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Bridge 2 [Called "The Flute"]

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They had been alone like this for ages and for all that time, Nanashi hadn't uttered one single word. Not that anyone felt much like speaking as long as they were hold up in the freighter's cellar. It was a dismal place, smelling of dampness and cold rust; making out any other scent was difficult with that astringent tang filling up their lungs. The rooms were scant and painted gunship grey where the paint hadn't worn off that was, and there were several rooms, a few with locking doors and they were all empty except for a few crates and belongings in them.

But of all things, the eccentric billionaire who had hired them had provided an artificial sunlight generator. The lamplight was then warm at one touch but the air droning through the pumps and buzzing fans was dank. So, sitting in the corner by himself, maybe he was imagining that was a real sun beating down on him as he sat on a rain damp sidewalk. As long as he didn't speak though, no one knew. No one knew anything about him.

"What a brat," yawned McMillian.

"Brat? Hn! Is that the best you can do?" Cicero scoffed. "I've never known you to speak so lightly."

"What? Brat's the best word. Don't know what else to call him. He doesn't seem old enough to be a selfish bastard."

"C'mon guys! Show some sympathy!" complained Bluey. "He's only a little older than me and he's probably been though more. A lot more. He said he was a mercenary before, and who knows what became of his."

Tolstoy kicked him in the shin. "That's enough out of you. He's an arrogant little bitch, that's what he is."

No one agreed of disagreed with this.

Octavian though- "And I bet he's heard every word."

He had. By now he didn't care. They knew he was accomplished at his trade, there would be no doubting of this after the last assignment, the first he had accompanied them on. Even through their brutish jousting and their constant wisecracks, he had taken out quite a few of the squatters at the base. More than some of his elders combined. But they'd never shut up would they? He'd always be the smart-aleck new guy who was too aloof to talk. So? He had everything he needed, all he wanted and if it didn't work out there was always something to be said for turning them in.

Novel idea that.

He almost cracked a wicked little smile.

But that was how he lost his first band, wasn't it? Being found out.. He wouldn't, not even to them. He was trained well enough to hold his own, but there would always be more to adapt to. Adapting had gotten him into this, hadn't it? He could have left the others before, but after he'd learned to get his way about those things.

And that was no good to a normal person, was it?

This was better than the life he could take with his skills otherwise. Bluey probably felt that way too. (They were about the same age: eleven maybe.)

So he would stay.

A wisp of hot steam wound it's way through the achy cold humidity and brushed against his nose. Someone was trying to make dinner on one of their ancient propane burners. He couldn't tell from the scent what it was. If it wasn't stew, he wasn't eating it. Even the stale hardtack was more bearable than some of their noxious mixtures.

There was nothing to do until dinner. Even if it made him look like a dog, he wasn't coming until they called.

/I wonder if this is boredom? That's on luxury I though I'd never see./

He watched them then. Someone was telling a dirty joke in a voice just a little low for him to hear, not that he hadn't heard them all already. Nights like this one coming up: they were all the same.

Cicero though, seemed to be up to something fingering a small black case beside him.

/I'll bet anything. Stupid! You don't have anything to bet! And who would anyway? It's just his lucky gun or something./

But for a spilt second he feared he'd gone mad. The emptiness behind those eyes and the ice in that heart. he watched them both subside as he opened the case. Cheering among the others. Some intergalactic hush over their souls in some freaky half-remembrance of another spell, ages ago among men who had just as little to care for.

/Just a gun./

It was a flute and Cicero with unexplainable passion and unfitting grace held it to his chapped lips to play. And no longer was it a flute then despite all other appearances, for no such thing draws out, as he did, the voices of a thousand singing faeries or a chorus of spirits in the fog of English moors. A music that against the gunship grey turned into more mellow pastels that came to dance with his notes just as sirens summoned out of rainbows would do his bidding, as long as he played, always though, always in their own way.

In all the year of his young life, Nanashi had never dreamed of such things. Every thought he had was taken apart by the harsh ordinary colors of the real world. But blood red here was only rosey pink and space was but a lavender haze populated with bottled visions. A strange feeling started in him then, no particular place was dominated by it as with pain or the echoes of pain he sometimes lived with. It was as if those beings of music so wrought before him had taken something inside him apart, some malfunctioning apparatus that they replaced with painting of real living creatures such as themselves for no matter what he did they would not become real in his existence and he could not join them. For one moment, he cast away all his doubts and he had doubted all his life. All this, all he had been though and the song was enough to set him free as if he had been meant to find it and to feel it. If he could have caught a strain and kept it in his pocket.

Cicero finished then and with a very nearly gentlemanly bow, held out the flute. But the guise he had taken when he was temporarily king of the fae faded as he stepped down, turning into just another mercenary again, fixed on another ordinary mercenary seated in the corner and gazing with wide eyes.

/Can he see that I am touched? Can he see me at all I wonder? I don't even feel like me anymore. No, not after that.. Not after that./

He all but felt her sitting on his shoulder: the pixie who spoke to him then. "You'll be paid a pretty penny for this job!"

/But it's no good if I can't make it play. A million flutes wouldn't be any good just like birds that can't sing anymore are no good to the selfish people that keep them./

"Oh! But you have never tried to sing. You can't loose what you've never had."

/But there's only one way to get it./

"OI! Nanashi! You want some grub or not?"

Without a word, he stumbled to the pot and glanced in. Stew. It was almost edible when it was all cooked together. In this case anyway. He no longer felt much like eating though.

*

"Don't you bother him!" McMillian grumbled from under his covers having made out even the tacit one's light footsteps in the semi-darkness.

His silent sneer must have cut though the dingy dimness.

"Whatever! You never listen to anyone anyway."

Cicero, who had just been pulling off his boots, made out the words before his door and opened it to see Nanashi standing outside. The boy almost seemed to have second thoughts at the sight of him, a nervous wince. "Whaddya want?"

"To speak with you."

"Well.?"

"Alone."

He stepped back with an ill-tempered grumble and let the near-mute into his room- nothing in it but his cot, a sack of his luggage, a few loaded weapons. Out of the main chamber he had one low-watt incandescent bulb to compensate.

Cicero himself was somewhat of an menacing figure though wearing nothing but a pair of navy fatigues. Unlike some of the others, he was shaved, his dark hair shorn in close curls. But he did stink somewhat of sweat and tobacco and his sinewy torso was crisscrossed with slash marks and riddled with bullet holes. He pulled a box of cigarettes out of his bag along with a lighter. "You smoke?"

"I'll have one."

They only just nodded in some semblance of thanks and he was a little amused to see his young guest puff deliberatively away as if he had done it for years though now that he'd had a chance to think, he'd never seen him do it before. "So, what is it?"

Nanashi blew out a nearly perfect smoke ring and without lifting his eyes from it. "Your flute, you play it very well."

"Thanks kid. Didn't think you cared."

/Oh! But how could I not care! How could I not after what you've done to me and you don't even know it!? The way it made me feel. I've got a heart, I felt it beating when you played./ "If I bought myself one, would you teach me?"

Cicero laughed. "That's a tall order. Absolutely not an easy task considering we'd have to go between jobs and such. And I'm not saying I'll do it. You gotta tell me why I should."

/Because you stirred things in me I always wanted to feel, because you can turn it to spring here in the forever winter. The pixie on my shoulder begs me to have that power too so she can stay. But you couldn't understand that./ As casually as if he was asking someone to pass the salt. "Because I'll let you sleep with me."

The elder gagged on his smoke, coughing and cursing loudly for a moment. "Jesus! Where the hell did that come from!? You desperate or somethin'!?!?"

He wouldn't say anything to that. It was his offer and it stood.

The flutist's tone changed suddenly, became sultry and intrigued. "You think you really know how to get what you want, huh? You're really no newcomer, are you? But of all the things you could want, flute lessons!"

/Ah! What is it? Why make me wait!?/ "Deal or no deal?"

He got up from where he had been sitting on the cot and crossed to where the younger one was standing. "How dedicated a student would you be?"

"As dedicated a teacher as you would be."

That drew a snort of laughter. "You ARE desperate and somehow that's a real turn-on. Oh. you've been had before, haven't you?"

"Yes."

"Hmm.. I thought so." There was no disgust in his words. It wasn't an uncommon thing. Bluey was involved with Tolstoy just like some of the master-apprentice relationships had been set up in ancient Rome. Strange that this one was called Cicero. "Do something for me quick. Your lips might be banged up and that ain't gonna work. Say 'm' for me and hold your lips on the last sound."

"M."

"Good, good," He traced his rough fingers over the slit "Yes, very good," and pressed his tongue inside inspecting every crevice of the hot little mouth.

Nanashi wasn't sure; did he want a response or a totally passive toy, not so much a partner? He twitched his own tongue against the underside of the intruder's and leaned further into the kiss- It was a kiss, wasn't it? He'd never thought of it that way before. But he had provoked a response, a low, hungry moan in the back of his throat.

"You're good kid, and you're no slave. I like that, and I guess I like you too. Got anything else you wanna say before we begin today's lesson?"

"Don't fuck me in the ass without any lube."

"That can be arranged." He yanked off the boy's tattered shirt and started sucking on the slender column of the his neck, tracing a wet line of predatory licks down to the nipples that he nibbled on reflectively. His student never flinched away, or started to cry out.

But he was still no slave. Wasn't this how he'd learned everything he'd come to know? By playing servant to those who were the undisputed masters of their knowledge that he could not have siphoned away otherwise? The others had been the prized fighters of his former band: the master inflitraitors, the only educated ones. It was this or be raped and be ignorant and he didn't care. He didn't mind it anymore. This was no different from how normal children learned, either way was sacrificing himself at the expense of a playtime he had never known. But he wasn't a whore! This was better than being a dirty whore.

This was just they way he'd always done things.

And as Cicero thrust wildly between his clenched thighs in at last some Roman act to tie up the coincidence, he did feel it. He really did.

But as long as he heard the flute, it wouldn't be so bad.

Nanashi never looked back at his lessons and cringed, or shook, or felt any stab of discomfort. For this at least, he could see sometimes in his past a thing that he'd enjoyed: being an apprentice magician who learned to summon illusory things, who learned to soar away by catching creatures too fantastic to be mentioned without the net of sound. He had fun with Cicero and what the other said of their agreement didn't matter. They were almost friends, in an odd way. He'd had a terrible time explaining it to Ralph.

He learned to soothe his soul with music and to call upon more than the real world for freedom and joy. Every day of practice, every minute of showing off to Ralph, every penny that he spent for his own instrument at last, they were dazzling because he made of them something more, and no one could take that away from him.

But when Trowa Barton took up Nanashi's flute years later, he called up one thing more beautiful than the rest.

His Water Sprite.

And it was that memory that held him as he seemed to move through the sea rather than air that night he came to the door and opened it without a hint of a squeal. There, the shadow of that being of the legends so long ago told by men in the days before they tried to claim the stars for their own and instead marveled at them only, iridescing as he was strewn amidst the covers. He stole over the carpet and went to the side of the sleeping boy, marveling at how clear he remanded even in the night. Clearer than all of those stars to naked eyes.

Clearer than he had thought, in a long time. Now he just wondered what he dreamed of to be the sole possessor of that tranquil smile. Not of him at least. To this he forfeited a gesture, some expression, and took his hand from the covers, rolling it over and over in his own, warming it with the touch of his fingers. He made the most darling babbling noises in his sleep as he touched him. Ever so darling. /Just one more. just one more./ So he bent and lavished finally a kiss, one kiss. The lips. Then took the silky palm and laid it to the halfway bare breast. Without looking back, he slipped out the door, and closed it behind him.

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End Bridge 2

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