The boy stared at Gorish, then at the orange paintbrush balanced between his fingers (bright orange, crazy-orange, the same orange as Gorish’s skin and Aakesh’s eyes). A perfect brush, made of fibers unlike any Harry knew. “Why?” he said, his voice cracking from little use beside sobs.
“Because you are meant to,” said Gorish with an unusual touch of eloquence, and then he just hopped away. Into the water, splash.
Harry rubbed his eyes, then (he couldn’t help himself) played with the fibers of the paintbrush. Far stiffer than human hair, and thicker; he liked these fibers. They’d probably hold paint well.
An image of his father-figure-turned-attempted-murderer flashed into his mind, offering him a paintbrush, smiling, encouraging him to create between trips to the black water because creating… creating….
What had he said?
For a moment, Harry couldn’t recall (it had been five years ago, and something he’d tried to forget), but the omission in his memory of a man now dead speared him with panic, and he began to breathe too fast.
“Gently,” said Aakesh, rising from his weird water-touches to crouch beside Harry. “Gently. Calm.”
Shut up was what Harry meant to say, but what came out was, “I killed him.”
“He was going to kill you,” Aakesh said unnecessarily, as if Harry could forget that, as if that made anything better. His too-warm fingers explored Harry’s scalp, sending heat and unwanted relaxation down his spine and into his shoulders and across his back.
“Quit it,” said Harry with a shove.
He might as well have pushed a landfall. “Gently,” said Aakesh, and he did… something.
Something that felt like a breaking snap in Harry’s head, something accompanied with a flash of white and an all-over feeling of sensation that wasn’t quite pain, but certainly didn’t feel good. “Hey!” he started to argue, and then he remembered.
Remembered as if
As if Parnum were right here now, as if Harry were experiencing the whole thing in this very second, as if no time had passed and no grief had burned and no sorrow had scarred him beyond the initial shock of seeing black water to the horizon with no hope (no Hope) anywhere at all.
Parnum had taken his hand and given him a brush and a huge blank wall and told him to paint. Create. Do it. No arguments allowed, no hesitation accepted, even if it meant just smearing lines of color across the smooth surface.
But it hadn’t been just lines. Harry painted his life. He painted the water, painted the boats, painted the color of the sunset on that water (that orange it was THAT ORANGE IN AAKESH’S EYES why hadn’t he realized before), painted the Travelers and his father and —
And boats rising from the water to freedom and a tall, glittery palace that had to be the Hope and smiling faces all around because the world would be saved and the horrible water destroyed and the oceans would be blue again and everything would be made right and—
When he’d finished, he was weeping. And Parnum held him, talked him through it, washed the paint off his hands, and somehow all of that mattered because when Harry went home, he felt better.
He remembered it all. Aakesh’s fingers (uncomfortably hot, always) slid out of his hair, and their owner looked at him. Just looked, waiting.
Harry shook. He should say thank you, or something. Or maybe screw you. This situation could warrant either. “You were there? You saw that?”
“You were there. All you have known is in you, Harry Iskinder, locked away to preserve the resources of your finite human brain. But we are not so fragile.” Aakesh tapped the side of his own head. “You grieved the loss of that memory. I brought it back – I admit, to a purpose. Paint something, Harry Iskinder.”
Harry still shook, and he looked at the brush in his hand as if it were a weapon. Maybe it was. “Why?” Aakesh’s hot fingertips slid across his spine, and he shuddered.
“Because I will not see you broken,” Aakesh said (whatever that was supposed to mean), and his soft tone terrified and promised and barricaded like unbreakable law.
They were crazy, Harry decided. All the Sundered Ones were crazy. He wiped his face on the back of his hand. “I don’t have any paint.”
Aakesh gave him a dry look (dry while surrounded by water, ha-ha). “Do you think we would not provide?”
Harry opened his mouth to protest, but could not. He didn’t know.
He didn’t know anything anymore.