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elynross and astolat organized yuletide. I was assigned trascendenza, who requested a Web Shifters fic with Esen/Paul shippiness.

Title: Our Hands Keep Building
Author: voleuse
Fandom: Web Shifters trilogy [Julie E Czerneda]
Pairing: Paul Ragem/Esen-alit-Quar
Rating: PG
Disclaimer: Not mine.
Summary: Your name like a rabbit, like your feet, that turn away from me.
Notes: Set between the first two novels

In the washed-over sand, we
have to imagine our names were there, in
silver, your name like a rabbit

Sometimes, when Esen wasn't looking (as far as he could tell), Paul would watch her as she keyed information into her datapad. It was only at the office that he had this opportunity--elsewhere, and at home, her attention always fluttered back and forth, too quick and too perceptive to allow for a close study.

She had explained her nature to him, over and again, but he couldn't help watching the lines of her body, wondering if he would be able to catch that telltale glimpse of blue. He'd seen her shift before, often enough that he could picture that shimmer-slip of fluidity as she changed. Even when he expected her change, though, he couldn't predict it, even with warning.

Some part of him--an atavistic, trembling fragment of his brain--believed there should be some sign of what she was, some telltale warning that would allow mere humans time to flee.

But when she looked up, her expression curious or annoyed, she'd just be his Esen.

Sometimes, Paul found it comforting.

the sun which hardens us, our hair
like field straw, but it is our soft grass,
we nest in it and each other.

Paul wondered, always, whether Esen had played the human. She seemed familiar with the form, but then again, after her extended time as her Ketself, she would have achieved a certain intimacy with the human body.

After a long day at work, he sprawled on the floor of the front room, and Esen transformed into her Ketself and soothed the stress of the day from his muscles. The floor was cool against his skin, even through the pile of rugs he had layered underneath him.

Esen hummed, a tuneless song, as her fingers traced the lines of his ribs, pressed into the knots Paul had collected throughout the day. He muffled his groans against the back of his wrist, and allowed himself a moment to wish.

And our hands
keep building, like a stonemason sleeping: his
buildings he has never been in want his hands

Paul eased into the house, arms full of bottled intoxicants. They were sweet and they were sharp, and sour and bitter and all the flavors between. Three were poisonous to humans, but beloved to a handful of Esen's favorite forms.

He managed to break only one bottle, and thankfully it wasn't the Scotch that had cost him a third of the total bill. He lined the bottles on the kitchen counter, in front of the window, and hoped Esen would see his work before darkness fully fell.

Feet shuffled behind him, and he turned to find Esen as her Lanivarian self. He quelled, as always, the urge to reach out, to tangle his fingers in her scruff. (She didn't mind it, or the bruising of her dignity, but he felt it a too-compelling temptation.) She tilted her chin up and left, a gesture he had learned meant pleased surprise. He returned his attention to the presentation of bottles, and together they watched in silence as the dying light painted novas against the tile of the floor.

She cleared her throat in an awkward cough. "I hope you don't plan to drink those all."

"Three of them are for you." Paul laughed at her expression. "Not all at once, Esen."

She breathed out, a sigh that sounded almost like panting. "But maybe a glass?"

He held a glass up, and broke the seal of the closest bottle a moment before she blurted out its name.

And that night, they sat in front of the embers of a fire. They talked about all the things they missed, but never once did they mention home.

And you are here, now with pearls in your
hair, and I want to dive to find you
and carry your pearls up to air

At her base, at the very core of her existence, Esen was not unlike Death.

Paul knew this, and he accepted it. He also railed against it, against the basic fear of annihilation sentient beings faced, because the fear bound Esen, bound him. He lived with a being composed of wonders, and the largest part of his life was a lie.

He wanted his family to know Esen. He wanted their friends to see how amazing she was, truly. He wanted to proclaim who she was--not what she was, but who--and he couldn't, because she had no face, and every face possible.

At home, he found Esen in her Ketself, reading a book of folklore in Braille. He leaned over the back of her chair and squinted at the pages, a half-remembered alphabet emerging from the depths of his memory. He peered at the words, obscured by her roving fingers, and caught a glimpse of the story.

Angel transformed, angel devoured.

"It's about you," he observed.

"It's about Ersh," she corrected.

The thing they did not say: To the universe, there was no difference.

And I cannot think of
a letter that is not in your name.

Paul missed exploration every day. He missed being the first contact, having that first encounter. He missed seeing new skies, parsing new customs, and touching his tongue to new drinks that might, or might not, make him sick.

While Esen was worth a lifetime of exploration, he found himself consumed by the centuries of experience she almost never evinced. It was easy, much too easy, to forget her age in the face of her ebullience, and her sometimes-uncannny ability to trip, knock, and otherwise tip over every other object she passed.

Then, he would talk shop with her, marvel at some artifact discovered on a barren planet, or speculate on an emerging market for wine, and she would ramble, off-hand, a list of things nobody except a nigh-immortal shapeshifter could know. Physiology of extinct plants that influenced cultivation, or the philosophy of glazing that affected the shape of the potsherds.

And she would only notice what she was doing when his silence lasted too long. She would trail off, look up, and shrug.

Paul would warn her to be careful of sharing too much with the wrong people. He never, not once, told her he might be one of them.

And I cannot dream of your eyes,
without them, right now, looking closely into mine.

Esen needed sleep more than Paul did, at least in most of her selves. She slept deeply, and long, her snores spilling out of her bedroom and into the hallway.

Once, Paul paused outside her doorway, and wondered if he could ever dare ask her. Then, he bolstered his courage, and walked away.


A/N: Title, summary, and headings adapted from Ed Kleinschmidt's Possibilities of Love. Link courtesy of breathe_poetry.

Originally archived here.


( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
Jan. 5th, 2008 12:29 am (UTC)
Love the inner dialogue.
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )

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