A fanficlet based on Pamela Dean's Tam Lin, inspired by this quote from suricattus: The thing about Tam Lin that always fascinated me was the “stand-fast” aspect. And I wanted to explore that outside the relatively narrow grounds of True Love—what does it mean to stand fast for someone you might not always love, who might not be your True Love, or your Love at all?
Even in the worst years, during and after the divorce, when they could scarcely meet without saying bitter words to each other, and the grooves worn around Janet's mouth were neither slight nor smiling, they would meet on the Day Of in front of the swans at the zoo.
Every year Janet would bake a loaf of crusty bread at dawn and leave it to cool on the windowsill, even when the rest of the year she had had her consciousness raised and swore off (and at) baking from scratch. She took a side and he took a side (they were good at that, by then) and tore it apart, like a wishbone, and then they slowly and solemnly fed it to the swans, not looking at each other.
In the early days, they would sit so entangled strangers had to look away, and finish the ritual by feeding each other the last scraps, and a crummy kiss.
By the end, they sat nearly on opposite ends of the bench, not touching, with almost enough room for another whole person between them, but not quite. Janet popped the last stale piece in her own mouth, like a sacrament, it was so dry and hard going down. "I'm still not sorry I saved you," she said, and stood up, briskly but not unkindly, and brushed the crumbs from her skirt.
The next year, after the papers were signed and the house was sold and the proceeds split, Thomas wasn't sure she would even show up. But he did and there she was, holding a paper bag that rustled. "The oven doesn't work right in the apartment," she said.
"It's probably the thermometer," he said, "if you want me to come by and check,.." He wished he had the words back, but she was already shaking her head. "Thanks," she said, "but the super's coming on Thursday."
It might just be his imagination that the swans were getting old too, that they didn't move their snake-necks as fast as they used to to peck at at each other for scraps of bread. It was undeniable, though, that they lost interest faster, or maybe they didn't like store-bought, or there weren't as many as they used to be.
It felt too awkward to throw it away, so he stuck the heel-end of the bread in his pocket. "See you next year," he said, and she nodded, and that was all, but he believed her, and maybe that was all the magic they had left together, but it was enough to find his way back.