Author's Notes:

I'm sorry for the long time it's taken for me to update this story. As so happens to most amateur writers of fiction, real life matters take precedence. I myself had been stuck in the middle of a continuous stream of exams, projects, lab reports, and essays that came one after another in a span of almost 4 weeks, and was only able to write a little bit each week. It didn't help that this chapter was kind of hard to write.

But here it is. Unfortunately, finals are coming up and next week is review week, so this will most likely be the last update for a while. Look for the next chapter after Christmas!


"Pardon?" I said.

Matt was looking confused. I thought I saw a flicker of some recognition pass his eyes, but they were gone the next moment.

"You, and me, Matt," Nadira said again. "We slept together. I don't know how else to put it."

I felt annoyed. "Stop joking around. What do you mean, you slept together?"

Nadira looked at me strangely. "I mean exactly what I said."

Impatient that this was going nowhere, I turned to Matt.

"Matt, what does she mean?" I asked. "That you slept together?"

Matt's gaze was downcast. I willed him to look up, to look at me, but he wouldn't.

"I don't know," he said in a small, slightly guilty voice. "I don't know what she's talking about."

"You do," Nadira said. "Your body does. I don't know why you've forgotten."

"You never said what it means, slept together," I pointed out drily, feeling my nostrils narrow. Nadira was becoming annoying.

A slight seed of unease was in the pits of my stomach. I refused to let it bloom.

"I don't know what I could say," Nadira said, shrugging. "That we made love?" She laughed, as if genuinely amused. "Or that we had sex? We had 'marital relations'? Honestly, there's no other way to say it without sounding ridiculous."

It took me a full ten seconds to grasp what she just said, and then my mouth opened in wordless shock. I looked over at Matt, and he was staring at Nadira, looking completely dumbfounded.

Made. Love?

He, and Nadira, made love? My Matt? Nadira, with my Matt?

My first thought was, well, no thought at all.

My second thought was, Nadira has a completely morbid sense of humor.

My third thought was, what if it's true?

My fourth thought was —

"Impossible," I said.

Matt, my Matt, with Nadira? I wouldn't have believed it if she told me he'd kissed her again, let alone… this! After what happened today, after the gold and the smile, and the dancing, the dinner, the holding hands…

"Impossible," I said again.

"It happened, Kate," Nadira said. "Whether you like it or not."

"What?" Matt finally managed.

"Exactly as it is, Matt," Nadira said. "You, and me, slept together, last night, in this very bed. Honestly, how much more explicit can I get?"

"This… isn't funny, Nadira," I said. My voice was slightly shaky.

"Of course it's not," she agreed. "It's not funny for me, not funny for you, and probably not funny for Matt. But it happened, and I can't deal with it by myself, so I'm telling you two."

"You're lying," I said. "I won't believe this. This is absurd."

"I am not," she said. "Matt, was there a large bloody spot in the middle of your bedsheet? You took it to Mrs. Ram, right?"

Wordlessly, Matt nodded. His face was pale. He looked like he might be sick.

"And when you woke up, the cabin smelled like me, right? Sandalwood soap?"

Once again, Matt nodded. My pulse was hammering at my temples.

"And, you woke up naked, yes?"

I thought back to this morning. Matt had been wrapped in his towel, wearing a pair of briefs and nothing else. It wasn't as if I hadn't seen him heading to showers before. With only one shower aboard the Saga, all of us ran into each other a lot, though usually he'd been dressed properly. He had never been near naked when he went to the showers, except this morning.

Matt nodded yet again. His eyes were either panicked, fearful, or numb. Or maybe it was all three.

"Why was there blood?" he asked quietly. His voice was tight, and unsteady.

"Girls can bleed when," Nadira paused, searching for a word, before deciding to just come out and say it. "When we have sex for the first time."

I didn't trust myself to speak. I just stared at Matt, and then at Nadira. I'd sen them kissing, and was suddenly shocked to realize how good they looked together. They made a very handsome couple. Their height was just the right difference; I was a little too tall. Their skin color too, with Nadira's dusky shade of tan, and Matt's very light shade of healthy tan, no doubt from long hours in the crow's nest. Their skin contrasted each other, perfectly so. And their hair, too — one was dark chestnut, and one was almost black. It was different, but not too different. Mine was auburn — too bright. Their eyes, the clearest green and blue, were like earth and sky, or emerald and sapphire. Mine were a drab grey. Nobody wanted grey. It was so bland, so depressing, and so cold; the color of storm clouds. Plus, have you heard of grey gemstones? Poets never described 'beautiful concrete colored eyes'.

I felt a nasty, piercing pang in my chest. Nadira was beautiful, and Matt matched her in terms of looks. They had similar backgrounds. He had a run-in with her father. In some ways, that made them connected. And then they'd kissed. Was it really hard to imagine… was it really that impossible… that they…?

I shook my head, hard. No. It wasn't possible. Matt was as sincere a person you were likely to ever meet. There wasn't a single dishonest bone in his body. He was a really bad liar, because his eyes would dart away, he would blush, and he would fidget. I could always tell when he was lying. Plus, I knew him. I knew, after earlier this evening, in the hangar, how he felt about me. I knew. And he would never do something like… like this; not in such a short time. The sheer honesty and sincerity I felt back in the hangar was impossible for him to fake. He was telling the truth. And he could never say all of that, with a straight face, if he and Nadira had… had slept together, just the night before. Never.

Nadira was looking back at me, seeming a bit sorry.

"You still don't believe me, don't you?" she asked. Then she sighed. "Matt, when you woke up, weren't there many scratches on you?"

Matt nodded, almost imperceptibly because his head was already bowed so low.

"And some welts, some bruises? Especially that one, between your neck and shoulder."

My eyes immediately went to the mark. It was still red, but slowly turning purple, making it all the more clear against his skin. I'd noticed it this morning, and wondered what had caused it. It had looked like a nasty rash or a fresh bruise. Which, of course, is exactly what it was.

Nadira blushed a little.

"That red mark… is where I bit you."

Matt looked up, surprised.

"You bit me?" he asked in a small voice. He sounded so bewildered.

"I bit you. And scratched you. Your back…"

"Is filled with scratch marks," I muttered, remembering how Matt's back had looked like this morning.

"So you have seen them."

I nodded, stricken.

"One last thing, Matt… you were really sore when you woke up, right? Your hips, especially?"

Matt didn't even nod this time. He just lowered his head once more, and stared at the floor.

I didn't know much about sex. Well, I knew a lot about animals mating, just not actual sex. Even so, I could still imagine the boy being on top, and the girl below, her hands wrapped around his back. And I knew about love bites, or kiss marks. And I knew how physical things can get. I knew what the soreness meant. I knew what the love bites meant. I knew how the scratches could be made. It was all so logical. Everything was evidence. It all made sense.

But I just… I couldn't. I couldn't. A brief image in my mind of Matt, with Nadira, naked, and that was enough to send my breathing to an uneven pant, my vision clouded by tears and rage. I couldn't even think back to them kissing, without feeling angry. And this was much worse. This was like someone punching me in the belly, and then squishing my heart into pulp.

The worst thing was, I didn't know what to feel with Matt. I felt tired. I felt so surreal. I was almost sure that if I went to sleep, I'd wake up with everything just fine. A small part of me felt a volcanic, primal fury, at him, and at Nadira, but most of me felt… nothing. Shocked, mostly. Shocked to the point of numbness.

But then feeling started to seep back in. And I couldn't breathe. My throat was choked, constricted. I could hear the roar of my pulse in my ears.

We were silent, all three of us. The cabin was eerily quiet, only the hum of the airship's engines audible, along with the faint sounds of the ongoing dance in the lounge. I kept stealing glances at Matt. He looked so small, like he was five or six, and scared of the dark. He looked like he was about to cry. I knew I was about to cry if I kept looking at him, so I stared up at the ceiling instead.

"How did this happen?" I asked. It was an open question, to either of them.

"We were drunk," Nadira said. "We… I'm not sure."

"You… were drunk."

"Matt was, too. Kate, I know —"

"What do you know?"

"Kate, we really… Matt really forgot!"

"And you remembered?"

"We were both drunk, and —"

"And decided it was fine to start fucking?"

I hadn't realized how furious I'd become until that foul word burst out of my mouth. If Marjorie were here, she'd probably faint. If my parents were here, they'd think I was possessed. Nobody I knew ever said 'fuck'.

But there it was, the rage, a galloping force with the ferocity of a tempest, the heat of a volcano, yet cold and burning at the same time, all infused in that word. The emotion was like a film of red and black, clouding my vision. I felt unsteady.

I didn't know what to do. I didn't even know what I could do. It was as if fury took over my body, soaked into the very fibers of my being. My heartbeat was erratic and hard.

"Say something!" I yelled at the both of them. "You decided it was fine right? Didn't you? Didn't you? And then you just fucked, right?"

Normally I'd have stammered, but I was so furious, the vulgar word rolled smoothly off my tongue, once again.

"Kate," Nadira said, cautiously as if approaching a feral beast. "I told you, we were drunk, and Matt's forgot. Please, I know you must be angry but —"

"But what? But oh, it wasn't enough for you to kiss Matt? He's my Matt. Mine! You had absolutely no right, and now, and now…"

That seemed to have gotten Nadira riled up as well.

"And now what? You know, it was your fault anyway. You were cozied up to Hal!"

"Only because I saw you kissing!"

"You acted as if you didn't even want him! Besides, you were the one who said before, you don't own him. You don't own him."

My breath hitched, and my vision blurred into a pulsating angry blob. Nadira's face in the dim cabin lights was twisted, as if it were a heat mirage.

How dare she. How dare she use my words against me?

"No! He's mine!" I heard myself say. The next thing I knew, Nadira was on the floor, a look of shock on her face.

I'd pushed her to the ground.

That was so unlike me that it calmed me down just enough to step back. I was breathing heavily.

Nadira stood up slowly, brushing herself off, and all the while looking warily at me. I gulped down my anger.

"Get out," I said. It took a lot of concentration just to keep my voice steady. "You said you wanted to tell us. Now you've told us. Get out."

For a moment, she looked as if she wanted to argue, but then nodded.

"Look, Kate, I know what you must be feeling towards me, and I frankly I expected that. But as for Matt… for what it's worth, I started it."

She glanced at Matt, who was now slumped against the wall, head still down, gazing vacantly at the floor.

"Matt," she said. "I…"

She sighed.

"Kate, don't be so hard on him, okay?"

That was it. The boiling sensation came bubbling back. All I could think was, I don't want her here. I don't want you to talk about Matt. I don't want you to even look at Matt.

"Get out!" I yelled, and she finally did.

ooo

The cabin was back to being eerily silent with just us two. Now that Nadira was gone, I could think a little more clearly.

The night was dark with no moon to light the lush tropical forest below. Dorje had announced our landfall during dinner — we were currently passing Bangladesh.

I wanted to go over to Matt and hold him, but he was distant. I wanted to talk to him, but the air was heavy with unexpected emotions. We were like two trees with a hammock in between, and now the crushing weight of this new knowledge was like a mammoth in the hammock, threatening to unroot us, and rip us from the ground.

Nadira had said he didn't remember. But was that true? How could that be?

How could a boy… how could a boy be so intimate with a girl, and not remember it afterwards?

They were joined. They were joined! He… would've been inside her.

There was no way he didn't remember.

Yet…

Something lit up in my mind, part of the conversation we had at dinner tonight. Part of what Matt had said.

I rushed over to him and tugged his arms.

"Was it the dream?" I asked.

Matt was still staring at the floor. I repeated the question, and again, and then again. I shook him, violently.

Finally, as if just noticing, he lifted his gaze.

"What?" he asked in a hoarse voice.

"The dream, the dream you said you had. Was it last night? Was it?"

He looked confused.

"You said you had a dream. You said it was embarrassing. You wouldn't tell me…"

My throat decided to close up at that point and I couldn't choke out another word. But that was enough. Matt blinked, and suddenly, went even more pale.

He had 'forgotten', but not really. He'd remembered it as a dream. As a 'dream'.

I felt the tears now.

Matt sank down onto the floor. He buried his head in his arms.

"You didn't forget," I said.

"I forgot," he said.

"Liar."

"No…"

"So that's why you didn't tell me about your dream?"

"…"

"Matt Cruse! Answer me!"

He looked up, and I realized he was really crying, now. His cheeks were wet.

"I forgot," he whispered, as if trying to convince himself as well.

"Why are you still lying to me?" I asked.

"I'm…"

"A dream. Really? Do you think I'm so naive to believe that?"

"It's… the truth."

"Why are you still lying to me!"

"I'm not lying!" he said, and dragged me down, into his arms, and hugged me so tight I had trouble breathing. "I'm not. I'm not…"

"You are…" I said softly, enveloped in his warmth and his smell. I ought to feel close to him, but despite our touching bodies, we were distant.

We kissed.

It was more of a kiss of anger and confusion than anything. There was little affection, but only fevered, grotesque passion. It was also a try — as if both of us wanted to see if we could just forget it all; just go back, and kiss, and make everything wonderful again.

I tasted his tears. I tasted my own. Bitter. Bitter. I so wanted the kiss to be good, and it was good, but it was wrong. The lips, temperature, the angle…

"I hate you," I murmured, and he kissed me some more, his lips desperate. I knew he was trying to not listen. I knew he was still crying. He was trembling. I kissed back.

But, no. That was no good. I…

"I hate you!" I screamed. "I hate you. I hate you!"

I stood up and pushed him off me. He looked at me with those sky blue eyes of his.

"It was a dream," he whispered.

"Liar," I said. "Liar."

He started coughing.

I thought back to the way he treated me back at the hangar, the tender, hopeful, happy Matt. It was hard to believe that it had only been a mere three hours ago. It was hard to believe that it had all been a lie.

"Hypocrite," I said. That was a nice, compact word. "Hypocrite."

It had been today in the hangar. This had been last night. He… They…

I remembered the warmth of his palm a few hours ago, when we still held hands. I remembered the look, the spark, the excited energy passing between us, enough to power Paris. I remembered how close he felt back then.

And it was all a lie. It was all a lie, because at that time, he'd already…

Nadira.

And that was it. I couldn't breathe. Us kissing made me think of them kissing. I couldn't even look at his face. Such an honest, heart-touching face, I'd come to know and love all of his expressions. How could he lie? My heart was telling me, urgently, that he was telling the truth. Matt… just couldn't lie. He was too… good, of a person. How could he?

And yet he did. He had. He'd lied to me. He must have. How could anyone have forgotten that? My stomach gave a nasty heave. I backed away from him with unsteady steps.

"Kate," he said, from far away, trying to reach me but not quite being able to. "It was a dream, Kate! You were in the dream! It was… it was you!"

What did he say about me? Liar. Liar. I didn't know I could even feel like this, this heavy, heavy sense of anguish. Heart torn to shreds. And suddenly, the perfect word.

Betrayal.

That was exactly how this is. How it felt to be betrayed by someone you cared so much about. Back in the hangar, I had foolishly thought as far as marriage. A life together with Matt.

Now, I knew I had been foolish. That was not a life. I would never live a life together with a lying, worthless traitor.

Matt was still calling my name as I ran out of the cabin, down the hallway, and into my own cabin. His voice was desolate, and it pounded on my chest. Everything was blurry.

I threw myself into the bunk, buried my face in the pillow, and screamed.

That was the first time in my life that I cried myself to sleep.