Mattan came into the sitting room where An and Belinda were talking. An jumped up to greet him.
“Mattan!” she said, and reached out her hands and took his. “Belinda and I had such a good time this morning.”
He smiled at her, holding her at arm’s length while he searched her face. “I’m glad,” he said. “It must have been good to get out.”
“It was, it was.”
Belinda smiled at both of them. “I’ve got to get back to work,” she said. “See you soon. Jasin will check in on you later.” She left, and An continued to smile at Mattan.
“I’m glad you’re here,” she said, “Though I wish . . .”
Suddenly her expression went blank, and she dropped to sit on an ottoman. “Oh.”
“What’s the matter, An?” Mattan asked. “Are you An?”
“It’s me, Mattan,” she said, and smiled. “Though the Other would probably say the same thing. But I just realized . . . I’m happy.” She shook her head. “I try to remember not to be happy if I can help it.”
“Anilyne, it’s all right,” Mattan said, helplessly. He placed his hand on her shoulder. She put up her own hand to clasp it. “We’re all here for you, watching out for you.”
“I know.” An looked down. “And don’t think I’m not grateful. But at the moment, I feel like I’ll never get to be alone again. I understand, really I do, but . . . “
Mattan started pacing, and An absently took off her necklace, and rubbed the back of her neck. “I need time to relax and recharge. Awake, preferably, not being made to sleep.”
“I know you hate that,” Mattan said. “This won’t go on forever, Ani-An. We’ll figure out something for you. I promise you this.”
“No, don’t promise,” An said, still looking down. “Don’t promise what you don’t understand.” She looked up, her expression cold and calculating. She stood up, and said, “Mattan.”
“Yes?” He turned to face at her, but before he could get a good look at her, she stepped up and hugged him close.
“There is not enough time,” she said. “I’ve got to take advantage of the time we have.” Then she kissed him.
Mattan gave a start of surprise, pulling back for a moment, before his arms went around her, as he returned the kiss.
“Ow! What on earth?” he suddenly exclaimed, pulling away from her. He put his hand on his back, and looked down in dawning horror at the knife in An’s left hand. “An, what have you done?”
An smirked at him for a moment, then her face went blank. She looked down at the knife like she’d never seen it before, then screamed, and threw it across the room. It hit the wall with a thump, and slid down behind a chair.
“I killed you! I killed you!” She began sobbing, dropping back down on the ottoman, curling up into a little ball.
Mattan stood frowning, his hand still on his back. Where had she gotten the knife from? He looked at his hand, then took off his jacket, and looked at the back of it, shaking his head. “Nothing makes any sense,” he muttered.
Then he realized that An was still sobbing on the ottoman.
“Anilyne, An,” he said, squatting down beside her, so his face was on her level. “It’s all right.”
“It can’t be all right. I killed you. I saw the knife in my hand.”
He put his hand on her shoulder. “It is all right, An. I’m not hurt at all. You didn’t injure me. Not even a scratch.”
She continued sobbing.
“Anilyne. An. Look at me,” he said. After a moment, she raised her head. “That’s better. Look here at my jacket.” He put it in her hands, and pointed to a new scratch on it. “See here? That’s all you did. It doesn’t even go all the way through the leather. That’s all. You didn’t hurt me.”
An grabbed the jacket tightly, and held it close as she burst into fresh sobs.
“Ok, that didn’t work,” Mattan said, with a little rueful laugh. He stood and stretched. “An, please give me my jacket back,” he told her, tugging on it slightly. She looked back up at him. “It’s all right, An. Let’s go sit on the couch. It’d be far more comfortable for me. And probably you, too.” He held out his hand to her.
An looked at it dumbly, then gave a quick nod, and took it, standing and stepping over to the couch. She sat down, and Mattan sat next to her, and put his arm around her shoulder, while she leaned on him, and continued to sob.
“Shush, shush, shush,” he said gently. “It’s all right. Everything is fine. Just relax.”
After a while, she stopped crying, and her breath gradually returned to normal.
“Mattan?” she said, her voice a little ragged.
“You really are all right? I didn’t hurt you?”
“I’m fine, Anilyne. Really. And it wasn’t you, I know that.”
She continued resting her head on his shoulder. After a moment, she gave a low chuckle.
“What is it?”
“I was just thinking. I slapped you, and you didn’t even speak to me for years. I tried to stab you, and you’re sitting here comforting me.”
He gave a wry smile. “It does seem disproportionate, doesn’t it? It’s all right, Anilyne. I understand now. I should have understood then.”
“An. And I know, Mattan.” She gave a small sigh, and snuggled in closer to him. “Thank you.”
“For what?” he asked. She didn’t answer. He looked down at her face, and saw that she was asleep. He sighed, and shifted a little, so he’d be more comfortable for the long haul. “Sleep well, my lovely one.”
Sometime later, Jasin found them like that. He sat down on the couch opposite them. “So, what is this?” he asked.
Mattan opened his eyes and looked over at him. “Hello, Jasin.”
“Belinda said she and An had a good time shopping this morning. That wear An out?”
“No, not entirely,” Mattan said, wearily. “It was the Other.”
“Again?” Jasin frowned. “The new necklace didn’t work?”
“Not so as you’d notice. Of course, it doesn’t help if she takes it off.”
“I suppose not,” Jasin said.
They sat in silence for a couple more minutes.
“Mattan,” Jasin said, hesitantly.
“I hate to ask this, considering how disastrously it turned out last time, and with everything else that is going on, but what are your intentions toward my sister?”
Mattan shook his head. “Wish I knew, Jasin.” He looked down at her sleeping face, and lightly pushed the hair out of her eyes. Jelana said, but never mind. I want to see her free of the Other before we do any other plans.” He sighed. “For now, I’m just going to stand by her and support her as best I can.” His voice sounded even wearier, if possible.
Jasin looked at him sympathetically. “Don’t wear yourself out,” he said. “You know we’re all going to do the same.”
“Begging your pardon, Jasin,” Mattan said, a harder edge to his voice, “but you have a wife, children, and they should come first. Must come first. And sometime you might have to protect them from her.”
Jasin stood and started pacing. “Don’t think I haven’t considered that,” he said grimly. “Belinda and I at least make sure that the girls are never alone with her. But they love An, even with the Other, and I’d hate to isolate her even further, until it’s absolutely necessary.”
Mattan nodded. “I know, Jasin. Thing is, I have no one depending on me. I don’t even have any commissions at the moment. Never thought me being alone would be an advantage. You’ve got your business, both businesses, lots of other things pressing on your time. And, for some reason, she trusts me. In spite of everything.”
Jasin nodded. “I’m glad she has you for a friend, Mattan,” he said. “but, are you going to stay just a friend?”
Mattan shook his head. “I hardly know, Jasin. You can’t build any sort of a future with someone if you’re afraid she’s going to stab you in the back at the first opportunity.”
Jasin thought a moment. “Are we talking metaphorical or literal stabbing?”
“The knife is behind that chair,” Mattan said, nodding to it. “She threw it there.”
“Dorst. Are you hurt? Should I call someone?”
“No, no, I’m fine,” Mattan said, shortly. “She didn’t even cut my jacket.”
“Then, why . . .” Jasin went and got down on his hands an knees, and got out his handkerchief, and pulled out the knife from under the chair.
“I don’t think that’s necessary, Jasin,” Mattan said. “We aren’t going to need to fingerprint it.”
“I was wondering more if there was a bit of magic on it.”
“A compulsion of some sort? That’s a thought, but I rather doubt it.”
“What could she have been after?” Jasin mused. “If An had really wanted to kill you, you’d be, well, hurt, anyway.”
“I don’t know. And the Other never surfaces long enough ask her.”
“Where did she get this?” Jasin asked, examining the knife closely. “It’s not one of ours.”
“How should I know?”
“I wonder . . .” Jasin said. “Could she have picked it up while she and Belinda were out this morning?”
Mattan looked down at An, as she opened her eyes and sat up. “Anilyne? How long have you been awake?”
“Not long.” She stretched. “Jasin, that’s not one of your knives?”
“No,” Jasin said, watching her intently. “Where did you get it from? Or where do you think you could have gotten it?”
“I don’t know, Jasin,” An said, frowning. “Belinda was with me the whole time. I would have thought that she would have seen if I had bought it or picked it up somewhere.”
“Was she?” Jasin said. “I’ll have to ask her what she remembers. But you didn’t have any blackouts, or grey outs? No times suddenly realizing that you were somewhere else? Not knowing how you got there?”
“Not . . . not while we were out,” An said, shivering. “Afterwards, with Mattan. But he must have told you about that.”
Jasin put out his hand and took hers. “Why don’t you tell me what happened, Sis.”
She sat back, and pulled away from Mattan slightly. “Belinda left, and Mattan and I were talking. I suddenly realized . . . I was happy. Had been most of the day. It scared me.” She shivered. “Suddenly everything turned bleak and worthless. And then went dark. I came back, and Mattan was holding my shoulders, and I was staring at that knife in my hand, knowing that I had used it.” She shuddered again. “Mattan,” she said, turning to look at him. “Are you sure you’re all right? I didn’t hurt you? I must have.”
“Anilyne, I’m fine. You didn’t touch me. Remember me showing you my jacket?”
She nodded. “May I see it again?”
He nodded to where it hung over the arm of the sofa, on the other side of her. “There it is.”
An picked it up and looked at it.
“See this scratch here?” he said, pointing to it. “That’s where your knife went.”
“Are you sure?” An said. “That doesn’t even go all the way through.”
“Exactly,” Mattan said. “You didn’t hurt me.”
Jasin took the jacket from An, and looked at it also, shaking his head.
“Anilyne,” Mattan began. “An, you don’t remember kissing me?”
“I kissed you?” she said. “Now that’s hardly fair! Why should the Other be the one to get to kiss you?”
“Anilyne,” Mattan said, hesitantly. “We could change that.”
Jasin cleared his throat. “I’m still here, you two.”
“It’s all right, Jasin,” An said. She took a deep breath. “Not now, Mattan.” She looked up at him. “Not that . . . When I kiss you, I want to make sure you know who you’re kissing.” She drew back from him a little. “And nothing is more likely to bring the Other to the surface than a kiss. I know this.”
Mattan put his hand on her shoulder. “I’m sorry, An,” he said.
She leaned back on his arm. “It’s all right, Mattan,” she said.
Jasin cleared his throat again. “Getting back to the knife, you two, I have an idea. If I may.”
“Of course, you may have all the ideas you wish,” Mattan said. “What is it?”
“An, can I look through your bag?”
She frowned at him. “That’s awfully personal. Why?”
“To check for a receipt.”
“You think the Other kept one? I’ll look.”
“No, An. It’s not that I don’t trust you, but,”
“I’m not the only one in here.” She closed her eyes and leaned back on Mattan further. He put his arm around her.
“Right. And the Other just might have. Since you always do, it might have been easier than getting you wondering why you were throwing it out.”
“Go ahead,” she said. “I really didn’t have much of a choice, did I?”
“I’d rather be polite,” Jasin said. “But, no.”
He picked up her bag, and opened the pocket where she kept her receipts, and pulled them out. There were only four there.
“There should be three,” An said, frowning. “I filed the rest away before I left home. Two tanks of gas and a meal. I don’t think I bought anything else.”
“Gas, meal, gas,” Jasin muttered, looking at them. “And a set of knives, apparently. Dated this morning.” He read it again, and paled. “Dorst. Double dorst. A set of twelve.”
Mattan looked from one to the other. “Anilyne, we’re going to have to get you out of here, and to somewhere safe. Now.”
Jasin jumped a little. “You’re right. I should have thought of that. An, you need to leave.”
He looked at Mattan. “Where will you take her?”
“Can’t think of anywhere safer than Daved’s woods. Can you?”
“Waitaminute, waitaminute, waitaminute, you two, what are you talking about?”
“The knives, An. Twelve of them. Well, eleven,” Jasin said. “Do you know where they are?”
“I didn’t even know I had one,” An said, nodding to the one on the table.
“They’re going to have to search for them,” Mattan said. “While I get you safely out of the way, where we know you won’t find one and use it.”
“We’re going to have to watch you even closer from now on,” Jasin said.
An made a face. “Might as well lock me in a box and throw away the key.”
Jasin protested, “No, we don’t want that, An.”
She shook her head. “Jasin, you can’t leave me free, either. Next time, I might do more than just scratch someone’s jacket.”
“It isn’t you, Anilyne,” Mattan said. “We know you’re not really doing this.”
“That doesn’t matter, now, does it?” An said. “Let’s just get going.”
* * *
An was silent on the drive up to Daved’s woods.
“What are you thinking, An?” Mattan asked at last, as they pulled into the parking lot.
“Three days ago, I drove all the way down here from Haranbeth. Three days! Things were bad, worse than I thought, even, but I had every thought that I’d be able to go on living an independent life. And now look at me! ‘We’ve got to watch An.’ ‘Got to take care of An.’ Either isolated, or no time to be alone.” She got out of the car. “Might as well have Jelana kill me now, because I don’t think I could stand another two years of this.” She slammed the door, and stomped off into the woods.
“Two days ago, you couldn’t even walk into the woods on your own,” Mattan muttered as he followed her. “Though I don’t know if being knifed in the back is any improvement.”
Jelana came out to meet them. “What’s wrong, An? What happened?”
“Ask him,” An said, gesturing over her shoulder. “I’m being brought out here for safe keeping.”
“And you’re angry.”
“No? Really? Of course I’m angry. I’m getting tired of being shoved aside like this.”
“Anilyne-An, you’ve got to understand,” Mattan said, as he came up to them.
“I do understand,” An said. “That doesn’t make things any easier.”
Jelana looked from on to the other. “What happened? Mattan?”
An stalked off further into the woods, Mattan started after her, but Jelana grabbed his arm. “Let her go, Mattan. Daved will tend to her. She won’t come to any harm.”
“She hates being ‘tended to’ at all,” Mattan said, coming back and sitting at a picnic table.
“And who can blame her?” Jelana said. “Mattan, what happened?”
He quickly told her what had happened that afternoon. “She didn’t hurt me,” he concluded. He took off his jacket, and showed Jelana the new scratch on the back of it.
Jelana lightly touched it, her face troubled. “And you brought her here because?”
“Jasin’s searching for the other knives, and we wanted her safe, and out of sight, while he did so.”
“She is safe here. Daved will keep her from hurting anyone. Or herself. But she had no choice in the matter? You see that? We’re doing to her the same thing that the Other is doing, leaving An helpless, powerless, choiceless.”
Mattan shook his head. “I’ve always seen Anilyne as strong,” he said. “How did this all happen so quickly?”
“It didn’t happen quickly, Mattan,” Jelana said. “It’s been a long time coming. You just haven’t been around to see it.”
Mattan shook his head again, and walked down to pace by the water’s edge.
* * *
An raced through the woods, unseeing, uncaring, until she reached the barbed wire fence on the other side. She looked out across the ditch to the road beyond, not really seeing it, not wanting to think.
“An, come back,” came Daved’s voice behind her. She turned, and saw him, or rather his puppet, standing there.
“Are you keeping me ‘safe’?” she asked.
“As much as I can,” Daved said. “Do not let your mind wander off like that. Are you not afraid that will leave an opening for the Other?”
“No,” An said, shaking her head. “It’s when I’m most involved when the Other comes. When I least want it to happen. Not that I ever want it to happen. When I’m involved, interested, . . . happy. Especially when I’m happen. Not when I’m alone. Or miserable.” She leaned against a tree trunk.
“You’re often alone, aren’t you, An?”
“I don’t mind being alone, usually. Though, lately . . . and now, I’m being watched constantly. For my own good. No time for me to sit back, think, refocus, get my energy back. I didn’t realize there was anything worse than being isolated.”
Daved stood watching here for a long time, by human terms. She gritted her teeth, and tried not to rush him.
“You are not angry,” he said at last. “You are afraid.”
“Afraid?” she came back to where he was standing. “Afraid?” She tried to think things over, but her mind was cloudy. “I could have killed Mattan today. I think the only reason I didn’t was that the Other didn’t really want me to. But next time . . . what will happen next time? It’ll go after someone else I–some one else important to me. Jasin, Belinda, my nieces.” She gave a tight smile. “Though that might be somewhat of a relief.”
“If I were to hurt Belinda, or the girls, Jasin would kill me. Then this would be over, and I’d be free.”
Daved looked at her again for a long time.
“You do not wish this,” he said at last.
“Wish? No, of course not. That would destroy Jasin. And everyone else. I don’t want that.” She sighed. “So, I’ll set myself be watched, kept company every waking moment. Probably every sleeping moment as well.” She shuddered. “To keep the rest of them safe. Because they are too kind to lock me in a box and throw away the key.”
“Is that what you wish?”
“Yes. No. It’d be easier. If I knew they were safe. If someone came and talked to me occasionally. If I knew I could harm no one but myself. And it wouldn’t last long. Not if I couldn’t get back here to have that magic drained off.”
“Is that what you wish?”
“Daved, what do you want from me?”
He stood blinking at her. “I want you to tell me what you wish?”
“What I wish? What, are you some sort of genie?”
“Genie?” He looked confused. “Never mind,” he said. “I shall ask Jelana to explain later. For now, what is it that you wish?”
“What do I wish? To be free of the Other. Even if it’s just for a couple of hours. To be able to look Mattan . . . anyone in the eyes without worry that things will go blank, and then I’ll suddenly see disgust, or pity, in them. Without fear that I’ll stab him in the back. To be . . . to be happy, without fear that something bad will immediately follow.” She was shivering.
“Are you willing to go through pain to get it?”
“Pain? How much pain? Daved, what are you thinking?”
“I do not understand, myself. Jelana has an idea. She has not fully shared it with me.”
“Jelana? Is she listening in now?”
“Not precisely, no. She’d rather grant you some privacy. If she can, a little.”
“Kind of her.” An nodded. “But are you relaying to her the gist of what we’re saying, aren’t you?”
“Perhaps you’d say that. An, would that be wrong of us?”
An shook her head, trying to clear it. “Everything Jasin knows, Belinda knows, and vice versa. I’m used to that. But they can’t exchange information instantly, like you and Jelana do. It’s the ‘instantly’ part that’s hard to get used to. And the two of you can’t keep secrets from each other, anyway, can you?”
“We can. It is difficult, however. I shall endeavor to do better.”
“No, Daved, it’s all right. I don’t want to get between you and Jelana.”
“That would be impossible.”
She nodded, and took a deep breath. “Thank you, Daved. You’ve been a big help. I’m ready to go back now.”
“I shall accompany you.”
She smiled up at him. “I’ll be glad of the company.”
As they walked back down to where Mattan and Jelana were seated by the pond side, she saw Mattan looked up at her, and smile in greeting. Then she realized that he was on the phone, so she hung back a bit. He finished the call, and said a few words to Jelana, who nodded, and walked off.
“Anilyne! An, I mean,” Mattan said. “How are you now?”
“Mattan, I’m sorry,” she began.
“Sorry? What on earth for?” he looked at her in astonishment. “I knew that the knife wasn’t you.”
“I was so angry when we got here, and I can’t even blame the Other for that.”
“Of course you were angry,” Mattan said. “None of the rest of us are happy about having to watch you, either. I mean about the ‘having to’ part. And you not being able to get away. Anyone would be angry.”
“Mattan?” she stepped closer, and looked up at him.
“What, An?” he said.
She looked up into his brown eyes, at the inquiring half smile on his face, then quickly turned away. She felt his hand on his shoulder.
“We’re here for you, An,” he said, and his voice cracked. “I know that’s part of the problem, but we’re trying the best we know how for you.”
“Mattan, did Jelana say what her idea was?”
“I don’t know. Daved said Jelana had an idea, and asked some odd questions. But he didn’t say what the idea was.”
“I forget that those two are so connected. What were the question?”
“What did I really wish, and was I willing to go through pain to get it?”
“Pain? How much pain? More than you’re already going through?”
“That’s what I asked. He didn’t say.”
Mattan thought a bit. “A healing?”
“They’ve already said that was impossible. They can’t find the Other, and without that . . .”
“Well,” Mattan said, “What do you really wish? And are you willing to go through pain?”
“Mattan.” She turned to face him, and suddenly realized how close she was standing behind her. “Mattan, I . . .” she collapsed against him, and felt his arms around her, his lips kissing her hair. “I’m so afraid, Mattan,” she said, a catch in her voice. “What if I had hurt you? I want . . . I want . . . I can’t think. I want to be able to think.” She looked up at him. “Mattan . . .”
He shook his head. “I can’t kiss you now,” he said gently, almost as if to himself. “Not when . . . Anilyne.”
“Not until you can be sure of who you’re kissing. Right.” She pulled away from him. “The hair doesn’t count?”
He laughed self-consciously at that, and stepped back himself. “I guess not,” he said. A shadow passed over his face.
“What is it, Mattan?”
“Nothing. Well, I was just thinking.” He shook his head, and stepped further back. “I’m glad you didn’t have a knife on you this time.”
“Oh.” She went and sat down at a table. “I’d almost forgotten that.”
Jelana came back to them. “Nothing,” she said to Mattan.
“Thank you,” he told her. “Anilyne, are you ready to head back to town?”
“Ready?” she lifted her head up, and looked at both of them. “Jasin found all the knives?”
“He and Belinda have torn the place apart twice looking for them,” he answered.
“I think Daved’s been doing something to me again,” An remarked. “I don’t feel nearly as on edged as when I arrived.”
“Is that a problem?” Mattan asked.
“As long as I remain myself, no. At least he didn’t make me sleep again. I hate that.”
“You’ve mentioned that,” Mattan said.
“Let’s go back,” An said.
* * *
Jasin looked rather harried when they came back. “Hi, An. Mattan did you find it?”
“Find what?” An asked.
Jasin glanced from one to the other. “Didn’t you tell her?”
“I didn’t want to give any information to the enemy,” Mattan said. “And no, we didn’t find it.”
“Am I the enemy?” An asked.
“No, you definitely are not the enemy,” Mattan said.
An thought furiously. “You didn’t find all the knives, is that it?”
“We’ve found eleven of them,” Jasin said, “including the one from earlier. We’ve turned the place upside-down looking for them. Twice. There’s no place left to look.”
An took a deep breath. “Where did you find the others?”
“Under, over, behind things,” Jasin said. “And no, I’m not going to be more specific.”
“Why not?” An asked.
“What Mattan said, giving information to the enemy.”
“Anilyne-An, think,” Mattan said, earnestly. “Whatever you know, the Other knows. It might be able to figure out which one is left, if he told you where he found the others.”
An put her hand to her lips. “Oh. I knew that,” she said. “It wasn’t me doing the asking.” At the other’s heightened expressions, she added, “Well it was, but not really. Not fully. Does that make sense?”
The two men looked at each other.
“Not really, An,” Jasin said. “What did you mean?”
“It’s leaking. It’s still leaking. It’s influencing me. It always has, of course, but it’s been getting worse, lately.”
“You’re at least acting more like yourself, now,” Mattan said. “Watching you earlier was painful.”
“It feels painful,” she said, “remembering it. No wonder I kept catching all of you talking about me.” She shook her head then rubbed her temple with her right hand. “Just thinking about it gives me a headache.”
“Belinda swore she didn’t leave you alone this morning,” Jasin said, pursuing other thoughts. “At least not long enough to have picked those knives up.”
“I don’t remember her doing so, either,” An said, continuing to rub her temple. “But then, I wouldn’t, would I?” She frowned. “Why would I-it keep the receipt?”
“You always do,” Jasin said. “You’re organized like that. I expect it was just easier that way. Let your hands do what they’ve always done, rather than risk your mind waking up to what you were doing.”
An got up and started pacing. “So, Daved’s idea didn’t work.” She shivered. “The opposite, in fact.” She shivered. “I had so hoped it would. At least, longer than a day.”
“We’ll have to ask him, or Jelana, if either of them knows what happened,” Mattan said. He watched her closely. “You could always try Jelana’s idea.”
“Don’t think I haven’t thought of that,” An said, shivering again. “I’m sure she’ll bring it up again.” She dropped down in a chair, and continued shaking. “It’s bad enough when it takes over unexpectedly. To think of giving in to it, intentionally, . . . “
“An . . .” Jasin said, helplessly.
“We won’t let it win, An,” Mattan said.
An laughed mirthlessly. “No, Jelana will kill me first,” she said.
Mattan asked, “What do you mean?”
“That’s what she promised me. I think she meant to be comforting, but . . .” An sat there, still shivering. “Even now. Maybe especially now. I want to live, Jasin. I want to live.”
Jasin stepped up to her, and put his arm around her shoulders. “An . . . ” he began, then he glanced over at Mattan. “An we want you to live as well.” He stepped away again. “Mattan.”
Mattan turned and looked at them both.
“I’ve got work to do.” Jasin thought a moment, then shrugged. “Stuff. Things. Belinda’s sure to have something for me to do. Look after An for me, Mattan, please, will you?”
“I don’t need looking after’,” An said, automatically.
“Yes, you do, sis,” Jasin said. Then he did one of the hardest things he had ever done in his life, and walked out of the room.
Mattan hesitantly moved over, and sat next to An.
She shifted uncomfortably. “Mattan,” she began, then changed what she was going to say. “Did you get the organ braced this morning, like you were going to do?”
“What? Oh, right. Yes, yes, I did. It’ll be fine now, until I have time to fix it properly. I was going to start a full overhaul of it next week, get it into the best shape it’s been in for fifty years.” He looked at her, then burst out, “Oh, forget it,” and pulled her to him in a fierce embrace.
“Mattan!” she said, pulling back in surprise. Then she relaxed, and leaned on him. “You should have done this years ago.”
“Yes, I should have, Anilyne,” he said, holding her tighter.
“Oh, no, not again,” she said, pulling away slightly.
“What is it?”
“I don’t normally cry, Mattan,” she said. “Really, I don’t.” Tears started flowing down her face.
“Relax,” he said, giving her a handkerchief. “You’ve had a rough time these past few days. Past few years. I don’t mind.”
She clung to him, sobbing. “I want to live, Mattan. I want to live!” Then she continued, “As myself. Not someone else.”
“Hush, An,” he said, stroking her hair. “I promise you this. I will find a way for you to. I will figure out a cure for you before it’s too late.”
“No!” she said, instantly. “No, don’t promise that, Mattan. You won’t be able to keep it.”
“Anilyne . . .”
“No,” she continued. “Promise you’ll try, if you have to promise, Mattan. I don’t want you bound by a promise you can’t keep. It’ll tear you apart.”
He looked at her. “You’re serious about this. As you wish, Anilyne. I will promise you this, I will try to find a cure for you, before it’s too late.”
“Thank you.” She sighed and leaned against him again. “I’m tired.”
“No wonder,” Mattan said. “The day you’ve had.”
“Yours was worse,” An said.
“What? Oh, the stabbing thing. Don’t think about it.” He shifted a bit to be more comfortable.
“Mattan.” She stopped. “Mattan, what is happening to me? Who am I becoming? I used to think I knew. Who will I be if . . . when this is over?” She was silent for a moment. “I don’t want Jelana to kill me. I keep thinking of those hands of hers, turning to water, covering my face, drowning me.”
“Stop thinking about it, Anilyne,” Mattan said. “Stop. If it were to happen, well, you wouldn’t be you anymore. But she shouldn’t have said that to you.”
“I know she meant to be comforting, but . . . I can’t stop thinking.”
“Relax, An,” he said. “Anilyne. Relax and rest. Let’s talk about something else. Something light and pleasant.”
“Like what?” She smiled at him. “I’m comfortable now. And so tired.” She closed her eyes, just for a moment.
* * *
Some time later, Jasin came back. “Again?” he said.
“It does seem to be developing into a habit,” Mattan said, opening his eyes. “I don’t like that Anilyne’s so tired all the time.”
“You and me both. And you should hear what Belinda says about it. But I came in to tell you that Jelana’s on her way over to do the night shift. She thinks we should still be watching An.”
“I’m not surprised,” Mattan said. “So, I’ll be headed home soon then.”
“Well,” Jasin began.
“What is it?”
“Jelana would prefer if you would stay here, on-call, as you would.”
“I’m only a short walk away.”
“Still . . . we have several other guest rooms. I wouldn’t ask you, but Jelana . . .”
Mattan frowned. “I suppose. If I could go home and get some things, first.”
Jasin glanced down at An, but she still appeared to be asleep. “I don’t know why Jelana didn’t think that Belinda and I were enough. But she insisted I ask you.”
Mattan nodded. “Like I said, I need to run home for a few things, but if Jelana wants me here, I’ll be here.” He indicated An’s head. “If you’ll help me with her.”
Jasin smiled. “That I can do.” He took An’s hand. “An. Sis. Wake up.”
She opened her eyes and looked at him. “Jasin?”
“Sorry to wake you up, sis, but it’s time to head to bed. No point sleeping sitting up.”
She considered that a moment, then sat up, and immediately fell back again. “My legs are asleep,” she said. “Jasin.”
“Here, I’ll help you,” Jasin said, pulling her up.
Mattan stretched his arms unseen behind them. An turned back to him. “Mattan, I’m sorry, I keep making you stay up.”
He smiled at her. “It’s all right, An. I don’t mind.”
An asked Jasin, “I suppose someone will be ‘watching’ me as I sleep again?”
“Afraid so, sis,” Jasin said. “Jelana will be here shortly.”
An made a little face, but nodded, wobbling a bit as she let Jasin lead her to her room.
Mattan slipped out the other way.
* * *
Mattan woke from a fretful sleep by the sound of voices and movement in the next room. He debated getting up and seeing what was going on, or going back to sleep. But it seemed to be getting louder, not dying off, and he thought he heard someone saying his name. He went and knocked on the connecting door to the next room.
“Mattan! Come!” came Jelana’s rather breathless voice from the other side of the door.
He opened it, and saw Jelana, her hands turned to water, grappling with the An’s wrists. An was trying to reach her, to pull her hands closer, but Jelana was keeping her at a distance.
“Anilyne?” Mattan said, stepping into the room.
“That’s not An!” Jelana said. “That’s not the Other, either. They’re both having a nightmare.” She grunted as An attempted to pull her off balance, then pulled back to restore equilibrium. “Ow. I’d do more, but I’m afraid of hurting An.”
“What can I do?”
“I don’t know. Try to distract her. Grab her shoulders. Something.”
An snarled, and tried to pull away. Jelana pulled back.
“An, that’s enough,” Mattan said, sternly, putting his hands on her shoulders.
She turned her head, and snarled at him, her teeth bared. He started to draw back at the not-An-ness of her face. but managed to keep hold of her shoulders.
“That’s enough,” Jelana repeated. “An! Come back!”
An arched stiffly, then went limp, and she collapsed in broken sobbing.
“Be careful,” Jelana said, not yet releasing her wrists. “It could be just a feint.”
Mattan released on of her shoulders, and placed his hand on her hair. “Anilyne, An, it’s all right,” he said soothingly. She continued to sob.
Jelana slowly loosened her grip on An’s wrists, and placed her hands on An’s shoulders. “Is that you, An?” she asked. An just continued to sob, not reacting at all.
Jelana sighed, and shook her head. “You just lean back against Mattan,” she said, lightly pushing her. “Mattan, put your arm around her shoulder. Good.” She sat down on the chair, and rubbed her head.
“Is it always like this?” Mattan asked. “An’s nightmares?”
“This was much worse than usual,” Jelana admitted. “But she didn’t have one last night, so perhaps it was to be expected.”
An quieted, and lay still in Mattan’s arms, her eyes closed.
“She never really woke up,” Jelana continued. “Neither of them did. And I doubt she’ll really remember this. Either of them, actually. Though, of course, the Other never surfaces long enough to ask her.” She looked over at the sleeping An. “That’s better.” She looked up at Mattan. “Would you mind sitting with her for a bit?”
“She’s more relaxed with you now than she ever gets with me. Just hold her for a little while longer.”
“I suppose,” Mattan said, doubtfully. He leaned back, and relaxed against the pile of pillows, and brought his feet up on the bed.
“I will still keep watch,” Jelana said. “Are you comfortable?”
After a moment, Mattan said, “I wouldn’t exactly use the word ‘comfortable’.”
“I’m sorry,” Jelana said. “Do you need another pillow?”
He looked at her for a long moment before replying. “I keep forgetting that you’ve never been human.” He shook his head. “No, another pillow won’t help.” He nodded toward An’s sleeping head. “So what was happening with her? What causes those nightmares?”
“Mattan.” Jelana paused. “Mattan, that’s yet another thing we don’t know. If An could tell us anything she remembers besides a feeling of terror, or if we could actually talk to the Other, we might find out more. But what I think . . . ” her voice trailed off. “What I think . . . You know that An is barely aware of the Other most times, aware of nothing when she takes An over?”
He nodded. “I figured something like that.”
“We don’t think it’s like that for the Other. She, up to now, has had little power. Even just looking out through An’s eyes takes power. Which she has to steal from An. So, she can only surface occasionally. But, possibly, when they sleep, they might be more aware of each other. And they might be fighting for control of An’s body. That’s what I think, anyway. Daved has another idea.” But she didn’t say what Daved thought.
“What would happen if you weren’t here?”
“She’d wake up in the morning, totally exhausted, and the room would be trashed,” Jelana said promptly. “It’s happened before. Jasin and Belinda were most distressed.”
“I expect they were,” Mattan said.
“I usually don’t get her to sleep this well,” Jelana remarked after a while. “She’s usually fitful all night.”
Mattan didn’t respond. Jelana looked over, and saw that he was asleep as well. She smiled.
“See?” she said to the air. “Subtlety works better. Let them fall asleep on their own.” She listened a little, then laughed as she dimmed the lights again.
* * *
An woke with the room filled with sunlight, feeling unusually comfortable. She vaguely wondered why that was, then rolled over, and realized there was another warm body in her bed. She sat bolt upright, and saw Jelana sitting on the chair next to the bed, smiling at her.
“You!” An said. Then she looked back at the bed. “Mattan! What are you doing here? Get out of my room!”
Mattan sat up as well, a little bleary-eyed. “Anilyne? An?” Then he looked around. “Oh. It’s all right, Anilyne. Nothing happened. It’s all right.”
“Don’t ‘Anilyne’ me!” she snapped at him. “I didn’t say anything happened. I said ‘Get out of my room!”
“All right, all right, I’m going. Give me a moment,” Mattan said, stepping out the connecting door. “You shouldn’t have let me fall asleep, Jelana,” he said, right before closing the door behind him.
“You!” An said, pointing to Jelana. “You get out of my room, too!” She glared as she looked around her room. “And if Daved or anyone else is hiding in the corner or something, make them leave as well.”
“Don’t you think you’re over-reacting, An?” Jelana said, as she stood up and stretched. For a moment, it looked like a wave passed through her, from her fingertips through her body, down to her toes, then back up again.
“Over-reacting?” An said. “No. Just get out. We’ll talk about what exactly you, both of you did wrong, later.”
“As you wish,” Jelana said, slowly making her way to the door to the sitting room. There, she turned back and asked, innocently, “How did you sleep?”
The only answer was a book thrown at her. It passed through her body, hit the wall behind her, and dropped to the ground. Jelana looked at it, then back at An. “Don’t let Tolly catch you abusing a good book like that,” she said, then rapidly went through the door, closing it behind her, before a shoe hit it as it closed.
An shook with anger as she stepped into the shower, and let the hot water beat itself onto her head and shoulders. How had they dared? But then, for the moment, she wasn’t being watched. That she knew of. She froze for a moment. Jelana wasn’t above becoming the water in her shower to keep an eye on her. She watched the water swirling around the drain suspiciously, then shook her head as she dismissed that idea. Jelana only traveled through the pipes and the sewers when absolutely necessary.
As she felt the shower relaxing her, her breath returned to normal as the anger relaxed its hold on her. She considered. The must have had a reason. She reminded herself that she had a reason to be angry. Then she shook her head. She’d hear them out, then yell at them, she decided.
An dressed quickly, then stood uncertainly in her room. There was still no sign that she was being watched. Suddenly she felt the room greying out. “Oh, no! Why now?” she asked, before her ears filled with static, and the room grew entirely dark.
When she could see again, she was sitting on the couch of the sitting room, apparently alone, eating a doughnut from the platter of pastries on the table. “I don’t even like this flavor,” she muttered to herself, as she put it down and went over to grab some eggs and bacon. She didn’t see Jelana anywhere.
Before she had taken two bites, she heard Mattan clearing his throat as he entered the room.
“Mattan,” she said, stiffly.
“An,” he said, nodding at her. He fixed himself a plate, and sat down on the couch opposite her, not looking at her. “Jelana’s gone to speak with Jasin and Belinda,” he said. “She’ll be back soon.”
“Until then, you’re my baby-sitter?”
“You might say that,” he admitted, unhappily. “An, I . . .” he took a deep breath. “An, I’m sorry.”
She sat stiffly, not looking at him. “What happened?” she asked. “That’s one of the worst parts about this. Sometimes I feel like I’m missing half my life.”
“Surely not that much,” Mattan protested, looking up at her with half a smile, then looked back down to his plate when An glared at him. “You were having a nightmare. Worse than usual, Jelana said. But it stopped shortly after I arrived. You never really woke up, Jelana said. But you seemed to be more relaxed when you were leaning on me. So I stayed. Just for a little while. Jelana was supposed to watch, see that I didn’t go to sleep.” He shook his head. “I’m sorry, An. The next thing I knew, it was morning.” He dared to glance at her again. “Will you forgive me?”
“What were you even doing here?” she demanded, not giving in yet.
“What do you mean? I heard you having the nightmare–“
“From your house? I know it’s close, but not that close.”
“Didn’t Jelana tell you? She wanted me here, on-call, as she said, so Jasin let me stay in the next guest room.”
“What? Jasin was in on it, too?” She got up and started pacing. “It’s bad enough being watched all the time, but having all you conspire behind my back!”
“Ani-An, I swear, I thought Jelana had told you.”
“Stop it, Mattan. The last thing I remember is sitting next to you on that couch last night . . . it was last night, wasn’t it? Then waking up next to you this morning. I don’t even remember the nightmare!” She stopped suddenly. “I don’t remember the nightmare,” she repeated, slowly.
He looked up at her. “Do you usually? That’s good, isn’t it?”
She resumed pacing. “If I really had one, yes.”
“Ani-An, I . . . I wouldn’t lie to you about that. About anything. Ask Jelana about it when she gets back.”
“I will. But the way she was smirking at me this morning, I’m not sure if I trust her, either.”
“I never smirk,” Jelana said, entering the room, Jasin coming in behind her.
“Yes, you do,” Jasin said. “Not often, thankfully.” He looked around at the others in the room. “You two fighting again?”
“Not fighting, exactly,” Mattan said, while at the same time, An said, “None of your business.”
An glared at Jelana. “Sounds like it was more your fault than anything, anyway.”
“Probably,” Jelana replied, unperturbed. “How did you sleep last night, An?”
“Apparently I had had a nightmare.”
“‘Apparently’? Don’t you know?”
“That’s what he tells me,” she said, nodding to Mattan. “Do you say the same?”
“Yes. You had a nightmare. Worse than usual, actually. I had trouble keeping you under control. And you wouldn’t wake up. Couldn’t you tell?”
“No.” An shook her head, and sank down on a chair. “I don’t remember. As far as I know, I slept well. Better than usual. Dreamless. Woke up feeling more comfortable than I have in years. Until I rolled over to find him in my bed.”
“What!” Jasin said, jumping to his feet.
“Oh, relax,” An said, wearily. “It wasn’t like that.”
“Oh.” Jasin looked from one to the other, then sank slowly back into his chair. “None of your business, anyway, Jasin,” he muttered to himself.
“If you slept that well, and woke up that comfortably,” Jelana said, “I regret nothing. Even you anger this morning.” She smiled again. “Though you still shouldn’t throw books.”
An sighed, deflated. “I’m sorry, Mattan,” she said. “I think I understand better now.”
“An,” Mattan said, looking up at her. “Anilyne.”
“If you’re going to blame anyone, you should blame me,” Jelana said.
“Don’t worry, I do,” An said.
Mattan looked at Jelana with sudden suspicion. “You didn’t put me to sleep, did you?”
“Mattan!” Jelana said, reproachfully. “I don’t have that type of power.” She added, thoughtfully, “I can help people relax, though. But last night, I didn’t even have to do that.” She added, as Mattan looked at her skeptically, “Did I touch you at all?”
“No,” Mattan admitted. “Not that I recall. You touched her, though.”
“If I could have put her to sleep, dreamlessly, I would have,” Jelana said.
An looked up. “That’s enough now,” she said. “What are we going to try next, if anything?”
“I’m waiting for Daved to show up,” Jelana said. “It always takes him a while to get here.”
“Why don’t you bring him on your motor bike?” Mattan asked.
“I would,” Jelana said. “We tried that a few times, years ago. But he’s afraid of breakage. And the speed is frightening. Even when I go slow. It’d be faster, though.” She paused a moment. “He has an idea about what happened yesterday. How the Other was able to do all that without any of us knowing.”
“This is going to end with me letting the Other take over, isn’t it?” An said, drawing further back into her chair.
“Anilyne,” Mattan said, starting up.
Jelana waved him back to his seat, while she went over and put her hand on An’s shoulder. “Do you want to be rid of her or not, An?” she asked gently.
“Of course I do,” An said. “But there has to be another way.”
“How many ways have we tried over the years?” Jelana asked. “An?”
An shook her head. “Too many,” she said. “Far too many.”
Jelana said, “There still might be something we haven’t tried yet. But An, we’re running out of time.”
“Two years,” An said, under her breath.
“We don’t know that. It was a guess.” Jelana shot a glance to Mattan, then turned her full attention back to An. “It could be longer. It could be shorter. But the Other is facing the same time restraints that you are. And she’s gaining power.” Jelana shook her head. “I don’t know what she’s after, fully, An, but it’s not good for you. Not good for the rest of us, either.”
“It wants to take me over,” An said. “And you want to let it do so.”
Jelana sighed. “We keep coming full circle, don’t we? No way out of this whirlpool.”
“An, I understand you’re scared,” Jasin began.
“Scared? I’m terrified. It’s bad enough having someone else living in my head. I work so hard to try to keep in control.”
“And you keep failing,” Jelana said, firmly. “An, it’s getting worse. How many times has she been surfacing lately?”
“Too many,” An said. “Several times a day since I arrived here. The past couple of weeks, maybe three or four times a week. It was starting to come out at work.” She shook her head. “I’m losing myself.”
“An,” Jelana said, gently, coming and laying her arm around An’s shoulders. “We won’t let her win. I promise you this. We’ll stay with you the entire time, and won’t let her win.”
“Mattan,” An said, not looking up.
“I’m here, Anilyne.”
“Do you . . . what do you think?”
“Anilyne, look at me.”
She lifted her face and looked at him.
“Anilyne, do you really want to be free of it?”
She shied back. “First her, then you! What a question. Of course I want to be free!”
“More than you’re afraid of giving in?”
She pulled back. “I–I don’t know.”
Jelana drew back as well. “It’s all right, An. I shouldn’t try to pressure you. We’ll go by what you decide.” She shook her head. “It’s all right, An.” She looked toward the door. “Daved is here.”
Daved walked in the door from the elevators, and came and knelt by An. “I am sorry, An,” he said, in his slow and careful voice. “My idea did not work, and you have suffered.”
“Not just me,” An said. “Didn’t we have this conversation yesterday?”
“I have noticed that you humans may have the same conversations repeatedly,” Daved said.
Jasin snorted at that, but looked perfectly solemn when Daved glanced at him.
“I suppose you’re going to try to talk me into trying Jelana’s idea as well?” An said.
“No,” Daved said, shaking his head. “What would be the point? You have already made up your mind. Further talk will not change it.”
An took a deep breath, and relaxed her shoulders. She smiled at him, and said, “What did you come out here to say, then, Daved? I know how hard traveling is for you.”
“Jelana said . . .” he looked at her. “Belinda should be here as well, should she not? Was that not one of the things we discussed?”
“Yes, you’re right,” Jelana said.
“I’ll go get her,” Jasin said, and left the room.
He returned a few minutes later, with Belinda trailing behind him, wiping her hands on her apron.
“I already told you, I was with An every moment while we were out,” she said, as soon as they entered the room. “Will this take long? I need to get back to work.”
“You must have left her,” Jelana said. “Just for a moment. Looked at something, gone to the restroom, something?”
“We will not hold you long,” Daved promised.
“Thank you, Daved,” Belinda said. “No, I never left her.”
“Yes, you did,” An said unexpectedly, gazing off into space.
They all turned to look at her. “An?” Jasin said. “I thought you didn’t remember anything like that.”
An’s smile was cold. “An doesn’t. But I do.” Her voice was edged. “You thought An was busy in the bookstore. But I watching.” She laughed. The laughter turned to a choking sound as An’s face changed. “I–I can’t stand this anymore,” An said, in her normal voice.
Jelana went and sat beside her, and wrapped her arms around An’s shoulders. “We’re all here for you, An.”
Belinda was frowning. “That’s right. I’d forgotten. It was such a small thing. An was so involved in looking at those books. You know how she can get. Even more than usual, yesterday.”
“Yes,” An said, quietly. “I remember.”
“I thought it’d be safe to leave her for a minute, just to go freshen up a bit. I took longer than I intended. It was so tiring to see her being that cheery. But An was still there when I got back.”
“At the same set of shelves?” Jelana asked.
“No, the next one over, I think. Maybe two. About what I’d expect.”
“Clever,” Jelana said.
“What stores were close to that?” Mattan said. “I doubt the book store was selling knives.”
“Oh!” Belinda sat down suddenly. “We’d just been looking at knives in the ‘sells everything’ store. It was right across the way. If An went immediately . . . there would have been time for her to go and get them and come back. Assuming she didn’t have to wait.”
“So, in spite of everything, the Other was able to take over after all,” An said. She stood up and began pacing again.
“Settle down, An,” Jelana said. “No, we don’t think so. Not then, anyway.”
“I watched you when Mattan brought you to me yesterday,” Daved said. “The other could not take you over. Nor could it be totally repressed. Instead, you were both there at the same time. Unlike now.”
“She couldn’t get you to do anything you were completely opposed to,” Jelana said.
“I was completely opposed to stabbing Mattan!” An said.
“Yes, of course,” Jelana said. “But you weren’t wearing the necklace at the time. She did take you completely over for the few minutes you had it off. But buying the knives, would you have had any objection to that?”
“No, I suppose not,” An said, frowning. “I’ve bought them before, of course. But I don’t need any knives now. Why didn’t I stop to think about it?”
“I do not know,” Daved said. “But I have an idea. I tried to take away your fear with that necklace, so that you could rest, have a little peace, for a time. Perhaps I took away too much.”
“Perhaps?” Jasin said, looking at him. “An wasn’t at all like herself for that day.”
“She would have been herself again in time. As indeed she was. But for a little while, the lack of fear distracted you. And the Other used that moment when you were distracted. It kept you from thinking about what you were doing. You were thinking about other things while you bought the knives and hid them. You were unaware of what you were doing.”
“So, I hid the knives, without thinking about them,” An said. She rubbed the back of her neck. “And then the Other reminded me how much the necklace had been chafing my neck, right when I was next to one of the hidden knives, and Mattan and I were alone for a moment.”
“That is pretty much what we think happened,” Daved agreed.
Belinda said, “Please forgive me, An. I had really forgotten.”
“It doesn’t matter,” An said. “I know how much you were trying to look after me.” She went over and hugged the other woman.
Belinda hugged her back. “An, if you need anything, anything at all, just ask. We are all here for you.” Then she said to Jelana, “If you don’t need me any further, I need to head back down to the kitchen.” Jelana nodded. “Let me know what happens,” Belinda said to Jasin, and left the room.
“Now what?” Mattan asked.
“Now nothing,” Jelana said. “We go back to what we were doing before, and wait. See if we can come up with any other ideas. You heard An.”
“Right,” An said. “I’m sorry, Jelana, I just can’t.”
“It really is alright, An,” Jelana said.
“An,” Jasin began.
“What is it, Jasin?”
“I think you ought to go out this afternoon and do something fun. Something active. Swimming, tennis, something to get your heart pumping. You’ve been cooped up since you’ve got here.”
“I went out with Belinda.”
“It still wasn’t that active. And, you weren’t fully yourself.”
“Right,” An said, considering. “That might be a good idea. Do something fun, while I’m not exhausted.” She shook her head. “That’s been happening too often lately.” SHe frowned. “I suppose I need someone to watch me still?”
“I can’t today, I’m afraid,” Jasin said. “I’ve been letting my own work slide since An’s gotten here. I’ve got to get back into the office and catch things up a bit. My partner’s been complaining that I’ve been abandoning her with all the work.”
“I’m sorry, Jasin,” An said.
“Hey, not your fault, sis. You’re family, after all. And it’s not like it’s tax time.”
“I think you’re right, though, Jasin,” An said. “I’ve got to get out, clear my brain. So much has been happening so fast.”
“I think you can go out alone, for a little bit, if you wish,” Jelana said. “We’ve gone back to the old necklace again, and your magic has been drained off of you. For now, the Other won’t do much more than insult people. Next week, things might be different.”
“Oh,” An said, blankly. “How odd. To be trusted again.” She shook her head, to clear it. “How wonderful.”
“You don’t sound thrilled,” Mattan said, looking at her.
“I am, really,” she assured him.
“If you’d like some company, I could go with you this afternoon,” Mattan continued. “In a bit. I have to make some arrangements for some things I need to get done. Time to work on the organ and such. It shouldn’t take that long.”
“Mattan, after everything?” An shook her head. “I keep pulling all of you from your lives. I’m sorry.”
“An,” Jasin said, “You’re family. We’re glad to do it.”
“I don’t really have much of a life,” Daved remarked.
“Yes, you do,” Jelana said. “We both do. It just doesn’t appear as active to those who don’t know better.”
“I know how hard it is for you to leave your woods,” An told him. “Don’t think I don’t appreciate it.”
“It is not hard, but it is tiring,” Daved said, in his slow voice. “And I must keep moving so fast to keep up.”
“You’re handling it much better than you used to,” Jelana assured him.
“Would you like to go swimming after lunch then?” An said to Mattan. “We could meet at the pool.”
“That should work for me.” He smiled at her. “I’ll be glad to see you there.”
An laughed. “After lunch, at the pool, then.”
* * *
At the pool, An swam her laps, enjoying the feel of the water rushing past her body. After she had swum several, she took a break, and sat on the edge of the pool, dangling her feet into the water.
Mattan swam up to her, and hung onto the pool wall. “Done already?” he asked.
“Just taking a break,” An said. “Considering what to do next.”
He pulled himself out of the pool, and sat down next to her.
“It’s so odd,” she continued, not knowing who I’ll be from moment to moment.”
“None of that now,” Mattan said. “We came here so you could forget about all that. Just relax, and be yourself for a while.”
“Right,” she said. “Whoever that is.” She took a long look at him. “Do you always wear a full body swimsuit?”
He glanced down, where the brown opaque mesh of his suit covered him from neck to wrists to ankles. “You must have seen other people wearing this type of suit?”
“Well, yes,” she admitted. “But most of them were power swimmers. Or thought they were, anyway. And you, forgive me, are not.”
He laughed. “Maybe I’m one of those who think I am?”
“Not you. You usually have a pretty fair estimation of your talents.”
“Skills, Anilyne, skills. I’ve worked hard to learn everything I have.”
“So, why do you wear it?”
“Does it matter, An?” he asked.
She glanced down at his hands, resting on his knees, and noticed, which she usually didn’t, the fine blue hair on the backs of them, and on the backs of his fingers. It usually just looked dark, unless the light was quite bright, and you looked closely.
“I suppose not,” she said after a moment. She hesitated, then said, “What are you working on now?”
“I’ve finished everything I had commissioned, and am not going to take on anything more until I can do that organ overhaul. I need to get it finished before we start getting organists visiting so that they can practice on it before the festival.”
“Which festival is that?”
“Hadn’t you heard? They’re having a celebration for the sesquicentennial of the organ in two months. The best organists from all over Tel, all over the world, in fact, will be coming in to play for us. And, of course, they will all want practice time on it before then. THey have pretty much all the time scheduled in the month and a half before then, so everyone has a good time at it. It is the oldest functioning pipe organ in Tel, you know. Believed to be the fifth oldest in the world.” He paused. “The next working one in Tel is twenty-five years younger, I believe. I helped build that one, also. Doesn’t have the same problems in access that this one has. Though I’ve heard it has it own quirks.” After another pause, he added, “All the other ones I helped build are long gone, now.”
“Will you be playing at the Festival?”
He laughed, loud and hard. “Not me. Like you said, I know my limits. They’re bringing in all the best organist for this. The best of the best. You heard me play. I will be on-call, however, if anything needs to be repaired.”
“Do you think that will happen?”
“Hope not. That’s why I’m doing the overhaul, after all. But that organ’s one hundred and fifty years old, after all. Even if there’s little left of the original organ. Like the farmer’s axe. But still, there’s a lot that can go wrong. Especially if it’s getting a lot more playing than usual.”
“I thought that once you fixed something, it stayed fixed.”
“Been talking to Jasin, haven’t you?” He looked at her. “There’s always the limits of the materials. Most of the material in the organ is quite strong, but as always the most important parts are quite delicate.”
An nodded. “Can I watch?”
“You . . . overhauling the organ.”
He looked at her, bemused. “I suppose. If you really want to. But there won’t be much to see. I’ve got some helpers lined up for it, most local, but some who maintain other old organs, and want to compare techniques. You won’t be able to get close. I might not be able to get close, sometimes.”
She looked dubious. “Maybe . . .”
“We’ll talk about it later,” he said.
“All right,” An said. “We’ll talk about it later. Right now, race you! First one that finishes five laps wins.” She slipped back into the water, and pushed off before he could react.
“Hey! That’s cheating!” he yelled at her, before jumping in and swimming after her.
* * *
“I still say that was cheating,” Mattan said, as he and An sat drinking hot drinks at a small restaurant.
“What does it matter? You won anyway,” An said, with a laugh. Her cheeks were flushed, and her eyes sparkling. “Gal has to give herself some advantages.”
“Well, I think the afternoon’s exercise has done you good,” Mattan said, looking at her with some admiration.
“Yes, I’m feeling better again. More like myself. I’m not afraid of the walls closing in.” Then her smile froze.
“I’m almost happy,” she said. “What will go wrong now?”
“It’s all right, An,” Mattan said, reaching out and taking her hand. “We’re all here for you.”
“I don’t want anything to happen to you,” An said. “Or Jasin, or Belinda, or anyone else I love.”
“Or to yourself?”
She brushed that aside. “It won’t matter,” she said absently. She took another drink, her face calm again. “I’m alright now.”
Mattan looked at her, all the sparkle and life drained out of her face, her eyes. “Anilyne, this isn’t right. You can’t go through life like this.”
“I’ll manage,” An said. “I’ll figure out a way.” She took another drink. “Jasin was right, though. Getting out, doing something active, did help clear my mind.” Her face changed, and hatred poured out of it.
Mattan tried not to recoil from the hatred aimed at him.
“What happened this time?” she asked, almost resigned, when her face returned to normal.
“Nothing,” Mattan told her truthfully. “You just scowled at me.”
“I thought it’d do more. It’s growing stronger. But still . . . twice today, after all it’s activities yesterday. Might be a bit much for it after all.”
“Wait, twice?” Mattan said.
“Never mind,” An said. “Doesn’t matter, nothing happened.” She took another sip. “Like I was saying, the swim cleared my mind. Maybe Jelana was right, and I should try her suggestion.” She shook her head. “It still . . . I still don’t want to, though.”
“You’re going to through with it? Are you sure, Anilyne?”
“Please, don’t try to talk me out of it,” she said. “You’d probably succeed. It was hard enough trying to talk myself into it in the first place.”
“I won’t,” Mattan promised.
“I still don’t want this,” An said. “But, what other choice is there?” She shook her head. “Since none of you are willing to lock me in a box and throw away the key.”
“An,” Mattan said. “Anilyne. I can’t say I’m glad. But, I think it probably was the right decision.”
“You thought so before, didn’t you?”
“Yes, but it wouldn’t have been worth it to argue with you then, once you made up your mind. And, even now, Daved and Jelana aren’t certain it’ll actually work. There was room for disagreement.” He frowned in thought. “I really must make a study of magic soon. There was never any need of that before, but since the unicorns came back, it’s intruding on our lives more and more.”
“Even Jelana had given up on convincing me,” An said. “For the moment. She probably would have tried again later.”
“Perhaps not. She might have found another way for you.”
“I wish . . .” An said, and held her hands around her cup to warm them.
* * *