Through The Cat Door


It is early evening when Folly makes her way back to Martin's quarters. She doesn't expect him to be there yet, but she figures it's a pretty good place to hide out while she waits for him.

She hasn't quite reached the short corridor to Martin's suite when Fathom materializes to greet her. "Goodness!" Folly says quietly as she reaches down to pet him. "Where have you been hiding?" As if in answer, he proudly holds up his little chin and tail and marches down the corridor -- and straight through his new cat-flap.

Biting her lip to suppress her delighted laughter, she taps on Martin's door. The only answer comes from Fathom, who re-emerges in indignation, wondering why she didn't follow him in straighaway.

"Well, you've made yourself right at home, haven't you?" Folly says, grinning. She opens the door and follows him in, making herself equally at home.

She kicks off her boots and settles down at Martin's desk with a few blank pasteboards and a box of pastels from her satchel to keep her entertained while she awaits her lover's return. She figures she should keep in practice with the proper artistic tools so she'll be ready when Paige teaches her more about Trumps. She doesn't really have a subject in mind, but she decides she could use some work on skin tones and shading; so she sets to work absently sketching the outlines of a face while she pets Fathom, now contentedly curled in her lap, with her off-hand.

Not 'til she's added the eyes, the slightly upturned nose, and the first outlines of the hair does she recognize her subject: it is the child she saw on the Pattern.

Folly gasps in surprise. She can feel her heart pounding. She picks up the card for a closer look, staring at those eyes so like her own. "Who are you?" she whispers. "Are you real? Could you really be---"

She sets the card down again and returns to her sketching with a renewed sense of purpose.

Some time later, while she's still working on the sketch, a pair of hands steal silently around her face and cover her eyes. "Guess who?" a familiar voice asks from beside her ear.

"The guitar fairy?" Folly asks, teasing, but he can hear the delight, the barely suppressed purr, in her voice. She sets aside her pastels and, without pulling away from his touch, caresses the backs of his hands lightly with her fingertips.

Martin makes an "mmmm" noise instead of answering, and kisses the top of her head. After a moment, he says, "Close enough," and slides his fingers to her chin, tilting her head up so he can kiss her mouth without stopping her fingertip caresses.

Folly returns the kiss eagerly, sliding her hands up his arms and into his hair as she does so.

"How was your day, sweetheart?"

"Mmmmm.... It just got a whole lot better," Folly replies, smiling up at him as she slowly opens her eyes. "Not that it was so bad to start with.... I spoke with Julian via Trump this afternoon. He seems... quite reasonable." Her eyes twinkle with amusement as she adds, "Adonis sends his regards."

"As long as he doesn't send his blessings," Martin says against her mouth, then kisses her again before straightening. "I'm glad the thing with Julian went all right. I was worried about that."

"Well, I didn't actually tell him my news via Trump," Folly admits, "I wrote it all out and handed it through, and I don't actually know whether he's had a chance to read it yet. But he seemed... I dunno. Not rash, y'know? Like he's not gonna react by immediately doing anything profoundly stupid to my life. I hope." She shrugs, grins, and stands, carefully dislodging Fathom from her lap in the process.

"I do too, 'cos I don't want to argue with him."

Folly gives him a lopsided smile.

"And how was your day?" she asks as she slides her arms around Martin's waist.

Martin pulls Folly close and leans against her. "Lots of bullshit, which I don't want to ruin my good mood by talking about. We've got another new cousin, looks like. Hannah. I met her on my way into town. Have I mentioned that Caine's a jackass?"

"I'd, ah, sort of gotten that impression, without even having to carry on a conversation with him," Folly says. She runs her hands along Martin's back and shoulders, soothing his tense muscles. "I met Hannah too, briefly -- your father brought her in to talk to Gerard as I was finishing up my trump call to Julian. Did you hear she's a doctor?"

"No, nobody mentioned it." Martin breaks out in a smile that Folly hears in his voice rather than sees. "I hope that means someone is going to work on his legs at long last."

Over Folly's head, Martin glances at the desk. "Are those Trump blanks?" he asks. "Hey, who's that?"

Folly goes very still for a moment -- then, "I'm not sure," she says. She sounds pensive, almost hesitant. "I, uh... I saw her on the Pattern. Does she look familiar to you?"

"No, not really." Martin releases Folly and picks up the sketch, considering it. He cocks his head, looks at Folly, purses his lips and looks at the sketch again. "She's got pretty eyes. They look a lot like yours. But whoever gave her that chin did her no favors."

Folly looks at Martin and bites her lip.

He sets the card down again. "When you walk the Pattern, you see things sometimes that mean things, but mostly it's only meaningful to you. I don't know how to interpret her, and I probably wouldn't even if you told me what else you saw and heard. It may mean anything, or nothing at all."

"Yeah, I can think of a couple things she could represent, but the most... the most obvious---" Folly's cheeks go faintly pink, and she looks down at her bare toes. "She, uh... called me 'Mama'."

"Oh."

Martin starts to say something, opens his mouth, closes it again, then settles for, "Oh. Well, ah, yeah."

After a moment, he adds, "Well."

Perhaps changing the subject, he says, "I, ah, had something I wanted to give you last night, and we kind of were too busy," and he flushes slightly, "and then I was going to give it to you this morning, except Gilt showed up and dragged us off to breakfast. Hang on. I'll be right back."

And he turns and practically dashes out of the room, back into his bedchamber from the sound of things.

Folly looks up, blinks, looks toward the bedchamber, then glances at the sketch again. She shakes her head almost helplessly, like she's not quite sure she's standing in the same reality she was in just a couple minutes ago.

But maybe this new reality isn't so bad....

She walks away from the desk and perches on the edge of the sofa, her arms wrapped tightly around her midsection as she waits in giddy anticipation.

Folly hears some banging around in the other room, and, once, some mild swearing. Martin sounds more annoyed than actually upset. A couple of minutes later, he's back. In one hand, he has a purple velvet box that's about big enough to wrap his fingers around in any direction. It's roughly cubic in shape, and looks like it flips open.

Martin holds it out to Folly awkwardly. "I saw this a while ago and thought of you. I wanted to give it to you when the time seemed right. Now seems right."

Folly looks up at Martin and bites her lip again; her eyes are very bright, and she's barely suppressing a huge grin. She takes the box from Martin and then takes his hand, kisses it, and gently puls him onto the couch beside her.

Martin sits next to her and slides his arm around her. He's wearing a very slight smile.

Only when he's settled beside her does she carefully open the box.

The metal hinges of the box complain a little when she flips the top half open in a way that suggests they won't last forever in Amber. Inside the box is a heavy cuff bracelet with a small jeweled butterfly on it. The setting and the cuff are silver and the stones are pink and purple and pale blue-grey.

A slow smile spreads across Folly's face. "It's beautiful," she says softly. She takes a moment to admire the delicate details of the butterfly, to run her fingers over its smooth stones and along the curve of the cuff. Then she looks at Martin.

"And so are you," she adds, reaching up to run her fingertips along his jaw with the same awe and care. She draws him to her and kisses him deeply.

Martin doesn't resist and returns the kiss in equal measure.


Some time later, when the room is starting to darken as the light of the sun fades over the western horizon, Martin looks up from his resting place on Folly's chest and says, "Fathom is definitely going to have to learn some etiquette, since it looks like he's going to be staying here for a while. Are we going to have this problem with Thelonious, too, or are they going to be too busy complaining at each other to make trouble for us?"

Fathom looks up from his resting place in a pile of discarded clothing, then resumes his bath.

Folly smiles and runs her fingers through Martin's hair. "Thelonious was always a more mellow cat, even as a kitten, than Fathom is -- definitely not a 'climb all over the funny sweaty bouncing humans' kind of cat."

"That's a relief," Martin opines.

"Maybe he'll try to teach the little one there some manners. More likely he'll just do the cat equivalent of rolling his eyes a lot." She grins.

More seriously, she adds, "And I'll do my best to teach the little fluffball to respect you and your space. You're sure you're okay with his being able to come and go here at will?"

"I wouldn't have put the door in if I weren't. Besides, I could get used to waking up with the little fluffball." Martin smiles and runs his finger along Folly's jawline. "He comes with all sorts of cool accessories, too."

She grins, and her eyes half-close at his touch.

Martin dangles an arm off the couch, fishes around for a moment, and scoops up the bracelet from where it had fallen, forgotten, on the floor. "You really like it?" he asks, finding Folly's wrist and starting to put it on her.

"I really do," Folly smiles, shifting the angle of her wrist to help him slide the bracelet on. "Just looking at it makes me want to float -- and I feel like I already am...."

She falls silent for a long moment, gazing at the bracelet there on her wrist, watching the little gems sparkle in the fading light. Then, softly, like she's quoting some sacred text, she says, "You make me feel like I am free again."

Martin takes Folly's hand and kisses the soft skin on its back. "I will always love you," he quotes in reply, gazing deeply into her eyes. "I will always love you."

Even in the dim light, Folly's smile is radiant with joy. "You know, I had all these great plans, how I was gonna be really casual -- in public, anyway -- so it maybe wouldn't be totally obvious to everyone who looked at me how completely in love with you I am."

Martin just lies there unmoving, smiling slightly.

"But... I don't think it's working. Even the stablehands have figured it out." The sparkle in her eyes is more delighted than chagrined.

"Christ, that poor kid. I had to chew him out for not being able to keep a straight face over the lady of the royal bedchamber." Martin snickers.

"Oh dear! No wonder he----" Folly smiles ruefully and shakes her head. "Well, whatever you said to him, I'm sure he got the message. I believe the word he used to describe you was 'intense'...."

"Hey, I wasn't that bad! All I did was explain to him what her title meant, where it came from, and tell him not to do it again. I just don't want to have Valeria bitching about it--she strikes me as the sort who would take it as an offense against her Royal Prerogatives." Martin makes a face.

Folly snorts and rolls her eyes.

"So how's Sprite, anyway?"

"She seemed fine," Folly says, happy to turn the subject away from Valeria. "Also happy to see me, but maybe that's because I was carrying apples." She grins. "It makes one wonder if maybe she was simply pouting because no-one else spoils her like I do."

After a moment, he adds, "And why was the stableboy describing me as 'intense' to you anyway?"

Folly takes a moment to consider her answer. Eventually she says, "Well, you know, I've known Garrett since I first got to Amber -- he's the one that taught me to ride, you may recall -- and sometimes when I'm at the stables we talk about stuff -- sibling-like, y'know? He's a great kid." She hesitates, then continues, "He, ah, has some business he needs to bring to your father, and also to you -- and I think he's way more intimidated by you than by the king. But," and now her eyes sparkle mischievously, and she pets Martin's hair, "I assured him you don't bite -- unless I ask very nicely."

Martin flushes slightly, which Folly can barely see in the light. After a moment, he says, "I hate this," scowls, and buries his face against her chest.

Folly wraps her arms around him and holds him close, soothingly and silently.

Folly can feel Martin's suddenly-racing heart begin to slow a little under her hands. He raises his head up a little so he can look into Folly's eyes.

"I don't even know what to say or where to start. Lucas was right." He grimaces, but the expression is belied by the gentleness with which his hand comes up to touch Folly's hair. "But he was wrong, too. I won't lie to you, and not telling you is the same as lying. But I hate having to tell you. I hate it."

Now Folly's heart is beating faster, too, but her voice is soft, full of concern. "Tell me what, love?" She gently strokes the side of his face, reassuring him.

"I think ... I think there's a Rebman spy in the castle. I mean, I know there must be, but I--" Martin stops and shakes his head. "Montage showed up at Red Mill to give me an informal message from my grandmother. He wants me to do something, or rather not do something, and I can't, won't."

Folly nods slowly.

He shrugs slightly, a movement Folly feels against the skin of her belly more than sees. "Lucas thinks I shouldn't tell you, but I won't lie to you. And when you say the stableboy wants to talk to me, I, I think of--bad things. How someone might tell you a story to lure you away, to, to--" He stop and swallows.

"I'll kill anyone who hurts you."

"I know," Folly says with a rueful smile. Her fingers slide into his hair, and she kisses his forehead tenderly. "I'll be careful, I promise," and she kisses him again.

Martin closes his eyes, and when Folly pulls back at the end, he presses his lips to her skin.

"Garrett -- you don't have to worry about him, not on that front. He told me a little of his business, and it's - it's nothing to do with Rebma. As for Montage, or whoever might be working for him -- well, I think your father means to head back to Xanadu tomorrow. I know I can never be entirely safe anywhere, but if we've got a Rebman spy in the castle I'm probably better off there than here...."

"Yes. I want you out of here," Martin says, the words tumbling out over each other. Then he stops and his fingertips tighten gently on Folly's shoulders. "Does he mean for me to come with him too?"

"I'm not sure," Folly replies softly. "He may not've meant for me to come, either -- he called it a 'tour,' I think, when he told Jovian about it, and I've already seen it -- but it didn't occur to me to give him a choice." The corner of her mouth twitches upward.

"*I* intend for you to come with me, of course -- unless you need to wrap up some of this Rebman business beforehand...?"

"I don't know," Martin says, his fingers loosening their grip. "I may have to come in later on a Trump or something. Some of it I may need to be in two or three places at once to do. I would be a lot happier if I had access to your Trump."

Folly looks thoughtful for a moment, then says, "Merlin sketched me that morning at the Prince -- and of course Paige and Ossian have both sketched me dozens of times -- but I don't know whether any of them have actually got 'round to making a Trump...." As she thinks on the problem further, she traces lazy circles down Martin's back with her fingertips, not so much for comfort this time as for the simple pleasure of touching his skin. After a moment, she adds, "I could make some time to sit for Merlin again tomorrow, if you think it'd help...."

"I don't--I don't know how long it would take. And I hate to ask Merle."

He sighs happily as Folly's fingers find a sensitive spot along the curve of his spine. "Then there's the whole thing about me not wanting to have you out of my sight. I'm not sure how Merle would cope with me sitting in the corner making eyes at you."

Folly chuckles. "Poor Merle! I'm sure he'd be appalled if he saw us now...." She leans in to kiss him, and in doing so shifts her position slightly, so that Martin suddenly is very aware of every inch of her body pressed against his.

Martin accepts the kiss and wriggles slightly, sliding a little further down her body, and Folly is suddenly very aware of several inches of his body pressed against hers.

When she speaks again, it is a soft murmur against his cheek. "I was thinking of running an errand or two in town tomorrow.... You wanna come with me, or should I try to take care of all my business by post instead?"

"I was gonna spar early with Lilly, but we can put it off. She sent me a note about the Ruby guys having an early meeting, so that's probably good anyway. What's up?" Martin's fingers begin to play lightly in Folly's hair as he speaks.

At his touch, Folly's eyes half-close and she shivers in delight. "I'd thought to look in on my Other Boyfriend," she grins teasingly, "-- you know, to touch base and all -- but I s'pose it doesn't have to involve a trip to the shop to test-drive all the instruments...."

"Oh," says Martin. "I didn't really think you'd want to take me to see your Other Boyfriend. You know, you two being so close and all, I thought you'd want some Private Quality Time with him, ya know?" He punctuates the three words with three light taps on the back of her neck, just below the place where it joins her head.

Butter wouldn't melt in his mouth from the tone, but the shit-eating grin betrays him utterly.

"Mmmmmmm," Folly emphatically agrees, though it may have very little to do with the conversation. She curls her toes happily against his calves and begins kissing him in a line of playful nips along his cheek and jaw. "Private Quality Time," she murmurs between kisses. "So I can fondle his organs." Against his skin, her soft muffled laughter feels like a purr.

"I can think of better things to fondle," Martin mock-growls, and pounces.


The first beams of moonlight peek through the windows, falling on two pale bodies entwined in the middle of the rug.

"Does... does that ever get old?" Folly asks, breathless and laughing as she pushes her hair out of her eyes and snuggles against Martin's side.

"It hasn't yet," Martin says, grinning, as he turns slightly to make a more comfortable resting place for her between his head and his arm. With his free hand, he scoops up Fathom and pulls the cat over by Folly, heedless of the meow of protest.

"On the other hand, I haven't spent long enough trying it with you to be sure. Obviously we'll have to keep trying frequently just to be sure. For scientific purposes, of course." His grin grows even wider and goofier as he releases Fathom and tweaks the end of Folly's nose.

"Of course. For science," Folly agrees, grinning widely.

"I hope this trip to Xanadu includes fast transport. I'll have trouble keeping my hands off you if it goes on too long."

"You know," Folly says with a spark in her eye, "your father did mention I might leave early to try out my new abilities -- to try getting myself to Xanadu. I wonder if anyone would notice if we left early but arrived just a tiny bit late...?"

"Mmm. With a nice long stop in the middle?" Martin kisses Folly's head. "I could get behind that plan."

"A nice long stop, yes. For scientific purposes." She grins mischievously and runs her hand lightly over his chest and belly. Maybe... I dunno... a bed-and-breakfast -- heavy on the bed, heavy on the breakfast...."

Abruptly she props herself up on one elbow and looks at Martin. "Hey, have you had dinner yet?"

"Apart from you?" Martin winks. "No. I could get up and throw on my jeans and send for something, though. Have you eaten? Food, that is?"

Folly grins. "Not since...." Her eyes widen as she realizes how long it's been. "Half a sandwich at lunchtime. I hadn't even noticed, though."

Eyes twinkling, she adds, "You're very filling."

Martin's smile regains some wide goofiness as he disentangles himself from Folly and rises to find his clothes. He slides on the aforementioned jeans without boxers, zipping them up carefully so as not to catch anything in the zipper, then pulls on his shirt.

"You wanna get dressed, or just go hide in my bedroom for a minute? And what do you want to eat?"

"Nothing too fancy -- just something to nibble on in between, uh, nibbling...." She grins up at him. "I'll go hide."

She stands, stretches, and pads toward the bedroom, a bit unsteadily. Fathom trots along beside her.

Martin gathers up the rest of their clothes and tosses them in a heap on the couch, hidden from view. As Folly reaches the door, he says, "hey," and when Folly turns to look, he blows her a kiss.

Folly closes her eyes and tilts her face upward, grinning, like she's waiting for it to sail across the room and land on her nose. After a beat, she opens her eyes; and just before ducking into the room, she says in an exuberant stage-whisper, "I love you!"

From the bedroom, she can just hear his order to the page to fetch what sounds like a very large dinner of finger foods to be brought and set up in Martin's sitting room.

While she's waiting, she paces a little to stretch her muscles, being careful to keep herself out of view. Absently, she hugs her arms around her torso and begins rubbing out some of the stiffness in her shoulders and upper back....

Wait. Shouldn't there be...?

Abruptly she stops pacing and cranes her neck around in a futile attempt to look at her own back.

After a little while, Martin comes in and flops across the bed next to Folly. He stretches and takes advantage of the view.

"You want me to rub your shoulders out?" he asks, lacing his fingers and cracking his knuckles.

"Mmmm, yeah, that sounds perfect," Folly replies, lifting her gaze to smile at him over her shoulder. She gathers her hair between her hands, twists it into a rope, and pulls it forward over her left shoulder, giving him clear view of the whole expanse of her back.

As she settles onto the bed within his easy reach, she says, "So, um, remember how I've got this scar...?"

Martin settles in behind her and kisses the exposed nape of her neck.

"You don't have it any more," he says, but he doesn't sound surprised. His tone is more wistful. "I noticed it was gone in Xanadu."

His strong fingers begin to work the knots out of her shoulders. "It was one of the things I first loved about you. That you weren't ..." he trails off, and lets his hands do the talking for a moment.

"I was so pissed at Paige about the damn pajamas. I was, well, you know. But how could I complain when you'd already been so brave. And I knew you'd understand, and you wouldn't care. Not after you'd changed in front of me in your apartment."

"I remember," Folly says softly. Her shoulders are beginning to relax under his hands. "I remember you carried yourself, for just that instant, like you expected me to see a blemish with the dim outline of a man around it, rather than the other way 'round. And at first it really surprised me. I mean... you're so beautiful, so... so real... how could you ever just fade into the background like that?" She drops a soft kiss on Martin's fingers there on her shoulder and then turns slightly so she can look at him over her shoulder. Her eyes are bright, her gaze intense.

Martin's eyes meet hers. He's smiling just slightly.

"One day -- soon -- everyone else will catch up and see you the way I see you. They'll finally see the man, not just history with an outline around it."

"People will see what they want to see," Martin says quietly, as he kneads out a particularly stubborn spot. His hands slide down her back a little, just under Folly's shoulderblades, and he starts to work on the muscles near her spine with his thumbs.

"I wish I had your faith in them. But I don't really care what the rest of the world thinks. Just you." Which, if it isn't completely true, is true enough at this moment. The conviction in his voice says so.

Careful not to interrupt the massage, Folly leans back and kisses him tenderly. As she sits up again, she lets out a happy sigh. "Someday -- maybe not soon, but someday -- let's go live for a while where it really doesn't matter, okay? A little house on the beach in a little town by the sea with good coffeeshops and live jazz and nice weather, the kind of place where 'sombodies' sneak off to live incognito and everyone else pretends not to notice, but when they think we're not listening they ask each other, 'Wasn't he on that show... and wasn't she in that band -- you know?' And in the mornings we'll talk politics and philosophy and which was the best song ever over our bacon and waffles, and in the evenings we'll fuck on the porch swing 'til the moon comes up, which will make the neighbors think we're a bit mad, but we won't care...." She smiles broadly at the thought.

"Yeah," says Martin. He keeps working on the knots, moving up and down Folly's backbone with his thumbs.

As her spine unkinks, she sighs happily, still thinking on parts of the mental image she just painted. Then, "Hey, what was that place where we stopped on the way out, with the boat?" she asks suddenly.

"San Lucien?" Martin says. "Not a good place for that. I don't think you'd like it."

Folly lets out a soft, thoughtful "mmmph" as he hits another tight muscle low on her back. "Well, the boat was nice. And... and Jim. You spend much time there?"

"Not after I established my identity in the place. I bought the house so I could have somewhere to park the boat." Martin works out a particularly sore spot, and when Folly jumps a little, he murmurs "Sorry," and strokes it gently with his thumb.

"It's a sugar plantation, farmed by slaves. I give them cover and let them do what they want, and they hide my boat from outsiders. There are manumission documents, but slaves have more freedom with an absent and complicit master than they would if they were freedmen. And they make me look good for the Duke's men and the Bishop's. In some ways it's a lot more regimented than Amber, and a lot nastier. If something happens to me, you should take the boat. But don't hang around."

Folly nods slowly as she takes that all in. After a moment she leans back, stretching out on the bed beside Martin. "'If something...'? That's just a hypothetical, though, right?" she asks quietly as she draws him closer to her. "You -- you don't think---"

But then understanding flashes in her eyes, and her brow creases with concern. "The Rebman business -- it's really that bad, isn't it?" she asks, though it's almost more of a statement than a question.

Martin lies down alongside Folly, extending one hand to pet her cheek. He uses the pause to put his words together. "It could be. But I like to have my plans in place even when there's no immediate cause for concern."

Folly nods and looks like she's considering asking another question, but...

A rattling outside suggests that dinner has arrived and Martin rises, covering Folly with the spread if she lets him and closing the door behind him.

Folly pulls the spread tight around her, fending off the sudden chill she feels at the loss of Martin's warmth next to her.

A couple of minutes later, he opens the door. "All clear," he says, a bit more cheerfully, and beckons to her to join him.

She tosses aside her cover and follows him into the sitting room. As he surveys the spread, she sidles up to him and, grinning mischievously, slides her hands under his t-shirt to pet his chest and back. After a few moments, unless he objects, she pulls his shirt off over his head -- and then on over her own.

There's a moment when he stiffens and Folly thinks he will object, but perhaps he thinks better of it, and says nothing. Then he relaxes and lets her finish removing his shirt.

"There," she says, still grinning as she plants a kiss on his bare side. "Now we're even." She slides her arms around his waist and turns a small fraction of her attention to the food before them.

The table is filled with plates of finger foods: the Rebman crudites that remind Folly of sushi, little baguette slices covered in cheese sauce and bacon, vegetables with some kind of dipping sauce, berries in a bowl, and the like. It doesn't seem like enough for Martin, but he doesn't seem to care.

Martin picks up a berry and pops it into Folly's mouth.

"Ready to eat?" he asks.

She closes her eyes and savors its flavor and texture as she rolls it about on her tongue and then bites into it in an explosion of sweet juice.

"Mmmmmmm. Yeah," she says, smiling, as she opens her eyes again.

Martin is wearing a shit-eating grin. He winks at her when she looks at him.

She picks up one of the sushi-like bits and examines it thoughtfully for a moment before bringing it up to Martin's lips in offering.

He takes it from her in little nibbles, and licks her fingers when he's nibbled the last bit away.

She seems reluctant to spoil the mood, but she's got a question she just can't quite hold in.

"So, I'm curious," she says. "--- if you don't mind talking about it. What do you make of Celina?"

"Poor kid." Martin shakes his head as he snags a chair and pulls it around so he can sit down. He pats his thigh and looks invitingly at Folly.

Without the slightest hesitation, she smiles and settles in his lap.

"Celina's been screwed over and lied to by just about everyone who's ever been important to her. Her mother, her first love, her entire family so far. She asked me why she shouldn't just bail and hide in Shadow for a while, and I have to admit, in her shoes, it would look like a good idea to me, too. I think I talked her out of it, though."

Folly nods slowly. "I noticed she introduced herself as 'Celina of Seaward' when she came through -- with no mention of her maternal heritage. I wasn't quite sure what to make of it; but if she's...." She smiles ruefully and shakes her head. "Well, it kinda makes sense now."

"You don't catch me introducing myself as Martin of Rebma, either," he agrees, and chooses another tidbit for Folly.

She takes it delicately between her teeth, touching her tongue to Martin's fingertips in the process. After a moment she continues, "I actually wondered there for a minute if maybe she didn't actually know. She seems... very young, you know? Like she's...." Folly pauses, looking for the right words. "Like she's not well-practiced in duplicity."

"No," Martin says. "I'm going to have to teach her that."

Folly smiles sadly. "I wish it weren't such a necessary survival skill. Wouldn't it be nice if we could all just be forthright with each other for a change?"

She sighs and rests her head against Martin's shoulder. "But on the other hand, the whole reason I even asked about Celina in the first place was to find out whether I ought to feed her pretty half-truths to feed your grandmother."

Martin takes one of the little bacon-topped bits for himself and frowns. "I don't think she's talking to her mother. I mean, she could be pulling one over on me, but I don't think so."

"I doubt it, too," Folly agrees. "Unless she's REALLY good."

After the first bite, he continues, "I trust your judgement."

Folly raises her head again and nods, then tenderly kisses his jaw. "I'll try not to fuck up, then," she says, and he can hear rather than see her smile. She takes a piece of fruit from the tray and offers it to him as a chaser for his mini-sandwich, playfully trailing it along his bottom lip 'til he takes a bite.

Martin takes it all the way to her fingertips, which he kisses as he pulls back with the fruit in his mouth. After he's swallowed the bite, he says, "You won't. You haven't yet."

He offers her one of the little mini-sandwiches. "I've got obligations there. Even if it weren't for her paternal relations--I'd rather not see Merle's sister used as a pawn--Atrios wanted me to help her. He told her to go and learn, and I'm the one who can teach her. He helped me get out of Rebma, among many other things. I owe him. Helping Celina will repay some small part of that debt."

Folly takes a bite of the sandwich, but then his words draw her attention away from the food. "Atrios?" she asks, cocking her head. "Is that... a friend of yours, or another relative?"

"He was my Triton, and my mother's before me," Martin says. "Imagine a nanny in the form of a giant with a 20-foot-long fish-tail instead of legs, and you'll have a general idea. He was my bodyguard, my nurse, my teacher, and my friend. And my slave." He grimaces at that last word.

"Atrios helped me get to the Pattern, and out of Rebma, after Vialle betrayed me to my grandmother. If he wants me to help Celina, it's done."

Folly's brow furrows. She looks uneasy. "Is... is Celina planning to come to Xanadu, do you know?"

"I hope so. I told her I can't stay here." Martin offers her the rest of the little sandwich, and when she has either eaten it or refused it, says, "You don't like that." It's only half a question.

She takes the sandwich, but her troubled look remains as she chews and swallows. "I.. I don't know," she says. "I've got sort of a bad feeling about this whole business."

She hesitates, then asks in a very small voice, "Does Atrios have a... a mark of some sort?" She taps her face just beside her eye. "A-about here?"

"All the Tritons who serve the royal family have facial tattoos." Martin's expression shifts from vaguely concerned to serious. "Why are you asking? Have you seen a Triton?" He pulls Folly close, and she can hear the sudden pounding of his heart.

"In a dream," Folly says. She's trying to keep her voice calm and even, without much success. "He - he took you, and I couldn't---"

She takes a deep breath and closes her eyes tight. "I don't want you to back down on an obligation to a friend. But -- please, Martin, please be careful."

"I am. You know I always am." Martin pulls Folly close and begins stroking her hair. "Besides, they can't come on land after me."

Folly wraps her arms around him and takes another deep, calming breath. "Yeah, they can't, but what about all the other---" She cuts herself off with a frown. "There are already too many people here that might try to pull you under."

"And I'm tougher and smarter than any of them, and I have you to help me and watch over me. And Merle's here, and even my dad, no matter how mad he is about us, doesn't want me hurt. I'm gonna be OK. I always am. You know that, right?"

"I know." She sighs and manages a weak smile. "But I love you. Worrying about you is just part of the job description."

Martin smiles as he picks up a berry and offers it to Folly with the hand that he'd been using to stroke her hair.

She takes the fruit and the tips of the fingers holding it into her mouth, gently nibbling with her lips and her teeth and her tongue. When the berry disappears, she turns her attention to his mouth, leaning in for a fierce kiss, sweet with juice.

His return kiss is equally fierce, although it tastes of cheesy, bacony bread rather than sweet berries. When he gets his breath back, he says, "We need to not do that any more until after we eat, or we'll have cold dinner."

"Don't care," Folly says, grinning as she catches her own breath -- but she seems willing to behave herself for the time being.

There's a carafe of wine on the table, and Martin pours a glass for the two of them, offering it first to Folly. When she has either had her fill or passed on it, he takes a drink himself.

"Have you had any other strange dreams?" he asks. "Apparently odd dreams have been going around the family."

"Really? I dream all the time, and sometimes they turn out to mean more than I think they do -- but it still surprises me when it happens." She takes a moment to select another morsel, which she nibbles thoughtfully while she gathers her thoughts.

A crease appears between her brows. "The - the one with the triton had Caine at the end of it. I figured that you being pulled under the water was just my fear of... well, of you getting sucked in and trapped by the affairs of Rebma. But I don't know what it means that Caine is the one that pulls me out of the water and keeps me from following you."

"Maybe it means your subconscious has clued to the fact I can't stand Caine," Martin says with a grimace as he picks up a little fish-paste-decked cracker.

"Ya know, I think my conscious is starting to clue in as well," Folly says with a wry smile.

He pops the cracker in his mouth, chews and swallows, then adds, "I ran into Caine when I was going into town. He had a new cousin, Hannah, with him, and he was yanking my chain just because he could. I told him to take her in to see Dad, which he was going to do anyway, just because I could. Petty, but that was how I felt. His outer asshole brings out my inner asshole."

In a transparent attempt to change the subject, Martin looks at his finger, which is flecked with fish paste, and licks it clean.

Perhaps to help him with the subject-changing, Folly grins and says, "If you need any help with that, just let me know."

He leers back. "If I need any fish paste licked off, I can think of better places to apply it."

The tip of Folly's tongue pokes teasingly out between her teeth.

In a second transparent attempt to change the subject, he says, "About the dream--if it's not too personal, maybe you should write it down. Lucas said he and a couple of our cousins are investigating the dreams. Every data point helps."

Folly nods. "Yeah, I can do that. Probably the only personal thing it reveals is that I'm in love with you -- which I'm certain Lucas already knows."

"Lucas isn't an idiot," Martin agrees. "And he certainly knows how I feel about you. But he wouldn't necessarily be the only person reading the account. He was talking to Marius and Lilly and Vialle about the dreams. Apparently Vialle has been having nightmares for a while now. Years, even. Supposedly Fiona was going to look into it, before Brita was kidnapped."

"Yeah, Vialle mentioned her nightmares to Paige and me... oh, months ago. She couldn't remember the content of any of them, just that they were scary." Folly frowns. "They've continued even since the army has come home, then?"

"According to what Lucas told me," Martin says. "Apparently Fiona did something to stop them, and it didn't hold after Dad left again. And there have been others as well. It's not the kind of thing I know much about, but I can at least recognize the possibility of useful data when I see it."

He takes another morsel and feeds it to Folly.

She eats slowly, obviously turning some things over in her mind.

"It's the mention of the tattoo that makes me wonder. The details of Triton tattooing aren't commonly known in Amber. Jerod and I might have mentioned it, but that's not likely; it also came up in Conner's story of how he fled Rebma, but that's the only other place you're likely to have heard of it. Did you talk to him about that?"

While she answers, Martin takes another little sandwich for himself.

"Not in any depth, no, though I do remember hearing that he'd been in a scuffle with a Triton. I don't remember tattoos being mentioned, though -- I mean, maybe they were but it didn't strike me as unusual enough to be memorable. Lots of people have tattoos, y'know?" Folly shrugs, but she looks a little pale.

"Yeah," Martin agrees. "I've kind of given up on getting them, since they fade in, what, five or six years? Not very long, anyway." He takes the final bite of his sandwich and pulls Folly in close again while he chews and swallows.

She seems happy to be held. She rests her head against his shoulder.

"The details aren't perfectly accurate," he says reassuringly. "It could just be a coincidence. I'm just taking precautions against the worst case. That doesn't mean I think it's true. And even if the dream is part of whatever thing people are having, assuming it's one thing, which we don't know, there's no reason to believe what's happening is wrong or bad yet. But if it'll make you feel better, I'll ask Merle to look at you. He did that for Solace today, and I know he won't mind doing it for you."

"How is Solace?" Folly asks, sitting up again, her concern abruptly shifting to her cousin-in-law. "I'd meant to look in on her. Did Merle find anything?"

"No," Martin says. "He says she's clean, at least as best as he can tell. It may just be nothing. But there's something weird about it that I can't put my finger on. I don't know what it is just yet. I do know I don't like it."

He adds hastily, "No evidence of bad dreams, though."

Folly chews her bottom lip pensively. "I really hope it's nothing out-of-the-ordinary. But I agree, it does seem... off."

She continues, "I don't think it's necessary for Merle to check me out, unless... unless maybe there turns out to be something amiss with the others who've had odd dreams. Or if you think it might be good just to have more data. I certainly don't *feel* as if I've been...." She pauses, looking for the right words, before continuing slowly, "...sorcerously... tampered with... but I suppose if it's subtle enough I wouldn't be *supposed* to notice." She shrugs again.

"Don't go that way," Martin says firmly. "That way lies madness. You have the Pattern inscribed in every cell of your being. You can resist tampering. And if you had some spell on you before you walked, the Pattern will have burned it away."

"It'll be interesting to see whether the dream persists, then," Folly says, visibly relieved. "Like I said, I dream all the time, and have for as long as I can remember. Perils of being a songwriter, I suppose -- gotta keep that symbolic vocabulary honed, y'know?" She smiles and offers Martin another little sandwich. "Maybe I should write down the few really vivid and scary ones I had during the Regency, too."

"Those I tend to prefer to forget," Martin says.

"Me, too," Folly says with a wry smile. "But, y'know, if we need more information about dreams during the Regency...." She trails off with a shrug and peruses the food tray again, eventually selecting one of the fish-paste crackers for herself, and another one for Martin.

He takes his in a single bite and washes it down with a swallow of wine.

Between bites, she muses, "I suppose I can start with just the Triton one, but let Lucas know I can dredge up older ones if he really needs them...."

"Why don't you let him know yourself? You could check on Solace. I'm sure she'd be glad to see you. And if it turns out that there's someone else who's gathering all this information up, Lucas can tell you who it is."

"You're absolutely right, of course," Folly says. "I should pay them a visit before we leave."

Martin blows air out of his cheeks in a sort of gusty sigh. "Schedule for tomorrow's getting tight, though. I have to talk to Dad, find out who's going and when and how. I have too much to do, and so do you."

"And I expect it'll be like that for a while," Folly agrees. "I expect to be up to my nose in Important Stuff once we get back to Xanadu. And you always are."

She grins. "Good lord, I may actually hafta start waking up in the *morning*...."

"I can help with that," Martin says smugly. "Mind you, you may want to sleep in afterwards, which won't help ..."

"Mmmmm, my very favorite alarm call," Folly says with a big grin.


Much, much later, after dinner has been consumed and left forgotten for Fathom to explore the tidbits, Martin and Folly retreat to bed and finally to happy, exhausted, sleep.

In the middle of the night, a noise awakens Folly.

She opens her eyes partway but lies still, listening. She listens for the sound of Martin's breathing, for the rhythm that will tell her whether he's asleep or awake; she tries to locate Fathom by sound or by glance; and she listens for more disturbances as she tries to identify the sound that woke her.

Martin is sitting up in bed, breathing hard; she can see his outline in the moonlight. Fathom is nowhere to be seen or heard. The noise seems to have come from the area near the door.

_It could be nothing,_ Folly tries to tell herself; but in the dark, with the sound of Martin's agitated breathing, she's having a hard time convincing herself.

Her fingers tighten on the bedsheet and she gives it a couple of slight tugs, an invisible and inaudible signal to Martin that she's awake. She's already working out what weapon-like objects are in easiest reach, if it comes to that.

Her eyes are fully open now, and she's dividing her attention between Martin and the door.

"It's all right," Martin says at once. "It's all right. No one's here but us."

He sounds as if he's reassuring himself as much as Folly.

Folly sits up beside him and begins stroking his shoulders and back. "What did I hear?" she asks softly.

Martin jumps slightly when she touches him, but relaxes a little under her caresses. "That was me," he says, and stops.

"You okay?" Her fingers move up into his hair. "What happened?"

"Bad dream."

His breath has begun to return to normal a little. He points at the door. "I, I thought something was coming in. It was just shadows."

Folly can see a small shape suspended against the door at head height; the part nearest the door gleams for a moment with reflected moonlight.

When she realizes what she's seeing, the rhythm of her fingers in his hair falters, and she shivers as if at a sudden chill.

A moment later she slides her arms around him. "It's all right, sweetheart," she murmurs against his skin. "We're safe. We're both safe."

"I know," Martin says. "I know." He leans into Folly, letting her soothing voice and touch work their magic on him.

She holds him for a long time, whispering to him, comforting him, 'til much of his tension has fled. Eventually she says, "I'm sorry, sweetheart, I'm afraid talking about my bad dreams has given you your own. I didn't mean to do that."

"No, it's not like that. I, ah, well. Gerard says it's because of, you know, the war and stuff. What I did. What happened to me. I have these pills I'm supposed to take if I can't sleep, but I ran out after the coronation. I never had time to get more."

Martin lies back down and looks up at Folly.

"Do you remember that night after I brought Robin back from Arden, when we talked about stuff?"

Folly nods. "We talked about the war, and about---" Tenderly, she brushes his hair back from his forehead. "I remember. You mentioned then that you sometimes had nightmares."

"Yeah."

Martin closes his eyes and smiles as she pushes his bangs back, then opens them again to look at Folly.

"That night, after we both fell asleep, I had a bad dream. A really bad one, like tonight. When I woke up, it took me a minute to figure out where I was. And then I didn't want to move, because you were still out. But I was--I couldn't get back to sleep just yet.

"I looked at you for a while, and finally, I, I kissed you. On the mouth. You didn't wake up. I didn't think you knew." In the moonlight, his cheeks show only the slightest color.

Scarcely daring to breathe, Folly gazes at him in wide-eyed surprise. Her fingers come to rest over his heart.

"Then I felt like it was going to be OK. After a while, I fell asleep again."

He reaches out and touches Folly's cheek.

"I love you, Folly."

Bright tears well up in her eyes. "And I love you, Martin. Always." With her hand still over his heart, she leans down and seals her words with a kiss.

He slides his arms around her, drawing her close, and returns her kiss.

Some time later, he falls asleep again in her arms.


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Last modified: 20 September 2004