and then come home wondering Sept 27, 2019 11:09:19 GMT -5
Post by WT on Sept 27, 2019 11:09:19 GMT -5
You don't ask Arbor whether he's sure. You say a few things as you hug him and then cradle the cool weight of Flounder's bowl: come see him any time, then just—come over any time, okay? you know you're always welcome, and I love you, which can perhaps be assumed after all these years but which you've always tried not to let go without saying. But the least you can do—all you can do, it seems, some days—is trust people to decide how to handle their own grief. So you don't argue he belongs with you, please, Cedar wouldn't leave him with you if he thought you were a bad choice; and, humbled by trust you're sure you have done nothing in your life to earn, you throw what scraps of yourself you can still pull together into learning what the hell you can actually do for a fish.
(You don't know whether he'll take you up on visiting anytime soon; you've known Arbor longer than you've known anyone else alive, and you've still never quite felt like you know how to predict him. But you know where he lives, too, and you're genuinely terrible at cooking for one. If it seems like it's been a while, you can find a reason to swing by. It'll be—not fine. It'll just... be.)
Flounder barely makes it back to Twelve regardless. Barely survives in Twelve, rather—it isn't the trip that's the problem. Despite clearance on the Capitol end, the Peacekeepers disassemble every piece of the filter Ambroos recommended in search of contraband. (Supposedly. You suspect personal amusement and, sifting out scraps of energy you didn't think your mud-clogged heart still had, refuse to let anxiety show on your face even as they pull apart sections you aren't sure you know how to put back together.) Meanwhile, the liquids—a jug of concentrated water conditioner, a bottle of just-in-case medicine with a smell like sharp tea—find their way to another building entirely for a series of chemical tests at your expense, never mind that if you truly wanted to make explosives you live in a District with an extensive selection of fucking mining equipment. The home you ultimately transfer Flounder into at the end of the day is at best half-ready: ornamented and bright, and a relentless ticking countdown.
In the end it takes only a few days to get both containers back. You hover the entire time, watching Flounder for the faintest sign of unease, as though you could mold oxygen and nitrogen into shape with your own hands if he needed you to.
As though you could do anything but watch, helpless on the other side of the glass, as he died.
They're difficult anyway, those first few days. Difficult—bad, you suppose, though you know that more than you feel it. In the Capitol you couldn't cry, no matter how desperately you wanted to, and at the train station you would not give the cameras one single second of footage more than they already had, but fifteen hours of sleep later you wake up with a sore neck and something flipped inside you; suddenly you're watching yourself sob freely with the sort of distant, glancing curiosity someone might give a browning leaf. It probably doesn't help that after that first hard sleep you barely so much as doze, which you recognize vaguely as a bad sign but ignore because every time you close your eyes you're Nell—or she's you, hard to say, brain all looks the same. (Maybe you're simply yourself, inconsolable and inescapable. You don't think about it too hard.) Kette takes over your guest room when she and Illario and the kids bring back the rabbits and makes sure you at least eat something in the evenings, which does exactly nothing for your sense of time; you miss your first shift back at Serendipity, which isn't unprecedented, and don't warn Illario, which is, and only realize it when he nearly hammers down the door. Do you have any idea what day it is, he asks almost before you've finished opening it, and you say of course you know where you are, and you blink at one another until your rock gently points out that you anticipated the wrong question; fuck, you say, and yeah, he agrees, and that makes you laugh but you're crying again—
Things don't get easier after that, but if you're practiced at one thing, it's forcing yourself to live when anything else would be easier. Having the conditioner in hand helps; so does Carter arriving back in Twelve several days later, another unreasonable detention down but safe and real and solid when you hug him. You call Ten with no idea what to say, only a desperate need to hear Kieran breathing on the other end of the line, and find that even in shared grief you can't resist a shred of a smile at his voice. Ruchel drags you to dance a week earlier than you said you'd go back. You force yourself into some semblance of a work schedule. You don't sleep any better, or stop crying at the slightest reason—at thinking too hard about Liddy and Sycamore's age, at your first and for the immediate future only attempt to make a pot of tea—but you make yourself keep moving and tell yourself that that's enough.
Most of your sleepless hours still find you in front of Flounder's tank, more often than not holding one rabbit in your lap and idly running a toy across the ground for the other as you watch him drift between plants. The graceful fan of his tail awes you a little, almost the way Cedar's tiny ears did years ago, or the burst of curls Rune was born with, or the first breaths that Kieran fought so hard for—delicate, precious things that you wouldn't believe the world had room for if you hadn't seen them.
"You got lucky," you tell him at one point. "All the fish in the world, and you're the one who met him." Liddy flicks an ear. As always, Flounder himself ignores you entirely, meandering into a piece of driftwood until you can only just see the glimmer of his nose.
You catch yourself smiling faintly and press two knuckles to your nose to keep from ruining it by crying. You'll never know what Cedar did for Elite to bring him a betta, but you're not surprised that it happened; he was good at reaching out to people, good at believing the best of them in a way that made them believe it too. Of course he found friends in circumstances none of them should ever have faced. And he wasn't wrong, even at the end—wrong to leave Red without talking to her, yes, but not for caring about what happened to her, bright, fierce, wonderful Red; and not for letting Nell out, or trusting her with his blaster, however it ended.
(Neither of them wanted that end. Cedar unlatched the door, and Nell stepped out of the case with her hand out and open. That doesn't make anything better, but it matters.)
(You stop trying not to cry.)
It helps a little, remembering him here. Your last memory of Cedar will always be of him cold and tattered in the morgue, but the strongest memories are of him alive, and almost all of those are in Twelve: Five years old and laughing with Kieran while you and Arbor killed an early summer afternoon. Waiting for your appraisal as you taste-tested one of his earlier teas. Copying your hand as you showed him how to introduce himself to Sycamore. His first day of school, the time he got a laugh out of Heron at the train station one of the rare years she joined the rest of you, the time you asked him in half-mock despair how to stop torturing the poor rosemary on your porch. His voice—not filtered through overhead speakers, just there. Just there.
It doesn't help much. But to be fair, nothing really does.
Title song is "Hallelujah" by Thao & Mirah.
me starting this post: okay don't make it a treatise on fish care don't make it a treatise on fish care d—
(the antibacterial I use does indeed smell like tea tree oil! it's nice.)