"I didn't know you were in the War."
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They sat at the edge of one of the pools on the main deck, feet dangling in the languid water; warm even though the ship had moved into arctic waters.
Min was silent a long time, looking at the drowned, swishing shapes of her legs, at her scarred and burned hands, the nails grown out and smooth for the first time in years. She'd let her hair down again, obscuring whatever her expression may have been.
It wasn't that she didn't want to tell him.
Half the time she wanted to tell him…everything.
But even if that had been possible, it was hard to trust after so many disasters in judgement. And then too, she'd lost the habit of being able to talk about how she felt.
"It was the one thing that no one, including my family, ever understood about me." Min kept her eyes on the water, fingers tightening to bloodlessness on the pool's lip. "Why I would suffer all the hardship and tyranny and violence just to join the…Army.” At the last moment she remembered to substitute words, flagellating herself for forgetting. Not exactly a lie, she rationalized.
“But..." She shrugged, feeling it snag like broken glass, even now. "It's all I ever wanted to do or be or have. To be that good, that perfect."
Not that it did Carrerra any good, an acidic mental voice observed. Min shrank from that thought, unwilling to again ruffle the surface of dream or memory.
"And were you? That good, that perfect?" His hand covered hers, fingers twining. As always, his skin felt slightly cool, but she craved the casual intimacy of it as much as she simultaneously hated it, the weakness it implied. Touch was fairly impersonal in the Guard, but with Duncan it ceased to be that simple, ceased to be something she didn't have to think about.
His question pushed her to laugh, something he could always do. "Far from it," she replied ruefully, kicking her feet only to watch it splash.
They'd been on board nearly a month before Zoë could get Min within thirty feet of any of the pools, but now—most times—it was okay. She had loved the water once; she wondered idly if that fondness would return, given time and distance.
"I doubt as far as you think," Duncan returned mildly, squeezing her hand. "You were happy there, weren't you?” he asked suddenly, startling her. “As happy as you're unhappy now."
"Yeah, I was.” Min admitted, lifting one shoulder. “I mean, I know it’s stupid, because I could have died there any time, just like that," she snapped her fingers, "but I was happy."
"So why did you come back?"
“Hmm.” Min shrugged one shoulder again, casually, as if it didn't matter, as if the shame of it were not still as biting as acid, still as hurtful as the day she'd gotten the letter from home. "My family needed me," she replied, not exactly a lie. "And Zoë..."
Duncan snorted. "What Zoëde needs is to be rid of Ben."
"That too," Min agreed. Her head was starting to ache; the low-grade throbbing that presaged a migraine. "But since they're both desperately in love, it’s not too likely to happen."
"True," Duncan admitted, tipping his face up to the thick sunlight filtering through the glass panes. "Pity.” He sighed once, looking sidelong at her. “Look, I’m sorry about what I said before, at the table. It was dumb, and it was hurtful. I just… I know it’s none of my business. It’s just frustrating to watch how Ben treats her and she just…takes it.”
“And then she goes and takes something else, to ease the pain,” Min smiled again, this time in commiseration. “Although to be fair, sometimes that doesn’t seem like such a mad idea. You know what love is, what it’s like. You make…stupid, insane decisions.” She looked up, eyes rueful and reminiscent. “Like giving up your dreams to nearly marry a lying wastrel and cheat, simply because he’s the most gorgeous thing you’ve ever seen in your life.” She tipped one shoulder, eloquent. “Though I don’t think it’s me you should be apol…”
At once, Min broke off, head turning sharply and tipping like a dog sounding out prey, hearing Zoë’s voice out on the deck. Too loud, and too shrill—muddled by alcohol and probably more glitterati or jellostim as well—even through the thick panes of the pool house.
Silent, Min got to her feet in a single lithe gesture, brushing past Duncan to the doorway.
The diminutive brunette was thirty feet up the deck with the rest of what Min had privately termed 'the blonde bombed-shells’. Darkly tan, newly rich, and surgery perfect, they usually had nothing better to do with their time than get drunk and dosed and make life hell for the crew of whatever cruise they happened to be on this year.
There was a time that Zoëde would have laughed at them with Min, secure in her position the youngest daughter of House Han-Rhavias. Now they were her best friends and Min was only her nursemaid.
Eyebrows quirking, Min leaned one shoulder against the jamb, trying to figure out what about that scene had her nerves jangling like a shaken sistrum. She could hear them from where she stood--a tacky murder of bright colored crows, jostling back and forth, laughing, daring each other in shrieking voices to do something. What?
"What is she doing?” Duncan came up just behind Min, her skin sensitive with the awareness of his proximity.
She turned her head to look back at him, eyes widening a little. “Your guess is as good as mine,” she rejoined dryly.
Even so, Min felt it when Duncan’s body tensed.
She turned—not towards him, but back to Zoë—and her heart stopped dead in her chest.
Zoë was up on the railing, one leg to either side, arms flung out for balance—not that she had any. She was laughing, head thrown back.
Min would later remember thinking—through the storm surge of adrenaline that flooded her system—how truly beautiful Zoë looked...
…just before she tipped off-balance and tumbled over the side.
That which could hunger, could starve. - Octavia Butler