kinship

Dec. 20th, 2016 06:40 pm
sideways: [inside] boy looking upwards to next challenge (►we're coming back for more)
[personal profile] sideways
Title: Kinship
Rating: G
Series: The Riders Series (Danny Fisher, Carlo Goss)
Wordcount: 2244
Warnings: Big fat spoilers for the duology.
Summary: A few weeks after the events at Evergreen, Danny and Carlo take a ride and talk nighthorse psychology.
Remarks: Problematic fave she may be, but CJ Cherryh knows how to tickle my soft spots - between the wild frontier sci-fi blend setting, the alien not-quite-horses who thinks human minds are delicious, and the sheer vividity of the telepathic ambient she created, these books won me over big time and I couldn't help but try my hand at a bit of fic.

Danny feels the question building in the ambient well before it comes – flickers of <nighthorse nose pushing at chest, insistent> as Carlo shifts back and forth in his seat and huffs the occasional sigh, old memories of <want> mixing with <bewilderment> and no small amount of <guilt> – so that by the time Carlo finally gives his head a hard shake, turns and says, “Why me?” he almost has an answer.

“Nobody knows why the horses go for the people they do,” Danny says. Beneath him, Cloud swivels an ear back but doesn’t break stride; habitually aware when the conversation is turning to horse matters, vain creature that he is, but more interested in the road ahead for the moment. “Plenty of theories, though. I mean,” and he slides a look sidelong, “I know the way the preachers tell it is most of what you hear in a town…”

Weakness of spirit and sinners caving to temptation. He feels Carlo wince more than he sees it.

“But the riders say – well, they say a lot of different things, depending on who you ask. Know a fair few who’d say it was likely circumstance as much as anything else. There was Spook without a rider, there was you without a horse, and there wasn’t a lot of range to be had with winter bearing down so hard.”

<Randy, wanting> he hears, <Randy asking to go out to it> even as Carlo says, “Wasn’t just me, though.”

“No,” Danny admits, “it wasn't. And those same few would say that if it was Randy who’d gone out the gates that day, chances are I'd be riding with <Randy and Spook> instead.”

Carlo doesn’t like that. Carlo doesn’t like that at all, and Spook tosses his head a little to feel his rider so unsettled. Isn’t even jealousy that’s colouring the air; the image of <little brother on back of horse> just isn’t resting easy with him yet, and maybe won’t as long as he’s still getting used to sitting his own rump down among their kind. Understandable then that the thought of things being turned about – Randy out in the Wilds with all the dangers it can bring, and him holed up alone in town and unable to do a damn thing about any of it – lands all the worse.

So Danny says, casually, “But that’s not how it happened, right? Makes it hard to tell anything for sure. Guil’s known Spook longest, you know. He’d be able to speak on Spook’s mind better than a bunch of tavern theories.”

“Yeah, maybe,” Carlo says, <unenthusiastic> about the idea. Shifts in his seat again. “But if it depends on who you ask, then what would the rider I’m asking now say?”

Danny starts a little; looks over in time to catch the faintest twitch of lips before Carlo looks back to the road. Oh. Damn. When’d he get so humble as to go spouting off every opinion save his own, and right when someone’s looking for it? Somewhere out there, Jonas might just be laughing.

“Well, all right then. I figure,” he says, and bends at the waist a moment to avoid a low-hanging branch Cloud can’t be bothered side-stepping. “I figure circumstance played a part, sure, but it’s not so simple as that either. I had all of Shamesey around, and they weren't all sitting up with me.” He images <lying in bed, buried face-down under pillow, trying not to see and hear what’s already inside his head> and feels it echo in Carlo with a fervent familiarity. “And when a horse gets that lonely, maybe they’ll go with whatever they can get, but it takes a special kind of stubborn to haul up a mountain in a blizzard and do battle with a <slinking beast, yellow-eyed, cunning>, just to keep any old somebody from getting a decent night’s sleep.”

“Randy heard him too,” Carlo says, and then ducks his head a little and adds, in a low voice, like he’s still shy of putting words to the notion, “but not as loudly as me, I don’t think. I don’t know.” He’s quiet for a couple of seconds, as quiet as anyone can be with horses around, hands buried deep in Spook’s mane. Both the horses are busy with their enjoyment of <crisp clear sky, chilled air> and <stretching legs>. “But even if that’s so, it still leaves the question…”

“Why you in particular,” Danny finishes for him. Reaches up to pull at the brim of his hat, adjusting it – stalling, a little. He’s going to have to broach this point carefully. Doesn’t want to upset the pleasant calm they’ve got going with the horses, with Spook not jumping at shadows and Cloud not going out of his way to pick a squabble just for the apparent hell of it.

<Danny walking> comes at him, a faint warning that could fast become a real threat, so he pats Cloud’s neck and thinks <clever horse, strong horse> with passable sincerity – still learning tricks from Guil, still learning from everyone – and says aloud, “Seems to me there’s more to circumstance than just you and Spook being near each other and unattached. You’d both taken pretty big losses, pretty big upsets to the way things were. Maybe took it in similar ways, more so than Randy.” Loneliness. Responsibility. A horse mourning a man who didn’t much deserve it, and a son mourning a father who’d more than half courted his own fate. “That’s a spark, that kind of kinship, and then everything that followed just stoked the flame even further.”

“Kinship,” Carlo murmurs, and there’s enough of the bright, happy newness remaining to <Carlo and Spook> to gloss through the ambient, warm and infectious.

Kin also means something else when it comes to Gosses though, and Danny’s smile slips as he feels the dark edges creeping in the wake of that warmth, the recent past hanging close despite his efforts.

“Could run in the family, yeah,” he says quietly to the unspoken query. Better to air this one before it festers. “Some folks hear clearer than others, think in ways more suited. And if Randy does manage to take up with a horse – I won’t lie to you, that could be part of it.”

He very, very carefully does not think <Brionne>.

It doesn’t matter because Carlo thinks it for him, and Danny feels Cloud judder underneath him even as Spook lays his ears back; but Carlo also draws in a deep breath and lets it out slowly, thinks <sunlight dappling through trees> with grim determination. Carlo takes the knife-edge of his thoughts and melts it down, reshapes it to something less cutting, and says, “Was it the same for you and Cloud? He picked you out of the entire town, you said. Did that come down to kinship too?”

Danny almost laughs outright at that, at the notion of being at heart like cattle-tailing Cloud, stubborn and sullen, determined to have his way and cussedly ready to fight about it.

And then stops. Remembers strutting around town, giving lip, starting scraps: the bad boy days. Remembers fighting with Jonas and ditching camp over hurt pride. Fighting with Harper, for all he didn’t regret that – and earning mistrust from Ridley and Callie, which he very much did.

Well, hell.

It’s not a comfortable thought. Not at all. It’s not like he doesn’t know he’s made mistakes these past few months, and plenty of them, but he’s been trying, damn it. Doesn’t like to think he’s given others the kind of petty grief Cloud at his worst gives him. Doesn’t like to think that’s the thing binding them together, the thing at the very core of—

<Cloud and Danny> shoves into the ambient, affronted and insistent; Cloud doesn’t understand the nuance, but he sure as hell objects to having <doubt> in the same thought as <us> – and then <Spook and Carlo, Spook and Carlo> comes loud from his left, Carlo giving a stifled exclamation as Spook shies sharply away, taking Cloud’s sending as a challenge and responding in kind.

It’s too close to <fight> and only fool’s luck that they’re on a wide enough stretch of road to be pulling such antics on the mountain; Danny hunches over quickly, imaging agreement, imaging <us, together>, imaging <still water reflecting Danny and Cloud, leaning against each other skin-to-skin>. A <pair of fools> they may be, but still ever and always a <pair>.

Distantly he can hear Carlo sending out <quiet water> as well, the usual fall-back, and then <warm fire, woodsmoke curling and drifting in the air>, a more personal calm-sending and stronger for it. He’s good at it, for being so new. Might come from the long effort of keeping his brother in line, or just from living with his own temper and the fresh, raw awareness of where it leads.

Nearly a full minute passes before Cloud settles, grudgingly, and when Danny suggests <Danny getting down> as a form of apology he gets an offended <flash of lightning> again, which is damned typical. Can’t help but wonder if he’d have sparked off this much possessiveness without another rider pair so close – and Cloud’s accepting <Danny and Cloud walking with Carlo and Spook> a lot less willingly than before.

Like Danny would run off after another horse. Like any other horse would put up with his nonsense, the way he puts up with Cloud’s.

<Heading back> enters the ambient tentatively, and Danny nods at Carlo, who’s holding position a good few paces away out of respect for Cloud’s distemper. Spook’s jittery, but at least not broadcasting <running> or <biting> or, god forbid, <blood on snow>, just wariness of <thunder-image horse>. The slight threat in the air is mostly to Spook himself, not his rider, and it’s only the latter Spook truly fears these days.

Mercifully, Cloud turns about without argument when he sends <Danny and Cloud going back, Cloud heading up to village gates> and Spook follows on behind readily enough, at his safe distance.

Which leaves the point well-proven, Danny thinks sourly, but carefully and quietly like he should have done to begin with. He’s been better at this lately – they both have, Cloud denning with five other nighthorses and scarcely fussing, a long way from sulkily wishing rain and cow dung down on the head of anyone who gets in his way. Bound together by something less than admirable, maybe, but growing together too.

Still, it’s a heavy embarrassment to have thrown upset into the ambient like that when the ride had been going so well, especially with a new pair in tow. He might be a junior, but he’s senior to Carlo and it’s his responsibility to keep things manageable, to not go setting off disturbances that someone so green might not be able to handle. Stray thoughts spiral and then it’s a few short steps to the disaster of panic. He knows that.

Owes Carlo an apology for it, but the ambient is just edgy enough that he’s inclined to wait until they’re back and out of the immediate range of the horses. Some place where he doesn’t have to fight so hard to keep mortification from leaking into the open in the process.

“Well,” he says instead, over his shoulder, trying to keep it light and damping down hard on the sting of confession. “You did ask about kinship...guess you could say Cloud and I aren’t always the easiest company to keep.”

He expects amusement at best, outright agreement at worst – he thinks he and Carlo gets on, thinks they’re friends, but it’s not like they haven’t had a few riled moments.

He doesn’t expect the sudden rush of <surprised denial> and underlying <indignation>. Doesn’t expect the succession of flashing images, <Danny's voice outside, Danny beating the door down to get to them after all hope had gone> and <Danny getting them up the mountain, risking himself to catch Randy> and <Danny coming to see them, see they’re treated fair, even knowing what Carlo had done—>

<Danny reaching out to him at Spook’s side. Danny believing him. Him believing in Danny. Gratitude.>

He just about reels under it. Can’t send much more than a muddled sort of <gratitude> of his own, embarrassed in a whole new way now. He's seen himself from the outside many a time since Cloud first cast the image of a gangly wide-eyed kid into his head, and some views have been more charitable than others, but nothing's painted him like this. Beneath him, Cloud slows a pace. Not insisting so hard anymore on being in the lead with Spook away and out of sight.

“Spook chose well,” he says, impulsively, not quite looking back to meet Carlo’s eyes. “I don’t know exactly why, but – I know he chose a good rider.” This time, he doesn’t say, doesn’t even think it above a small, dark whisper, but there’s no putting Ancel Harper next to Carlo Goss and finding any competition. “That’s all that matters on the road, really. Not the hows, not the whys, but where you go from there.”

“Thanks,” Carlo says quietly. “Thanks, Dan.”

Danny turns back to the road, stretching up the mountain to Evergreen. Rubs a thumb along one of Cloud’s silky-soft ears, feeling <contentment> slowly settling back into Cloud’s general state of mind, feeling the soft and steady minds behind them.

And thinks, for the first time, <partner>.

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