Thirteen Hours after the Iliad’s Auditorium
Stef dropped the drawers.
The point of one drove into her foot before bouncing off, but she barely felt it.
Oh gods, please no.
It wasn’t him, if you’ve ever believed anything I’ve said, then trust me now.
Curt put a tray of drinks onto the empty bench. ‘You-’ his voice cracked. ‘You shouldn’t be out of bed, newbie.’
Her legs gave out, but he caught her, and lifted her.
She screamed at his touch, at the feeling of skin on skin.
Dying was quick. Dying was the easy part. Coming back was the harder part. Dealing with the not-being-dead feelings. The inexplicable joy of breathing, the strange loudness of blinks, the need to touch everything.
The want to run away and make sure it never happened again. The need to scream and cry and beg for bad things to stop happening. Not that they ever stopped happening.
The ugly thoughts that said she deserved it. The inability to listen to the sensible voice in her head, telling her she wasn’t at fault.
Accepting comfort, because it was the best thing in the world ever, even better than cookies, or the internet, or cookies on the internet.
Agency water never ran cold, but it felt wasteful anyway. The blood had come away easily, and all the bits of her that had been stuck to her skin had washed away, all but a tiny piece of skull that bounced around in the drain, a fraction too large to disappear into the mysterious workings of Agency plumbing. Stupid bit of skull.
She turned the water off, crouched and picked the bit of skull up with two fingers, and thew it into the dirty pile of clothes she’d left on the floor.
She shook her head like a dog, flinging droplets of water everywhere, and stepped out of the shower. Fluffy towels that Ryan had found felt so good against skin that wouldn’t stop breaking into goose bumps. She wrapped the towel tightly, a terrycloth hug, before dropping it to the floor, and dressing in the code monkey clothes from the emergency kit.
She wiped at the foggy mirror with her left hand, and touched the condensation-wet hand to her head. It wasn’t sore. It wasn’t sore. It should be sore. It was weird that it wasn’t sore. Always weird that kill wounds didn’t hurt after they stopped being fatal.
She dug a finger against where the bullet hole would have been, took it away, then rubbed at the red spot she’d left behind.
She ran her fingers through her hair once again, then left the warm bathroom.
Curt had already changed out of his uniform. Pyjamas, he had pyjamas without requiring them. Sensible person who probably kept spare clothes in places other than secret hidden emergency packs.
She twisted in his grip to wrap her arms tightly around his neck, holding him as if he could stop her from falling apart.
His body shifted beneath her as he sat on the bed, his arms warm, protecting, gentle. She hooked her chin over his shoulder like she’d done in the infirmary a million years ago, and pressed herself to him, stealing his warmth, his bravery, his structural integrity.
She pressed her fingers against her forehead again, feeling her skull under her skin, feeling for any trace of the hole James had put in her head.
Still nothing, still no trace. There was never any trace. Well, the mirror had left a scar, but it was barely noticeable among the rest of her collection. Stupid scarred freak, she was nothing but a-
Curt shifted behind her, finally letting her go. It had taken a lot longer than normal for him to let go – the previous nights letting go within a few minutes of falling asleep, until sometime closer to morning, finding her again, and holding her until he woke up.
He was still so close, not turning away like usual, slow, steady breaths teasing through the fabric of her t-shirt.
You really-
Shut up, you say this stuff every time I go to bed with him.
There’s nothing wrong with liking it, Spyder. Turn over and look at him.
She rolled over slowly, so she didn’t disturb him, and stared at his face.
I feel creepy looking at him like this.
Just tell me how you feel, how you really feel, and I’ll never ask you again.
Mainly still feeling creepy.
Shut up.
Is there anyone other than Ryan you would have wanted there when you woke up?
He- He was a very good second choice.
For all the times you’ve died, for all the things you’ve never, be honest with yourself right now.
I like him.
Curt. Padawan. Rescue. Safe. Safe. Safe. Safe. Safe. Safe. Safe. Safe. Safe. He came for me. He came for me. He came for me. He came for me. He came for me. He came for me. He came for me. He came for me. He came for me. He came for me. He came for me. He came for me. He came for me. I’m safe. I’m safe. I’m safe. I’m safe. I’m safe. I’m safe. I’m safe. I’m safe. I’m safe. I’m safe. I’m safe. I’m safe. I’m safe. I’m safe. I’m safe. I’m safe. I’m safe. I’m safe. I’m safe. I’m safe.
His hands laid flat against her back. ‘Newbie-’
I’m safe. I’m safe. I’m safe. I’m safe. I’m safe. I’m safe. I’m safe. I’m safe. I’m safe. I’m safe. I’m safe. I’m safe. I’m safe. I’m safe. I’m safe. I’m safe. I’m safe. I’m safe. I’m safe. I’m safe.
She threw up on him.
She slowly moved her head away from the smell, remnants on her chin, tears running freely down her cheeks.
A handkerchief slowly wiped her mouth. ‘Let’s get you cleaned up, newbie.’
‘It wasn’t you!’ she shouted, the volume of her voice shocking her. ‘Whatever happened, it wasn’t you!’
‘I-’ he looked at her, tears welling up in his eyes, ‘I- I filmed it so you wouldn’t have to take it on faith.’
‘I feel sick,’ she whispered.
‘Just one sec,’ he said, and moved across the room to retrieve the tray.
He handed her a shot glass of green liquid. ‘Ok, this one first.’ She threw back the tangy liquid. He handed her another four shots, then a large glass of water. ‘That’s got the last of the blue in it, but it’ll help, ok?’
Her stomach stopped roiling, and he helped her lie down on the pillows. ‘Want to go back to sleep?’
‘What can-?’
‘Would you just get in here and hug me already?’
‘Are you sure?’
‘Please,’ she whispered.
He slowly lay beside her, and moved his arms to hold her, gently, as if she could break. Stupid to think she could break. Stupid to worry about glass after it had already been shattered.
She shook her head against him. ‘No me first,’ she said, her words running together. ‘I- I was hurting, and I was naked, and I was here, and now you’re here. I don’t remember anything,’ she said, gulping for air. ‘I remember- I remember dancing, and yelling at Mags, and the banquet and everything before, but not what’s- Not the- Not the whatever happened. But I’m here, and I love you and you wouldn’t hurt me and you wouldn’t hurt me and you wouldn’t hurt me. I don’t deserve to believe that but I do.’ Tears flowed. ‘You wouldn’t hurt me. I don’t deserve it, but I believe it, you wouldn’t hurt me. I believe in you. And I love you.’ She covered her face with her hands, trying to breathe through the tears, the spit and the snot. ‘Please, please, please, please-’
He kissed the fingers covering her face, and held her tighter. ‘I’ve been trying to figure out all night how to tell you everything. How- How do you want me to-’
She took a deep breath. ‘With words, I guess?’
‘Do you remember going to see the Iliad?’
She shook her head.
‘Well, you did, but you went by yourself. I wanted to talk to Hook.’
She nodded.
‘Clarke,’ the word came out as a Taylorish growl. ‘He- He- He pretended to be me to get close to you. Glamoured up, took my form so you’d trust him. He drugged you.’
Her breath caught in her throat.
‘Someone wanted to buy you, we have no idea who, and he sold you. Almost got away. Taylor rescued you.’
‘Taylor? Big- With the growling Taylor?’
‘Our resident psychopath himself, and Mags too. But yeah. If he hadn’t-’ He held her tighter. ‘Jesus, I’m so sorry, I shouldn’t have left you alone.’
A questioned gnawed on her tiny bit of resolve. ‘Did- Did he hurt me? Clarke I mean, not Taylor.’
Curt’s eyes went wide for a moment, then shook his head. ‘He didn’t get a chance. I think he would have, but he didn’t get a chance. Sorry, that doesn’t make you feel any better. No, he- He hid you in a moss, and-’
‘In a what?’
‘Moss, they’re a type of nymph. But instead of- You’re a genius newbie, I think you get the general idea. Fae use them for trafficking. They can- They sort of grow over whoever they’re stealing and keep them paralysed inside. You can’t move, they breathe for you, it’s a good way to kidnap someone.’
She gave a vague nod.
‘But you’re safe,’ he said, his voice straining. ‘They saved you and you’re safe.’
She wiped her mouth with the back of her hand, and kissed his cheek. ‘And then what? Why are we- Where is here?’
‘My place,’ he said, ‘tour later?’ He slowly stroked her hair. ‘What he drugged you with, remember I told you about the red drinks? Whatever he gave you, it was basically a massive dose of that, don’t pass go, proceed straight to unconsciousness. Mags gave you something to start to bring it out of your system. You’ve been pissing and puking since you got here, but it should all be gone now.’ He gave her an apologetic look. ‘Your clothes are being laundered, they’ll be back soon, I’ve got some shirts and stuff you can wear if want in the mean time.’
Just ask him.
‘And-’ she lifted a hand and rubbed her wrist. ‘Why’d you-?’
‘Now remember, I told you, I filmed it if you’ve got any-’
‘I think the one conviction I have is that the two men I love the most would never hurt me.’
‘You were a danger to yourself,’ he said. ‘Once you got enough of it out of your system to be conscious for more than a few seconds at a time, your behaviour was- Erratic. Convulsions, flailing, trying to hurt me, trying to hurt yourself, trying- It was safer, and I’m sorry, and I know it’s the worst thing I could have done, but it was the best choice I had given the circumstances. And I’m so sorry.’
She let it all digest for a moment. ‘Did you get any sleep?’
He gave her a small smile. ‘I’m starting to understand your relationship with coffee.’