Interference Colors

Drin’s eye is caught by a glint of sunlight, and he glances downward as he puts away his briefcase from work.

Dance is curled up on his side on the couch, the game controller fallen out of his slack hand, and his hair has fallen over his eyes. Instead of turning on the a/c in the summer heat of the house, he’s changed into swim shorts that leave nothing to the imagination, and he’s conked out. The heat always makes him sleepy. As he breathes, ribs moving gently, little glints of sun flicker across his shoulder like a dusting of mica from beach sand. Drin is struck hard by the thought that he always felt Dance was beautiful, and it hits even harder the more he looks, because unglamorous totally conked-out sleeping Dance looks particularly wonderful right now. Dance looks like he should be asleep next to a driftwood fire, pulled out on some hot tropical afternoon, with a surfboard blocking some of the wind for him. Drin moves, and notices that bits of peeled skin coming off Dance’s back catch the slanting light in mica-like glints, an array of prisms that flare color.

When Drin shifts around from the end of the couch, he sees other patches like it lifting off Dance’s shoulder blades and the small of the back.

Dance’s skin is peeling from the last time he was out in the garden too long a few days back. When he gets burnt, he doesn’t bubble and turn red and painful like other people. He just itches, and sheds big scruffy patches of skin. But Drin has never seen such big patches before.

The sun catches little interference patterns on it in regular rows and patterns, prisms of colors in tiny lenses. It glints and sparkles. It’s not from sand.

Drin stands and looks at his beautiful sleeping musician for quite a long time.

Nothing appears to be visible until the skin is detached; and then it is suddenly full of these minute little flecks of reflective cells. Those little glinting cells are like nothing Drin has ever seen before. Slowly, Drin drags up a chair, and sits down, and props his face in his hands. Things are stirring to the light, far back in memories that make him flinch. He puts out his hand, and touches Dance’s ankle, strokes his foot.

Dance stirs, turning his head and lifting his hand out to Drin, and yawning. Drin takes the hand, kisses it, leans into it. Then he murmurs, “Hold still a moment, would you?” And he lifts one of the patches of peeling skin. “Look at this, would you?”

Dance scrubs at his eyes with his other hand, yawns again, and blinks at the fragment in Drin’s fingers. “Yes?” he says, puzzled.

“Look,” Drin says, and puts it in the shaft of sunlight from the window. Needles of color sparkle against the drapes.

Dance blinks again. “What? Why is it shiny like that?”

“Let me try another,” Drin says quietly. A great shard of it lifts away easily in his hand. A scrap the size of his palm hangs in the sun from his fingers. There is no mistaking the tiny little prismatic reflections.

Dance peers at it. “It looks like those shiny blue butterflies or something.”

Drin smiles. Typical, he thinks, that Dance would think of something harmless like Morpheus butterflies instead of something big and scary, like reptile scales. “Yes,” he agrees. “It’s pretty. I noticed it in the sun.”

“Well, that’s weird,” Dance says, twisting around effortlessly to peer owlishly at his own backside. Then he scrubs at the small of his back, sighing as it relieves the itch briefly. Glinting little crumbs scatter across his hand.

“Mind if I grab some of these for a look under a microscope? Somewhere at Emma’s work one of the conservators probably has a decent one.”

“Please to be my guest,” Dance says, puzzled. “How come? Why do you think it’s doing that?”

“That’s what I’d like to know,” Drin says calmly.

micrograph of Sunset moth wing scales
Sunset Moth scales

Dance cuts a look at him under his eyebrows. “Okay, talk,” he says, while he rolls around onto his belly, and props his chin onto his wrists, giving Drin access to his peeling skin. “Would you mind cracking my back too?”

“I would be happy to give you a good hard knee in the spine, if that will be enough to do it,” Drin says, bending and delicately pulling away dead skin. All of it that he checks on has the glints, but they appear in slightly different sizes from different parts of Dance’s body. The largest scales, if that is what they should be called, run at the small of his back. Which is strange, since that’s an area that gets a lot of bending and twisting and use.

Dance grunts. “Well, if you can bring enough weight onto it. Oooh, itch it at that spot right there, that’s been bugging me. Yeah, that’s it.”

“You’re as bad as the cat,” Drin says, scrubbing the meat of his palm into Dance’s back. He calls a halt, goes off into the kitchen, and tucks the bits of skin into a plastic bag. Then he returns to Dance, puts his knee between he upper slopes of Dance’s shoulder blades, and shoves his full weight down into Dance’s spine at a very precise angle. He can feel the little clunk of something like a joint, and Dance sighs.

“Better,” Dance says. “You know, one of these days it’s going to stop working, and we’ll have to figure out what to do about it. Some days it feels better if I leave it hanging out.”

“Hanging out?”

“That’s what it feels like. Like a chunk of something crooked that’s stuck half in and half out of my backbone, and it can’t decide which way to be, and either end of the extreme hurts like blazes, as Emma would say.”

Drin hears himself say coolly to Dance, in a strange far-away voice, “You’re coming unpinned, you know, and things are going to start getting weird if you do.”

Dance twists his head and looks up. “What? Drin? What was that?”

Drin stares at him. Nightmare images of smoke and flames billow past the living room furnishings, past Dance and his staring eyes. The bones in Drin’s hand crackle and burn and ache and he hears himself screaming again. Dance is still staring up at him, twisting around, coming up at him from the couch, warm palms touching him lightly and carefully on the arms. Dance knows. He never grabs first thing. He knows Drin is halfway in the past, where the screaming is.

Remember the creature who rescued you from the fire? It wasn’t human then, and it isn’t human now, says the strange voice in his head. The memory of those golden eyes superimposes itself over Dance’s face, matching up like a forensic checklist of skull landmarks, and then it all slides away from him again. And he’s falling, legs limp.

But Dance catches him. Pulls him in, floppy as he is.

Drin can hear himself panting into Dance’s chest. This is the way the nightmares often go away now, with Dance’s arms sliding up around him, drawing him down onto Dance’s body. Legs and arms embrace him. It helps. It shouldn’t. By all the guidelines, being grabbed should make it worse, but it helps him. He gasps into Dance’s hair, pressed close into the hot skin of Dance’s body, grabbed now as hard as Dance can hang onto him.

“It’s all right,” Dance says. “I’m right here. You’re home. You’re in one piece. You’re all right.”

Drin can feel himself gasping frantically for air. “Right. Okay. Sorry. Oh damnitall, I’m sorry, Dance. Shit, that was… that one came out of nowhere.”

“Just lay here a bit, let me hold you,” Dance murmurs, and kisses him. “It’ll make me feel better! You’re all right, love, it’s okay.”

It takes awhile before his heart rate goes down enough and he can think, and ask Dance what he said during it, because the memory of what he said is gone, shot through with smoke and pain and confusion. Dance repeats it, carefully, the way he always does when Drin asks this, because Drin usually doesn’t want to hear it again. He knows Drin only asks him to repeat it when it’s important, or seems to be.

“What does coming unpinned mean?” Dance asks, eventually.

Drin stares at him blankly. “I don’t know.”

“And who does you mean?” Dance asks then, because he knows all about linguistic confusions, and having to be careful about sorting them out. “You or me or the cat?”

And of course the cat takes that moment to leap up onto the small of Drin’s back and curl up there and start purring, happily kneading his shirt and his skin with her sharp little claws. Drin makes a face, and Dance chuckles. Dance reaches up and pets the cat, encourages her to settle differently. Drin settles more comfortably between the two warm pressures, and finds himself falling asleep on Dance’s shoulder. Oh, he’s pretty tired too, he finally realizes, and sighs a little as he drifts off.

He’s lying on his side, curled up on the sofa in in Dance’s place, with his shoes off and his collar loosened and a blanket over his legs, when he stirs stiffly. The sound of voices wake him. Emma and Dance are in the kitchen, there’s the sound of dishes being washed. “Well,” Emma says then, “I’d rather go in early and get a look at those bits of skin myself under the scope, without somebody looking over my shoulder, if you want the truth.”

“Why is that?” Dance asks.

“Well, something about the shapes remind me of those armor plates you see underneath lizard scales. They’re called osteoderms. It’s not on the surface, you see. If you look at those carefully, you’ll see the shiny is pretty deep in the skin.”

“But I just– ”

“Dance, I know. I know what Drin was talking about. I’ve seen it on you before before.”

“What?” Dance says, bewildered.

“Yes, every time you’ve got yourself burnt like a piece of toast, you peeled just like that. And it’s been shiny like that. You just never noticed–but I have. And yes, I knew it was your skin the minute I saw it. It’s just more obvious now. It used to be thinner. I didn’t realize they must be growing.”

Dance is silent. there’s just the sound of pots being put away.

“You okay?” Emma says.

“I don’t– I don’t know. It isn’t like butterfly wings?”

“Those shine because of the little plates that overlap on the surface. These shine like that, yes, but it’s way under the surface.”

“It’s not a cancer, is it?”

“Not any kind I’ve ever read about, and believe me, I’ve read enough to make anybody a hypochondriac.”

“What– what do we have to do?”

“Well, I take that in and get a look at it in private, first, and see what I can find out. Maybe I’ll call in some expert help who’s a little more discreet than the guys at work. I’ll find somebody.”

“Something about seeing it set off one of Drin’s attacks,” Dance says then, unhappy.

“I thought maybe so,” Emma murmurs.

“I don’t want to make him have bad memories!” Dance says.

“I know, love, hush, it’s all right. It’s all right.”

When Drin gets up, and walks slowly into the kitchen, he finds Emma hugging Dance fiercely, one hand at the back of his head, the other stroking his spine. She looks up at Drin.

hand on man's chest in open shirt
hand on heart

Wordless, Drin wraps himself around them both. “Shhhh,” he murmurs. “Shhh, it’ll be all right, Dance, it will be, I promise.”

“What if this–what if these things stuck in my skin–what if it has something to do with those dreams–those boxes– those crab things in the boxes–” Dance says.

“Dance,” Drin says, and feels the jittering body in his arms grow still, listening. “Dance, maybe it does. But that part doesn’t matter. I love you. Emma loves you. We are not afraid of you loving us, or what you might have lived through, or what bad dreams you might have because you’re such a goddamn tough survivor. It’ll be all right. You’re our beautiful musician, our gardener who cooks and laughs and makes funny jokes and makes us happy to be here in this life with you. Nothing else matters to us. Truly, it doesn’t.”

“If I can’t play any more–” Dance is panting, he’s breathing so hard.

“You’re still a musician when you’re so old and gnarled you can’t play a single note. You told us that one night. You remember? That night watching Pablo Casals made Emma cry,” Drin says, holding on very tightly.

“Yes,” Dance says. “Yes.” It calms him. “Don’t cry, Emma, I didn’t mean to upset everybody all over again–”

Then Emma is kissing Dance, fiercely, pushing him back into Drin’s support and just taking his mouth as if she can’t get enough of him, cupping his head in her hands. He’s just opening himself to her, letting her do whatever she wants with him, he’s responding sluggishly compared to what they’re both used to from him. He’s afraid of–something. Drin grabs his arms around them both tighter, and kisses Dance’s hair, and his forehead, and finally he feels Dance give a little silent chuckle, one that is felt rather than heard. Dance starts kissing Emma back, and his hands come back and stroke Drin’s hips in the way that turns all of them on so fiercely. When she draws back for air, breathing hard, she says, “Right, love, you got that?”

Dance smiles crookedly. “Yes. I got that.”

“Well then,” Emma says. “Now, if you’ll just shove that casserole in the oven for a little while, with timer, please, then I think we’ve some leisure to put Dance flat on his back and make sure he really got it. Right?”

Drin smiles. “Right.” He releases Dance, allowing him to take about three steps in the tiny kitchen and put the long cheese-covered pan in the oven. The ridge in his pants is an absurdly reassuring sight.

“I go through more lipstick around you boys,” Emma says then, wiping her face with a tissue, and blowing her nose with an unladylike honk. Her face looks tired and blotchy and soft and fierce, all at once. Drin looks at her, and holds out his arm, and she slides into his embrace with a sigh, leaning into him. He strokes her lower back, feeling the spasming and knots there. She’s going to need Dance’s expert help with that.

Dance wipes his eyes on his knuckles, blinks at the oven, adjusts it, and looks owlishly at the timer. “Right,” he says then, frowning, and adjusts it with all the care of a drunk, even though he hasn’t been drinking.

Drin hauls him in with his other arm, and walks them off to bed. Bed isn’t the solution for everything. But it’s a good start, and he’s willing to do nearly anything to reassure them both.

===

a bit from googledocs collaboration.

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