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She Will Not Think It Long

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--
Her rest shall not begin nor end, but be;
And when she wakes she will not think it long.
--

It happens so quickly there is no time for you to understand it. After all, she is rare- in so many ways, you tell yourself. This might just be another one of her lovely quirks. Like her lopsided way of smiling that took you sweeps to know is genuine. Or the way her cerulean lashes fan down if she's embarrassed.

First it was her walking. Once powerful and strong, you notice her gait becoming hesitant and unsteady. Her confident stride now wavers, and you offer to let her take your arm. She refuses, tells you that her legs have known the sea for too long to be rocked by the solid earth. Yet when her strength flags, she catches herself against you and looks to you like a last savior.

You think her ill. It is not the first time- you both recall an incident where you both contracted a terrible cold and spent half a perigee drowning in kerchiefs and awful cough syrup. Her skin feels cool to you, as always, yet chillier than even a blueblood ought to be. You pull her against you, let your ruddy stock heat her body. She protests only a little, pawing you with a soft-and-steel pair of hands before she falls quiet against your side.

Sleep would be best for her, you insist. She tells you it's harder now to find rest. You recall that you have fallen asleep before she has each day, and awoken after her. Perhaps she has not slept at all?

Life with a thief has taught you to steal, but the Teachings taught you to barter. It's amazing what can be bought with fresh fruit and a dazzling smile. You bring her thick woolbeast fleeces and lusus pelts, wrap her safe inside them. She smiles her crooked grin and presses your blunt nose away with her metal palm.

Her hair is next. You awake with her tucked beside you. Her hair spills over your arm, the color of starlight and bone. As panic rises in your throat and you fly all through the hive, she simply runs her fingers through her white hair in fascination. You swear to take her to the other blueblood, who has spared her before. But she shakes her head, snowy locks drifting over her shoulders like a cloud. She does not speak her displeasure, but you know not to disobey.

She is not sleeping. You find her gone from your nest, gazing out the window wrapped in one of her beddings. She is not sure how she got there, but you lead her from the glass, so the setting sun would not hurt her eyes.

When she falls you are at a loss. You find her crumpled at the foot of your hive steps, her eyes wide in equal alarm to yours. The nest is moved to the first floor. You no longer trust her on the stairs alone.

You still cannot believe this is the same woman who found you without a Lusus, scraping by on garbage. She had taken you under her arm like a package, carried you to a worn-out ship. She taught you the ways of the dice,  of fights and swordplay. She taught you to read. Then you had been small, able to lay your cheek to her steel shoulder and watch her claws trail across the page. Sometimes her voice would drive you mad with want, sometimes it would soothe you to sleep. At swordpoint, she reminded you often of who she was, the dread Piratess, the scourge of the seas.

But the menace could have such a gentle way, you discovered. At times she turned her captain's wheel with all the gentleness of stroking a wriggler's cocoon. She sang old shanties, her voice lilting and trilling. Her songs spoke of love and hate found and lost. Of the wayward law and fair maidens, of cruel captains and ale and adventure. And with a wink of her red eye, she would assure them all true.

Her metal arm irritates her, you know. It never used to- but now it drains more energy from her mind than you care to watch it steal. You unplug it from her side, leaving a small, gnarled nub where her arm used to be. She does not cover it. She is proud of her wounds and battlescars. You kiss the ropey skin of her shoulder and praise her for her strength.

It has been three days since she slept.

Now she rocks herself, curled into knot of limbs curtained by white hair. Her voice is broken as she tells you she cannot sleep, that she cannot ease herself enough to dream. You never realized how small she has become until you take her up in your arms. You can cradle her easily now, shelter her with one of your gossamer wings. Her hand twists in your torn shirt and you lay your chin between her horns, kiss the crown of her head.

Her favorite story was about a boy who could fly. She would tell it to you when you were a restless wriggler. Sometimes she still calls you Pupa, and you kiss her cool, glossy fingertips. The story comes to your memory easily and you rock her, praying to your Signless savior that it might help her.

By twilight, you have slept, and she has not dozed. You find two of her fangs on the pillow. She turns them in her palm with her thumb. They are like two perfect white seeds as you pluck them from her.  You tie her hair back with a ribbon, you tell her she's beautiful.


Even her smile looks pained as she tells you not to lie to her.

It is hell to leave her, but she needs medicine you do not have and help you cannot give. Everyone darts from your path as you rush through the market with your hands full of herbs.  Reading the forbidden section of the library gave you the answer you dreaded. It was an ailment not common in your race for many sweeps, since seldom did anyone live to contract it. The Empire had Culling Clinics put in place for it, even. A sterile white building where the aged shuffle in one door and the dead drop out the other. You are told it is the least painful way, even if it is not the most honorable for her blood station. Most of the noble bloods are downed in battle, and do not live to see a single white hair.

By the time you return she is in hysterics. You try and calm her, scoop her up again, quiet her with pale hushes. It is not the first time you have seen her tears, bright blue and harsh against her ash grey skin, but something about her desperate cries breaks you inside.

Tick tock, she says, that horrible ticking. Make it stop, make it stop, she weeps. You aren't sure what she means until you notice the handsome clock on your hive's wall. After she has settled some from your assurances, you smash the timepiece into shards, silence the ticking for her. You made it all better for her, you tell her as you thumb away her tears. It's all gone now.

As you spoon her something hot and hearty- for she can no longer hold the utensil steady- you ponder taking her there. Her life has been long and full. No other blueblood has lived so long, that you are aware of. She is miserable, and suffering. A needle full of enough Sopor would give her a peaceful end.

Even without some of her fangs, she smiles at you in her lopsided way and tells you your cooking is still shit after all this time.

You decide she deserves the most loving end you can give her. Just not yet. You aren't ready yet.

Her legs give if she tries to stand now. You carry her from respiteblock to respiteblock, seeking the warmth of the fading day. Even now she still has not found rest. Her voice is thick with unshed tears as she tells you she can't sleep over and over.  You have tried everything in your power- told her own old stories, swayed her, sung her lullabies and tried to make her laugh. You have missed the sound of her laughter so much- cackling and loud and crude and enchanting.

When her sight goes, you can no longer bear it. She reaches for you and asks where you are, even if you are right beside her. She calls for the dead, who haunt her visions now that the world around her can no longer distract her. When she keens softly for her lost jadeblooded moirail, her teal kismesis, her even violet mariner, you know you cannot put her through this for your own selfishness.

You scoop her frail shape into the safe sling of your arms, reassure her everything will be well soon. You give her back her steel arm, and her metal fingers twitch and clink together. Her grip is slack, so you help her loop her arms around your strong neck, let her hold onto your wide horns. Her thick black coat she wore as a Piratess will keep her warm in the cool night. Her fingers stroke its familiar fabric- and one of her beautiful smiles twitches at the corner of her lips. Once a pretty cerulean, they were now the color of slate, bleding into her skin. You fetch her favorite hat, the one with the ridiculously tall blue plumes and settle it on her head- press her second-favorite set of dice into her hands. Her favorite set had long gone- left for someone more worthy than her, she said.

There is no one more worthy than her in your eyes.

Practice allows you to sneak your broad frame through the windows despite your horns and wings. They had grown in when you were younger, and she had sat beside you, rubbing your shoulderblades to coax them through the skin. Her weight is so slight now that it is no trouble to fly with her tucked against you. You cannot count how many times you have taken flight with your lady in your arms. The first time she had shrieked in alarm and then dissolved into triumphant laughter, pumped her fist in the air in victory, your victory.

She is curious now- Where are we going? 

To see the stars, you tell her.

I can't see anymore, you idiot, she mumbles.

I know, you say.

I can't sleep.

I know.

You find a nice ledge to perch on- a cliff high over the sea. An expanse of stars blankets the sky, and the twin moons pour light over the shore. She has fallen quiet. You bend down and press dozens of kisses to her face, her lips, the new wrinkles in her skin and the lines on her face from squinting on deck and from smiling. When you stray near her lips you feel her kiss back wearily- giving what little nips she could to your jaw.

The stars are beautiful, you tell her. Very nice, she grumbles. You tell her of all the forty-eight constellations. And you tell her you will take her there.

She is silent- but slowly she nods- and her words are more familiar than she's sounded in perigees. Fly, Pupa.

You coil your legs beneath you and beat your glimmering wings, letting you soar. Higher, higher, higher.


The air grows thin. Perhaps it is because of your gift that you can still breathe easily, but you can feel her struggling for air against your chest. Though your heart screams for you to descend, your mind knows better now. Your wings stretch and take you to the edge of the sky. It is difficult for you now, and you can feel your gasps rattle your chest- it is freezing this high. You pull her closer, and she is so cold, and still.

She had finally fallen asleep, inches from the stars.

You give her no tears- she hated them. So you bring her home, by the rocky shores of the sea. You lay her in stones, wrap her in her coat with her hat on her lap, cross her ankles, clad in scarlet boots. You cannot bear to rest her head on hard stone whether or not it mattered anymore, so you slip off your shirt and bundle it to pillow her. Though you know tradition reads to leave her open and exposed, you bury her in rocks, piling them around her, protecting her as she has protected you. As you place the last, you can almost hear her chuckles drift on the wind.

Your hive is empty, but filled with her. With the mission she groomed you for your whole life.
You take your lance, and leave the warmth of your hearth behind to begin the revolution that would change the world.

--

Your sight is unfamiliar to you. You scrunch your eyes closed and let the multifaceted pupil adjust. Your hands are both warm and flesh again. You run them over one another in wonder.

Hello, says a child, a mirror of your face.

She is small and slight, wearing a tender blue smile and shimmering vestments of orange, so much like the color of his wings. She offers her hands to you, her smile making her white spectacles scrunch their way up her nose. Her bracelets jingle as she beckons with her hands.

Welcome home, she says, I have been so very eager to meet you.

You allow your hands to touch yours- your skin is the same shade, and your fingers interlock. The girl bridges the gap by stepping closer, leaning her head back to peer up at you. A pair of filmy blue wings flutter at her back, snug between the folds of her trailing hood. On her breast she bears a bright sun. Her eyes are milky-white, like a lusus.

What a life you have had! Thank you for living it for me. She drawls as she rocks on her heels.

It is strange that you do not ask who she is. She runs her thumb over your knuckles. You are gone, then. Your useless heart leaps as you whirl to search the endless space around you. It resembles the dark forests of your home, soft pink leaves littering the ground and a babbling brook passing nearby. The girl turns to lead you along the winding path beside the stream, hands woven together.

We have all the time in the world now. And I know you are so full of words, Marquise.

Why don't tell me all about it?