Friday, June 8, 249 H.E.
Mistress Trout's Lodgings
Nipcopper Close, Corus
Three of the morning.
As Beka does with her journals, to keep her memory fresh for her reports, so I have decided to do as well. For this event, at least. Some things are meant to be kept close to the heart, never forgotten. It is not that I fear I shall erase this night from my mind. Only that I will lose the edges of memory, discard the details, blur the emotions.
Also as Beka does, I write this as it happened, so that I may keep the flow of events as they were, though I look back on it now from hours later.
It was the second night after Holborn's burial. They'd given Beka the evening off, as they had every day since his death - 'to recover'. Four nights off for a Lower City Dog was a mark of the respect they'd held for him... and for her. I only hoped it would be the last night they could spare her. It does her no good, to sit about brooding, thinking of the guilt and loss that weigh on her.
Better for her to be back on the streets, doing the job she loves, reminding herself that she still has so much to live for and look forward to.
Did we think her suicidal? Had someone asked me bluntly, I'd have laughed in their face. Aniki and Rosto no doubt would do the same. Not Rebakha Cooper, the fierce Terrier and famous Bloodhound of Corus. Not our Beka, who heard the souls of the dead carried by the pigeons and was near as much a priestess of the Black God as she was a Dog.
And yet Aniki and I took it turn and turn to watch over her, to make certain she wasn't left alone through the long, dark nights. Well, for some values of alone. Doubtless Master Pounce would have fetched one of us had she slipped into a mood that he couldn't sass her out of, but it never paid to be too careful. She is our beloved friend, and it is no hardship to provide a bit of company to help ease the loss of the company she was used to.
She stood by the windows, staring out at the rain that poured down outside. It had been raining for two days, humid and hot weather that I will never grow accustomed to. Mostly I don't mind the different weather here, and I certainly prefer Corus winters to those we had in Scanra, but the midst of summer is a misery.
Like me, Beka wore little more than her shift, prepared for rest that she likely wouldn't take. The wind from the storm pushed it against her body, but we were both mots and she thought little of it. I averted my eyes anyway.
Not from maidenly shyness. If ever I possessed such a thing, I lost it long ago. But there are lines that should not be crossed, and I do not take advantage of my friends. Especially when they are already lost and hurting.
"Beka, come away from there," I called, patting the spot on the bed beside me. It was big enough for two - of course it was, it was my bed and I frequently shared it with my lover, Ersken. I'd let Beka have my room since Holborn's death, knowing she would fare even worse surrounded by memories of her life with him in the room across the hall. "At least try to get some rest. It's been days since you slept proper."
She came - reluctantly, but she did come, and settled herself down on my mattress. Stuffed with feathers; there are some perks to being so close to the Rogue of Corus. Not that Beka would take advantage of them, but anyone who knows me will tell you I am much like a shameless cat.
The thought made me glance about for Pounce, but the constellation had made himself scarce. Off taking care of his duties in the night sky, or perhaps simply taking a chance to slip out while knowing I would care for Beka in his absence. Achoo slept soundly, draped over the foot of the bed in a mound of curly fur like an extra blanket.
"It's harder when I sit still," Beka said, as if she needed to offer excuses for her restlessness. I slung my arm over her shoulders, and she allowed the touch, even leaned against me.
That was good. She'd been skittish for days, obviously longing for comfort but fearing to take it. No, fear wasn't the right word. She was loath to take it, doubtless blaming herself for feeling anything positive when her betrothed was fresh in the ground.
That was plain cracknobbed and had I confronted her with it, she might have agreed. But grief is not a time to apply logic. Not even the grief of guilt, mourning a relationship that was dead long before the physical part of it was buried. Perhaps especially not that sort of grief.
It was Rosto who first noticed the problem, of course. For all that he eventually accepted that Holborn was the cove in Beka's life and not him, for all that he'd even come to like the Dog for his own sake, still Rosto was the one who kept the closest eye on Beka's happiness. Mayhap because it was the only way he could soothe his own hurt, by telling himself that Holborn made Beka happier than he could.
In the beginning. As time wore on, that happiness faded into tension and stress, until the pair of them spent as much time arguing and avoiding each other as they did laughing and swiving. By then Aniki and I had noticed as well, but there was naught much we could do save silently offer refuge when they were fighting again. A mot must make up her own mind to leave a cove. Nothing any others may say will sway her, no matter how bad it gets. And it could have been so much worse.
I think perhaps Beka had been close to that point, to admitting that the negatives were coming to far outweigh the benefits. And then he died, trying to impress her like the looby he was, and left her with the guilt of feeling like it must somehow be her fault. Because she didn't love him enough, because she made him feel inadequate, because she didn't appreciate how good she had it. Whatever the reason, however irrational, it didn't matter. It was what it was, and it had left her a mess in the wake of his passing.
"It gets easier with time, and time is the only thing that makes it so," I said softly, the same words I'd been saying to her for days. I did not know what Aniki and Rosto said when they were alone with her, but this was my contribution. Platitudes. All I could offer as a poultice against the pain of her heart. Clearly, my emotional healing magics were little better than my ability to heal physical wounds, but that didn't stop me from trying. At least I could console myself that they weren't empty words.
Always before when I said it she either flinched or shook her head. This time she only shivered, or perhaps shuddered, against me. I chose to take it as a good sign, a sign that she was ready to listen to the words instead of rejecting them. I continued hopefully. "I know it's hard to hear it now, Beka, hard to believe it when the pain is fresh, but there will be another for you. A... better fit, mayhap. Holborn's death is a tragedy and we will all miss him. I don't mean to suggest you see it as an opportunity, or be grateful it happened 'while you're still young'. Though I'm sure others have said as much, the loobies. I only mean to say that it is not the end."
She shivered again and made a sound that, in a mot just a touch less self-possessed, would have been a sob. "What if there isn't?" she said, no more than a whisper, and I felt sure I had finally touched the true core of her grief. "A better fit. Or even another. The things about me that he came to dislike, to resent... the things that ruined what we had... those are not like to change. Who can say I would not ruin another just the same way?"
I knew I must proceed with the greatest of care. Like a cat stalking an unwary bird... nay, that's no fit comparison. More like Beka when she first taught poor abused Achoo to trust her, approaching the skittish creature with patience and caution lest she scare her off. One wrong move, one thoughtless word, and I could lose her. She had never admitted the ill that lay between her and Holborn. "What things, Beka? What did he say?"
"That... that I am too rigid, that I turned our home into a prison and my love into a cage. That I nag like a fishwife and drove him half mad. That I am unfeeling and..." She hesitated, and I thought she might not finish, but the last word came out near about too soft for me to hear. "Cold."
In that moment I was glad her gaze was fixed on the blanket, for I don't think my shock and amusement would have been the expression she was looking for. When a cove calls a mot 'cold', especially in a fight, they usually mean in bed. With only a narrow hallway and two thin board-and-plaster walls between my room and hers, I could attest to plenty of heat in their relationship.
Yet in the midst of an argument it is never the good things that spring to mind, only the bad. Small grievances, tiny flaws, become magnified all out of proportion and flung at the offending partner with the full intent to wound.
I could mayhap argue the other points more easily, with less potential to hurt her. That she could barely bring herself to say the word, however, told me this was the injury that had gone deepest and bled most freely. To bind the others and ignore this was folly, and might do more harm than good.
"If he'd truly thought you cold, he would not have sought your bed so often," I told her, blunt but as gentle as I could manage. "Nor is he the only cove whose opinion you've had on the subject. What of Dale Rowan? From what you told me, 'cold' is the last word that could apply to that relationship."
"So I thought at the time, but looking back on it..." She shook her head, picking at a pulled thread in the weave of the blanket until I captured her hands in mine. That made her look up at last, her pale eyes covered by a haze of tears. "He left me after but a few days. 'Just friends', he said, not interested in anything more, even sommat casual. And he hasn't even bothered to drop by as he promised."
Silently I cursed, though I was careful to aim the curse at my own choice of words rather than at him. A witch's curse has power, even an unintentional one, and I bore him no ill will. Nor did Beka, and she would not thank me for any harm that came to him. He'd meant her no mischief, he was simply the type whose attention wanders and there is naught for it but to accept it and move on.
From her current outlook, however, that only seemed confirmation of Holborn's accusations. There had been a few others, but none lasting longer than weeks at most, and none as passionate. None that would help support my case now in the face of her misery and pain.
Worse, she was continuing. "It's not as if I have looks as would keep a cove's interest, or even particularly draw it in the first place," she said, huddling in on herself beneath my sheltering arm. "Half the people I meet are so afeared of my eyes they can hardly notice anything else. I'm no beauty like Tansy, and a Dog's life will toughen and scar me soon enough. I've not even any peaches to speak of..."
I wanted to shake her, and frustration loosened my tongue more than I should have allowed. "Beka Cooper, you are perfect exactly as the gods made you. Flaws and all. Anyone who knows you can tell you that you have a beauty that can't be matched by mere prettiness."
Even as the words left my mouth, I knew they were the wrong ones. She gave me a crooked smile, and sniffled. "That's a nice way of saying that my insides are prettier than my outsides, and you know it. Even that much seems unlikely, given my shrewishness drove Holborn to his death..."
"Holborn's pride drove him to his death," I snapped. "And drove him away from you before that. He couldn't handle that you were a better Dog than him even though you didn't take the risks he did. You are no shrew, and you are beautiful."
Then I did what I ought not have done, what I'd promised myself I would never do. I took advantage.
I leaned in and kissed her.
For a long moment she was rigid beneath me with surprise, but I knew tricks to make her melt into my touch. A kiss is a kiss, after all, and a mot is never so vulnerable and needy as after losing her cove. Enough to react even to things that might normally leave her unmoved.
When I pulled back, she was breathless with more than just shock. I could see it in the way her pupils had gone wide, and the slight part of her lips. "You are far from cold, Beka, and most definitely beautiful," I said softly, cupping her chin in my fingers and keeping her eyes locked on mine when she might have looked away in embarrassment. "I think so. Rosto thinks so. Even Aniki thinks so, though she'd be less likely to say as much. Nor act on it."
"You... but... what about..." She couldn't seem to get a full sentence out, but it wasn't difficult to anticipate her thoughts.
"Ersken knows better than to try to hold too tight to me," I said, smiling sweetly at the thought of my lover. "It vexes Rosto to no end that Aniki still enjoys my occasional favours while he can't, but that's my deal with Ersken. So long as he remains the only cove in my life, he swears he is content."
"But I'm not..." Again she faltered, and again it was easy enough to guess at the words she couldn't say.
"A honeylove? No. Likely not even as much as I am, to enjoy it both ways. You reacted because you are lonely, and hurting, and vulnerable, and you trust me. And that's exactly why I should not have done it." I sighed, but my smile didn't waver. "Not that I regret it. I've wanted to do that since first we met, Rebakha Cooper. So don't tell me that you are not attractive, nor desirable. I would snap you up in a heartbeat, did you want me."
She still looked uncertain, so I settled against her, cuddling her close but keeping the embrace friendly, not sexual. Slowly she relaxed again, letting me hold her, and I tried not to be too obvious in my relief that I'd not scared her off.
I could have pressed my luck. Had I chosen to try, I believe I could have coaxed her to let me prove that she was the farthest thing from cold. I could even have made her enjoy it, perhaps even caused her to question her desires.
And most likely come morning, she would return to her senses. I'd have strained our friendship and trust in a way that might never be repaired. All for a night's passion.
I'd rather keep her as a friend. She means far too much to me for me to risk that, certainly not for a brief physical release.
For now, I was satisfied I'd eased the worst of her fears of never finding another who could love her. Mayhap it was the best thing I could have done, being as she didn't take it amiss. For the first time in near about a week, she didn't spend the better part of the night pacing, content to sit with me and let me offer friendly comfort. She even slept some, leaning against me with her head on my shoulder.
If ever she does question her choice in partners, she knows now she can come to me and I will welcome her gladly. I doubt it will happen, but magic is all about possibilities, and there is no magic as unpredictable as that of the heart.