Simon sits with his back against the Old Oak Tree. He's futzing intently with something small, humming to himself under his breath.
About 16, if you had to guess and had your guessing shoes on, this young man is wiry, neither tall nor short for his age, and the color of bittersweet chocolate. His hair is tightly curled and rather very short, no more than a centimeter of soft 'wool' covering his scalp. His eyes are even darker than his skin, verging on black.
Simon is dressed in simple denim jeans, a woven shirt (short-sleeved), and a leather vest that looks like it might have been handed down from before the Long Night. He wears sandals on his feet, when he bothers wearing shoes at all.
The afternoon sky is heavy with clouds, promising a thunderstorm, and relatively soon. The wind picks up slowly from the west.
Although he was absent for most of the morning, Miki seems to have been running errands around the Farm for the early afternoon. Now he walks slowly across the wide cleared area between the houses, pausing near the Oak to look up at the threatening sky.
He moves with the ungulate grace which is too often compared to deer, but unlike a deer he usually does not make a sound, this slender young man with a waterfall of perfectly white hair-- not blond, but white and fine as Queen Anne's lace-- which has been rather carelessly confined in a burgundy ribbon at the nape of his neck. His eyes at first appear to be dark rather than the blue that is their color, as they are so saturated with color that they absorb rather than reflect, like the evening sky. The planes of his perfectly symmetrical face reflect a beauty so delicate and finely drawn as to be almost inhuman, an impression furthered by the translucent pallor of his skin. Yet the lovely lines of his collarbones and his wrists showing delicately through that transparency paradoxically reinforce his humanity by suggesting his fragility.
His worn, although originally good black shoes are a little citified for the region, as are his well-tailored black pants. The matching, close-fitting black jacket with the mandarin collar and the long sleeves is currently worn open, showing the expensive white collarless shirt underneath. The heat, no doubt, has caused him to open the jacket and unbutton the top three buttons of the shirt.
At rest, he sits quite still, not even fidgeting with his long and capable hands. His face tends to assume a clear, icy expression which is a first cousin to sorrow.
Simon seems entirely oblivious to the darkening clouds, his attention entirely held by the small white object in his hands. There's a book on the ground next to him, open to a page covered with small diagrams.
Dismayed by the color of the sky overhead, Miki ducks under the overhang of leaves to seek shelter. He looks surprised to see Simon there, and essays a shy greeting: "Um, hello."
Simon looks up from his contemplation, grinning as he sees Miklos. "Hi! Look at this!" He holds up the white object, which turns out to be an origami crane, perfectly folded. "I fold this book in the library. Isn't it keen? I can't read what it says, Dad says it's in Japanese, but I can follow the diagrams just fine."
Miki approaches closer and crouches gracefully on his heels to look at the crane. "That is lovely. Is it difficult to learn?" His gaze drops to the book, curiously.
Simon offers the crane to the beautiful young man. "Here, you can have this one. It's not that difficult to learn, just folding the paper really carefully. It has to be awful thin paper. I tried it last night with the regular stuff from the mill, but it didn't work right. I got some of the real thin stuff this morning. Oh! Grandma said I had to promise to ask you a question if I wanted this paper."
The other boy takes the crane gently and balances it on the palm of his hand as if it were a live bird that might fly away at any moment. "Thank you," he breathes, and then blinks. "What? What question?"
Simon doesn't answer for a moment, caught admiring the beauty of the white paper bird and the white-haired young man. "Oh, um, she wants to know how you and your brother get rid of pesky ghosts. I'm to tell Miz Sunshine your answer the next time I see her. I don't know why. Grownups can be such pains sometimes."
"How?" The question seems to give Miki pause. He looks at the little crane as if it might give him some answers, and then sighs. "It's, um, part of our magic. There's a ritual, you offer food and drink and incense and then you tell the ghost how much better it is outside the house, and then you sing it out, and once it leaves the house, it just, you know, leaves. But you have to know how to do it, because there's also another level, the unseen. Here, I can show you, a little." He looks around, searching the leafy bower for something or other.
Simon looks completely fascinated. "Ghosts eat? I didn't know ghosts ate. Do they like tomato soup?"
Miki nods, then says absently, "They don't really eat, it's more like an offering, but they like the gesture. Some people say that they eat the scent of the food." He spots what he is looking for with an accuracy that would do credit to any hunter-- a chickadee on a branch some thirty feet over their heads-- and smiles a little. "Here, I'll show you. You just have to call right."
Simon leans back against the trunk of the tree, trying to see what Miklos is looking at against the darkening clouds. For the moment, the fascination the other young man holds remains enough to block out consciousness of the approaching storm.
The white-haired boy looks up, shaking a few stray locks of his long hair out of his eyes, and focuses on his object for a moment. Then he whispers a few words under his breath-- lilting nonsense syllables to Simon-- and sings two or three lines of a minor, rather Eastern-European sounding melody. The chickadee takes flight and drops down to the leaf-littered ground, cocking its head curiously at this proceeding. Miki repeats the melody again, caressingly, coaxingly, and the bird hops closer.
Simon oooos in wonder. "That's a really keen trick," he says softly.
Miki holds out his hand and tries again. It's only a few lines of melody, sung to an unknown language, but he manages to infuse it with a great deal of pleading. The chickadee regards him with a bright, no-nonsense black eye for a moment, and then consents to flutter onto his hand. Miki turns to smile at Simon, holding out his hands: one carrying the paper crane, and the other the little black-capped bird.
Simon grins widely. "That's a really keen trick, Miki," he says quietly, reaching out slowly towards the chickadee. Just at that moment, there's a crack of thunder, and Simon startles. "Goddess! Lonnie'll skin me if the book gets ruined!"
Miki startles as well, and the bird, surprised, flutters into the air and lands again on his shoulder. He looks up and says, "The rain will be more than heavy enough to get us both soaked, even under here, that I know." He smiles ruefully at Simon. "Enough walking around from town to town teaches that much."
Simon nods, scrambling to his feet and gathering up the book. "Come on! We'll go to the Guest House!" Suiting actions to words, he dashes across the Circle and up the steps to the tiny porch.
Simon goes down the little curving path to the guest house and vanishes inside.
Pausing only to recommend to the bird that it seek shelter in the tree, Miki follows.
Guest House, New Moon Farm
This little cottage lacks the clutter of daily life, but still manages to have a lived-in air. The earthen bins in the big front windows overflow with healthy plants, including tomatoes, cucumbers, and other tender vegtables which do well in greenhouses, and the graceful green branches of a wisteria twine against the glass, making a pleasant ferny shade. The floor is flagstone, covered with a variety of hemp and wool rugs woven in geometrical designs and plant patterns. The front door opens into a living room with comfortably shabby couches and a lovely although battered dining table; the kitchen is directly opposite, lighted by skylights. To the right, coming in, is an archway leading to a bedroom (you can see the foot of the bed and a clothes-press); and to the left is a curtained archway which leads to a smaller bedroom and a large bathroom with an enormous tiled bathtub. A beautiful woolen rug hangs on the wall opposite the front door. (There are views here.)
Because Miki was not quite as fast off the mark as Simon, he is slightly bedewed when he skids in the front door, panting and sliding on the rug. He laughs, putting up both his hands to push his damp, windblown hair out of his face. "The storms you have up here move very fast!"
Simon collapses dramatically on one of the couches, precious book clutched to his chest. "Whew! Lonnie gets awful mad when you're careless with books. Yeah, don't they ever." He pauses for a moment to admire Miklos, windblown and damp though he is.
Miki, pausing to scrape his damp shoes off on the mat, looks up at just the wrong moment, catches Simon's gaze, and blushes. He looks back down at his shoes.
Simon sits a little more upright, setting the book aside on a low table. He watches Miklos for another moment, as if he can't quite believe he's real, then glances out the window. "Wow, it's really coming down... It'll be a while before Miz Sunshine gets home. D'you want anything to drink?"
Miklos stands up and sets the little paper crane carefully aside on a shelf. It's only a little damp. "Sure," he says, "Thank you." He also turns to look out the window at the storm, flinching a bit as a particularly loud clap of thunder seems to break directly overhead.
Simon bounces to his feet, energy recovered, and heads into the tiny kitchen. "Is tea ok? I know where Miz Sunshine keeps the peppermint. It'll be another couple months before there's cider again, and I don't think Miz Sunshine keeps milk here. There's water, too, if you'd rather."
"Tea would be really nice," says Miki, following Simon into the kitchen. He hitches himself up to sit on the counter, raking his hair forward so he can attempt to tame it into something manageable again. "So, um, what are you planning on doing? I mean, are you going to stay at the Farm or apprentice out, or...?"
Simon busies himself making tea, trying both to avoid staring at Miklos and to put everything back exactly where he found it. When the kettle's on the stove, and the stove is lit, he leans against the opposite counter, now trying to watch without staring, which is considerably more difficult. "Uh, I don't know, really. I like the Farm an awful lot, but I haven't found anything here that I really like to do. Mr. Lucas said he'd introduce me to some people who might be able to teach me things I'd like, but that was only yesterday, and he's been awful busy since." The flow of words ceases for a moment, and the young man's mobile face is thoughtful.
Miki untangles the ribbon from his hair and drops it across his lap while he attempts to make the cobweb-fine mane behave. "It must be nice to have a place to belong to, though," he says wistfully. "Is everyone at the Farm your family?" Realizing, apparently, that the questions might be seen as nosy, he looks embarrassed, and puts the ribbon between his teeth, seemingly to keep himself quiet while his hands are occupied with his hair.
The teapot whistles, and Simon makes haste to pour the hot water over the carefully set out cups of peppermint leaves. "Oh, no, well, sort of, I guess. I mean, not everybody's related to me, but they're all my family. My Dad's an incomer, but Mam's Farmfolk."
"Honey?" Simon pours some of the sticky sweetner into one cup, then offer the other cup and the honey to Miklos. "That, ah, calling thing... Could you do that to a person? I mean, someone who's alive?"
Miki tosses the ponytail over his shoulder and accepts the mug of tea with a smile. "Thanks. That sounds awfully nice. All I have is my brother, and we've been wandering for years." He looks down at the mug for a moment, and then back up at Simon through the steam. "The calling? To a human person, you mean?" He frowns down at the tea thoughtfully. "I think so. But the person would have to want to come, you know."
Simon looks fascinated. "Is that different from ghosts? Or do they have to want to come, too? How about animals? Did that chickadee have to want to come to you?" Realizing that he's bombarding his poor guest with questions, Simon takes a sip of tea to shut himself up.
While putting honey into his tea, Miki glances sideways at Simon. "It is complicated. Ghosts are worn thin, it's easy to convince them. They have to want to come, but you can... it's hard to describe. They are easy to convince? Animals have simple desires, so you can speak to those, and then they will come to you, but it's a little different than ghosts. People..." He looks up at the ceiling thoughfully, then back down at Simon. "People have minds like... like layers of stone, or a river full of fish, all sorts of things going on. Animals and ghosts are simpler. That's why, with a person, I don't think I could call someone unless that person already wanted to come to me. I need to give a reason, you see."
Miki suddenly smiles mischievously. "I have not done it, but we could try it."
Simon listens intently, avidly. He sips his tea, then grins. "Would you? I'm awful curious to know what it feels like."
Miklos sets the tea mug down carefully on the counter and slides down to the floor. "Now you have made me curious. I will just go into the other room, and we shall see." He flashes a smile at Simon over his shoulder and goes out into the living room.
Simon watches Miklos go, sipping his tea carefully. The beautiful young man's smile earns a brilliant grin in return. "OK. What should I do? Just stand here?"
"Yes," says Miki. "For just a moment. Then... well, we'll see."
Simon gulps the rest of his tea, setting the cup down on the counter. He watches Miklos with an intent mixture of anticipation, curiosity, and nerves.
Presently, a lilting song emerges from the living room. It's not the same one used to call the chickadee; this one is six lines long, and a more complex and haunting melody. Behind the music there is a curious feeling, almost like goosebumps or the chill one sometimes gets down the spine, and following that is the call, like water running under the skin. It's gentle but very alluring, promising whatever you want most (from Miki, that is) if you'll just be kind enough to go to him.
Simon shivers, his lip catching between his teeth. He hesitates, then walks slowly back into the common area. Licking his lips quickly and swallowing, he hesitates again when he gets to the edge of the group of couches.
Miki is sitting curled up in the corner of one of the couches, concentrating, with his eyes shut. His face is tilted slightly back, to let his voice carry better, and his hands are lightly curled into fists. He goes on singing in his light but very sure voice, adding another note of appeal to the melody.
Simon swallows again, walking very carefully and quietly towards Miklos. His breathing isn't quite relaxed, but it's not forced, either. He stops in front of Miklos, his hands opening and closing at his sides, as if he wanted to reach out, but didn't trust his welcome. "Anything, Miki?" he asks in a plaintive whisper.
Miki suddenly opens his eyes, letting the song trail off. He takes a deep, somewhat ragged breath, an expression of wonder passing over his face, and then, slowly and hesitantly, reaches up with both his hands. "Simon?" he says, not quite touching him. "It's all right."
Simon takes the outstretched hands, settling himself awkwardly onto the couch next to Miklos. He flushes hard enough for a ghost of the blush to be visible, even against his dark skin. "Are, are you sure? I mean..."
Miklos nods, not taking his gaze from Simon's eyes.
Simon keeps his eyes on Miklos's as he leans forward, slowly. Gently, tentatively, hesitantly, he kisses the pale young man's delicate lips.
Miklos sighs and shivers, closing his eyes as Simon kisses him. After a moment, he shyly puts his arms around the other boy's neck.
Simon pulls back, so he can get another good look at Miklos. "You're really, amazingly beautiful," he says wonderingly. Tucking himself deeper into the back of the couch, he slips an arm around Miki's shoulders, touching that incredibly white hair with his free hand.
Miki smiles a little and looks down. "Thank you," he says after a pause, and then leans lightly against Simon. "You are, um, very attractive, too." He *is* blushing, unmistakably so, the blood staining his translucent skin like wine.
Simon grins, both gratified and a little embarassed. He kisses the wine-red cheek nearest him, still tentative. Cuddling close, he admits, "I've never, um, I mean, none of the other guys here..."
Miki cuddles back and hides his face in Simon's neck. "Oh?" he asks, a little too breathlessly. "Well, um, that's all right, I mean, it is, um, understandable." He laughs a little, shakily, and says, "I guess experience is one of the advantages of traveling." He kisses Simon's collarbones lightly.
Simon mindlessly strokes the soft fabric of the other boy's sleeve, shivering slightly at the gentle kisses. "I've never been allowed to, I mean, Dad says I don't have enough to come in from a storm... Oh!" He shivers, closing his eyes.
Softly, Miki kisses up Simon's throat and then cuddles against his shoulder. "Well, you had enough sense to come in from this one," he murmurs into the other boy's shirt.
With Simon's eyes closed and Miklos cuddled against his shoulder, only a burst of damp air signals Sunshine's arrival in the Guest House. The Healer closes the door quietly behind herself, studying the two young men snuggled together on the couch. She clears her throat gently.
Miklos levitates like a startled cat.
Simon opens his eyes, startled more by Miki's jumping than Sunshine's gentle noise. He hugs Miki reflexively. "Evening, Miz Sunshine," he says, managing to sound only slightly abashed.
"Evening, Simon," says Sunshine with a gentle smile. "I see you found him." She looks at the two young men with quiet expectation.
Miki leans against Simon again, responding to the pressure of his arm. He regards Sunshine with a wide and somewhat startled stare. "Found me?"
Simon nods against Miki's forehead. "Yeah. He, um, said he just kind of
calls them, with some stuff about offerings of food, and they come because they want to. It's like he can give them whatever they want."
Sunshine looks startled. "Simon. You didn't. Simon, that was a very foolish thing to do." She studies the pair, dark and light, for a long moment. "Ah, well, I suppose it was inevitable, bless you both."
Miki blushes again, a wave of red flowing over his skin from his collarbone upwards, and says, "Um? Is this about my magic? Is it a problem for me to be here?"
Sunshine settles onto the arm of one of the other couches. "As long as you use you magic only to call those who want to be called, it is no problem. No one, however, will condone using it on those who are unwilling. I hope I am entirely clear."
Simon protests, "He wouldn't!" but Sunshine stops him with a look before he gets any farther.
Miklos looks down. "I could not do that, anyway," he says. "I do not have enough power to call anyone who does not want to be called, and besides," he adds unhappily, "I have only used it before on ghosts and animals and I did not even know if it would work on a person, people have so much in their minds." He looks up at Sunshine, one quick glance. "How did you know?"
Sunshine continues as if Simon had not interrupted, and as if Miklos had never spoken. "There is a farm house on the far edge of Town. The couple who live there are called the Polks. There is a ghost there, which troubles them. They would prefer to do without the broken crockery and flying cookware. Do you think you can oblige them?"
Miki blinks, once, twice, and then sits up properly on the couch. "Yes. I would have to see the house, of course, to make sure it is a ghost, but it is likely that I and my brother can deal with it."
Simon reluctantly loosens his hold on Miklos as the pale young man sits up. "The Polks've had that house for a long time, haven't they?" The question is earnest. Perhaps the dark young man had not known about the Polk ghost.
Sunshine nods to both young men. "Very well, then. Miklos, you are welcome to stay in the guest room. Simon, I think your parents would appreciate it if you went home."
Miklos gets to his feet and bows deeply and politely, and perhaps a trifle ironically, to Sunshine. "I am in your debt," he says formally. Then he turns to go into the guest room, his gaze seeking out Simon's in passing, and it is probably not chance that his hand happens to brush over Simon's fingers as he goes.
Simon's eyes follow Miklos until the pale beauty has left before he looks at Sunshine, pouting slightly.
The Healer chuckles gently. "There will be other times and places, Simon. Nothing is decided in a night, and you have a busy day tomorrow, I've been told."
Simon nods reluctantly, scrambling to his feet. "Good night, Miz Sunshine," he says, about to leave when Sunshine's amused "Don't forget your book" reminds him and he grabs the origami book on his way out the door.
Sunshine smiles as she watches the dark young man leave. "Lady guide you, Simon," she says quietly, after there's no danger of him hearing her.