Sliver and Scar

Humankind has become so much one family that we cannot insure our own prosperity except by insuring that of everyone else. If you wish to be happy yourself, you must resign yourself to seeing others also happy.
- Bertrand Russel

Sliver and Scar

King's Row Park

There is a place where Harlem Foreman sleeps. Sometime it is on a friend's floor, next to her sofa, holding her hand as she revels in the simple joy that is a touch, free in her dreams and with his presence of a curse and a gift for a time. Sometimes it is a fire escape on the side of the building. Sometimes it is a damp basement, after he's exhausted himself hunting rats for Ms Chittington, who will forget he was there once he leaves. And sometimes, it is in a bunk bed in his family's apartment, every Sunday night, for they know he has nowhere else to go - even though the bed is in the living room, space being too premium for them in their poor lot. There is this place, and it moves every day.

It's important to keep moving. Harlem could never bring himself to live in one spot, to shackle himself down. Sympathetic friends once upon a time offered him a place, a room, quarters to call his… and he can only blink in surprise at the offer. He does not live in any one place; but to call Harlem Foreman homeless is to do a gross disservice to the city.

Everything has its place. And in this place, this night in the tangled grass of a misbegotten park, with a bottle of someone else's whiskey by the rock that cradles his head, a pair of brown eyes flick open.

Nobody writes songs about boys with brown eyes. Nobody talks about the battered, poor boy, who isn't pretty and who does nothing but give. No. They sing about the scarred pretty boys, the anguished and the tormented. Those whose lives feature single, horrific incidents but really, when you blow off the dust and maybe give them a new set of clothes, fit in just fine in 'nice' lives. Or they write about the supermales, the man's man, the ten-foot-tall and bulletproof aegis of man itself, with their square jaws and their rippling muscles. In the world of art, few sins are as unforgiveable as being unexceptional.

Wherever one finds oneself inclined to bitterness, it is a sign of emotional failure: a larger heart, and a greater self-restraint, would put a calm autumnal sadness in the place of the instinctive outcry of pain.

Where was that coming from? Harlem curled himself up. Under the battered clothes and the grubby hair there was a remarkably toned body. Casting his mind back, he rolled onto his side, hands down - avoiding the discarded knife without ever looking at it, - and pushed himself up into standing. Around him in the park, the trees shivered, their own little mountain taking its leave of its warm arms. Running a hand through his hair, he brushed away the leaves and twigs that had acreted, picking up his coat and slipping it on.

What the ancients called a clever fighter is one who not only wins, but excels in winning with ease.

This was… phenomenal. There was something here. A new place. This was like the time he'd touched the soil of Mercy Island, and seen it as it was; ten thousand rats starving in a cage. And now, he could feel it. Something was here. Something was new. And it walked on silent feet and thought like a snare. It might be right, it might be wrong, but issues of morality weren't of concern to panthers and peregrines.

It was the morning. Technically, Harlem should have been awake for some time, if you moved on the schedule of those people who deigned to treat the sun like it was the boss of them. Drawing his breath, he reached out, and yes…

"You love it like a little dog, you feed it on the scraps you find;" The Row had very little to offer these days except for sadness and a refusal to die. In its own way, the knowledge that that was still there was amazingly comforting.

…there it was. Happy and warm and comforting, the bleak misery of the Row, all around him. Shifting his feet in his boots, crunching newspaper and shrugged his shoulder. Time to go looking… and the best way to find something is to find something to do.

King's Row Orphanage

There's a twilight state between being boys and being men, and it's often the relentless light that is responsibility that highlights the difference.

Harlem brushed his hair back, smoothed his trenchcoat and quietly adjusted his gloves as he slid the door open, closing his eyes as he heard a thousand songs stream past him. So many sad stories here, so many lives huddled together, each one hoping for something better, hoping for a home. It was so sad, he reflected, that these children were left with the odd idea that they were somehow be rescued, as if that's what orphanages were - an escalator to a family.

Looking around the hall, he gave a smile. Meal times could unit a hundred hungry kids under the banner that was Hurry Up And Feed Me. Slipping through the benches and the counters, moving past food that was too precious to be wasted, he paused. And sniffed.


That smelt really good.

One hand in his pocket, feeling the emptiness there, Harlem raised an eyebrow as he saw a familiar tousle of blonde in the crowd, reaching out as he drew close, tapping the girl on the shoulder. "Hey!" he cried, a simple, enthusiastic call.

She turned, waving a ladel at him, "In a m- oh, hey, Harlem!" Timbre laughed, a beautiful sound that had harmonics all its own. She spoke like music, and she smiled like sunshine, and all the words just flowed to Harlem as he looked at her. It was amazing how his world looked, sometime; every person had their theme songs, every action a musical sting, and the poetry of thousands flowed to his fingertips though he'd never finished reading a book, given his semi-illiteracy.

The contemplation took a split second as Harlem blinked and leaned back, taking into sight the look of the girl. New clothes. Like, brand new, with a neat little label on the breast, custom made and all! "Holy hell!" He said, working his way into the queue beside her, picking up a plate and starting to serve, handing to the nearest child who came close. "You got adopted?"

"Ah-huh!" Timbre voiced chirpily, canting her head so her hair bounced, a happy smile on her face. "I'm meeting mom here later," a slip of ladel, a bit of thick minestrone spattering off a plate, "An' Dad made the soup that he sent over."

Harlem gave a grin. "Man, that's awesome. What about Rei?"

"Her too!" Timbre nodded, licking some gravy off her thumb as she put some bread on the plate, handing it to Harlem. "She's got a job here, but we're all together as a family. It's great!"

"That kicks so much ass. I thought you two were really worried about getting split up."

"Yeah, don't remind me." she threw a frown, daring it to try return. "But our parents are sooo plush – But all their business is overseas. Hey!" she lightly punched his arm, serving up another bowl, crusty bread landing in it. "So how's your girl?" she asked, perking up.

"Still somewhere," he responded, a light laugh, as he blew his hair out of his eyes. A silly quest, to find a girl represented by a CD a friend had given him on a whim. Harlem didn't even own a CD player - he'd had to borrow one to listen to it the first time - but now the music went with him wherever he went. Tapping his foot quietly he listened - and there it was. The clink of spoons, the rhythm that didn't just dance from point to point, but sometimes from instrument to instrument. As some fell out of time, some fell into it, the song dancing around the room in a thousand different little ways, living percussion. He gave Timbre a grin. "Still looking."

She laughed bumping his hip with her own. In front of them, the children filed past, some of them only a year or so younger than Harlem, but he'd crossed that 'line'. He was an adult. He could volunteer and help out and not get weird looks if he wanted to be on the other side of the counter. Nobody thought Harlem was stealing extra bread. It was strange - but it was good, too. The young boy couldn't give money, but he could give time, and time he gave.

This, he thought, as he watched a kid, barely eight years old and not aware enough to realise he had a good ten to go before he'd realise nobody was going to adopt him take a bowl, burble out 'thank you', and head on his way to a table, forgetting his spoon, this is holy.

Harlem watched the music dance around the room. There were always two or three songs hiding in a room like this, little phantoms that leapt from point to point, arcing across. Sometimes they split, as the rhythm changed. Sometimes they came together and there was a harmony that, in his more maudlin moments, made Harlem think sex between actual people would be very unimpressive by comparison when he finally got around to it. And they danced ever onward, people dancing with them. There was… peace. There was the kind of peace that you got out of living people, when a hundred squalling kids were having their meals and yelling and laughing and joking around and throwing their peas at one another. Harlem closed his eyes as he flowed with it, serving out meals and smiling at people without looking.

Nobody really noticed just how odd a behaviour that was. Given the ten foot tall man made of rock who periodically turned up and taught the orphans how to play the harmonica, who nobody believed them existed when they told the adults about later, a guy tapping his foot to unheard music serving food with his eyes closed was a really pedestrian sight. On one of the tables, a brunette boy with an Irish slang was failing to find someone's card, and next to him, Timbre was serving food as the plates clattered, the stew pot being bashed as she refused to let a plate go without potato.

And there was peace.

Harlem opened his eyes again, drawing a breath-

What is called the spirit of the void is where there is nothing. It is not included in man's knowledge. Of course the void is nothingness. By knowing things that exist, you can know that which does not exist. That is the void.

- And then, there was war.

She walked in the side door, as if somehow she didn't move like a living weapon, as if the sun itself was not afraid of displeasing her. There were women who were warriors and there were warriors who were women; Harlem had the great pleasure of knowing one who had clawed her way through the muck of life and touched the face of god with a closed fist, moving at the speed of resentment. But this woman… she was not a warrior; she was a general. And where she went, she took her army with her.

A one-woman army, an invading force, a foreign power, had just entered the humble little orphanage, and Harlem felt his feet plant, felt the stone of the building grip him, felt the magic come to hand. Things were about to get really goddamn interesting, and Harlem wasn't sure how. Mystic senses were for real mages. He just watched how the music swirled around her and followed her like a train… and how the orphans…

The orphans were looking at her. And a lot of them were waving. And some were smiling. And one was looking like he'd guiltily forgotten to do his homework. Harlem knew that look. And now she was coming over to the counter, and she turned as if she'd heard a pin drop over the sound of a blender full of nails being dropped down a wind tunnel in a rainstorm…

Strawberry blonde, eyes like a tempest, and behind it somewhere a mind like a knife, looking right at him, looking at the magic that was flowing into his hands, at the way he was standing, at the fear, and the intense, intense, refusal to flee.

"Oh, yeah, Harlem, have you met my mom?" Timbre's voice came from roughly a million miles away, even as Harlem closed his hands, trying to calm down.

It didn't work. The woman whirled on her heel, holding up a finger to Timbre, as if something was distracting her, and she moved towards the side door again, with only the faintest hint given away; as the door swung up, her leg braced, as a woman breaking into a run.

Deep within Harlem Foreman, the genes that were left over from when the ancestor that split with the ancestor of terriers, kicked in. She was running, she was in his home, and he had to chase.

A long moment passed in the queue, as Timbre paused, looking around, then at the queue of orphans, returning some plates, and asking for seconds from some. Blinking in surprise, she would have chased herself, to see what was up… but she was needed here. She shifted and felt the case in her pocket bump the counter. Damn, she'd meant to return Harlem's CD.

Behind The Orphanage

The back door slammed open, and moving like a thrown knife, she vanished from his line of sight. Harlem rolled as he went through the door as she slammed it shut behind him. His unfeasible bulk sheared through the wood, splintering as he sprawled to his feet, up on his hands as he quickly spun to look for her. Nothing at ground level - which way did she run? Wait - she wasn't a runner. She was a fighter - this wasn't an escape, it was a withdrawl.

As Harlem looked up, he saw the woman, dropping off the fire escape. He had barely a moment to think, and what he thought was very simply: Shit!

He blinked as she flung herself down at him, the fist impacting with his chin in an almost perfect strike, as he dodged into it. She wasn't just good, she was amazing - and she was fighting unpowered.

Harlem fell onto his back as he lashed out with a kick. She was unpowered, but hell if he was. The walls thrummed with bass as his heartbeat rose, and he lunged to shove her off him, jumping like a rising bullet to ricochet off the wall, spinning in the air to clap his hands closed, facing her - as the earth itself spiked under her, binding her feet to the ground. Harlem landed on the fire escape, their positions exchanged, and looked down.

It is the nature of Shaman to take unconnected things and draw the lines between them. To see what isn't important and make it important. In this way, they show how humanity are - the little things that make us who we are.

Harlem dropped off the escape and ran forward, the combat forgotten, rushing to her as if he'd just seen her be shot, reaching out to take her hand and look at the tattoo there. "Oh my god," he began.

He began, because Auroral was no fool, and the second he was that close, his guard down, she made a left hook that sent him sprawling. Harlem hit the wall, which yielded like a bed for him - but her fist hadn't. He rolled his arms, raising his hands, high, stone and sound moving in a groaning symphony as a hand formed out of the stone around her.

She was war; in his city, he was god. The music and the motion grew in a storm as Harlem, reached out, gripping more of the magic around him, stone flying by his face as he concentarted, centre of a glowing white nimbus…

Then… silence. A stilled chord. Her feet were free of the stone, no mighty rendered hand behind her, her hands held fast, open, down to the ground as if she were supporting herself on invisible rails. Her breath misted in the air as though she stood on a mountaintop, and her hair blew in a breeze… but she was free. Magic met magic and in the calumny and tumult… the storms met and there was calm.

Harlem paused, looking around, as if he'd just seen a duck riding a bicycle, or perhaps a skateboarding otter. It wasn't amazing, it wasn't terrifying. It was just novel.

"Huh!" he said, glancing around. A more practiced mage, a more skilled artisan of the craft would recognise this, would have a name for it. He would call it counterspelling; the process whereby two equal and opposite forces met. Intricate. Complex. Like holding a rainstorm in a teacup. He turned to face her. "That's pretty cool."

For her part… it was like holding up a mountain. Blood bubbled under her fingernails, her feet felt like she was standing on nails. But she was doing it. She wasn't just meeting a mage, she was being a mage; the magic was another type of energy, and here she was. Holding it. Guiding it. It was painful and it was glorious.

No surprise so many mages went so very bad.

Harlem canted his head, gesturing lazily at her hand, the purple lips flaring and glowing like a little gay-pride sun. "Hey, you want a hand with that?"

Auroral's eyes flashed defiantly, misinterpreting. "I can do this all day."

Harlem nodded, taking that in stride. "Want to?"

Auroral bit off the response as she closed her hands. Slowly. Slowly. It was like gripping broken glass, forcing your hand to close when the body screamed it shouldn't. She held the magic. She stood tall and straight… and she drew a normal breath, mist whisping by her lips. "I'm ready, if-"

"I mean your brand, Auroral." he interrupted.

Auroral looked down at her hand, at the mark she'd acquired. The mark she'd taken to with steel wool, the mark she'd almost taken to with a file if she hadn't been stopped. The mark that spoke of… of that. Wait-

The storm wavered. The hurricane started to spin once more. Concentration rippled as Auroral glared at him. "How do you know my name?"

Harlem shrugged, gesturing upwards. "Would you believe me if I said you're magically open? That I'm diving your essence? That I uh, am artifacting your karmic pranas?" he paused. "Because I'm not. Timbre told me."

"Oh." she paused. Here in the eye of the storm, in the calm that she had taken with both hands and forced to be… there was an odd quiet. She followed the motion of his head, holding up her hand and showing the brand. "You can do something about this?"

"Sure." He said, as if she was talking about a rusty downpipe or a broken air conditioner, glancing around. "Thing is, there's washing up to do, and Timbre's been waiting to see you." he said, gesturing at her hand. "I'll send her out - and I'll meet you once I've done the dishes, okay?"

//Aeons passed between one blink and the next. Senses on fire, life alight along her skin. It was so strange, manipulating magic like this. So strangely seductive. How much of that was because she was breaking a Law? How much of the sensation was her mind indulging in things she knew she shouldn't, like she did so often and did so very hard?

Who the hell was this guy?

"I'm a friend. There's a bar a few blocks from here. Across the road from #3 Roxbury Street. See you in say, four hours?" he gestured lazily, answering the unspoken question as a mere footnote. He stepped inside, sighing as he passed the damaged door, muttering to himself. "God, I'm gunna have to come back with a screwdriver and fix this…"

The tension hovered in the air. Was this a trap? A trick? Life could make you paranoid - really paranoid.

King's Row Orphanage

"Hey, Tammy?" Harlem said, reaching over the girl's shoulder to liberate her dishtowel from her. "Your mom's waiting for you outside. Go, scoot!"

"Oh, hey," Timbre said, smiling brightly as she was freed from the more onerous task. Glancing down the row to her sister, she offered a wave - then she leaned back, giving a light laugh as she spun on her heel and headed to the back door. "What'd you think?" she asked Harlem, who was already elbow-deep in warm water, scrubbing away today to make way for tomorrow.

"Hm?" Harlem mused, without glancing at her, his face cast in profile as he gave as mile. "You know? Your mom's alright."

Timbre gave a laugh - then blinked, leaning forward and putting a jewel case next to hit hand. "Thanks, Knight!" she said, laughing, spinning on her heel and fairly skipping out the back door. Harlem exhaled; had he leaned over her other side, had he turned his head to face her, she'd have been treated to seeing the black eye her mother had given him.

4 Roxbury Street, King's Row, 'The Rocks'

He hadn't said it was a cop bar.

Auroral steeled herself. Looking around her, she could see the street, and she was already planning escape routes. The only problems would be the war walls, but if she really had a problem she could try to force her medical teleporter to take care of things. She hoped it wouldn't come to that - there was another [[Ultimogirl|Tammy]] who would probably leap at the chance to defend the Row from Auroral.

The door opened, and nobody looked. Nobody noticed her arrival and there was no room at the tables. There were two seats at the bar as around her, two dozen Irish Catholic cops were joined in arms, singing. And rising above their voices, the spinnaker of the song, was the mage, pounding away on the piano. It was… it was like sex. His fingers met the keys in a hungry clash, each touch that of two lovers embracing, unable to stand being apart. The movements of his arms, the rapture of his voice… it was utterly amazing.

There were two dozen Irish Catholic cops singing along to Do You Hear The People Sing. In French. And they were getting it right, despite no doubt, not one man in the room knowing his verre from his vair. And as the exultant tones of revolution swelled, Auroral slipped up to the bar, taking her seat, and ordered a drink. She knew she'd be a while - and she knew she'd be deflecting guys. Might as well get the fortifications up fast. If she had a drink, there was one less thing a guy could do to get her attention.

She closed her eyes and started the count. It was inevitable. Maybe Briar had conditioned her to expect it, to expect no more than a few minutes of peace at a time, but here she was, in a bar, surrounded by men who no doubt wanted to forget their wives with something-

"God, I love her."

"Yeah, I know man, I know. Shit, this is what… fifteen years come May?"

"I think it's May. I think it's June. God, I can't remember. It's… it's like… the weirdest things. I go in, I'm home, I'm with her, every day, every day for the whole year, and I forget one of the days and it's … it's this huge deal."

"Hey, what about your wedding certificate? That's gotta have it on it…"

"Shit! Yer a genius, man! … I just… I wish I could tell her how much I love her. Why I still do. Why I always will…"

Wordlessly, the cop next to Auroral reached out and put his arm around his crying friend. They had their wallets open. They had pictures of their wives and kids in front of them. There were two glasses - and both had ice water.

And the mage played on.

Young men were sitting thoughtful, old men were dancing in their eyes. Nobody was talking to the Bartender. Nobody had to; nobody needed an anonymous ear, a longsufferer who had nothing to do but endure and who was guaranteed to stay. Here and now… they were all brothers. And as the music filled the room, it didn't stop, and went on to fill hearts.

And the final notes tinkered out, the silent, gasping petite-morte as the piano and the mage slowly separated, she could see, just for an instant, that this was not some spell. This was what she was doing. This was a counter; and the music and the magic were just a wind, a cleansing flame used to burn and blow away the chaff of the shitty, shitty day. To give people just that time to reflect - five minutes at a time.

He sat up. He was sweating, his trench coat laid over the barstool he'd pulled over to the piano, deep mauve shirt with the crown on the front, and the number '93' emblazoned on the back. He was playing in a cop bar… and he was one of the Knights. A known gang member, sitting in a cop bar, giving to the police; did they even know?

He stood up, shaking himself off, stretching his arms and rubbing his elbows, his fingers rolling and dancing as he stretched. "That's all I got time for tonight, guys!" he called, picking up the coat and pulling it on. A grunt of dissent came from the crowd. "Hey, hey, hey," he continued, picking up the duffel bag by the side of the piano that had been resting there, "I only got two hands and you only have one piano!" he said, as if that explained everything, shoulding the bag, stepping over to the bar and raising a single finger to the tender.

"Thanks, Harlem," the tender said. A big, gentle looking man, with prematurely white hair and a pleasantly attractive physique underneath it, he wore a mustache like the Colonel and mixed drinks like Tom Cruise. At least, tonight he felt that way; proud of who he was and what he did. It was a nice feeling - a simple, honest tingle that went down to your toes.

This must be how optimists feel.

Harlem took the bottle of water, smiling to Auroral, nodding. "You okay to finish your drink?" he asked, canting his head, gesturing at it, as he gave her a smile.

This guy, four hours ago, had chased her out of an orphanage, had panicked when he'd seen her, had bound the earth itself to her feet. And now… he was … god, he was like River! It was the same smile, the same habit of looking her straight in the eye, the same sad glimmer behind his thoughts…

And then the echo of it came through, and she saw that in his eyes, the sadness, it wasn't her. It wasn't her fault. He wasn't helping her because he wanted her. He was just helping. If he could. If she should trust him.

The drink vanished. One hard, fast scull and it was gone. Standing up, she smoothed her dress down, giving him a winning smile. "Sure."

The Amphitheatre, Perez Park

He wasn't helping because she needed to see him helping. He wasn't restraining himself because she needed to see him restrained. He wasn't watching her eyes in that intent way because the alternative was to stare at her body, to let his imagination run wild. He wasn't helping because he wanted her, wanted to shelter her, wanted to protect her.

He was helping her because she needed help.

They'd passed the Atlas Park tram without a ticket; they'd walked through a security checkpoint without ID. Alongside Harlem, Auroral had seen more cops than she did on a typical bank job, and not one had spared her more than a moment's thought. It wasn't even like she was being protected or sheltered. They weren't looking at Harlem, looking at her, and nodding knowingly. They'd just glance at Auroral, the far more striking of the pair… and glance elsewhere.

It was a little eerie.

Perez had been worse. Normally crawling with Skulls and Hellions and a thousand vicious predators of soul and mind and skin, he walked through it and the trees fairly parted for him. He walked; he didn't leap, he didn't call upon her to fly. They just walked. It was a quiet walk, a stoic walk, the walk that all the normal people had to do. And the amphitheatre at night was a glorious sight. Just glorious. The stars winked through the nighttime sky, tainted blue by the war walls, the midnight colours of the sky studded with glitening sapphire beads.

"Wait here," he said, gesturing at one of the seats, stepping behind a rock. She could hear the bag being opened, hear cloth against cloth; the thump of his trenchcoat hitting the floor, and she felt her fists tighten. If this little defiler had thought-

He stepped from behind the stone, shirtless now, clad only in a tattered pair of rough pants. The tattoos that had been on his arm in King's Row - of gang signs and runic script - were changed. His chest was painted with a field of stars, arrayed in a single character, a character that both Musashi and Sun Tzu had known so well. Rendered in Japanese, his chest read 'War', spelt out in stars; down each arm spiralled long, white ribbons of script, upon which undecipherable phrases were written. His face wore black marks under each eye, his forehead decorated with a white horse-flame pattern. He turned, and his back was a vista; a field, a discussion, of three people talking… and rendered behind them was a single, unblinking, lidless eye.

When Harlem was in Perez Park, Perez Park was in him. Standing up, he held up a hand and gave her a simple look. "Don't try and stop me."

Even though he said that, she felt the grip she had on energy itself slowly coil around the metaphorical handle of her metaphorical sword. She had heard this before. She had heard it all. And she knew what guys really wanted. She knew what people really wanted. And she knew that they'd all leave her in the end after they'd taken. And now-

The first note was beautiful; the second aching; the third, a disconsolate brother, bleeding from both hands; the ninth shaped it, the fifteenth warded, and they all came together. And they ran. Harlem stood, with his arms spread wide, his voice the only instrument, singing just for her, just for this time, just for this place. He sang a song of words without meanings, of meanings unfettered by words.

It was probably the most beautiful thing he had ever heard himself do.

And then, as the last notes echoed silently around the amphitheatre, abandoned and discarded, like so many things in Perez, Harlem opened his eyes.

She was so strong; an outline of a girl sculpted beautifully from the heart of a star, an auroral nimbus that beggared the imagination; look at her too long and burn your eyes, but you still looked as much as you could. You couldn't really turn away - not until something forced you to.

The glimmer had faded. The music, the embrace of the sound itself, wrapping around them both, surgeon and patient, had subsided; there was merely him and her and a discarded place that once upon a time had had simple, beautiful songs done with a guitar and a need to be heard. So many things that the world passed over…

With a sound like a crystal charm, the lips, the mark, on her hand blinked closed; they shut, they blinked, almost, and then, with a flutter, began to rise. They drew off the flesh of her hand, freed from her, and she from it, and its wings were as the song of glass. Harlem watched, wonderment writ on his face, as he looked up; framed by the trees, he saw stars and blackness, and a deep purple butterfly, rendered as some kind of forbidden sign, taking flight, taking to the sky… and he held his breath at the wonder of the sight.

Then, Auroral's hand came up, like an avenging god's, closed around the butterfly, and crushed it. Somewhere, Harlem heard the sound of a woman's scream, and felt as though he heard a silver bell die. He blinked for only a moment, as the realities of what he did know - that gulf of things he did not - washed over him. He paused, his hands making to slip into his pockets, and failing - his simple pants having no such tool here, shirtless and clad in the tattoos Perez' dying spirit gave him.

Harlem drew a breath, and slowly stepped away from her. He paused, then drew his breath again. This was something he had to do. Always had to do; the solution was no formula; it wasn't X + Y + Z. Shamanism was the art of creation, every time. Every spell, every idea, every song of protection and warding was new, each and every time. And he knew why this had happened this way. He paused, then gave her a smile. Somewhere in King's Row, a little girl had just found a kitten, and at her home, her father was looking for a way to connect to his daughter. Sometimes life could be just so beautiful.

He paused, looking at her. She was… stunned. Numb. Surprised. He could see the walls as they were being rebuilt, see this one-woman army as she slowly re-established herself after being unshackled from something hideous. Harlem cleared his throat, as if to get her attention, "By the way…"

Here it comes;

"… I was wondering…

Here's the catch;

"Could you listen to a CD for me?"

Here's whatever he really wants… wait, what?

Harlem held up the CD, reaching into the duffel bag. "I… I know it's kinda silly and a bit weird. But I'm… I'm kinda looking for the person this CD is about? I think I want to meet her. And … yeah, yeah, it's silly," he said, his tone depreciating to someone he barely knew, "But I mean…" he paused, and simply held out the jewel case. "You can get it back to me through Tammy if you want."

He knew her name from Timbre, but when he knew Timbre she'd been Pascal; and without ever asking her or ever being told, he knew to call her Timbre; he knew she was new, he knew she was her own; and he knew her mother by just hearing her sing.

"I mean. If… I dunno. Maybe someone you know will hear it and they'll like it." he shrugged again, moving his toe in the dirt. "I need to get dressed again, okay?" He said, shifting around behind the stone.

Ausha looked down at the CD, soft, sad eyes blinking quietly. She heard him yell over the top of the stone. "I hope you and your husband make Tammy really happy, you know?"

Her husband?

Oh. Him.


King's Row Orphanage

A week had passed. Harlem was on his knees, a screwdriver in his hand. He'd fixed the door three times in one week, and now, he had to fix it again because his fixing hadn't been 'fixing', but what would more accurately be called 'not-fixing'. Gripping the screwdriver tight he leaned in, pushing the screw thread down through the hinge, sweat and dirt on his face, a streak of grease along his cheek. He'd been repairing an oven, too.

He heard Timbre moving behind him; he knew it was her as she set down the CD. He glanced up and gave her a smile, his eye having faded to now just a dull mark rather than big black bruise. He gave a soft sigh and a smile as he sat against the doorframe. "She doin' okay?" he asked, plain and simple.

"Yeah." Timbre said. She was wearing a soft blue skirt and a very, very cool pair of boots. "She wanted me to say thanks for her."

Harlem nodded. "Cool. Always nice to be thanked." He sprawled up on his knees, tapping the doorhinge with the driver as he prepared himself to do another test run of the door.

"Hey, Harlem?"

The youth looked up. "Yeah?"

"Thanks." Timbre said with a smile, her hands behind her back. And with that, she spun on her heel, like a bird taking flight, and went back to her sister, heading back into the main room. Her laughing voice could be heard from where Harlem was, and he looked up to the CD, spinning the screwdriver in his hand as he contemplated.

She was out there. Somewhere. Maybe he'd met her, maybe he hadn't. But he wasn't going to find out by not looking.

Author's Notes

Harlem Foreman is such a hard character for me to write. He's so straight, so sad, so enduringly direct that it means that whenever I'm seized to write him, it's always as part of some grand exercise to kick him when he's down.

This piece was written across… three or four days of total effort, with a bit of a put-down period between. Mainly because I wanted Goss' feedback on most of it, to get her to go-ahead the majority of the piece.

Auroral and Harlem are very similar people, in their own way; but so utterly different in others. Harlem is utterly, utterly devoted to a girl that might not even exist; she is, in his mind, something pure to be pursued, his impossible dream. But he has to chance it, has to chase it, or otherwise he's just a fool. Better to be an inaccurate prophet than a lonely fool. Auroral, on the other hand, has chased and been chased so many times. She has so much sadness about her, so much pain, and yet the stands tall; a towering clockwork, a juggernaut autamoton, rendered in gears of pain and suffering.

This piece serves three major purposes; to clarify what Harlem is looking for (the girl represented by the CD), to show that Auroral can use Magic, and to free Auroral from the brand on her hand.

Sometimes Harlem makes me want to cry. Hell, most of the time he does. Auroral too, for similar reasons. So here it is, two ships that go bump in the night; a revelation about Auroral, a new story hiding in the final moments an old one.


Cameos from Chloe Marque, Cold Read, Spirit of the Row, Battlebriar, Backbeat, and Ultimogirl.

Harlem frequently uses song lyrics in his speech, but it's not him quoting them; they're just part of what he is. He 'speaks his words as plain men sing'.

I've been told I shift perspective a lot. I think it's because I mean to write like a movie, jumping from place to place to make the whole thing feel dynamic. The important thing is that it's readable. If it's not, I've failed and need to try harder.

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