The Heir of Ice and Stone | Five of Diamonds
Posted September 17th, 2017 by Zelda
in a perpetual predicament
A/N: I have not been online anywhere at all except instagram and pinterest this week, I'm not ignoring KP I'm ignoring everything.
but hey, i'm getting a lot of writing done, so that's a positive.
Five of Diamonds
The pastry scent is quickly masked by the stench of oil and burning rubber as I stalk farther and farther away from the cafe. The brisk morning wind kisses my face, and soothes my nerves. It tickles my eyelashes and reminds me abruptly that I left my sunglasses on the table. Damn, too late to go back now. To one side, chimes tinkle above an opened shop door, on my other side a bus rolls past, its brakes squealing. My cane strikes against something solid standing right in my path, warning me of it in the barest nick of time. The click it makes is sharp and hollow, and lacks the telltale musical ping of metal.
“Mal, wait up! Mal!” Kaelan’s voice chases me down the street. That didn’t take very long. I shake my head and keep going. The racket of Kaelan’s shoes clattering on the pavement is awfully noticeable in the quiet of the Saturday morning calm. I wonder if sighted people hear footsteps as loudly as I do, or if they’re too consumed by taking in what the person making the footsteps looks like. Kaelan’s footfalls are quickly getting closer. I don’t slow down to wait, but I also don’t speed up.
The footfalls finally reach my side, and stagger down to my much calmer walking pace. We walk in silence, side by side, for a short while. Kaelan’s windbreaker rustles with every step, and my cane clicks it’s usual pattern, guiding me on. Another bus trundles past, this time the brakes aren’t on. We reach a curb where the whiz and whir of moving vehicles tells me that the moment I step out onto the street I’ll be a Mal Pancake. I poke out my cane to find the light pole, when the tip pings against metal I edge closer to the sound. The searching fingertips of my free hand find the chilled surface of the light pole, and seconds later I locate the crossing button. I don’t really want to cross the street, but I press the button anyway. The little bit of resistance, the slight scrape of metal on metal as the button depresses, is oddly satisfying. I press the button again.
Kaelan is being freakishly quiet, and it’s unsettling, so I press the button a third time.
“I think tha’s enough.” Kaelan says.
“I don’t.” I reply, but I take my hand away from the button and hug my own torso. The sleeves of my shirt are too thin to keep out the wind.
“Y’ forgot your glasses at th’ cafe.”
“I woulda brought ‘em for y’ but I thought they might make for good motivation t’ get y’ back there,” a chuckle lifts the end of the sentence. I scowl-- at the ground, because I don’t want to aim it at Kaelan and end up terrifying a stranger instead.
“I’m not going back,” I state simply. It was a bad idea to go in the first place, it would be a worse idea to return. “You saw how Panda reacted.”
The stoplight beeps, a long, keening tone to let me know that the traffic has paused and it’s safe to walk now. Neither of us move to cross the street. I hear Kaelan shifting from foot to foot, the shuffling of the windbreaker and the thump of sneaker heels on the pavement is a dead give away.
“She’s just angry.”
“About what?” I huff. A pair of heels click-clacks swiftly past us. “What on Earth did I do to piss her off? Hm? It’s been a year, Kaelan, a year.” How much more can I stress that? “She’s never been angry at me for a full day, let alone a year.”
“I know,” Kaelan mutters, except it sounds more like ‘aye no’, “I’m sorry.”
More nervous windbreaker rustling. I rub my arms vigorously, trying to generate warmth. The stoplight chirps again.
“I wish I knew why she was angry at me,” I sigh. Panda has plenty reasons to be angry at the world, and I wouldn’t begrudge her her with me anger if not for the fact that I don’t know what sparked it in the first place. Last fall, a couple days after she came back, Panda sought me out and started picking a fight. Her voice sounded strained and crackly, it kept wavering. I didn’t know what she was raving about, it didn’t make any sense, and then she started yelling incomprehensible garbage. I left after that. Over the course of the next month, my presence in the group elicited the same reaction over and over from Panda, the shouting at the end was always eerily similar to the first day in pitch and tempo. So I left, for good.
“Well,” Kaelan drags out the end syllable reluctantly. I hesitate, my hands stop rubbing my arms for a moment.
“Thresher,” I deadpan.
“You see, the thing is-- it’s a bit of a weird story,”
“I might’ve told her you were the one who found her,” Kaelan admits with a big whoosh of air.
“I didna know she’d do what she did, or I wouldna told her,” There’s a rush, an urgency to the words that sings in the high, whispery bits of air that escape as echoes knit to the real sound. That whispery bit is necessary to both of us, for reasons that I can’t articulate.
“No, it’s fine,” I wave my hands in front of my body to stop whatever is about to come next. It’s fine, but it makes no sense. I clear my throat and press my palms to my forehead. This isn’t helping, I have more questions instead of less. I press my forehead harder, as if that could squish ideas out of my brain. My head aches a little, and the air swims in and out of my ears like minnows. I imagine my blood sugar is getting low, and this stress is making it worse.
I didn’t find Panda, I didn’t drag her back here after she’d tried to pull the same damn disappearing act that Klasir did. But even if I had, why would that upset Panda?
The stoplight is no longer chirping. Tires crunch along the asphalt once again, tiny puffs of half-warmed wind skitter over the back of my neck, exhaust perfumes the air. The worn end of my walking cane presses a dent into my skull, the foam is warm from the heat of my hand.
“What?” There’s a pancake of heat and five long points of pressure on my elbow, I hope it’s Kaelan’s hand and not some kidnapper about to drag me away. The pressure lightens and runs up my arm soothingly to rest on my shoulder.
“Your eyes,” Kaelan says, brushing something off of the shoulder of my shirt, there’s a lilt that can’t be entirely contributed to the accent in that sentence. Mild concern takes over for a moment, distracting me from the cacophony of my confusion over Panda. I take my hands from my forehead and skim the bottom of one of my eyelids with my fingertips.
“Did I put them in the wrong sockets again?” I ask, poking at my bottom eyelid harder. Kaelan huffs out a through-the-nose laugh, the lilt I heard earlier must have been amusement. Damn Scot, finds everything funny. I frown at him.
“Yer not blinkin’ is all.” This is followed by a what is probably meant to be a reassuring pat on the back, but ends up much more jarring. It knocks me into the pole. Kaelan gasps, and I try to do the same, but I strike the light pole at exactly the right angle on my ribs and the air gets unceremoniously dumped out of my lungs.
“Watch it!” Kaelan snaps, the sound is muffled faintly, like it was aimed away from me, scuffling footsteps hurry away from us, a strong whiff of men’s cologne wafts after it.
“Sorry!” A low rumble of a voice calls from the direction of the scuffled footsteps. “Didn’t see you!”
Kaelan retorts with cussing that could melt the skin from your grandmother, one that doesn’t end until I cough into my hand, and even then it takes it’s time teetering quieter and quieter until it finally fades with the end of a breath. Neither of us speak for a moment, then Kaelan shuffles over to my side and starts brushing off the front of my shirt. The motion is a tad too stiff to feel caring. The vigorous brushing goes on for a full minute before I grapple the violent fingers away from my offending shirt with a hum.
“Is my shirt clean yet?” I ask, still holding the fingers away. A tense wrist and straining fingers quiver in my hand.
“No,” Kaelan replies, but the tension melts, and the fingers slip out of my grasp, “Let’s get back to the cafe.”
I cross my arms over my waist, largely to keep intact what little body warmth I have left. You would be surprised at how much heat bumping into a cold pole can sap out of you. “I’d rather not,” I say.
“The only way you’re gettin’ your glasses back ‘s if y’ go converse with Panda.”
“She clearly does not want to talk to me, forcing it isn’t going to help,” I sigh. It’s unreasonable to think that Panda will drop a grudge she’s been holding for a year, and I don’t want to stick out another round of constant verbal barrage from one of my once-closest friends.
“What if I told her I lied about finding her?” Kaelan offers. I scoff, a sound that is decidedly lacking in the humor department.
“And let her be angry at you?” I would never. It would rip poor Kaelan to pieces.
“Oh, she wouldn’t be angry, she loves me.”
I’m about to argue that the only person Panda loves is Klasir, but I bite my tongue just in time. The coppery flavour of blood washes over the sides of my mouth, it’s difficult to remember that we don’t talk about him anymore. I set the tip of my cane to the concrete, and sigh.
“Sooo,” Kaelan hums.
“Are we going?” Which actually translates too; ‘are we going now, or are we going slightly later’ in Kaelan lingo. Knowing I lost this discussion the moment I stopped at the street light, I nod and reluctantly turn back in the direction we came from. Kaelan hooks an arm around my cold-stiff shoulders, and launches into a conversation that I’m not paying attention to. One of the nicer things about being friends with someone who talks nine miles a minute is that I don’t have to give much of an answer to spur things on, and right now, with my mind on Panda, it gives me space to think.
And oh, do I have a lot to think about.
Back at the cafe, we run into Panda and Abasi as they’re exiting.
“Oh,” says Panda, voice dripping icicles, “look who decide to make a re-appearance. Have a nice walk, Mal?”
“That’s rich coming from someone who dropped off the face of the planet for two weeks.” The accusation marches from my lips uncontrolled. I didn’t intend to break the unspoken agreement the three of us have to never bring up the disappearance around her, but I guess that’s what happens when you let your words bypass your brain on the way to your mouth like I’ve been doing.
“You didn’t have to bring me back!” Two points of heat find my chest a millisecond before a sudden force sends me reeling for the second time today. I stumble back, shoes scuffing a couple steps. The others jump to action, someone goes ‘woah chill’, someone else gasps. I stand stunned, my heel hanging off the edge of the curb. The small fuss ends quickly, there’s brief shuffling around and hushed comments and I can’t tell where anyone stands anymore. I press my lips together, unsure of what to do with my face, a million thoughts are racing through my head, the primary being; what the hell, followed closely by I wish I had my glasses.
“Oh,” Panda breathes, she’s right in front of me. I must look more shellshocked than I realize, because the next words out of her mouth are an apology. “Mal, I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have done that.”
“No, it’s fine.” I say, re-adjusting my shirt even though it still hasn’t recovered from the intense cleaning Kaelan gave it earlier. “I didn’t mean to bring that up, I should have checked myself.”
“Actually, I think it’s good that you did,” Panda says. There’s a kind of pitchiness in her voice that makes her sound oddly distant, as if her mind is somewhere else. Somewhere unnaturally far. My hand reaches for her of its own accord, I check it, hopefully before anyone notices. “I need to talk to you all about what happened.”
“We can step inside the café again ‘n you can say whatever you like,” Kaelan offers, he’s on my left, closer than I thought. There is silence during which I can only assume Panda shakes her head, or makes a face, or flashes a thumbs down, or whatever other nonverbal motion there is for declining a suggestion.
“No, there are too many people here,” Panda declines. Her voice wavers at the end of her sentence, the last two letters are sharpened, needle points. She’s worried about something. “Can we use your apartment, Mal, please? I won’t stay long if you don’t want me to.”
Damn, I forgot she knows I live just down the street from this place. I hesitate, long enough to make it awkward. The air is slowly getting warmer as the day grows older. Today is bound to be one of the last semi-warm days this year, summer is officially collapsing into autumn.
“It will only take a second, your’s is the closest place that I would feel remotely safe saying anything.” Panda’s hand finds my shoulder, the gently pressure somehow manages to be imploring. “I think--.” She drops her already quiet voice to a whisper, “I don’t think what happened to Klasir was natural.”
“What is that supposed to mean?” Abasi joins the conversation for the first time. He’s also on my right, but father than Kaelan.
“That’s all I can say until we get somewhere where there are less people,” Panda insists, from the sound of things, she’s backing away. There’s something so off about how she’s acting, despite myself I’m getting worried. At any rate, if she has information about Klasir’s disappearance… A few minutes inside my apartment isn’t that bad.
“Okay,” I say, tapping the concrete with my cane. I tap the leather on my wrist and catch the right direction this time. “Let’s go.”
I walk off, the only indication that the others are following is their footsteps behind me. Although, I guess those footsteps could belong to strangers. Oh well, hope for the best, I suppose.
It’s a short walk to my apartment building. The door opens without me having to put any pressure on the cold metal bar, and Abasi’s smooth voice goes, “After you.”
“Thanks.” I tap my forehead in a two-fingered salute. I scuff my feet on the rug, three other sets of feet do the same, then I head for the stairs. “Thresher,”
I dig in my pocket for my key and hold it up, “Here, take the elevator,” I instruct even as I’m headed for the stairs. The elevator is faster, and while I could just ride up with them, I’m a creature of habit. That, and I forgot where the elevator doors are located within the first week of moving here. The key is taken from my waiting fingers and I can only assume that the others follow Kaelan to the elevator while I begin my trek up the carpeted stairs.
The time lapse gives me time to get my head straight. I even pause on the second floor to fold up my cane nice and neat to buy a couple more seconds. I’m not sure how I feel about Panda sitting in my home, especially after she shoved me. She’s never gotten physical before, her tongue was poison for sure, but she never tried to hit me. Truth be told, that one shove makes me more angry and scared than all the barbs we’ve swapped since she came back.
I reach the top of the fourth flight of stairs, the wooden handrailing ends abruptly, and I put out my hand to find the handle of the floor door that, for some reason, is always closed on the weekends. I pinch down the diveted metal latch and pull the heavy door open. The latch clacks loudly behind me as I wander a few feet down the hall. My apartment is conveniently the last one on the right before the door. I never have to worry about getting caught feeling up someone’s door numbers because I went a door too far and my key won’t fit.
My apartment door is, predictably, unlocked when I twist the handle. I slip in almost silently. I can hear hushed voices coming from the kitchen, and the clinking and scraping of someone rifling through my cupboards. I set my cane on the pedestal and follow the noise.
“Welcome to my humble home,” I say, entering the kitchen. I place my hand on the light switch in an automatic gesture. I don’t ever have the lights on when I’m home alone, but for the few instances when my parents drop in for a visit, or a friend comes over, I’ve trained myself to check the lights. The switch is tilted up, meaning the lights are on.
“I’m making coffee,” Kaelan informs me, the coffeemaker hums in the corner, “Abasi and Panda are at the table.”
I pull my hand away from the light switch and skim it along the counter as I make my way to the other side of the kitchen where the table is jammed against the wall. The first chair I find is occupied by a fairly large, squishy mass.
“You’re in my spot,” I say, patting Abasi’s close-cut curls.
“Am I?” He sounds utterly unrepentant. I give his head a final, less than gentle pat before moving around him to pull up the other chair. Kaelan joins us, bringing the pungent scent of coffee. Given the lack of scraping chair legs on the tile, I assume there are either no chairs, or Kaelan just feels like standing. Which, really, is okay by me. One of these days my chairs are all going to end up with broken legs because someone won’t sit properly on them.
“Okie dokie, I think we’ve waited long enough to be enlightened,” I say, facing the general direction that Panda might be in, “what is it you want to tell us?”
A heavy sigh comes from that end of the table, and the table jostles as someone shifts their weight on it.
“Where do I begin?” Panda asks, I pretend it’s rhetorical and so does everyone else. After a few moments of silence, she clears her throat, “Okay…okay, this is going to sound crazy, I know it is, but bear with me, okay?” Again, no one answers, except Abasi, who makes an indiscriminate noise in the back of his throat.
“Back in January when I, er, vanished, I was out looking for Klasir,” no surprise there, “At least, I thought I was.”
“What’d’y’ mean ‘you thought’?” Kaelan interrupts.
“Exactly what I said,” Panda answers with an edge to her words, “I thought I was looking for Klasir, I thought I was only gone for a day, I thought I was still in the Bridger area when Mal found me, I was so convinced of it all that I spent an hour trying to fix the calendar on my phone because I thought it was broken.”
“Oh,” Abasi breathes.
“Yeah, ‘oh’.” Panda replies. There’s a creak as someone leans back in their chair. I hold still, absorbing every word. Panda’s story is strange, but I don’t pick up anything more than that, certainly nothing that she should be bothered to keep secret from unconcerned strangers. “There isn’t a single day of those two weeks that I remember clearly, in fact, I don’t remember anything except for this feeling that Klasir was close, and that he was in unimaginable trouble.”
She leaves her story there. A chair creaks again, this time it’s mine. Kaelan sips the coffee. Sensing Panda is done, Abasi takes a moment to voice what we’re all thinking,
“You were pretty messed up when you came back,” he says carefully, “Maybe you don’t remember because you don’t want to.”
“Maybe,” Panda concedes shockingly fast. I bite my inner cheek, waiting for the penny to drop, “Or maybe something else caused my amnesia.”
There it is.
“Like what?” I ask, leaning forward to rest my elbows on the table.
“Drugs.” Panda’s answer is deadpan and instant. Kaelan snorts loudly and immediately starts choking on coffee. Some of it splatters on my floor. I am not moping that up.
“Come again?” Kaelan sputters, barely recovered from the dangerous coffee-choking.
“Someone could have drugged me, like mafia style or something. Maybe I saw something I shouldn’t have.”
“You think the mafia drugged you?” This time Abasi speaks up, sounding as dubious as anyone talking about being drugged by the mafia should sound.
“I said like the mafia,” Panda protests, the table jostles and her chair scrapes back fast. “What other explanation is there.”
“Calm down, calm down,” I say, rising to my feet. We have been here for five minutes, there is coffee all over my kitchen floor, Kaelan is still coughing, and if Panda bangs one more thing the neighbours are going to think I’m being robbed. “I’m sure there’s a way to explain everything, calmly.”
“Oh yeah? Well how about this?”
And then there’s the scratchy-sounding tear of thin fabric, which I sincerely hope is not my curtains.
And then there’s a moment of silence.
And then Kaelan walks over to the sink, and pours what’s left of the coffee down the drain.
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