wrote this for Naomi Shemer, for i have owed a one shot to this patient soul for near about an eternity. i was nearly done with the one i was really commissioned to do, but it was sadly lost in the upchucking of yours truly's laptop. so i've wrote this one instead.

it's pretty mild, and follows in the same sort of vein as my Forced Mating one shot, the same sort of universe, if you will. there aren't any warnings to put here, other than combined het/homo stuffs. probably one of my more mild writings, i think. O.o how did that happen? but it's long to compensate...if that makes up for that?

anyways, Naomi, i hope you enjoy both this and your excursion. (beams)

Friday, July 21, 2006. 12:16 am.


Each step of mine was cautious and deliberate; years of tribal training to become a hunter were to my benefit now as I moved with extreme stealth through the dense underbrush covering the forest floor. I was calm; my breaths even and slow as my senses remained on high alert. The very bark covering the trunk beneath my palm seemed rougher than anything I've ever felt before, more real. I stopped a moment to savor it, my eyes following the line of the tree upwards to the sky and its foliage; savoring the color the leaves were as the sun shone through them, a sight I've always rather enjoyed. A breeze came through and ruffled the hair about my face, dragging a few strands across the sensitive skin of my lower lip, and I felt myself beginning to smile.

And a twig snapped. My eyes darted about as I held my breath, my body tense as I became very still….

Running footsteps exploded less than twenty yards to my left, and I threw all caution to the wind as I took off as well, hearing the steps veer in my direction, catcalls whooping up all around me. Laughter and the sounds of merriment, my laugh joining in as I took the chance in glancing backwards….

My foot caught the ground, and I jerked my face forwards just in time for the ground to rise up and smite me, the earth and sky exchanging places a few times before it came to an abrupt end, where everything proceeded to explode into red and I fell through the blackness that swam up from within.

--- --- ---

Pressure, pounding voices in my head, whumping sounds like a distant heartbeat…wavering forms up above me, swimming in harsh sunlight…it all hurt, so I closed my eyes and returned to the comforting darkness yet again.

--- --- ---

"…Change these wrappings…. …Those leaves…. …Pressure here…."

Fingers pushing, moving me, red haze exploding across the backs of my eyelids, even though I could also feel myself blinking through the pain, seeing nothing but that red and black swirling haze from before….

"Lan? Can you hear me?"

My face screwed up, turning away from the soft voice laced with concern, the gentle fingers brushing against a sore on my temple; I recognized that voice, I've heard it many times before, have I not?

"Brun?"

"Oh good, you are awake! …But what is the matter? Lan?"

My fingers went out towards the source of the voice, flinching back when they encountered clothing and skin, but then my hand shot out again and clenched, scared beyond anything else.

"Brun…what time of day is it?"

My voice was hoarse from a dryness in my throat, but I didn't feel it, didn't hear it either. Just heard some rustling, my fingers tightening with general panic. I don't want to understand what's wrong with me, I know what it is, but I refuse to listen to that portion of my brain.

"The sun has already passed its zenith…about five hours of daylight left, by my calculation."

My eyes closed but it didn't change what I could see, not even when I opened them again. It didn't change the fact that I am blind.

--- --- ---

Useless. A burden.

My mother's mate says such harsh things, but they are true. Being blind has robbed me of everything I had hoped to have, all the things in life that are taken for granted. I cannot hunt, will never be a man. I cannot mate, for I have no way of providing for them or subsequent family. I will remain in this lifeless limbo, remaining thus until I finally die of whatever causes come for me. Theod is right: I should have died that day. It would have been a tragic but more honorable ending for me.

For now I am just useless.

--- --- ---

People pity me, I know, but at least they leave me alone, gradually forgetting that I'm around when I stay quiet in the background, sitting out to the side. A world unto myself, usually. Or at least, I'd like to think that they've forgotten about me when they begin to talk, that they don't assume that I've lost my hearing as well as my sight. I'd like to believe that my former friends aren't that cruel, that they wouldn't whisper or talk about me so plainly if they remembered that I can hear them.

Because I can hear them, their talk of how I'm the cause for my mother's grieving sickness, how unfortunate I am, how glad they are that it hadn't happened to them. They are grateful, but not enough to come talk to me, not like they used to. I used to have many friends before I lost my sight; I'd like to think that I was likable, that I was pleasant to be with. I've lost touch with that person I used to be, withdrawing into a world of darkness and my own silence. It's ok that they shun me now, as much as it hurts; they have a future, a life they will continue to live.

Me…I'm just here, waiting for the rest of me to die, like my sight.

--- --- ---

It's my fault this time, it really is. If I hadn't been so stubborn about bathing by myself, I wouldn't be lost and confused, I wouldn't be lying here in the moist forest floor, curled up as I fought off the vestiges of my own fright and despair. I don't know where I am, no clue which direction I came from, where I should go from here. My shins and knees sting from the trip that had sent me to the ground, dirt coating my palms and forearms, and now, my entire side from my cringing and panic.

Maybe I'm meant to die here. I welcome it….

"Lan? Lan!"

Soft footsteps rushing me, the sound of Brun dropping to his knees beside of me. I turned towards him, how could I not? Relief causing me to forget the clear tracks of my tears on my face, reaching out for his presence, afraid that I might have just imagined it.

"What are you doing way out here?"

"Lost my way…my bearings…where are we?"

"Out near the fruit trees, close to the training grounds. I came out to collect more roots for Gana, as well as some willow bark; our supplies are dipping low. But, if I may ask, where were you going to get so far off track?"

"Doesn't matter. I should just…go off somewhere, keep walking. Would anyone care if I were to just…disappear?"

"What??? Of course they would care! Lan, don't say such things!"

"Why? I'm just a burden, useless. Everyone thinks I should have just died that day."

There was a long moment of silence, and for a moment, I wondered if he could move so quietly as to have left me alone, but then I heard a faint rustle, and knew he was still at my side.

"Lan…I do not feel sorry for you. I do not pity you, and I do not wish that you had died. You talk like your life is over; you say you're useless. Stupid. Just because you cannot see, that does not mean that you've lost everything else. I've seen people lose more than you and still live, still have a purpose."

I couldn't think of anything to say, and maybe he knew that or didn't care. I just let him pull me to my feet, let him give me the task of helping him dig for those roots that he needs. I made myself useful, for once.

--- --- ---

"Oh dear, Lan again. Another scrape?"

Gana's voice was mildly amused, and I smiled a bit helplessly as I shrugged, indicating that I did indeed have another scrape, this time lower on my shin than the last one that was still healing. I persevere against the wounds, not wanting to limit my mobility now that I've taken Brun's words to heart; following his example, I tried to find some use for myself. And while I'm not too sure of how that goes, I've discovered that losing my sight has caused my other senses to heighten, my hearing and smell becoming sharper than ever before. My knack for memorization has greatly improved as well, having memorized the layout of the village to the point that making my way around wasn't much of a problem anymore. I could even make my way out to the river without help, if I kept alert and utterly conscious of my surroundings.

Almost a season has passed since losing my sight, and I'm slowly adapting to working around it. And with all my wounds and the fact that my mother's health is beginning to fail, I've begun to spend more time with Gana, and her apprentice, Brun. Both are kind to me, allowing me to do small errands if they need it done, talking to me like they had both done before. To them, I have not changed who I am, even if everyone else does not see me that way anymore.

"If you keep this up, I'll have to replenish my stock every other day."

Gana's voice was chiding me, and I frowned slightly as I replied, "It's hard for me to see what's just in front of me, even if I know my way, Gana. How was I to know that Hara had decided to put a stack of wood right there?"

I heard her laugh, and my frown dissolved into a smile at my own expense, knowing that it probably was funny that I always managed to find that bit of something to trip me up. That's just the way it is, I suppose.

--- --- --

"…Rae, get away from those other boys and come do your chores, this minute!"

"Take these, your mother was asking about them…."

"Tomorrow or the next day, I bet those flowers will be up…."

I sat in the shade and listened to the life happening around me, my eyes focused upon nothing as I rested my arms across my pulled-up knees, a smile ghosting along my mouth as I heard the wind blowing through the leaves up above me. I can just imagine the way the sun would look shining through the foliage if I were to look up…and for a moment, I did look up, hearing the whishing of the tree even though I couldn't see it like I used to. But in my mind's eye, I could see it all. I've grown used to seeing this way, of my mind supplying pictures from the stimuli I can still receive.

The smile grew into a real one, turning my face off to the side as I called, "Brun, are you just passing by, or were you seeking me out?"

His steps faltered a moment, but continued again once he'd laughed. "How did you know it was me?"

I waited until he sat by my side before answering, my teeth flashing with a grin, "You smell like smoky medicine, and also…you don't limp, like Gana does. That is how I always know it is you."

"You can hear her limp? But it's so small…!"

I nodded, even if I was curious as to why he also smelled of fresh cut wood, sharp and tangy.

"What is it you have?" I asked finally, unable to help myself, and heard him laugh again.

"Can't put anything past you, can I?" I shook my head, and he laughed.

"All right, you've ruined my surprise! I made you something."

Startled, I didn't have much warning before a long piece of wood was handed to me, my fingers catching it on sheer reflex, feeling it's comfortable weight in my palms. Running my fingers down it, mindful of splinters, I found that it was relatively straight and a little more than half of my height in length.

"What is it?"

His voice was warm and a bit self-conscious as he replied, "A way for you to see the obstructions just in front of you."

I was stunned by the implications for a moment, before feeling that my face had just brightened. "Why did I never think of this? Brun…thank you!"

"I…I just, well…you're welcome."

He was flustered, and even though I didn't quite know why he should be, I still reached out and placed a hand to his arm, portraying my gratitude even as I said, "You are my greatest friend."

"Always, Lan." He sounded more like himself at that, and for that, I was pleased.

--- --- ---

It was an accident, really. I should have been more careful, should have been paying attention to my surroundings, instead of getting lost in my thoughts. But they had been heavy thoughts, growing suspicions about feelings inside, things that didn't seem quite normal. I had thought to ignore them to begin with, when they'd started a long time ago, even before the incident really. But even now, they're growing and becoming more distressing.

Stirrings of lust.

Easy to ignore, up to a certain point. But they'd come to a head when I discovered something about myself. I had been listening to two men talking, ribbing each other about certain girls they had their eyes on, which one would be able to mate first, if any girl would have them. It had been in fun, their ribbing, their talk about practicing their techniques on the other, so that they could get some practice before the real test.

But all that talk had caused a strange flush inside of me, my mind supplying strange images of men…together. Where these stirrings were coming from, I do not know, but they were distressing all the same. It's the reason why I left the village to think, going out quite a distance, keeping the sun to my face as I walked, until I finally settled down upon a fallen tree that I encountered, the sun now at my back.

I tried to come to terms with these feelings.

But I smelled the wolf before I heard it, the hair at the back of my neck rising up when its low growl met me. I'd been spotted and deemed a threat. Shaky, I moved with deliberate slowness, but that didn't still the sudden attack against me, my arm throwing out my stick before me for the tiniest shred of defense.

The breath was knocked out of me when the wolf slammed me down to the ground, teeth snapping at my neck and catching my left forearm that I had put up instead. I dimly heard myself scream in agony as my flesh was torn, but reacted on impulse as I slammed my stick into its side, hearing it yelp and tear away, taking part of my flesh with it.

But I didn't feel that pain, didn't know anything but mind-numbing instinct, scrambling onto my knees, my uninjured hand reaching around for something to use for a weapon now that my stick had been ripped from my grip when the wolf tore away. I could hear it, panting and whining; I'd hurt it. My fingers curled around a heavy rock, and I picked it up, cautiously approaching the animal that was lying on the ground just before me.

My fingers curled against living pelt, rapid breathing and warmth reminding me that it was still dangerous to me. I found the wound, a bit of my broken stick still protruding from its side, warm stickiness coating my fingers even as I moved passed it with that same numb state of mind. There, the skull. A piece of me hesitated as the wolf whined once more, clearly in pain…mercy is what made me bring the rock down as hard as I could, once, twice, three times.

There was nothing now, and I allowed the rock to slip from bloody hands as the impact of what I'd just done came back to me. I killed it, I killed a wolf.

Where the tears were coming from I wasn't too sure, but I allowed them to fall regardless, twisting my hands in that still pelt, crying there in the forest. It might have been an hour or just minutes, but I became aware of soft mewls in the brush to the right, my head coming up and cocking to the side, trying to hear them better. If I didn't know better, I'd think that it was a pup….

Leaving the dead wolf, I awkwardly crawled over towards the tiny sounds, until I paused, my hand reaching out and encountering a tiny ball of fur. A pup. I'd killed a she-wolf, a mother protecting her cub.

A sense of duty and remorse filled me, and I plucked the cub from the bush and cradled it to my chest, where it snuffled at my clothing, smelling its mother on me. Does it think I am her? No matter, for I will take her place. It is only right, after all.

Standing on weak legs, I put the sun to my back, gaining my bearings before beginning to walk back to the village, my mind running over the way that I had come. From what I could tell, I had perhaps just an hour or so left of daylight…not that it really mattered, now did it? As I walked, I became aware of how much strength had been bleed from me in the short squirmish, how much of me I'd lost somewhere in the process. It was hard just to keep one foot in front of the other, hard to keep to my bearings…after a while, I was aware that I was just plodding along without course, but there was nothing I could do otherwise. Exhaustion was stealing my reason, but I let it go without fuss, already too gone to stop it.

-

How long I walked I didn't know, but I felt the coolness of night by the time I heard a distant voice calling to me, calling my name with a note of panic. And maybe I was delirious, but I answered it anyways, stumbling along, one step after another. It was a montage now; step, step, step, keep going, step, step, step, keep it going.

"Lan! Can you hear me?"

That panicky yell was growing closer, and I managed a tired yell back, just calling his name. It was all I was capable of, at that point. I became aware that I was standing still, wavering slightly, my balance not as steady as I'd have hoped…but that voice was growing louder again, coming closer….

My knees had given out before he found me, hunched over and protecting my hurt arm and the cub, crooning to it softly in my delirium.

"Lan, are you hurt?"

"Yes. So tired…."

I don't remember much of anything after that, just jumbles of Brun's touch and voice and steady presense, leading me back into the village and straight into Gana's hut. I lost track of the cub as she fussed over my arm, my head spinning as I fought to keep awake.

"Ah! What is this? A wolf!"

My head shot upwards at Brun's startled yelps, my voice panicked, "Mine! Don't hurt it…I have to take care of…."

Again, my head swam, but this time, there was nothing to stop the numbness, slumping over as my body finally gave into exhaustion.

--- --- ---

They call me an odd one. I managed to kill an attacking she-wolf with just a stick and a rock. Impressive, they say. I took in her cub, a male. That makes me odd. But at least I am a man, something that I had thought would never occur, would never happen. At least my mother lived long enough for her to see me as a man, but it wasn't enough to save her, for she finally succumbed to her sickness. Her mate blamed me, as he had always done.

Threw me from my home, where surprisingly, Gana took me into hers.

Now it is me who is taking care of her, for she never eats unless I remind her to with food. I make sure she gets what she needs, for she often forgets. We make a good pair. I asked her once why she never mated, and she'd laughed, asking me why I have not. I have many complications. She replied that being Gana is hard for a mate to bear, that many people just don't have the patience to come second to a healer. I told her that if she weren't so old, and I weren't so blind, then our mating would be ideal. She laughed and cuffed me behind the ear, her touch gentle and loving.

We do work well, her and I.

--- --- ---

Wolf was around three years of age the morning I couldn't wake Gana.

Brun had become a man the previous fall. I was nineteen.

My friend needed me to pull him through, stricken with grief and uncertainty about his new duties, even though he had been performing most of them as Gana grew older. The ceremony changed him from Brun to Gana, dropping the name as he took on the responsibility as the village healer, losing his identity as his status became one of importance. I remained living with the Gana, for he was my old friend and wouldn't think of turning me out.

And for that, I was glad.

--- --- ---

My mating was a surprise to me, that a woman would think highly enough of me to take me as her mate. Brea came to me during one of my winter excursions towards the river, collecting some hibernating roots for Gana. Brea had approached without my hearing her, startling me when she'd spoken very close-by.

She was asking if I had any inclination to mate, sat through my stumbling protestations that I couldn't mate, and informed me that it didn't matter. She was a capable hunter, but most males would feel threatened to have a hunter as a mate, feeling that their skills were put to match by her own. She needed someone who wouldn't mind that, someone who wouldn't care that she was a bit plain to look at.

I was surprised, to be sure, even more so when my hesitant kiss turned into more, warm passion driving us into coupling there on the snowy ground by the river.

And thus I gained a mate.

--- --- ---

"You don't think of me, do you?"

"What do you mean, think of you?"

Almost a year of being mated, and we'd fallen into a comfortable realm of companionship. We weren't graced with children, but that wasn't uncommon, even though there was talk that maybe my sight was not the only thing I had lost. I wasn't sure if Brea mourned such a lack, for she never discussed it with me, nor I with her.

There was just one aspect that made me unhappy with being mated, and that was losing the closeness I once had had with Gana. There was a coldness in him now that hadn't been there before, and I somehow wondered if it was my fault, if I had caused it. It's not as if it had been sudden, but had been a gradual change, a frosty edge to our once-friendship. The friend who meant the most to me.

"You don't think of me, don't see me when we're coupling. Your heart just isn't in it, not with me."

I was startled, my eyes blinking as I paused in my portion of the meal we were preparing.

"What are you saying?"

"That you're in love with someone else."

"What?! How…I never…."

"It's Gana, isn't it?"

I felt my face close in on itself, as if a cloud had passed over me, casting me in deep and cool shadow. How can she say that? How can she be right….

Her voice came in close to my ear, her hand finding the back of my neck, "I see how he hurts when he looks at you, Lan. You've noticed his pain, have you not? For I've seen it on you when he's near, and yet you dare not call to him, not like you would have before. If you are not happy with me, then I will get another. I cannot be happy…we can't be happy together."

"Brea…."

"I hold nothing against you; our tie will be broken."

And she turned into my embrace, let me feel this ache at losing her, someone I had grown so very close to. But she was right, I don't love her. I can't love her. Our tie will be broken.

--- --- ---

Wolf was at my side when I set out for Gana's hut, a worn stick in my hand to keep me free of debris; Gana had made me a new one after I lost my other, before we lost touch. Back when he was still Brun…to me, he has always been Brun. Maybe that should have clued me onto my feelings, that I thought of him as an individual man. Only a mate of a healer can call them by their given name, the name of their birth. If I call him that now, will he rebuke me? I wonder…Brea's words have caused me to think. To gather together everything within my core, to make the hardest decision in my entire life. Deciding to live again had been simple compared to this. But I know that I'll still have Wolf, I'll still have the support of Brea if it all goes wrong.

Part of me believes that it will. Most of me believes that it will.

He wasn't alone, a patient receiving his treatment for a chest cold; I could hear his gentle murmur and their relieved response, and could smell the ointment he had made. I waited outside, crouched down on my haunches in the dirt, Wolf sitting beside of me, panting slightly as my fingers ran through his pelt. People used to fear him, but as time went on, he proved to be fiercely protective of his 'pack', namely, most of the villagers close to me. But through his protectiveness, he was mostly so of me and small children, seeing them as cubs to be nurtured and gentle with. He's never hurt anyone; nobody's ever given him a reason to.

He perked when the person left, getting to his feet and walking inside Gana's hut; he still thought of it as home, just as much as he had the hut I'd shared with Brea. I heard Gana's surprised exclamations, heard his voice become light with joy as he greeted my companion.

I shakily took a moment to compose myself before rapping lightly by the door, my voice calmer than I felt as I asked if I could enter. There was a moment before his voice replied that I could, quieter now and not as free. Maybe Brea was wrong?

"Have you heard it yet?"

"…I have, about losing ties with Brea."

His voice was quiet and distant, causing a slight frown to cross my face.

"She said she couldn't be with someone if they loved another."

Again, there was that chilly silence, until his voice, dark and sullen, "Why are you bringing this up with me? Shouldn't you be telling the woman of your heart that?"

"There is no woman."

"…Lan…don't tell me any more."

"Am I wrong then? Was Brea wrong?" If he heard the catch in my voice, he didn't grasp its meaning.

"Wrong about what?"

"Do you love me?"

There was silence again, colder and heavier than ever before, until his voice came, hard and unforgiving, "Get out."

"I wished you did…wished it more than…but I was wrong. So very wrong…."

Wolf gave off a faint whine, picking up on my distress, and my hand reached out on instinct, needing his contact, his comforting presence…but I felt a human arm instead, stilling as I realized that he was closer than I had thought…he'd grown closer, he was coming closer even still.

Fingers found my face, and I asked again, "Do you love me?"

His answer was in the form of his hesitant mouth on mine, and I forced him to deepen it, forced him to really mean what he was telling me. He, apparently, was more than fine doing so, because I found myself lying on my back, holding Brun close to me as I grinned into his neck, hearing his laugh for the first time in about a year. How my mating must have hurt him.

A wet nose hit the outer shell of my ear and I turned away with a rare laugh from me as well.

"Wolf missed you."

"He did, did he?"

"Yeah."

"He's not the only one to miss me…right?"

"Who else missed you, you great oaf…oi, cut that out!"

--- --- ---

If anyone found our situation strange, they didn't let on. For Brun and I work well together, our duties compatible. And he's even worse about remembering to eat than the last Gana had been; I wonder how he ate at all when I was gone. And if there are times when he's busy saving someone's life, I'm content to be to myself until he returns to me.

I'm patient, knowing that to everyone else, he is Gana…but to me, he'll always be Brun.


A/N: again, this has more of a fairy tale quality to it, doesn't it? meh, i must have been in strange moods when writing this. and i sort of apologize that i skip about in time, not letting you know before i do it. (oh well)