Zen

Midnight

XII.

Exactly twelve days after they leave Corinth Ziggy appears, a dark spot on the horizon.

"As it turns out," he says when he arrives, "K and kids don't exactly mix. Plus, she doesn't really like shadow puppets -- or magic tricks -- or my famous double chocolate brownie surprise."

"You broke up," Dillon supplies.

"Oh yeah," Ziggy says emphatically, clearly remembering some major blow up.

"That's okay," Summer sooths, hugging him around the shoulders. "There's plenty of room in the charger."

Tenaya only frowns at them. She has the horrible feeling that the "plenty of room" Summer mentioned is in her backseat.

XI.

It takes a short eleven minutes after Ziggy's arrival for Tenaya to decide she still hates him, even if she is good now. He takes up all of her leg room and insists on breaking the monotony of the ride by singing, which wouldn't be so bad, except he is completely and utterly tone deaf.

"Sixty-one bottles of beer on the wall," he sings happily, oblivious to everyone else's discomfort.

"Will someone shut him up?" Dillon begs when Ziggy reaches forty-seven bottles.

Tenaya quickly grabs the back of Ziggy's underwear and pulls. As he whimpers in pain she only smiles.

X.

"I don't know," Ziggy says, gasping in the dry heat, "if I can make it."

Tenaya rolls her eyes, not bothering to glance down at him prostrate in the sand. "We've gone ten yards. Dillon and Summer can still see us."

Ziggy props himself up on his elbows to see her. "I'm trying to add dramatic effect to our mission."

"We're getting water. It's not exactly saving the world."

"It's still a mission and it's still important. There's no rule that it can't be fun." He lifts his hand, waiting for her to help him up. She does, albeit grudgingly.

IX.

Tenaya easily dodges Ziggy's kick and grabs his follow-up punch out of the air, twisting his arm back and forcing him to his knees.

"Ow, ow, ow! Uncle! I said uncle!" he wails. She releases him and he cradles his arm, pouting up at her.

"Give it a rest, Tenaya," Summer says from her seat on the nearby rocks. She's wrapped in Dillon's arms, watching them spar against the setting sun.

"One more," Ziggy says, climbing to his feet.

"I have already defeated you nine times."

"So?" He shrugs. "What's one more?"

She returns his smile and lunges at him.

VIII.

Tenaya opens her eyes with a huff. She's tried counting backwards by eights from a thousand, and gave up entirely when she reached 296.

She wiggles free of her sleeping bag, figuring she can start her guard shift early if she obviously isn't sleeping. She climbs the rock face they've taken shelter beside and finds Ziggy using his flashlight to practice shadow puppetry.

"You're an hour early," he says.

"Couldn't sleep."

He watches her a moment before saying, "I could stay, keep you company. I'm not tired yet."

She doesn't answer, but settles down beside him to watch the shadows.

VII.

Seven weeks after Ziggy's arrival they've finally worked out the backseat arrangement. Tenaya gets the seat right behind the driver -- which is best for everyone's safety -- and Ziggy stays a solid foot away from her at all times, keeping any and all foodstuffs as far away from Tenaya as possible.

There is still the occasional blow up, like the time Ziggy spills his entire emergency supply of M&Ms and they start rolling around the floor. That makes Dillon more angry than it makes Tenaya though, since it gives her the opportunity she'd been waiting for to steal some of them.

VI.

They're six hundred miles from Corinth when they find the first survivors. The people are living in an elaborate network of underground bunkers, most of them from the days of the Cold War. They only realized that Venjix was failing when a fleet of Drones crashed nearby and have since been tentatively expanding their bit of civilization aboveground. Summer and Dillon tell them the story of Corinth while Ziggy provides illustrative shadow puppets in the background. Tenaya watches with the children and her laughter mixes with their high-pitched giggles when Ziggy makes a monster appear to be eating Dillon's head.

V.

"It's time to go," Dillon says five days after they find the survivors.

Tenaya looks up from her work on the radio tower she started building yesterday. The transceiver they brought with them isn't getting through to Corinth.

"They need supplies," he adds, "and I'd feel better if they had some better protection."

"There's still a lot to do here."

He nods, glances at Summer, who's helping to fix up patrol vehicles. She smiles brightly at him. "If you want," Dillon says, "you and Ziggy can stay behind."

She wonders if she and Ziggy were always third and fourth wheels.

IV.

Ziggy plops down beside her after long day. The settlement is quiet, most people having gone underground for the night, but Tenaya's spent too much time enclosed in iron and steel to sleep anywhere but under the stars. He holds out a plate with four brown and white blobs on it. Gingerly she lifts one and the white stuff sticks to her fingers.

"Double chocolate brownie surprise," he says. "The surprise is marshmallows."

She remembers K hated them and decides the other girl is crazy. When she smiles Ziggy returns the gesture and hands her a glass of cold milk.

III.

The radio tower finished, Tenaya isn't sure what to do with herself. She doesn't so much decide to visit Ziggy as she starts walking and ends up there before anywhere else. He's teaching history in a field near the settlement and she likes that he doesn't stop his lesson on Napoleon just for her. He acts out the battles, making the children laugh at his prat falls.

The lesson comes to an abrupt halt when three jets scream over. The children would be afraid but Ziggy lets out a whoop of joy before they can be. Eagle squadron has arrived.

II.

The settlers throw a party in celebration of too many things to count. Gem and Gemma take up storytelling, adding their own exploits against Venjix to the growing narrative.

Tenaya drifts to the edges of the celebration, uncomfortable in the crush of so many people. Ziggy appears from nowhere, two drinks in his hands. She takes hers and says, "I thought you were with Scott."

Ziggy nods. "He wanted to be the one to tell me. He's dating K."

She studies his face in the dim light. "You don't seem too depressed."

He frowns. "I'm not."

"Good," she says, smiling.

I.

She's not surprised when he kisses her on a hillside beneath the shade of a blossoming tree. She knows it's a romantic spot and Ziggy's been more flustered than usual around her since the party. What surprises her is that he only does it once. A touch of the lips, a gentle deepening, and he rushes away.

She doesn't move, just waits the few minutes it takes him to sheepishly return. He opens his mouth to offer some absurd explanation and she grabs him, pulling him to her and kissing him until he forgets what he was going to say.


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