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in-ter-di-pen-duh ns
the quality or condition of being interdependent, or mutually reliant on each other

There's soap next to the sink. This I'm struck by as I stand at the mirror, clean, plush towel wrapped around my body, head still dripping from the shower. The warm shower, with running water, which I just spent far too long luxuriating under. Just me, running water and steam. Squamata skin is naturally scaled, which has all kinds of benefits but also has a habit of picking up every last bit of crappy dust and dirt. Spending a month in an alien desert would therefore not be the first chapter of my beauty tips how-to book. Because that's totally a thing I would write.

I'm alone in the bathroom. Being alone had never felt so good. For far too long I'd always had company, welcome or otherwise. Cal looking over my shoulder, or Marv. Even an unconscious Marv was still another person - and I'd been his primary carer. But now, right now, it's just about me. Me and my dirt, now circling the drain. I felt like a real person again, not just a pawn being shoved about in someone else's game.

As soon as I walked out that door, that feeling would crack and crumble and I'd be back to being on the run, stranded on another world. There was no going back to my old life, that much was clear by now, but perhaps I could instead stay in this tiny one, with close walls and my friends the taps and plug holes and fogged-up glass. Cool tiles underfoot. I held the porcelain of the sink, rubbing my thumbs over its smooth, unblemished surface. Everything in my life had been so coarse; curves felt almost unnatural.

A knock at the door distracted me from my reverie, more's the pity. Man, I never used to use phrases like "more's the pity". All this adventuring was making me old.

"Kay?" It was Marv.

"One second," I called, tightening the towel around me. Time to get back in the real world.

Opening the door revealed Marv dressed only in shorts with a towel slung casually over his good shoulder. I'd seen him topless many times while tending to his wound, of course, but the change of context made all the difference. He wasn't exactly underwear catalogue-worthy - he worked as a cleaner, not a model, right? - but thermals had a tendency towards sharp, angular bone structure. It was apparent in their chiselled jaws and cheekbones but could also be seen elsewhere, with broad shoulders and a torso that tapered into a triangular silhouette more often than not. That went for the men and the women, so didn't always work out for the better.

Let's just say I was very aware that I was wearing only a towel.

"Ready for a swap?" he asked.

"I'll keep mine if that's OK," I said, flicking a loose corner of my towel with a daft laugh.

"What?" He totally didn't get it.

"Shower's all yours," I said quickly, stepping aside and trying not to visibly wince.

"Cool," he said, closing the door and leaving me standing in the corridor. I stood there for a moment before realising he'd be able to see me standing there like an idiot, and moved back towards my bedroom.

Not to keep hammering the point home but, yes, I had a bedroom. A room with a bed. That's why they call them bedrooms, I'm told. Beds here were unlike anything I'd ever slept in back home, too. Here, it was like being embraced in the most perfect hug, as if you were cosily spooning with the mattress. They'd mentioned the name of the material but I had instantly forgotten it.

I had new clothes, apparently more in keeping with the local styles. Not that it'd help me blend in much - you didn't see many squamata on Earth, as it turned out. Just smooth-skinned people of varying shades. I was finding it really hard to tell them all apart, or even distinguish genders. I was having to rely on my senses to recognise specific scents rather than relying on facial characteristics.

There was still no sign of Cal. He might even be gone for good, which would leave us somewhat stranded. One thing at a time, Marv kept saying. No point dwelling on Cal until we were in the clear ourselves - if that was even possible.

Seeing Marv in such ordinary domestic circumstances had also made me notice his missing arm and the smooth patch of healed skin at his shoulder. When we were running for our lives, or hiding out in the desert, or sneaking through enormous portal warehouses, that kind of injury seemed to make sense, or at least have its own story. Shifted to comfortable beds and warm showers, I was reminded that nobody should have to experience having their arm shot off. The absence of that limb always brought me back to reality. Whenever this all seemed too outlandish or crazy, Marv forced me to face our situation without shying away.

The room was beautiful: quite pale, lots of white, but with soft edges and affectionate touches everywhere, whether in the patterns on the bedding or the nick-knacks on the bookshelves. Through the window, which I was assured was essentially one-way, I could see the sun moving over the trees. It was mid-morning.

After dressing I headed downstairs, making my way through the house to the large country kitchen. Most of our benefactors were already there, sat at the table or leaning on countertops sipping coffee. They were all natives and shared the unnerving characteristic of looking at me not with fear or confusion but with the glint of excited possibility.

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