Zyn's voice carries through the rush of the water. "Azra? Are you alright in there?" It brings me back to the present, to the reality of everything that's happened since that night. My tears are warmer than the water.
I put the bio-suit back on alone. It takes less time without my clothing getting in the way, and my body is ready to return to Zyn before my mind is. The automatic door shushes open and there's Zyn, holding a pair of boots that are identical to his in every way aside from their size. I shove my freezing toes into them, avoiding Zyn's touch. I don't want him to feel how cold I am, but he doesn't come close enough to try.
He offers me a comb, a human one, the first of its kind that I've seen since boarding the ship. I take it, my fingers stroking the ancient ivory of its teeth. It reminds me of the one my mother used to keep in her bureau before she had to sell it. Clear, green tinged rocks, line the top of it casting rays of color to dance around the room with each stroke.
Zyn watches me, his eyes taking in my every movement. "May I?" he asks after a long moment. I hesitate. I've never enjoyed combing my own hair. It's always been much easier to braid it and leave it until the next washing. I pass the comb back to Zyn, tensely waiting for the first ragged pull of the teeth.
It doesn't come. He takes the ends and gently strokes through them, removing all the tangles before he moves up another inch and starts again. The movements are deft, continual, and impossibly soothing. It makes my thoughts of Kairim drip away.
"Azra, that hu-, that man... You knew him, before, didn't you?" Zyn's voice is amazingly soft, with barely a trace of his growl. I freeze, my mind snapping back from the blank bliss I drifted off to.
"Yes." The word is a breath, a whisper, a secret not meant to be spoken. I tensely wait for his response, but his fingers don't stop their movement, although my hair has been free of tangles for perhaps a hundred strokes.
He doesn't answer right away and the tension inside me builds with each light pull of the comb. Did he hear Kairim's whispered words? The hate and rebellion in his voice? I hold my breath, waiting for his reaction. "You can't see him again, Azra." I barely hear the soft apology that follows. In my head I'm already trying to find a way around his words, trying to plot my way back through the labyrinth of halls to the feeding room, or wherever else they keep my fellow humans. I'm so busy thinking these thoughts that I miss his next words. "It's dangerous, Azra. I mean it."
His eyes are intense on mine, his green piercing my blue. I nod, not knowing what else to do. It seems to satisfy him. He smiles at me, then continues brushing my hair. "Do you know how to braid it?" I ask him. The question surprises me.
Zyn's fingers still. The air feels heavy again, and I wonder if I've broken some unspoken rule between us, but his fingers begin again, twisting and pulling the hairs on my scalp. In seconds, he is finished. He drapes the finished product over my shoulder where the last few droplets soak into my suit. My fingers reach up to glide over the even ridges, stopping when they feel the smooth skin of Zyn's fingers. "Sorry," we both mumble at the same time.
I lay my hands in my lap, pressing my fingers back against their joints one at a time. "My mother taught me how to braid hair," I whisper, wanting to both fill the silence and the gap that I can feel forming between us. "She used to let me practice on her for hours when I was little." I take a deep, shaky breath. "It came in handy, because when my little sister was born, she didn't have time to do it anymore."
Zyn scoots closer behind me until I can almost feel his bio-suit absorbing mine. His arms come around me, not quite touching, but it still feels incredibly intimate. I close my eyes, trying to pretend his presence is as natural as Kairim's, that he's human, a friend. "She's a baker. She married my father when she was my age. He comes from a long line of wheat farmers, so the marriage was approved. The love didn't start until later, I assume it was around the time Ack-" I pause, tears have begun to choke me, clogging my throat like a sickness. "Until I came along."
The lie feels thick in my mouth. Omitting Ackon from my life feels like a betrayal as much as it feels like I'm protecting him. One of my fingers press into the bio-suit, watching as it moves to kiss it. "You have a sister?" Zyn's voice sounds strange; strained and confused. He moves away from me until he's sitting next to me on the bed. His eyes don't meet mine when he asks, "What was she like?"
"Was". Such a simple word, and yet it brings such pain. It reminds me that my old life is dead, that there is no point in trying to save Ackon from Zyn, because he's already gone. I burst into tears, not fighting when Zyn wraps me in his arms. My cheek presses into his chest as his hands glide over my hair. "I didn't mean to upset you," he whispers into my hair. I shake my head, unable to explain the agony in my chest. "We don't have to speak of them, if you wish."
He sounds so earnest, so sincere, that my cries come harder until both our bodies are shaking with my grief. I push away from him, my eyes puffy, my nose streaming. "No. I want," I shake my head again, confused, not knowing what I want - need to say to make him understand. "I miss them." My voice is so frail is sounds like the mewling of a lost kitten.
Zyn snakes a finger beneath my shivering chin, bringing my face up to meet his eyes. They are so soft. I want to curl into them and never return. I want to lose myself in the peace that exudes from them. He leans closer, and for one wild moment I think he's going to kiss me. I hesitate - for a brief second I don't know if I'll let him - then my eyes flinch away from his and I see the blue tinge to his skin. My mind instantly pictures the blood staining the dock and I thrust myself away from him, nearly toppling from the bed.
He stares at me, shocked. Both our chests are heaving as if we've just plowed an entire field. "Azra, I..." He trails off, his eyes moving past me to the automatic doors. His face falls into a neutral expression. "Commander Zyngar, what brings you to my chamber?" My face turns to ash, my mouth coating over in what feels like a layer of sand. I slowly turn my head to look at him.
He's grinning, a cat whose proudly caught it's first meal. His bottomless eyes are boring into my back, sending waves of cold chills up my spine. I desperately wish I could reach out and cling to Zyn's hand. Zyngar walks across the room, his stiff boots clacking against the tile. Zyn stands and almost imperceptibly moves to stand between me and the commander. His back is a welcome presence between us.
Zyngar frowns, his lips meeting up with the green ivy of his beard. "I've come to fetch the human. The counsil would like to make a decision before the next planet." Zyn and I both stiffen. In the days that I've been here, I have not forgotten Xantara's warning about the counsil. 'Do not appear weak,' she'd said. I wipe at my puffy eyes, praying that the redness has disappeared. Zyn moves again, this time blocking me from the commander's view, giving me time to gather myself.
"I can bring her." He says. He laces his hands behind his back and, amazingly, there is a handkerchief held between them. I take it and hurriedly wipe my eyes, cheeks, and nose. I stuff it beneath one of the pillows just as the two men come toe to toe.
"I am perfectly aware of your standing with the counsil, Grzyndigaldrx, but she is still mine." The growl of his accent is more pronounced than I've ever heard it and the smile has become forced on his face. Zyn doesn't back down. He squares his shoulders, his muscles tightening all over his body.
"Be that as it may, but she is still under my protection, Zyngar. The counsil will understand if I keep her for a few more days. She hasn't been eating." Zyngar and I both frown. I bite my lower lip, nearly pouting. Zyngar takes a step back.
"I will inform the counsil, then. But, Grzyndigaldrx, remember, you cannot keep her forever."
YOU ARE READING
Us vs ThemScience Fiction
One one-thousand. They take what they want. Who they want. No one is safe, no one is secure. When They come, They take. Loyalties gone, loves lost, a world swiped away with a scream. Two one-thousand. When They come, They take. Sadness, sacrifice...