For the last eight months, Dev had looked at the room from a height of two feet and three inches. He knew, because he had measured it repeatedly by the length of his arm, letting his hand drop over the side of the bed until his palm was flat against the floor. He liked the motion. For half a second, he could trick himself into believing he had caught himself, that he was carrying his own weight on his arm, not that he had laid there so long there was a permanent ditch in the middle of the mattress.
His arm was exactly two feet three inches from wrist to shoulder. Lyda had helped him measure, so she could be sure he could reach every gift of water and broth she left him while he was sleeping. He’d liked that, too: the ridiculousness of her stepping so purposefully into the room with her measure string, and the smile she was trying so hard to hide as she moved him, touched him, made him laugh. Then, for a few more afternoons he measured things that did not need measuring, and laughed then too.
The first thing that she ever said to him was, “It’s a shame about your face.”
Zain had received worse, as far as greetings went. She hadn’t sworn, she hadn’t included an exacting right hook, and there was something about her tilted smile that slid it more toward sincerity than insult.
So, Zain smiled back.
“Thanks,” he said. He leaned his side against the bar, set his elbow on top, and kicked one foot lazily behind the other. “It was a bad day for me when they outlawed looking this good.” He had to hold his smile back from stretching into a grin when she laughed in surprise.
“Oh?” she said. She finished wiping out a mug and set it on the lower shelf on the other side of the bar. “So, that shiner was just a good friend of yours helping you stay out of jail?”
Sleep clung to his body like a caking of dirt from the grave. He shoved his blankets back, before he even really woke, because they clung to him too, a too-heavy, too-thick, too-warm, too-close skin that he threw to the floor. He was sweating, and the cool air of the room was the sweetest relief. He sat, cooled his back, set his feet on the floor to stand, and then didn’t. He was too heavy still, all legs and arms, and solid bones. He thought there should have been hollow places in him somewhere – in his chest where he filled his lungs with air at least – but every inch of him was filled in with iron. He hung his head, held it in his hands and braced his elbows on his knees. And he sat.
He waited until his skin no longer felt like it had been left in the coals overnight. Then he himself on the headboard and pushed himself to his feet.
The door to his room creaked when he opened it. He had never noticed before how thick the wood was, or how hard it leaned on its hinges. He hadn’t counted the stairs before either, but now he did. Thirty-two steps, each one of them feeling like he was falling off a short cliff between him and the kitchens. He stopped at the doorway, because they were too warm too, and he leaned his shoulder against the outside wall, poking his head inside.