by hakugei (白鯨)
illustrated by beili
He gets to the top of the dune and falls down.
The sand is in his nose and hair and clothes and mouth and he wants to spit it out but his mouth is so dry so he swallows despite the way it claws down his throat. Everything is grit and heat and pain and a sky that pushes him down, oppressively blue.
Blue is not his color. Nor is the orange-yellow of the sand or the burning white of the sun. He’s known them too long, days and days bleeding together. Hateful colors.
He remembers green. He doesn’t remember what it was, but it must have been nice. Green is a nice color. Green is from before. Probably.
The sand sinks and burns and clings, his arms shake and throb and burn, but he pushes and pushes and wobbles and crawls until he is two legs and a straight back and an empty, empty pack. He looks to the man who isn’t there and smiles, says, “Thank you.” It’s only polite. It isn’t out loud but that’s ok. Kavim surely heard him.
“You have to move,” the man who isn’t there insists. His name is Kavim, because that’s a nice name and he must be a nice person, to say to keep moving, so it’s his name.
One foot in front of the other, over and over and over. Kavim is lost because he was never really there. Or maybe he was. Kavim has green eyes, pale pale green.
There’s something important about green.
His head hurts. He keeps walking. Sometimes he stumbles and sometimes he forgets which way he’s supposed to be going but then he sees Kavim pointing the way. He isn’t sure what Kavim is, appearing and disappearing and not-being-there. Not human. He doesn’t mind. It’s nice, not to be alone. Before the sand he wasn’t alone. Probably. That was a long time ago.
At least he isn’t sweating any more.
It’s cruel, for the sky to be so blue and so dry and so far. Maybe the sky took his memories, swallowed them up with the sun so he’s left in the dark. He’s not sure he misses them. They seem like they’d be heavy, weigh him down.
One foot in front of the other.
Sometimes he whistles. It helps. He isn’t sure why, but it does. He remembers hands, calloused hands, strong hands when he whistles. Harmonies. He hears, “I’ll find you.” It hurts to whistle but he keeps on and on until the wind sucks the water out of his throat and he can’t hear the voices any more.
The sun is tearing him apart and there’s nowhere to hide. Once he found a cave, and he wanted to stay but he couldn’t. He has to keep moving. It’s very important. He has to tell them. He has to tell them before it’s too late. He keeps moving, one foot in front of the other.
He falls down again. There are no tears, they dried up. The lizard was too small and the foxes are too fast and neither would tell him where they found their water. His pack has been empty for a long time; he’s not sure why he’s still carrying it. It’s a nice pack—sturdy, leather, lots of compartments. Much more put-together than his clothes. His shoes are long gone and every step burns until there was so much burning it stopped.
His face itches. He doesn’t like having a beard. The memories of hands on his face, his throat are of bare skin on bare skin. His head throbs with every beat of the sun; he lost his scarf long, long ago.
On and on and on and on, sand and wind and more sand. The wind is whispering to him, calling his name, beckoning him over the next dune, toward the wind that doesn’t smell of heat but green things, good things.
The voice sounds like Kavim.
It is Kavim, swathed in swirling sung-sand, his voice strong and resonant as he skims his sled over the the dunes. His hair and his clothes whip from the wind he’s made, lashing like so many tails. As his voice trails off he slows down and leaps off the sled with a graceful movement. One hand pulls back his scarf so he can talk more easily. This is new.
Kavim leaves his sled and advances with wary steps. “What?” It’s wrong—Kavim never looked like this, never approached him with caution. Something is strange about this one.
He explains, “I haven’t fallen down yet.”
“I don’t understand,” Kavim says, still approaching him like a wild thing. Perhaps he is. He’s no longer a man but a creature of the sand, heat and wind. He’s dangerous.
“I’m still walking. I don’t need to see you yet.” Oh, that’s rude, isn’t it? “But it’s nice, even if you are different this time.” This Kavim is stone-faced and sad-eyed, hands strangely solid on his elbow as he guides him to the sled.
“I kept going because of you,” he says, because it’s true.
Kavim has the face of a man expecting disappointment, but he nods.
“You kept telling me to get back up, telling me where to go.”
“Sit,” Kavim commands, so he sits, because Kavim has never steered him wrong. It is hard to bend down, joints protesting. Part of him screams that he must keep moving, he must tell them, but Kavim is here, so it will be alright. The sled is hot from the sun and it hurts to sit.
Then Kavim starts to sing. His voice is tired, his throat-harmonies weak, but it does not deter him. The sand moves as Kavim sings, the deep, wordless voice of his chest calling the earth in the songs as old and deep as bones. The ground slides and shifts and carves out a hollow large enough for the two of them to hide from the blazing, hateful sun. The sound reverberates and solidifies and the sand stills into a solid arch, just high enough for them to sit up. Kavim’s voice fades and the quiet is consuming.
“It’s not much, but it will do,” Kavim apologizes, like his gift is not enough.
“I like you best,” he declares, because no Kavim before has ever done so much for him. Maybe this Kavim really is different. “How did you find me?” he asks, confused, as Kavim helps him into their shelter.
“I followed your call.” Kavim is smiling, the corners of his eyes crinkling, the corners of his mouth curled upward just so. His hands are gentle. “You whistled, remember?”
“No,” he says, because he doesn’t remember anything anymore. “The sky took it away.”
Kavim stops smiling.
It’s very nice without the sun eating away at his thoughts. “This will make a nice grave. Thank you.”
Kavim closes his eyes and whispers the soft songs of night, of cool winds and green. The sand starts to remember the sharp chill when the sun is gone, when the sky is shining and dark instead of a gaping maw of blue.
It’s bliss on his skin, his body desperate to escape the constant heat. He wants to lie down and sleep, sleep like he hasn’t since the sand came, but Kavim stops him.
“You will not die.” It lies somewhere between a command and a promise, the words heavy with the steady solidity of earth and stone. Kavim was always the reliable sort. He gently removes the pack and shifts the outer layers of clothing, humming soothing sounds of healing.
He nods, because it would be impolite to tell Kavim the truth—he is already lost.
“Drink,” Kavim commands, so he drinks from the waterskin, small sips so his body does not reject this most precious of gifts, even if Kavim is duty-bound to give it. It’s like ice, or the memory of ice, the memory of nights that sucked all the heat and left him empty. He’s cold, so cold, he’s shivering, he’s numb; he falls into blackness and dreams of green things.
He wakes to a lullaby, a soft, soothing whistle that eases him back into the light. Some part of him, deeper than the blood, deep as bone, wants to sing back to the memory mirroring the hands rubbing balm over his burns. His skin no longer screams, his throat does not scrape with each intake of breath.
Kavim whistles with the voice of somebody who has sung too long, warbling and exhausted, doggedly determined. Kavim has healed him, as much as he is able.
He whispers, voice full of the strange affection in his chest, “Kavim.”
“I’m here,” Kavim replies, and it seems so real. Perhaps they both are here, not in a heat-dream. The hands are calloused and sure, so careful. The other Kavims never touched him.
“Kavim,” he says again, reaching. They are still in the strange shelter of sand, the sled blocking most of the wind and light but not so much he cannot tell the light has changed. Soon the moon will come out and steal the heat away, but Kavim will keep him warm, this he knows.
“We’ll travel after sunset. Sleep now.”
He’d been in such a hurry, but now he doesn’t need to keep moving. So he sleeps, Kavim curled around him like a guardian spirit.
He dreams of Kavim giving him more water, of laying down on the sled and straps that keep his body from falling apart but burn like brands. He dreams of water on his lips and in his throat and pooling in his stomach. He dreams of the stars, the sky slowing spinning around its shining pin, and cool wind on his face. He dreams of shedding his clothing like a husk and standing naked before Kavim, shedding his skin and selves until he is the skeleton he is now. He dreams of green things.
He wakes to the sun, and sand, and Kavim coaxing him awake. Kavim fills his vision, heavy eyebrows crinkled with worry, stubble dusting his cheeks. It is a strange sight—Kavim’s beard grows so slowly, most have never seen him shave. Kavim’s eyes are brown now. That isn’t right.
“Your eyes are brown,” he says, because he knows he should ask. They’re supposed to be green. Green is a good color. He misses it.
Kavim touches his hands and says, “Sala.” It should mean something but it doesn’t.
“Why are your eyes brown?”
“Sala,” Kavim says again, like a song that will heal what the sun has taken away.
It is then he realizes he must be Sala. But he isn’t. He’s lost. All that he knows is gone in the sand, bleached bones. “I’m not Sala.”
Kavim stares and stares, touching the tatters of clothing with shaking hands, until his whole body shakes and his voice is as solid as stone. “Come with me.”
He sits up, and sees stone. Rock formations litter the landscape—no longer are they surrounded by swells of never-ending sand. The desert changed. Kavim is powerful, indeed. He follows and is led to a rocky outcropping with a shallow indentation, sheltered from the cruel sun and greedy sky that still invade his head and make it pulse with pain.
They sit on Kavim’s outer cloak. Kavim shares pulpy juice that is hard to swallow from a second waterskin. He drinks it anyway, each swallow easing the screams of his body. Food is nothing but a memory. His blisters are mostly gone but his skin is still red and painful, every movement agony. But he will find the end of the desert, he is sure of it. Kavim will help him. They sleep, off and on, curled close.
“Do you remember?” Kavim asks during the heat of the day. His voice is rough, like the question scrapes his throat on the way out.
The-man-who-was-once-Sala shakes his head. “Remember what?” The wind took them all away.
Kavim doesn’t ask anything else.
They go back to the sled when the air starts to cool, Kavim singing through the sand. It is a haze of sun and water from the flask and dry wind stealing his breath, until the sun sets and they hit the end of the dune sea, the landscape abruptly flat and strange, cracked earth instead of smooth sand.
He hadn’t quite believed that there was an end, but here it is. Kavim cannot sing them further, not without exhausting himself, so they must walk. It is strange that the land does not shift under his feet and he keeps falling. It hurts more, falling on dirt.
They walk and walk, and after the fifth fall Kavim wraps a steadying arm around him. They move as a strange, three-legged creature, like they are one being. But they cannot be one, because Sala is lost.
“I’m sorry the desert took Sala away,” he apologizes, his voice muffled by the borrowed grey scarf. (It smells of Kavim.) “You must have cared for him.”
After a long pause, Kavim says, “Yes.” He doesn’t say anything else after that, not for a long time.
Eventually his feet hurt too much to go on, and his limbs ache, and Kavim has to catch him.
“We’re almost there,” Kavim says as he rubs more soothing balm onto burnt skin as they pause by a cluster of scrub brushes. “A little further and you can rest as much as you need.”
He tries to eat the dates and figs Kavim gives him to restore his strength, but his jaw protests the exertion. Kavim takes the fruits and the jerky and chews them. He lets Kavim cradle his head, feels the fingers in his matted, filthy hair, and accepts the food passed onto his tongue. It feels wrong, touching Kavim as filthy as he is, with a ragged beard full of sand. Kavim doesn’t seem to mind. They repeat this three times, until his stomach protests and he fears rejection of Kavim’s hospitality.
“I love you,” he says to Kavim-who-isn’t-there, because surely he must. Kavim looked for him, found him. Kavim has green eyes. (No he doesn’t.) Kavim gave him gifts of food and water.
It isn’t the right thing to say. Kavim closes his eyes like he hurts so much he can’t bear it.
“Will you whistle for me again?” The melody is nice. Maybe it will help him hurt less.
“Yes. Of course,” Kavim says. The whistle wobbles at first, but soon it’s strong and true and he can almost remember why the melody matters so much to him.
The walking is easier after that, and when he cannot walk Kavim pulls him on the sled. His whistle is not for wind or earth but for memories, a lullaby to love lost. It sinks into the silent stones and heralds the rising sun. They continue into the morning, the only words exchanged are Kavim’s promises of rest.
It’s growing too hot to think or move when Kavim makes a pleased noise in his throat. There’s another large rock formation with a cave opening at shoulder height. It must be earth-sung, created for travelers such as themselves by someone long ago, a gift from past to present. A wind-flute hangs by the entrance to sing away vermin.
Once it’s in sight it takes them ages to reach it. Kavim pushes the sled up first, the cave just wide enough for it to fit. He is too weak to pull himself up so Kavim has to hoist him, bringing new agony to his skin as he crawls forward. Kavim follows as soon as there is room, dragging him most of the way in on the sled. It’s easy going because the path slopes downward, growing higher as it does.
At first he’s blind, the cool dark of the cave strange on his skin—like the night has eaten him whole. If Kavim weren’t there he’d be convinced it was a fever-dream. Time stops existing and he’s not sure if he falls into blackness again or not.
When he can finally see, the cave is surprisingly large and the reason for Kavim’s insistence is obvious—there’s a large spring. The source is a small, high pool trickling down into one so large and deep he could submerge to his waist, if it were full. It only comes up to his knees. That isn’t right. The sound of the water falling is familiar but he doesn’t know why. He’s empty, so nothing can be familiar. Nothing but Kavim, who isn’t really there.
This is the heat-dream of the lost, nothing more.
“You should bathe,” Kavim says, helping him sit up. “The lower part is meant for washing.”
This is a lie. Bathing with so much water is a luxury, one he should refuse, but he doesn’t. He reaches for the folds on his clothing and in his belt is a knife he’s forgotten he had, the handle smooth in his grip. He cuts away as much as he can of his beard, leaving it short so he does not aggravate his skin with the blade.
Kavim takes the knife and cuts out the worst mats for him. “We’ll fix it once it’s clean,” Kavim says as he tucks the knife into his belt.
Not-Sala’s limbs are clumsy, weak as he peels off the remains of his clothing. Off his body they look like nothing more than rags. Fuel for the fire, so it can eat more than dried brush and dung. Now he is naked before Kavim, as he’d dreamed. He cannot read Kavim’s eyes in the dark but he knows Kavim is looking. What was once a strong body has wasted away, shriveled in harsh heat, a patchwork of burns and scars and overtaxed muscles. This is not his body.
Kavim moves forward. “Let me help you.”
“No,” he says, shaking his head. “I want to do this myself.”
He steps into the water, hissing with agony-bliss at the coldness of it. It is more collapsing than sitting, but he settles on the bottom to begin sloughing the grit off his body. His joints ache with cold and exhaustion but he continues to rub his painful skin, soak his knotted hair. He soaks and scrubs and starts to forget the searing heat and shifting sand. There is finally a sign in his empty, empty head of something else, a person who was, might have been. He hums a tune, feeling the water conduct the song all over his body.
“Sala,” Kavim chides from where he is scrubbing his shirt at the shallow end of the pool, “Come out before you catch cold.”
“Sala can’t be cold if he’s gone,” he protests with a playful splash that makes him feel guilty. The thought of wasting water is unpardonable. “You should join me.”
Kavim’s smile brightens the darkness like a small flame, reorienting the room around him. He squeezes out his shirt and leaves it to dry, then removes his undershirt, boots, and pants. The sight of Kavim naked is pleasing, his large chest from singing and his lean muscles from running.
His cock is too cold from the water to react but he savors the view of rivulets running over Kavim’s skin. He watches as Kavim makes quick work of the dirt, dunking his head in the water and his hair hanging heavy on his face when he rises to his knees. It makes Kavim look foolish, his eyes covered with hair. He stands and walks forward and pushes it out of the way, foreign laughter on his lips.
“There you are,” he says as he looks in Kavim’s eyes (brown, brown) like they are playing the game of unnamed children.
“There you are,” Kavim replies, his smile as soft and warm as candle-flame again. They stand as one, drawing closer together. Kavim’s hands touch the undamaged skin under his armpits and lift him up in a sloshing spiral of water and man, face ablaze with joy. “I’d missed you, Sala.”
He-who-is-not-Sala wonders if perhaps, for a moment, he can be Sala for Kavim. The hands on his ribs are warm, so warm and he cannot help but reach for Kavim as night cannot help but reach for day. Kavim brings him close and touches their foreheads together to whisper, “I thought I’d lost you.”
He kisses Kavim because there is no way he could do otherwise. For these moments he is Sala, and kisses with Sala’s passion, Sala’s eagerness, Sala’s playful bites and clever tongue. But it cannot last. He kisses the throat that saved his remains and looks in Kavim’s eyes. “You did. Sala is lost.”
It is cruel to snuff out the light in Kavim’s face but he must. Kavim is silent and still, like one of the rock monoliths recreated in miniature.
“I’m sorry,” he says, knowing it isn’t enough.
Kavim pulls back but takes his hand, stone-faced. “I’ll fix your hair now.”
He sits on the edge by the deep water, toes dipping into the pool as Kavim takes the knife to his hair. It’s shorn off in chunks, carefully placed on top of the rags to burn later. His head feels lighter, clearer with each cut. This is how it should be. Kavim is cutting away the desert, cutting away the parts of him that are lost, pruning.
“Your beard will have to wait until you’ve healed,” Kavim says as he turns around so Kavim can reach the front, fingers tracing his jaw so lightly he almost misses it. They guide his head to each side so Kavim can survey his work and make some final adjustments. “It will look better when it grows out.”
“I like it,” he laughs, not needing to see to know he does, no matter how terrible it must be. “Now let me do you.”
Kavim looks at him a long, long time. His eyes are still brown. “As you wish,” he says as he passes the knife over. It catches the dim light from the opening, a flash of silver.
He takes it with a steady hand, the other wetting Kavim’s face with water. It would be easier with soap, but he will make do. Kavim has never had much hair to begin with. He looks at the spring, the knife, and back to Kavim. “Sit where I was.”
They rearrange so Kavim sits by the spring and he is sitting on Kavim’s bare legs, facing Kavim. Their skin is warm where it touches compared to the cool air of the cave. With one finger he tilts Kavim’s chin up and draws the knife upward over the side of his throat on one smooth movement. He does it again, and Kavim makes a noise deep in his chest and swallows. On the third he trails the sharp blade over the bump of his throat, the soft skin under his jaw and Kavim exhales in a burst.
“I should do the rest,” Kavim says as he puts his hand on the grip of the knife as well. He closes his eyes and breathes in and out until his breaths stop shaking, then he takes the knife.
His hands ache. It was surprisingly exhausting to keep so steady. He relinquishes the knife but cups water to re-wet and rinse Kavim’s face. They continue until his face is smooth and red from the scrape of the knife, as if he too had been in the sun without his scarf. The feel of skin on skin begins to stir something in his belly, his body wanting to remember that there exist more feelings than pain.
“There is the Kavim I know,” Sala says, touching the smooth face free from hair or worry lines. “I found you.”
Kavim brushes his lips against a cheekbone, the briefest whisper of a kiss. “You should eat more.”
He doesn’t want to move. It’s comfortable here, in their own skins. He can forget the parts of him that still hurt, forget the sun lurking in wait outside of the cave. But something nags, pulls on the shell of his mind. Green, green, he must regain his strength, and…
Both of them have moved and he does not remember it. Kavim has moved to the side of the cave, a bench-like ledge revealing a compartment full of blankets and several items of clothing under a cleverly disguised lid. Kavim passes loose tan trousers and a white shirt. “Get dressed.”
He doesn’t want to, but it is starting to feel cold, so he does. Redressed and clean they are like different people, or perhaps the same ones in new skins. How many people will he be, now that Sala is lost? Perhaps Sala is out there, waiting to be found. Perhaps this new Kavim can find him.
Or perhaps his head is not so empty after all.
Kavim chews a mouthful of fruits and dried meat. This time their mouths touch long after the food is gone, a slow slide of tongues.
This happens twice more, their breath lingering as they stay close. He almost crawls into Kavim’s lap, cupping his hands around Kavim’s neck.
Kavim stares at him. “You don’t need me to chew for you any more, do you?”
“I want you to,” he says with a smile. “It’s nice.”
The face Kavim makes is anything but nice.
Sala laughs, a song he once knew well, that echoes into the recesses of his mind. He convinces Kavim to chew more jerky for him anyway with a smile and a hand on Kavim’s forearm. He cups Kavim’s jaw as the food passes between them, sucks gently on Kavim’s tongue before they part.
“You should rest more,” Kavim suggests. He pulls the blankets and excess dry clothing into a pile, softening the cave floor. As he works he whistles the familiar lullaby, soothing and soporific. Kavim lies down on the impromptu bed and pats the space beside him.
He lays down beside Kavim, resting his hand over the strong heartbeat as he curls beside the warm body. As quick as song-summoned wind, exhaustion overtakes him like it had been waiting the entire time. Perhaps it had been. He is safe, Kavim is here. He sleeps.
He wakes once to drink, Kavim holding the waterskin to his lips, then he sleeps again.
He dreams of strange, green places, he runs and runs but cannot reach them. Kavim smiles from a distance but he, too, is unobtainable. He keeps running, and running until he is lost in the desert again and so thirsty, so so thirsty until he forgets he is, forgets everything.
He wakes calling Kavim’s name.
“I’m here,” Kavim soothes, rushing from the darkness to touch him, show that he is real. “I’m here.”
They link hands, fingers entwined. He can feel their pulses beat against each other. “You came for me. You found me.”
“I’ll always find you.” It is a fact, not a promise. “You whistled, and I came.”
“That is how it shall always be,” he says, because it is the truth. His mind is full of strange clouds, shapes he doesn’t know, but this he does. He knows deep as bones. “Sing for me,” he begs, so tired of thoughts he cannot grasp.
So Kavim sings, the low sound reverberating throughout the cave into their bones. He’s sung this before, but not like this, not with his whole body.
Sala joins in, voice weak and high but following along all the same. He knows this song, knows it well. It summons part of him that is lost, part of him stripped away by the desert, but he cannot keep it up long enough. He falls into blackness.
This time he knows he wasn’t gone long. The murky shapes of thought and memory lurk in the shadowed corners of his mind, skittering away when he tries to look at them too closely, but decidedly there. The songs are working, calling Sala back. It is frightening to know he will disappear, but it must be. This is Sala’s body, not his.
Kavim is at his back, an arm pressed to sunken stomach and mouth whispering songs into short hair. It’s good, good in a way that stirs him, life returning to his body. There is one song they have yet to try, one song that may be powerful enough to make things right.
“You’re back.” Kavim’s voice is warm, warm as the small fire burning away the remains of clothing and hair.
He sighs, sliding a hand over top of Kavim’s. “Not yet.”
“You are here,” Kavim insists, voice hot with stirring anger.
“I am a husk. I am bones, nothing but bones.” Picked dry and clean by the vultures and wind and sand. “There is no Sala left. Only his bones, white and clean.” He rolls on his back and looks at his hands, the strong lines beneath his skin. “Aren’t they beautiful? They’re whole.” He turns to Kavim and smiles. “You’d break them for me, wouldn’t you?”
Kavim runs his hands over the bones. “I like them as they are.”
“But they don’t match. A broken man with broken bones—that is who I am.”
“Oh. These are Sala’s bones! I stole them from him.” He frowns. “Everything has been stolen from him.”
“Sala—” Kavim chokes, reaching out to hold him. It’s strange. But people are usually strange, when they mourn those who have gone.
He leans into the embrace, feeling trapped in the best of ways. Contained, solid. Kavim is holding him together. “The sand will always sing,” he says, because that is what you say to those in mourning. “It will sing for you in Sala’s place.”
Kavim clutches him so tight it starts to hurt. It feels right, being pressed together. It’s his fault Sala is lost. He should stay trapped like this, his breath becoming wind and his body becoming broken bones by Kavim’s hand. It’s a fitting end.
But Kavim stops too soon. He pulls back, revealing his gifts of water to Sala. He kisses the tears to accept them in Sala’s place, not wanting the water to be wasted on the desert. Kavim kisses him, the second gift of water, and he opens his mouth to accept this too. He likes this gift better, the warmth pleasant instead of the angry heat of the sun. It makes him want to give back, to make up for the loss of Sala.
“Will you sing with me?” The most ancient of duets, the song of life, the song of green and growing things. It’s only fitting to honor the lost with it. An endless cycle. This, he knows. It will make Kavim smile again, to hear the harmonies. Kavim should smile.
Kavim is not smiling now. “I don’t know—”
“For Sala. Sing with me for Sala,” he coaxes, pushing their bodies close.
Those are the right words to say. Kavim’s resolve wavers.
Now he rolls them together, Kavim on his back and his weak body pressing him down. “I am not Sala. But I could be.” He leans forward to whisper in Kavim’s ear. “Help me find him. Help me sing for him.”
Kavim could push him away if he wanted, could say the “no” resting on his tongue, but he doesn’t. Instead he asks, “Are you sure?”
“Trust me,” he says.
Kavim closes his eyes, hands stroking Sala’s ribs through his shirt.
“Trust me,” Sala commands, “as you have with the song of your heart, as you did when you searched for me in the desert. Trust me.” He places a hand over Kavim’s chest to feel the rapid beating inside.
“I do,” Kavim says as he opens his eyes and cranes his neck for a kiss.
He pulls away from the kiss just long enough to dispose of his shirt, darting down to meet Kavim’s lips again. The slow, wet slide of tongues is strange and familiar, as intoxicating as his first sip of water after Kavim found him. He makes soft noises in his throat, the first notes.
Kavim’s hands are careful where they touch, staying on the skin that had been protected from the sun, pale ribs and the dip of the spine. “Tell me what you want.”
“I want to hear you,” he says as he pulls at Kavim’s shirt. “I want to see you.” He needs to know Kavim is real.
Kavim gently pushes him back so there’s room to pull off the shirt, then unties and shucks his pants as well. The fire shows him more clearly, smooth muscle and patches of hair, cock just starting to swell. Kavim lays back and waits, letting himself be seen.
Sala tries to remove his pants but his hands fumble at the ties, remind him how close he’d come to death not so long ago. He grunts in frustration before Kavim moves to help. When his pants are off he reaches out to touch Kavim’s shoulders, his stomach, his thighs. He bites Kavim’s nipples and loves the sound Kavim makes, sudden and loud.
“Kavim, Kavim I want you,” he gasps, not sure what he’s saying but sure Kavim will know.
Kavim reaches for his pack and pulls out the salve. He places it on the blanket, arranging himself on hands and knees. “Like this?”
“Yes,” he cries, but cannot make himself move. The sight of Kavim before him courses through his blood, reminds his body of times before. As Kavim coats his fingers in the salve Sala finally gets himself to move, touching the curve of Kavim’s buttocks, the cleft between them.
Kavim’s slick fingers reach back and tease his entrance, circling but not pushing in, every movement making Kavim’s breath heavier and heavier. He trails his hands upward and pushes Kavim apart with his thumbs, giving him a clear view as Kavim pushes a finger inside.
For a moment neither of them can do anything but breathe.
“More,” he asks, his body heavy and alive. He wants to pull his hands away to touch himself but can’t bear to not keep touching Kavim.
Kavim nods, watching him as the finger pulls out and slides back in. His noises are louder now, involuntary as he keeps moving, keeps trying to get a little deeper.
He pushes two fingers inside and it is beautiful, so beautiful Sala must be part of it. He slicks his hand and adds a finger to Kavim’s, listens to the noises Kavim makes with pleasure. Kavim always liked his hands. He adds another finger, rubbing against Kavim’s as they push in and out together.
“Sala,” Kavim calls into the dark, calls for a lost man to return, his throat singing the notes of bliss. “Sala, please.”
He pushes in further, further until his fingers go in all the way to the knuckle each time. Kavim moans, removing his fingers as the signal he’s ready. He slicks his cock and starts to press inside, slow-slow-slow. Kavim gasps and groans his praises, every advance into tight heat making Kavim louder and louder. He keeps the pressure steady, relentless as he fills Kavim, fills until his cock is fully inside.
“Sala,” Kavim cries, a plea to be touched. “Sala.”
So Sala touches Kavim with slick fingers wrapping tight around his cock. His hand moves from root to tip, his other keeping Kavim’s hips steady as he nudges inside just a little further. Kavim now calls “Sala” like a chant with every breath.
His hand moves faster, grips tighter as he pulls slightly out and thrusts back in. Kavim gives a single, long note of pleasure as he comes, splattering onto the blanket. His hand slows down its movements, then stops and retreats to Sala’s hips, his breath ragged as he feels Kavim pulse around him. Now he starts to thrust, shallow movements of his hips so he doesn’t overwhelm Kavim. As his speed builds so does their song, a crescendo of names and meaningless sounds. It reflects throughout the cave, throughout his mind, each reverberation louder and louder as they call for Sala. He is too weak, too tired to last much longer.
“Sala,” Kavim calls.
“Sala,” he echoes, again and again, reaching for the man he once was.
He breathes in wet stone and sex-musk, he breathes out heat and sun, shaking as he loses strength. He is the beloved of Kavim. His eyes are green. He is an empty jug, waiting for rain.
He is Sala, the greensinger.
He finds his song.
Sala wakes to the sound of rain, his head resting on blankets on Kavim’s lap. His body aches in a distant, almost pleasant way, like he discarded the charred remains of the old and was born anew. His throat aches from the greensong in a way unlike how it did from the desert heat.
“You did it,” Kavim whispers, full of wonder.
It is strange to think it was his work. It still feels like it belongs to someone else. “Everyone will be relieved.” Years of drought had reduced them to a sliver of viable territory and halved their numbers. They had all been desperate, desperate enough to try the impossible.
What had been thought to be impossible. Sala is now living proof.
The rain is already dying off, his song-summoning weak. Soon, he will head back and revitalize the reservoirs. Soon, he will travel to all the dry wells, dead oases, empty rivers and sing, sing for the green things.
For now, he sighs as Kavim runs fingers through his hair. “I am not whole.” A part of him was lost out there, a part he cannot get back. A rain-catcher must be empty to accept rain; power requires sacrifice.
“I know, Sala.” Kavim’s touch shifts to his ear, his neck, fingers tracing the healed skin. “I know. You must be tired. Go back to sleep. I’ll be here when you awake.”
Sala sleeps, and dreams of nothing at all.