In All Reflections
Published: May 04, 2023
Blurb: Prompt: "Their eyes scanned the horizon for anything of note, the ship swaying in rhythm with the waves.
There was no doubt that that something they had been seeking was out there."
Best read after reading The Poison Well and The Progress of Things, both of which it directly spoils.
“Here?” Horizons asked, gruffly.
Beginnings paused. He placed both hands, carefully, on the edge of the boat’s railing, and tenderly leaned over it to peer into the black black.
The smell wafting from them was enough to make his throat clench, but he kept still, eyes flicking from lapping wave to rotting flotsam. The great rotting sea of Psi stretched out before him, mounds of stolen garbage stacked into miniature islands, illuminated only barely by the light of the moon far above.
He waited. But no feeling stirred in his chest, and he had to slump back, disappointment welling in a bitten lower lip and guilt too strong to look Horizons in the eye.
“It’s definitely closer,” he said, awkwardly, after a few moments.
He heard the other’s heavy drag on their cigarette. “It’s fine. We can go further in. Any cardinal direction ideas?”
“None. I’m sorry.”
The engines revved back to life, the crystal embedded in the operations panel straining slightly under the sudden pressure. The glow within it dulled after a moment, but the purr of the mechanics remained, stalwart and rugged.
With an almost lazy hand, Horizons gripped the control stick, directing the boat further south. It was as good as a guess as Beginnings had, really.
Quietness came over the boat - a muted sort of quietness. The noise of its machinery and the sound of the ocean could never be stilled, not out here. But it became a background sort of thing, faded into sounds his mind barely processed.
Part of him was glad he wasn’t expected to steer the boat. The sounds of it on the ocean were far too soothing - the kind that made his mind drift and his attention to lapse.
Not that Horizons had never hit anything. But, with Beginnings’ luck, he’d crash into an appalling mountain of trash, and it’d send the boat lurching hard enough that Horizons would slide right off the deck and plunge into the ocean below.
The thought made his stomach churn, and he instinctively grabbed it - a weak attempt at stilling it.
Psi would not hurt Horizons if they fell into its seas. But... but they did not belong there, not in the way he did, and some part of him feared what would come of mixing what should not be mixed.
So, a part of him was thankful at the sound of Horizons clearing their throat. His ears swiveled towards them.
“Are you excited for this Alliance thing?” Horizons asked, breaking the long thin silence as if it were a simple string.
It roused Beginnings, who now turned his head to glance at the other. Something stirred in his chest. It was strange, he thought, to be asked his opinion of such a thing. “Why are you asking?”
“It’s just been on my mind.”
That was fair. It was hard not to think about it. Beginnings rested his chin in his hand for a moment before saying in a low voice, “I think I’m excited.”
“Excited?” Horizons glanced back at him. “You? Er - I don’t mean to be a mean tease. I’m not starsdamned Tower. Just-”
“-No, it’s okay, I understand.”
For another endless moment, the only noise between them was the engine’s mumbles and the slap of water against fiberglass.
“What part makes you excited?”
That was a good question. It took several long, aching seconds to conjure an answer. “It’s new. It’s... it has potential. Are you scared?”
“Scared?” Horizons gave a snakish little hiss. “No, as much as I don’t like Tower and Cradle going behind our backs. I’m not exactly a COR fanatic, really.”
Beginnings nodded, even though Horizons wasn’t looking his way.
Silence reigned again. But it was not an awkward, stifling silence, one of being choked. It was something more pensive, a quiet lull where they collected their semblances of thoughts.
In his mind’s eye, he could still see it: the little box, wedged in the abyss where meat had sloughed onto meat and made itself into the shape of a person. He could see it, chipping and rotting away until it freed itself from the rocks and floated up, bobbing along the waterline, waiting.
Waiting for him.
“I guess I’m excited too,” they said, finally. He glanced over again. “I’m kind of mad I’m excited. Like I don’t want to, fucking, pat Tower’s ass for this plan of his that he’s been cooking up behind all our backs. Y’know?”
“What makes you excited?”
Another pause, as Horizons tilted the stick and the boat gently tilted into a wide, circular turn. “It sounds a bit stupid. But maybe - maybe things will get better.”
“You think so?”
“What’s the alternatives? I don’t like ‘em,” Horizons said, reaching to wipe their mouth on the back of their sleeve. “Maybe I’d just like things to go right for once.”
Things could go right for once. That would be nice. Beginnings tilted his head.
“Wouldn’t it be nice to get some help for once?” the hint of desperation in Horizons’ voice was not lost on Beginnings. “Wouldn’t it be nice to know someone else out there really was looking out for us? Not the stupid half-assed bullshit of the COR, but real help. Real people.”
Psi is looking out for us, Beginnings countered in his head only. He stared, blankly almost, at the back of Horizons’ head, strange and unfamiliar feelings in his stomach.
It’s okay, he wanted to say, but didn’t. It felt almost precious, to be holding Horizons’ vulnerable little worries in his hands. The part of him that had grown a tumor of confidence was nigh smug. He imagined petting over it, gently. It’s okay.
Horizons took a shuddering breath, bringing their cigarette back to their lips. They’d been smoking more often. He could still recall the argument that Clarity and Horizons had descended to over it.
“If anyone understands our position, it’s the other Originals,” Beginnings said.
“...Yeah. You’re right.” Horizons took a deep drag, but snuffed out the light against the control panel.
They flicked the spent cigarette into the ocean. The noise of it hitting the water was barely audible.
He stared out, again, to the ocean. His ears preened, as if they could catch a faint whisper, a faint guidance. Part of his chest pleaded with Psi, begged it to bestow to him a sign, a path. Did it not want its vessel to find this box, to tear the contents free and return it to its Fragments?
If so, then why was it being so cryptic?
It was hard to keep a frown off his face. He didn’t really consider himself someone who became angry easily... angry at all. Little had come to upset him, in his years of learning how to be and how to act and how the world worked. It was all more of a puzzle waiting for the right answers than a war or battle to be lost.
But here, now, he felt foolish and disorientated. As if he’d been following a falsehood for hours, and had dragged Horizons along for the unpleasant journey.
No, he thought, firmly, resolute. He would not spit on the dreams that Psi gave him, full of desperation and prophecy and ideals. He would tie himself to those dreams and see them through - it was his duty, as its avatar, as its mind given form.
Beginnings took in a deep breath.
His eyes snapped to it, having glazed over at first. But there it was, unmistakable, bobbing in the water. A glint of moonbeam struck it, and it seemed almost a beacon, begging for his waiting palms to grasp it.
He opened his mouth, as if to ask Horizons to stop the boat. But words died in his throat, and he stood, and he walked on legs that were not his own to the edge of the boat, and stared at the little box as the boat listed and turned away from it.
Hands gripped the railing, twitched under the pressure of his weight as he vaulted the side of the boat, down into the primordial blackness below, the reflections of the stars shattered by his descent.
The water was frigid.
As he surfaced, gasping for a second - he could hear Horizons yelling something, nearly hoarse. But his eyes swept the water, and zeroed in on the little blot of brown just a few laps away.
Renewed with vigor, Beginnings pushed off from the side of the boat with a leg and let instinct rule him, hands in the water and feet kicking. The water burned slightly, smelling of unpleasant rot, of sickly-sweet, of the dozen smells of stolen piles of junk scattered in its ocean.
The water was thick, dragged against his body, slowed him. But he could feel a surge of energy inside of him, a surge surely gifted to its vessel by Psi itself.
A breath of air yanked from the sky to keep his muscles churning, a flailed hand - and fingers closed around wood.
His desperate hands scrambled for it, locked around the moldy wood, wrenching it out of the grasp of the sea. He fiddled with the latch, even as he could feel the swell of the boat behind him and Horizons’ hand grabbing a fistful of his shirt.
Before he could fling the lid open, they hoisted him with a grunt of effort back onto the deck, splattering water everywhere. He blinked up at their wide-eyed face, their jaw trembling slightly in - rage?
“Don’t DO THAT,” Horizons shouted. Beginnings’ ears pinned back. “Holy fuck. Don’t do that!”
“I’m sorry,” he said, instantly. He didn’t think he was, but the sheer panic in Horizons’ expression made his heart freeze. He was sorry.
Horizons scrubbed at their face for a moment, letting out a noise between irritated and relieved. When their hands peeled away, the scowl was mostly gone. “I thought - holy fuck. You could’ve waited a moment for me to steer the boat over! Are you okay?!”
It felt like a silly question, didn’t it? Didn’t he come from these waters, from the deep abyss below their feet? Didn’t Horizons yank him out of the sludge and slime, body whole and real, let the air into his lungs, all that time ago?
But he swallowed, instead, and said, “I’m sorry,” again. His heart was tight in his chest, gripped by a vice of anxiety.
Horizons leaned over, lifting his arms, checking his legs for wounds. What did they think he could’ve been hurt by - passing garbage, sharpened shrapnel?
But he didn’t say anything, and they stood upright, seemingly satisfied, hands on hips.
“I won’t do it again,” he said, weakly. “I just wanted to get the box.”
“Right. The box.” Horizons rubbed the bridge of their nose.
Beginnings looked down to it. Out of the water, out of his dreams, it seemed so much smaller, so much less important, so much less impressive. But his fingers found the latch and he peeled apart the lid, soggy and old and aching.
There had once been a silk cushion within it, but it had long been chewed apart by little sea fishes and decayed from mildew. But the rot had not taken away the box’s treasure - as a single black pearl still sat, demure and waiting, in the center of the wood.
This was what was calling to him. This is what Psi wanted him to see.
He looked towards the ocean, pleadingly. Why couldn’t it tell him more? He could feel it straining, desperate, eager to speak through its avatar, to let some words tumble free and excuse this entire little expedition.
But nothing happened.
He looked back down, reached. The pearl fit into his palm snugly as he pried it free, then discarded the box overboard. It was... slightly sticky.
“Ah, what the fuck is that?” Horizons asked, frown deepening.
Beginnings wiped at the little pearl’s surface. A thin film of grime - or grease, maybe? - peeled away from it, but it was still sheening black beneath, barely reflecting a bright orb of the moon.
He held it up, experimentally. It weighed a smidge more than he would’ve guessed, but not so much to be surprising. It caught a few more moonbeams and glittered slightly as he turned it in a slow circle.
“I don’t know,” he said, plainly.
“Is it magical?”
He placed his other palm overtop of it. There was no strong leyline through the little pearl, nor did it seem to contain much magic. Yet, it didn’t attempt to swallow up any of his own magic, even as his hand lit.
Beginnings shook his head. “Not as far as I can tell.”
Horizons let out a hiss, tongue flicking. “I don’t like it. Don’t tell me it’s your fucking - what we came out here for.”
Beginnings gave them an awkward, sheepish little smile.
“You don’t even know what it does,” Horizons said, deadpan.
“I saw it-”
“-In a dream, yeah, you said. I...” another sigh. “You know what? It’s fine. Maybe Cradle will know what to do with it. Is there something else you wanted to look for out here?”
Beginnings stared at them for a long second. Their eyes opened, nearly pinning him with a dull, resigned look. But there was affection underneath their thorny exterior, buried behind their overly-tired mask.
They’d come all the way out here for him on a whim, really. And for a moment, they’d shared something deep and intimate and vulnerable with him.
Beginnings stood. His legs moved, mostly of their own accord, though he knew where they were taking him. Horizons raised an eyebrow, then stepped back as Beginnings’ approach did not slow.
They bristled for a half-second as arms closed around them, but after a moment of the hug pressed into their chest and circling tight their waist, Beginnings could feel them relax slightly.
Tail slumped to ground, shoulders slackened, hands tentatively reached up to grip the sides of Beginnings’ shirt.
The gentle sway of the boat filled the space around them. Not between them.
There was no space between them, not now. It was full of the feeling of Horizons’ breathing and the rise of their chest against his.
“Thank you,” he said, in a small voice. “For coming with me.”
“Beginnings, I’m not going to let you go out into the ocean alone,” they protested, in a quiet voice.
Like that was the whole truth. Like that wasn’t just a way to deflect admitting that there was a sort of love between them.
It was alright. They didn’t need to say it. Beginnings could be patient. He let his eyes slip shut, let his fingers curl in Horizons, let his senses surround him with them for just a brief while.
“You’re right,” he murmured, “maybe Cradle will know what to do with it.”
“Is that - are you saying you want to head back now?”
Beginnings merely nodded into their shoulder. But even with permission, Horizons did not move - not trapped in the hug, but letting themself breathe in it, letting their body settle into it as minutes stretched into minutes, til too for a breath their eyes were closed.
Their hands slackened. Beginnings released, pulled back, and Horizons stood straighter as they separated. Neither looked at the other.
Horizons reached to rub the back of their head. A bit of a nervous tic, Beginnings knew, but let them speak anyways. “I’ll... rev the engines, then.”
“Alright,” was all he had to say.