Learning Legato

Prompt: ...his exact relationship with Ashen by pygmymuse. Pause the Sonata

Prompt: Maybe a bit of a teaser with the lead up to her happiness... by pygmymuse. Pause the Sonata


Liana Mir

Series Listing

16 — 02. Summer

When the Clock Strikes Midnight

16 — 02. Summer through 03. Autumn

Wake and Thrive

16 — 03. Autumn through 17 — 01. Spring

Its Own Absolution

16 — 03. Late Autumn

After the Grief

16 — 03. Late Autumn

Battery Acid

17 — 02. Summer

Accounting for Redemption

17 — 02. Summer

Counting Heartbeats

18 — 01. Spring

Song Between the Waking and the Dreaming

20 — 04. Winter

Echoes of Anchor Lost

21 — 01. Spring

Don’t Remind Me That It’s Over

21 — 02. Summer

Welcome

21— 02 Summer through 22 — 01 Spring

Name Me Another (or Glass Angel, Redux)

22 — 01. Spring

Glass Angel

22 — 01. Spring

Pause the Sonata

22 — 02. Summer

Without a Reason

22 — 03. Autumn

Learning Legato

23 — 02. Summer

Acceptable Cost

23 — 02. Summer

History Lesson on the Night Train

23 — 03. Autumn

Abyss Looking Back

23 — 03. Autumn

Collateral Damage

23 — 03. Autumn

Five Reasons I Love You

23 — 03. Autumn

Little Things

23 — 03. Autumn

Owning Beauty

23 — 04. Winter

Dream the Dance

23 — 04. Winter

Snow Day

24 — 02. Summer

As the River Breathes

AU 21 — 04. Winter

Normal written in coffee grounds

Learning Legato

Ashen had never thought she was normal.

Ashen was trained as a living weapon from her childhood, and now that she is free, understanding normal life—like coffee or love—is difficult at best. She turns to her mentor and her music to help her find the way.

22 — 03. Autumn
Kingdoms and Thorn Science Fiction
Short Story

“No. Smoother. Legato,” Red corrected Ashen’s playing. He was leaning over the ebony piano upright, talking her through her paces.

Ashen liked to come over to his house to practice. It was only by dint of his natural talent for music and her inexplicable love for it that she had ever passed her exams to become a piano tutor. As it was, she taught the young and wondered if she would ever master the notes as Red had.

Red shook his head and leaned forward, watching her hands intently. “Think of it like a sentence. Each note is a word, but if you think about it as a sentence, the notes will run smoothly one on top of the other.” Brief pause. “You’re smiling more.”

Ashen tried to do as he asked and imagine a musical phrase as a sentence, then stopped playing abruptly. “Smiling.” She blinked up at Red.

Red raised his eyebrows and nodded at the keys. “Play.” When her fingers found the keys again, then he answered, “Yes.”

From the time they were children, Ashen had never been very good at smiling. She was a genetically engineered child warrior with far too many practical bones for one body. He had been a late arrival, but he made it a personal mission in life to reach out to her, to get to know her and understand her, to help her understand the world—things like smiling. She had learned since then, to practice, but it was doubtful he was referencing her practice.

Knowing it was the only way to keep him talking—both of them took music very, very seriously—she kept playing as she asked him, frowning, “What do you mean?”

He shook his head. “Smoother,” he commanded. Brown eyes slid upward and took in hers. “You tell me. Try the next phrase.”

Multi-tasking should have been easier; her hand slipped a note changing phrases. She slowed down and played the transition again. Better. “I came to learn—not to play guessing games,” she replied curtly.

Red gave a single soundless chuckle. His mouth dimpled up more readily than hers. “You’re the only who knows why you’re happier. I’m just glad you are. Now, play it smoother. Play the whole phrase in your mind first, then play it on the piano. It’s one.”

One. Ashen frowned and focused and made many notes in sequence into a “one.” A kick and a step and a stance and a block could all be one, then so could music. As she played and Red’s criticisms subsided into a listening hum, she began to smile.

~

“So who is this Red anyway?” Pieter demanded as Ashen sat down across from him at the corner table in the outdoor café.

She had been meeting him at the Laregne for thirteen weeks now. Somehow she had thought that he would either lose interest in her eternal curiosity or that she would make enough sense of him to be able to brush him off. So far, that wasn’t happening. Instead, he was occupying her favored table instead of his, having a new flavor of coffee ready for her to try, steaming and right on time, and asking her more questions she didn’t know how to answer. Pieter was a reporter for the most heavily influential newspaper in the Thorn Republic, or had been when last she asked.

“Red Wolf,” Ashen said, arranging her purse on the spare third chair and drawing the coffee mug toward her, “is my leader.” She plucked up the mug and sniffed at it, taking in the strong aroma, the almost black color.

“You sure spend a lot of time with this leader,” Pieter grumbled.

Ashen paused and let her eyebrows come up. Jealousy? Interesting. She blew on the coffee, then sipped. A dark almost bitter brew with walnutty underlayers. She wrinkled her nose and set it down.

“You also never answer a question I don’t actually ask.”

He delivered this wryly, but seemed resigned enough to the truth of the statement. She let it lie and rested her hand on the table.

“What will you write of us?” she asked.

It bothered her that he wrote for the Thorn Republic, never mind that its own citizens were victims of its secret atrocities and that Pieter was certainly blameless of the blood and lives and captivities of her comrades and peers. It bothered her that he belonged to the nation she and hers had evicted from the western cities, the Kingdoms cities, and that she belonged to Bellyn, a city with some fifteen nations within its borders. His assignment was to cover the transition after the rebellion, from a unified Thorn Republic covering an entire continent to a whole swath of cities with hyper-local jurisdictions.

He shrugged, took a swallow from his own cooling brew. He squinted out over the city streets, not bothering to look up to take in the view of glass and brick towers and high buildings, sticking to what he knew—people, and shrugged again. “Each city has its own quality, you know. Like all these quarters and districts and ‘kingdoms’—as they like,”—he had never approved of the term—“are just parts of a bigger sum.”

“Words in a sentence,” she prodded.

He glanced over at her speculatively. “Maybe, but all saying the same sentence.”

She looked at him, looked at her city behind him and her coffee in front of him and wondered if thirteen cups of coffee made a sentence. “What is it saying?” She had no feel for poetry, and her only hold on music was its mathematical precision. Red could tell her what it meant, but Red wasn’t here.

Pieter studied her face as if it were a puzzle. “I’ll let you know when I figure it out.”

~

Her life had always belonged to a single focus—and Ashen had never been under any illusions. Her first memories were pure horror, neatly tucked away and never pulled out from the locked wardrobe she had hung them in. Ashen and every single other operative created by the Department were living weapons. Blanked of memories, special capabilities overlaid over their natural genes, and trained daily in combat, espionage, and worse, operatives had been the secret hand of the Thorn Republic. It didn’t make for much of a childhood.

Then came the rebellion and the kingdoms and Ashen had her own studio apartment now where she kept her own small piano, her own back balcony garden overlooking the lower streets, her own books and ideas. She walked in, frowning, and sat on the couch to look around her.

She had never known childhood, but she had also never known fear. She was afraid now because she didn’t understand these odd notes in herself, how discomfort and anger and hurt could mingle with exasperation and curiosity and interest for the same man. Pieter was a puzzle to her whose pieces did not fit, and he was making her a puzzle to herself.

Ashen stood and flicked on the music in the player, something classic and legato, notes forming whole phrases. She let the music wash over her. She looked for something under the math that made the beautiful and transcendent over it.

~

“Who is this Red anyway?”

Night found her in the chill wind on the doorstep of her leader’s house. She knocked in a familiar rapping pattern formulated a decade ago for knocking on safe houses and identifying herself as a team member. A few moments and Whisper opened the door. She was in her usual nightshirt and pants, not quite pajamas and not requiring a robe. Seeing Ashen, she simply stepped aside to let her in.

The two were as close as women on the same team would ever be automatically—they would kill and die for each other—but they had never shared hearts or made themselves vulnerable. Whisper did not ask questions, just turned and went into the bedroom to send out Red.

Red looked sleepy, not a good sign since he was usually gruff and curt when awakened, but right now, Ashen did not particularly care.

“I’ve been smiling more.” Question. Statement. The line between the two often blurred between them.

Red blinked twice, hand frozen on the way to rub the sleep from his eyes. He seemed unsure of quite what to do with this. “Yes,” he said slowly, clearly trying to ferret out some hidden meaning.

“I wish I wasn’t,” she said.

And then he stared at her. His gaze strayed from hers toward one of the many mirrors adorning their walls. His eyes narrowed. He nodded to himself. “Come on.” He walked ahead of her toward the kitchen and poured himself a glass of tea. He didn’t offer one to Ashen, but he knew she would not want one. “So you figured out what’s making you happy,” he prodded.

“Who,” Ashen corrected primly, then crossed her arms. “He bothers me.”

Red nodded, as if that made perfect sense, and maybe to him it did. He sipped his tea, waved at her to continue.

It was a normal wave, a gesture that could have been anyone. She expected a signal from her leader, established for meetings and such. Ashen frowned at herself and looked at him. “Am I not normal?”

Her leader sighed, set his jaw, set his glass down on the counter, and leaned back against the wall by the cold cupboards. “Side note or somehow relevant with context?”

“You said I’m a series of musical notes,” she replied calmly.

Red hesitated. “Not exactly, but go on.”

“I don’t like that he’s a loyal citizen of Thorn.” There. It was out there, cold, hard, and blunt on the tiled floor between them. Her own birth parents were probably Thorn residents and never knew what had happened to their daughter the night she went missing. “I don’t like that you gesture instead of signal.” But she had wanted them both to be free. And they were. No longer operatives. No longer forced to kill. They were free and residents of whatever kingdoms city attracted them most. They could join any nation or build a new one. They were free. She worked the words over in her throat, then asked, “What is wrong with me?”

She could measure the silence between them and time how long it stretched, but she only waited as she watched him take her words and think them through. She loved the way Red listened to each of them, calmly and intently, then considered before he answered.

“You ever wonder why I was attracted to a woman who could kill me just by whispering?” He reached out and picked up his glass, so easy to shatter. Ashen followed the motion with her eyes. Whisper had earned the name from her silence and her power, concentrated energy that could shatter mirrors and bones with barely a breath.

She shook her head. She had never wondered, just watched it unfold with a impassive disinterest. They were her teammates and their happiness was enough to content her.

He said it without emphasis, hardly any inflection. “She made me become someone I wanted to be.”

Ashen waited for a moment but he said nothing more, so she asked, “Who?”

He shrugged. “Someone stronger.”

~

The Laregne Cafe occupied the corner of Tenth Street and Four Corners, smack in the heart of a kingdom—Elifs Quarter, in Bellyn. She had begun visiting it after she left Jordan Michael, a man who enjoyed her stability but disliked getting to really know her. There at the cafe, she ordered coffee, a different flavor every week, to familiarize herself with something everyone seemed familiar with who wasn’t her. That was where she met Pieter.

Pieter always had a yellow notebook covered in his own illegible scrawl and a cup of the blackest, least tasteful brew she had encountered. He watched everybody and his studious gaze soon lit on her. She ignored him—at first, until he introduced himself, then invited himself, then got to know her better than Jordan ever had. He had never even asked her name.

Ashen showed up at the Laregne early this week, the day after she had already met Pieter and tasted the latest flavor. He didn’t have a cup of coffee waiting for her this time, but he was there, scrawling and interested and downright surprised to see her.

“Could of called,” he growsed, but grinned as he stood and pulled out the chair for her to sit down.

She obliged him because she knew how to be obliging and that was something you did for people you just might care about. “You’ve never asked my name.” She was never one to hide her words in others.

Pieter chuckled and settled across from her. “Did you want coffee with that?”

She shook her head, tucked back her hair, assailed him again. “Why?”

“Because a name’s not a person and you had ample opportunity to offer.”

The sentiment rolled off quickly enough to make her frown uncertainly. Pieter paused and reached out to brush her cheek with one finger, startling her. “You should smile more.”

She looked at him, really looked at him, and wondered to herself at the dissonant chords moving towards harmony. “Name me,” she said. Please. But she’d never been taught to speak the word ‘please.’ Just hope, search with her eyes because pleading had never gotten any of the children the operatives once were a blessing. Team members named each other, and they were the only family she had ever known. Name me something other than Wings of Death, Breathless, Reaper, Ashen. Name me someone I want to become.

For an endless breath, she waited until she realized Pieter wasn’t breathing either. He shook himself, unlocked his gaze from their staring contest, squinted out over the city, her city, Bellyn.

“Haven,” he said. “That’s what the city’s saying.”

She tilted her head in puzzlement until he, seeing her, added, “This place is a fair haven to stay in.”

#


Kingdoms and Thorn Science Fiction

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4 Responses to Learning Legato

  1. Kabobbles says:

    Ah... So with Red it was a person who made him stronger, but with Ash it's a person who makes her smile more.

    Pieter's not quite what I expected, but it's good that she smiles more.

    • Liana says:

      Well, you did ask for a teaser! Truth is, this piece was extremely focused. I didn't want to write out the whole Ashen/Pieter story that I had dancing around in my brain cells before "Glass Angel," but I enjoyed pulling this one out. It gave me a better handle on her as a character.

      • Kabobbles says:

        Well, asking for the whole thing wouldn't be fair, now would it?

        Though... Now I am curious about what was dancing around before "Glass Angel."

        • Liana says:

          Let's just say it involved the aforementioned 13 cups of coffee and introduced her core issue with him in this one.

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