Betwixt and Between
Part One: Chapter Seven
"The battle for his spirit then caused him to remain, and he fought as a thousand Visigoths and cursed the night in vain.
She said, Run away, run away if you can. But at last they heard a voice say, I'm my own man,
And this is my life!"
"Why didn't he want to go inside?" Emmat asked, frowning, as the rat-shifter paused for another sip of his ale.
"Because he's wild," was Tavarez's cryptic response.
"What do you mean, wild?"
There was a pause as Tavarez apparently considered the question. "There are some among us, some other Shifters, who prefer living the lives of animals as opposed to the lives of people. You know that." The Green Bard nodded. "There are times, particularly in the summer, when his people are like that, as well. For Vagrant, it had grown until it became something inescapable and inflexible: during the summer, he simply could not stand to be indoors. Think of it like claustrophobia, only intensified."
Because he was a touch claustrophobic, himself, Emmat shuddered a little with imagination. "But why? How did it get like that?"
"At the time, I had no idea," Tavarez admitted. "I found it strange, to say the least, but I had to work with it."
"If he was so against it, how did you get him inside?"
To Emmat's surprise, Tavarez looked a little chagrined. "It's not important." At the speed the rat-shifter had answered, he had to wonder just what Tavarez had done to make him feel badly about it, but the tale continued. "What matters is that we did get him inside, and that we finally got him to talk to us. Eventually, anyway...."
Tavarez had never thought he would have enough weight to hold someone down, but somehow he was managing it. He sat on Vagrant's back, holding his arms behind his back, at the wrists. It was a rather awkward position, but it worked. The job properly should have gone to Yula, who both out-sized and out-weighed him-- and probably outweighed little Vagrant, too-- but given the circumstances, that seemed like a bad idea.
At least everything was quiet, now. He hoped it was going to stay that way. It had been a very long afternoon.
"Are you finished?" Tavarez asked warily.
Vagrant's voice was weary and a little dazed, but it did sound like him again, as much as a single word could identify a person. Or a personality?
"If I let you up," Tavarez rephrased, "will you promise to stay calm, stay where you are, and not lash out at anyone?"
"I can try," came the slightly muffled answer. That sounded even more like him, and it was probably the best they were going to get, so Tavarez loosed the wrists he'd held captive and got up, dusting himself off and settling against the wall, next to the door. He kept an eye on Vagrant all the while, watching carefully for any sign of another-- change. Or whatever. The object of his long search slowly and carefully picked himself up off the floor, edged himself back, and settled just as carefully against the wall, opposite the cottage's door. He looked tired. Then again, if Tavarez had gone through what he'd just done, he would probably be tired, too. Actually, come to think of it, he was tired.
Yula had settled back on the cot again, at last, shaken after Vagrant's first-- change-- had resulted in him throwing himself at her with a wild animal's snarl and fingers hooked like claws, the second had called her a whore with no self-respect, the fourth had tried to nibble on her earlobe, and the fifth had cried like a heartbroken child. It was the sixth change which had resulted in Tavarez finally sitting on him to subdue him, though given the desperate twisting, writhing, and pleading and threatening in variously different voices, it wasn't his last. After that, though, he'd lost count. Tavarez had lived through some very strange events, but this particular afternoon, he thought, would probably be the strangest of them all for years to come. Perhaps for the rest of his life.
Yula broke the silence first, and her voice shook just a little. "Are you-- you-- now?"
"Who else would I be?" Vagrant replied tonelessly, with a logic that belied everything that had happened since Tavarez had closed and latched the cottage door.
"Do you remember anything that happened since I led you in here?" Tavarez asked, eyes narrowed thoughtfully.
"That's not true."
Vagrant looked quickly over at Tavarez for the comment, his eyes almost frightened. After a long pause where he looked sidelong at him, he added, "Nothing... here."
"Then what do you remember?" Tavarez tried again.
Vagrant's hands fluttered uselessly, as if trying to shoo the question away, but he answered, haltingly. "Somewhere-- else. Not here. Twilight and song and... but it was a dream. I think." He went still again, pressed the heels of his hands into his eyes.
"You said before that you remembered snatches," Yula prompted after the silence had gone on too long for her taste. "Impressions."
He didn't lift his head, but he spoke again. "It's the same, there. I remember snatches. Impressions. Of here, like here was a dream. Maybe I'm dreaming now. I don't know...." With that very enlightening statement, he curled in on himself and folded his arms on his upraised knees, burying his face in them. "Please just let me go, I can't stand it in here...."
"What did you say?" Tavarez asked, trying to capture the thought Vagrant's words had stirred up.
"Let me go?"
"No, before that. The part about dreaming."
Confused, Vagrant looked up, paused, presumably trying to think back, then answered more clearly, "I'm-- never sure whether I'm dreaming or awake."
Yula frowned, at that, but Tavarez thought he understood, at last, why he always ran. "Why is that?" he asked gently. "Why don't you know?"
Skeptical of the interest, embarrassed by the admittance, unhappy at the intrusion, Vagrant put his head back down, but he still decided to answer. "Because they're both so real.... There, I think I was dreaming of here. Here, I think I'm dreaming of there.... Is the dream of waking, or is the waking the dream? How can you tell the difference?"
Both Tavarez and Yula paused, at that. It wasn't a question one usually pondered. "You just... do," Yula said finally, sounding perplexed that there was ever a difficulty, but Tavarez knew that wasn't any kind of answer, not for them and not for Vagrant. For them, he didn't know what the answer was, but for Vagrant....
"You need some way of showing you what's real and what's not," he mused. "What if I can give you the means? Would you use them?"
Vagrant suddenly sat straight upright and looked him right in the face. "Oh gods yes," he said without hesitation, without even a pause to think.
"What if those means were something different than what you'd expect? What if they required time, effort, and responsibility on your part?" Tavarez persisted.
"Anything is better than-- than not knowing," Vagrant stammered, "even-- even walls in summertime."
Tavarez had one last question, and it was the most important one: "Will you trust me long enough to get you there?"
There was a long moment as Vagrant stared at him, trying to fathom what that could possibly mean, but at last he gave the only answer that he possibly could have given.
Song borrowed from Five for Fighting's "Two Frogs", on the Message for Albert album
Draclin'geyar are the Creative Property of Silver Midnight; Fleshshifters are the Creative Property of Drakiera