This takes place before the events of The Sacred and the Profane.

Written for Shasta, who asked for Caphriel/Zirah with ducks.

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True Colours
by afrai

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The ducklings were small enough that as yet they only suggested the idea of birds, rather than represented it. At the moment they were little more than balls of fluff, with black bills and beady eyes that looked stuck on in the entirely too optimistic hope that they would grow into them. They were doing a sized-down variation on their mother's waddle across the grass, looking vaguely confused.

They made Caphriel feel worried. Most things young and clueless did. Zirah, he saw, was smiling with the idiotic pleasure humans took in the sight of miniature things.

"It's only a matter of time, you know," said Caphriel. "They're just ducks that haven't got old and dead yet."

"That's what I was smiling about," Zirah said serenely. "Do try to relax, dear boy. It's a beautiful day."

He put his hand on Caphriel's, the fingers brushing the tender skin on the inside of his wrist, and Caphriel sighed despite himself. Zirah smiled even wider, the corners of his eyes vanishing in a web of creases. The sun was blindingly everywhere, hot on Caphriel's eyelids, and Zirah looked absurdly vulnerable and human in its light. Caphriel turned the hand under Zirah's, but then Zirah's hand was gone and he was bending -- not without effort -- to look at something on the path.

He straightened with a heartfelt "hff!" that made Caphriel grin involuntarily. He was holding a duckling nestled in his cupped palms, clicking his tongue like a harassed nanny.

"Nearly wandered onto the path," he said. "Silly buggers, babies. What on earth its mother was thinking I'm sure I don't know. Where did its ickle mumsy go then? Did mumsy abandon it, the irresponsible hussy? Yes she did."

Caphriel coughed.

"Zirah . . ."

"Is it all alone in the world now, with nobody except its brothers and sisters and that nice Mr. Park-keeper to look after it, then? Nasty mumsy. Oh yes she is."


Zirah looked up.

"This is all very instructive, but -- here, let me have it." Caphriel reached out.

He really should've watched Zirah's eyes, he thought later.

Zirah put his fingers against the duckling's neck -- the same fingers that had held Caphriel's wrist -- and twisted. A jerk of the hand, and the ball of fluff went limp. It was over in a second.

Caphriel couldn't feel his face. Zirah's eyes were fixed on it, but Caphriel didn't know what he saw.

He realised after a moment that Zirah was holding the tiny body out to him.

"Did you enjoy that?" said Caphriel. His voice came out of his throat perfectly smooth, bell-like with accusation.

Zirah didn't answer. His eyes were grave and curious and somehow pure. He should have known, thought Caphriel, Zirah always did this and he always let it hurt him as if it was the first time, you'd think he'd have learnt by now . . .

"Get rid of it," said Caphriel.

Zirah did something complicated with his hands, and it was gone. Then he touched Caphriel's face.

"Don't take it so badly, my dear," he said, gently, as if he understood. Caphriel tried to turn away, but Zirah held him there with his fingertips on Caphriel's cheek until he stopped fighting.

"You said yourself it's only a matter of time," said Zirah.

"Old and dead," said Caphriel, "they're supposed to get old before the death part," and he was breathing very strangely and Zirah pulled his head down and comforted him, slow strokes along his back, kisses on his ear, and Caphriel closed his eyes and smelled, everywhere around him, decay.

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