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Chapter 25

I woke up the next morning feeling a little off. It took me a few moments, but then I realized that it was just how well I’d slept. If I’d had any dreams - whether good or bad - I didn’t remember them.

It felt numbing, not remembering anything that had happened in the middle of the night. It felt wrong because all my life I’d been trained to be aware and wary.

But I wasn’t doing a very good job at that lately, now was I?

I scolded myself in my head and shook myself roughly before pushing myself up. The blanket had shifted out from under me and the cape of my cloak wasn’t arrayed around me like it had been last night. Frankly, I wasn’t surprised. If I hadn’t remembered to stay partially alert while sleeping, at least I hadn’t stayed still as a log.

“Morning,” Zoe said perkily as she bounded back over.

I looked at her through heavy-lidded eyes. I didn’t reply.

Zoe shrugged, “Tasks are up,” She said, continuing cheerfully. Her blanket was a mess, as usual.

Tasks, ugh. I’d get out of doing one of those for as long as humanly possible. I just needed to convince the right people that I was doing something worth my not taking a task.

Not that I actually knew what the tasks were. For all I knew, they could be easy.

I sincerely doubted it.

Marlee groaned softly as she pushed herself up into a sitting position. She yawned, her jaw cracking. As I restrained my own yawn in return, I cast her an amused glance.

“Sorry,” She mumbled, her cheeks flushing in embarrassment.

I rolled my eyes, shaking my head as I stood up. That’s when the yawn broke out.

When my mouth finally snapped back shut, I sighed. “I hate you,” I muttered half-heartedly.

To my surprise, Marlee laughed. “You have permission to hate me if I make you yawn, but now I’m going to-” She stopped, her jaw setting. “Yawn,” She finished after a moment. I suspected that she had stopped because of a restrained yawn.

I shrugged, stretching. My back cracked, but I preferred to say it was because I’d stretched back to the point where a human shouldn’t be able to rather than what other people would joke about it being.

No, I was not old. I was a whopping seventeen. Shut your brain traps or whatever.

“Tasks are up,” I told Marlee.

She nodded tiredly, not seeming to care in the slightest.

Seeing it as an opening, I began asking her questions.

“Are we expected to do a task every day?”

Marlee looked back at me, pulling her arms up behind her and propping herself up rather than letting herself flop back onto the floor. “We aren’t expected to,” She replied slowly, “I mean, it’s encouraged, but if everyone takes a task, there’d be so many people without tasks. It’s mostly just whoever is antsy or needs to get their mind off something can go take one and find something to do.”

I nodded, cataloging the information. I put my hands on my hips, or tried to, and remembered the carrots. “Hey, so in theory, if I found some food, where would I put it?”

Marlee’s eyes widened. “You just found food?” She seemed to be a mixture of suspicious and eager.

I pursed my lips, thinking fast. “A little,” I admitted.

Marlee glanced around. “Normally I’d say bring it to the kitchen, but... can I have some?” She looked at me with a pleading look on her face.

I suspected that pulling out the carrots in the middle of the warehouse would be a bad idea. Nine carrots would not get even close to feeding this many people.

I glanced around, my eyes skimming over the clusters of people scattered across the room. “Let’s go out back, but yes,” I told her.

Marlee’s eyes brightened considerably as relief flooded her features, “Thank you!”

I nodded, schooling my features, and began to walk towards the back. I heard scuffling as Marlee quickly pushed herself up to follow me. It was nearly amusing how quickly her tiredness disappeared in the face of food. The only thing that stopped me from chuckling was the fact that my own stomach knew the feeling.

“Lee!” Devin called, coming over.

Inwardly, I groaned, but I didn’t let my face change. “Hey, Dev,” I replied.

His eyes sparkled with humor, “So, you’re calling me ‘Dev’ now?”

“Yep,” I said, offering no explanation.

“Okay,” Devin shook his head and rolled his eyes at the same time. Just imagining doing it made me dizzy.

I kept moving towards the back, then realized that Devin was still following me. “Why are you following me?” I asked flatly.

“What? A guy can’t try to talk to his friend in private?” Devin asked easily.

I shot him a look, feeling unusual softness that annoyed me to no end. “I’d prefer to be told before you just go around stalking me,” I told him, my stern voice coming across more chiding than I’d meant it to.

Devin’s face turned solemn. “Marlee is ‘stalking’ you, too,” He pointed out.

“Yes,” I replied, “And your point is?”

Devin cast me a pleading look, “Please, Lee?”

I sighed, my side feeling hot like the carrots were burning through my cloak and knife belt. “Fine,” I bit out, “But you’d better have a good reason.”

“I will,” Devin promised, his eyes darkening in a way that was alarming.

I glanced back at Marlee and forced a calm look onto my face. “If you two would follow me,” I began formally before stopping as Marlee brushed past me.

“You two can talk,” She hissed as she passed me. As she kept moving, she cast me a look that was both commanding and knowing. She seemed to be quite good at the multi-emotion expressions.

I watched her until the door shut behind her. At that point, I had no choice but to turn back to Devin and try not to focus on the happy feelings that bubbled up in my gut.

I hated them with a passion.

“What did you need to talk about?” I asked him cautiously.

“First of all,” Devin started, “You knew that Marlee is lesbian, right?”

I shrugged, feeling a little mad for Marlee’s sake, “It’s not really my business, but no, I didn’t know that.” I forced impatience rather than frustration, “As cute as this is, Marlee and I were going to have a talk in the back, so I’d appreciate not stalling this.”

Devin looked like he assumed I was lying about not knowing Marlee’s preferences, especially since I said we were having a ‘talk’ in the back.

Seriously, some people’s minds went wild and there was just no reeling them in.

“Dev,” I prompted.

“Sorry,” He said, blinking rapidly. “I just may have heard from a contact that you were meeting with the royals.” He eyed me calculatingly, waiting for a small ripple in my expression.

I didn’t let myself move, “You may have heard, or you did?” I asked indifferently, sighing a sigh that definitely didn’t mean what Devin would think it did.

“I did,” Devin said flatly.

I shrugged, “I don’t know what you want me to say. I could admit that I’ve been meeting with the selfish and egotistical royals, but I haven’t.”

Lies are easily said when they’re filled with partial truths. I said I hadn’t been meeting with selfish and egotistical royals, and I hadn’t, but I hadn’t said I hadn’t been meeting with royals period.

Devin relaxed, “Sorry to accuse you, but I had to ask.” He cast me a sheepish grin.

“I would ask if I were in your position,” I said, trying not to get caught in the undertow of anger and affection. Sometimes I was too messed up to understand myself. All I knew is that I wouldn’t ask, had I been in Devin’s position.

I’d threaten something if I didn’t get what I wanted because they’d deserve whatever emotions they brought out in me if they didn’t help me at all.

At least one thing stayed the same.

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