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Simple/The Meaning of the Sea

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DISCLAIMER: Not mine. But they were far too pretty just to leave lying around.
All applicable kudos to John Christopher and the BBC.

TITLE:             Simple/The Meaning of the Sea
AUTHOR:       kel
FANDOM:      The Tripods
PAIRING:       Will/Beanpole
RATING:       R
CHRONO:     Between TV episodes 1.3 (The English Channel - July, 2089 A.D.)
and 1.4 (France - July, 2089 A.D.) In other words, immediately after Beanpole frees Will and Henry.
Using TV version of events rather than the book.

ARCHIVE:      Beautiful Mad Boy, Britslash, Fabulae, Rarelash

SUMMARY:    But now you’re here; brighten my northern sky.
FEEDBACK:   Of any and all stripes welcome – to bessie AT goldweb.com.au.
THANKS TO:  Steve Wyss for services rendered ^_^ and Rie for beta as always!

COMMENTS:  Wanted Beanpole smut. Wasn’t any! Hate that.
I’m mixing and matching canons a bit to suit myself here.
Doesn’t affect anything too crucial, other than the boys’ ages.
The books put Capping (and the legal age of manhood) at thirteen;
while the TV adaptation doesn’t specify, Beanpole, the eldest of the trio, “has seventeen”;
Will and Henry are a little under sixteen.
French by tranniebot and good intention; all cockups are mine and
all corrections very, very welcome.

========================

Simple/The Meaning of the Sea
by kel

========================

“From time to time I met Jack, and we exchanged words that meant
nothing.  His manner to me was amiable and distant: it carried the
hint of a friendship suspended, a suggestion that he was waiting on
the far side of a gulf which in due course I would cross, and that
then everything would be as it had been before.  This did not
comfort me, though, for the person I missed was the old Jack, and
he was gone for ever.  As I would be?”

  -- The White Mountains, John Christopher

France, July 2089 A.D.

It is a day of easy walking, picking their way among the rocks and
goat-tracks that line the coast.  Jean-Paul knows this area well,
and those who patrol it.  The Black Guards will expect the English
runaways to head inland or steal back to sea, and concentrate their
search elsewhere.   There’s no reason to assume that Jean-Paul is
with them.  He’s considered an eccentric and vaguely troublesome
boy, and his guardians are content to let him vanish for days at a
time.  It will be some time before he is missed.

They see no-one, never have to rush or hide.  The route is
pleasant, and accommodates their tiredness.  Neither Will nor Henry
have slept for nearly two days now, not since before they boarded
the Orion.   Jean-Paul is well aware of this, and guides them
patiently to where the ground is firm before bounding up or down
surrounding dunes with puppyish fervour.  He seems fascinated by
the tiny differences in the tracks they each leave in the fine
white sand, and shows them ways to hide from any in-shore patrols
that happen by.   He is in the habit of camping here himself, he
says, and not wanting to be found.

Jean-Paul says a lot, all things considered, something Will
suspects is not usual for him despite his clearly formidable
intelligence.  He seems grateful for company, taking childishly
simple  delight in being listened to.   It encourages comradeship.
Will already thinks of him as Beanpole, and as a friend.  He has
adopted Henry’s half-insulting nickname with good humour, although
Will senses an instinctive diplomacy at work rather than any
fondness for it.   His companions haven’t taken to each other yet.
Henry’s constant questions tend to the intrusive, and while
Beanpole answers agreeably enough there is at times a distance in
his voice.   It sits oddly with his smile, which is shy and young.
Every time Will looks up, there it is; brilliant and doubling in
intensity if he should ask questions of his own.

He’s certainly more guarded with Henry, thinks Will.  But then
Henry is wary, and acutely conscious of the limitations of his
understanding in this new land.  He takes personally the
disadvantage at which they operate, and it makes him sharp and
difficult to deal with.

Will knows he should help to smooth things over, but he can’t quite
summon the energy.  The excitement of their flight has caught up
with him at last, and he spends much of the day lagging behind and
thinking carefully of nothing, enjoying the play of sun on his skin
and Beanpole’s soothing, oddly deep tones in the background.  The
words themselves flow by, unheeded and strangely musical.
Beanpole speaks in carefully measured bubbles of borrowed language,
experimenting, playing, accepting corrections with pleasure.   Will
had never imagined that words could sound so foreign, so alive.

Then again Will had never imagined there were other languages to
learn.

He knows he should listen properly.  Beanpole’s a valuable addition
to the company, not just because he knows what is usual here, but
because his expectations are different.  He takes as read the
notion of Man as something once creative and free, and sees
possibilities, makes connections in a way the others can’t.

Rambling and preoccupied and madly beautiful in his negligently
assembled clothes, Beanpole verges on the Vagrant in many ways.
It’s clear he’s accustomed to coming and going as he pleases, that
he is not cared for in any way that Will understands the term.
Will cannot imagine a home without tender supervision.  Beanpole
revels in it.

In his company Will begins, for the first time, to believe that
“free” is possible.

 

=== * ===

 

Around four, Beanpole suggests they stop and make camp.  They have
been walking since dawn, and grow short-tempered and desperately in
need of rest.   Tomorrow’s journey will be harder and more
dangerous, as they must strike inland and skirt several scattered
towns.

He finds them a small hollow formed by stones bigger than Will has
ever seen, easily half the size of a house.   Warmed by the

afternoon sun, they protect against detection and the sea breeze.
The entrance is framed by whispering tussocks of spiky grass and
strange russet flowers that show brilliantly against the ocean, now
calm and blue and wildly at odds with the savage grey beast that
carried them to France.

It is a pretty, alien place, and perfect for their needs.  A slight
depression to one side makes a safe place for fires, and Beanpole
assures them the thick drifts of soft white sand rising at the back
will make a comfortable bed.  There is an overgrown creek, not five
minutes back the way they came, for bathing and drinking.

Henry’s oscillatory temper isn’t improved by sunburn, or Will
asking Beanpole to sort out the rations.   Overlooked and ignored,
he takes refuge in showing off,  jumping stupidly between the rocks
and kicking things.  He hurts himself, of course, and stalks
angrily away in search of firewood, refusing, with curt
unpleasantries,  Beanpole’s offer of help.

The others are left to replenish their water and explore.
Following the creek to the sea’s edge, Will sees Tripods on the
horizon, tiny silver spiders skimming along the surface of the
ocean at incredible speeds.  They disappear from view fast enough,
but the boys decide not to risk lighting a fire until after dark.

There’s no real need to worry, says Beanpole, as the area attracts
Vagrants, and campfires are not unusual.  But it’s best to wait
until the smoke cannot be seen, just in case.

Will takes the chance to strip and soak his clothes.  While a day
in the sun has robbed them of the worst of their smell, they still
reek of the fishing town’s wastewater.  And under that, the grime
of two days’ fearful walking and the taint of chained Vagrants in
the Orion’s hold.  That, more than anything, haunts him and he
wants it gone.

Beanpole clearly approves, making faces and staying well upstream.
He leaves his own clothes dry — they were fresh that morning, and
will bear a good few days of dirt yet — but wades with Will to the
mouth of the creek, and encourages him to join him in swimming a
little.  It makes for good sleep, he says.  And appetite.

That’s certainly true, even though the most Will has the energy to
do is splash about.  Beanpole, his impossibly thin body brillant
white against the waves, seems inexhaustible; he keeps his
lunettes on and disappears underwater for minutes at a time,
surfacing far too far away, preoccupied and peering at whatever
things he has managed to salvage from the sea bottom.  Any
exhortation to take care simply drives him further out, and Will
gives up very quickly.

By the time they get back, they’re too hungry to wait for Henry,
and in any case his surliness is a powerful disincentive.  He’s
been busy, it seems; a pile of serviceable firewood rests outside
the entrance, and his wet clothes are draped across the rocks, but
he clearly has no desire to be with them.  They prepare a simple
meal, having only bread, salt beef and a strange, smoky cheese
quite unlike anything Will’s mother makes; but tempered with
Beanpole’s stolen wine and a little sweet water it is pleasant
enough.

Anything would taste pleasant here, sitting shoulder to shoulder
with their backs against the still-warm rocks and the darkly golden
rays of the dying sun on their faces.  Will, his dark fringe
ruffled by the breeze and his clothes clean and dry, relaxes for
the first time in days.   He realises he can hear Henry somewhere
close, swearing.  Or what passes for swearing in Wherton, at any
rate.  What was shocking a week ago seems quaint and harmless now.
The language of Captain Curtis’ men was a revelation.   Even
Beanpole knows worse words, and what they mean.  Not for the first
time Will marvels at how sheltered they have been, how tiny his
world has been revealed to be.  At how much more there is to
everything.

Jack was right, he thinks.  Jack was absolutely right.  And  Will
is suddenly, violently glad to be here, come what may.  Aware of
the instant and his contentment with it: with the sand warm against
his legs, and the pleasant mingling of ocean and flowers and young
men’s sweat on the breeze.

He smiles, warmly and brilliantly, without thinking, and becomes
aware that Beanpole is watching him with a smile of his own.

Beanpole nudges him gently.  “All is well, Will Parker?”

“All is very well, Beanpole,” he says, and means it.  “I... we’ve
come a long way, today.”  On impulse he reaches out, offers his
hand in a gesture free of formality.  “Thank you.”

Beanpole clasps it, grinning warmly.

“I have... I am happy that you permit me to travel with you.”
His thick curls, dark and newly dried, are caught in the crazy
metal roundels of his homemade lunettes, and he brushes them
away from his face with sandy fingers.   “Often I have thought this
is a necessary thing.  For me.”

“Why didn’t you go before?”

“I have ...reasons.  But I cannot escape the Cap much longer.  But
where, you see?  All places seemed the same.  Perhaps I would have
come across the sea, to England, in a boat.  To see this Wherton of
yours.”

Will laughs.  “You’d have found it very boring.  Hardly any people,
and no books.”

Beanpole makes a face.  “I know.  Your English sailors do not read.
It disappoints me, and makes them very dull for speaking.  Do you
miss them, the people?”

Will wants to say yes, but it’s not as true as he’d like it to be.
“In a way.“

Beanpole nods to himself, gently.  “No friends remain?  Non, of
course.  Henri is here.  He is with you.”

Henry.  Isn’t he just.”

“Henree.  Of course.  I will apologise. “  Beanpole begins to tidy
away the remnants of their meal.   “It is good you travel
together.”    He hesitates, as if unsure of  whether to speak.
“You and Henri... Henree...  you are close?”

“I wouldn’t say that.  He’s... well, he’s family.   I’ve known him
all my life.  But...“

“There is not friendship?”  There is a note of surprise in
Beanpole’s voice.

“No.  I mean... we are friends now.  We have to be.  I like him
better than I did, at home.”

“And he grows to like you also.”  Beanpole shrugs.  “Of me he is
not yet so fond.”

“You mustn’t take it personally.  Henry’s just... Henry.  He’s like
that.  It’s worse here, that’s all.  Give him time, he’ll be fine.
It’s not you.”

“Oh, but it is.  He has suspicion of me,” says Beanpole, calmly.
Stretching out one long leg, he knocks his foot gently against
Will’s.  “Il a raison.  It is not good to trust so much as you,
Will.”

Will closes his eyes and leans back against the sea wall.
“Perhaps.”  Faintly, very faintly, he can hear Henry stamping about
behind the rocks.  He imagines him kicking stones and sulking.
Henry’s always sulking about something.  “But after everything
you’ve done for us... he shouldn’t be so rude.”

Beanpole laughs, and re-wraps the rest of their provisions.  “He
protects you, that is all.  I am... I am the stranger.  It is hard
for him that I take your attention.”

“Oh, rubbish.  He’s probably just homesick.  He doesn’t like
change.  He probably wishes we’d stayed in England.”

“He does not fear the Tripods?”

“Of course he does.  But... Oh, I don’t know.  Henry likes things
to be simple.  Running away isn’t simple.  Being here isn’t
simple.”

“Capping is simple.”

“Perhaps.”

“Perhaps he would not lose so much as you,” says Beanpole, lightly.
And something in his voice makes Will think of  Jack, newly shaven
and wielding his axe in the afternoon sun.   He looks over, holds
the Frenchman’s gaze.

“I don’t understand.”

“He is here because you are here.  Vous êtes des amis.  If you
are caught, if you are Capped, you are Capped together.  It is a
good end, for him.”

 “Good?  How can it be good, for anyone?  Don’t talk nonsense.”

“It is not nonsense,” says Beanpole, sharply.  He looks out to sea,
his eyes hidden behind glowing gold reflections of the setting sun.
“There is someone.  Of my age, a little more.  I know him from the
tavern.  He has much love for me.  But since le Calotte...

Will looks away, alarmed at this sudden exposure to something
private.  It’s not done, to talk about caring for people when you
are young.  Plenty of time for that when you’re Ca--.  He watches
Beanpole’s fingers twisting the provisions bag, knotting and re-
knotting the cord.

Different expectations.

“You miss him?” he asks, curious despite himself.  It seems a safe
enough question.

Beanpole nods, silently.

“We talk, we drink, we are... together.  Happy.  Then he has the
Cap, and it seems the same.  But when I kiss him... it is not.
Il m’a assommé.“

Will starts, feeling again the burn of Jack’s hand across his face,
the splintered log under his back and the sun, always the sun,
shining on Jack’s Cap as he walked away.   He reaches out, squeezes
Beanpole’s shoulder without thinking.

“Jean-Paul...”

C’est normal.”  Beanpole’s fingers close around Will’s,
briefly, then let go, his voice old with emotion, catalogued and
filed.  “I see this many times.  He also.  We knew.  This is
possible, this is not possible.  But he thinks he has stronger.
Is stronger.”

“Maybe... maybe he was,” says Will, uncomfortable.  “Maybe he...”

“Maybe what?  Maybe it is not the Cap?”  Beanpole stands up,
abruptly, turns away.  “That is what Henri would say.  That is
simple.”

No, thinks Will.  Henry would call me stupid, and ask why I want to
believe that Jack chose to do what he did.  That his mind was still
his own.

He stands up, slowly, wanting to reach out to Beanpole, a tense and
graceful silhouette against the roseate sky.  But Henry is visible
now, walking back along the sand toward them.  Will lowers his
hand, contents himself with the barest brush of the back of his
fingers against the roughness of Beanpole’s overshirt.  In any
case, he hasn’t earned the right to offer comfort.

“It is... not simple, to feel this.  Not usual.”

He wonders what it says about him, that this is still a question
after Ozymandius.  Beanpole laughs bitterly, but turns back to face
Will with an oddly adult kindness in his face.  “It is usual for
me, Will.  And others.  Our village is not so small as yours.
There are many strangers, many customs.  It is understood, des
caprices.  On les surmontera.

Head to one side, his hair glowing redly in the dying sun, he
studies Will.  “The Cap cures this, they say.  I think you know
this.”

“I don’t know anything.”

“But you have a friend, yes?  Someone who is Capped, and forgets
you.  Henree says.”

Will pales.  “It’s none of Henry’s business.  Or yours.”

“It is true, then.”

He can’t meet Beanpole’s eyes.  “It might have happened anyway.
People change.”

He’s never believed it less.  It makes him angry, not to be alone
in this.

“The Cap takes one’s curiousness and one’s freedom.  Yes?”

“Curiosity.  You mean curiosity. Not curiousness.”

Beanpole throws the food bag to the ground with unexpected force.
“Do not tell me what I mean, Will Parker.”  He takes Will’s arm,
roughly, and pushes back the sleeve to show the Watch.  “Listen
well.  If men make such things, and the Capped do not, you say to
make these things is natural, and the Tripods have taken it away.
If men make books, and the Capped do not, you say it is the Tripods
that stop them.  But if men feel such things... if you feel such
things, and the Capped do not...”

His voice rises in volume, and Henry, alarmed, quickens his pace
towards them.  Will waves him away angrily, taking Beanpole’s arm
with more force than he means to and dragging him back to sit down
in the sand.  Once they’re out of sight, Beanpole stops resisting,
seems to fold in on himself somehow.  Will sits beside him, and
looks away until he’s pulled himself together.  Until they both
have.

“It matters, Will.”

Beanpole’s voice is muffled; he sits with his long legs drawn up
and his head buried in his arms.  Grains of sand cling to his
tangled curls, and it seems the most natural thing in the world for
Will to reach out and brush them away.

The first thing that he’d done, when Beanpole crouched beside them
in the jail and offered them hope, was to reach out and run his
fingers through his hair.  Check he wasn’t Capped.

He hadn’t needed to.  He’d known he wasn’t, the minute their eyes
met.

“I know,” he says quietly, after a while.

He’s missed the feel of hair under his fingers, more than anything
else.  On impulse, he pulls the Frenchman close against him, and
they sit quietly as the sun goes down; Will gently stroking
Beanpole’s hair until his breathing returns to normal and it’s too
dark to see if he’s been crying.  It doesn’t seem likely; the
sadness in him is too worn for obvious display.  Will’s is raw and
shining, but he refuses to let it master him.  Better kept under
the skin.  It gives him something to fight for.

“I know,” he says again.   “And you’re right.  It’s true.”  He
turns and reaches for the bottle of wine and sees Henry standing
behind them, dressed now, but hesitant and unwilling to intrude.
He can’t keep a touch of acid from his voice.  “I didn’t think
anyone knew.  They weren’t supposed to.”

“So. Henree knows you better than you think.”

“He still had no bloody right to tell you,” says Will, steadily,
holding his cousin’s gaze.  Henry shrugs, as apologetically as
Henry gets, and crouches to make space for a fire in the centre of
the hollow.  The temperature has dropped noticeably, and they’ll
soon be unable to see.

“He did not,” says Beanpole, not quite too quickly, and straightens
up, pushing his hair back from his face.  “I make answers of my own
from what he does not say.  You are a person of rules, Will.  Pas
fâcheux
.  You do not run without reason.”

Will stands up, suddenly desperate for something to do, something
physical.  Useful.  He busies himself bringing over kindling for
Henry, breaking sticks and taking cover in the noise.  In missing
the warmth of Beanpole’s body against his.

“He was my best friend.”

And nothing more, until a week before the Capping.  Years and years
of simple secrets, of comradeship and ordinary mischief folded in,
took on peculiar shapes, the night that Jack had talked about the
works of men, and said he’d rather be a Vagrant.  The night he’d
holed up in his den and roasted rabbit and asked Will to stay, in a
small voice at once as unlike Jack as possible, and more truly him
than anything he’d ever said.

And Will had stayed, and the next night, and the next, sneaking out
after curfew and back before dawn, learning and delighted in his
cousin’s arms.  The world had grown new corners, new colours, with
every kiss.  And he hadn’t for a moment thought that things would
change.

Jack had known.   Will hates him for it, sometimes, hates him for
that moment at the Feast when their eyes met at last and Jack had
smiled politely and turned back to the other adults.  It hurt more
than being pushed away, later, by a bemused someone with
permissible memories, someone who should have been Jack and wasn’t.

He’d never do that to anyone.  Better not to know.  But even
without ... that, without what they had become to each other, it
would have been enough to make him run.  It’s not something he
feels the need to explain.

“My best friend,” he says again.  Quietly.  And lets him go.

“I never liked him,” says Henry.

Will laughs, the noise somewhere between a choke and a sob, killing
the tears that threaten suddenly to rise.  He is suddenly,
irrationally grateful for Henry’s solid, irritating presence, and
punches his shoulder.  Not too hard.  “You never like anyone.”

“How would you know?”  Henry pulls a face and sits back, the fire
going nicely now.  “Is there any food left? Or did you two pig the
lot?”

Beanpole, composed now, brings over the provisions and the water,
and Henry takes them without complaint.  He even says thank-you,
which surely has to be a first.

The three of them settle around the fire, Beanpole choosing a place
between the others.  He shows Henry how to warm and flavour the
wine with certain leaves, and makes conversation.  Cooking, tea,
what the food is like in England.  Will closes his eyes and leaves
them to it, suddenly light-headed and very, very tired.

The others wake him a little later, in order to persuade him to go
to bed.  Henry has laid out blankets on the sand near the embers of
the fire; one to lie on, one to cover them.   Will staggers over,
sleepily, barely remembers to kick off his shoes before lying down.

He and Henry are used to sharing a bed.  Will’s parents took Henry
in upon the death of his mother and the living quarters in the
millhouse, although comfortable, were very small.  They could not
afford modesty or solitude,  but then neither had expected it.
Wherton is a place of large families and cold winters, and the
greatest gift to any guest is warmth.

Will drifts off to sleep vaguely aware that Beanpole has declined
to join them.  He is not offended; Jean-Paul is an only child, and
a solitary one.  He supposes he must find company of any kind
oppressive after a time, and it has been an awkward day in some
respects.

 

=== * ===

 

Will is woken later, sometime near dawn, he thinks, as the first
traces of dew are settling on the sand and unfamiliar birdcalls
sound from time to time.    He is not sure why he has roused, until
he feels something light moving on his face.  Sharing Henry’s
distrust of strange insects, he opens his eyes, and sees that
Beanpole has given in and joined them after all.  He sleeps curled
upon himself, his back to Will; and it is his hair, stirred by the
night winds and slightly damp, that is  tickling Will’s cheek.  His
face is turned away; he sleeps with one arm raised over his head,
as if for protection.  He seems barely to be breathing.

Henry, on Will’s other side, snores and snuffles as always, as
restless and unsatisfied in his dreams as he is in waking.  He is a
heavy sleeper, and tends to colonise any bed.  At least here, the
sand holds him in place.  Will raises himself on one elbow and
listens to the sound of waves, closer and more even than they were
during the day.  The moon is bright, but past its apex, and the
oblique light entering the hollow reflects softly from the stones.

Beside him, Beanpole stirs and rolls over, leaving his face

uncovered and his blanket several feet away.  Will can’t reach it,
so he carefully stretches his own over the Frenchman’s sleeping
body.  Even used to the climate here, he must be cold.

He can’t believe that Beanpole is so very much older, looking at
him now.  He seems far less formed, somehow, than those of his age
in Wherton.  But then he is a town boy, hiding with his books and
cleverness, not Capped and breaking himself in the fields.  A boy
who dissembles and smiles; who pesters sailors for words, and runs
down dunes with no regard for safety.

His face seems subtly wrong, somehow, without his “little moons”,
without the awkward sculpture of glass and wire distorting it.
Will can see the slight depression that its weight has left, the
little differences in skin colour and texture resulting from
routine wear.   He wonders if it is permanent, and reaches without
thinking to trace the lines under Jean-Paul’s eyes.  And once
there, to cup his face gently, run his fingers down to the corners
of his full mouth and back, tracing freckles, and the tiny briar
scratches garnered as they fought their way to water at the creek.

He has no sense of intrusion, doing this, and none develops when
Jean-Paul’s eyes open sleepily and struggle to focus.  He can see
the smile forming in them, brilliant, warm and shy, before it
escapes onto his face.  Before the hand that had shielded him,
minutes before, stretches out and strokes Will’s face in turn.

Will knows he’s going to draw him down and kiss him for precious
seconds before it happens; he has time to savour the smoke in his
hair, the salt on his skin, before Beanpole brings their lips
together.  He tastes of wine, more than anything, herbed and
sweetened, sour and salt at the same time, and kisses Will as Jack
did, open-mouthed and gently, with great seriousness.

Their bodies mould together, under the thin blanket; touching only
each other’s faces with their hands for a while, then Jean-Paul
running long fingers lightly under Will’s undone collar, pushing
him down and kissing the hollows of his neck and the skin above his
long, dark lashes.  Will rolls over, completely, pulls Beanpole’s
body over his.  The disparity in their heights is not so great,
like this, and there is give enough in his own form to accommodate
the other’s bony hips.

He knows what to expect, he thinks, but it is still a heartstop to
feel someone else’s hardness against his own, to be held and
wanted, and to want in return.  Physical desire is still new to
Will; he was never aware of it in himself until Jack gave it a
focus, and a name.  It seems right to him to share with someone who
has lost as he has.  It is something Jack would do.

He knows what Jack would have done next, and feels Beanpole smile
as he fumbles with the buttons on his fly.  The material is rough
under his fingers, and it makes him wish that his hands were a
little softer.  But it can’t be helped, and Jean-Paul doesn’t seem
to mind, starting at his touch with closed eyes and sharply indrawn
breath.  He presses hard into Will’s hand, his penis pliant and
strangely thin.  Different skin, different shape; Will wishes
suddenly to tear off the blanket, to study the geography of
Beanpole in the moonlight, the texture of his skin against the
sand.  But it is cold, and Henry is restless again, and he must
content himself with touch.

Beanpole, unlacing Will’s shirt, kisses his chest lingeringly;
mouth and fingers teasing together, giving purpose to his nipples
at last.  Will fights the urge to guide him downwards with
reluctance.  He has very little control over his own arousal, and
has found to his embarrassment he cannot contain it.  Too little
time to learn.  It’s both torture and relief when Jean-Paul pulls
away, kneels astride Will’s body breathing hard, his eyes wide and
unfocused.

“Have you... comment dire... oh!  a monter?”  He mimes
something awkwardly with his hands, hesitancy robbing the gestures
of any crudeness.  Will understands, he thinks, and shakes his
head.  He has seen the Vagrants, sometimes, unhappy and loud at sex
of varying kinds, but has never associated it with anything he
might do.

 “No.  I...”

“Sssh.”  Beanpole leans in and kisses him, gently.  “It is fine.
Je t'enseignerai plus tard, peut-être.”  He smiles, more
wickedly than Will had thought possible.  “Mais maintenant...

He reaches down and  loosens the fastenings on Will’s breeches,
pulls them down ungently over his hips, and takes him in his hand.
He brings their cocks together, encloses them and lowers his weight
a little, makes it easy to continue kissing with passion.  One hand
of Will’s is wrapped within Jean-Paul’s, the feel of silken fingers
over his somehow the most exciting part of anything.  The other
tangles hard in that long, dark hair, his arm half-trapped in his
loosened shirt.  All Will can do is pull him close, and so he does,
shuddering against him all too soon, and not quietly.

Beanpole is not far behind; he collapses, spent and grateful,
rolling slightly aside to spare Will his weight.  Needlessly,
because for all his height he is as light as a child, but it lets
Will free his arm, at least, and form a proper embrace.    They
lie, breathlessly, for some minutes, listening to the waves and
feeling each other’s bodies cool.   Will half-expects Jean-Paul to
pull away, and braces himself for it; after all, they are strangers
still, despite everything.  But he doesn’t, shifting instead to
rest his head next to Will’s, his hand on Will’s chest and one thin
leg drawn up and warm against his hip.  The blanket covering them
has fallen away, and the one on which they lie is crumpled and
uneven, leaving fine glazes of sand on their shoulders.

“It is nearly morning, I think.”

Beanpole is looking up, his eyes crazily off-true and ocean-calm.
Smiling.  Will wonders what it must be like, to have such eyes.
Vagrant eyes.

“Can you see?  Do you need your lunettes?”

Beanpole shakes his head, smiling.  “No.  I have happy like this.
Am happy.”   He knocks his head gently on Will’s shoulder.  “Am,
am, am
.  Oh... merde.  This is the hardest thing, Will. ‘Am’.
I will never remember.”

Will kisses his forehead, protectively, and pulls him closer.
“You’re doing wonderfully.”

“I am feeling wonderfully.”   Beanpole kisses the soft skin under
Will’s arm and peers up at him.  “This... I had not expected, Will.
I would like very much, encore.  But it is not a promise.  I do
not, now.  I think you understand.”

“Yes.”

Will nods, looking up at the sky.  The light has changed since he
awoke, and there are faint traces of pale gold cloud high, high
above.  He wonders what they look like to Beanpole.

“Is Henri to know, of this?”

Will twists involuntarily to look at his cousin, and is startled to
see that he is gone.  “I’d say he already does.”

Beanpole raises his head to see what Will’s looking at, then
relaxes.  “Is good, I think.  There should be no secrets, Will.”

“He’ll hate it.”

Non.  He will swear a little, and make sulk, and then we shall
be friends.  If I do not hurt you.”

“You think so?”

“I know it.  As do you.”

Beanpole’s tone brooks no contradiction.  He sits up, and dusts the
sand from his skin.

“I will find him, and talk.  Will you come?  It is time to rise, in
any case.”

“In a minute.  Look... Jean-Paul...”

 “Yes?”

“What happened to your friend... after?”

 

Beanpole retrieves his lunettes, disappearing gratefully behind
the lenses.  He holds himself a little taller when his eyes are
hidden, and for a moment Will thinks he has crossed a line, broken
some unspoken rule.  But then Beanpole takes his hand, gently, and
holds on.

“He sails, and sees the world.  And yours?”

 “Vagrant,” says Will, unhesitatingly.

They interlace their fingers, squeeze tightly, looking at each
other and the shape their lies make in the air.

One is a Black Guard now, and the other works in the Wherton
fields.  They cut wood, jail men, will serve the Tripods happily
until they die. But it can’t hurt to wish that it were otherwise.

The Capped can’t wish.  They can.  It matters.

 

=== coda  ===

 

Henry is walking along the beach, his broad, freckled face creased
with annoyance.  No-one gets up this early.  It’s ridiculous.

He supposes it’s his own fault, pushing them like that.  But it had
to be done.  Will’s off in cloud-cuckoo land half the time, and no
good to anyone.  He never has been.  Clever Will, dreamy Will,
always too busy being children with his best friend to see what was
going on.  It was left to Henry, big stupid angry Henry, to think
about the Tripods.  Although it amazes him there’s anything *to*
think about.

People get Capped, and come back different.  Simple.

Jack had known it, and done what he could to make Will see sense
before it was too late.  The cruelty of it bothers Henry, but not
overmuch; it worked, didn’t it?  Still, it’s a good thing
Ozymandius came along when he did.  Leave it to Will and he’d still
be sitting there, moping, next Capping Day.

He supposes he’ll go back in a while.  When they’ve finished
....whatever.  He doesn’t know, and he doesn’t want to.  He scowls.
You’d think they’d have the decency to wait a bit, or do it
somewhere else.  In English.

The waves are a lot closer to the rocks than they were the night
before, which worries him vaguely.  Beanpole explained about tides
while they were walking, and while it seemed to make sense at the
time, he can’t quite bring himself to trust the sea.  It’s too big,
and he can’t see what it’s *for*, what it *means*. But he likes the
feel of the water, running up over his feet, covering them with
sand and washing it away again.

Thank goodness for Beanpole.  He can put things together, give Will
someone to be responsible for.   And he’s practical, like Henry.
He can see what’s going on, fix things.

They understand each other.

Henry stretches, watches the others walking down the beach towards
him, the first faint glimmerings of sunlight behind them.   His
instincts tell him it’ll be a clear, fine day, comfortable for
walking.  So be it, then.  He’s tired, and cross, and he’ll believe
in the bloody White Mountains when he sees them; but for the moment
it makes sense to carry on.

 

=== © arjuna 2003 ===