Hello everyone! For my old readers, I'm very sorry if you got a notification from your author alert that you expected to be about "Dreams and Hopes and Other Nasty Stuff". That fic is currently at a standstill, I am sad to say, because Bryce and Juli are at a very critical spot where the plot now would determine the plot of everything for the next 3 years. I haven't thought out and worked out all of what's going to happen yet, so I'm holding off on that fic for now.
On the other hand, I absolutely adore this series by Kenneth Oppel, and so have decided to give a try at this fanfic. Yes, there will be lemons in later chapters so this is rated M. I've always felt intrigued by the 2nd book, which I found to be the best of the three, and this fic explores the relationship between the 3 most interesting characters in the series: Matt and Kate for sure, but also our dear Nadira.
That said, please enjoy and review, thank you!
Hal was breathing heavily. For a moment, I thought he might lunge across the table and strangle me. Then all the fire seemed to go out of him. "You were right there! Why didn't you take some?"
"Heavy stuff, gold."
"Just twenty bars would've fixed my ship and eased my debt!"
"I was rescuing Kate," I said. "There wasn't time."
Nadira gave a quick nod. "You did the right thing," she said.
Hal snorted. "Ah, yes, very valiant of you. But let me give you my opinion. Man to man, you understand. I think you may find that Kate de Vries would admire you more if you'd taken some gold."
(Excerpt from Skybreaker by Kenneth Oppel; paperback edition, pages 539~540.)*Disclaimer: I do not own any of the characters in this fanfiction.
I didn't know what else to say after that, so I left. I made for Dorje's cabin which we shared, needing some time by myself. The first mate would be at the helm now, since our captain was currently not very fit to pilot.
I tried to put my mind on other things, but it kept wandering back to the small round sphere containing the meticulously drawn prints for the most fantastic machine in the world. I walked in, clumsily sat down on my bunk, and stared out of the porthole. I did not remember feeling like this, ever. Hal's words had roused my anger, but now that my head was cooler, a wall of shame slammed into me and threatened to crush me with its immensity. I let myself collapse onto the bed and closed my eyes.
The cabin door opened. I smelled sandalwood-scented soap.
"Don't mind Hal," said Nadira. "He's not being himself."
I did not sit up, nor turn around to face her. Instead I opened my eyes and kept staring at the clouds.
"Matt? You are awake, are you not?"
I gave a hollow chuckle. "It's very kind of you to say that."
Her tone took on a slightly harder edge as she understood. "You think I blame you, too?"
Her accent reminded me of Baz's, and I thought of how he would comfort me with his jokes if we were still sharing a cabin aboard the Aurora.
"I don't mind," I lied. "If you hate me now, I deserve it."
"You're sounding apologetic again," she said, with a touch of exasperation. I heard her pull over the only chair in the cabin and sit down. Her stare bore into the back of my head.
"You're asking me to not own up responsibility for this wretched thing I've done," I said. I'd been about to say 'two wretched things', but realized I did not feel at all sorry for not taking the gold. Kate's safety was worth all the gold on the Hyperion ten times over.
"You said yourself, anyone could have forgotten it."
"That was me being immature. Angry. Hal pushed me and I wanted to push back. But I shouldn't have forgotten."
The wall of shame grew into a mountain. My chest felt abnormally tight, despite being aloft.
"You did the right thing," she said.
"For not taking the gold, yes," I agreed. "But I was an imbecilic, good-for-nothing little kid. Who forgets a rucksack?"
"Once again, Matt. You said yourself that anyone could've forgotten it."
"I don't want to be anyone!" I said fiercely. "I can't be anyone! Do you see? I must be better, or nobody is going to give me a minute of their day!"
She probably got surprised by my outburst. After a few seconds of silence, I finally heard her sigh. "Suit yourself. I knew you haven't got a cruel bone in your body, but I didn't realize how many craven bones are in there instead."
A flare of anger lit within me, but the mountain snuffed it out in a fraction of a second. I did not say anything back.
So she stepped quietly out of the cabin and left me to wallow in my misery.
I did not know when I fell asleep, but I did, not even undressing. When I woke up, we were passing over a large expanse of ocean, dark and silky under the starry sky. The cabin was dark, but a stream of warmth flowed into me as I felt a blanket over my body. It must have been Dorje, not wanting to disturb me.
I sat up, and folded the blanket into a square before putting it back onto his bed. Still somewhat groggy, I walked out of the room into the hallway. Down at the end where the common room was, light and sorrowful music poured out.
I took a breath, steeled myself, and walked into the first dinner aboard the Saga after a disastrous failure of an expedition.
A slow tune was playing at the recordplayer. I'd not realized Hal had such sorrowful songs in his collection, but it was fitting considering our circumstances.
Kate greeted me jovially as usual, completely unaffected by the music, and for that I was grateful. I managed a weak smile which probably looked like some spasm or twitch at the corner of my lips, and walked over to the empty seat beside her. Nadira was to my right, and then Dorje, and then Hal. I did not look at any of them as I pulled out the chair and sat down. Miss Simpkins, on Kate's left, shot me a baleful glare, as if it were her ship I'd just handed over to the bank for seizing. I saw Kate's right hand put down her knife, and felt it close around my left a moment later. She squeezed.
"Thank you," I said softly.
She didn't say anything except to intertwine her fingers with mine. I helped myself to some bread and a bowl of curry, but even Mrs. Ram's fabulous cooking seemed to have lost some of its usual savor.
I found myself staring at the plate most of the time while the crew spoke softly in Tibetan. There was no English chatter save for the usual and continuous stream of complaints coming from Miss Simpkins. The atmosphere could not be described as anything but dreadful. It was not like the Saga at all, and for a moment I was reminded of the crew mess back on the Flotsam.
I ate steadily, so made good pace. After I finished, Mrs. Ram reached across the table and ladled up a second helping, which was when my eyes blurred.
Because I did not deserve such kindness and companionship. Mrs. Ram's second helpings, Kami's bandaging and tending, and Dorje's blanket; I deserved none of it.
For with Hal now in debt, these crew members, so faithful to their good friend and captain and so happy onboard the Saga as a large family, would have to be dispersed. Hal would have no salary to keep them in his employ. They would be forced to leave him, and try to make out for themselves with service across many different ships.
It felt as if I were responsible not only for Hal's debt, for crushing Nadira's hope and my own, but also for destroying an airborne family of Sherpa crew. As if reading my thoughts, Kate's hand gave another squeeze. I blinked away the imminent tears, and looked to the left at her. She seemed so sympathetic, her face so kind.
But with a jolt, Hal's words came back to me. "Kate de Vries would admire you more if you'd taken some gold".
I averted Kate's gaze and dug into my food once more, back hunched and guilty. A hot rush of some emotion made my chest ache. I felt the entire table trying to ignore my presence.
A glass clinked down on the table in front of me.
"Drink," said Nadira.
I didn't even need to guess, for the fume of strong brandy shot into my nostrils.
"I'm fine, thank you for offering," I said in a small voice, refusing to look at her. I still remembered her tears when I'd told Hal about the hidden gold.
Nadira was about to say something else, but Hal beat her to it.
"Drink, Cruse!" Hal bellowed, slamming down his glass. "Alcohol will make this all pass." He laughed.
I looked up to find him staring at me with undisguised disgust and contempt, but also with sorrow and pity. He was very clearly drunk, yet again.
"Hal, some of these could be worth something if you sold it," Dorje cautioned, in an attempt to take away the wine bottle. Hal snarled and guarded his liquor tightly.
"Don't try to trick me, Dorje. I've five crates of alcohol, and none of them is worth shit," he said. "So let's drink them all tonight. Ladies, will you join us?"
I'm not sure if the ladies were more appalled at his use of such vulgar profanity, or at his invitation to get drunk.
"I refuse," said Kate, her nostrils narrowing dangerously. "Hal, look at you! Where is the confident man who I sought out in this venture?"
"A facade," Hal snorted. "A mirage. Whatever you will call it."
"And I suppose Matt took away that facade?"
"Your boy paupered me, yes." He stared at Kate with a fevered intensity. "You seem to be quite the willful miss, aren't you? Next time, why don't you try to keep a better control over what idiotic actions he could cause? Teach your boy some wits."
The way he said "your boy" was rude and even bawdy, and I did not care at all for his tone. Fierce anger burned a temporary hole through the mountain of shame in my heart, but I bit my tongue. Kate, on the other hand, flushed with rage and embarrassment both.
"I do not own him!" she said. "And he does not own me. We are not responsible for each others' actions."
"No? He was going to save his damsel in distress, I seem to recall, while passing up millions of dollars in fortune!"
"I am not a damsel," Kate said vehemently. But then she added, in a voice only audible to me, "but I certainly was in distress."
The small comment brought half a smile to my face, and I felt slightly better.
"Stop arguing, both of you!" Miss Simpkins trilled. "Kate, go back to the stateroom. Mr. Slater, I understand you are upset, but please don't take it out on us."
"I refuse to be sent back like a misbehaving child, Marjorie." Kate responded coolly to her chaperone's request. Miss Simpkins sighed and left the table, knowing how willful her young charge could be.
I squeezed Kate's hand.
"You're just going to get more angry if you stay here," I say softly. "You need rest. We all need rest. Hal's not himself."
"Indeed he isn't," Kate said, keeping a steely glare on the captain, while making sure her voice was loud enough for everyone to hear. "There is no reason for you to take his disgusting bullying, Matt."
"It's my fault," I said.
"Not that nonsense again."
"You shouldn't have to get angry for my sake."
"It's not for your sake, Matt. This simply isn't right."
Suddenly, I felt weary.
"It's my fault," I repeated. I let go of her hand. "I'll deal with this. I'll have to."
"Deal with it by drinking!" Hal roared, and laughed again. He'd been listening to our whole exchange with clear contempt.
"I'll drink too," Nadira said quietly. I looked at her in surprise. "Matt, this isn't your fault, but we all need something to forget right now." She looked at Kate, and I thought there was a slight hostility despite everything we've all been through together. "Miss de Vries, I'm afraid you won't understand this fully. Please allow us to do something to alleviate our emotions."
Kate looked indignant but did not argue. I agreed with Nadira, though. Kate never had to worry about the scruffs in a secondhand uniform.
"Very well, Nadira," she said. "But Matt won't drink, yes? Matt, you shouldn't. You can't. Alcohol is bad for you."
She looked at me earnestly, confident I wouldn't drink. Her tone is almost didactic, as if she knew more about me than I did. It irked me. I wondered if she meant it as a true kindness, or because she's trying to prove she really does understand how I think; how poorer people think.
I looked at the brandy in front of me. I thought about how and what I've managed to ruin by forgetting to take that accursed rucksack.
I grabbed the glass, and downed the spicy liquid in one go.
Kate's eyes on me looked shocked, but then her gaze turned steely, and her nostrils narrowed. I forced myself to be indifferent.
Seeing that she was having no influence on me, Kate stood up abruptly, almost sending her silverware crashing to the floor. "Fine then. If you are so adamant of your own wrongdoing, then suit yourself, Mr. Cruse. Drink yourself silly for all I care. I'll be retiring for the night, everyone. Thank you for the meal, Mrs. Ram; it's a pleasure as always."
With a last, disappointed look at me, she left, tailing Miss Simpkins towards their stateroom.
I'd never felt more wretched in my life.
"Well well," said Hal. "Look at this. Rejected, Cruse. Probably on account of your ludicrous refusal to take some gold back. Haha. Let's drink. Drink!"
His comments caused a fresh new pang in my chest, though I did not let it show.
Dorje cast me a look, and then shook his head, sighing. He stood up, said something in Tibetan, and the crew all rushed away from the dining room to do their duties. Shame doubled back on me as I looked at the suddenly empty table.
"Matt…" said Nadira.
"Give me your plates," I said. Mrs. Ram had retreated back to the kitchen, and I did not want to cause her any more trouble. This is a dark night aboard the Saga.
Nadira handed me her plates wordlessly, and I stacked them atop of mine. I walked over to Hal and took his plates too. He did not object, and I thought his stare at me was more weary than hateful now.
I piled the plates at the kitchen counter, and gave Mrs. Ram whatever smile I could manage.
"Thank you," I said. "The food was delicious as usual."
The diminutive Sherpa woman looked as if she were about to say something, but decided against it and nodded. With that, she went back to her work, and I walked back to the table.
Hal had opened a new bottle during the short time I was gone. Nadira was pouring herself some rather large helpings of whiskey.
Wordlessly, I sat back down. The tingle of burn the brandy left in my throat was starting to being a warm, glowing feeling. And it felt good. I refilled my glass, downed it, and refilled again.
Nadira's green eyes watched me, oddly intense.
"You see?" she said. "It makes you feel better."
"We're only lying to ourselves," I said.
"Phaw!" came Hal's voice from the head of the table. "Exactly! But what else can we do, eh?"
"Nothing else," I admitted. "We can't do anything else."
"To the poor!" Hal cried, raising his glass high in an unsteady fashion. Bits of whiskey sloshed out.
"To the poor," Nadira seconded.
I looked at both of them, and they looked back at me.
"To the poor," I said, and drank.