Nobody On My Side
By
Lewis Smith
www.gunmetalblack.com

Space was by its nature lonely. The mathematical probabilities of finding another planet, much less an inhabited one, were so remote they almost conveyed the thousandth part of the loneliness. Stars, though seeming close together from a distance were light years separate, like people who dreamt of one another and never saw them.

Seeming close but far apart and always alone.

In this quiet lonely space there flew a single starship, a battered silver torpedo slowly making its way through the solitary darkness of space. It was a freighter, slightly rebuilt. At least on the outside. The inside contained three people, and like the stars outside, they seemed close but were far apart in truth.

The loneliest of them sat in the chair furthest back. The two people before him, his friends, were chatting happily about something. He hadn't heard a word for hours. His left hand danced over a silver panel, his red gloved fingers flicking it open and closed. His emerald eyes stared at the deck between his feet, looking through it to the empty space between his feet and how it called to that within his own heart.

"So, Toriares," the young brunette said, punching in a series of coordinates on the control panel. "Five days before the wedding. You ready?"

Toriares Ata'e smiled and nodded, flicking his long white hair from his eyes. "Everything's ready on Cabirius Prime and so far as I know, every single custom's been followed. I never really appreciated the simplicity of Earther weddings until I knew what it took to marry a Khephren woman."

The woman known as Silhouette smiled. "I'm looking forward to it. Three days on Cabirius Prime? I already have my dress bought."

Toriares smiled and looked over her shoulder. "What about you Kienan?"

"Huh?" Kienan Ademetria said, letting the silver panel slam down. He shook his head. "I'm sorry. Wasn't paying attention."

"It's all right," Toriares said. He regarded Kienan a little curiously. "You OK?"

"Yeah," Kienan said. "I'm . . .I'm gonna go to the back. I need a cigarette."

"But you've been playing with the ashtray for the last hour or so," Toriares said. "Didn’t you put it in because you didn’t want to leave?"

"Yeah," Kienan said, looking away, caught in a lie. His chestnut hair shaded his eyes and made him look even guiltier. "I . . . look. I need to be alone for a bit."

He got up and stepped out the door to the bridge, the braid of his hair seeming to wave goodbye to the two of them.

"Hm," Toriares said as he watched the door close.

"He's been like that for the past month," Silhouette said bitterly. "He'll act as normal as he ever does, but it seems like the minute your name comes up or the wedding does, he either shuts up and doesn’t say anything or makes up some BS excuse and runs away."

Toriares looked back at the ship's controls. "That bad?"

Silhouette grimaced. "He kicked me out of bed. I've been sleeping on the couch the last two weeks."

"Ouch," Toriares said. He looked at Silhouette for a moment. "Dahlin, you didn't by any chance bring up the possibility of you two getting hitched, did you?"

Silhouette laughed humorlessly. "Toriares, he doesn't speak to me long enough for me to discuss it, if he speaks to me at all. This is something else eating at him. I wish to hell I knew what it was and how to pull him out of it."

"So do I," Toriares said. "He's my best friend. I hate to see him hurting."


In the rear quarters of the ship there was a single room, usually darkened with several round windows. It was always quiet and if you looked out at the right kind of eyes at the stars outside, some shining even after being dead for centuries.

If your name was Kienan Ademetria it was a darkness in which you were forever shadowed.

Kienan took a drag of his cigarette and shivered. He wasn't cold -- he had been in space long enough to not mind that nearly every space ship and colony kept their atmosphere ice-cold. No -- he was shivering with fear.
To suggest Kienan was afraid of anything was ridiculous. Kienan was an assassin, just like Silhouette and Toriares. A killer for hire. Kienan killed for other reasons. It was all he knew he was good at.

And he was extremely good at it. Ruthless, efficient, and brutal. He was honed by a nightmarish experience. His entire home colony murdered, his family butchered in front of his eyes.

Sometimes in his dreams he was still there, fleeing the shock of the hot blood from his sister's jugular hitting him in the face and stinging his eyes.

 

Sometimes the hateful memory of his head being shoved into a standing pool of his father's blood made it hard to breathe, and when he woke up in a cold sweat he felt his stomach turn as he tasted it in his mouth.

He'd made his family's killers pay of course. Made the local sun go supernova and drifted alone for months, starving, freezing to death, and half-mad in an escape pod until he was found.

He leaned against the wall, staring out of the window, still looking for home. Finding nothing, he sighed and recounted his sad tale quietly to himself.
All that made him feel anymore had been to hurt and to kill. Point him at something and the familiar rage came back and he would burn in it until he consumed what was before him.

It felt good to feel at all.

Finally, direction. A job, an occupation. A friend.

Toriares. His best friend. His only friend.

Toriares was more than his friend, he was his master. He had taught him to perfect his killing skills and make him even more dangerous, because instead of being a blunt instrument, Kienan was a precise weapon.

More than that, Toriares had reminded him to be human. It had been so long since Kienan had a friend, but over time he and Toriares has become closer than brothers, In fact, their masters in the syndicate called them "the brothers in blood."

Leave it to him to have the bad taste to get married, Kienan thought, immediately feeling guilty for doing so.

"Kienan," Silhouette said to him. Kienan looked over his shoulder.

"What?"

"We're going to be docking in an hour. Toriares sent me to see if you were OK."

"Fine," Kienan said.

"Fine," Silhouette repeated. "You know, you don’t fool anyone."

Kienan's eyes narrowed. He willed himself not to bite down on his cigarette.

"This convenient running off to be by yourself? Treating me like I don’t exist? I know exactly why you’re doing it.

"Toriares," she said. "You're scared you'll never see him again."

Kienan shivered and stared out into space.

"I know better than that," Kienan said.

"Do you?" Silhouette said. Her blue-green eyes quavered a bit as she spoke to him. It was so hard reaching him. Sometimes he could be so gentle, sometimes so frightening. Then there were these times where he was impossible. Like now.

"What if I were to leave, Kienan?" Silhouette asked. "What if one day I left and never came back? Could you handle it?"

Kienan stared straight ahead, eyes fixed on a distant star. "I don’t want to think about that."

"I don’t suppose you do," Silhouette said. "Just like you don’t want to think about Toriares getting married and leaving you. You’re so afraid of being alone, you’re making yourself lonely by refusing to confront reality."

"You know me so well," Kienan sneered.

"It doesn’t take a mind reader to see through you," she said. "You figure, "if I do nothing it's never my fault if he leaves. If I say something, he might get mad and leave.""

Kienan looked down. "All right," he said. He was genuinely sick of this. "You’re right, I admit it, can we drop it please?"

Silhouette sighed. Touched a nerve, she thought. Now he just wants to get rid of me. Easier than facing the truth, I guess.

"Whatever," Silhouette said. She turned on her heel and walked out of the room. She paused for a second and looked over her shoulder.

"Kienan," she said. "You have a lot of people who love you and care for you. I'm one of them. but . . . "

"But what?"

Silhouette sighed. "Sometimes, you really treat us like dirt."

The door to the room slid shut and he was alone again.


Silhouette walked down the hallway, a shadow woman in black, walking in silent sorrow. She looked down and futilely blinked back tears. She loved Kienan, but she was also afraid of him. Deeply.

Because only he could hurt her. And sometimes, when he was determined to hurt himself, she felt his pain as acutely as if it were her own.

Bastard, she thought. Why can’t he . . .

She couldn’t finish the thought. Didn’t dare. She had loved him so deeply once. Even when she found out who and what he was she didn’t mind. She knew that the kind boy inside him still loved her.

But he couldn't share his secrets with her, and that more than anything hurt her. Maybe it was selfish of her -- Silhouette was a woman of secrets herself. Maybe she wanted to know his to know him better so he could do the same for her.

Someday.

But by and by she had come to see that day would never come. Kienan had no wish to change, and wouldn’t -- or couldn't -- share that part of himself with her. Maybe he was scared of how she'd react or scared of what was at the core of him.

I don’t know, she thought. And I know now I never will. I've tried so hard to hate him. Tried to hard to make myself angry that he loves his loneliness and his rage more than he could ever love me.

I hate him. He's doing to me the same damn thing to me that he thinks

Toriares is doing to him. Shutting me out. Abandoning me.

Her steps echoed on the metal deck of the corridor.

I hate him.

She slammed a white-gloved fist against the bulkhead, her face hot with anger and wet with tears.

I HATE him.

She teetered a little on her white boots, tears spilling from her eyes as she walked the corridor. She punched the bulkhead again.

I HATE HIM!

She slumped against the bulkhead and slid down the wall, sitting with her elbows on her knees and sobbing softly.

What I don’t understand is why I can't let go of him.


A half-hour later the ship docked in its berth at Kuran. Above decks, Toriares and Silhouette were preparing to disembark when they both noticed they were one man short.

Toriares waited at the airlock, tapping his white cane against the side.

 

Silhouette was looking every single direction she could except at him.

 

Toriares sighed and regarded his friend and thought of his absent one and couldn’t help but feel a bit guilty.

Put this off far too long, he thought.

He looked at Silhouette.

Way too long.

He walked back down the empty halls of the ship, his cane lightly tapping on the metal deck. Kienan and Toriares were similar in many ways. They were both highly skilled assassins, both orphans, and both considered the other their very best friend.

All the same, he thought. I've always been scared of him. This life was all he's known. It's like it's all he can feel. Seeing him like that makes me sad and furious at him all at once.

I should have talked to him about this, he thought. Should have made sure he was OK. I told him plenty of times that I'd always be here no matter what and I meant it.

But how do you make someone like Kienan believe you, especially with all he's gone through?

He walked along, tapping his cane. Unlike Silhouette he knew the whole story about Caldera, about the colony Kienan had grown up on and destroyed. He couldn’t imagine the kind of scars it had left on his heart.

I'm the only friend he's got. I see it in his eyes when we talk.

And yet, I all but left him out of this. Out of my engagement. I decided he was old enough to work without a net, that he'd be better off.

He sighed. Never thought to ask him how he felt.

He found Kienan two decks below, repairing the small red shuttle in the launch bay, half his body stuck in an access panel.

Toriares smiled and silently walked up to the shuttle, tapping his cane on the shuttle's outer shell. Kienan slid out, face covered in grease.

"Hey," Toriares said. "We just docked. Sil and I thought we'd have a night out on the town to celebrate. Wanna come?"

Kienan looked down. "No," he said. "No, I . . .I have stuff to do here."

Toriares nodded and stared at him for a long time. Almost as though he were marshalling his courage.

"Kienan," he said.

"What?" Kienan asked, looking back at the shuttle.

"You’re upset about me getting married, aren’t you?"

"No," Kienan lied, bending down and rummaging through his tools.

"You sure?" Toriares said, balancing on his cane.

"Yes," Kienan said indifferently. "Just proves what I always knew about people. Always willing to share your company until something better comes along."

Toriares winced. Now he had the real answer to his question.

"Is that what you think?"

Kienan slammed the tool he was holding on the shuttle. "Does it even matter what I think?" He said angrily. "Does it really? You’re going to do what you want anyway. So do it. Leave me alone. Just stop pretending I'll understand. Because I don't. And don’t force me to like it, because I don’t and I can’t act like I do."

"Kienan --"

"Go away."

"I can't believe you'd act like this, after everything I've done for you."

"Thank you," Kienan said. "I appreciate it all. The training, the friendship, but I'm too heavy to carry, right?"

"Kienan that's not it at all. This life can’t go on forever it--"

"Just go away, Toriares."

"Kienan, you --"

"DAMMIT, LEAVE!"

Toriares glared at his student. Kienan glared back at him. Then he turned and walked out without another word.

He pressed the tip of the cane a little harder on the deck. He was angry, not just at Kienan but angry with himself.

Well, he thought derisively, there were about a thousand ways I could have handled that better. He felt like he had a weight on his chest. And he felt exactly what Kienan must have been feeling at the moment.

Like he'd lost his best friend.


Kienan walked into his small apartment to find Silhouette waiting for him, sitting on the couch and fixing him with a gaze best described as hateful.

 

Kienan walked right past her to the bathroom, washing the grease off his face.
He knew when he returned she would still be there, still in the same position.

"You son of a bitch," Silhouette said to him.

Kienan flopped down in the chair. He sighed and lit a cigarette.

"That man's taken you under his wing, been a friend and like a father to you and you told him to go to hell," Silhouette said, her voice hurt and angry. "I can't believe what you did to him."

"What I did to him?" Kienan said. "I'm not the one getting married."

"Kienan, what the hell does Toriares getting married have to do with anything?" Silhouette asked. "I mean, really -- what does it have to do with anything?"

Kienan looked away.

"This is about you being afraid," Silhouette said. "You're scared to be alone."

"Maybe I like being alone," Kienan replied.

"Yeah," Silhouette said, a tear rolling down her cheek. "You really show it too. The way you’re fretting and fussing over Toriares, the way when we sleep together you thrash around a bed and get angry when I try to comfort you, you’re keeping it together really well."

Kienan's eyes narrowed "Why the hell don’t you leave me alone?"

"Because you want me to," Silhouette said, staring back at him. "So you can justify pushing people away."

"I don’t need a psychiatrist," Kienan said.

"I don’t know what you need, Kienan," Silhouette said. "But I've tried everything I know, and I'm not getting anywhere."

She rose to her feet and straightened her clothes. "So I've decided to give you what you want. At least for awhile. Maybe if you're here and things are still for long enough you'll hear the echo of what you said to Toriares and I.

"Maybe then you'll hurt as bad as we do," she said, walking out the door and closing it with a curt slam.

Kienan sat by himself, leaning forward in the chair and putting his elbows on his knees. He felt angry. Angry at Toriares for having to leave, angry at Silhouette for choosing to leave.

Most of all, angry at himself for making them go.

It's your fault, he thought. Your fault. You're scared to reach out to Toriares, and now you've driven Silhouette off. All she wanted to do was help you, and you shoved her back. Just to prove you can be alone.

Did you enjoy it the first time, when you were alone on Caldera, scared to death of what was going to leap out in the dark and take you with it? Were you happy?

Were you happy floating in an escape pod, freezing to death no matter how you tried to keep warm? So isolated you forgot how to talk?

He kept going. He knew the answer, but sometimes Kienan just needled himself because he didn’t know how to stop. Every mistake, ever failure on his part he slowly dragged out and threw before himself and felt a little more ashamed as he did so.

Gradually the daylight outside faded, and Kienan, sitting alone, was swallowed in darkness.


Silhouette leaned on the doorframe, jaw set, eyes staring straight ahead. To Toriares she looked exactly like a woman who was trying very hard to fight back tears.

He looked at her and put his hand on her shoulder. "C'mon in," he said, leading her inside and closing the door. He embraced her for awhile, running his fingers through her hair. Finally he sighed and said the obvious.

"You had the same luck I did, I see."

Silhouette nodded and sniffled against his shoulder.

"Well, give him a little time," Toriares said. "It's not his fault. Really it's not. He carries things around no one should have to."

"I've given him a year of my life," Silhouette said bitterly. "I'd give him whatever he wanted if he'd just ask me for it."

"I've told you before, Sil," Toriares said, leading her to a plush white chair in the living room. "I don’t know if he can ask for that. It's just --"

" . . . the way he's lived, I know," Silhouette said, tilting her head back and staring at the ceiling. "Is it wrong for me to hate him sometimes for using it as an excuse?"

"It's not an excuse," Toriares said. He walked to a silver cage and opened two small doors, extending his hand to the birds within. Two white birds slowly waddled onto his forearm. Toriares smiled and looked at Silhouette. "Sorry," he said. "It's their playtime."

One of them took wing and flew to a nearby table. The other rode Toriares forearm down to the floor, waddling around and gently calling, never taking its black eyes off the other bird.

"I didn't know you owned birds," Silhouette said.

Toriares smiled, watching them as he sat down in the chair opposite her. "I've had them for years. Ever since I moved to this colony. My first day here, I bought him." He pointed to the one waddling on the floor and calling to his mate, who had now flown up to a lamppost.

"Osiris had his wings clipped. I felt so bad when I found out I bought him a mate so he wouldn’t feel so alone. Isis hasn’t had her wings clipped."

Silhouette smiled. "You're so kind-hearted I really shouldn’t be surprised, but I am."

Toriares sighed as Osiris paced back and forth and called for Isis who barely seemed to notice. "I feel like I may have made things worse though," he said. "Now I wonder if all Osiris thinks about is how inferior he feels because he can't fly. He does this every time -- watches Isis, never takes his eyes off her and calls to her all the time.

"I wonder if he hates me for bringing him someone who reminds him that he can’t fly?" Toriares mused.

"Maybe he's just afraid of being left behind," Silhouette said. "Isis can fly wherever she wants. She could decide just to leave him behind one day and he'd be alone again. Then he'll be unable to fly and alone."

Toriares looked up while staring at Osiris. "You have been hanging around with Kienan too long," he said.

Silhouette wiped her tears away. "You can say that again."

Toriares stared at her. "Is there anything I can do?"

"Well, what's wrong with me and Kienan is between he and I," she said. "I don’t know what I'm gonna do about that. As for what's between he and you, that's between him and you, isn’t it?"

Osiris paced between Toriares feet, calling to Isis, who was now looking out the window from the top of the cage, totally ignoring him.

Silhouette looked at Isis, standing proudly on the cage. Then she looked at Toriares for awhile. She knew he was probably thinking the same thought she was.

What am I gonna do about Kienan?

"Look," Toriares said, desperate to break the silence. "You want a drink or something?"

Silhouette looked down at the ground. "No," she said. "I think I'm gonna go. I've got a lot to think about and I really want to do it alone."

She slowly drew herself up to her feet and stared at Osiris, who was bobbing his head on the ground, still occasionally looking up at Isis. "They're really pretty, Toriares. You won’t have to give them up when you and Neferta'ri get married, will you?"

Toriares gently touched Osiris. "Thankfully, no," he said. "We've got enough space at the new house to keep them and five more. Only thing to worry about now is Isis flying away."

"And leaving poor Osiris alone," Silhouette said softly. "Take care, Toriares," she said. "Thanks for letting me talk to someone who wasn't crazy for awhile."

Toriares rose to his feet. "Anytime, hon. You know that. You sure you'll be OK?"

Silhouette looked at him as she walked to the door. "Honestly? Not really. But I don’t have a choice."

Toriares looked back over his shoulder. Isis was on the windowsill now. Osiris was calling loudly now.

Silhouette opened the door and Toriares looked back to her.

"Sil?"

She looked at him.

"I'll handle it."

She looked at him as if she were sorry for him and closed the door.

Toriares sighed and looked down at Osiris, now disconsolate and calling for Isis who was nowhere to be seen.

"Come on," he said, taking Osiris up on his arm. "We'll look for her together."


The heavyset woman behind the counter stared through the line of 4 bottles of whiskey at Kienan.

"First of all," she said, staring at him. "You look way too young to buy one of these bottles. Second, this is Altarian Whiskey. One fourth of a bottle is enough to make someone feel like their brain was smashed with a hammer. What are you doing with four bottles?"

"What's your point?" Kienan asked. His eyes flit around, never looking in one place. They had dark shadows underneath them from being up all night and crying and he knew the tears would return the moment he stared too long at anything.

"A man only gets this much if he's throwing a party, stocking up for Armageddon, or drinking alone," she said, her gray eyes fixing on his despite his efforts to keep them on the move.

"You're too alone to be partying, Armageddon's not on the calendar, so that leaves drinking alone."

Kienan slammed his money down on the counter and pushed it towards her.

 

"Take it. Keep the change. Just spare me the psychoanalysis."

The woman pushed it back. "Keep it."

Kienan looked at her. "Do you do this with every customer?"

The woman glared at him. "Just the ones who drink for the wrong reason."

"There's another reason besides getting drunk?"

"Do you think I started running this store yesterday?" she said, looming over him. She slid the bottles back from the edge of the counter. "You got the wrong kind of eyes for this."

Kienan grit his teeth. "Give them back and take your money. I've just about had it with people looking after my well-being today."

She looked at him and smiled. "No."

Kienan began to get very hot and very impatient.

"Tell you what -- you can have one."

"I want all four."

"Why?"

"Why the hell do you care?"

"I'm a big believer in getting on a personal basis with my clientele."

"You run a liquor store," Kienan said. "Not a great class of people."

"I used to work across the street," she said, a little sadness creeping into her voice. Believe me, this is a big step up. Now why do you want to drink yourself to death?"

"Forget it," Kienan said. "I'll go somewhere else. I wanted to get drunk, not share my life story."

She tapped the neck of the bottle. "Hate to tell you kid, but something like this won't kill the pain of the nothing inside."

Kienan looked at her. "My name's Kienan," he said angrily. "Not kid, not boy, not anything except Kienan. Understand?"

She smiled a little. "Well, my name's Lil," she said. "Just like it says on the sign. And now that we're on a first-name basis, maybe you can tell me what you plan to do with this."

"Uhm, drink it?"

"You’re funny," Lil said. "I have a feeling you just had your heart broke. Or you just lost your best friend. I bet you want this just so you can curl up in a ball and feel sorry for yourself."

"Try all of the above," Kienan said, leaning against the door handle. He blinked. He hadn't meant to let that slip, but was surprised at how good it felt to finally say it.

"Hm," Lil said. "No wonder you sound so angry."

"I'm not angry," Kienan said sharply. "Just . . .'

"Scared?"

"I'm not scared of anything," Kienan said, tasting the lie as it rolled off his tongue.

"Do they know?" Lil asked.

Kienan shut his eyes and nodded.

"And what happened?"

"I . . . kinda made it worse," Kienan said. Lil watched him. He took his hands off the door handle and slowly stepped back. "I'm . . .not used to having friends and people I can count on."

"I'm sc -- I'm worried that I don’t do enough for them," Kienan said. Lil noticed as he spoke he kept his head down, tucked into his chest. "I'm scared that I hurt them."

Kienan blinked. "And why the hell am I telling you this?"

Lil watched him. "Everyone has to tell someone. Maybe you needed to."

Kienan looked at her. His emerald eyes shined with the beginnings of tears.

"I . . . I hate myself sometimes for depending on people," Kienan said. "I hate being that weak. But at the same time . . ."

" . . . you need them there?"

Kienan nodded.

Lil slid one of the bottles of whiskey towards him. "You’re in a bad place then," Lil said. "You can live alone, but to do it you'd have to kill the part of yourself that needs other people. You can need other people but you have to get over your pride and your conceit that you don’t need anyone. How'm I doing?"

"Pretty good," Kienan said gently. It hurt to hear. He felt ashamed.

People can see through me this easily when I can't even begin to understand it, he thought. God, I'm weak.

"Kienan," she said. "I don’t have an answer for you. I don’t think anyone does. This is something you’re gonna have to work out for yourself."

"Not much of a diagnosis," Kienan sighed and leaned against the counter, his back to her. Lil watched his braid resting on his shoulder and repressed an impulse to touch it gently.

"Well I'm not a psychiatrist, am I?"

Kienan looked over his shoulder. Slowly, he smiled. A thin, sad smile. "No. Certainly not that."

"Kienan, you need what no one else can give you," Lil said. She slid the bottle of whiskey to him. "So I'll give you this, tell you to go off by yourself and get as drunk as possible."

Kienan took the bottle and looked at the label. "What does getting drunk have to do with it?"

"Well, you gotta pay attention and ask yourself the right questions, right?"

"While drunk?"

"It doesn’t hurt, I find." Lil winked.

Kienan hefted the bottle and shoved off the counter. "What do I owe you?"

"Nothing but a return visit," Lil said. "Let me know when you find your answer."

"I think I can do that," Kienan asked. "If I ever find it."


Dawn on a space colony is an exercise in deception.

No sun rises, and light usually comes in a big splash rather than the slow trickle of sunlight. But one never knew it was a lie if they had forgotten what a sunrise truly was.

Kienan had seen the sun rise on Caldera, and could still remember the simple joy he felt seeing it rise, slowly turning the surface of his home planet a bright red.

He watched light sweeping over the colony's sprawls as he sat perched on the roof of his apartment building like a bird in mourning for an absent mate.

Seeing the false sunrise of the colony annoyed him a little. But not as much as the empty whiskey bottle between his legs. The whiskey had run out a few hours ago, but the doubts and questions were still there and no answers had presented themselves.

Oddly enough he wasn't all that annoyed at Lil for making him think there would be.

It did feel good . . . to say it, he thought. But that's probably the booze talking.

"Kienan," a familiar voice said behind him. Kienan jumped with a start and would have fallen off the ledge but for a hand on his shoulder.

Toriares stood before him silhouetted by the colony daylight. Even for the dawn hours he looked impeccable -- dressed in a white suit that had never seen a speck of dirt in it's existence and balancing on his trademark cane.
For a killer, he looked almost angelic. Quite a contrast from Kienan's baggy, dirty jeans and black T-shirt.

"Silhouette send you looking for me?" Kienan said.

"No," Toriares said. "I came looking for you myself."

"What'd I do wrong?"

Toriares looked at Kienan. "I think I should be asking you that question."

"You didn’t do anything," Kienan said. "I just . . . I hate to lose you."

Toriares smiled. "Is that what you think?"

"You’re getting married," Kienan said sadly. "No time in between that to run with your brother."

"You don’t want me to be happy?"

"I didn’t say that,"

"Then why make me choose between you and my own happiness."

"I'm trying not to," Kienan said. "I just know this is the end."

"Of us being friends?" Toriares said. "Doesn’t have to be. You really have such little faith in me that I wouldn’t make time for you?"

"Why would you?"

Toriares raised an eyebrow. "Well, two years ago I rescued a certain stray cat. Took him in and everything. That has a certain responsibility attached to it. I can't go traipsing off and let him get stuck in a tree."

Kienan sighed.

"Kienan, I'll always be here for you."

"No you won't," Kienan said. "You have the best of intentions but really you're just trying to make you feel better on the way out the door."

"Stop it," Toriares said. "You know better than --"

Kienan leapt to his feet, slapping Toriares' hand away. "Get OFF of me!"

Toriares grit his teeth and stepped back into a ready stance. "Striking the man who taught you," he said. "Ungrateful. I taught you to be a man. You disappoint me."

"Go to hell," Kienan said, his anger and sense of betrayal enfolding him now. "You teach me, pretend to be my friend and now you’re leaving? Worse yet, trying to make me feel better about it? I hate you!"

Kienan reared back, balled his fists and threw a punch at Toriares. Toriares blocked it up until the last minute and then dropped his guard. Even drunk, Kienan's punch was like a shotgun in the stomach. All the air escaped from Toriares lungs in a sharp gasp as he whipped the cane around, catching Kienan on the side of the head.

"Obviously . . . obviously, I never taught you . . . humility," Toriares said, gasping for air. "I guess the only way to teach you that is to beat it into you. You've had this coming for a long time."

"RRRRGGGH!" Kienan yelled, throwing a kick so fast his feet were a blur. It caught Toriares in the shoulder, but not before he slid his cane along Kienan's leg and caught him in the groin. Kienan's knees buckled, and Toriares clucked him with the side of his cane, sending his student crashing to the ground.

"This is all you have, huh?" Toriares said, circling him. "No wonder you need me around. You can’t protect yourself. I’d be a fool to leave Sil in your care."
Kienan tried to get up, but Toriares whipped the tip of his cane against his stomach.

"Look at you," Toriares said. "You can’t even stand up for yourself. If you'd done that in the beginning, maybe you could handle me not being around. But so long as you cling to the idea you need me, you'll always be some fledgling I have to save."

Toriares put his foot against the small of Kienan's back and shoved him back against the harsh surface of the rooftop.

"Get up," Toriares said. "Until you can see me as a equal you'll always be alone."

Kienan got to his hands and knees and got pushed over onto his back. Kienan was gasping, but still trying to rise. Toriares prepared to stomp him on the chest, but was surprised when Kienan caught his foot, twisted and threw him to the ground.

Kienan was on him like a tiger, and pummeled Toriares with his fists. Toriares made no effort to stop him. His eyes were bright green with rage and grief and slowly tears began to flow as he threw his weight into every punch.

"You son of a bitch!" Kienan said. There was a hard thud as he struck Toriares across the jaw.

Toriares never took his eyes off him. Kienan hit him again.

"Can’t believe I trusted --"

Another punch.

"I hate you, you lying bastard!"

Another punch.

"I hate you!"

Another punch.

"I HATE YOU!"

Another punch, then hesitation. It was like someone had turned a light on in Kienan's head and finally pulled the brakes. He gasped, Toriares' blood on his hands and an expression of shock in his eyes.
"I . . . "

Kienan tried to move off it but it was impossible. Toriares had him around the waist, his head against Kienan's chest. Kienan thought for a moment. Two or three different attacks could be done from this position, he thought. What was he --

"Kienan," Toriares said painfully.

Kienan instinctively tried to thrash away, but Toriares held him tighter.

 

Suddenly, he understood.

Toriares was embracing him.

Kienan slowly returned the embrace, tears still streaming down his face.

"I'm sorry," he whispered.

"Shhh," Toriares said. "Just . . . I hope you understand now. You’re not alone . . . never alone."

Kienan relaxed, collapsing against him. Toriares held him for a while, then helped Kienan to his feet. Toriares frowned at the scuffed and dirty mess his suit had become on the grimy rooftops and dabbed his face with his handkerchief.

"You hit like a mule kicks," Toriares said, squinting at Kienan and smiling.

"I'm sorry," Kienan said. "But why did you let me win?"

Toriares switched to his other eye. "Because you needed to show me how afraid and angry you were. You really were afraid I was going to leave without a word, weren't you?"

"I shouldn’t have been," Kienan said, looking down at his shoes and feeling guilty. "But . . . you’re the only friend I've got."

"What about Silhouette?" Toriares asked.

"That's . . . different," Kienan said. "I hope I don’t have to go through this same thing with her."

Toriares smiled. "I doubt something along these lines would be necessary," he said. "You may find, however, that saying you’re sorry opens a few doors."

"I learn something new every day," Kienan said.

"That's because I taught you well," Toriares said, smiling. "It hasn’t all gone one way either, Kienan."

"Oh," Kienan said. He looked down at the city below, now fully in its daylight cycle. "I . . . it's been awhile since I wasn't alone. I'm not sure I know how to handle it."

"You'll never be alone again, I promise you that." Toriares said. He walked over to the empty bottle spinning on the rooftop, picked it up and stared at the label. "Hmm," he said. "Altairian whiskey."

Toriares looked at Kienan, hefting the bottle in his hands.

"Doing anything this morning?" Toriares asked.

"You mean besides nursing a hangover, looking for Sil and apologizing to her?" Kienan asked, sighing. "No, why?"

Toriares tossed the bottle to him. Kienan caught it and turned it in his hands.

"It occurred to me I haven’t had a bachelor party," Toriares said. "No one I’d rather party with than you."

Kienan smiled. "I just beat the hell out of you."

"People have felt worse about my impending nuptials."

Kienan grinned.

"C'mon Kienan," Toriares said. "Enough of the angst. Everything that weighed on us is gone. So let's go."

Kienan nodded and walked with him for what he knew would not be the last time.

Toriares, he thought. My best friend.