"Have you been sick, sweetie?" his stylist murmured distractedly, dabbing extra foundation under his eyes. "You look like you haven't slept in a month."
"Yeah," he lied. "There's been something going around the district."
The old man had been dead less than twenty-four hours when he heard her screaming, long wretched wails that echoed down the polished metal hallways that he paced. With a brief spark of rage, he considered leaving her with her nightmares.
Everything else inside him smothered the thought.
As he slid open the door, her cries hushed. The moon through the windows of the train cast sputtering light across the sprawled form on the bed. Her dark skin looked pallid, her body twisted up in the blankets, a mummified corpse halfway loosened from its bindings. She was so still, as though she was barely breathing at all. The minutes passed, silently. Whatever it had been, it was over.
His hand still on the door, he turned to go.
The snapping sound of her arms as they went rigid against the mattress turned him around just in time to see her face contort in agony.
And then came the screams.
In the flickering light, every other step across the room seemed to disappear. Her arms, even now, felt like twigs in his hands. Soft words, gentle shakes, nothing would wake her until he was shouting, holding her body steady as she thrashed. When her eyes flickered open, there was little sign of recognition. She just shook like a wild animal.
"It's me. We're on the train."
"The medicine…" she finally croaked. "I can't wake up."
"I can't sleep," he sighed.
The first time he woke up pressed against her, he felt nothing but need. The love was there, somewhere, half hidden in the folds of the sheets. But there was pain, and the smell of the junction of her shoulder and neck where his head rested, and concepts like love and the fact that things mattered stopped existing all together in the face of so much desperate want.
She sighed in her sleep and rubbed against him the night that they rolled away from the dreary stalls full of cattle. She was a fitful sleeper, never holding still, especially in the wee hours of the morning as her body took hours to wake up. And he tried and he tried, but the more he relaxed, the more she leaned and shifted her body against him. In the end, there was nothing else he could possible do.
He slid quietly out of bed and trudged to the bathroom. It hurt to even walk.
The feeling of his own hand on his cock was a mere shadow of what he wanted, but it was infinitely better than the alternative.
Afterwards, he punched the tiles in the shower until his knuckles went numb.
It didn't take long for him to realize she had started noticing. When they slid back the sheets and lay side by side, she no longer rested flush against him. Although she laid her head on his shoulder and he held her close, her hips arced away, as though there were an imaginary barrier between them.
But when he woke up in the morning, her body was always pressed tight to his.
Neither said anything.
There wasn't anything to say.
But they held hands as they walked through the wheat fields, even when the cameras had been put away.
In the evening, after they toured the textile factory, he showered in her room. He wanted to get the tiny fragments of dusty fiber out of his hair and skin, but the bits of grey on his clean white towel showed that the task had been incomplete. The towel was in his hands instead of around his waist when she threw open the door.
Her eyes went wide, and definitely flickered down before she turned and walked back out of the room.
He didn't feel embarrassed. To be embarrassed, you had to allow yourself to feel something at all. And he had tried desperately to turn off everything but comfort and sympathy. Be a warm presence. Make her feel safe. But feel nothing for himself.
That night she moaned in her sleep.
It didn't sound like a nightmare, so he didn't wake her.
The zippers never worked quite right. She always had to ask for help, but she only did so after struggling with them for some minutes. Whatever it was, the different angle, the strength of his hands, or something else, he never had any trouble. The metal teeth would open easily, and the dresses would slide down until she caught them, never very far, but always far enough. The gesture was so intensely intimate, it took everything he had to shut down his natural response. To not lean in and pepper her shoulders with soft open mouthed kisses.
Earlier in the day, when they left the sawmill, a boom microphone had bumped into an overhead branch, sprinkling pine needles all over them. That night, when he unzipped her dress, the needles scattered to the floor. She smelled like herself again, like trees and nature instead of the floral shampoo they made her use.
He ached with wanting.
When he finally caught himself staring, he wondered, just for a moment, if she wasn't staring back.
They had walked for hours through hovercraft assembly lines, the night he woke up and the sheets were stained with blood.
It took him several moments before he realized what had happened, and they were all spent frantically checking her arms and legs for signs of self-harm. She fought him off, calling his name, saying it was fine, but she was so clearly upset that he felt nothing but confusion until the instant when it suddenly clicked.
The sort of unbearable humiliation she was experiencing seemed silly to him, but he let her feel it all the same. She was hunched over in pain, as she rushed to the bathroom.
He made her a cup of tea.
When they switched rooms, a pink head peeked out of her own, huffing indignantly.
"There's been talk!" she hissed. "It's not proper. You should be ashamed of yourselves."
As though there were any more room for shame between them.
Power plants were unbearably dull, and they had fallen asleep on the tour. The cameras had eaten up the footage of her asleep on his shoulder in the back of the small trolley car that took them through the winding, sterile halls. The footage inspired more scenes, kisses "snuck" in echoing corridors with lighting that made her eyes smolder and the angles on his face look just right.
That night neither could sleep. They lay on the bed, not touching, for some time
"You want to kiss me," she said and it wasn't a question. Her hand reached out and tentatively grazed his chest.
His thoughts were dominated by the memory of flashing lights and the way one of the photographers had insisted he trail his fingers across her ear as they kissed.
"Always, I guess. But not like this," he muttered.
He completely missed the fact that her fingers had been trembling when she touched him.
The tranquility of the sea behind them, she woke up screaming even more than before. When she asked him why he never made a noise, never woke her, he told her the truth, and then went back to sleep.
In the early hours of the morning, when he shook himself awake from a nightmare of the black emptiness from his feverish nights in the arena, she woke with him. He lay on his back, sucking in quiet breaths, when he felt her soft hand caressing his chest.
It felt so good, so safe and reassuring, that he began to drift back into the forgetfulness of sleep. At least, his mind did. His body apparently had other plans.
Her first touch was hesitant, but his half-gasped, half-strangled reaction was dramatic enough to drive her to further action, sliding her hand more firmly against his growing erection.
"I don't know what I'm doing," she whispered.
It didn't matter. He still came.
Music from a small cube much smaller than a deck of cards filled the room as he flicked his tongue against her. She was so loud, singing out as he licked and sucked. Everyone on the train could probably hear, even over the music.
It had happened so fast, after that first night. Wary touches grew to desperate grasping and now this. He could smell, touch, taste, hear, see nothing but her. She was an oblivion that existed apart from love, apart from everything. When he touched her, he could forget anything.
For brief moments, he could even forget her.
Lines of soldiers, straight backed, marching in parade formation. Tests of endurance. Tests of skill. Demonstrations of destructive power. They watched the military force that was poised to destroy them at the slightest provocation.
That night their first coupling was clumsy, brief. He forced himself to think of the soldiers, of death, but she became doom's harbinger, the creature that destruction flowed from but could not touch, the angelic face breaking into death's feverish haze. Even devastation reminded him of her and the way her tight slim body clenched around him as he tried desperately to hold back.
Afterward, she was too sore for him to do anything.
They gave them necklaces, earrings, bracelets, and even an enormous diamond ring. It was as though their own tributes had never even existed.
He sat on the bed for hours afterwards, surrounded by enough precious metals and stones to buy five bakeries and staff them each for a year. Dinner passed by without him.
That night she brought him lamb stew and gently helped him eat, demonstrating a level of tenderness he had thought only existed for her sister or the cameras. There were no questions. She didn't ask why he was upset. Maybe she didn't want to know.
Gently unzipping his pants, she took him, still soft, in her mouth. What she lacked in skill, he made up for in youth and desire.
She swallowed, and then drank the leftover broth.
She came to him in the night, when he wanted to be left alone. His fiancée. The word burned worse than any slicing sword or debilitating fever.
"I'm sorry," she whispered, slipping off her nightgown.
"I'm sorry," she whispered, wrapping her strong legs around his body.
It wasn't like before. She rocked against him gently, slowly, and if the thought wouldn't have killed him, he'd almost have admitted it felt just a little like love.
But he didn't allow himself to feel anything these days.
After the time on the train spent practicing, he knew better what to do, where to touch, how fast, and how soon. She fluttered and then tightened around his cock only moments before he spilled himself inside her.
"I don't know what I'm doing," she whispered.