Disclaimers: All hail Knauf, HBO, and co.
Spoilers: General ones for S1 Carnivale. Nothing after,
as I haven't seen it yet.
Summary: There were times when it hardly seemed
possible that she'd ever had another name.
Ratings Note/Warnings: Adults only. Like the show.
Author's Note: Something I had to get out of my
system before watching more.
Acknowledgments: To Bas and tzikeh for audiencing
and helpful suggestions, especially on the title.
On Justin's fourth birthday, Iris asked her mother when
her brother would finally be her age. She was eight.
Her mother had laughed, she remembers, and pointed
out that he never would be -- something she'd found
terribly unfair at the time.
She'd been waiting her whole life for someone who'd be
just hers, after all.
Here, now, Justin is deep in meditation and prayer, the
snap of his scourge vicious, rhythmic, and undeniable.
She remembers the scent of leather, of old blood and
things deeper than that, stranger. Not enough of this
world for even a woman such as herself.
Iris does her best to live by the way of the Lord, but the
Call was never truly hers to hear.
She was a good child, if somewhat on the watchful side --
this is what was said about her. Norman, of course, had
always said it with a smile.
Sometimes with a hand on her hair, or a sweet in his
She'd once accused the man of trying to bribe her attention
away from her brother, but Norman was a good man, and
a man of God.
If only others were so vigilant, so unwavering from the task
of being their brothers' keepers, he'd said, and smiled wider
when she'd said "Genesis."
Justin's mattress is softer now, worn from the weeks she'd
spent desperate to warm herself in the space where he
wasn't. She knows it can't really be -- there is nothing truly
luxurious in their home, but everything is sturdy and
Still, the mattress creaks when she shifts to correct her
posture, and a part of her is waiting for it to jar Justin away
from his prayers, dreading it a little, though it isn't the sort
of thing to make him angry.
Justin is a gentle man.
And he does not falter.
Their hair lightened quickly here, as if the sun were
something they couldn't possibly have ever understood in
They were never quite as fair as the other children,
however, and Iris spent countless days tracking her brother,
*keeping* him by the darkness of his head amongst the
She breathed, deeper, every time she lay a hand on his
shoulder. Every time he looked up at her, smiling and
surprised at being so easily found once again.
Even after he was taller.
The wounds are neat on Justin's back; the blood never is.
There are years in the criss-cross of old scars, livid against
his flush of exertion.
In the knowing that sits low in her belly, in the places
where God made her woman, and flesh, and sinful.
Yes, Justin, she's never said, and never will. She always
She doesn't have to say it.
She didn't have to say it, but Justin was sixteen and she did,
anyway. "It isn't right."
"But, Iris! The things I *feel*!"
He had always been a sensitive boy -- this was surely a part
of his Gift -- and it hurt her inside to deny him anything, at
all. Still, she had kept her face set, praying that he wouldn't
see the pain in her eyes, until he had nodded.
The Winslow girl was nice enough, but had a habit of
skipping church to run wild through the woods like some
sort of... well, she didn't know. She just knew that she was
wrong for Justin.
And when he came to her, later, and blushed and
stammered through his confession of how hard it could be
to focus on his studies, on his *path*, she had been ready.
There were all sorts of sins which could beset an incautious
teenaged boy -- Norman had said so, himself -- but there
was no flesh and blood which could stand to the fire of
God's will, and His Son's own pain and glory.
They had no true cross, of course, but the tack shop had
just what she needed.
What *they* needed.
She is not perfect, and never will be. She has doubts, and
questions. This thing they share, this Call whose echoes
come to her in dreams, this sweat beneath her brassiere --
and in other places -- which stirs her so.
She knows there is a place for this, just as she knows there
can't possibly be.
Sometimes she thinks she'll die in the spaces between his
panting breaths, in the endless time after the crack of the
scourge stops, and before.
Before he *moves*.
He had been so solemn and handsome when he came home
from the Divinity School, and she had felt the proud tears on
her cheeks and nothing else, nothing at all until he turned
away from Norman's congratulations and smiled at her.
There were times when it hardly seemed possible that she'd
ever had another name.
She knows what it means that his hands don't shake even
as he rolls her stockings down so carefully, even as he tears
at the underthings no one else would ever see.
She knows the look in his eyes from other days, and
remembers when "cold" was something which could kill you,
when she feared she'd never be able to bring them to any
There is pain there that she cannot touch, and there are no
words for the way it makes her feel.
There are sounds, though, animal and rough and low as
they must be to do this, to have this.
"Irina," he growls against her thigh, and his hands feel
strong enough to snap the bone beneath her hips.
He wouldn't need his hands for that.
He is not gentle.
She'd stood up, shaky but unharmed away from the scream
of metal and other things, her brother's hand warm and
soft and damp in her own.
Justin was weeping, and she'd squeezed his hand as tight
as she could. "I will protect you, Alexei," she'd said, even
though she knew there would come a day when it would be
the other way around. This was everywhere around them,
written in the scatter of bodies which were not theirs.
"I couldn't," he'd said. "I was not strong enough for more
than the two of us!"
"There is *only* the two of us," she'd said, and held his
hand tighter still.
"I've been waiting... so long --"
"I waited so *long*, Irina!"
"I know," she says again, and feels herself shiver at the
press of his palm against his throat, at the tremble which
deepens, sharpens as he thrusts.
She can't see his eyes, anymore, but they were always the
false ones, perhaps.
"There is blood," her mother had said, scrubbing hard at the
mud on Alexei's face. "And there is *nothing* else."
"It was only a *joke*, mama --"
She had felt herself hit the floor before she felt the slap,
"Irina... Iris. You are all I truly have left," he says, mournful
and low. His lips move against the place which will bruise
on her throat, but no other sound comes out. He has
always been so very sensitive.
"I know," she says. "I know."