Nameless thanked the storekeeper and strolled out into the light, tossing the puzzle box from hand to broad scarred hand. Around him Sigil seethed: a truly organic latticework of towers and walls standing in one long arch above brightly clad couriers, towering Mercykiller guards, demons, constructs, mages of immaculate haberdashery and thieves of innocent-looking millinery, crowds pushing and pulling…
…and opening between him and the leather-clad tiefling who managed to look him in the eye from a foot shorter.
She eyed the puzzle box and then him. “What’s this, then?”
“Question,” he said. “If I asked you to teach me a little about dismantling traps. Would you?”
“If ye asked with a little jink. Give it here. Ye want this open?”
He tossed it once more and handed it over. “I don’t even see where to start.”
She gripped and examined. On a whim he pulled a coin from his purse. “Here.” he flicked it at her.
Her reflexes were as sharp as his. She caught it and, muttering, touched it to a recess on the box. It clicked and two sides folded open.
“Lucky guess,” she said disdainfully, and turned it over again. “See this switch? Ye tetch it.”
Nameless took the box back. He tapped the switch and threw the whole thing airborne while a wickedly shining blade sprang free. He caught the result and, seeing a new release now, pushed that. In a heady succession of seconds he opened, unfolded, dodged, suppressed, twisted and unscrewed until a little golden ball rolled out from the center. It reminded Nameless of something he couldn’t yet grasp. He suddenly wanted to wrap it back up again. The darkness was where it belonged.
Annah watched with wide eyes. “Faugh!” she said, and made a sign over her heart. “How did ye do that, then?”
The darkness followed close now. “I think I’m the one who made it.”
She rolled her eyes. “That never gets less weird.”
“Tell me about it. Want to know how I put it together?”
She stuck out her tongue. “Nae. Ye’re the wannabe thief, remember?”
months after the war has ended,
your hands are wrapped around the railing of an old cruise-liner,
ivory or freckled or dark against the steel water churning white
as you think about the atlantic and the distance between england and
south philly, lancaster, bayou chene, kokomo, san francisco, astoria,
and everything your hands were good for there,
like hauling in the salmon nets on the columbia or throwing the first punch
(those are the fights you wish defined you)
every part of you (they even got their hands all over your soul,
squeezing it and ripping the joy out of its vaults, so each breath
was like seeing a ghost whom you never gave a proper burial);
every part of you was taken for this war and what you’ve left
in those woods has made you an empty frame, wind blowing through you,
as you search for anything that might be left. anything: what were these hands for,
this mouth, these eyes, these tired legs and these feet still numb?
you watch the foam and think i don’t know, as you try to exhale the past
into the always moving, leaving, forgetting ocean.
three years gone, you think. but then, his whole lifetime gone,
and because of the way you still see the outline of a rifle in your empty hands,
you know that there must be something else that could fit in its place;
your prayers are not so much requests as they are far away, desperate pleas with God
to give you some light for these calloused, thin, trigger ready fingers.
o lord, let my shoulders, hollow and as strong as paper,
be used not to hoist a bazooka
but to hoist her on her second birthday as we walk down to the lake.
these wretched hands, still covered in blood, still trying to hold together burst arteries,
let them be used to build, to write, to zip the back of her dress,
to hold onto his when he clings to it with a week-old grip.
my legs, not to march, but to come home.
let my mouth be used not to scream medic,
but to sing to her to sleep in a night that is finally quiet-
no more war songs, only lullabies.
But after the fourth, it becomes a competition. Abbie feels the stirring need to show up the polite bastard, to watch the smirk wiped off his face when she holds the door open for him. He begins to protest, bring up chivalry and dignity, but he holds his tongue and steps through the doorway reluctantly.
Of course, he gets his own back.
When Abbie smugly holds the door open, Ichabod doesn’t move. Instead, he gestures with one hand, as if insisting she lead the way. Her jaw drops momentarily, but she steels herself and steps through, glaring at him. This isn’t over.
And so, it becomes a challenge, a childish rivalry. Abbie holds elevators, train doors, pushes him onto escalators first. Ichabod takes the traditional route: house doors, glass doors, the entrances into buildings. Once, he even raced around to open the car door for Abbie. He could feel the indignation radiating from her afterwards. She didn’t speak to him for three hours.
Suffice to say, he never did that again.
But in all, it was fair to say that Abbie cared about it for different reasons. She held her pride, her honour, and her dignity in high regard. Having been walked on and screwed over her whole life, she felt as if she owed him something for his courtesy.
And Ichabod? He needed to hold on to his chivalry, if nothing else. Jarred and alone, polite acts of courtesy were all he had left.
So when he lifts up police tape for her, and she rolls her eyes and mutters, “Chivalry is dead,” and he responds crisply, “On the contrary, Lieutenant, it was merely under a protective spell until it was reawakened,” there is an unspoken bond, a profound connection forged by competition.
I want to tell him to wait. To come back. To simply let me touch him and look at him and make sure he’s okay. I need to know that everything’s all right with him and the world. I just need to feel the heat of him. But I don’t know how to tell him all this. That I’m scared and I don’t know how to be normal. I’m broken, just like him, and I’m not sure I can fix myself.