A/N: I must have bored a hole in a pine tree. All the sap in this chapter came from somewhere. (Feel free to skip it if sap isn't your style).

Of course, they aren't in perfect agreement. They're Skuy and Kiana, after all. But they come close to it.

Hurling myself into the abyss again...



Skuyn Eiteller: Chapter Forty-Three

Skuy, Learning the Name of Joy

"I never knew what joy was or could mean
Until it broke on me, fiercer than any sunrise.
Those who think rage is fiercest do but mad-dream;
It was joy that lit madness at the backs of my eyes."

-Beresun Waterflow, recounting the finding of his love.

Skuy lay still, his arms wrapped around Kiana, and listened to her breathe, and felt the beat of his heart, and for the first time that he could remember, was perfectly joyful.

He could see the sunlight falling through the window, but it was not all he saw, and not all that could have given him joy in the moment. His mind was spinning, dipping through the thoughts around him with a freedom that he had never known before. Before his change, he had been too overwhelmed by the clutter of the noise, and couldn't keep his own emotions and desires separate. The thought of actually seeking out other minds to share would have made him laugh hysterically.

But this…

There was no trouble with keeping his thoughts separate from the cluttered minds around him. His own had an essential pattern that made them sing like music in tune with his mind, and he had no more trouble recognizing them than he would an instrument out of tune or a song played badly. The others sang to different songs, and while he could appreciate them, the tunes were not the same.

And what he found there!

There was one woman preparing for battle even as Kiana was, though hers was a skirmish and not a duel; she was a patrol member getting ready to go out on the next circuit. She envisioned the curalli coming down on her and all the cuts and parries she would use. Her mind flashed through the patterns, and then she nodded once, decisively, and rolled over and went back to sleep.

There was a young man—very young, hardly more than fifty—just below them who had spent most of the night in despair, sure that he would achieve nothing. He had finally fallen asleep just as the sun mounted above the rim of the world. Asleep, his mind sped, healing itself, pulling up joyful memories and singing him music that might yet teach him more than he had learned. When he woke, the despair would have passed like a summer thunderstorm.

There was another woman on the brink of death, and another man looking at the sunlight with the simple wonder of a child, and still another man whose mind was stripped down to the barest essentials, practicing in his room with his blade, flowing along its movements as though it was an extension of his arm. Skuy smiled a little. He wondered if Kiana would look like that, or if she would flower in her joy into something else entirely.

He no longer doubted her claim that she would fight in joy. She certainly made love in it.

He stretched luxuriantly and turned to see her looking up at him. Kiana nodded solemnly when she met his gaze, though the red flecks in her own eyes burned so bright that Skuy doubted she was feeling as much solemnity.

"You know that we have not settled all the differences between us," she said. "I can feel that. You have not forgiven me for lodging a piece of my soul in you. And there are things I might be angry at you for. I still think that you should have killed Quirrin, for example."

"I know," said Skuy, and his voice was as slow and playful as hers. "But I think there is one thing that might heal some of the rifts that would otherwise open between us."

"What is that?" Kiana pushed herself up one elbow, though this in effect only shoved her closer. She tilted her head so that her golden hair spilled down one shoulder, and the blaze of it in the sunlight was enough to stir Skuy's desire again. He glanced away from her so that he could still speak, and felt her wry smile at the back of his head.

"That we try to be honest with each other," he said.

"That is all?"

Skuy turned, a little startled by the disappointment in her voice. But he found the answer in the tumbling chaos of her mind, easier to read than it had ever been before, and smiled.

"You thought I had some magical solution that would fix all of our problems?" he asked, and rolled, pulling her down into the bed again. They lay half-tangled around each other, like kittens in a litter.

"I hoped it," she murmured into his hair.

"That is impossible," said Skuy, kissing her behind the ear because he wanted to. "We would not be who we are, if we could agree so easily, with so little effort."

"So little effort?" Kiana blinked at him. "When I think of the effort it took to get you into bed—little enough in days, that's true, but the amount of persuasion I had to use to make you trust me—"

"I know," said Skuy calmly. "But that is nothing compared to the amount of time that we might spend together."

"Not will spend together?"

Kiana had gone tense in his arms, or at least still, like a leopard in the moments before she sprang. Skuy felt it and smoothed his hand down her spine. Smiling, she relaxed almost against her will.

"You might get tired of me," said Skuy softly. "You were a mercenary, my lady, and I know that you have had many lovers."

"Most of them understood that it was only for one night, or one dance, or however long we intended to spend together. I have lost most of them to mutual leaving, not to battle."

"Then you should understand what I am saying. If we decide someday to part, it should not surprise you."

"This—is different," said Kiana.

"Why?"

"You're going to press me, this early in the morning?" She rolled over so that he couldn't see her face, and so that her hair would muffle most of the words that she might speak in any case.

Skuy gently pulled her hair out from beneath her face with his telekinesis. She made a sound and snuggled further into the pillow. "It is the morning of the day that we fight a duel," he said.

She rolled back over. "We?"

Skuy sighed and lowered his gaze. "I have tried to pretend indifference, Kiana, but I cannot," he said. "You affected me before I united with the rest of my mind. And now you affect me even more strongly. I wish that you would stay. But I would not want to bind you. I have seen in your thoughts how you love to wander. I am trying to think of you as a wild bird, one who swoops down to meet me at times, but then goes back into the sky. There is no guarantee that you might ever come back. If you return, then it will be your choice."

"Is it working?"

"Not really."

Kiana nodded, and then she clasped his hand. Skuy looked up in startlement, and she kissed him. For a moment, it seemed that the gesture might mean that she was done talking, but Skuy pulled back and looked at her.

"All right, stars damn it!" Kiana sat up, her skin gleaming as if oiled in the sunlight. It wasn't, of course, but it looked so healthy that it might as well have been. "I will say it. This is different, Skuy, at least right now. I might change my mind tomorrow, but I don't think I will." She sighed. "I don't want this to be temporary from the beginning. I don't want to set a time limit. Can we say 'from now into forever or the change of mind?'"

Skuy blinked. It was the very phrase he had been thinking of. "Did you read my thoughts, my lady?"

"I don't know," said Kiana. "You let me into them many times last night, as loudly as you were talking, so I suppose that I might have gained a certain sensitivity." A smile pulled at the corners of her mouth.

Skuy flushed in spite of himself, but felt a smile rising from far more than just his duty to make her happy. "You look almost as if you would be pleased to dance again, before your dance with the Lady."

"Of course I would."

"But you might not be—"

"My muscles are not as sore as yours," said Kiana, and grinned at him. "They've had a lot more exercise than yours. Let us, Skuy, once more. To summon the joy, and blend it with my blood."

"You are not worried that you might die?"

"I never am," said Kiana. "I am thinking of life when I dance like this, and not death. Give me a chance, and I will show you." She caught his head again, and yanked him forward with her hands in his hair. "Show me," she whispered back to him, and kissed him. "You have your own joy. I caught a little of your roaming in mind. Show me the joy that you feel."

Skuy opened his mind to hers, and then, as she gasped, he caught her up and tossed her into the air.

They flew like phoenixes over the fields of the mental world, through shimmering colors and the songs that he heard the minds as; caught in his view of this world, Kiana had the same perception. He received an impression of maddened elation from her, the iyedi, the elation that brings tears, and he smiled as he called gold and silver to him and then rose with her, into the realm that lay just above the mental one.

This was the astral world, and it was dark blue in every direction, flecked with the fuzzy shapes of worlds and the silver and twisting golden paths of dreams and the radiant spots of stars. A creature like a silver hawk passed them above one path, staring at them with violet eyes, uttering a haunting shriek that was more like music than Skuy had ever heard from a hawk. Completely in touch with Kiana's mind, he knew that she had never heard anything like it, either.

And then he felt a tug off to the side, and he turned, and there hung a shifting globe of blue and gold. He smiled at it, and felt his knowledge about what it was leap to Kiana even before she could ask. This was their joy, the joy of their lovemaking that they had created earlier.

^Do you really want to create some more?^ he asked her. ^You could enter this again. Would it be enough?^

^More.^

And as quickly as that, they were back in their bodies. Skuy raised his eyebrows and stared directly into her face. "It seems that you have a will of your own, my lady, at least where returning us to the physical world is concerned," he murmured.

"I'm alive," said Kiana, and then she pounced on him and rolled him back into the creation of more joy.