Rain

by Yamanashi Moe (山梨もえ)

(mirrors http://s2b2.livejournal.com/122587.html)

She’s lying on the ratty couch with her head in her hands. She looks up when Ranjit enters the room, which is a good sign – she looks scared, and bone-weary, but she’s not broken.

“Listen, I’m not a john. I’m here to help you.” Ranjit isn’t sure what language he’s speaking until the words come out of his mouth, and even then it’s a tough call. Possibly Czech. “What’s your name?”

“Darja,” says the girl automatically.

“Okay, Darja. Let’s get out of here. Can you stand? Are you sick, or injured?”

“I can stand. ” The girl attempts to get to her feet. Ranjit has a brief internal debate about whether or not to hold out his hand. In the end he does, but she doesn’t take it – doesn’t trust him enough, which is totally understandable, considering the circumstances. Times like these he wishes he had a police badge to flash… although considering the state of the police force, that probably wouldn’t be reassuring either.

Ranjit looks to the window. The iron grate is attatched to half-rotten wood and easy enough to rip away, but the window itself is barely big enough to fit his head through.

“Hey!” he calls down to the street, where Shawna is waiting with her cornrows in loose pigtails. “A little help here?”

“I’m on it!” yells Shawna.

There is no conspicuous change: one second the window is one size, and the next it’s another, easily big enough for a person to walk through. Shawna tosses up their rope ladder and Ranjit begins the business of anchoring it to the wall.

“Holy shit,” says Darja quietly.

“Yeah,” replies Ranjit. Shawna catches the ladder at the bottom. She gives a sharp tug, then a thumbs-up when it holds the weight. “We’re a, uh, special task force. Of sorts.” He gestures to the ladder. “You first.”

But Darja doesn’t need prompting, she’s already over the window-ledge and climbing down. He waits until she’s off the ladder, then climbs down himself. By the time he hops off at the bottom, the window is back to its old size and the ladder looks ridiculous dangling out of it. Not perfect, but it’s going to confuse the hell out of Suto and his boys.

Shawna leads them out of the alleyway to a busier street, where Lydie is parked. “Jump in,” she says, rolling down the car window. “Let’s go.”

“Just so you know, you don’t have to come with us,” Ranjit tells Darja. “You’ll have more trouble lying low on your own, and we can take you to a safehouse. But we can part ways here, or we can drop you off somewhere else, if there’s someone you trust in the city.”

Darja opens the back door and slides in. “Right now, I trust you,” she says, quietly.

In the car on the way back to the shelter, Shawna and Lydie talk, Shawna in rather broken Slovak, defaulting to English occasionally when she lacks a word.

“There were more girls in that place,” says Shawna quietly. “At least seven.” Her voice is pained. “And more than twenty houses on this street alone. And that’s just one city.”

“One day at a time,” says Lydie from the driver’s seat. “This is a start, you know. Her testimony is going to bring down Suto, if we’re lucky. And then… who knows?” She sounds miserable, too, but resigned. She’s been working at the project here since she was trained. “We only do what we can. We have to be content.”

Shawna’s voice steadies. “I know. But it never seems like enough.”

“Of course it doesn’t,” Lydie replies. “Just… remember that story they tell you in training? The one where the boy throws the starfish back into the ocean? It sounds so stupid, but sometimes you have to tell it to yourself again. It makes a difference for this one.”

“I hope so,” says Shawna. Then her mood seems to lift a little, and she changes the subject to tonight’s dinner at the Centre.

Ranjit isn’t really listening. He is watching Darja in the rear-view mirror. Something about her – the way she sits, rock-stiff, combined with her almost boyish skinniness – reminds him of Thomas. How he used to perch awkwardly in the back of the truck, not allowing himself to bend when they took a corner. The dust from the road would collect on his face and turn his eyelashes from black to yellow.

He hasn’t thought of Thomas in a long time. It’s been more than a year now, and he had been eager to forget. That’s when he realizes he’s received a Calling.

***

Ranjit has always loved aeroplanes. Even travelling as much as he does, he’s never lost the pleasure of flying. As they come down into Roissy Airport he peers out the window, eager for any glimpse of the city, but mostly he just sees smog.

Customs is nervewracking, as usual – he never knows when he’ll be detained – but his perfect French seems to set the officials at ease. Before too long he’s walking out to the train station with his backpack slung over one shoulder.

It’s still morning here. On the way over to the Centre he stops at a cafè for a cup of coffee – no cream, two spoons of sugar – and a croissant. He calls his mum, as he always does after a flight. He reassures her that he’s all right, asks about the family, and changes the subject when she asks if he’s still single. She keeps trying to set him up with friends’ sons studying at Oxford. Sometimes he wishes she was still uncomfortable with the fact that he’s gay.

He hasn’t been to the Paris Centre in a couple of years. It’s small, tucked away on the fourth floor of an office building that must date from the fifties. There are several people in the office, but Ranjit knows who he needs to see: the woman in a classy blue suit and sea-green hijab working at the largest desk. “Amel?” he calls.

She looks up at once. “Ah! Ranjit Dolma! Peace be upon you. It’s good to see you again.” He hasn’t seen her in over five years, but his name springs from her lips with no hesitation. “Perfect timing.”

“Good to see you, too,” he replies, warmly. He’s always liked Amel’s no-nonsense attitude. As the Coordinator of the Paris Centre, she’s in charge of all the French Association members, and the person who can tell him where to find Thomas. All she could say over the phone was that he was in France and on leave. “What’s up?”

“Listen, I know you’ve come on your own business, but can I have five minutes? Henri just found a Talent on the way in, but he’s here on exchange, and his French is… well, nobody can get through to him.”

“Okay. Where is he?”

“In the kitchen.” She points to the last door on the left.

When he first started working for the Association, Ranjit would constantly remark on the little coincidences that seemed so common where they were involved. It didn’t take a long time to realize that most of them likely weren’t coincidences. “I’m on it,” he says, and heads in the direction she’s pointing.

There’s a lanky Korean – Chinese? – kid perched on one of the stools in the kitchen, wearing skinny jeans, clutching a mug of coffee in his hands. He looks like he’s just had the shock of his life. Depending on his Gift, he may very well have.

“Good morning,” says Ranjit, and extends his hand. Annyeonghaseyo. Korean, then. “I’m Ranjit Dolma, from the Association for Global Justice. Pleased to meet you.”

“Jeong Min-Young,” says the boy, putting down his cup, bowing a little into the handshake. Then he pauses. “You… your Korean is very good.”

Ranjit laughs. “Ah, no, not really,” he says, taking a seat next to him. “I’ll explain that in a moment. And just so you know, you’re not in trouble or anything. It’s just that from what my co-worker said to me, she’s been having difficulty talking to you.”

“Yes,” says Min-Young, shifting uncomfortably on his stool. “She tried to tell me what’s going on, but I couldn’t… I just got here last week. I didn’t expect anything like this to happen. When I woke up everything was normal, and now I don’t understand anything…”

“Did something unusual happen today?”

Min-Young sighs. “Yeah. I, uh, was on the platform, waiting for the train to school, and I lost my balance. I started to fall onto the tracks, but then… I didn’t fall.” He laughs, slightly hysterically. “I was just standing there. But there was nothing to stand on. I was… hovering. I got scared, so I jumped back onto the platform, and this guy who was beside me – ” he points to the office – “- I guess his name is Henri? He told me not to worry about what just happened, and he gave me a business card, and told me that if I had any questions, I should come and talk to someone. So I was going to go to school and come here later.”

“But you ended up deciding to come here immediately?”

“I just had this feeling like I should come here. I don’t know… it was just a feeling. But really strong.” Min-Young laughs. “I just don’t know. Maybe I’m going crazy.”

“No, you’re not crazy.” Ranjit shakes his head emphatically. “The hovering thing that you did is probably what we call a Gift. It’s just a special ability that some people have.”

Min-Young looks incredulous. “You mean, like… a super power?”

“Yeah, kind of. But not all of them are supernatural. Some people have Gifts for organization or conflict mediation. And some are just a little bit out of the ordinary – Amel’s Gift is a perfect memory, for instance. But sometimes, you get people with Gifts like levitation, or mind-reading. My Gift is speaking and understanding languages. That’s how I’m talking with you right now.”

“So my Gift is levitation, then.”

“Probably. You’ll learn more about the way it works as you start using it. The other important thing is that people with Gifts often feel compelled to do certain things. It may be just to go to a place, or see a person, or it may be something more specific than that. Sometimes it leads to nothing. Other times…” Ranjit shrugs. “Well, what brought you here this morning was probably a Calling, and you’ll know for yourself eventually how useful it was.”

“The Association for, uh, Global Justice is an organization for people with Gifts, right?”

Ranjit nods. “Many people feel like the Gifts we have are given to us by a higher power for the purpose of doing good in the world, and that Callings are a form of guidance from that higher power. The Association was founded by people who thought that way. We’re a non-governmental organization with projects in countries all around the world, working with local communities to use our Gifts however we can.” Ranjit realizes that he sounds a little too much like a recruitment officer, and changes tack. “But just because you have a Gift doesn’t mean you have to join. We do try to keep track of them when they manifest, but we’re not going to stalk you or anything, and what you do now is totally up to you.”

“But I can join if I want.”

“Right. In your case, since your Gift manifested outside of your home country, you would probably wait to start training until you go back to Korea. The Paris Centre can help you with your Gift between then and now. Here-” and he gets up- “let’s go talk to Amel – Mme Malik – and she can set you up.”

“Okay. Can I just ask one more question?”

“Sure, you can ask as many questions as you like -”

“Do I get to go to Hogwarts? …No, sorry, don’t answer that.” He breaks into laughter, but the look in his eyes suggests that he’s seriously interested.

They leave the kitchen, and with Amel’s help, Min-Young gets the contact information for the Centre in Seoul. “Tell him he should take some time to think about what he wants to do,” says Amel. “He doesn’t have to make any decisions right away.”

Ranjit translates this for Min-Young’s benefit, and he grins. “Okay. I understand.” He is still smiling as he leaves.

“So what do you think?” asks Amel.

Ranjit smiles. “He’ll join. He’ll take some time to make it look like he’s taken your advice, because he wants to make a good impression, but his mind is already made up.”

“Thank you for your help.”

“No problem.”

“Now, about your business.” Amel gets up from the computer. “As I told you earlier, Thomas Girard is currently on long-term leave from the Association. He’s staying near Chantilly and working as a live-in housekeeper for a woman by the name of Doriane Cloutier. We have been able to reach him sporadically by phone, but he’s been close-mouthed about his absence, and seems to have no interest in returning to active duty with the Association.” She smiles. “Quite frankly, we were waiting to see if someone would be Called to deal with the situation. And I suppose that someone is you.”

***

It’s about an hour by train to Chantilly, where he finds a cheap hotel and books a room for the night. From there he takes a bus to the village. When he arrives, the sun has just set, and he takes a brief walk around in the twilight. There’s not much to see. It’s small, with little to appeal to tourists, and almost bone-dry. None of the buildings are higher than three or maybe four storeys. Occasionally a car rolls down the street, or more often a bicycle, and as he walks a few people pass him by on the pavement. Strolling through a public park, he sees a figure slumped on a bench.

At first he doesn’t realize that it’s Thomas.

He’s lost a lot of weight, and he didn’t have much to lose in the first place. He wears an old grey hoodie and sits huddled into himself with a bottle of something clutched in his fist. The darkness of the night, combined with the hollows under his green-grey eyes, make him look like a skeleton or a zombie.

Carefully, like he’s approaching an easily spooked animal, Ranjit comes forward. “Thomas?”

At first Thomas doesn’t even look up. Ranjit has to repeat himself a couple of times. Only then, hesitantly, does Thomas seem to notice his presence, and he winces and draws further into himself, as if in pain.

“No,” he whispers. “No more. I can’t stand it.”

Ranjit takes a slow breath, and lets it out again slowly, saying a quick prayer to Lord Krishna. He can do this. “Thomas, it’s Ranjit Dolma. We met in Mozambique, remember?”

Thomas doesn’t answer him. He closes his eyes tight and turns his face away. “I don’t want to hear it.”

“You don’t look so good.” The words sound familiar in his ears, even in French. “I’m taking you home.”

He puts one arm under Thomas’ shoulder and lifts him to his feet. It feels inappropriate to be so close, considering how Thomas reacted the last time he tried to touch him, but he’s not just going to leave him sitting on a bench in the park all night.

Thankfully, Amel gave him an address. The house where Thomas is staying is on the outskirts of the village, but it’s close to the park. It’s a small house with a red roof and a neatly trimmed lawn. He feels awkward entering without the owner’s permission, but in the end he decides that Thomas probably won’t get past the front door without his help.

He unlocks the door with the key in Thomas’ coat pocket and gives him a gentle push through the doorway. The house is sparsely but elegantly furnished. “Okay, time to get to bed. Where’s your room?”

“Up the stairs,” mumbles Thomas after a moment. He seems to be sobering up a little.

For a while he’s afraid that Thomas is going to collapse and he’s going to have to support him on the way up. It would be an uncomfortable reminder of another incident, one he has tried as much as possible to forget. But Thomas holds onto the rail and makes it without a hitch.

“I’m gonna have to leave you here,” says Ranjit, when they get to the door of his room. “You can get to bed by yourself, right?” The question is largely pointless, as even if he can’t, Ranjit doesn’t intend to stay. He’s getting too comfortable with the feeling of Thomas’ body against his. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

But Thomas nods, solemnly, and steps into the room on his own. Ranjit is about to turn and leave when he hears something. The words are so quiet he almost misses them.

“…Are you real?”

“Yeah, I’m real,” he replies quickly, not knowing what Thomas wants to hear. Then he walks away without looking back.

***

Ranjit goes over to the house again first thing the next morning.

The woman who answers the door is probably in her late seventies, but she has a straight back and her posture is perfect. “Good morning,” she says briskly. “What can I do for you?”

“Um, good morning. Are you Mme Cloutier?” When she nods, he continues. “I’m Ranjit Dolma. Sorry for the intrusion, I’m a friend of Thomas’…” He offers his hand tentatively.

She may look like she’s in good shape, but her handshake is frail, stiff. “Ah, yes, yes. From the Association. Of course. Yes, I am Doriane Cloutier. Please come in.

“Are you the one who brought Thomas back?” she asks as they walk into the parlour. He only got a glimpse of it last night. It seems too clean to be frequently used, with a hardwood floor and an empty little fireplace.

Ranjit smiles, sheepishly. “Uh, yes. Sorry about coming into the house, I wanted to make sure he got home okay.”

“Very thoughtful of you, Mr. Dolma. But I’m afraid your efforts won’t earn you much gratitude from that boy – he’d just as soon have stayed out all night, and walked back early this morning.” She sits down on the sofa and motions for Ranjit to sit as well. “That’s what he usually does when he’s drinking.”

He’d suspected that this wasn’t a one-time event, but finding out he was right triggers a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach. “So Thomas often…”

Doriane sighs. “If you had asked me a year ago, I would have said there was no such thing as a French alcoholic. But apparently, the surprises of life never cease.” She pulls out a cigarette and lights it. “He’s a strange boy, Thomas. But a hard worker. He’s never given me cause to complain.”

“How long has he been working here?”

“Oh, five or six months now. My husband died last year, and he had been taking care of things up until then, so I found myself in the market for a caregiver of some sort and I stumbled upon your friend.”

“I see.” He hates to bring it up, but he doesn’t like to think of this lady not knowing. “Uh, as far as I know, Thomas doesn’t have any experience in caregiving…”

“He told me when I hired him. It doesn’t matter to me either way. I would say it was my compassionate nature, but the truth is it’s cheaper to hire someone under the table than from an agency. Of course, Thomas isn’t a nurse, but he says he’s done some first aid and I take him at his word. Besides, I’m in good health.” She takes another drag on her cigarette as if to emphasize the point.

“And you’re… okay with his drinking?”

“It’s none of my business what he does off the clock. I don’t interfere with his personal life, nor does he with mine. Such as it is.”

“Do you mind if I speak to him for a bit?” Ranjit winces. “We, uh, weren’t really able to talk last night.”

“Of course. I believe he’s in the kitchen, making his breakfast.” She points down the hallway.

“Thank you,” says Ranjit, and excuses himself.

Thomas is standing at the kitchen counter. In the light of day he looks a little better, but not by much. His dark brown hair, which was short when Ranjit first met him, has grown halfway down his neck – more likely from neglect than anything else. The expression on his face when he sees Ranjit is carefully neutral.

“Good morning,” Ranjit says.

“Good morning,” replies Thomas, after a pause.

“Sleep well?”

Thomas doesn’t respond to that one, but cuts a thin slice of bread and butters it with care.

“Gil and Ana-Cruz got married last month,” says Ranjit, trying another line of attack.

Clearly this is a surprise. Thomas looks up from the bread. “I didn’t know they were together.”

“They weren’t, when we were there,” replies Ranjit. “Apparently they had liked each other for a long time, but they only got to talking about getting engaged a little while after I left. They both have big families, so nobody from the Association was invited, but Ana-Cruz sent me a photo of her wedding gown.”

“I’m sure it was beautiful.”

“I’ll show you, if you like.”

“No Internet.” His bread finished, Thomas turns to the coffee maker, checking the display. “Mme Cloutier doesn’t need a computer. Nor do I. Coffee?”

“Sure.”

Taking a mug down from the cupboard, Thomas pours him a cupful, then carefully adds two spoonfuls of sugar before handing it to him.

Ranjit almost asks how he remembered how he likes his coffee, but decides against it. “Thanks,” he says, and takes a sip. For a moment the kitchen is silent.

“I know what you’re here about,” says Thomas abruptly. “But I’m not sure why. I’ve already told the Association that I’m not coming back.”

“I just wanted to -”

“Maybe they didn’t tell you. I resigned because I lost my Gift. If there is a God, He has deserted me.”

He says it as casually as if he was commenting on the weather. Then he pours the hot milk carefully into his coffee cup, turning his back on Ranjit, who is left standing there like a fool, with nothing to say.

***

“Have you ever heard of someone losing their Gift for no reason?”

He’s gone out to the backyard to call Amel. What Thomas said puzzled him, and he needs confirmation.

“It’s impossible to lose a Gift once it’s awakened.”

“I thought you lost it when you committed a crime. In training they told me that some guy in the 80s lost it when he, uh,” and he has to wince when he says it, “murdered his girlfriend.”

“Ah, yes, you’re thinking of Luka Benetti.” Amel pauses for a moment, and Ranjit wonders if he’s finally found something she hasn’t memorized, but when she starts speaking again he figures she was probably just wondering how to proceed. “That’s an oversimplification of the case. More accurately, after he was convicted, his Gift was neutralized by another Association member with the Gift to do so.”

“And if we hadn’t had anyone with that Gift?”

“The Association would have guarded him until criminal proceedings had concluded, then worked with the Italian government to ensure he couldn’t use his Gift to escape his sentence. But his Gift didn’t simply disappear. That would be impossible.”

“Thomas says that his has.”

Amel sighs into the phone. “Thomas Girard is probably suffering a psychosomatic block. It happens when someone is experiencing a crisis.”

“…I’ve never heard of it.”

“It’s not common knowledge, except in the Research department. Apparently they feel that suggesting the posibility to someone makes it more likely to occur. Of course, they like keeping their findings to themselves.” Her tone is slightly bitter. Ranjit can sympathize – he spent a while as a subject in Research, and whatever they found out about his Gift, they told him nothing he hadn’t known already.

“How does it happen?”

“Highly stressful situations have a way of breaking down the connections in people’s minds. Thomas’ Gift requires a lot of effort to use, making a block more likely, and probably harder to get over. The part of his brain that controls his Gift is off-limits to him.”

“So… I’m supposed to tell him he’s just delusional?”

“I didn’t say the block was a delusion. Just because it’s self-caused doesn’t mean it’s not real.” Amel pauses again. “To a certain extent, only Thomas has the cure, but you can be some support him. Help him look for the answers.”

Ranjit gets the feeling she thinks he’s a lot closer to Thomas than he actually is. “I don’t know if he’ll let me,” he replies. “We just worked together that one time, and we didn’t really get along. Maybe I’m not the right person to do this.”

“If you were Called to him…” Amel trails off. “Well, let’s put it this way. I have often received Callings I did not answer to my own satisfaction, but I have never received a Calling I knew I was not capable of answering. Is a chance that you are the help he needs?”

“There’s a chance, sure -”

“Then take that chance. Thomas Girard has no living family that we know of, and he seems to have no close ties within the Association. If you aren’t willing to help him, he’s on his own.”

“I figured it was something like that.” Ranjit sighs. “I mean, I like him. I want to help him. But -” He stops himself. “You have more important things to do than listen to me complain.”

“No,” says Amel. “Helping people is the most important thing for me. That’s why I do this job.”

“Thanks for the advice. I’ll do the best I can.”

“God willing, you will succeed.”

“Talk to you later.” As he closes his mobile, it occurs to him that the garden looks like it hasn’t been watered all summer. Maybe he should mention that.

***

He met Thomas when they were working in Mozambique, at a project in a small city in Sofala province. It was August and the heat was sometimes hard to bear. The countryside was in the middle of a full-fledged drought, and every day farmers streamed into the city looking for any kind of work they could get.

The mood at the project was somewhat grim, but Ranjit never had trouble making friends. Soon he got to know and like the other project workers: Gil, the project head; Ana-Cruz, whose Gift was purifying water; and a rotating staff of locals, plus a few volunteers from outside the country with especially appropriate Gifts. Among those volunteers was Thomas.

Thomas was an enigma. He spoke no Portuguese, let alone any of the indigenous languages, and few of the project workers spoke any French. Of course, even if he had Ranjit’s Gift it wouldn’t have made much difference – he didn’t seem to want to communicate with anyone anyway. For the most part he stayed in his dorm room, only coming out when it was his turn to help with chores. Every Sunday he attended Mass at the nearest Catholic church, and that was about the extent of his interaction with anyone.

Some time later Ranjit realized that he might have been assigned to the project primarily to interpret for Thomas, but Thomas hadn’t wanted his help. Thomas avoided him as much as he did anyone else.

He didn’t even know what Thomas’ Gift was until one night in the common room, chatting with Ana-Cruz and an American volunteer named Ezra.

“So you hear everything in English?” asked Ezra.

Ranjit shook his head. “No, I hear everyone speak their own language, I just understand everything they say without thinking about it. It’s like everything becomes understandable once it hits my ears. Then when I form sentences, they usually come out in the first language of whoever I’m talking to.”

“What about sign language?”

“It’s difficult to explain -” A familiar figure appeared in the doorway, almost too quietly to be heard, and Ranjit forgot what he was saying. “Thomas!” he called, making an extra effort to be friendly. “Hey! How’s it going?”

Ana-Cruz patted a seat on the couch next to her. “Come sit with us for a while!”

“No, thank you,” said Thomas in halting Portugese. “I was just going to bed.” He turned and left the room.

“He doesn’t like me,” said Ezra, after he was sure Thomas was out of earshot, switching back to English.

Ranjit translated this comment for the benefit of Ana-Cruz. She laughed. “If that’s the case, he doesn’t like me either. I don’t think it’s personal. He just has a bad attitude, and he’s chosen to cut himself off from other people. To tell the truth, I feel sorry for him.”

“I don’t know,” replied Ranjit. “If he doesn’t care about people, why would he even want to be in the Association?” He repeated his remark to Ezra.

Ezra shrugged his shoulders. “They’re probably paying him or something. I mean, everybody knows that people with rare Gifts get special treatment.”

Ranjit was aware that some Association members shared this opinion, but he didn’t like it, and he didn’t want to put up with it. “Well, it’s true that some people get paid. But it depends on a lot of things, not just your Gift. I mean, I’m on active duty nearly all the time. I don’t have a day job. I want to help people, but if the Association didn’t pay my costs, I couldn’t afford food or rent.” He glanced at Ana-Cruz apologetically, giving her a quick summary of what he just said, and she nodded her agreement.

“Oh, no, man,” said Ezra quickly, not seeming offended. “Sorry, I didn’t mean you at all. It’s just… well… with his Gift, it’s no wonder the Committee would try to hold on to him as hard as possible.”

Ranjit glanced at the empty doorframe. “What is Thomas’ Gift, anyway?”

“Didn’t you know?” Ezra asked, with a chuckle. “He’s a rainmaker.”

***

Over the next couple of weeks, Ranjit begins to get a rough idea of Thomas’ schedule. Every morning he goes to the bakery and buys two baguettes. When he comes back, he helps Doriane put on her shoes or jewlery if her hands are troubling her, and then prepares breakfast for the two of them. Mid-morning he goes out again to buy fresh ingredients.

It’s surprisingly pleasant to accompany Thomas through the town. It’s small enough that everyone in the shops knows him by name. They’re a little surprised to see Ranjit at first, but they get used to him soon enough.

He begins to realize that part of what he always thought was a dislike of him specifically is just Thomas’ way of dealing with the world. And directed at other people, Ranjit begins to see it as not dislike so much as an overwhelming awkwardness. Thomas just doesn’t know how to act with people. He doesn’t say much; when he does, it’s overly formal, as though he’s trying too hard to avoid saying the wrong thing. And he seems to have trouble making physical contact with others, especially men. For instance, he’ll hand his change directly to the middle-aged woman at the newspaper stand, but with the young man at the greengrocer’s, it goes on the counter.

Thoughts like this make Ranjit wonder if he’s been observing Thomas too closely. But he’s trying to get into Thomas’ head, see what’s going on in there that made him lose his faith and the use of his Gift. It doesn’t seem to be working very well.

In the afternoon Thomas cleans the house, a task that mainly consists of dusting everything and beating the rugs within an inch of their lives, and then prepares dinner – usually fairly simple, frequently canned.

Then, around nine-thirty, after doing the dinner dishes, there are two options. Sometimes Thomas just goes to bed early. But far more frequently, he leaves the house and goes to buy a cheap bottle of red wine. From there, he walks to the park down the road, hides himself in some not-too-visible corner, and spends the night drinking himself into a stupor.

It wouldn’t be so worrisome if Thomas was a loud drunk, even an angry one, if he cursed the world and everything around him. Ranjit could deal with that more easily. But when Thomas drinks, he curls in on himself, like a flower that closes its petals in the dark. He sits with his head in his hands and keeps perfectly still except to take another drink. Occasionally he shudders, as though he’s crying silently.

Ranjit originally alternates between coming over from Chantilly and staying at the house, but as the days go by he uses his hotel room so rarely he checks out. Neither Thomas nor Doriane agree to his sleeping on the couch in the parlour, but they don’t try to kick him out. After a few days of staying over, a carefully folded sheet appears draped over the couch, like an invitation.

He still feels weird about it until Doriane remarks one night at dinner that it’s a shame there’s no guest room in the house. “If I were putting you up in better accomodations, I’d charge you for room and board.”

“You’ve been very gracious. I can pay you if you’d like – ”

“Don’t be ridiculous. It was a joke.” Doriane snorts. “I have no objection to your being here if Thomas doesn’t.”

Looking extremely uncomfortable, Thomas shakes his head.

So aside from brief trips to the internet café in Chantilly, Ranjit continues to follow Thomas through his routine, helping him during the day and watching as he drinks himself into a stupor at night.

His coming has changed things a little. Not nearly enough.

“Ranjit.” He has no idea when Thomas started using his name. He pronounces the J as a soft G, and Ranjit finds it weirdly endearing. “Will you peel these?”

“Of course.” He takes the bowl of potatoes and begins paring the skin off, watching Thomas as he takes a chicken from the fridge and starts to dress it. Since Ranjit first came to the village, Thomas has avoided buying beef or pork, although Ranjit has never mentioned that he doesn’t eat them. This is the strange thing about Thomas – the small kindnesses, the things he notices.

As usual, they work in silence until Ranjit speaks up.

“So.” For a while now he’s been trying to find a place to start a serious conversation, and coming up empty. It may as well be right now. “I was talking to Doriane, and she says you never water the garden.”

“Of course I don’t.” Thomas’ voice is strained. “I would feel like a fraud.”

“And I’ve noticed you don’t go to Mass anymore.”

“I told you. I don’t know if God exists, and I’ve failed Him, or if there is no God and I’ve been fooling myself all my life.” He sighs. “I hardly know if I care either way.”

“Everyone struggles with their faith, mate.” ‘Mate’ comes out gars. He wonders if that’s too intimate in French, if Thomas will take offense. “When I was younger, I had a lot of trouble too. My parents brought me up Hindu, but when I got old enough to read the Bhagavad Gita by myself, I ended up with all these questions about how I was supposed to live. What I read about the possibility of a just war didn’t match up with what I believed about non-violence. So I read a lot, and eventually I came to an understanding…”

“But -” interrupts Thomas. He leaves off the chicken and turns to face Ranjit. “Sometimes thinking doesn’t help. I mean…” His face is tense. “When you’ve spent your whole life fighting something you knew was wrong, and then you get so tired of fighting, and you start to wonder if you were ever right… I don’t know. The more I try to figure it out, the more confused I get.”

Unless Thomas has been struggling with alcoholism a lot longer than he thought, Ranjit has no idea what he’s talking about. But this may be the most Thomas has ever said to him in one go. He takes that as a good sign.

“Thomas – ” For a second he forgets himself and puts his hand on Thomas’ shoulder. Thomas doesn’t flinch, but he goes very still, and even his breathing seems to stop. “What happened to you?”

“Thomas!”

It’s the sound of Doriane calling from her bedroom, a sound that he’s heard many times since he came. Her relationship with Thomas is strange. Sometimes she treats him like a servant, other times with a tenderness that seems more suited to a grandchild.

“Coming!” yells Thomas, and without answering Ranjit’s question, he hurries to help her.

***

Only once did Ranjit see Thomas use his Gift.

He got the impression from the others at the project that this was a momentous occasion. Unlike the majority of Gifts, Thomas’ was both powerful and wide-reaching. Mozambique had a history of floods as well as droughts, so all the possible environmental implications had to be carefully weighed, and even though Thomas had been at the station for a month longer than Ranjit, this would be the first time he had used his Gift in Mozambique.

“I wish I could be there,” said Ana-Cruz a little wistfully. “They say it’s something to see. But today I promised I’d babysit my niece, and I don’t think my brother would be too happy if I took her out of the city without a destination in mind.”

Ranjit smiled. “I’ll let you know how it goes.”

“If it goes well,” replied Ana-Cruz, with a smile, “you won’t need to let me know.” She nodded to Thomas as he came out to the truck. “Good luck, both of you!”

Thomas nodded back, but didn’t reply. The look in his eyes was very far away.

They drove along the coast for at least an hour, stopping once at a food stall to get some shrimp and rice. There were a couple of kids sitting by the stall and Thomas bought them porridge, then left without saying a word. Occasionally he would direct Ranjit to turn left or right for no reason that Ranjit could see, but otherwise he was silent, not completely there. Ranjit followed the instructions, watching the unchanging landscape of brown fields, tin-roofed houses, and bare trees.

“This is the place,” said Thomas suddenly.

Ranjit slammed on the brakes, and looked out at the field. It was pretty much the same as what they’d been driving past for the last twenty minutes. “How can you tell?”

“I just can.”

“Well, okay. It’s your call.” He pulled the keys out of the ignition and they hopped out of the truck.

Following him through the long, dead grass of the field, Ranjit realized that Thomas was shaking. Not that he seemed sick, or scared – it was like he was too full of energy. As he walked, he pulled off one sneaker, then the other, leaving them behind for Ranjit to pick up.

Clouds were starting to gather overhead. The wind was picking up. Thomas stopped in a patch of bare earth, closed his eyes, and lifted his face to the sky.

The ensuing rainstorm was – well, Ranjit had seen monsoons, but this was nothing short of magnificent. It was a rain so heavy it was painful on the skin, like someone pouring a bucket from the sky. Everything was drenched instantly. Ranjit had thought of bringing an umbrella along, but now he was glad he hadn’t. It wouldn’t have done any good at all, and probably the umbrella would have been ruined.

He was about to try and see if the rain was gentler further away. But then he glanced at Thomas, and found he couldn’t look anywhere else.

The dirt had turned to mud around Thomas’s feet. His hair, black with water, clung to his neck. Rain streamed down his cheeks and the hollow of his throat, and plastered his clothes to his body. He didn’t seen to notice. Triumphantly, like a victorious god, he raised his arms to the sky and smiled with sheer, luminous joy. For a second Ranjit thought he could see wings on his back, wings the colour of the sky, the breadth of the clouds.

“It’s done,” he said, and then again, louder, “I did it!”

And then he closed his eyes and fell backwards.

It was only luck that Ranjit was able to catch him, hold him up. “You alright? You don’t look so good.”

“Y-yeah,” Thomas stuttered. “…just… dizzy, that’s all.” He gave Ranjit a weak smile. “It’s done. Praise God.”

“Sure is,” replied Ranjit. Carefully he withdrew one arm to touch Thomas’s cheek. The rain was warm, but his skin was chilled and clammy. “Listen, we’re gonna go back to the truck, okay? We’re gonna get you back to the project and warm you up. Now, do you think you can walk to the truck?”

Thomas nodded, but nearly fell over when he tried to take a step forward.

Ranjit leaned over and gave him a hand up. “Okay, I think that’s a no,” he said, in a voice he hoped was reassuring. “But that’s not a problem – ” As Thomas stood up, Ranjit put an arm around him, to hold him up – “We’ll just do it like this instead. Hold on tight, okay?”

“Okay,” replied Thomas, the most compliant he’d ever been.

Ranjit left the socks and shoes lying in the mud. There were more important things to worry about. On the way back to the truck, he went over a plan of action in his head, thanking Lord Krishna he had thought to bring blankets just in case. He slung a tarp over the seats of the truck and sat Thomas down. He went around the other side and got in himself. Then he stopped for a moment, unsure of how to continue. “Okay, listen, you’re really cold. I think you need to get dry. Can I, uh, take off your clothes, so we can get you into these?” He held up the blankets.

Thomas nodded. Ranjit wished he had refused. He wasn’t cold at all, but his hands were shaking as he stripped off Thomas’ soaking wet t-shirt, then his jeans and boxers, leaving them in a pile at his feet. As quickly as possible he wrapped him in the blankets. Throughout the whole operation, Thomas was as pliable as a doll.

“Now,” said Ranjit, slowly. “I’m going to drive us back. Everything’s going to be fine. Just hold on, okay?”

Seemingly too weak to speak, Thomas just nodded.

The drive back to the project was a nightmare. Thomas was in a daze, his head slumped on Ranjit’s shoulder, and Ranjit could barely focus on the road because of it. He could not forget even for a second that Thomas was naked under the blankets. He kept stealing glances at him and then having to force his eyes back to the road.

Thomas was clearly ill. He was close to passing out, and his skin had taken on a greyish cast. And still he was probably the most beautiful thing Ranjit had ever seen.

That night Ranjit casually mentioned to Gil that he was interested in a different placement, whether or not he received an actual Calling. He knew that if he stayed any longer, he was going to fall in love with Thomas. That was a mistake he wasn’t prepared to make. Better to quit while he was ahead.

***

“I wish you hadn’t come here.”

Thomas is more than halfway through the bottle. This is the first time in what seems like ages that he’s said anything to Ranjit, who has been watching him go through glass after glass, sitting across from him at the kitchen table. Well, he’s using a glass. And he’s not in the park anymore. This is progress.

“Thomas. Mate.” Ranjit tries to make his voice as non-threatening as possible. “Haven’t you had enough?”

Thomas nods, but when Ranjit tries to take the bottle, he pulls it back. “No. No, you can’t. Don’t.”

“Okay, I won’t, then.” Frustrated, he draws his hand back, praying for patience.

The day had started out well enough. It was a nice afternoon, with a bit of a breeze, and Ranjit had suggested they take a walk while the laundry was drying on the line.

They were walking along in silence when Thomas stopped suddenly and turned to him.

“When did you first realize you had your Gift?”

Ranjit was taken aback by the question. “When I was a little kid,” he said, finally. “It wasn’t that exciting. As far as I recall, I thought everyone could do it. Then one day, I was talking to a friend from down my street. She was Sri Lankan, and my mum heard me speaking Tamil like I’d known it all my life.” He laughed, remembering. “She was more shocked than anything, but she got over it quick. I think someone from the Association came to talk to her after that, but I didn’t learn about it until much later.”

“I see.”

He didn’t want to bring it up if it was only going to hurt Thomas, but then he thought maybe the question was his way of saying that he wanted to be asked. “And what about you?”

“I was in secondary school.” He turned his head slightly away from Ranjit. His voice was small and tight. “I didn’t have any friends and I wasn’t happy. One day, after school, I just wandered away, and I kept walking for a few hours, out of town. I didn’t know where I was going. I wasn’t thinking. And as I was walking, all of a sudden, the clouds started to come. I didn’t know I was making it happen. I just felt like God was… crying with me. It was like a weight being lifted.”

“…And then?” Ranjit prompted gently, when Thomas stopped.

“I went home and life was as usual. I had no idea what had happened until about a week later, when some people from the Association came to my house to talk to me. They had picked up a disturbance in the local weather patterns. When they told me that I could use my Gift to help others, I realized that this was what God intended for me to do with my life. I joined the Association that day and I’ve been with them ever since.”

Doing the math, Ranjit realized he must have been in the Association for at least ten years – close to half his life. “That’s a long time,” he said. “And you never took a leave of absence? To finish school or anything?”

Thomas shook his head. “I finished by correspondence. I didn’t care about school – I had a place where I belonged. Where I could be close to God. Then my Gift left me, and I couldn’t… And now I…” He stopped, looking almost close to tears. “I should go take the laundry down. It’ll be done by now.”

And with that he turned around and walked briskly back to the house. Ranjit followed him, but Thomas didn’t speak to him for the rest of the night, and avoided eye contact. Until now.

Thomas’ eyes, which have been on the wine bottle, focus on Ranjit. “I wish I had never met you,” he says.

Unsurprisingly, that hurts. What Ranjit doesn’t expect is the sudden burst of anger that comes with it. At the back of his mind, it shocks him. He’s used to thinking of himself as a pretty easy-going guy, and he can’t remember the last time he was this upset.

“Yeah,” he says, and gets up from the table. “Maybe that would have been better.” Without waiting for a reaction from Thomas – there probably won’t be one, anyway – he stomps out of the kitchen, and out the door, and he’s halfway down the block before he realizes he actually has nowhere to go.

This is a right mess.

Ranjit flops down on the curb and takes a deep breath. He hasn’t meditated in a while and it would probably do him good. But when he tries to clear his mind of material concerns, all he can see is Thomas’ face, blanketed with despair.

Clearly he’s the wrong person for this Calling. Thomas doesn’t want him there, there’s too much they don’t know about each other, and he’s not doing any good that he can see. Why stay and watch someone’s life fall apart when he can’t do a thing to help them?

He’s not really angry at Thomas. Maybe a little, but when he thinks about it some more, most of the anger is at himself, for being aware that he has to be careful not to fall in love with Thomas and then going ahead and doing it anyway. And at his stupid Gift, for letting him talk with Thomas without communicating anything he really means to say.

***

After recovering from that day in the field, Thomas made a point of avoiding Ranjit even more than he had been already. Ranjit wasn’t sure why – maybe he resented him for seeing his moment of weakness? – but he was grateful for it. More time with Thomas was the last thing he needed.

Only as he was getting into the car to go to the airport did Thomas say a word to him.

“You’re leaving.”

“Yeah,” replied Ranjit, with a sheepish little grin. “I’m off to the training centre in Cape Town. They need my Gift to teach a group from Botswana.” ‘Need’ was an exaggeration, of course, but they really had asked for him, and he was happy to go. “How much longer are you staying here?”

Thomas shrugged. “I don’t know. Gil says they might need me to make rain once or twice more.”

“You did a great job.” Of course, it was too late for most of the crops, but the local rivers were running again, and wildlife was returning to the area. People had potable water again. Things were looking up.

“Thanks.”

“And you’re feeling better, right? No dizziness?”

“None.”

“That’s great. I’m glad.”

He had planned to say something more. To tell Thomas that he needed to let other people into his life, take better care of himself. Whatever reason he had for trying to be alone, it wasn’t worth it. He was only hurting himself. What the guy really needed was a friend.

But he wasn’t going to volunteer to be that friend, knowing what would happen in the long run. Ranjit had spent enough energy pining after unavailable men to last a lifetime.

The driver gave a brief honk. “I’d better get going,” he said.

“I guess so.”

“…Okay.”

When he tried to shake Thomas’ hand, Thomas flinched away, then looked slightly horrified. “I’m sorry, I…” he stammered.

“No, no worries.” Ranjit hadn’t told Thomas he was gay, but he didn’t really try to keep it a secret, and word got around. It wasn’t the first time another Association member had refused to touch him because of it. He couldn’t say it didn’t hurt, but he was used to it. “…Take care, okay?”

Thomas nodded. “Goodbye.”

“See you around sometime,” replied Ranjit, secretly praying that, in fact, he would never see Thomas again.

***

Eventually his need for sleep overrides his pride, and he sneaks back into the house. He promises himself he’s not going to do anything stupid in the morning. He’ll apologize for getting mad last night, and then he’ll say goodbye, give Thomas his number on the off chance he wants to contact him. Then he’ll go back to Paris, let Amel know he failed in his Calling, and go see the Louvre or something.

When he wakes up the next morning, Doriane is sitting in the chair opposite him, smoking her usual after-breakfast cigarette.

“You know he was raised by his grandparents?” she remarks, as if they’re in the middle of a conversation. “Explains a lot, doesn’t it? He respected them immensely. They’re both dead now. They were from the old guard – very strict, very thou-shalt-not.”

Ranjit sits up, smoothing down his wrinkled shirt. “Um. Good morning.”

“So something happened last night?” Doriane’s tone is nonchalant, a little bit cool. “I only ask because Thomas looks more pathetic than ever. I didn’t even think that possible.”

“I lost my temper. We didn’t fight, but…” Ranjit sighs. “It’s time for me to leave, I think. Thank you for your hospitality.”

“My pleasure.”

“…Mme Cloutier.” All of a sudden, a question comes into Ranjit’s head. In all this time he’d never thought to ask it. “How did Thomas come to work for you?”

She gives him a smug kind of smile. “I have a son named Henri Lautrec. He works at the Centre in Paris.”

“Henri is your son? So you knew about the Association already?”

“A little, just a little. In any case, Henri knew I was looking for some help around the house, and he suggested someone he knew… if you can believe it, Thomas was doing worse then than he was when you first came here. He never slept, he was living in a dive, drinking. Henri was worried he was going to start doing drugs and end up on the street. So Henri gave him my number, and I persuaded him to come work for me.”

“You persuaded him?” Ranjit knows how stupid he sounds, but he can’t imagine this conversation taking place. Doriane demands, she doesn’t persuade. “How?”

“Oh, he didn’t want to, at first. You know how he is. I had to turn it around, convince him that I was a bitch and working for me would be a form of penance. I told him I didn’t care that he intended to ruin his life as long as he put dinner on the table.”

“So you lied to him.”

“No, it was the truth. Mostly.”

“…I see.”

After a long pause, Doriane shrugs her bony shoulders. “Thomas is a wreck. I understand why you would want to give up, and you have a right to do so.” Then her expression becomes sour, and she blows a wisp of smoke almost directly into his face. “But if you leave now, without finishing what you’ve started, he’s going to suffer all the more.”

Ranjit buries his head in his hands. “I know. But what can I do? I’ve asked him what happened and he couldn’t tell me. He’s opened up to me a lot – for him, anyway – but it still hasn’t helped me figure out what made him lose his faith. And without knowing that, how can I talk to him about it?”

“As far as I can tell,” says Doriane, “you have been talking to him. And I think you’ve been having more effect than you imagine. He’s in the back, in the garden.”

Ranjit gets up off the couch. “Thanks,” he says, quietly.

“Be careful,” replies Doriane. Of what, he isn’t sure and doesn’t ask.

Thomas is, in fact, crouched over the garden plot, staring at the wilting flowers with something like despair in his eyes. “What did I say to you last night?” he asks. Actually, it’s barely a question. Clearly he knows, or suspects, and hopes he’s wrong.

Ranjit shakes his head. “It doesn’t matter.”

“Please tell me.”

“…You said you wish you’d never met me.”

Thomas buries his head in his hands. “Of course I did,” he whispers.

“Look,” says Ranjit, hesitantly, “I guess you don’t like me that much. But the way you’re living right now isn’t good for you. It doesn’t matter to me if you don’t come back to the Association. I wouldn’t even care about your Gift, if you didn’t seem so unhappy about it. I just want you to be happy. I want to understand what happened to you -”

“It was you.”

“…What?”

Thomas looks up at him, utterly miserable. “It was you,” he repeats. “Do you remember when I made it rain? And you brought me back to the project? Because I do. That’s what started it. I can’t forget. I… your hands…” He shudders. “When you touched me, I liked it too much. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. About you. I always knew there was something wrong with me, but I’d been able to ignore it, or fight it. And then I met you and I couldn’t anymore. You were just… you were funny, and you were kind to me, even when I was trying to isolate myself from everyone. Before I knew it, I was…

“I tried to fix things. I went to confession, and I told the priest I had…” Thomas screws up his face as though he can barely stand to say it – “…lustful thoughts… towards another man. I did penance and I thought that was the end of it. But when Gil asked me to make rain, I couldn’t do it. And I haven’t been able to since.

“They told me I could take some time off to think. I tried everything to get you off my mind. I even… I thought if I knew what it was like, maybe it would be easier to let go. But afterwards, I started wondering why it was so wrong for me to have feelings for another man. Why God would take away my Gift for something that didn’t hurt anyone. And then I thought maybe all my fighting had been in vain, and God didn’t even exist. But Gifts, and Callings… they have to come from somewhere, right?

“The more I thought about it, the more I despaired. I wanted to stop thinking entirely. I thought the drinking would help… and it went downhill from there.” Thomas spreads his arms helplessly. “That’s what happened to me.”

Throughout this confession, Ranjit struggles not to show how stunned he is. “Thomas,” he says weakly. “I had no idea.” Then he catches himself. “That sounds stupid. I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay,” replies Thomas, just as hesitant. “You’re the first person to know any of this. I just don’t know what to think. That’s all.”

Ranjit has to think for a long time before he speaks again.

“I don’t know much about your faith. Honestly, I don’t know if your God exists or not. But if he does… maybe he’s just different from what you believed. If the only thing that doesn’t make sense is that God would punish you for loving another man, maybe that part is wrong, and the rest is right.”

“No.” Thomas shakes his head. “That’s too easy.”

“Why? I mean, if you believe God gives us all our Gifts… well, I’m gay, and I still have mine.”

“That’s different. I mean, you…” But Thomas stops, as though realizing that it’s not different at all. “I don’t know. Maybe Gifts have nothing to do with God.”

“Maybe. But that’s not the only answer. Can’t there be a God who loves you the way you are? Who doesn’t need you to change? Think about it, Thomas. And then try to use your Gift. It can’t hurt, can it? It can’t be worse than what you’re already going through.”

“It can, though,” replies Thomas. He sounds genuinely frightened. “What if it still doesn’t work? I’ll have nothing left.”

“If it doesn’t work, we’ll try something else.” Ranjit laughs uncomfortably. “We’ll find a way. But if it does work… Think. Come on, Thomas. Just try it.”

Thomas closes his eyes.

What follows is one of the strangest things Ranjit has ever seen. In the totally clear sky, a tiny grey cloud gathers itself together directly over Doriane’s house. Rain begins to fall – not by the buckets, like in Sofala, but gently. Drop by drop the garden plot darkens with water. It may be his imagination, but the daisies seem to perk up.

There is no great moment of triumph this time. For a long moment Thomas just stares at the newly-wet plot of earth. “Well, now I feel stupid,” he says, at last, and for the first time since Ranjit has known him, he starts to laugh. Then, still laughing, he falls over backwards.

“Are you okay?” Ranjit scrambles to his side, terrified.

But Thomas nods. “I’m fine. This isn’t like last time, I just haven’t done it in a while, and I forgot… it feels good, you know.” A weird little smile drifts over his face, and his voice, while pleased, sounds shaky. “I missed feeling this way.”

“I’m sorry,” says Ranjit. There’s really no good way to finish that sentence. ‘Sorry I thought you hated me when you were just struggling with your own guilt.’ ‘Sorry you ended up almost destroying your life because you wanted me.’

“You have nothing to apologize for,” says Thomas, his voice still shaking slightly. “It’s true that at first I blamed you. But I realized a long time ago that was unfair. That day, it’s not as though you meant to… you were just trying to be a friend to me.”

“No, not exactly,” he says quietly, deciding that if Thomas doesn’t ask, if he’s not ready, then they’re not going to say any more about it.

Thomas looks uncertain. “Ranjit…?”

The look in his eyes ruins Ranjit’s plan immediately. He doesn’t know what he’s doing now. He just knows that he wants to kiss Thomas really, really badly, so he leans over and does it.

For a second nothing happens and he’s sure he’s made a terrible mistake. Then Thomas kisses back, opening his mouth, and everything is okay.

They go inside. There’s a note on the kitchen counter in a delicate, spidery handwriting. ‘Gone for a walk,’ it reads. But the words have been crossed out, and below them is written: ‘Gone to visit a friend.’

Thomas reads the note. Then he laughs. Ranjit doesn’t understand until he realizes this is the first time since he’s come here that Doriane Cloutier has left the house. He wonders if she has some sort of Gift of her own. Then he, too, starts to laugh.

They go up to the bedroom. Taking off Thomas’ shirt, Ranjit hesitates for a moment, until he reminds himself that this is nothing like last time. Thomas’ hair is slightly damp from the rain, but his clothes are dry and his skin his warm. When Ranjit’s hand brushes a nipple he shivers.

“Tell me what you want,” he says, forcing his hands to stop on the fly of Thomas’ jeans.

Thomas’ arms circle around his waist. “Ranjit,” he whispers in his ear. “Fuck me?”

For a second he’s absolutely convinced that his Gift has broken. There’s no way Thomas really just said those words. Thomas looks desperate, not seductive. But then it occurs to him that those words might be the only way he knows how to ask.

“I… yes,” he manages. And then, after a moment’s reflection, “I don’t have a rubber. But we could… um, do you have any lube?”

Thomas nods and reaches into his bedside drawer for a jar of Vaseline. Ranjit almost makes a joke about this, but the look on Thomas’ face is so serious he can’t bring himself to do it. Instead, he pulls down his own pants, slicking his erection.

“Should I…” says Thomas, and gestures to the bed.

“Yeah.”

When he slides his cock between Thomas’ thighs, Thomas makes a surprised little sound. Then Ranjit reaches around to stroke Thomas’ erection, thrusting into the cleft, grateful that he doesn’t have to go slowly.

Thomas is almost silent until just before he comes. “I love you,” he whimpers into the pillow, so muffled that Ranjit almost misses it. “I love you, I… oh…”

With a groan, Ranjit comes too, making a mess of the sheets. They stay like that for a moment, both breathing heavily. Then Ranjit flops over to lie on the bed, wrapping his arms around Thomas. He dozes off for a while, and the next thing he experiences is the sound of his mobile going off in the corner of the room. He really, really doesn’t want to get it, but knowing that it might be something important, he leaves the bed regretfully and picks up. “Hello?”

“Ranjit,” says Amel on the other end. “How are things going?”

“Uh, good.” He glances at Thomas, who is watching him with a smile. “Very good.”

“I thought you’d be interested in knowing that Jeong Min-Young just came in again. He wants to join the Association.” He can almost hear the amused expression on her face. “His French seems to have improved a great deal.”

“Hey,” says Thomas, and Ranjit tunes her voice out. “Is that Mme Malik?” When Ranjit nods, he reaches out. “Can I talk with her for a second?”

“Oh. Um, yeah, of course.”

He passes the phone over, and Thomas clears his throat. “Hello, Mme Malik. It’s Thomas Girard. I know. Yes. If I came to the Centre… yes. Thank you. See you soon.” He turns the phone off.

“So you’re coming back?” asks Ranjit, carefully, as he climbs back onto the bed beside Thomas.

Thomas shrugs his shoulders. “No, I haven’t decided. I… still have a lot of questions. But I’d like to talk with them a bit. Maybe there’s something I can do to help without being on active duty…”

“That would probably be good.”

For a second Ranjit feels like he’s forgotten something. Then he remembers, and puts his arm around Thomas. “By the way. I love you, too.” Je t’aime aussi.

The smile that spreads over Thomas’ face is like the sun coming out from behind the clouds.

Author’s Notes



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