Chapter 20 – Almost (1)

Almost – Part 1

     I enter the nurse’s room Kay was left in. Immediately the guilt of it all hits me. Kay was sitting up, but huddled around the now-statue of the bird. She looks so weak, so broken.

     I move to place my hand on her head but she flinches away from me. Looking down at this shell of a person I realize that, that may have been the most painful thing I’ve ever experienced.

      Kay doesn’t look toward me as I sit down next to her, the bed shifting with the additional weight.

     A very, very long time passes just like that- hours even. The sun dips through the windows in a last wink of pink before saying goodbye to us.

      Biology stops for no man, probably, as Kay’s stomach makes a terrifying growl.

      “I’ll get you some food. Even if you hate me now, you can’t starve. We would all be sad,” I tell her while getting up.

      She makes no attempt to stop me as I leave the room, broken on the inside, the way Kay showed on the outside.

     I’m surprised to find Charlie in the cafeteria, seemingly cooking. I decide to spook her, as a chance like this rarely pops up. I make my way silently towards her. I quietly creep up behind her and shout, “Boo,” right next to her head.

      Instead of the reaction I expected, Charlie turns around and hands me a washcloth.

     I look down at it, then back to her. “What?”

      She gets a half-mouthed grin and says, “You call that sneaking?” She gently chides me. I’m floored.

     “There’s no way! I was super quiet!”

     She gives a small laugh then says, “See, that is what I’d call stealth.” She gives a nod in my direction.

     In confusion I turn around only to be immediately face-to-face with Talim. I shriek and jump back into Charlie. She catches me, draping her arms over my shoulders, letting them hang around me.

     Talim is in a hysterical fit of laughter, practically on the floor. Even Charlie behind me is laughing a free, loud laugh. As for me, I’m having trouble getting my heartbeat in control.

      “What the hell is wrong with you?!” I say in a pout. Talim, still laughing, gives me a thumbs up.

     “You’re both so mean to me.”

      I feign anger. They only laugh harder, and Charlie gives me a nice squeeze. I can’t help how infectious they are, and end up joining them in laughing.

     Not terribly long afterwards, the atmosphere finally settles down. I cross my arms in front of me, and with a huff, ask what they’re doing here.

     “Just finished some Consulate work. Decided we gotta get some eats in yeah?”

      Talim says in that accented voice that places him just outside of what I’m use to.

     “You both only just now got done? Wait, Charlie-” I look up at her, “You took the Tenth Seat?”

     She leans down and places a kiss on my forehead. I hear a whistle from Talim but decide to ignore him. Charlie gives him a wink and tells me, “Of course I did my Lord. I would accept any gift from you.”

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      She lets me go, separating us. Her warmth was comforting and I miss it already.

     “Are you here for food as well my Lord?”

     I give her a nod. I suppose she doesn’t know about Kay. I’m glad Nina kept her word. “I need some for Kay too. She’s… not feeling well and resting in the nurse ward.”

     She turns around and continues with her cooking and responds, “Ah. That would explain why you’re even still here at the Academy.”

      I glare at her back and offer her a “Thanks.”

     She turns around and flicks her cloth at me. “You know that isn’t what I meant Zero. Every moment with you is…” She glances over at Talim who’s busying himself with setting out some trays and plates, and lowers her voice before continuing, “Every moment is a blessing.” A small amount of red tints her cheeks.

     I arch an eyebrow at that. “Was that really all you were going to say?” I ask. She clears her throat and goes back to cooking with a new fascination in her duty.

    In the end, Charlie makes a simple meal and wishes us a goodnight, but not before giving me another hug. I start to gather up stuff for Kay and myself, but Talim interrupts my thoughts by speaking up.

      “Sick friend eh?”

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     “Something like that.”

     “I see. That’s definitely gotta be rough ya know?”

     “Erm, yes. That’s why I’m getting food for her,” trying to not let his innocent curiosity get to me.

     “Indeed. I hope she can free up her hands enough to eat.” I can’t help but jerk my eyes up to meet his.

     “What do you mean?” I try to inquire. He gives me a shrug.

     “Kay is…” he moves his hand in a circular motion as if searching for just the right word, “Necessary.”

      He picks up his tray and gives me a nod. I yell at him to stop and when he doesn’t, I can’t resist letting the anger over take me and before I know it a flick of flame is flying towards Talim. It was unintentional but not undesirable.

     Yet to my surprise, Talim turns around and with a single hand reaches out and snuffs the flame.

      “I-I’m sorry I didn’t mean-” he cuts me off with a wave of his hand.

     “Your anger over Kay is admirable, my Zeroth, but perhaps your efforts are better spent elsewhere, ya?” With that, he turns and walks away.

     God, what is going on with this world? I feel nauseous. With wavering steps, I make my way back to Kay.

      Inside the room I find her in the exact same position from before. It looks like she hasn’t moved, more of a statue than ever before. I sit her tray down on the table and sit in a chair with mine.

     Kay makes no motion to the food despite the cry of her stomach. My food goes down my throat like sand as I stare into her near-dead eyes. I finish quickly and decide to move around the bed, laying down. I hesitantly reach out to Kay only to have her yank away.

      With a sigh I grab Kay and with all the strength I can muster and pull her down to me. With her back towards me there’s little she can do to shrug me off without taking her hands off that treasure of hers.

     She gives up eventually, and I squeeze her tighter to me. I can only hope my warmth can transmit something to her- anything that can be comforting, however small. With these thoughts swirling in my mind I fall asleep, the exhaustion of my day taking me away.

     I leave the room when I wake up sometime in the morning. I find the others in the cafeteria.

      “Any luck?” Mimi asks around her food. She gets a shy smile when she notices Roses glare. I can’t help but smile even with such heaviness in my heart. “No,” is all I can say when I sit down.

     “I wonder what’s wrong with her exactly?” I ask. Neither of them try to humor me with an answer.

     “The issue is,” a voice says from behind before taking a seat next to me and continueing, “She’s had a rough past, both distant and presently.” Talim says, ignoring my glare.

     “And what do you believe you know of our Kay, Lord Nine?” Rose’s question is full of unmasked suspicion.

     “Damn straight I am.” His chest puffs with pride.

     “Knight or not, I will hit you if you keep making light of Kay,” Mimi says. A small spark dances between her eyes.

     Talim makes out like he’s scared but I can tell that just beneath the surface, he’s holding onto something tight. He’s not intimidated in the slightest. Is it false bravado, or is he as in control of the situation as he planned?

     “Are you going to cut the b******* or not?” I snap at him.

      He slides a note to the center of the table while chomping down loudly on his fruit.

     “Don’t say I never did nothin’ ya hear?” He mumbles before getting up and leaving.

      We look at the note in the table.

     “What’s up with that guy?” Mimi asks with an arched eyebrow.

      I reach out and pull the note to me. Rose leans over to get a better view of the note. Her lavender scent tickles my nose and causes my heart to palpitate.

     “An address?” She reads it off.

      After taking way too long to reply she looks up at me, a rare treat considering our usual positions.

     “I, uh, yeah. That’s what it looks like,” I look away in a panic, but not before catching Mimi’s silent laugh.

      Rose looks between us questioningly. I clear my throat, guilt washing over me. I need to get myself together. My Kay is suffering and here I am losing myself to something stupid.

      “What do you think it means?” I ask.

     Mimi is up and pulling on me just in time for me to catch what she says, “Let’s check it out. That’s near the harbor.”

     With that, we leave the Academy and head towards a part of the city I haven’t been to before. I’m both elated and saddened at how my curiosity goes into full drive. I know the correct mindset here is to be full of thoughts of Kay but I can’t help my other instincts. We pass through an archway that seems to dictate the line between the commercial district of the city proper, and the workers or manufacture district.

     The people take notice of us, but seem too preoccupied with their own work to give us too much thought. The buildings lose their livelihood the further we go into the district and bit by bit buildings with designs specifically for various trades start to pop up.

      As with the main city most of these buildings are made with some kind of lighter, marble-esque material. Only here, they tend to get darker and dirtier.

     The scent of the sea hits me at first. It’s salty reminder causes pangs of homesickness within me.

      I remember as a kid, before I knew better, I would sneak off to the beaches to play. They were the perfect places for my friends and I to play since they were always deserted. Eventually the adults caught wind of our adventures and we were severely punished, thus bringing an end to our childlike games.

     The harbor came into view and expanded out, claiming the ocean. “It looks like it’s down this street,” Rose shifts to a side road. Before long a raggedy, almost inn-looking building comes into view.

     “Arcadia Orphanage” says the sign out front- feeling weirdly proud for being able to read the intricate lettering.

      But the wind is quickly taken out of my sails when, beside me, Mimi speaks up in a hushed tone, “Looks abandoned…”

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