Scars on the Heart
A story inspired by The Vision of Escaflowne
By Sarah Dove
Don't be afraid; take it like a
Please behave the same way if you can
So close I can taste it; I'm ready to please
Too close now to fake it, pretending it's sweet
I'm down on my knees, I'm dying to
Show the bastards what you do!
- Stellar*, 'What You Do.'
The feeling was like going into an exam, with added death. She swung up into the unfamiliar cockpit, settled herself, fitted her arms and legs into the padded servo sleeves. For a moment she thought she wouldn't be able to find how to close the visor and get going, but it turned out a hard shrug of her shoulders took care of that. Scherazade embraced her. As she made it stand up, people scattered away; Gaddes and Van carried Allen off between them, Millerna supporting his shoulder herself. She turned. The movement was easy; heavy, but not dragging. She had been afraid Scherazade would handle like a tank compared with an Oreades, but it was smooth, strong. Of course ... I was born to this. Not as a warrior, as a Schezar. So where is he?
Something glinted far out over the city. He was descending over the area of devastation where the Enhanced Luck twins had made their strike. Scherazade, of course, was not built to fly. She took a bearing by the sun and set out in as close to a straight line as she could get, along canals, hopping bridges, tramping through the city, stones cracking under Scherazade's feet. I'm having to do damage just to protect the city. People watched from upper-storey windows. Someone cheered: 'Go get him, Sir Allen!' Others took it up, cheering for the supposed pilot of the mighty melef. Celena, sweating slightly, tried to take it in the spirit that was meant. The cheers died in her ears as she moved into the deserted area of broken buildings. The construction sites around the edges were abandoned; she only hoped people had seen Dilandau coming and been able to get away. Clambering over a fallen tower, she came into a wide open area, a broken square. This must be where the wedding was held; where the strike came. Jajuka had briefed Dilandau, brought him up to date on what he had missed.
That's another thing. Why do I still have his memories when he's right outside me? Are they really part of me? He didn't take them with him does it work both ways? Does that mean he knows everything I've thought and felt these last few days? It was a monumentally embarrassing thought. She refused to deal with it just then; she needed to be alert.
He was waiting for her, the Oreades poised in the centre of the square, dramatic, just as he always liked. She stepped forward, put Scherazade's hand to the hilt of its sword.
I wish this was face-to-face, hand-to-hand. I can't see him in there. I want to talk to him. At a remove like this I can't deal with him, not properly. I want to see him.
The Oreades leapt in the air, ready to fly away again.
'Stop! Face me! You can't run away from me!' Her voice echoed in the cockpit; she didn't know if he could even hear her properly.
'Can you even keep up?' He rose, mockingly slowly, just out of reach. 'I want to get out of this lousy city. This could be interesting, don't you think? Why should we limit ourselves to this arena? I want to have some fun with you, Celena. Come out and play.'
For a long time, there was only the pursuit. She cursed Scherazade for being an antique, unable to fly, forced to stride through the countryside like a giant, clumsy, damaging even where she tried to be careful. He'd fly on ahead, he'd wait for her, never let her catch up. Sometimes he was only a glint in the distance; sometimes he'd let her get really close, so she thought it was going to come to something, there would be an engagement, and then he'd turn and move on.
What can he be getting from this? Does he just want to tease me? I must be able to get into that mind But she had no sense of him. It was lonely. She'd never known she was aware of Dilandau within herself until he was removed. He had been so deeply submerged he was nothing but the barest, deepest pressure on her psyche, never enough to make her act or speak or feel with thoughts other than her own, never that much of an influence, but there. Just a part of her, her unknowable insides my heart, my liver, my bowels, my Dilandau. I carried you within me just as you carried me. I can't love or hate you any more than I love or hate this body; it's a prerequisite of living in the world, what I must have to have anything else, good or ill. You're part of the conditions. How can I be without you?
Of course, I did hate this body, to begin with. Do you hate me like that? Weak and leaking? Open, touchable, no longer superior and safe? Wait, where'd he go?
'Damn it!' she said aloud. 'Stop thinking so much! You've lost him, you silly cow.' But no, there he was, not far off, descending to the forest where it spilled down to the coastline. The afternoon light was getting low and lazy, but there was a good while left until dark. He seemed to actually be stopping there, although it might be another tease, and she was getting really sick of that; it might make sense to refuse to play his game, to stop and force him to come to her but he might not, and then there'd be a psychotic fifteen-year-old boy in a fully-armed Oreades at large unchallenged in Asturia and it would be her fault.
It was much too hot in the cockpit; she would have to get out sooner or later. Golden slices of sunshine fell through the louvred visor and drew the sweat out of her; with arms in the servo sleeves she couldn't wipe her face or get her hair out of her eyes. Hello, I'm Celena Schezar. I cry and I sweat, and for my next birthday I would like a haircut. In the future, I'm thinking of diversifying into bedwetting. Horses sweat and men perspire, but ladies merely glow where does that leave me? God, it's good to be crazy. A sane person couldn't deal with this at all. The heat was making her feel manic, but walking in Scherazade was like walking in dreams, or seven-league boots, great strides that took you further than you thought, and she was reaching the forest edge. She could see the Oreades' carapace; it had touched down in a clearing somewhere in there. She wasn't about to just smash her way through a forest; she felt bad enough about the fences and walls she'd broken on her way here.
She made Scherazade kneel, shrugged open the cockpit and climbed down. It would be face-to-face; she would force him to meet her on her own terms. If he wanted to 'have fun' with her he wouldn't just cut her down where she stood.
'Thank you for bringing me this far,' she said to the armoured giant. 'I'm sorry I abused you like that. You can't help the way you're made.' Grass swished around her ankles; her stockings were rolling down, pulled out of their garters by activity (ladies didn't run) and she was very aware of the air on her legs. Short skirts and bare knees, like when I was a little girl in summer tucking my skirts up in my knicker-legs to go paddling She could see the little ice-skate scar. She had screamed her head off when that was made. Even if I'm a crier, I'm not a screamer any more. She stopped and breathed deeply, eyes closed. I won't die. I won't lose.
'Ready or not, Dilandau, here I come.' She drew her sword and walked into the forest.
Pain, dull red, at the back of her skull. She was extremely uncomfortable and for some reason couldn't get her eyes open. Everything was very confused.
What happened again? I walked into the clearing I saw the Oreades he must have crept up on me. An explosion in my head
The whirling in her head abated a little and she remembered how to open her eyes. She didn't yet, though, she tried to get her bearings without showing she was conscious. She was tied up; tied with her back to a tree, it felt like, with her arms out at shoulder height bound to low branches. That was why she was so uncomfortable, the cords were tight and her arms were getting prickly-numb. The right arm was higher than the left and the asymmetry was annoying.
A leather-gloved hand touched her face and her eyes flew open. Dilandau had his hand under her chin, and he took firm hold of her jaw and raised her head to look her in the eye.
'I thought you were waking up,' he said, 'you started to breathe louder. You're slack. You were easy to surprise. A few lazy days is enough to get badly out of practise, isn't it?' He was tinted reddish by sunset light falling through the trees, putting a pink sheen on his ashy hair. 'I could have killed you straight away. You need to try harder, girl, you're not making this any fun for me.'
'I haven't been well,' Celena said. She was struggling to keep calm; being so close to him made her immensely tense. It wasn't even a tension with an emotional flavour she could name; it was just like having every nerve drawn tight, wound up like watchsprings.
'I know,' he said. 'I've been trapped in there with you, remember? Like you were in me. Having to know about it while you bled and puked and snivelled. I don't know if I can forgive you for making me know that stuff. I could just about say I've been raped.'
Celena cringed. 'I didn't know about you then. I believed you were gone.'
'Didn't know you had two guys inside you, I take it?'
'Don't talk about it like that.' She tried to turn her head away but he wouldn't let her; his fingers pinched into her face, hard like bone inside the soft leather.
'Why not? We have no secrets, you and I. I know everything you've ever felt, everything you've ever been.'
'You don't know what I'm thinking now.' She tried to glare defiance.
'Would I want to?'
'Untie me and I'll fight you. Stop pissing about. You know what I want.'
'I know what you like,' he said, and kissed her. It was a hard kiss, aggressive, bruising. There was just the slightest awkwardness at the back of it, something of her own uncertainty. She decided to frighten him; parted her lips and touched his with her tongue. He jerked away as though he had been burned. There was genuine shock in his eyes; a sense of invasion.
'What's wrong? Wasn't I supposed to enjoy that?' If she had found a weakness, something he wasn't sure about, she was going to prosecute it to the hilt. 'What did you have in mind?'
'Shut up,' he said softly, and slapped her hard across the face. She knew it was coming and let her head roll with it, lessening the impact. It still stung, and she was dizzy for a moment, but he had not hurt her as much as he had wanted to. She let her head hang while she recovered, and he walked away, restless, impetuous.
'That's more like you,' she said. 'Although I'll warn you, I have less tolerance than the Dragonslayers did for being smacked around. Do you miss them? Do you miss having someone to take all your abuse and thank you for it?'
'You know how I feel,' he said bitterly. 'You were there.'
'You can't be alone any more than I can,' she said. 'You want me to take their place, don't you? You want to be adored.'
'I don't have your need to be loved,' Dilandau sneered. 'I value myself more than that. I never lowered myself.' He paced back towards her. 'I never asked them to feel that way. I never begged like you do. You're such a little wimp, worrying about whether people will like you. I don't wonder, I know. And you know you want that certainty.'
'Untie me. I won't talk to you if you don't untie me.'
He ignored her, standing back and looking at her. 'I suppose you're not bad. You're not me, but you're the nearest I'd ever get.' Walking through the forest, she had undone the top buttons of the dress, trying to get some air to her stifling skin; now he pulled the collar open a little further, letting the buttons pop undone, one by one, just enough to expose the edging of her underwear. He placed his hand on her right breast; a strange gesture, without genuine interest, without awareness that it was anything special, just as he would touch anything to find out more about it. He was still looking at her critically; his whole manner was detached.
'Stop that. You know you don't want to. Fight me. You'll like that much more. I'm a match for you.'
'No,' he said, just to be difficult, she could see. He walked away again and seated himself on the Oreades' right foot, casual and jaunty. He took off his gloves, then his heavy jacket with the armoured shoulders, stripping to his soft undershirt and hard bare arms. Celena hung in her bonds, trying to think what she could do.
'I'm really annoyed with you, you know,' he said. 'I want to hurt you. But I'm still thinking about how.'
'You've hurt my brother.'
'That was pretty good, I thought. Disappointing to only wing him, of course. I can't stand hero types like him.'
'Untie me and fight me,' Celena repeated. 'Or talk to me properly. This is never going to go anywhere as it is. Come on. Are you afraid?'
'You're fixated on fighting me, aren't you?'
'You said you wanted to hurt me.'
'Not the same.' He got up and wandered back to her, standing before her, considering her. He drew his sword and cut the cord at her right wrist. The arm dropped to her side heavily and she had to shake it to try to get the feeling back in her hand.
'You're in a weird mood today,' Celena said. Her hand didn't yet feel like it fully belonged to her, but soon it would and she could free her left, then do something about the cord round her waist. In the meantime, she wanted to talk, not merely to keep him occupied, but really to find out what he was thinking.
'They've brought me back to fight again, yes? Why do they think I'll do it for Asturia? Do they think I'm just a tool to be used?'
'Of course not you're a weapon.' She was unpicking the knot at her left wrist now, and blessedly it wasn't too tight.
'Do you remember your dreams?' he asked abruptly. 'I mean, do you remember them now?'
'I I think I've had some that I don't remember,' she said. 'I've woken feeling strange and that might explain it. I haven't had a dream that I remember in a long time.'
'I remember your dreams, the ones you forget when you're awake. Do you know you've been talking to that Deceptant? His ghost, or an idea of him.'
'What did he say?'
'What you just did. "You're a weapon."'
'Perhaps he knows what he's talking about.' Celena wrung her left hand with her right; she was getting terrible pins and needles. The air was cooling now and she decided to do up her buttons before freeing herself from the tree. That knot was not too difficult either. It made her wonder.
'Do they think I have no sense of loyalty?' Dilandau asked. 'To just pick up and change sides like side-away in rounders? What kind of freak do they think I am?'
'I don't know,' Celena said, 'what kind of freak are you?' She flexed her arms experimentally. 'What did you do with the sword I had?'
'I'm not telling.'
'I need it back. It's only borrowed.'
'Because anyone can use a weapon, right? It doesn't matter to it who's in charge.' He strolled back to the Oreades and looked up at it. 'This thing is more powerful, but I miss the Alseides model. It was a more comfortable ride, and I really knew how to work it. I did some great things in an Alseides.'
'Do you think it was so great, what you did in Fanelia? I'll tell you one thing, now you're out in the world again Van will catch up with you sooner or later.'
Dilandau made a sour face. 'I can beat him. Give me time.'
'You're scared of him.'
'You like him.'
Celena blushed, and hated herself for blushing. 'Not that much.'
'Now you've done your experiment with Gaddes, are you going to try Van out?'
'It wasn't an experiment. I love him.'
'There is no accounting for taste,' Dilandau said. He reached down by the melef's foot, and lifted Gaddes's sword from the scrubby grass. He stood it up on end, balancing it on its point with one controlling finger on the pommel of the hilt, and looked at it critically. 'This is the wrong weapon for you. You need something lighter. What am I going to do with you? You're useless, girl, useless.'
'I'm finding my way,' Celena said defensively. 'You can't expect me to get everything sorted out in a few days, especially with the kind of things that have been happening. I'm still separating myself from you.'
He looked up at her, and again she seemed to have scored a hit in some way she didn't altogether understand.
'And when you're all separate, everything will be all better, right? You'll forget me. You'll never think about what you could be, what we could be. I'm the best. I was created to be the best, and I fulfilled my potential with my own sweat and blood. No-one's going to take that away from me. And you you're an aspect of me. I wouldn't be here without you. I would be willing to take you with me.'
'Take me where?'
'Wherever we go!'
'Do you even have a plan?'
'If you want a plan ask that cold drink of water Folken. No, wait, he's supposed to be dead, isn't he? No-one holding me back now.'
'No-one holding you at all,' Celena said. She approached him and put her hand on the hilt of the sword, gripped it firmly. He gave her hand a questioning look and let her take the blade away. She took a deep breath. She was about to strike at him, though not with the sword.
'No-one wants you, Dilandau. They may want what you can do, but other people can do that too. It doesn't exactly take intelligence. But people do want me ... not what I'm useful for, but what I am to them. I'm Allen's sister. I think I'm getting to be Millerna's friend. I'm Gaddes's ... well, I'm Gaddes's, all right? You're not anyone's anything. No-one wants you any more.'
His eyes darkened and his lips tightened. 'Jajuka took care of me. He wanted me to be all right.'
'So you'd stay alive long enough to have a chance to turn back into me. I was the goal. I was what Jajuka cared about.'
'I'm the hero of thousands of people in Zaibach!'
'How long will that last when they find out how you've ended up?' She raised the sword, sure he was going to attack her. He leapt up from the melef's foot, but instead of drawing his own sword he spat at her, turned and ran away through the scrub. After a moment's startled stillness, Celena took off after him, dodging between trees, hopping over roots and uneven ground, until the forest gave out and they were running down a slope to the coastline, to a white beach bordered with gently, ponderously rolling waves. Dilandau ploughed into the water up to his knees before he seemed to run out of momentum and stopped, looking bleakly out at the flat, blood-red evening horizon. A small breaker surged in around him, white foam rising up towards his waist, and he swayed with its force but still stood.
Celena waded up to him.
'You could go,' she said.
'Out there.' She gestured with her free hand, out to sea in general. 'You know about the other continents. Asgard, Pelonia ... they've never seen anyone like you. You could start a new life ... you wouldn't have too much trouble getting your way with people. Just leave me and mine alone. You don't want to be a weapon ... well, you don't need to fight. The Oreades should have enough energy to fly you there if you reroute all the power to navigation and flight systems, cut off the weapons and stealth cloak. I'll even give you the energist out of Scherazade for a spare. There is no place for you in Asturia, Dilandau ... I'll make damn sure of that. But I'm prepared to give you a chance.'
He turned his face to her. At first she thought he was squinting because of the bright reflection of the setting sun on the water, but when a tear trickled down his cheek she realised he was trying to keep from crying.
'I'm your ... your something,' he said. 'And even you don't want me?'
'It isn't a question of wanting or not wanting,' she said wearily. 'But yes, you are my Dilandau.'
'Well, come with me then. Don't make me go off all by myself.' He offered her his hand.
'Scherazade doesn't fly.' She was making excuses.
'You can ride on the Oreades ... on the shoulder, or slung in the cloak. It'd work. Your weight wouldn't make that much difference.'
'You know I won't.'
'And you know I won't.' They stood together in the low surf for a while, the waves sucking the sand from under their feet. It would be dark soon.
'Bugger this,' Celena said. She waded out and stuck Gaddes's sword back in the belt. 'Come on. You can't stand there all night, Dilandau. We can sleep in the dunes and figure out what to do in the morning.'
'Can we?' Dilandau said, without much hope in his voice, but he followed her to the sandhills and lay down where she showed him.
'Sand dunes are a pretty good place to sleep,' she said, trying to come up with pleasing thoughts as she settled herself. 'This isn't as nice of a beach as the last one I was at, but I like waking up with the sound of the waves. Don't even mind the sand ... although the wet clothes aren't too great. The sound of waves definitely helps me sleep.'
He didn't speak, but lay still on his back looking up at the sky. It was turning inky blue, shading to black, and the first stars were coming out. It was getting hard to see the look on his face but loneliness hung around him like a cold mist. She had no idea how to speak to him, how to behave. There was no word for the relationship between them and certainly no model for their intercourse.
'Hey,' she said softly, and put her hand on his arm.
'I know you hate me.' It was said softly, quickly.
'No I don't. And you said you don't care, anyway.'
'I can't feel how you feel any more. I'm all alone in my head. I know you don't love me. And with me, people are one way or the other.' He rolled towards her, took her face between his hands, and stared into her eyes. He was too close.
'But if I could be in you again we could sort of melt into the same person I'm not managing on my own. I never knew you were there but you must have been doing something because I feel like I've lost half my mind. I'd never have thought you were such an important part. I need you back.'
'It doesn't work like that.' She wanted very badly to wriggle away, to retreat, but it felt like walking away from someone dangling from the edge of a cliff.
'It might for us ... you don't know. You must feel this too. You can't be happy without me.' He waited for her to reply. 'I can't tell what you're thinking, Celena ... say yes or no.'
'You know when I thought you were gone, and I didn't have to be you ever again, that was when I started to be happy. And I don't feel it as badly as you I'm truly sorry for you but I want us to stay separate.'
His hands traced down from her face to her throat. 'I could kill you right now. You couldn't stop me.'
'No. But you'd be alone forever.'
'I will be anyway. So I guess it doesn't matter.' He let go, and rolled away from her, curling on his side. Celena put her arm around him, nestling at his back, moved by pity in spite of everything. Sleep came to her after a while; she thought he was still awake.
When she woke it was soft and misty sunrise, and Dilandau was gone. At first she thought he might have vanished during the night like a dream, or really have melted back into herself, but then she noticed the footprints leading back over the dune to the beach, separate from the double track they had made in the evening. She followed them and found him. He lay on his back, breathing in shallow, irregular little rushes. He had simply cut his own throat, one short, straight stroke with the dagger from his belt, under his left ear, and fallen back on the soft white sand, soaked dark red under his head and shoulders. It must have taken great determination, great despair, to make that cut, and then to lie there as still as he had. The sand was not disturbed; he had not thrashed or fought.
'I don't know why it's taking so long,' he said softly, hoarsely, and a little blood trickled from the corner of his mouth, tracing an uneven trail down the line of his jaw to meet up with the weakening flow from his neck. 'I just just did it a little while ago I thought you died straight away. It'd be nice to just fade out at sunrise '
'Idiot,' she said miserably, crouching down beside him. She could try to stanch the wound but he had clearly bled too much already to survive now. She pressed her hand against it anyway. 'Why would you do this to yourself?'
'You didn't didn't leave me much choice.' The garnet-coloured eyes flicked up at her reproachfully.
'I tried to give you a choice. I really tried!'
'I thought I thought it would be nice if you didn't have to choose whether to kill me. Because I'm not going anywhere. It hurts I thought it would be quicker than this.' His voice was becoming very weak. He was so pale that his skin was nearly grey.
'Why would you be nice to me?'
'I've always taken care of myself.' He gave a sickly smile. 'And I'd rather go like this than give Van the satisfaction right? Knock him off for me sometime if you can at least maim him a little. He doesn't need two eyes.'
'I'll see what I can do,' she promised. It was true enough, as non-committal promises to humour the dying went.
'So at least he didn't bag all the Dragonslayers.' His voice was a reedy whisper now; the garnet eyes were darkening, his pupils dilating. 'I'll see the others again if we're going to the same place want me to say hi for you?'
'Please ' Celena took his hand in hers and squeezed it. 'And tell them I said I'm sorry.'
'What for?' A little frown of puzzlement passed over Dilandau's face, but his expression cleared again. It took her a moment to realise this was because he had died. She had thought for a moment that he understood something that she didn't; that he could explain it all to her. The first part of that was certainly true now.
Celena knelt at his side, holding his right hand in her lap, as the day's full light dawned. After a while she bent and kissed him goodbye. She tasted blood on her lips; to spit or wipe her mouth would have profaned the moment, so she wet her lips and swallowed. Her own right hand was stained deep red, sticky-feeling as the blood began to dry.
Your blood's in me. You'll always be a little bit in me. Oh, Dilandau you look like a marble saint you look like my brother.
When the Oreades touched down again in the Plaza of Justice, it was met by armed guards, ready to defend Pallas as well as they could. Gaddes saw it land from the steps where he was waiting, and his heart twisted in his chest. She must be dead. It had all gone for nothing; all his hope and hers. All hell would break loose now, but all he could think was How am I going to tell the Boss? He still sat on the steps, gazing dully as the guards ringed the melef, pikes and swords at the ready, for what good that would do. I should do something. But there did not seem to be anything to be done.
The cockpit opened and the pilot held up his hands. Held up her hands.
'I'm unarmed,' Celena said. Her voice was hoarse and tired; she looked like an avenging angel who has done enough avenging for one day. 'I want to come down, please. I'm not dangerous. Dilandau is dead.'
He was slung in the stealth cloak at the machine's shoulders, doubled over on itself and pinned together with the dagger and two swords. Gaddes would have noticed the bundle, but as he ran across the square to tell the guards to stop being idiots and let Celena get down, she was all he could see.
Some people wanted Dilandau's body displayed, but Millerna forbade it. Some people wanted to celebrate that he was dead, but given that the King and a princess had also died it would hardly have been appropriate. People left flowers where Eries had fallen. The heavier bunches lay still but some single blooms flitted over the stones in the breeze as afternoon shaded to evening. The Oreades was moved to a barracks. It would probably be dismantled again, but this time to find out how it worked and perhaps build more, if Asturian melefwrights were capable. Since a few small but vital components had walked away from the machine in Celena's pockets, the probable success of their efforts was debatable.
'You're free to go,' Millerna said. 'That is, you're welcome to stay here for as long as you want to, but you're not in custody. None of this is going any further. The whole thing was just a dreadful, sad mistake.' She was speaking to Celena in her room, where she was changing the dressing on Allen's shoulder, very gently, not to wake him. Celena was sitting on the bed in a shirt and trousers borrowed from a pageboy. After everything that had happened that day, she just wanted to be comfortable. She had had a bath, scrubbing all over, removing the sweat and sand and the dry, flaking blood, for it had been messy moving Dilandau. She thought she had rather hurt Gaddes's feelings by not acting pleased to see him; but she had had no feelings just then. It was simply not in her to run to meet him yet. They had separated at the palace, he taking Crusade to retrieve Scherazade as she asked him to do, she going to check on Allen. She thought she was getting back to normal now.
'Our poor men,' Millerna said, showing Celena the scars across Allen's torso. 'I put the stitches in those myself. I always think it's a miracle he didn't die of peritonitis.' She was running on a sort of second wind of fatigue, with grey shadows under eyes pink from crying.
'You're Queen now, right?' Celena asked. 'It all comes down to you?' She put her hand on Allen's chest, above the scars, and felt him breathing. Thank heaven, thank heaven he was going to be all right.
'It all comes down to me,' said Millerna brokenly, and had to blow her nose on a pad of gauze she had been going to use on Allen. 'Oh dear ... how unhygienic.' She dropped it in the wastepaper basket under the bedside table and took up another.
'I know it's a bad time to ask for anything, but Eries said Gaddes could be charged with treason ... for taking me out of the palace, helping me escape ... and I don't want him to have trouble I mean, can it just be dropped like the rest of it, or will he need an official pardon?'
'That's right, of course, we have to deal with that,' Millerna said. She made the ends of the bandage fast and tidy, and pulled the covers back up. 'Eries would know. I'll ask Dryden about it get him to make up the document. Royal pardon for Gaddes is that his first name or his last name?'
'I ... I just realised I don't know.'
'Finn,' said Gaddes, surprised. 'My last name is Finn. I can't believe you didn't know that. Didn't I ever say?' It was around eleven at night now; he had come straight back to the palace once Crusade and Scherazade were back at the Schezar estate, and found Celena still up. She had been moved to a proper guest room, and he'd been a little excited at the thought that they would have some privacy (if she was up for it after the time she'd had; he realised he couldn't assume anything), and the first thing she said to him when he walked in was 'What's your last name?' He had written her earlier coolness off to shock and fatigue, but this turn bewildered him.
'Not that I can remember,' Celena said. 'See? We don't really know each other. I'm not even sure what you've been doing with your life. I mean, you said Allen got posted out to the swamps where you guys were, but you had your little boat down in Pallas, so when were you there, how does it fit in, where did you live, what was it like, where were you born, I know none of this!' She was really agitated, hands chopping at the air as she paced around.
'Well, I could tell you if you asked!'
'I haven't even known you a whole month yet, and I got you to commit treason for me, and I slept with you, and I hate to think what Allen's going to have to say about that when he wakes up.'
'You said you didn't regret any of that,' he said. He looked heartbroken.
'I don't. But I don't know what any of it means.'
'That we love each other would be a nice idea.'
'You're so ready to say that.'
'Because I mean it!' He threw up his arms; that just seemed dramatic and stupid. He let them drop again. A thought occurred to him; he'd have to say it carefully. 'I'm going to be really patronising now,' he said. 'I'm going to say, do you think maybe you're feeling like this because you've just had two days from hell and you're tired past yourself and a little thing on top of all that has sent you temporarily over the edge?'
Celena stood still. A lot of the energy seemed to go out of her; her shoulders sagged. 'That's possible,' she said.
'So go to bed, dummy! You can't fix any of this while you're exhausted. You need a good night's sleep and tomorrow I'll tell you my complete biography and whatever else you want to know. Just please go to bed. Do you know how pale you are?' He touched her face, carefully avoiding the healing scrape on her cheek.
'I've missed lunch and dinner,' she said plaintively, 'and I was sick after breakfast so that doesn't count. It feels like today was a hundred years long. Oh God ... I've skipped a day, haven't I? I can't count it up now.' She looked towards the bed. 'I'd like you to stay with me, but just to sleep.'
'Just to be the teddybear? I can manage that.' He pulled her closer to him for a hug; if he could comfort her he would.
Celena declared herself too tired to take off more than her shoes; Gaddes wondered if sleeping in her clothes was a way of keeping him off, but decided to say nothing about it for now. They curled up together, nested like two spoons, Gaddes at Celena's back. He tried to warm her, willing her to relax, but she was still tense and alert.
'I think I'm too tired to sleep,' she said eventually. 'I can't stop my brain.'
'Instead of just lying here, we could, no, hear me out, we could talk.'
'I can't think of anything.'
'But you can't stop your brain?'
'Do you want to talk about what happened today and yesterday? If it's upsetting you?'
'I thought soldiers didn't talk about that type of thing.'
'It depends who you're with. You wouldn't talk about it this way with the crew I mean, they can be assholes all together, though some of them are okay alone, it's just how guys are but if you're with me wouldn't it make you feel better?'
'Listen, I don't know what to do here.'
'I just don't feel anything. I'd gotten used to my feelings being all up and down, I didn't like all the crying but if that's the way I deal with things now fine, but I think I should cry for him or something, he died all alone after what I said to him, but I can feel I'm not going to.' She had gotten started now and it seemed she wasn't going to stop; she told him everything she'd been thinking, everything that had happened and how it had made her feel. It must have taken almost an hour, garbled, cutting back and forth between subjects.
'You were the best thing of all; you must know that. And I want you to love me but I'm afraid you won't when you really know me. I still don't understand why you do now.'
Gaddes felt overwhelmed by this wash of words; there was just too much here. 'I love you, and I want you, and I need you to be happy. If you think I'm too ready to say that I never felt ready to say it before. It's just how you make me feel. You're different from anyone else I've ever known.'
'Damn straight I am,' she said, and gave a little snort, but it was just an awkward laugh, not contempt. 'One thing I want to know because I'm never sure if I'm a successful woman you don't think I'm like a boy, do you?'
'Like a boy? God, no.' He was a little startled. 'Not like an ordinary woman, no, but, well,' he decided to chance it and put a hand lightly over her breast, 'this,' moving down to her hip, under her bottom, 'this,' along the underside of her thigh, pausing in the soft crease behind her knee, then over the top of the thigh, over the hip, ending with his hand resting on her stomach, 'all this, is completely female. You're beautiful. I told you so. I told you lots of times ... and that was just the other night, remember? I haven't had time to change my mind. And if your mind is not totally girly, it just makes you more interesting to me. I wouldn't want you to be like a boy; I just like you the way you are. A little bit mixed, maybe.' I wish she didn't have all her clothes on. This is definitely not teddybear duty. Could I get my hand a little bit lower? But she had put her own hand over it.
'I just can't believe how nice you are,' she said. 'I didn't think there were people like you. I felt really sure on the first morning, but it wore off, so I think I'll need you to remind me.'
'Any time. All the time.' He tried to kiss the back of her neck, but she twisted away, gently.
'I didn't mean go for it now.' She sounded amused, not annoyed. 'And I meant with things you say, too. It isn't that I don't feel like it ... just that I'm really sleepy now and I don't think I could stay awake.'
'Thank you so much.' He hugged her tighter. 'So I managed to stop your brain but not get your body going?'
'Ask me again in the morning.' She dozed off soon after that, and he lay awake a while longer, aching but glad just to be with her.
She was on the battlefield, and the Dragonslayers' bodies were piled before her. Before her. She was not under them, not crushed there. The rot and the stink were not there. She was herself, fully Celena Schezar. They were heavy, but she lifted them down one by one, laid them out. They were so young; it came to her again as she saw each face. I will live. I will grow old. I'll die an old woman, hopefully fat and rich and happy. It's worth it; I'm worth it. I can make other people happy. We depend on each other; we can be happy together. I'm not afraid of myself now; I'm not afraid of this body. And I'm not afraid of you either.
She meant this for Dilandau, as she rolled Jajuka's body out of the pit, but he was not there. There was only the gentle beastman. She laid him with the others and smoothed his fur; arranged them all like knights with their hands crossed on their swords, laid on their chests. She could not have done this for their real bodies; those were burnt up, torn apart.
They should not have lived and died the way they did. A dreadful, sad mistake; that's what it was all right. I say goodbye to it. I'll remember you all. You didn't know me, but I'm sorry. I'm sorry for it all.
They turned, moved, not waking but settling into a truer sleep. The Dragonslayers did not lie like stone knights on tombs, but like boys in their beds, faces softening to show the children they should have been for longer. Jajuka curled round on himself, gentle and strong. If she could see his paws twitch, that would mean he was dreaming. She sat down at his side, and watched him sleep.
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