Is it truly possible for someone like me to love? Can I sip at the essential spring of love first hand?
In situations such as this one, I find it easier to concentrate on the big questions. At the moment Sam is staring at taps; we're in a small, grubby kitchen area with magnolia walls and the sort of tiles you find in public toilets. The sink is shallow, metallic, stained in circles where cups have been left to drain after a perfunctory rinse - too messy for the lad, I expect. So instead he concentrates on the shape of the taps: two bulbous affairs that might once have been copper-plated, their handles a pair of miniature circus dumbells atop their industrial screws plunged into the ballooned necks of the pipes at the apex of a pair of squared crooks. Each of his hands grasps the long shaft of a tap, one hot to the touch, the other cold, bracing his body against the arrhythmic thrusts behind us.
Shaft - an unfortunate word choice in this situation. Not that I have any particular objection to taking it - the shaft - up the arse: sex in any form is one of the few bonuses of returning to the Outer World, and I have enjoyed experiences that young Sam can only dream of, but there are more enjoyable pleasures than spit-assisted sodomy.
Sam stares at the taps because he doesn't want to be distracted by the mess around him as his brain and blood absorb the chemical pleasures of the rectal intrusion. And I ask big questions because, in the end, sex in the Outer World remains a second-hand distraction.
So, love. What is it to me?
I can say with some certainty that it is not a flesh-mediated emotion. Because I have loved, and been loved, and when I recall those times I become coccooned, swathed in the eye-stretching, chest-scrunching, stomach-trembling, limb-heating entirety of the state.
A state. Yes, love is a place of being, I think, an almost physical location where the essential being is shifted just an atom's breadth away from synchronicity from the flesh - enough to blur the world into primary colours, to ease irregularities and faults out of focus. Smells are not so much a matter of sharp, putrid, sweet, resinous, smoked: they are the sigils of such chemical interactions. A touch can be felt before contact is established; balance is widened from the vertical norm to allow the spin of the situation to take many off-kilter positions and still feel - well, right. Good. Healthy and welcome.
Thus it is possible for me to love, and I have breached the borders of that place many times. As the taps jerk nearer and further and nearer and further from Sam's intense, muscle-flexed face I take a little time to think of a few of my particular loves.
My parents, for instance, murdered by the madman in a wood on a half-moon night. My love for them remains primal, the bedrock upon which my essential being has been established, fashioned, enlarged, refashioned, challenged and collapsed and restored. When I think of that love, there is no time between then and now - much as my time in the sapphire seas of Ounous was timeless, a click of the fingers measured across the spans between stars, both equal and yet irrelevant.
Other things I have loved: a woman nuzzling her head on my shoulder as we watched the early morning sun emboss the pillars and lintels of a tomb freshly carved into the lycian cliffs in a honey of gold; the heat of rain on my back as I sat in a tree waiting for deer to pass beneath my spear, my eyes locked with that of a tiger no more than twenty yards from me, both of us beasts understanding our purpose and our danger to each other and the trill of broiling life caught in each breath - a feral love of a moment; another sunset across the deserts beyond Carthage, five of us together in the heads of peasants discussing cloaking strategies - each of us lost and found in the others, brothers and sisters beyond the comfort of death.
I remember that Boude had been the one who had bought me through to Carthage, which in turn reminds me of why I have bought Sam here and what we need to do. The man behind us is slightly taller than Sam, and much bulkier - his stomach is a warm blanket against Sam's hips and lower back as he thrusts, one hand cupped over Sam's bladder and the other clutched on the shoulder to fasten his forearm across Sam's chest. Sam himself is rigid, his conscious voice now gusted to tatters in the blusters of blood-bourn endorphins and hormones.
Which is an unexpected bonus. It makes what I need to do next a lot easier, for both of us.
I can see the band clearly around Sam's thumb, its metal colour almost a match to the tap against which it rests. The stones are barely visible at the moment, though that is not an issue for my purpose. As ever, I can feel the hook of its attraction deep in my essential being, its soft tug inviting me to release my hold on Sam's mind and return home: another sort of love, I suppose, an inbuilt impulse that cannot be refused.
Carefully, I untangle my tendrils, let slither my roots, enfold myself within me. Float free, a moil of essences and intentions bound for home.
If only it was that easy to render! Already I can feel Sam's mind reacting, his unconscious patterns and drives shafting through the ball of my being, each thrust driving the barbs of posession deeper into my ephemeral structures.
Pain, like love, is not bound to the flesh. Now I must rely on the ruse I have placed within me to blunt the agony as I am stretched between skull and band. I remember love: the tiger, the tomb.
The band wants to wind me around its circle. I can feel the heat of the stones as I approach them, each an individual point of comfort, a welcome. Mescwar reaches out to embrace me, hoist me to safety. Now I must remember the opposite of love. Now I must loathe the wrongs done to me. Now I must remember the red-haired hunter and his bloody spear planted in my mother's chest.
And gather myself tight, become a point; a needle to penetrate the skin of the knuckle, to pass beyond derma and tendon and muscle to skim the length of bone, to bring myself to balance within the confines of the band's hoop, each stone an equidistant moon tethering me to stability.
If I had lungs, I'd scream. Above me now the sapphire prison of Ounous and the malevolent lie of Spoy, the fire of Tincas and the ice of Onuun; below me Mescwar and Uekh, each to their own interpretation of yellow, bracketing the heavy populations of emerald Fuebe. I can feel the question forming across the spheres of my being: call forth, sing the vibrations. Choose!
'Onuun!' I project the command through a miasma of brutal jabs, each a grim burn. 'Falc!'
The siren stones are mesmerising me. I must loathe them. I must loathe what has become of me, what I am reduced to. I must be a morphic rresonance of equal repulsion to that which would consume me. Still the vice of Sam's thoughtless mind clutches at my viscous being, binds me to him as a lover to the beloved.
As I snap back to the comforts of a living skull, the man behind us convulses, jerks to his climax and drops to the floor. The air Sam gasps into his lungs carries a faint taint of ozone within it, a hint of garlic and balsam and chert to mark the unwilling passage of a being brought through to the Outer World.
Welcome back, Falc. I hope you like your new host.