When morning bruises the night sky but too early to warm the ground, a girl climbs out of her own skin and runs until it fits again.
Birds watch and they study, no decisions made without thorough consideration. Raven watches.
Raven’s face is framed by brass-plated goggles, settled across a forehead as a halo or crown but heavy the way neither should be, watching how light catches sweat and how it falls away like dissipating clouds.
What she thinks is this: I want to feel that skin and my skin and compare the softness.
What she does is rub the grit from her eyes and stretch out her crying muscles, thinking how long it has been since she last went to sleep.
She sleeps somewhere close to where the ground caught her; or, she sleeps on the outermost edges of camp, because it is further from the lights and closer to the sky. Gravity is harsh, her leg throbs hard when she remembers weightlessness.
When the door opens with a low creak she does not jump, she just sets her blueprints aside and waits for her eyes to adjust to the change in light. Gina - not running, very still and haloed by the light, passes the barrier between the world and Raven’s realm of quiet reflection. When she sees the tin in her hand, Raven counts her collection - one, two, three days without picking up her rations.
Gina lays the tin down near to where Raven’s hands curl around a pencil, knuckles brushing with a solidity that has her reeling. Not dreaming.
“I thought you might want some of Bell’s soup. He’s teaching me an old recipe.” She hops up on the desk and ruins the symmetry and Raven feels a vibration between her chest and the cosmos before realising it’s laughter.
“Sorry, no sleep.” She picks up the tin and inhales; spices and ginger and lavender on skin. “Bell made this? God, I can’t imagine him cooking without burning the camp down out of frustration. How many people did he give the look to in that kitchen?”
Gina laughs and lets her feet swing where she sits on the desk, studying Raven as Raven studies back. “Not too many. Jasper cannot enter on pain of literal scolding when he’s volunteering, though.”
Raven forgets she’s elevating her leg until Gina’s foot brushes it - she’s barefoot but for a pair of thermal socks that feel soft even on the ruined skin. There are two bodies in the space she has cultivated and the one that’s hers does not flinch back but relaxes in tiny increments until she no longer feels like a burning house.
“Sorry,” Gina says. “Do you mind? It looks swollen, and I know how -”
“It’s fine,” she says, in one long, wavering breath.
Gina smiles. “Then it’s fine.”
She makes the rounds, her hair tied up so the wind cannot whistle through the strands things she can’t bear to hear. Monty holds her hand, sometimes, walks her across the ark or waltzes her around the campfire, scaring laughter from where she holds it like a captive in her ribcage, and Miller and Bellamy will carry her useless body when she gets too tired to move or they sense a disturbance in the universe and let pretend she can still be held up in the sky, tied down but free to float.
Gina sits beside her when they gather around the fire, watching Monroe sing from between the flames. Asks, how are you feeling? and Raven lies.
She says, “I’ve been better.”
Gina touches her head with the back of her palm and there is no difference between her hands and the fire, it is all warmth.
Gina says, “You feel pretty fine to me,” and drops her hand down onto Raven’s good leg, resting and still warm, sunshine on skin, or sunshine on the surface of the moon, reflecting light.
Raven cannot help her gravitational pull, her head onto Gina’s shoulder, her face into the hollow of her throat. She kisses it once, like a slip-up, then slinks off in search of water. Her body aches and does not stumble.
She dreams and she is fire. She is every body falling from the bridge and every tongue of flame that crawls upon them and every last sound and glimmer of oxygen in their scalding lungs.
When she wakes up the dream does not end but lives on in her memory. She asks her pillow how do you not be the monster, and nobody answers her.
She slips on her goggles and lights a flame; Raven spends the next hour designing and soldering a rattle, because one of Abby’s nurses is expecting and there are few things to pass on if no one will forge them.
The girl is running but her skin doesn’t fit any better after so she tries again and again until she is clinging to Raven’s doorframe, tears streaming down her cheeks.
Raven opens the door, opens her arms, the same thing. Her fingers smoothing tears and then just smoothing the way for her lips.
Gina has shaking fingers and they cling to Raven’s shoulders as hard as her strength allows; she whispers something into the skin that sounds like, quiet is hard, but feels like desperate kisses.
Raven says, “I have you,” and Gina’s mouth on hers, teeth grazing her lower lip and hands cupping her jaw say I know.
Raven holds her smaller frame and lays it down on the bed, sweat and sweetness and unmarked skin. Her fingers consume the feast of it, unblemished and untouched, a shell so unlike hers she is mystified by the gentleness. Gina breathes out raggedly and Raven kisses the base of her throat. “It feels better. I can make it feel better,” sucking a mark into the skin as a reminder of the things she is not allowed to break.
Her hands and mouth trail down, her lips brushing the soft swell of Gina’s breasts and glancing the sides and underside, holding her down when she shivers. She takes in the colour, the scent, rosehip and jasmine and lavender, as always.
Her fingers keep up their path, skirting up and down thighs, knuckles sliding up against the places that alter breath patterns, but Raven’s head rests on her chest. She matches their breathing and lets the tempo of Gina’s heartbeat consume her.
The lie together under Raven’s sheets, arms twining around each other's waists like vines.
Gina says, “The kids call me the nice lady , when I’m cleaning up cuts and scrapes, y’know, and sometimes being the nice lady makes me want to scream until my throat bleeds.”
“I know the feeling.”
Gina stretches and curls in closer, warmth from her body filtering through into the crevices Raven hides inside herself. “Sometimes I miss being in the sky,” Gina whispers, stroking her hand down Raven's ribs.
And Raven replies, “But look at the stars.”