a heartbeat close

On the ship there is no time or reason to waste on frivolities of dress; it’s been long weeks since Anita has even thought of her makeup. She has shed all her fine dresses and jewelry: she belongs to a different world now.

But in the morning, long before crew or Exorcists wake, when she thinks of her mother and General Cross and the earnest boy lost to them in China, Mahoja combs her hair. The salt and damp has turned it ratty and knotted, but Mahoja is patient and steady, working the knots gently out. Anita has seen her crush men’s throats with her bare hands, but for her all that tremendous strength is gentled: she feels it still in every careful pass of the comb in her hair, sees it in the corded hard muscles of Majoha’s long arms, and never once does she fear. Even when faltering Mahoja is nothing but control, and she touches Anita with such delicate grace.

It could be frightening: for all her size, Mahoja has the speed of a pouncing tiger, and if she wanted — and oh, she does want, Anita has been trained to recognize this —

Instead what she does is close her eyes and let herself sink into the comfort of repetitive motion, the draw of long graceful fingers against her scalp, and dreams of a world where she could take the hand that trembles against her skin and smile and say, Yes, I understand.

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