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She was up and moving before she was even entirely awake.
Her hair had come down in sleep, now tangled, matted. Struggling with the long and irritating mass, she knew even without tonguing her chronometer she'd overslept. Dammit. Breakfast. Duncan.
ZoŽde was stood in the doorway, hands on hips and already dressed, an irritated pixie. "Are you going to spend all day in bed?"
"No, m'up," Min murmured, face hidden behind her hands. She was shaking from the violence of her dream, though hopefully ZoŽ wouldn't notice. Probably not; ZoŽ seldom troubled herself to notice anything about Min these days.
It was her own fault, truth be told. Sheíd been up Ďtil nearly dawn on the promenade with Duncan watching the movement of the stars and drinking cup after cup of tea; the kind of easy, gliding conversations she'd once had with ZoŽ, and then she'd slept badly, dreaming of Homeland.
Not, she thought, that I don't miss it horribly every day, gods help me.
Min let out a long exhalation, grounding herself to the here-and-now. The stench of acid and burning skin lingering in her nostrils was only imagination, she reminded herself, only a dream.
"Did you have breakfast?Ē she asked, more because she should than anything. It was harder than she thought, keeping her voice conversational, even. Briskly, she finger-combed through her hair and twisted it up out of the way. It felt like the remnants of her dreams had wrapped around her like a layer of cobweb, sticky and clinging, fouling movement, sucking thought. ďWhat time is it, anyway?Ē
"Nearly noon. And I had breakfast with Ben," ZoŽde replied, deliberately bland. She crossed her arms, one shoulder against the jamb. No need to point out that Min should have been there; she was ZoŽís chaperon after all, the only reason sheíd been brought at all. "I've been waiting for you to wake up."
"IÖ" The taller girl tried to focus, disturbed at how long it took. She shook her head, fingertips grinding against her lids. "I'll be up in five minutes," she said, giving up and casting around on the coverlet for her robe. It had been a present from ZoŽ, years ago; expensive black Auriental silk-cotton, abstract butterflies appliqued and embroidered in peach and bronze and blue. "I just need to get dressed."
"Whatever.Ē ZoŽ shrugged and pushed off the jamb, turning and walking out of the suite altogether, leaving the stateroom door open. Min stumbled from the bed and closed it, forehead pressed to the rough grained wood as she waited for her legs to feel like they belonged to her again. Down, she thought doggedly, as she had every day. Away.
After a time, more herself, she sighed. She'd have to skip showering; it was unlikely she'd find someone to pair up with at this late hour and conservation made no provision for oversleep. Anyway, ZoŽís waiting. Letís not piss her off anymore than she is already.
She washed briefly in the nightstand basin instead. The water was stale and cold, which felt great on her eyes, but jarring on overheated skin. Avoiding sight of herself in the stateroom's one mirror, Min broke open one of the glass tubes of pills cached in her dresser drawer, quickly dry-swallowed them and got dressed.
She found ZoŽ in the promenade cafe with Duncan, at one of the few tables without a striped umbrella. She fought down bitterness and jealousyóboth irrationalóand forced a smile. Theyíd met Duncan amid the chaos of boarding. He'd been travelling alone, and looking for any distraction from the tension between them, theyíd adopted him immediately. As it was, they all probably would have gone insane and/or killed each other the first month of the voyage, if not for him.
ZoŽ sipped from a long frosted glass fancifully shaped like a tulip. Min could smell the vodka underneath the lemonade even without augmented senses. A fleck of silver on her upper lip showed where the smaller girl had incompletely wiped after dosing herself with glitterati, probably just after leaving Minís room. Ben, ZoŽís fiancť, was nowhere to be seenónot entirely unusualóand partly the reason ZoŽ was so medicated.
"Good morning, sleepy head," Duncan said, giving a little half-wave and a smile. He shoved one of the wrought iron chairs at her with his toe.
"Hardly morning anymore," ZoŽ muttered into her glass, one slender eyebrow arched.
Duncan ignored her, even as thin color came up in Min's face. "I missed you for breakfast."
"Sorry." Min didn't meet either of their eyes as she threw herself in the third chair, feeling as if her skin had turned transparent, exposing her all-too-volatile emotions. She usually had little to say when it was three of them, or four. Idly, her fingers traced the sinuous curves of a butter knife one of them had left sitting. Looking up, she caught ZoŽís gaze on her, eyebrow still lifted. Hastily, she took her hand back, dark color springing all-too readily to her face.
The waiter, Heilas, brought Min a cup of her favorite spice tea, a stick of cinnamon melting aromatically in the bottom. He always brought her tea; the two of them had struck up a sort of friendship the times she'd spent watching ZoŽ, through too many pink gins, giggle juices and vapordusts, occasionally even assisting in getting the younger girl back to her stateroom. And what else, really, can servants do for one another? ďThank you.Ē She smiled, the old habits of courtliness unerased even after six years in the Guard.
"You look like you haven't slept at all," Duncan observed lightly, pushing the turbinado towards Min, fully aware of her terrible addiction to the stuff. She smiled wanly again in gratitude, gaze flickering up to his, then nimbly away.
"I slept," Min shrugged carelessly, dumping in four spoonfuls, stirring her tea. ďJust badly.Ē She looked out towards the ocean. Thereíd been a pod of orca yesterday, but today there was nothing but blue-green water and jagged pilasters of ice to be seen. She cupped her hands around the cup, absorbing the heat into fingers suddenly cold, even the sunlight momentarily sucked out of the day. There are no Otherkin outside of Homeland, she reminded herself sternly. But even soÖ I really wish ZoŽ had picked something other than the Boronoovik cruise; something moreÖ She sighed. Tropical.
"The War again?Ē ZoŽ looked up at her, bitten nails flicking idly at the rim of her glass. The sympathy gilding the darkness of ZoŽ's gaze was genuine, stifling Minís first impulse to bridle and snap. ZoŽís gaze, lately restless, flickered away again, the dimples at the corners of her mouth deepening a little with unspoken thought.
Minís shoulders tilted again, not wanting to talk about it with ZoŽ, who didnít understand. She pressed her fingers carefully against the cupís sides, concentrating on the cluster of painted lilies at the bottom until the moment passed. She exhaled softly, flexing to ease the knots in her shoulder blades and back. "So what are we doing today?" she asked brightly, as if nothing had happened. Of course, nothing happening was exactly the point. Hooray for me.
"I don't know." ZoŽ livened a little, oblivious, brushing her hair back with one hand. The top was starting to streak auburn in thick swathes, bleached by the sun. "Cheyne said there's going to be a party, but that's not Ďtil later. Ben suggested we go in and do some shopping in Mansard; he's going to be tied up all day again. He says I need a new hat; I'm getting dark as a heathen.Ē ZoŽ drained her drink quickly and gestured for another, a languid edginess to her gestures that told Min she was more than half-drunk already.
Briefly, Min considered making comment, but what would be the point? Given her current state of mind, it would doubtless be more hurtful than helpful, and probably unkind, as well. ďDid you tell him you are a heathen, in point of fact?Ē she teased instead, drawing a wan and grateful smile from the other girl.
"Why do you let him hurt you like that?" Duncan asked, as Heilas silently switched empty glass with full. "Heís making you miserable. And youíre going to be puking sick before nightfall, if you keep drinking like this. "
ďWell.Ē ZoŽís mouth curved, bitter and rueful as she shook her long hair back. "That was the plan," she replied blithely, fingers clenched tightly enough around the glass that Min thought she might shatter it. She drained it in three huge swallows, then set the flute on the table with a sharp and jittery click of glass on glass. Her eyes welled up with quick, unexpected silver, obscuring the brown, before she blinked them away. "But thanks for your concern."
All at once, ZoŽ pushed away from the iron filigree table, walking swiftly away. Min rose only a beat behind her, checking her first, bitter rush of thought and reaching for equilibrium through her frustration and contempt.
"ZoŽ. ZoŽde.Ē Min called her. She caught up to the smaller girl in the corridor and put a light hand on her shoulder to stay her. "What did he do this time? What happened?"
ZoŽ swiped angrily at her eyes, shoulders squared against pain, as if expecting a blow. Then she looked up and shrugged, the thin, ironic lines around her mouth something Min had seen more and more in recent days. "What does he always do? Just the same stupid shit.Ē She lifted one shoulder, eyes evading Min's. "I just... Look, I don't really want to talk about it right now, okay?"
Min was surprised at how much that simple refusal hurt, a further delineation of how much they each had changed. She used to be the one ZoŽ trusted most in the world. Min took a splintered breath, catching back her first hasty words and substituting a simple, "Okay."
She stood very still as ZoŽ walked away, as if poised on the edge of falling. An errant breeze came swirling down the corridor from the deck, cold and sharp, wrapping her long skirt around her legs like a living thing. After so long away, Min hardly flinched. Her hands fisted.
Just let it go.
"Will she be okay?"
Min shut her eyes; glad he couldn't immediately see her expression. She hadn't heard him come up from behind, hadn't even sensed him. And I should have. Dammit, I should have.
The pain of that failure, this final collapse of her aspirations and dreams was like a black and heavy fist pulping her insides. Crossing her fisted hands over her ribs, she struggled to draw in enough breath to speak around it.
"She'll be fine," Min said after a moment, her voice more calm and matter-of-fact than she'd expected. "She just wants to be alone for a while.Ē She unclenched her fingers, feeling the indentations her nails had left in the skin, and turned to face him, composing her expression to something like human.
"Come on then, come keep me company on deck.Ē Duncanís fingers braceleted her wrist, tugging her forward. She put up only a token resistence, allowing him to tow her along, annoyed by her own reactions.
Great green godsóI thought I was through with all this after Adrian.
That which could hunger, could starve. - Octavia Butler