giving & taking

Cair Paravel
Eastern Narnia

Lanisen sits on the edge of the eastern-facing wharf, his feet dangling in the water. He’s sitting on his hands, and his shoes are sitting neatly next to him.

Megren walks along down the wharf at a leisurely pace, but her step hesitates when she sees the other figure out ahead.

Lanisen stirs his feet absently through the water, watching the ripples.

Megren pushes her mouth to the side and stands there for a good moment, then starts toward him, the dock bouncing a little under her feet.

Lanisen glances up. He straightens slightly, guarded, and starts to reach for his shoes and pull his feet out of the water, then stops, lowers his hands to the side of the wharf, and stays where he is. He doesn’t seem to know where to look.

Megren sits cross-legged beside him.

Lanisen hesitates, then offers without quite looking up, “Hi.” He looks tired, and his neck is slightly sunburned where he’s pulled his hair into a tail.

Megren nods. She rubs her knee. “Hi.”

Lanisen nods a couple times, awkwardly. He keeps his eyes on the water, anxiously silent for a long moment, then finally blurts, “I’m sorry.”

Megren looks at him, vows lifting a little in something that looks like it might be relief. “Yeah?”

Lanisen says, “I didn’t mean to– I wasn’t ready to tell you but I never, I didn’t want to hurt you.”

Megren says, “I didn’t think you did.”

Lanisen says, “Oh.”

Megren draws a quiet breath.

Lanisen sits in silence for another moment, his forehead knit, then finally takes a deep breath and glances at her. “I don’t– I’m sorry,” he says. “I don’t know what you’ve been angry about, if– if not that, I’m sorry.”

Megren sucks at her lower lip for a long moment before saying, “I’m mad because our friendship is unbalanced, and you’ve said you wish it would keep on that way. Because I don’t think you — I think you /think/ you know how much I change for you, but you’ve made it… pretty evident you don’t. And I didn’t mind that — I chose that — except then you waited until I let myself have a vulnerable moment in return to turn it back about you. And even then maybe if I was someone else, it would be understandable, but I’m, I’ve done everything in my power to make you able to talk to me, and you chose to wait. And then I got over it, and I told you that was what I was upset about, and you still won’t tell me things, and you still make faces like I’m a stranger drawing rude and wrong conclusions about you when I’m not those things, and I /do/ know you and I –” she looks angry, but she reins it in, seeming to pull back her accusation a little and change tack. “I don’t know how you expect me to understand any better if you won’t tell me in the first place.”

Lanisen absorbs this in silence. He puts his elbows on his knees and folds his arms there, not looking at her.

Megren says, “You’ve had enough people be poor friends to you, I don’t know blame you for expecting people to be, but I also don’t know how to look after myself if every thought is of proving I’m not them.”

Lanisen shuts his eyes briefly, hunched over his knees, then says quietly, “You do that a lot, did you know?

Megren frowns and shuts her mouth.

Lanisen says, not looking at her, “Every time it’s– every time you don’t like somethin’ I’ve done or somethin’ I’ve thought, it’s– you make it about how I’m– you make it about somethin’ that’s wrong with me.”

Megren does not interrupt.

Lanisen doesn’t say anything else for a moment. His face is very tired and shadowed, and he rubs at his wrists, a brief, frustrated motion as if he could wipe out the sensation under the scars. “I wasn’t thinkin’ to make it about me,” he says abruptly a moment later. “I was thinkin’ to get it over with and– and move on.”

Megren says, “I didn’t say it was what you were thinking to do, I said it’s what you did, and I said you shouldn’t have had to do it because I asked and asked well before.”

Lanisen exhales wearily.

Megren says, “And it’s — I — I’m done with it, I don’t, I don’t want to care anymore. I want to move past it.”

Lanisen says, “And every time I think we have, it turns out you were still angry.”

Megren says, “Because it doesn’t stop. Do you know how much work I put into trying to make you comfortable in the castle? I can’t count how many conversations we had where you told me I was better than you and you felt uncomfortable there, and I hated them all, and I hated the idea of you leaving, but not as much as the idea of you staying uncomfortable, and keeping thinking you aren’t equal to your equals, and I say that and you give me this /look/ like how /dare/ I draw a conclusion like that, how /dare/ I presume to understand your–” she stops herself again. “I want you to be happy, and I want you to be fulfilled, and I want to help you do the good things you’re capable of and it really makes me angry that sometime this last year you decided you can’t talk to me about how to be and do those things, because — because if so, I don’t even know what we have.””

Lanisen is blindsided by most of this, and it shows in a sort of pale stillness, and in the way his eyes don’t really focus on anything. It doesn’t seem to even occur to him to walk away, however, and he stays silent and hunched while she speaks.

Megren seems to have lost a little of her steam with this confession, and she says, “I’m — if I /am/ placing unfair blame on you, then I’m, then I’m sorry and I /will/ try to sort it all again, only I feel lost; I feel like I’ve done my best; I’ve — the only thing I can think to do is stop trying to fix my part of it and tell you I think maybe you’ve got to fix something, too.”

Lanisen’s face twists in painful incomprehension.

Megren scrubs her hands over her face, elbows on her knees. She doesn’t lift her head after she’s done this, so that it’s hidden by her hands and her hair.

Lanisen keeps still for a long time, trying to work through all this. He finally takes a deep breath, and shakes his head slightly, pauses, and then shakes his head again. “This was– this was a mistake,” he murmurs. He pauses, slightly disoriented, then pulls his feet out of the water and gets to his feet.

Megren gives a sort of wet, miserable laugh, and doesn’t lift her face so that it can be seen.

Lanisen says, “I–” and halts, shifting his weight. He looks lost. “Um,” he says, then takes a shaky breath and nods slightly. “I’m gonna– I’ll stay out of your way,” he offers, not looking at her. “I’m sorry; I’m sorry; I didn’t know.”

Megren looks up finally, and although she looks outward rather than at him, she wipes the heel of her palm under her eye in a fairly evident way. “Um–” she says unhappily. “I know — I know you didn’t know and I know that’s my fault and if you — I’m not, I’m not asking you to, but I’m, I, um — you, all right, you don’t have to stay, either.”

Lanisen rubs at his wrists. “I didn’t– um…” He loses track for a minute and trails off, frowning, then he shakes his head again slightly. “Um– I’ll, I’m gonna stay out of your way,” he resolves finally. “And then it’ll– you’ll go home and I’ll stay and it’ll– it’ll be all right again. Or–” He trails off again, caught by another half-formed plan.

Megren pales a little at this plan, but she doesn’t interrupt him or try to change his mind.

Lanisen says, “Um…” He frowns again, lost, and rubs distractedly at his eyes, which have spilled over before the rest of him has even caught up to that point. “I never– I didn’t know that was– I didn’t know you were feelin’ that way, I never meant for… um…” He lets out a breath and focuses on her with an effort. “Thank you for bein’– Thank you; I’m sorry.”

Megren just shakes her head and sniffs, shifting her hand to use a dryer part of it to keep her face clear.

Lanisen rubs a hand over his face and then crosses his arm over his middle, stepping back with one foot. There’s an odd sort of delay to his movements, and he’s still frowning distractedly, but he finally starts moving with hesitant determination. He begins to make his way back up the wharf, his shoes forgotten behind him.

Megren looks at the shoes next to her and it takes her a second to register them before she thinks to pick them up and call, “Lanisen–!”

Lanisen doesn’t realize immediately, but he turns when he does, his face wary and hopeful. Then his eyes fall on the shoes, and he looks down at his feet and sags a little. He doesn’t move for a moment, but he finally takes a deep breath, nods, and begins back toward her, his head and shoulders bowed.

Megren puts them into his hand, clasping his other elbow with her free hand. “If you –” her mouth hangs a little open as she tries to figure out what to say. “Um, I’m not asking you to go,” she finally lands on, sounding a little lost. “I’m not, please don’t stay because you feel like you have to, just — I’m — I don’t what you to think that.”

Lanisen accepts his shoes, keeping his eyes down. “No,” he says, like a question. “That’s– I just meant, I’m, I been takin’ too much, without, without even knowin’? And that’s, I don’t want to be, I don’t want to be.”

Megren says, “I didn’t — I didn’t tell you — you needed it for a while and then I couldn’t, um–” she stops, pressing her lips together hard, and a tear betrays her, landing on her hand with the shoes, which she pulls up quickly to swipe at her eyes, cupping her fingers to half-hide her face. “I thought I could–”

Lanisen closes his eyes and whispers, “I asked you to say if I was.”

Megren asks, “How, how could I?”

Lanisen says, “You said you would, you said– you said to /trust/ you, that you knew what you…” He stops abruptly and turns half away, covering his mouth. “Um,” he says after a moment, unsteadily and without looking up. “Thank you for bein’– thank you for lookin’ after me then.”

Megren says, “I’m sorry; I’m sorry; I thought I could — I thought it would, I thought it was going both, both ways, and then it, then it suddenly wasn’t, and you didn’t even, um, you didn’t even know it wasn’t and it just felt like this big, like a pit, and every time I think we’re pulling ourselves up we slip again, and I don’t even know anymore where — um — I don’t even know what, why you don’t… understand, I don’t know what I’m saying or been saying wrong, or — I’m sorry, I don’t know –”

Lanisen draws a shuddery breath and backs away a couple steps. “I’m, I understand, please, I understand,” he whispers. “I didn’t know, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to only take, I never wanted that.”

Megren says, “I know you didn’t, I’m sorry, I know you didn’t.”

Lanisen nods a couple of times. “I don’t… trust myself to know when I’m doin’ it, if it’s– if it’s been like you say all this time,” he says finally, not looking at her. “And I don’t–” But he stops there, rubbing his elbow with his free hand. “I’ll– I’ll stay away, I’ll stay away.”

Megren says, “I’m not asking you to stay away, I’m not asking you to stay away.”

Lanisen drops his hands to his sides in frustration, then rubs the one not holding his shoes over his face.

Megren says, “I’m sorry, I should have been — I should have figured out how to say or I should figured out how not to be angry — I’m not… I don’t want to force you to stay, I don’t want to force you to stay, but I — I’m, please, I’m not asking you to go.”

Lanisen lets out a breath and shuts his eyes. “I don’t know what it is you’re wantin’ from me.”

Megren presses her lips together again, drawing an unattractive breath through her nose. “I, I want, I want you to know to hug me instead of running away when I’m sad, and I want you to, I want you to — I, I /do/ want you to trust me, but I also want you to — I want you to — I don’t want to feel like Sir Colin when I tell you something’s not working between us, I don’t want to feel like I’m racking in all my favors, I don’t want it to feel like favors at all, I want it to feel like, I /do/ want you happy and fulfilled, and I want that above us getting to have tea or play cubes with each other, and I want to feel like you know that, and I want you to want that for yourself and for me, too, and not in a, not because you think I’m special and I deserve it, or, or, or whatever reason, I just want you to want it for you and for me because it’s what’s good and right, without always feeling like there’s a scale measuring every, everything. I want to be — I want to be able to let you take without giving /knowing/ that if it ever turned the other way, it /would/ be equal, /not/ because anybody’s earned or deserves anything or, I don’t, I don’t know how to say it, I just, I want you to want that and I want you to recognize it in the couple of times I do ask for it — I, I waited to tell my, I waited to tell my da about Sir Darrin and I because I wanted to be sure I was home to tell you about us first when you got home, and you didn’t ask for that, but I did it because it seemed right and good, and then, and now my da doesn’t even know and I’m stuck out here with him, he doesn’t even know, and it’s not, I made that choice; it’s not your fault; I’m not, I don’t want you to think it’s your fault, only, I set aside myself often enough, I, I thought you would know to do it just that one time, even without my — I just thought you would know, and I’m sorry, I know it’s asking too much to understand without being told all of it, I know it is–”

Lanisen listens in silence, shifting his weight occasionally in an unspoken reaction to some point. When she brings up his admission again, his eyes flick to her briefly, and then away. There’s something almost bitter in the look, but he just nods and accepts it again, his shoulders bowed.

Megren looks suddenly exhausted. “I wish I — I’m sorry, I wish I wanted easier things.”

Lanisen rubs the side of his face, and then his eyes. “Um,” he says finally, and opens his eyes, frowning. “I don’t– I’m sorry, I don’t know what’s…”

Megren swallows and folds her arms over her stomach.

Lanisen trails off for a moment, then shuts his eyes again briefly. “I don’t, I don’t know what’s real, right now,” he says abruptly. “Everything’s… this changes, this changes…”

Megren’s lips pull downward and she steps toward him again, reaching for but not quite yet touching his arm. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean for it to–”

Lanisen pulls back, but then catches himself and stills. He closes his eyes again and shakes his head wretchedly, pulling his lips between his teeth.

Megren pulls her own hand back in toward her stomach like she’s touched a boiling pot and swallows again, looking sick.

Lanisen draws a breath and doesn’t look up. “Um,” he says again, shakily, but doesn’t seem to know what to say next. “I need to– I need… ”

Megren says, “You don’t have to st-stay, it’s fine, you don’t have to stay.”

Lanisen struggles for a moment and doesn’t respond. Finally he nods slightly, and sort of half-bows, and backs away a step before he turns to go, still clutching his shoes.

Megren sinks into a crouching position.

Lanisen makes his way up the wharf, slowly, as if he’s not entirely sure where he’s going.

Megren hugs her knees, hiding her face in them.


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