PHD #203: What Matters
What Matters
Summary: Trask may or may not be losing his mind. Penelope may or may not be a dream. That isn't what matters.
Date: 18 Sep 2041 AE
Related Logs: The Widening Gyre & Sink or Swim
Penelope Trask 

It's evening on Aerilon — Aerilon as it is no longer… and perhaps has never been. The scene has the aching and exquisite perfection of memory, forgiving and forgetting all the foibles and flaws reality tends to possess. The sky is azure, the light perfect, golden on the blue-green valley unfurled below. Here on this rocky outcropping of granite, the ancient forests above and below sing a sweet, susurrant lullaby. The damp, dark soil smells pungently of spring, carried to the senses on a warm, silken breeze. This place is perfect, incorruptible, entirely outside the stream of time.

There's no way to tell how long one's been sitting here, it could be only a moment, or for as long as there have been trees. But then there's the softest of shifts in the dream, a presence felt more than heard, and Penelope is there. She sits beside Kal Trask as though they'd parted only moments ago — and not in blood and violence. Certainly not forever. She wears a red sun-dress and has a magnolia tucked behind her ear. Her hair is long and dark and curling. Like the place they sit in, she appears more alive than she ever did, even in life.

However long it's been, it's at least been long enough that Kal has mostly finished hand-rolling a tidy cigarette full of that fresh Allegheny tobacco of which is he so very fond. With a glide of his tongue, he seals the paper and commences putting on the finishing touches. "Where'd you scamper off to?" he inquires, as though Penelope merely had popped off amongst the trees only a moment ago. With his usual boyish insouciance, he plucks that magnolia with a small, all-too-pleased smile, as though that flower very well is what took the snipe so long to return. With just as much nonchalance, he carefully tucks the cigarette where the flower had been, then proceeds to inhale the fragrance of the latter.

Penelope smiles broadly, apparently well-pleased with the exchange. "I had to go see the children," she explains, breathing deeply of the verdant air. She closes her eyes and holds her breath, as though imprinting the sensation on her soul. "I love this place," she whispers. "It breaks my heart they won't ever know it. Where they came from." The cigarette is retrieved and brought to her lips — lit now, though when or how that happened… does it matter? The sweet, heady smoke wreaths her, creating a halo for a moment before the playful breeze carries it out over the valley, tugging her curls as it goes. "I think you wanted this," she reaches into her pocket and hands over a small, jet bead. No longer perfectly round, it's been warped with heat and appears slightly scarred. "It's all that's left, I'm afraid. But it's yours."

"An aunt's work is never done," Trask gently teases, leaning back to recline on their makeshift loveseat of weather-hewed stone. Lazily lidded, he again imbibes the scent of the blossom, gazing at the twilight sky through his lashes. "I'd planned retire out here," is murmured. "Well, if I didn't die before the Fleet put me out to pasture," is added more wryly. "Don't know shit 'bout growin' anything, but I figured I could still be useful. The local kids would tell stories about Old Man Trask and his contraptions, 'bout how Jimmy McClennon swears he saw some military grade ships in the coot's solar powered hangar." Which appears to amuse him, although the smile fades behind the wafting smoke of the cigarette he somehow managed to snag from Penelope. It takes a moment before he realizes he's being offered something. "Hmm?" And with one hand holding the magnolia and the other the cigarette, all he can really do is tuck his chin and peer at the small bead deposited on his chest.

A wistful, fond smile shapes her lips as she listens to Kal's dreams, once upon a time. "It was a good plan," she approves. "Maybe, in that life, you purchase the old McNulty place just west of my family's land. We meet at the Beltane festival. You charm my mother more than me, at first, but I fall in love with you because you have such wonderful toys." She grins and palms the bead, tucking it into his pocket. "Don't lose it."

"An' coffee," Trask adds, playing along. "Course, your menfolk dislike me 'cuz they distrust any man who won't touch the moonshine, whiskey, or gin." Or any booze, for the matter. Allegheny tobacco, though? That he definitely is into, drawing another drag while Penelope unzips one of his utility pockets, for he is dressed for the rugged outdoors. Exhaling a long wisp of smoke, he remarks, "Higher an' more to the right." Incorrigible as ever.

Penelope laughs. "It's like you know them," she remarks of the men in her family, dryly. "Of course, it only makes me love you more." She laughs again at his incorrigible remark, impishly obliging for a teasing moment. But it's only a moment, and then she's lying beside him, looking up at the sky. She points up at a bright star, just appearing overhead, like a diamond on lapis velvet. "There's a lovely Earth out tonight." And then, wistful once more, "You did know I loved you, didn't you, Kal?"

"The lack of liquor is what scared the neighborhood kids most of all," deadpans the man who may never have the chance to be Old Man Trask. It's not a thought that lingers, however, seeing how Penelope actually indulges his incorrigibility. Limpid brown eyes close and he lets out an appreciative moan, the magnolia discarded in favor to reach for those lush chestnut curls… at least until it devolves into a disappointed groan over being teased in such a manner. Why, look at how his face scrunches up. Even so, one arm slinks around his companion, seeking to draw her closer. "My penis is highly skeptical of your claim," he wryly quips, spoken as much as a matter of truth as it is a subversion of a topic that may leave him feeling vulnerable and emotionally exposed.

"When you get there, name something after me?" Penny requests, resting her head on his shoulder, drawn in quite willingly. Perhaps she's speaking of the future, which is as distant and mythic a land as any. Or that distant star. She lids her eyes and smiles, a warm and fragrant weight against him, almost purring in contentment. "You don't know you're dreaming, do you?"

"As a matter of fact, I know I'm not dreaming," he asserts, his own self smelling more so of sage than usual, and of smoke that isn't the stale stink of military issue cancer sticks. "See," Kal continues, languidly returning the cigarette to Penelope, "if I were dreaming, you wouldn't have stopped after two seconds." As it stands, the raging hard-on he has is evidence that either they very much are awake OR this is one of the worst erotic dreams ever. Even so, he takes it all in stride as much as any man can. This simply is the nature of their relationship.

Laughing softly, Penny brushes her lips against his ear, whispering, "Ghosts and dreams are very much alike. We're both as much memory as we are real." She kisses him tenderly, fingertips trailing along the outline of his jaw. "So, maybe I'm not a dream. Not entirely. I don't suppose it matters." She smiles, swinging a long leg over him to straddle his lap, playfully, smoothing her hands over his chest as she bends to kiss him again. "What matters is we're here, now."

"Yeah, until you vanish into the air, or I wake up or some shit." It's a sudden realization that she is speaking the truth. Whatever semblance of serenity Kal had been enjoying (sexual frustration aside) dissipates into the kind of anxiety that spawns petulance. A knot forms in his chest where Penelope rests her palms, and it's with a pained expression that he turns his head just enough to indicate his discomfort when she leans in to kiss him. Even looking away so, those expressive eyes of his betray the depth of what he seeks to conceal.

Penelope draws back short of kissing, eyes taking in and reflecting his troubles. She evinces one of those gentle frowns, her signature of worry, passing fingers that feel so real through his hair. "How could I know I would have to leave you?" she whispers, her voice so melancholy that even the whisper of the trees seems pained. "Even life is a dream from which we wake eventually, Kal. I'm not sure why we're here. But… it's a good thing, isn't it? Better than nothing?"

To feel her fingers through his hair causes a quiver and a deeper sense of despair. Lids tightly closed and mouth all contorted, the onset of tears stir at the corners of his eyes. In his own damaged way, he returned her love. To see him is to know that with certainty. A bit raggedly, the man draws a few breaths that melt into a quiet, caustic laugh. "It figures that when I find someone I fail to push away, she goes anyhow." Deeply, he inhales and lets it out long enough to drag some small semblance of calm. With a sniffle, Kal again looks at the woman atop him, and he reaches to collect her hands to tenderly kiss her fingertips, averting his gaze in doing so. "You came back, though…" Which is a concept both confounding and overwhelming.

Penelope closes her eyes, empathy for his sorrow mixing with her own, filling her chest. It rises and falls as she shudders a deep, painful breath. "Sometimes, I wonder if I'll ever stop breathing. I know I don't need to, anymore. But I still do it." Sad and confused, her hazel eyes gaze down at him. "I wish death had… transformed me more. It seems like a lot of trouble to go through, just to go on being me. I… have insights. I know things and I don't know why I know them. But that's not a lot different from being a living woman." Her fingertips trace his lips, then her hand moves to cup his cheek.

"I only know I'm not ready to go. I stood on the shore a long time, waiting. When the ferryman came, there was no room for me. And the look he gave me… it was the saddest I'd ever seen. He pitied me." She smiles faintly, wryly. "Not enough to let me on the boat, but what can you do?" She looks away in turn, distant with memory. "I knew that no matter how long I waited, no matter how many times he returned, there would never be room for me. I'm…" She frowns. "I'm not ready to go." Her eyes return to him, tender and sad. "So I came home."

"Stay with me, then," Kal plaintively entreats, so much a forlorn little boy. Stay, and love him with all faults. Comfort him even though he pretends that he requires no such care. "I did all I could to bring you back with me. To not leave you behind." It's true. He searched for some remnant of her, only to find her entirely lost to the aether and the basin waters. He even journeyed to the cavern of Stygianuvrro to see if something — anything — could be done for the snipe's soul, only to nearly assault the priestess when he believed she was causing Penelope harm. Why, when no one was looking, he even swiped the swallow pendant from the riverbed just in case his beloved brunette were somehow trapped inside.

"I know you did, love," Penny whispers, stroking his hair with long, gentle fingers. It's certainly not the first time she's called him 'luv,' but there's something — some ephemeral inflection — that colors the word differently. It's no offhand term of endearment. "I know you did." She bends like a willow, gracefully, resting her forehead lightly against his. "I'll stay as long as I can," she promises. "I don't know if… I'll have a choice. When it's time for me to go. But I'll stay as long as I can." She brushes her lips against one cheek, then the other. "You won't always be in love with a ghost, Kal. It's the nature of the living to move forward."

Closing his eyes, Trask pulls her as close as he's able, and holds her as tightly as he can without it physically hurting. "Perhaps," he murmurs about the living moving forward, "but who can really say how it is for those who are somewhat dead inside…" It's a careless confession in an unguarded moment, yet no less true a statement of how he carries on. Even so, it's dismissed as soon as it's been expressed. Curling his fingers into Penelope's curls, his lips seek her own. For now, they're here. For now, the only way he's moving forward is toward her.

There's no complaint from Penelope as she's clutched tight — she presses close, sliding her fingers into his hair. And when he seeks her lips, she meets him passionately. Eagerly. Her whole body, however much a product of dream and memory it might be, is a conduit for raw emotion. Love and lust and longing. The skies, purple and gold with sunset only moments ago, are suddenly velvet black, everything around them lit with silver moonlight. Aerilon's single moon hangs impossibly large and low in the sky, surrounded by stars familiar and alien, real and imagined.

For as long as he can recall, Kal Trask has numbered among the walking wounded. On this eve, in this place, whether it is a desperate manifestation of his unconscious mind or an actual encounter beyond space and time and form, there is some solace to be had, bittersweet as it may be. Passion swells and permeates the senses in the ways of dream, his own desire no less intense or intent, but laced with a tenderness at odds with the ardency. The aversion to intimacy formed from an upbringing rooted in violence, privation, and neglect is as much at play as love or lust or yearning. Nonetheless, the man savors it all with arms and palms and fingertips, and teeth and tongue and lips, so earnest and eager despite his apprehension.

Such is how it is with the deeply damaged so fearful of all they want to have and want to give. Such is what transpires when rapacious emotional neediness that has been starved into a lifetime submission at long last gets a taste of something exquisite. It is a moment as perfect, incorruptible, and entirely outside the stream of time as this very place until the man is eventually lulled into a deeper sleep by the ebb and flow of their bodies, by the exhaustion of intensely visceral experience that may or may not entirely be a dream.

Upon rousing from somnolence, one thing is for certain: the small, scorched, scarred, and warped bead of jet that he finds clutched in his left hand is as real as anything in the waking world.

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