Time Alone and Time Apart

Zebediah and I fought today. I suppose it was nothing more than a little quarrel, but it was the first time we have been anything but kind and polite to each other (since we have been really together, I mean), and so it seemed worse than it really was.

All of yesterday, as I wrote last night, I did not see him but in passing. I spent my meals with Lucas and Ivy, telling them my whole tale, from the time I left Saint Anne's to the night I stepped through the entrance to the cavern. This morning I nearly slept through breakfast (I do not know how I could have stayed asleep through the general commotion of a dozen girls rising and readying for the day, then the noise of the meal in the main cavern!) so I had to eat very quickly to start my lessons on time.

At lunch, my feet took me to the place I had sat for the previous four meals: the edge of the room, which had a view of the whole place, where Lucas and Ivy sat, along with Edwin and Tulia, both from my group. However, I was intercepted before I made it to them; Zebediah stepped into my path and motioned me to follow him. Puzzled, I gave my friends a smile, then stepped into the kitchen with Zebediah. But he kept walking, slipping through the narrow crevasse in the far wall to go down the corridor further into the mountain. This is where we get our water, from the spring that trickles away through some other route. He stopped at the edge of the water, which I could only see dimly. Very little light shone in from the kitchen.

"What is the matter?" I asked. Zebediah didn't answer, but took a small lamp from his pocket and shook it, then set it on the floor at our feet. It cast a faint yellow glow, lighting the cavern enough that I could see the still, black water and the slightly damp stone walls near us.

While I was looking around--I had not yet been in this part of the caves--Zebediah took my hand and spelled on my palm, "I miss you."

"I miss you too," I murmured, and stepped a little closer to him. This was the first time we'd been alone since yesterday morning before breakfast.

"I do not see you," he told me, with gestures. "You are always busy, using your Gift, talking with others."

"They're my friends," I said. "And I must practice my Illumination. It's important." I hadn't yet had a chance to tell him what Lucas said yesterday, that Ivy had seen me in her visions, that I played an important part in what was to come.

"Am I not important?"

"Of course you are!" I cried softly, taking both his hands in mine and looking up into his blue eyes. "You are very important to me. I have never felt about someone the way I feel about you."

Zebediah pulled his hands away and looked around the cave, frustrated. "I am useless here," he told me. "I am not Gifted. I carry water, I serve food." He clenched his teeth and shook his head, shifting his weight from one foot to the other. "It is what I did for years, but... I am done with that now! I thought I was! I want..."

I watched as he paced away from me and then back. "You want what?" I asked in a small voice.

"I want.... you." he said. "I want to be done with this. Running and hiding. Being hunted and tired and cold all the time. Illumination."

"Illumination is a part of my life now," I countered, frowning at him. "A part of me. You cannot be done with it if you are to remain with me." That hurt me rather deeply, that he did not like my Gift, or being around it. "And you cannot be done with it if you want us to win this war."

He looked at me, confused, wondering what I meant. Briefly, I told him what Lucas had said about Ivy's visions, and what Ivy herself had told me, which was not much.

"I do not like it," Zebediah said, scowling.

"I don't like it either," I said, "but it is going to happen. This war, my part in it. Your part in it. You will be at my side all the while," I assured him. "I want you at my side."

"I do not know that I trust what they say. Lucas," he said, spelling the name on my hand, then pausing half a second before writing, "and Ivy," in addition.

I yanked my hand out of his. "You do not like them because they are not you." But that didn't make sense, didn't come out the way I wanted it. I shook my head, squinting my eyes shut. "You are jealous. Do you want all of my time and attention? I cannot give it all to you! Lucas is young and handsome, yes, I admit it. That is what bothers you."

He flinched, and I saw that I had hit the nail on the head. "He likes you, I see it."

"He is kind and charming, nothing more. He is my friend. Do you not trust me? Is that why you are upset?"

Zebediah stared hard at me and didn't say anything.

"You don't?" I nearly shrieked. It did not occur to me until afterwards that anyone near the kitchen could probably hear most of what I said. (Still, that was only half the conversation.) "Why? When have I ever given you reason to distrust me, Zebediah?" Tears filled my eyes. That hurt more than the fact that he didn't like my Illumination. "They are my friends," I said softly, pleading with him with my eyes to understand. "I have never had friends, but for a little girl at the orphanage. The other girls were merely... there. Let me have this. Please."

He stared at me a moment more; I could see the muscles of his jaw tense over and over as he clenched his teeth. "You are rash. You jump into things without thinking about them."


He went on, ignoring the protestations I tried to make. "You are over-eager. You will hurt yourself, with your Gift, with your friends. I am afraid, Bernice. For you. For us."

"I would never do anything to hurt you," I whispered, my heart breaking, each word he spoke chipping another little piece away.

"Not on purpose," he spelled on his own hand, and took a step toward me, but I turned away and retreated. He did not trust me, he thought I was foolish. The worst part was that I agreed with him, to some extent. Much of what had occurred recently had been my own fault. I wandered alone in Sun City and was kidnapped. I pushed Captain Winters until he snapped at me. This whole adventure began because I wanted too much: to find a family I knew in my heart did not exist. The things I had avoided were merely by luck: the Tourbillion appeared just before we would have landed in Franklin Bay; I was in town when the Erebos came to the school. It is a miracle I have survived as long as I have!

"You are right," I said in a small voice. "I don't... I don't think I have a place here. Or with you."

I didn't look up, but I heard him sigh and shuffle his feet. Then his footsteps sounded and grew more faint as he returned to the kitchen.

I was not alone for long, however. Ivy came into the cave a moment after. "Sorry for eavesdropping," she said softly, reaching down to pick up the lamp, "but the look in his eyes when he came to get you scared me. I did not want anything bad to happen to you."

"I am fine," I whispered, my voice breaking on the last word. "And he would never hurt me."

"Clearly, he has," Ivy said, and stepped close in order to put her free arm around me. I leaned into her just slightly; it had been ages, it seemed, since I had a young woman to confide in, a female friend. A few tears dropped from my eyes, wetting the shoulder of her blouse. "Do you want to tell me about it?" she asked.

I thought for a moment, but then drew back, shaking my head. "It is nothing. Everything he said is true."

"Not everything," said Ivy. "Lucas is not in love with you," she said with a little smirk, "nor do you love him. That much is clear."

I had known as much, but hearing the words from someone who was certain did disappoint me a little. Lucas' attention was nice, and I think some part of me liked that it made Zebediah upset. I had liked feeling wanted and admired. "Obviously," I said, looking out over the water so I didn't have to look at her.

"It's nothing personal," she told me. "You are just... so very claimed."

"What do you mean?"

"He does not let you see it," she said, still smiling, "but your Mr. Miller throws such longing looks your way. He would lie down in front of a train for you. He would go hungry so you could eat, or thirsty so you could drink."

"He has," I murmured, thinking of the days in the forest when he would insist I ate half his share of the bread, claiming he wasn't hungry. "With the food, I mean. I hope he never lays in front of a train for me."

"But he would," Ivy told me, her eyes very serious. "If it would save you, he would. Do not dismiss yourself or your relationship so easily. He looks at you the way my father looks at my mother, and they are two of the happiest people I have ever known, despite the hard work they have to do and all the trials they have endured."

That was comforting, for certain, though I did not think Ivy's parents had been pursued by airship pirates or threatened by murderous Loyalists. Although, now I think about it, perhaps they had been, in the war. "Thank you," I murmured.

"It is only the truth," she said with a smile, then she took my hand. "Come and eat your lunch. It is almost time for lessons to resume." I followed her back through the corridor, through the kitchen, and out into the main cavern. I did not see Zebediah again until supper, when he stayed far away from me, but Ivy urged me to give him time. I was asked to help with a demonstration during the talk after our meal, and now I am lying on my little bed, most of the rest of the girls around me asleep.

Things will be better in the morning. I will find him and speak to him, and we will mend things. I care for him too much to do anything else.

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