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Isaac found a clean pair of jeans and an open-throated cotton shirt beside the bed. He dressed quickly and followed Erin out into the morning sunlight. He found he was in a white stone courtyard, surrounded by small apartments of the sort he had woken in. From where he stood, he could see down a long, sloping hill to where Haven lay, shining in the sun. It was a city unlike anything he had ever seen before, both organic and technological, de-centralized in a way that made him feel slightly dizzy. There was no plan, no careful arrangement of streets and buildings, yet everything seemed to work, and to mesh seamlessly with everything else. The architecture was a crazy conglomeration from every historical period, grafted onto fanciful, even ridiculous technology.

"It's like Time threw up," Isaac whispered, looking down. "That's what it's like."

He saw refugees from Knightsbridge, looking dazed and half-asleep, in the courtyard. Often they were on the arm of a guide or assistant. Isaac felt he could sympathize with the wide-eyed stares he saw on those faces. Landing in Haven after the wreck of Knightsbridge was like waking from a nightmare one had been certain- at the time- was real. He was still in that heart-stopping moment after waking, still catching his breath and checking to see that, yes, he really was all right.

Erin led him to an open-air cafe where food was being prepared for the refugees. They garnered sandwiches and strong coffee, along with slices of light, spiced cake. Erin seemed to know everyone, and Isaac sensed a kind of deference in the way she was treated. Nothing so obvious as that of a subordinate to a leader, but rather the sort of respect given to people who have proved their competence again and again. Isaac made as if to sit at one of the long tables set out in front of the cafe, but Erin tugged him on, taking him down a narrow path that led behind the restaurant.

The path passed under a low stone arch, along a vine-covered wall, and down into an open green area behind the remains of a building. The remains were quite old, little more than tumbled stones, and overgrown with more of the ivy that seemed to infest the town. Between the wall and the building lay a green, open area facing out to sea. The wall sloped low before petering out in the grass, and a cluster of people had gathered near the end, some sitting on the wall, some on the grass in front of it. They were facing toward the green, where two people were sparring. One of these was a tall, almost painfully thin man with the sinewy muscles of a boxer. The other was Blake, wearing a sweat-damp tank top and a baggy pair of cargo pants. The tall man was using a long-fist style, taking full advantage of his long arms and powerful shoulders. Blake was responding with short kicks to the legs and a minimalist, almost fussy series of blocks and redirections.

Erin and Isaac went over to the group on the wall and sat down to eat their early lunch. The onlookers greeted Erin by name and nodded politely to Isaac.

"They'll be done in a minute," said a kilted non sitting cross-legged on the wall. "They're still a few bruises under quota."

Isaac sat and ate. The food was delicious, the warm sun even better. Blake and the tall boxer pounded on one another for a few minutes, circling around inside the area of beaten-down grass that marked the sparring ground. Eventually, heeding some signal Isaac could not see, they both straightened, shook hands, and started in the direction of the group.

Erin put down her plate and got up. "Who won?"

Blake shrugged. "Hunger. I could smell your cake from here." He hugged her, then turned to Isaac. "You don't look too bad. Apart from needing a shower, that is."

"I can shower later," Isaac said. "And no, I'm not too bad."

Blake turned back to Erin. "Mind if I borrow him for a bit?"

She crossed her arms. "All right. But you'd better return him in as good condition as you borrowed him."

"Better," Blake said, and kissed her cheek. He offered a hand to Isaac.

Isaac grabbed the last half-sandwich with one hand and took Blake's with the other. "I understand I have you to thank for rescuing me."

"Yeah," Blake said. "You do. So do it and get it over with, will you?"

"Sure..." Isaac raised an eyebrow, but Blake appeared serious, and he went on. "Thank you."

"You're welcome." Blake grinned. "See? Isn't that better than feeling beholden to me for forever? Just buy be a beer sometime."

"I think I can handle that."

"Good deal. Let's go this way. See you guys around, all right?" This last to the group on the wall.

Erin looked up from whatever story she was telling them. "Sure. Later." She waved.

Blake waved back, then vaulted the wall and started down the far side. Isaac followed, and Blake led him down to a small stone circle that overlooked the city.

"That's Haven proper down there," Blake said, settling himself on a fallen stone and rolling a cigarette. "This is mostly Society stuff up here. And ruins."

"Ruins of what?"

"There used to be another Haven here, a while back."

"What happened to it?"

"It got destroyed." Blake lit his cigarette. "How are you doing? I mean, really?"

"Good," Isaac said. "Better than in a long time. I feel like I've been run over by a tractor, but I'm good." He smiled at Blake. "And I'm alive. That's pretty cool, too."

"You're lucky you made it," Blake said. "I hope Liam's worth it."

"He is." Isaac leaned against one of the stones and looked out at the sea. "They both are."

Blake raised an eyebrow. "Both?"

"Just something I've been thinking about." Isaac turned toward him. "That reminds me. Did you ever hear anything about what happened to the Professor? I'm sure he got out before everything fell apart, but I wonder...what?" Blake was giving him a peculiar look.

"I don't think I should be the one to say," Blake said. "Bishop wants to see you, when you're ready. I'll let him explain things. He likes explaining."

"I'd like to see Liam first," Isaac said. "I want to talk to him."

"He might still be passed out."

"Even so."

Blake shrugged. "All right. That's doable."



The curtains in Liam's room were closed. Blake drew them, then went back to the door. "I'll be around," he said, and shut the door behind him as he went.

Liam lay beneath a heavy quilt, his face ashen pale. Someone had washed off the remains of his barbaric face-paint, and to Isaac he looked oddly naked without it. He stirred, feeling the sun on his face, and opened his strange eyes.

"What..." He looked around, blinking back sleep. His eyes focused on Isaac. "Oh...oh, wow." His face broke into a grin. "You're all right."

"You too." Isaac found he was grinning himself. "How do you feel?"

"Better now." His grin widened. "Is that sappy, do you think?"

"I could care less. I'm just happy to see you smile." Isaac leaned over the bed. "You crazy bastard. If you had anywhere that wasn't bruised, I'd punch it. Or kiss it."

"Could we have the kissing first and the punching later?"

"Shut up." Isaac embraced him. "I was worried about you."

"I know." Liam's smile fell. "I'm sorry. I mean...for everything. I'm sorry."

"Well, quit it," Isaac said. "We'll never get anywhere with you being sorry all the time." He thought: I think Blake is rubbing off on me.

"I do want to talk to you about all that," Liam said. "About...what happened."

"I know. And we will. I've got some other ideas you need to hear, too. But not right now. Right now, I'm going to kiss you..." He did. "And leave you alone to get some rest. I'll come and have dinner with you later, how's that?"

"I'd like that."

"Good." Isaac smiled. "Now sleep. And dream of new things."

------
"Quit this world, quit the next world, quit quitting!" -Sufi proverb.


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The following comments are for "The Outsiders - 80"
by Beckett Grey





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