Daughter of Thieves

 

Daughter of Thieves - 1a

Macelliven watched the line of sunlight slowly move across the cell. It had almost reached her feet when a cloud blocked its rays and the light faded. She sighed softly and forced herself to her feet, wincing with every tiny movement of her muscles, expelling air in little hisses of pain and trying to ignore the dizziness that spun the walls around her. The doctors said that to keep moving when you had bruised a limb was a good thing. Mac wasn't so sure, it hurt.

The problem, she mused to herself, as she moved slowly about the cell, one hand resting against the wall for support, the other wrapped around her torso, was that it wasn't just one limb that was bruised, it was her entire body, and she felt so sick with it.

A noise outside her cell made her look up, and for a brief moment, hope flared in her eyes and then died. The piper had told her before that no one was going to rescue her for a while. Comparatively speaking, her treatment in the Fosse was good. She hadn't needed to be told really, she knew that she was one of the fortunate ones. Her beatings were administered by the guards more out of boredom than out of a desire to extract information. She was one of the rabbles, a daughter of thieves and petty criminals.

Amongst the general noise of the prisoners in the Fosse, more screams could be heard as some poor soul was tortured yet again. Mac paused and listened, her eyes half-shutting with an empathetic wince. She had become good at distinguishing between the screams she heard. These came from someone who was being whipped, the intensity level rose and faded and Mac shuddered as she realized what she was analyzing so unthinkingly.

"Fact of life, fact of life," she murmured softly. She limped back to the window and reached up to grab the bars. Bits of rusted metal flaked into her hand, but she ignored this to pull herself up higher so that she could see the people, gripping harder when her legs trembled weakly beneath her.

Across the street and down a short way, a piper lifted his flute and played a jaunty little tune. Mac translated the hidden message automatically. One of reassurance to those who were currently imprisoned in the Fosse.

From where she stood, she could see a shadowy figure detach itself from the shadows under the bridge as the tune changed into a lower pitch. It was safe for someone to enter the house of the informer across the street. She thought the figure, it's shape hidden under a heavy cloak, was familiar, the walk of someone she knew, but it had passed into the house before she could identify it.

Mac licked her sore lips and whistled a greeting tune. It was painful around the cuts and bruises, but she needed the comfort of having her presence here acknowledged by someone and when the piper turned his head and, after a brief moment, responded with a rippling arpeggio a smile tugged at the corners of her mouth.

The smile dropped away. There had been a time when Saroyan would never have thought to let her remain in here. At least, not without providing some comfort of his own, but something had gone wrong.

Mac wasn't a confrontational person, she didn't enjoy arguments or fights and was generally quite happy at the bottom of the responsibility heap. When they had first met, this had annoyed Saroyan immensely and she could still remember the conversation they'd had when she'd told him that she was perfectly content doing what she was given.

"Mac, you're a bright, intelligent, capable young woman," she had blushed furiously at these unlooked-for compliments, "there's no reason you should be stuck with the boring, dirty jobs that no one else wants."

"But I'm quite happy where I am. I don't want to be responsible for other people's lives."

"You don't have to be, but you can definitely climb higher up the ladder, do more interesting things. You might even be happier, you won't know until you try."


That was how she had ended up being a message piper. Saroyan had been right, it had been more interesting, but also more challenging, more dangerous. He had helped her to learn all the more in-depth codes, had taught her how to disguise herself without looking foolish, and had shown her the hidden passageways that she hadn't already known. Their acquaintance had blossomed into friendship and from there into love. For the first time in her life, Mac had known what it was to be truly happy.


It had been Saroyan that had told her that 'Mac' was far to strong and bold a name for a timid, little mouse like her, and had called her, from that time on, Elli. No one else had picked up on the change, she had been known as Mac for too long by most of them.

She wasn't sure what had gone wrong, even now. Saroyan's face haunted her dreams, how it had looked from one time to the next. How the laughter and love in his blue eyes had turned cold, hard and flinty. His face, stony and expressionless when she had gathered together her courage to ask him what was wrong. The second time she had asked, he hadn't even bothered with a curt reply, just turned and walked away.

Since then, they hadn't spoken. He had volunteered for a job that had taken him out of the city to the port on the west coast, running as a scout for the escapees and after that, she had been caught by the soldiers from the Ministry of Justice. Mac tightened her grip on the bars, bitterness twisting her face. Saroyan probably thought that she had been careless, that she had forgotten what he had taught her, that he had been wrong in his judgement of her abilities.

Across the street, the piper's tune changed, cutting through her dark thoughts. Mac released her grip on the bar and brushed the rust off her hand. As she listened, the tune switched to a lower pitch, slowing down and then lilted rapidly upward again, picking up speed to a trill at the top. It repeated twice more and then ended abruptly. Craning her neck, Mac saw the flash of green on blue as the MoJ soldiers trotted down the street. When she looked next, the piper had disappeared. The message had gone through though, and Mac wondered which of the cells the prison guards would choose to leave their newest prisoner in, and whether it would contain one of the loyalists.

Mac lowered herself gingerly to the floor to wait for the sound of the upper doors opening. It wasn't long in coming, the urgency of the piper's tune had told her that someone had been slow in passing on the message, though whether that had been through carelessness or some other cause, she didn't know.

The next minute, her door was flung open and she tilted her head to look at the guards. They pushed someone inside before slamming the door and Mac heard the bolts shoot home with unnecessary vigor. She turned her attention to the newcomer and eyed him with wary curiosity. He matched her gaze, dark eyes meeting dark.

 

Daughter of Thieves - 1b

"Hello." Mac watched him for a few moments longer, sizing him up before returning the greeting. He was neither tall nor short, stockily built and dressed in the drab colored clothing that was common these days. When he moved across the cell however, Mac had an instant impression of controlled power. He moved lightly on his feet and as the light caught him, she saw through a tear in his clothing, muscles rippling across his chest. He sighed softly and reached up to pull off the cap he was wearing, tousling his hair with his free hand.

"What's your name?" He turned to face her after examining the cell and Mac was treated to a friendly smile. She blinked as she realized that behind the bland exterior was a powerful and charming man.

"Mac," she replied slowly, there was no harm in giving him a name after all. He grinned then and gestured to himself,

"I'm Jek." She smiled slightly and was subjected to rather intense scrutiny.

"You're hurt. Is it bad?" It had been a long time since anyone had had time to notice her state of health and it took her a few moments to reply.

"Nothing serious," she said finally, and then since something else seemed to be needed, "you?" He shook his head and moved to examine the bars at the window, tugging at them firmly, "Nah. Just carelessness on my part." Mac searched for a safe avenue of conversation.

"Why are you in here?" He glanced at her, his dark eyes narrowing and she realized that it probably wasn't so safe after all.

"Just carelessness on my part," he repeated. Mac nodded and looked away from that sharp gaze.

"What about you?" Mac's eyes flickered towards him and then away. Here was her chance to tell him about the message the piper had left, but she hesitated. She had lived in the city all her life and knew all the people who were loyal to the old government, but this man was a complete stranger. There was something not quite right about the way he spoke or looked, though she couldn't put her finger on what that was.

"I.... got in the way." Another look from those dark eyes that seemed to burn right through her and see to the truth of the matter.

"Deliberately or accidentally?" Mac frowned and decided it was time to reveal who she was, at least that way the awkward questions might take a less personal turn.

"I heard the piper just before you were brought in, apparently you're on the run from the Ministry soldiers." He looked blank, "Piper?"

"A way of passing messages that can't be done in usual ways."

"By music you mean?"

"Yes."

"Interesting," he looked thoughtful, "I'd never thought of doing something like that before. Do you have specific tunes already labeled with certain messages or is more complicated than that?" Mac eyed him cautiously.

"A little of both," she admitted and wished that the piper had been more specific in the short time he'd had to pass on the message.

"So you have like, a short tune for danger, or 'run', or 'it's safe'?"

"Yes. Look, we don't have time to discuss this in detail. You're only being kept in here until Cyrah comes back...."

"Who's that?"

"The head of the Ministry of Justice. If he was here," she added hurriedly, before he could ask another question, "you wouldn't just have a scratch on her chest." Jek glanced down automatically as she let her eyes drop to the tear in his shirt, "Ah. Like that is it?"

"Let's just say that he doesn't have many hobbies." Jek grimaced and nodded.

"I see, and I gather you're not on his side and will miraculously help me to escape?" Mac regarded him scornfully, "The door is locked and bolted from the outside, two feet of stone separates us from the outside and the bars are solid metal, despite the rust on the outside. Who do you think I am, Coreni?"

"Who? No, never mind, I get the picture. So why are you here?"

"I told you, I got in the way."

"Yes, so you said, but how?" Mac sighed and realized with a frown that he had directed the conversation quite skillfully back to where he had wanted answers in the first place.

"I'll tell you later..."

"I might hold you to that," he interposed. She ignored him.

"But first I have to tell you a few things." Hearing a noise, she glanced up and then let her head drop when she was satisfied that it was only a rise in the normal street racket.

"You were right, I don't agree with what Cyrah does. I work for a group that helps members of the old government, sympathizers, those who get on the wrong side of this law, escape from their clutches."

"You'll forgive me," he noted, "but it doesn't seem as if you're doing a very good job." Mac sighed wearily and shifted her position, wincing slightly as she did so.

"It's a risk to break people out of the Fosse, this prison. When one of us is brought here and there's no immediate danger, we might be left so that we can help people like you."

"No immediate danger," Jek's eyes scanned her form, and for a moment sympathy lit in his eyes, "I'd hate to see what this Cyrah does to those he really dislikes." Mac nodded, "Exactly, you see the reason why we have to get you out of here."

"Fine, I understand that, but how?"

"Someone from outside will have to open the door."

"That much is obvious."

"When they do," Mac continued determinedly, "don't look back, don't pause, don't wait. Do exactly as they tell you." Jek looked at her thoughtfully but didn't say anything to her instructions.

"So while we wait for rescue, perhaps you could tell me whose way you got into." Mac let her head drop back against the stone wall, realizing that he wasn't going to let her get away with vague answers.

"I'm a message piper. About six days ago I was given some information to pass on to someone who was hiding in a safe house near here. Unfortunately, the house wasn't so safe and even as I was playing the tune, I saw the soldiers coming up the street. I tried to pipe a warning but they can't have understood. When the soldiers raided the house, they came out with the family who had been hiding there. By that time, my warning message had passed to some of the others in the our group and they made an attempt to free the family. I stopped one of the soldiers from shooting the daughter."

"You were lucky you weren't shot in return."

"Yes, I know," Mac replied softly.

"They shouldn't have let you stay here," Jek said suddenly, "you need medical attention."

"I'll be all right." Jek shook his head and moved across to kneel in front of her. Mac shrank back instinctively, but had no where to go with the wall behind her. He lifted his hand and very lightly traced a finger across her brow. Mac turned her head away as pain burned into her forehead.

"This is infected," he said quietly. He took her hands in his and turned them so that the tender skin of wrist and forearm was exposed. The raised welts there were bright red and crusted with dirt and other matter.

"So are these. I should imagine that most of the others are as well, this place isn't very clean. You're fevered too, you need to be cared for."

"It's too dangerous to try to free me. I'm no one important for the group to risk themselves for. A daughter of thieves."

"Everyone is important," Jek replied firmly. Mac gazed at him, "Not on this world." He sighed and settled himself beside her, "Everyone is important to someone," he murmured. Mac flinched, wondering how he had seen so clearly through her thoughts.

She had been important to Saroyan once.

 

Daughter of Thieves - 2a

It was agonizing waiting for the actual rescue to happen, though Mac was more concerned for Jek's sake than for hers. That was another thing Saroyan had called her, softhearted.

Jek, as if reading the cause behind her restlessness said, "Don't worry."

"They're taking too long," Mac murmured, more to herself, "if they don't hurry, Cyrah will beat them here."

"Everything will be fine, don't worry," Jek repeated. Mac glanced at him and continued her slow, even pacing around the cell.

"You're too much of an optimist, if Cyrah gets hold of you, you'll be wishing you had been killed at the hands of the soldiers who brought you here." Jek shrugged.

"I'll worry about that if the time comes." His relaxed attitude annoyed Mac, but before she could berate him, she noticed a change in the background noise from the prison. Glancing at Jek, she saw that he hadn't heard it and moved to the door to listen.

"Something?" he breathed in her ear, making her jump at his proximity.

"I don't know," she replied irritably, "it's probably Cyrah." He grinned unrepentantly at the scold he heard in her tone.

"Let's hope not."

"Hope," Mac replied scornfully, but kept her voice low so that he wouldn't hear. Softhearted again, not wanting to offend. She could almost hear Saroyan's teasing tone and her heart wept for it.

The noise had rippled through the cells by now and was approaching their cell. Not Cyrah, Mac decided listening to the tenor of the cries, Jek's rescue group.

The bolts were flung back and the door opened, "Come on!" An urgent hand beckoned to them. Jek pushed Mac through first, so that she stumbled on a slight ridge in the stones. A strong hand caught hold of her arm and she gasped as it tightened painfully around the cuts and bruises there. Her eyes flew up automatically in a search for the identity of the hand.

"San!" Blue eyes narrowed and she was pulled up until she found her feet. Saroyan glanced behind her to Jek, "Jek Bayard?"

"Yes."

"Good, come on." Saroyan turned and strode down the corridor, his long legs covering the ground so fast that Mac was forced into an uncomfortable jog trot that jarred every bruised bone in her body. Jek moved up beside her and looped an arm around her waist in a way that should have made moving even more painful, but somehow helped.

"Friend of yours?" he inquired softly in her ear. Mac spared a brief second to wish fervently for longer legs and then nodded.

"He's... a friend," she ended lamely, unable to find a word to describe hers and Saroyan's relationship.

Jek said nothing, but he had silently noted the glowing look of longing in the other man's eyes when he had held Mac's arm, and the brief flash of empathetic pain at the woman's gasp. The look had died the moment Mac had raised her head and he remembered how she had winced when he'd said earlier how everyone was important. He wondered what was going on between the two of them.

"Jek?" Mac panted as she tried to keep up with the fast pace of the other men, struggling with waves of dizziness that brought black spots before her eyes.

"What?"

"Let... me... go..."

"Not a chance. I'll carry you if ne..." he cut off the rest of his words as one of the others hushed him furiously. Mac sobbed for breath, but was carried along relentlessly by Jek's arm around her waist. Once she thought she felt someone at her other side, gripping her arm to lift her over an obstacle, but by then, the tunnels they were passing through had blurred into light and dark shadows and she saw nothing of who it was. When they finally stopped, she let herself sag against his supporting arm and her legs give way beneath her. She felt herself be lowered to the ground and harried conversation carried on over her head.

"We'll have to carry her."

"Don't be a fool, the soldiers know about this tunnel and will catch up with us once they find our tracks." Even through the pain and fever, Mac knew Saroyan's voice when she heard it.

"You'd leave her here? To be captured and killed?"

"Do you think it an easy decision, Starman? You come from another planet, another world and think to dictate to me what to do?"

"Yes! If it means another's life!"

"Macelliven knew the risks of her life, but you we have to get out of here. If the Ministry of Justice knows that we have help from an outside source, they'll kill the entire city just to find you."

"But..."

"Do you think I want to leave her behind? Do you think it's an easy decision to make?" If they spoke anymore, Mac didn't hear it. The fever raging inside her claimed her senses and she slipped into oblivion.

 

Daughter of Thieves - 2b

Jek rubbed his face wearily and when he dropped his hand, he saw that Mac was stirring. He watched her fingers move over the soft blanket that was covering her and her eyes slowly blinked open. He leaned over, "Mac?"

"San?" Jek smiled at her and shook his head, a little regretfully.

"Sorry, Mac, only me."

"Where am I?"

"Not sure, but safe, for the time being." Mac frowned, "How did I get here?"

"We carried you." Mac looked puzzled.

"Should have left me, San," she mumbled her eyelids drooping again, "too much of a risk. San?" Her world was spinning even with her eyes closed and she reached out for Saroyan's hand, desperate for his comfort.

"He isn't here, Mac."

"San, please..."

Jek watched her worriedly and tried to soothe her as she called out for the grim man that he hadn't seen in the two days since he had been left here. Mac would wake often and always call out for him. Even her dreams seemed to be haunted by this man who had been so insistent on leaving her behind in the tunnels.

"Saroyan!" Mac's pleading cry brought the nurse hurrying in from the next room. She brought a glass of the drug that would send Mac back into unconsciousness and poured it down the younger woman's throat.

"The fever isn't breaking," Jek observed and the nurse looked up, concern lining her face.

"I know. It would help if that stubborn, prideful creature would come and visit. His is the only voice that might soothe her." Jek correctly interpreted this description to match Saroyan and saw an opportunity to gain more information.

"What's going on between them." The nurse perched on the edge of the bed and gently wiped Mac's face with a damp cloth.

"Nobody knows. One minute you can't get a hair between them, they're so close, the next he's refusing to speak to her."

"Something she did? He's angry at her?" Jek guessed. The woman shrugged, "Perhaps. If he can't be bothered to sort things out, he isn't worth the worry, I say." Jek's lips twitched into a reluctant half-smile.

"The problem," he pointed out, "is that she is worrying." The nurse nodded.

"She's spent too long in that pit of a prison. Too long without having those wounds cleaned." Jek said nothing. He thought that Mac's fever was as much due to her mental state as her physical, though he had been appalled by the extent of her injuries when he had helped the nurse clean her wounds.

The sound of the door opening behind them made them both start and turn. With a word to whoever was outside, a tall figure entered. The nurse rose to her feet, still holding the cloth in one hand. Jek felt himself tense as Saroyan nodded to the woman and gestured for him to go into the next room. He waited to see if the man would inquire about Mac, now lying motionless on the bed, her slender figure looking very young and vulnerable under the blanket. Saroyan however, pushed past him without a glance at Mac and went through the door. Jek gritted his teeth and followed.

He didn't wait for Saroyan to speak first, jumping in before the door was shut behind him, "I've met some cold-hearted..."

"There are some things you must know," Saroyan said smoothly, ignoring the other man's words. Jek was across the floor in two quick strides, pinning Saroyan to the desk behind him.

"Listen to me. For some reason, that woman out there is calling for you. She needs you..."

"We've been through this..."

No!" Jek cut him off, "no we haven't. The only reason you agreed to let Mac be carried through the tunnels was because you heard the soldiers behind you. You knew I wasn't going to give in." A spasm of pain crossed over Saroyan's face.

"You still think those words came easy, don't you," he murmured. Jek took a step back,

"No, I don't, but I think that it would have been easier just to take her along. We escaped after all."

"It was a close thing," Saroyan replied wearily. "You don't understand, Starman, your safety was paramount. If that had meant my becoming a living shield for their weapons, I would have done it."

"Very noble," replied Jek disgustedly, "but that's your own choice, it wasn't Mac's."

"Yes, it was," the other man said very quietly. Jek eyed him.

"Are you aware of the extent of her injuries?" he pressed, suddenly changing tack, "the agony she must have been suffering while she waited until it was convenient for you to rescue her?" Saroyan closed his eyes and said nothing, but his mouth was twisted by the battle of emotions raging inside him.

"Do you know that there wasn't a undamaged piece of skin on her entire body?"

"I know the beatings that the Fosse guards administer. She was better off than most."

"Better off? She's dying out there!" Saroyan's jaw clenched, the muscles in his face working and he turned away. Jek saw the suffering and paused.

"She calls for you constantly," he said in a calmer tone of voice, "do you know that?"

"She never regains her senses enough to hear anyone answer." So he had cared enough to ask! Jek felt a flash of triumph at the words and a simultaneous tinge of regret at the pain he had caused.

"She might hear your voice, if you answered. She needs to hear you, Saroyan."

"You don't understand, Jek." Saroyan was leaning against the desk, both hands pressing flat against the wood for support.

"What? What don't I understand."

"Things have... gone too far." Jek frowned and then his expression lightened as he thought he understood.

"Accept some advice from someone who lost a loved one because he didn't listen, Saroyan. I misjudged someone I cared for and wouldn't let her explain. I gambled that she would try again, that she cared enough about me to make that extra effort. I drew an invisible line and said that if she did so-and-so, I would let her back into my life. She didn't and I was the one that lost out."

"She died?"

"No, but she as well have. She married someone else," almost to himself, Jek added, "a woman's love is precious, and true love is rare, you have to grab it and hold onto it so tightly once you find it."

"I heard rumors..." Saroyan began with difficulty.

"Are they true?" Jek asked, when he stopped. Saroyan hung his head,

"No," he whispered. Jek was quiet for a few minutes, giving Saroyan the chance he needed to collect himself and also out of some respect and fellow feeling.

"You love her." It wasn't a question, but Saroyan nodded slowly,

"Yes."

"Then you should go to her. I can wait for the information." Saroyan hesitated and suddenly he didn't look like the grim, self-contained man that had dragged him through the tunnels.

"Go on," Jek urged. Uncertainty flashed briefly over Saroyan's features and Jek made gentle shoving motions towards the door. Straightening his shoulders the other man strode over to the door, casting one glance back before shutting the door behind him.

 

Daughter of Thieves - 3

The nurse looked up as Saroyan walked back in and eyed him suspiciously. When he didn't immediately stalk out the door, an expression of mild surprise crossed her lined face.

"You can go... I'll sit with her for a little." The nurse hesitated, but when she met the man's gaze, what she saw there made her turn and leave the room.

Saroyan slowly sat on the chair that the nurse had just vacated, his eyes never leaving Mac's still form. For a brief moment he wondered what he was doing there, when he should be telling Jek Bayard of the arrangements that had been made to get the starman off the planet.

His gaze roved over Mac and, remembering Jek's words, he pulled the blanket down to her waist. She was laid out like a corpse, her arms stiff by her sides, but Saroyan saw only the bruises revealed by the short shift she had been clothed in. From her hands to her elbows, bandages concealed the wounds that had so horrified Jek, but above these, the cuts and contusions colored her arms a solid mass of blue and purple. Saroyan winced. His mouth opened to speak her name, but something stopped him, a feeling of unworthiness swept over him and he dropped his head wearily before pulling the blanket back up.

He sat for a while in silence, thinking back, and as the memories overtook him, his hand slid under the blanket, his fingers folding gingerly around hers.

He didn't find it easy to talk to women and at first, Macelliven had been no different, but he soon saw that she was totally unlike the others he knew.

Sons and daughters of thieves, that was how the resistance group described themselves, and for the most part it was pretty accurate. Some of them had even taken up their parent's trades, but not Macelliven. She was kind and gentle, far too sensitive for the way of life she had found herself in, yet somehow surviving. He had teased her once and to his inner delight, she had risen to his words with laughing puns of her own. Dreadful ones, but she had made him smile, something he hadn't done in a very long time.

He felt relaxed in her company and as he began to learn about her character, had felt irked by her willingness to take on the dirty jobs that no one else wanted. He had told her off and encouraged her to look higher, and then found himself becoming actively involved in bringing this to fruition.

She had quickly become very special to him, something that he had always convinced himself was too risky in the dangerous life that he led. He had vowed, years before, never to become too friendly with anyone, to hold them all at a distance, because, sooner or later, he would lose them. One of the starmen, who was trying to help them sort out the governmental mess of their planet had said that there was an old saying where he came from: 'Better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all.'

Saroyan thought it was rubbish. He had loved Macelliven and lost her, and his misery had been nothing like the loneliness he had suffered before. His eyes rested on her face and he realized, painfully, that his misery was his own fault.

It had been easy to love Macelliven, but for Saroyan, trust hadn't come as quickly. Gossip and rumors were the lifeblood of the underground group, and there were always stories going round about someone. Most sensible people dismissed them as irrelevant and untrue, but when he had heard what some vicious person was spreading about Macelliven, he hadn't stopped to consider its truthfulness. Nor had he spoken to her about it.

Some distant memory of his parents, screaming abuse at each other about the value of trust had imprinted deeply on Saroyan's mind, and he had reacted like the child he had once been. From one day to the next he had stopped talking to her, avoided being with her, but he hadn't been able to cease loving her.

He had pushed her away when she had come to ask what was wrong, twice. The second time, the betrayal had been so choking that he hadn't even been able to form a reply, but he wouldn't ever forget the look on her face as he had turned away.

"I'm sorry, Elli." The voice didn't sound like his, but there was no one else in the room.

"San?" Saroyan started, his hand sliding out of hers as he looked at her and realized that she was awake. Her eyes were trying to focus on him, blinking rapidly with the effort to stay awake.

Saroyan bit his lip, unable to reply.

"San?" Her voice pleaded with him to talk to her, and he responded automatically to this note.

"I'm here, Elli."

"Don't leave me, San." Saroyan reached out a hand to stroke her cheek, a move that had once been so easy, but now he stopped, his arm dropping back to his side. As the silence stretched, she called out again, panicked, and he realized that she was having trouble seeing with the drug inside her insisting on sleep.

"San?"

"I'm still here," he murmured. He slid his hand underneath the blanket again and she gripped his hand tightly,

"Don't go, don't leave me again."

"I'm sorry, Elli, I never meant to hurt you... I..."

"You've come back to me." Watching her face, hearing her words, Saroyan suddenly became anxious that she wasn't understanding him, that she wasn't hearing what he was saying.

"Macelliven? Don't got to sleep just yet." Her eyes wandered round the room a little, but when they moved back to hold his gaze, he saw that she was focused on his face.

"What happened? What did I do wrong?" His heart bled at the pathetic questions and a tumult of emotions swept through him before he was able to form a reply.

"Nothing," he whispered hoarsely, "it was me, all me."

"Then why?"

"I listened to... to stories, Elli. I was wrong, I'm so sorry." Understanding lit behind her eyes, and relief cleared away some of the shadow of the fever.

"You didn't trust me." Saroyan bowed his head. There was something even worse than loving and losing. It was loving and losing and knowing that she would never think well of him again.

"I'm sorry," he repeated again. Those seemed to be the only words he could form, the hardest of all.

"I would never do anything to hurt you, Saroyan."

"I know."

"I trust you."

"I..." It was a few moments before the meaning behind her words pushed through his guilt and self-pity. He raised his head to look at her, "You do?" he asked stupidly.

"Yes, I do." Saroyan stared at her.

"I... I love you, Elli."

"And I you, San, but... do you trust me? Or will you always listen to stories and not talk to me."
"I've learnt a very painful lesson," he murmured softly, and when he raised his hand to her cheek this time, he didn't drop it. She shut her eyes and tilted her head towards his touch, a soft sigh escaping from her lips.

"Missed you," she mumbled tiredly, "so much. Don't leave me alone again, San."

"No, Elli, never again." The weight that had been stooping his shoulders for so long rolled away and he could lean forward to press a kiss to her forehead.

"I've learnt to trust you," he murmured softly against her skin and felt her relax. Both knew it wouldn't be as simple as that, but for now, his words were all that mattered.

"Hold me," she whispered, and Saroyan willingly slid gentle hands underneath her shoulders and lifted her up to his chest. She couldn't lift her arms to his neck, but he felt them clasp tightly behind his back.

"Daughter of thieves you may be," he said softly into her hair, feeling her grip loosen as she finally gave in to a deep, healing sleep, "but you are definitely the companion of my heart."

End.

 

© 1998, 1999 Copyright held by the author.

 

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