save her was not what ravens did. The Queen was the Queen, right or wrong. It wasn’t like there wasn’t a grand glorious history of mad Niall queens and the ravens who undoubtably served them in their madness. He assuaged the guilt by assuring himself that his Queen was only a little mad, and might be made better, and wasn’t a little disloyalty allowed, if it set things right again? The greater good, and all of that?

It didn’t help. His head sank forward, brooding, and he shifted from foot to foot in an agitated dance. He couldn’t help it. Queens would Queen, and ravens would raven, and his bird-body belied his ponderous thoughts with its twisting, fidgety movements and flutters.

“She doesn’t need me, though. And she definitely doesn’t need him, although that’s the last thing I’d like to say straight to her face right now. She needs you. You’re not her servant, and you’re not her master. You’re just…some wanker.” Drawing himself up to his not-inconsiderable size, his sharp head twisted to pierce Glenn with one grey eye, then the other. “You get that, right? You know what you mean to her. You two talk a lot of truth, I notice, but you dance around that one little thing. I asked you to talk to her because she wasn’t listening to me anymore. And it worked. She opened up. She was talking again, finally. How was I supposed to just jump in and maybe shut her up again?”
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Re: Feathers

Postby Glenn » Mon Dec 27, 2021 4:02 am

Returning was supposed to end this strange chapter in his life, or at least to bridge it forward into something new. There was the start of instructing children (children for the Niall to steal? Not when Gloria was through with them at least; he was tempted to teach them everything they needed to know to avoid such a fate but he had limited himself to cartography, and anyway, it'd be out of spite, a thing to look out for in the days to come given that necessity had prevented a full processing of his fairy queen's indirect betrayal. Necessity would force them all forward right until the point it didn't; a thought for tomorrow). He was, however, as isolated as ever. The locale had changed, the excuses had changed, but it was still the large bird and the even larger fetching fable that was his master. Many times over the last decade and a half had Burnie's grasp on reality been tenuous at best, and why not given the external and internal pressures this world had thrust upon him, but it was particularly skewed now. Even in Razasan, he had a day job, some semblance of normalcy to balance these obtuse fairyland follies. Now there was none of that and he was left with too much leisure time to grapple with this unlikely arrangement.

It had been a strange night and even his patience had started to fade. "I won't repeat why you were necessary again, Benedict. It'll do neither of us any good." That was said with a still and stilted freezing of his frame, for he knew the bird understood many a language that wasn't spoken. "Talking for the sake of talking may have been a wasted opportunity, a pried open door that shut a few more down the line. We'll see. I had to pay for her continued attention and her greedy little fingers will make that price high, hopefully not too high that she swallows me whole. For now, though, it'll be letters, and they're more my domain than hers. The ground her and make her real and tangible in a way she wasn't meant to be. Catch does the opposite, makes her ethereal more than she ought to be." A few sentences were all the time he could stay so cold to the raven; it was too exhausting an effort and his shoulders slumped with the release of the strain. "Look, go back there. Figure out if she's halted her plans for now like she said. Talk to her about where she can take me and what we can do when the time comes. Talk about whether anyone from home will be coming to see her. Talk about how she might raise the child in secret under Gloria's nose. Toss around whether or not I've forgiven her for plotting about with the child under MY nose or whether it's just festering inside me waiting to explode. I don't even know that answer yet, but if I have forgiven her, considering the concessions she's provided, well, then what does that say about me and her and everyone else? These are all good questions. Needle her with them. It's no less than she deserves and no less than she needs."
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