"Like a Broken Compass"
"Anyone who falls in love is searching for missing pieces of themselves."
Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore
The first time was an accident. Bored Genetically-Modified Boy met Intense Genetically-Modified Girl. Gigantic Genetically-Modified Octopus attacked and with adrenaline still pumping from its successful destruction, they leaned in for the classic moment on a hormonal high. Besides, heroic acts and the grand finale kiss—that was how the movies all went. It was practically their right to see it through. But, their lips never locked and though neither was smiling, they parted. "Irreconcilable differences", you could call it.
But really, it was just the sad truth of living on opposite sides of a war.
Circe waits but when there's no answer, she twists around to her side, the blanket bunching up underneath her to spill sand everywhere. Yep; thought so. Rex is snoozing away, even with his watch ticking away their time right there on his chest. She tilts it down to face her and relaxes, turning around her back again and spreading out her far arm to touch sand. Rex has an hour still; he can afford to sleep, and he needs it—if she looks she can still count the fading bruises from the fight he had this morning.
Nice to know I came all the way out here for nothing though.
She sits up and a pull at her wrist brings her down again, as Rex grunts. "I'm up, relax. I'm awake."
His eyes are still shut though and she smirks; says, "You sure about that now?"
He smiles, eyes opening just a crack. "Oh yeah. I'm way too old for nap time."
"Uh huh. Sure you are."
He throws some sand her way and she shields with one arm, the other reaching out to give him a light smack. "Way to prove my point," she says, "and you throw sand at me one more time and we're not coming here again."
"I like here!"
"Then stop throwing sand!"
He pouts. "You're always spoiling my fun." But he can't hold it; he grins, eyes watching her intently . . .
She lunges, hands snatching desperately for sand as his own handful flies over her.
The second time was business. Rex (the boy) was trying to save the UN; Circe (the girl) was trying to stop him—irreconcilable differences, yet again. They barely saw each other at all. He caught glances through a crowded room and she caught him across the head, a perfect shot. But there is a moment, if only just the one. She snuck in close and buried her head in his shoulders, and the smell of apricots haunted him for days.
When they parted, they didn't regret. He wanted freedom; she wanted home. Not that they got either, but hey. You did what you could.
"Fine. I'm sorry I screeched you into a building—"
"—and twisted my ankle—"
"—and twisted your—wait, what?"
"Well, it's not twisted anymore."
Circe gives both ankles a glance—he's giving them both equal weight, not favoring either one. Rex shrugs off injuries like mosquitoes though, so she doesn't fight him on it. "Okay, I'm sorry for that too."
"Even though you could just quit and then it'd be over."
She keeps quiet and Rex looks away. She sighs. "Rex."
"It was worth a shot."
She looks at the ocean. It isn't the same one they met at, but it might as well be. Same cold, stark blue licking the shore, same conversation over the seagulls' call.
"How's Providence?" she asks, because she just can't think of anything else to say.
"Settling down. I think they just figured that with Van Kleiss gone they could relax a little."
She smiles and steps closer to the shore, till the water tickles her feet. "Don't count on it," she says. "BioWulf's hoping that if we make enough noise he'll come back."
Rex sidles in next to her, hands deep in his jacket, but doesn't speak. He stares at her, eyes clouded with pity, and for a second it's so easy to hate him like she's supposed to. She can even imagine trapping him, bringing him home as proof. She wouldn't even have to do anything to him; just having him would say it: I deserve to be here. I did what you couldn't.
"He's gone, Circe."
The second becomes two. "You don't know that."
"I saw it."
Three. His eyes are clear now, focused only on her, and when the wave comes in it's like it flows through her, chilling every part of her.
"Rylander took him in front of this machine. Next thing I knew, they were gone. I don't even know if he's still alive, or—hey! Where are you going?"
She doesn't stop walking. Just answers over her shoulder.
"You break the rules, I get to leave. That's the deal."
Or I'll actually do it this time.
The third time was a surprise. Rex was on the run (again). Circe was investigating and took a quick detour through a park. They chased each other for a bit but neither were really serious, and when Rex finally tackled her she just smirked and said, "I'm not doing anything wrong, you know."
He jumped off, flustered, and bought her cotton candy. She never did realize it was because he accidentally touched her chest, but even if she did, she wouldn't have taken the day back. They played a game at basketball (she won) and it was almost like Cabo Luna again, right down to the awkward goodbye that was never actually said.
When he asked to do it again, she thought he was kidding.
"I'm sorry. About last week."
Circe doesn't answer. She shifts on the bench though, dropping her bag on to the floor, and he takes the seat without hesitation. "You were right," he continues. "I just thought you'd want to know."
"He's not gone."
"Seriously, Rex. You don't know him. I don't think it's even possible to kill him."
She opens her mouth to speak again, but stops. Clenches it tight as she crosses her arms, her nose wrinkled up as he leans in closer.
His face blanches as he sniffs at his shirt, first in quick bursts than in one deep inhale. His jaw drops in horror as he he groans, "I can't even smell it anymore! I think I got used to it!"
"You smell like you swam though a swamp of manure. How do you even get used to that?"
"I showered like ten times!"
He leans back, giving her space to breathe, and she can't help it. She laughs. And she appreciates it so much that she pinches her nose and pushes past her instincts, pecking him on the cheek.
"Oh God, I can still smell it!"
She jumps off and it's entirely the wrong thing to say, as he leaps after her.
The fourth time was a date.
Neither called it what it was. But Rex brought a pizza and Circe stole a radio and there was no question about it. They met at Capsule Cove—her choice—and stayed for hours, arguing over music and the weather and shortcuts to Manhattan (the last of which he won—she couldn't beat personal air travel). It wasn't normal, exactly—Rex cut down branches with his own arm for the fire, after all—but maybe that was why it worked. Why when it ended, she suggested they try again. There was only one problem after all, and Circe stopped it dead with a smile, her fingers weaving through his as she pulled him close.
"Are you going to leave the Pack?"
"No. But you're not going to leave either. And I won't tell if you won't."
"Circe . . ."
Rex likes necks.
Circe doesn't think he knows, but she's got the hickeys to prove it. He kisses, he nuzzles, he latches his fingers in the undyed tendrils at the nape ("Wait, you're blonde?" is a moment that lives on forever in her mind, and can throw her into fits of laughter at any moment). So when he brushes her collarbone a few too many times, she doesn't really notice. Her eyes are closed and all she really feels is the motion and the wind.
"Where'd you get this?"
Her eyes open to his face, inches from hers, and she follows his gaze down. It's a scar, noticeable on her already pale skin only in its milky shine, and she struggles to remember. Slowly, it comes: an image of a slide, her rocketing down on her belly, laughing and smiling even when she hit the broken glass left unseen on the landing pad.
"I think I was eight?" she says. "Playground accident. It happens."
He nods, still running his fingers over it, and she looks around, suddenly uncomfortable. She's used to having his attention, but this is different. He's not even really looking at her; more like something in her.
"I tried looking for my brother today."
She waits for him to continue, but he doesn't. His knees just bump against hers as his head dips down, resting on her shoulder just above the scar, and it takes her a while to remember where her hands should go. They land awkwardly on his back, as she pats away sand, and instead she focuses on saying something, before she's cut off by him again.
"Found absolutely nothing. Nada. Six thinks I shouldn't bother."
She sighs, looking toward the sea again. She still needs to say something, but truth is, she agrees. Rex shouldn't. He really, really shouldn't. But to support or to warn?
She goes with neither. When in doubt, comfort to the point of distraction. "Family's not always what it's cracked up to be, Rex."
There's no response, not for a long time. Not until he finally asks, "Tell me about yours?"
He sits back up, and it's all in his smile, that eager, puppy dog lopsided smile and the words pour out. She tells him about her parents, her sisters, aunts and uncles and grandparents who sent her money on Christmas and sounded like strangled frogs from years of smoking. She elaborates on every point, describing clothing and speech mannerisms and funny walks because she knows it's what he wants: a photograph of words. Not all of it's true but that's not the point.
The fact she can even make it up is more than he's ever had.
The fifth time was a miracle, because it almost never happened. Rex was detained, an emergency meeting sprung by White Knight, and the big hand got all the way to the six by the time they'd let him go. Half the trip there was spent arguing whether he should turn back; the other half he just pushed on anyway, ignoring the fact he knew he should. Circe wouldn't be there. It was raining, it was late, and she'd said it herself. If things happened, they happened; no loss. She wouldn't be there.
But she was. She sat on a boulder, water dripping from her hair, and when he tapped her on the shoulder she didn't look mad.
Since then he's asked her why at least a dozen times, but she never answers; not really. She says she knew he'd come.
She says, "But who else would?
"I used to sing."
"Only used to?"
"Sometimes I EVO out when I try."
"Ouch. That kinda sucks."
"Depends on the song. Some things sound better at hyper frequency."
Rex's arm tightens around her neck, curling in and headed . . . Yep, straight for the boobs. She fends him off with a quick smack and a warning: "Keep dreaming"
"I'd like to hear you sing."
"And dreaming and dreaming."
"Is that how you found out?"
"Found out what?"
"Being an EVO. I mean, you pretty much look normal—"
"—You flatter me. Really."
"Touchy! You know what I mean."
" . . . I was doing a concert. Big solo."
"Yeah, that was not the general reaction."
"A real show-stopper, huh?"
She tries to rib him, but it doesn't really work. He's too close, and by the time she gets her arm free from under his leg the moment for pun punishment has passed. She changes topics instead:
"How'd you find out?"
"I stabbed Six in the foot."
". . . Wait, really?"
"Yeah. He doesn't talk about it much."
The sixth time was the sixth; the seventh was the seventh; and so on. It became a nice routine, three hours a week in Capsule Cove. Not enough time to be missed, if not enough time to every really satisfy either of them.
They weren't dating; Circe liked to make that clear every so often. You didn't build a relationship on three hours a week, especially not in their situation. At least, that was what she said. Rex figured that if you acted liked you loved someone and felt like you loved someone, it counted whether the other person wanted it to or not.
Whether the other person treated it that way or not.
"So, Van Kleiss is back."
Rex stops, his goggles smacking back into place. He waits, and she twists her hair, not sure what else to say. He's about to leave. He's about to leave and she's telling him now and there's so much that's unfair about that but she's honestly tried. She's tried every second of this three hours and it's not until this very last one that anything's come out. Even if it's as ineffective as "Just to warn you."
He looks back at her, but only for a second. He turns away before he has to say it:
"You could come. With me."
She sighs. "Rex—"
"—Yeah, yeah." He revs the engine, putting his goggles over his eyes. "Breaking the rules. Got it."
"I'll see you?"
He hesitates, not sure how she means it. But again, he knows what he has to say, the only thing he can.
". . . Yeah."
The next time is an unknown.
Rex waits for it, thinks of it every time he gets sand in his shoe. Circe works double-time all across the globe to avoid it, because if she's just useful enough, she won't get relegated to bait. But it'll happen, eventually; has to. Even a broken compass hits north in its spin, and that's all they really are. Searching but never finding, not really.
But who else would?