She was in the same room she remembered from when she had awaken in bed with him, only this time, the door was open and she was by herself. She lay in the bed, cloak sprawled out beneath her, and stared at the ceiling.
She kind of missed the canopy. She had become almost used to staring at the overhanging in thought. She turned her head, laying with her cheek on the bed as she stared at the door.
Atlas had led her into the ‘flyer,’ which she recognized as something similar to one of Base Inventions’ new aircars, though this one was much larger than she had ever seen before. Beside this one bedroom, there were two bathrooms and a large but relatively narrow room full of comfortable chairs with a round table in the center of it. The bathrooms weren’t as clean as she expected of Atlas, but she supposed she understood, what with the flyer regularly being used to shuffle Palnokians back and forth over the Water back to Roadesia.
Atlas had even told her where she was, which was nice to know. She had been Over the Water, in the dead center of a large kingdom ruled by a lord who called himself the Snow King. Atlas had been rather closemouthed about why they had chosen that location and their relationship with the Snow King. In fact, Atlas had been uncharacteristically silent altogether. She was used to him talking to her, even though she had refused to see him very much since being held captive. Every encounter she’d had with him had been with him talking freely and making her comfortable enough to talk back.
This time, she felt as if anything she said would be unwelcome. That was why she was lying in the bed, rather than out there with him. He had settled into a comfortable looking chair, which was already different. She had completely expected him to take the loveseat. She normally saw him in a seat where she could fit beside him, an unspoken invitation. She didn’t know how she felt about the invitation being revoked like that. To top that, he had taken out his DS and stared intently at it for a few clacks before she got the feeling that she was unwanted. So she had wandered and ended up back in this room.
It bothered her that it bothered her that Atlas was closed off from her. She hardly knew him. In fact, the only things she knew about him were the things she knew as a Phoegani member, nothing personal. It was an uneven balance, with him knowing everything about her and her knowing nothing about him. She felt the need to fix the difference between them, to get to know more about him than basic cursory information. Really, it was her duty as a Phoegani agent to get to know him, to learn information about the enemy. It had nothing to do with her personal feelings.
She had a wonderful opportunity, one that no other Phoegani operative had ever had or would ever have. She could stay and gather information, and it would all be worthwhile in the end. She wouldn’t be betraying the Phoegani or Benjy or Christein. She would be helping them. She could be a plant, gathering up information. Obviously, she wouldn’t be able to get the information to them until she had to go back, because if the Phoegani suddenly had insider information, it would lead immediately back to Amadhay and she would be compromised. But she would get them information and be welcomed back with open arms, instead of being thrown directly into holding cells for defecting.
This had nothing to do with her possible feelings for Atlas, who was honestly willing to let her go back to the Phoegani, who was honestly giving her a choice. It had nothing to do with the fact that she thought she could become good friends with Ribbon, Kimiko, and Tenshu or her lingering more-than-friendly feelings for Ribbon. She was just trying to do something good for the Phoegani. She wasn’t falling for Atlas’ words or actions, she wasn’t betraying the Phoegani or Benjy or Christein. She was just doing things a little differently than she had planned.
Now, all she had to do was tell Atlas about her change of heart without him becoming suspicious.
Taking a deep breath to steel herself, she pushed herself off of the bed and left the room. Pausing at the doorway, she focused on Atlas, who was still in the same chair, still staring at his DS. He didn’t even glance up when she reentered the room with her hands clasped at her front. She made her way to him, sitting in the seat directly beside him. He still didn’t look at her, so she leaned over and placed her head against his side, looking up at his face, waiting for him to look at her.
He finally did after a moment’s hesitance. Setting his DS on his lap, he looked down at her, eyebrows raised and expression carefully blank. “Is there something you needed?”
She tried to think of the best way to broach the subject, and decided that bluntness was the best option. “I don’t want to go back.”
He eyed her critically. “And why is that?’
Shrugging, she sat up so that she was no longer leaning into him. “I changed my mind.”
“What changed it?” he asked, looking away from her.
“Does it matter?” she asked in response, playing with the end of her left braid.
“Yes,” he said.
She sighed, staring at her hair as she pressed the ends of both braids together. “I…I just wanted to know that you actually would take me back if I wanted,” she muttered.
His eyes snapped from the wall, back to her. “What?”
She tried to focus on her braids, not the look he was giving her. It was skeptical but showed unabashed hopefulness. He really wanted her to stay, that was obvious. “I don’t want to go back.”
He nodded slowly. “Are you sure?”
“If I’m not, would you take me back?” she asked, finally looking at him directly in the eyes.
“I will take you wherever you want to go at any time,” he promised, holding her gaze.
She wasn’t sure why there was a chill going down her spine, when at the same time she felt a warmth spreading throughout her body. It was as if she were frightened of him, when she was sure she had no reason to be. “Then I want to go back to base. Your base.”
A slow grin came to his lips. “We just call it home.”
She nodded slowly, realizing that he wanted her to call it ‘home.’ “I want to go home,” she whispered, the words feeling strangely heavy on her tongue. She tried to convince herself that it was because it felt wrong to call the Palnokian base ‘home,’ but deep down, she knew it was because it felt right. It felt much more right than calling the Phoegani base ‘home,’ which she never did.
Atlas’ grin was wider now. “Alright then. Medica!” he yelled. “We’re going home!” A teasing tone came to his voice. “Are you still feeling all the snow?”
“I never was. Is there a choice?” Amadhay asked, raising her eyebrows.
“Of course. You can’t honestly think we always live in the Ice Castle. How about near a beach?”
“A warm beach?” she asked warily. She didn’t want to agree to go somewhere, expecting warmth and sunshine, only to be surrounded by icy waters and snow.
“Of course,” Atlas replied, reaching out to her. He tucked the loose curls that she had worried from both braids behind her ears on both sides, before allowing his two fingers to trail down to her cheek. He traced to the corner of her mouth before pausing there. There was a question in his eyes, one that she wasn’t sure how to answer. So she simply didn’t, looking away from him for a brief click.
His hands dropped from her face, back to his lap. “So this was all just a test?”
She blinked a few times, looking back up at him, before shaking her head in confusion, unsure what he meant. “All of what was a test?”
“You going back to the Phoegani? You never planned to go back?”
For a click, she thought about agreeing, but something told her not to. As much as she wanted to play with him at his own game, she didn’t want to lie to him, not yet. The lying would come later, it always did. This was just a brief interlude, a truthful interlude.
“No,” she admitted. “I was going to go back. I thought that was what I wanted,” she paused, not sure that was what she had meant to say. “But it isn’t.” She tried to look away from him, but his red eyes kept hers even, “I just needed to know that you were being honest, that you would actually take me back if I wanted to. That’s what I wanted. I wanted to know that I could trust you.”
It was that same moment that she realized that was the truth of the matter. She didn’t really plan on gathering information for the Phoegani. She didn’t plan on going back there. She loved Christein and Benjy, but they were part of the problem. They had pushed and prodded her into decisions, had withheld information from her that she needed.
She just wanted to know that there was someone in her life who would be honest with her, who wouldn’t take her choices from her, but allow her to make them. Atlas might be that person.