Winter, Part Six
A Solstice story
Start at the beginning of the Solstice series
The sun's warmth caressed his skin, slowly drying the drops of sea-breeze which coursed across his taut and youthful chest. He reveled in the warmth as he reveled in all things - in the smell of the ocean, thick with salt and life; in the thickness of his tongue, stained to a royal hue with rich red wine; in the playful, delicate threading of nimble fingers through the curls of his hair.
His eyes were closed. What need had he to see? The view was ever and always the same blissful panorama, the beaches of Delos stretching out like Leto's enfolding arms to encompass sea and sky alike, some errant stone-white bird on the wing searching for fish. There would be slaves to hold fans and shading branches when the heat became too intense, and there would ever and always be the women and boys, laughing with the mystic delight of the vine, holding their sides as they cradled his head.
The fingers were no longer merely caressing, but now actively tickling at his temples. With one hand he reached lazily to brush them away, smiling indulgently, preferring to rest and sleep beneath the warmth of the sun.
They were persistent, however; persistent as that warmth, increasing their pressure as the warmth became heat, as the sun rose higher and higher in the sky, as the pleasant dryness of the island afternoon turned to the dryness and heat of the inland plain. His temple lay inland at Bekka - he knew something of heat - yet here was too much, too much intensity at one stroke, a climate more suited to Mars' temperament than the easy and free nature of Bacchus and his devotees.
One eye fluttered open - the sun framed in silver, harsh and glaring and altogether too close. No, not silver - steel, he thought, surgical steel, whatever steel ... whatever surgical ....
"Bacchus," the whisper hot and wet against the fleshy curve of his ear, the sensation of pressure against his scalp, "Bacchus, wake up, love, come back to us ..."
Surgical, he thought again, and the sun rose once more above Delos as he drifted into dreams.
It was a demand, not a question - a challenge thrown down like a greasy glove on stained concrete. Vulcan stood in the hospital room doorway, dressed as always in flannel and denim, hands stained despite the scrubbing administered under the watchful eyes of nurses.
The man with his hand tousled in Bacchus' hair looked up from beneath the round-rimmed glasses and twitched his mouth into a smile. "A friend. And you?"
"Friend of his," said Vulcan. "And I don't know you."
Blinking, Cary continued to smile. "John moved in ... many circles. My name's Cary." He thought for a moment. "I hope this isn't some triangle. They get messy, and I'm pretty sure you'd mop the floor with me."
It was Vulcan's turn to blink, then flush as red as the checks upon his shirt. "No. It's not like that."
"Good," said Cary. "I'm happy to know it."
"Not exclusive, in any sense of the word. I just know a good thing when I find it. Sit, sit. It's not catching. What's your name?"
Vulcan flushed again. "... I'm Vulcan."
Cary's eyes widened behind the glasses. "To the point, then."
"It's my name." Vulcan took a chair and scraped it across the floor, making Cary wince before he sat down across the hospital bed. Between them, the emaciated form of Bacchus lay dreaming, lost still to head injuries and the desire to escape the world he found so wretched.
"Well, Vulcan, I guess I've got a better idea of what you're doing here, then. Do you expect the same directness of me?"
"No." He reached up and scratched beneath his beard, "but I'd like it."
Cary's smile widened. "And I like that." He glanced at the ceiling. "You know they're taping."
"I don't care who knows."
"Many do, and I'm not sure I want to be on their bad side, so you'll excuse me if I'm a little less forward this time around. You know John's name, I take it?"
"All right then. Let's pay our respects and head for a drink, hmm? Somewhere we can speak more freely."
Vulcan stared at the slight little man, with his hand still tangled in Bacchus' curls. "I'm, uh ... I'm not ..."
Cary laughed. "If I wanted to pick you up, I'd be much more subtle. Trust me. As it is you've been up front with me and I don't have an issue returning the favor, if we're somewhere certain crews can't review the tapes come early morning. Understand?"
"Oh." Vulcan flushed again. "... okay."
"Good. Here, have a cookie. Ms. Soon left them for him but it seems a shame to waste them right now, doesn't it?"
"You'll figure it out once we talk, I think. Call her a sister of mine."
"What does he mean?" MacIntyre jabbed a stubby finger at the screen. "I knew it. He's in."
Corbin snorted. "It looks to me like he's in on more than that."
"Hee-haw hasn't been on the air in years, Sheriff, and neither has Jackass. Furthest thing from my mind."
She lifted a hand to smack the back of his head, then slapped it down into her own open palm instead. "Don't."
"I'm not. What do you want? He's one of us."
"He doesn’t say?"
"They go somewhere."
"Yeah. Somewhere I can't tape them." Her mouth twisted. "I figured you'd know."
"Why is it so important to you?"
She paused, eyeing him. They were so alike, under the mortal skins and pasted-on personalities. Where Corbin was lie upon lie, mask upon mask, Cary was evasion piled on top of evasion. He jumped left every time she looked right, and didn't have Long pulling his strings to keep him in check.
"I don't trust him."
"I don't know!" She brought both hands into her short, copper curls, knitting her fingers at the back of her neck.
"Is it Soon?" He nodded after the pause that followed. "You think he's after her somehow. Like Duffy."
"Yeah. Like Duffy."
He laughed in the most grating tone she'd heard from him in years. "Like anyone else?"
"Yeah," she nodded. "Yeah, like you."
"Good. We're getting somewhere. I want you to know that I've never ..."
The pause lasted longer this time, until Corbin cleared his throat. "Okay. Yes, I'd lay odds he's got more in common with me and Duffy than with you or Soon. That narrows things down but doesn't solve them. If you want me to keep talking you've got a strange way of convincing me."
"Do you care what I think?"
He looked up. "I learn quicker than a lot of people," he said. "Long wouldn't keep me around otherwise, and I know that much whatever I think of myself. It's not a world for loners any more. Hasn't been for a long time."
His eyes tracked back to the grainy black and white video. "I put my trust in Long, and he put it in you, and we’ve never been so far apart as you'd like us to be. I know that. If you don't, well, that's another lesson for everyone involved. For my part, I figured we were coming square."
There was silence, uncomfortable in its length. "Then again," he sighed, "you did bring this to me. Whether you like me or not, you recognize what I do, don't you?"
"It's not about liking."
"No, it never is, really, is it? Go on home, Stephanie. I'll get this sorted out one way or the other and I'll let you know what I find."
The moment stretched into several, MacIntyre still standing behind the computer, Corbin staring at the visage of Cary, working to tease the truth of him out as a raven might tease a maggot from a hanged man's skull.
Slowly, Stephanie turned away, her cheeks bright with anger and shame. "You made a good partner, sometimes."
"Yeah, well, you didn't suck, either. Go home. This is going to take some time."
The sun's warmth caressed his skin, slowly drying the drops of sea-breeze which coursed across his chest. The warmth took all of his attention - that endless call to open his eyes, to look around and take the world in, to know it as it was and as it should always have been. Yet to look into the sun was madness, pure and simple, a madness Bacchus knew too well from his days and nights on the slopes of Thebes, waiting for his wine-maddened women ... waiting to wake to a reality too painful to bear.
Story and image by Ivan Ewert, Copyright 2010