“Oy, Mister! You okay, then?”
The small person—girl—Gideon’s slowly focusing mind told him—drove away the last whispers of the dream, though her voice still sounded muffled, like it came to him through a lake.
Or a foggy lake.
A cold foggy lake.
He held up a “just a minute” finger or three, then leaned over the bathtub’s edge and shoved said finger(s?) down his throat until he could successfully puke up what had been mostly a very nice dinner, with the small exception of the morph included somewhere in the meal.
“Oy! That’s disgusting.”
“I couldn’t agree more,” he croaked, falling back into the tub.
The girl’s head tilted inside the hood of her tunic. “Then why’d you do it?”
“Because unless you’re under the surgeon’s knife, morpheus is better out than in.”
“And how d’ye know…” she began, then stopped herself. “Because you’ve been under a surgeon’s knife.”
“A time or three.” He reached out and grabbed the towel draped over the edge of the bathtub. Once he’d covered as much as possible, he leaned back again and closed his eyes, because seeing was still an unpleasant proposition.
“You gonna die?”
He raised an eyebrow but didn’t open the eye. “Not presently, I don’t think.”
A moment of expectant silence passed, but what the kid expected he couldn’t say.
He also couldn’t say why there was a kid in the bathroom in the first place, or why a stiff, cold breeze shivered over his skin, or why he heard the steady sound of rain.
He should probably ask about that.
He didn’t, not even when he heard the sound of water running from the sink’s tap or felt a hot, damp cloth pressed to the talon marks in his shoulder.
If the window was open…
But then he felt the distinctive touch of the draco’s head against his cheek, and relaxed.
“He sure likes you,” he heard the girl say.
“We’ve been through a lot together.”
“Looks like you’ve been through more,” she observed. “I ain’t never seen so many scars.”
He thought she shouldn’t be seeing them now, except it wasn’t that big a towel.
“How’d you get so messed up?” she asked.
A childhood in occupied Tesla, half a lifetime soldiering, six years in hell...
“It’s complicated,” he said to the backs of his eyelids.
This statement met with another silence, followed by more running water, followed by the slopping, scraping, swooshing sounds of someone cleaning up.
He cracked an eye open to see her using the last clean towel to dump the broken shards of his teacup in the waste bin, before moving over to the—aha—busted window to clean up those shards.
At least now he knew why it was so cold.
He looked over the side of the tub, and noted she’d used the second-to-last clean towel to wipe away his regurgitated dinner. He didn’t ask where said towel had ended up.
“Who’d ruin a nice masala, or maybe it was the soup, with enough morph to knock out a mammoth?” he asked instead.
“Someone what wants you dead?” The girl shoveled window glass into the bin.
“Guess that rules you out,” he commented. “By the way, I’m Gideon. Thanks for saving my life.”
She shrugged, but rather than offer her own name, dropped the glass-filled towel into the bin with a shake of her hand, sowing the bright white fabric with a field of tiny red drops.
“You’re bleeding.” Alarmed, Gideon tried to stand, and instantly regretted the attempt; not just because of the lingering dizziness, but because he almost dropped the towel.
That earned a snort from his damsel to the rescue. “So are you.” She pointed to the cloth on his shoulder, stained with long red streaks.
“Still, you should clean that hand.”
“Already did, mother, but thanks.” Though she did take a moment to pat it dry with a bit of tissue, but only, Gideon felt certain, to keep him from fussing.
“How’d you cut yourself, anyway?” he asked. “You cut yourself when you broke the window,” he answered his own question. “But why did you break the window? Right, because you were outside,” he continued the trend.
She stared. “You talk to yourself a lot, then?”
He stared back. “You were outside?”
“Well, I wasn’t hiding in the loo, was I?”
Was he this much of a smartass at that age? Probably. “Okay, but… why?”
“Would you rather I left you to drown?”
“Absolutely not. But you know, most folks would wonder why a kid your age would even be in the position to break a second-story window, that she might come to the assistance of a drowning man in the first place. Then again, I’m not most folks, and neither are you, I’m guessing. Just like I’m guessing you followed me here from the tram station.”
He enjoyed a brief flash of triumph in being able to surprise the seemingly unflappable girl.
The enjoyment was quickly squashed as she tucked a loose coil of hair behind her right ear, momentarily displacing the shadowing hood, and allowing Gideon to see the bruise marring her jaw.
That got him to his feet.
“Who did that to you?”
“What? Who did what?” She looked around herself, startled.
“That stinger of a bruise you’re sporting,” he said, one hand on the wall and the other gripping the towel firmly in place.
“It ain’t nothing,” she said, hunching back into her hood.
“Isn’t anything,” he corrected automatically, and almost laughed at the look she shot him. “Sorry, but seriously, did your fagin do that?”
She bit her lip, then shrugged. “What d’you know about fagins?”
“Only what I learned from mine, back in the day.”
“Your… you had a fagin?” That got her interest. “Nah.” She dismissed the idea immediately. “No way you was a dodger.”
His head tilted as he considered the kid. “Why not?”
“Because,” she said with the air of one pointing out the obvious, “you’re old.”
“I mean, you know, you’re grown up, is all.”
“I didn’t start that way,” he said.
“Fine,” she shrugged again, “but not many who start as dodgers sign on to the Corps, do they?”
“They did in Tesla,” he said shortly. “They did if they were dodging during the occupation.”
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