Planting Life in a Dying City (S3: Kolchais, E5)

Rough edits on this one bc life stuff. I don’t think there’s any content notes on this one, but may have missed something. Sorry.

Season content notes: ableism, internalized ableism, violence, autistic meltdown

For the rest of the day, they spoke quietly and checked on the Spinner often. Ey was unchanged when they gathered for dinner. Paiokp, always caring-one, left a bowl by the Spinner, but ey didn’t seem to notice.

They were still eating when there was a knock from the gate. Lefeng got up to answer it. As ey walked to the gate, Kolchais saw em checking the grip of eir long knife.

Somehow, that gives em the final key to understand the lanky farwalker. Ey was a guardian who puts emself between danger and eir loved ones. And, considering the mountain cat fur ey had gifted to Chotaikytsai, ey was definitely the best fit of them to take such a role.

They were too small a family to have someone regularly guarding the compound — nor did they need such. But violence wasn’t unheard of in the city. Far from it. Having one willing and able to guard was not a bad thing.

Kolchais was now handling (and spending) more money than ey had ever seen. Having Lefeng at eir back in the market would be reassuring. Perhaps a guard for Chotaikytsai to and from council meetings would not be amiss. Kolchais had not forgotten the talk of Tchyawfu, assassinated by the council for being a family-less who dared to gain open power.

A few minutes later, Lefeng returned from the gate, accompanied by a stranger. But something about the way the stranger moved, the way ey avoided looking at Lefeng or any of them at the fire, was familiar. Kolchais kicked emself.

“Greetings, Spinner,” ey said. “It’s good you came. We should have thought to send for you.”

The Spinner seemed to ignore the greeting. Instead, ey squatted by the fire without waiting for an invitation and spoke as it by rote. “My sibling did not return this night. And we heard of a disturbance in the market. We wish to know if ey is here and safe.” Ey stopped and eir hands fumbled for a moment, much as Kyawtchais’ did when ey was groping for eir spindle. “This one,” ey nodded towards Lefeng, “tells me my sibling is here, but says ey cannot say how ey is.”

Kolchais looked around and saw everyone else looking at em. “There was a disturbance in the market today, and your Spinner-sibling has not yet recovered from it,” ey said. “Ey is as safe as we can make em, but either does not respond or responds badly when we try to speak with em. Perhaps you can help.”

Kolchais looked at Paiokp, expecting the caring-one to step in. But ey shook eir head and looked at Lefeng, who was still gripping the handle of eir knife.

Right, the protector wasn’t going to be happy letting a stranger near one of eir people when unwell. Kolchais caught Lefeng’s eye, but as Kolchais was coming to expect, ey didn’t understand what was needed. “Why don’t you show our guest where the Spinner is resting?” Kolchais asked the guarding-one.

After a moment, Lefeng nodded and stood up, signing for the visiting Spinner to join em. Kolchais watched as they walked across the compound and squatted down by the Spinner. Then forces emself to focus on finishing eir meal.

By the time Lefeng and the visiting Spinner returned, Tsouchm had taken Chestef to bed and Paiokp was helping Chotaikytsai clean up. Kolchais had allowed emself to drowse in the heat from the coals. The days never got cold, not like some of the stories Lefeng told of traveling in the mountains. But the evenings this time of year were cool and nights could be chilly. The warmth seeped into eir muscles and bones, helping em relax and chasing away some of the pain that never fully left em.

Lefeng and the Spinner squatted down near em, talking with their hands. They were moving to fast for Kolchais to keep up, especially half asleep. But ey could follow enough. Their Spinner needed rest and calm and peace. That ey could stay here for the night. That the Spinner will something…

Kolchais was surprised by a yawn that split eir head open. Embarrassed, ey tried to sign an apology, but the visiting Spinner brushed it off and stood to leave. Ey stayed a moment, mouthing something, then spoke slowly, as if testing each word before ey said it, “Thank you for caring for our sibling.”

Kolchais nodded, fighting another yawn. “Always.” Ey managed to dredge up enough thought to recall the hand speech for ‘good night’. Then Lefeng was escorting the Spinner out and Kolchais was alone at the fire pit.

After a few minutes, Kolchais stretched and stood, then shuffled over to check on their spinner. Ey found em sleeping and Paiokp wrapping a blanket around em.

“It will be safe for em to sleep outside tonight,” the once-fisher said. Kolchais nodded agreement. It was well past the season of storms and the sky was clear. Paiokp spread another blanket on the ground, a short distance from the Spinner.

“You’ll stay with em tonight?” Kolchais asked.

“Aye,” Paiokp said. “I don’t know if it’s the right thing, but I’d want someone nearby if it was me.”

Kolchais nodded, wishing ey could do the same. But even with a blanket, a night on the ground would leave em in agony the next day. So ey said goodnight and shuffled back to the shelter and the bed Lefeng had made for the adults from rags and rushes.

It was big enough that they didn’t need to sleep on top of each other, and with Paiokp outside there was even more room. But when Lefeng came in a moment later, Kolchais found ey couldn’t stand the idea of sleeping alone. Ey reached for the once-farwalker, for the beautiful stranger who wanted to be eir spouse. Lefeng came to em, curling up with eir head on Kolchais’ shoulder. “The gate is barred,” ey murmured. “Everyone is safe.”

“Yes,” Kolchais said, understanding everything behind those simple words. Ey nuzzled Lefeng’s hair. “Is this okay?”

Lefeng shivered. “I’ve missed being held, but…”

Kolchais yawned again and closed eir eyes. “Nothing else. Just… we don’t need to be alone anymore.”

Lefeng shifted closer and wrapped an arm around Kolchais. “No,” ey murmured, “No, we don’t.”

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