Eighteen: "The Best Laid Plans..."

       Ever restless these days, I volunteered to track down Luke and Merlin when the final decision came to take Greyson down to the Pattern. It was getting to the point where I hated being still, even for a moment.
       I found Luke in the empty dining hall, and he practically crawled up the wall when I appeared. I could not restrain a disgusted snort. Hell, he'd been tortured by Zamorna. What danger was I? "Look, I promised I'm not going to hit you."
       He received that with obvious disbelief. "Uh huh."
       That was it. I had had it with this whole thing. I mean, Fletcher kills people when he gets annoyed, but they don't mock him about it endlessly. I was going to put a stop to this crap here and now. "All right, hit me. That is the only way we're going to even the score."
       A sudden gleam came into his eye. That should have warned me, but no. I was on the path of righteous indignation, and nothing was going to deter me from finishing this, not even common sense.
       Luke smiled then. "All right, come here."
       I came to a halt about a foot away and waited.
       "Close your eyes." My look must have been rather incredulous, for he then said, "I don't want you to hit me in reflex."
       I sighed. "I'll put my hands behind my back." Which I did, but he didn't seem convinced. "Okay, fine." After giving him a suitably scornful look, I closed my eyes.
       The blow came a moment later, but not in any way as I had expected.
       His lips brushed mine - a a slight, but definite kiss, and my eyes flashed open to see him grinning like a fiend. "Now we're even," he chuckled.
       Flustered beyond belief, I muttered something about wishing I had hit him again, and stalked off before I did just that.
       Vascillating between mortification and fury, I stormed down the hall. I felt twelve again, when Rhys Bannister, on a dare, had kissed me during school recess. As I recall, I'd decked him... Goddess, maybe I did have issues.
       It only got worse when I found Merlin. After I told him we were taking Greyson to the Pattern, he asked me what was wrong.
       I could feel my face flush again. "Nothing," I snarled as I started back down the hall.
       "Did you trip on the rug and embarrass yourself?"
       I wish. "I embarrassed myself, but not on the rug. Ask Luke."
       Merlin is apparently quite perceptive, for he let out a whoop of laughter. "He kissed you!"
       Too damned perceptive for his own good.... He almost ran into me as I stopped and spun, smacking a fist into my hand, and he ducked. "I swear to God I won't tell anyone!" He yelped.
       I just groaned. This day couldn't get any worse...

       Which, of course, it did.
       I muttered and grumbled to myself the entire way down the stairs to the Pattern room, studiously avoiding Luke's sly smile and Merlin's barely muffled chuckling. Once down, I parked myself as far away from them as I could, gracing them only with an occasional glower.
       But my mortification was quickly forgotten when it became obvious Greyson was having trouble on the Pattern. And then he fell.
       And burned.
       I've seen a lot of things die horribly, but this was nightmarish. We all stood there in stunned silence as the sparks flared about his charred body, until there was nothing left but ash.
       No one moved for the longest time, until Stark, with a sudden strangled sob, turned and fled up the stairs. I followed her up, but she brushed me away when I finally cornered her at the stables, where she took a horse and rode off. I stood there, still in shock myself, and wondered what the hell to do next.
        So I let Ilie know what was up, and he went off to watch her. And I went and lost myself, for a time, in the comfort of combat. By the time Gerda, Fletcher and I parted, with instructions for them to meet me at dawn for another practice, I felt a little more settled.
       I was worried about Stark, but there was little I could do until she decided she was ready to talk. This, on top of Dragos might be enough to drive her over the edge. She's strong - sh'ed have to be to have made it this long, with all that's happened - but she's young, and a lot has happened in a very short time.
       My stomach intruded on my moment of concern with a loud rumble, apparently uncaring of the gravity of the situation. There was little else I could do, so I made my way to the kitchens in search of a meal, where I found Luke, busy at the counter, his back to the door.
       It was just too tempting.
       The day had been too much, really, and I was feeling punchy. I needed to laugh about something, and damn it, after this morning he owed me.
       He remained oblivious as I snuck across the kicthen and stood behind him.
       I leaned forward, over his shoulder, and whispered in his ear, "Boo."
       He didn't jump, but the bowl in his hands clattered loudly, and grapes scattered across the counter. After a moment, he turned, his composure mostly intact. "Grape?" was all he said as he held out the bowl, which he held in a white-knuckled grip.
       "Are they poisoned?"
       "Not this time."
       I got my laugh.
       Once we were both settled at the table, he slid the bowl of grapes over to me. "I wonder how many times we can declare a truce before it actually happens."
        I picked at the sandwich I'd made. "I'll try and behave."
       "That makes one of us..." he grinned. "No, I will."
       "Though after this morning..." I let it trail off, as Luke raised a brow.
       He shook a sprig of grapes at me. "Be careful, lest I do it again."
       I promptly changed the subject.
       We argued about my plans to go after Harry until he decided to take his leave, having convinced me, to his satisfaction, to take along some backup. After he was gone, I found myself wondering if we'd actually made a truce, or just started a whole new war.
       I was saved from further thought on the subject by the appearance of Griffin, though he didn't do much to help my mood. We got to talking about my brother, somehow, and I found myself rambling on. "Harry's been the only stable thing in my life," I admitted.
       "No other has achieved such a distinction?" Griffin sounded almost amused.
       "I made a face at him. "I don't get out much, except to kill things." You know, that had sounded so much better in my head.
       "That must be lonely.
       "Maybe." I shrugged. "There's always Harry, and when I get lonely I just go down to the pub and oh, goddess I am pathetic..." My head fell to my hands.
       "Self realization is the first step." I would swear he sounded positively smug, but when I looked up, his expression was carefully neutral.
       "On, thanks. Just what I needed today. Lesse, frustration, humiliation, depression and now self-realization." I stood, and slid my still-untouched sandwich across the table. "I find I suddenly don't have much appetite." And snagging a bottle of someting potently alcoholic from the sideboard, I left.

       After retrieving George from my rooms, I made my way to the battlements and settled down for an evening of mournful music and alchoholic introspection. The moon shared the sky with some bright feature that looked almost like a castle spun from dreams and moonlight. It had an eerie unreal qaulity to it, that quite fit my mood.
       I hadn't known Greyson well, but he had been sort of a kindred soul, as he, I think out of them all, most understood why I am like I am. Because he was much the same way.
       And no one deserved to die like that.
       I laid bow to strings and played him a goodbye, expressing my sadness the only way I knew how.
       A soft, familiar shuffling broke through the final chords, though I finished out the song, letting the notes fade into the night, before I turned away from the moon to see Matthias watching me. "Evening, Matthias."
       "Good evening, Cecily." He came to stand near where I sat upon the wall, leaning out to look at the ghostly castle.
       Tir na Nog'th, Amber's reflection in the sky," he told me when I asked what it was. "Only the Castle, really, not all of Amber, but there's a full Pattern up there as well, at least, when the moon shines full."
       "It's very... ethereal."
       "But quite solid, as long as you can see it. It always seemed beautiful to me when I was a child." He turned his back on it and faced me with those sad eyes. "It's less entrancing to me now."
       "It's representative of things I can never do." He sighed, sparing it a last glance over his shoulder. " Anyway. Why are you drinking alone?"
       "Habit," I smiled wryly. Griffin had the right of it. I made lonliness a habit far too often. "Unfortunately, I didn't bring another glass..."
       "Here, let me see that," he held out a hand for the bottle and obligingly I handed it over. He held my eyes for a long moment, drawing the bottle closer to his mouth -- and then pitched it over the side of the battlements. "Problem solved."
       Score one for him - I hadn't even remotely seen that coming. "Umm..." I watched the bottle plummet to the courtyard stones below, and shatter into a thousand pieces, which glittered in the moonlight.
       "Well, it's not an issue now, is it?"
       "It hadn't exactly been an issue before..." I grumbled, giving him a sour look.
       He didn't look one bit sorry. "Hm. Perhaps I over-reacted, but drinking alone is not a good sign." He sighed heavily. "Trust me."
       "Speaking from experience?" I had a feeling Matthias had done his share of solitary alcohol-aided introspection.
       That got a wry smile out of him, and his eyes were not nearly so sad anymore. "Is there a better way to speak?"
       "Well, will it make you feel better to know I hadn't even had a drink from that bottle?"
       "Well, sure, it makes me feel a little better, about you anyway, but now I just feel foolish." He looked over the edge to see the shattered glass below. "Quite foolish."
       "Don't." I smiled. "It's the thought that counts. So, what brings you up here?"
       "Me? I came for the music."