Himself. His face. Everything. It was like this every time he came back from the Rose, but this time, it was worse. Tom had done magic, and maybe he’d expected the Rose to do some of its own; maybe he’d expected the salt breath of the Tincta to erode him into a more familiar shape.
Or maybe he hadn’t thought about it at all – maybe that was the problem – maybe he’d stopped thinking about it. A few precious weeks cooped up in that pina room, his knuckles wrapped in bloodied gauze. A few days in the cabin of an airship, sitting in the newfound company of clairvoyant mona. Not a mirror in sight.
Tom had been sick for a day after he’d disembarked. The house, of course, was empty. Soon as he’d got upstairs, he’d collapsed into the window seat, and the side of his head had been nailed to the glass for at least three house. Then the sun had peeked over the rooftops, shafted through his aching skull, and he’d drawn the drapes tight. He’d nestled his head in his arms on Anatole’s desk and breathed there in the dark for five more house, drifting in and out.
Then, suddenly, it was the morning of the forty-third, and he woke to a sound like the sea-breeze buffeting canvas sails: the stirring of the drapes. A chill morning breeze, only just edged with Roalis’ warmth. Tom woke up swathed in somebody else’s housecoat, all thick, heavy green brocade. But it fit, and it was warm, and he pulled it tighter about him as he dragged himself to the washstand.
And when he saw it, he remembered everything. Did those scattered few mona in his field shiver with it? The ones that were his, now – did they grow heavy when his guts sank? He shaved first, slow and careful with the razor. He ran his fingertips over the weak jaw, the thin, upturned nose.
So maybe his imagination had run away with him. He couldn’t see any of himself there. He thought there was more silvery-grey, threading its way through the red hair; he thought maybe that sneering, crooked line at one side of his lip was a little deeper, darker. The hand that held the razor was clean, unmarked, uncalloused. There was no sign that it had ever broken anybody’s nose, that it had ever gone days smudged with chalk and blood.
“Yes,” he muttered, shaking his hands off in the basin. Somebody’s hands. “Of course.” And his scattered thoughts wound round and round, and they converged on something. Something he’d almost forgot in the midst of all that poetry and drink.
Almost, but not quite.
Ms W –
Coming night after tomorow night
Back door at 25 oclock
Send word if not good
The streets were rolling with fog, thick like the laoso in the Soots; it clung to you, clung to your skin, clung to your coat. Clung like a ghost, or like a glamour. Underneath a sheath of clouds, the sun couldn’t warm the stones, and they were cold underneath your boots. It was warm, oes, warmer than it’d been in months, but cold, too, all at once. It was a kind of cold you couldn’t quantify. It was like rainy season’d wormed its way inside you, and you wouldn’t be rid of it proper ’til Yaris.
So Tom thought, anyway. He huddled deeper into Anatole’s coat, stuck his hands deep in its pockets. He could feel a chill sweat beading on the back of his neck, and he kept peering round, even though he knew he wouldn’t see a damn thing. Not with the sun fallen back behind the rooftops. Not in these back streets.
It didn’t do to waltz in the front door. Not this time. He didn’t reckon he had much of an excuse anymore; he didn’t reckon sending her incumbent husband after silk was something Diana’d do, and his toffin face’d got recognized in the strangest of places. Ne, ne: instead, he did it like they all did it. It was less weird by far if somebody like Anatole was just slumming it; scandalous, oes, but normal. Funny, how much scandal was normal Uptown.
So he’d dressed simple enough. He’d taken the back way out of the Egret. In the darkening light, he’d found his way through a maze of alleyways, back streets, connecting streets. Even in the Painted Ladies, the stray cats had to have someplace to go; the rats they caught had to have shadows to flit to and from, laoso and secret.
He saw plenty of cats on his way. Perched on rooftops, peering from the steps of back doors. Shadows in windows. In the thick fog, he just saw the mirror-flash of eyes, the flick of a tail. Not all of them ran away, this time. He wondered if one of them was hers. He kept an eye out for it.
Tom was worried he’d get lost, but it was a mung worry. He’d’ve recognized the alleyway where Caina nearly killed him anywhere – he’d’ve recognized in in an upside-down dream. He recognized the old pipes, the brick, the swarm of ivy that crawled up to the roof. The thicket of shadows behind that ivy.
A pina early. So, taking his hat off and tucking it under his arm, he leaned up against the wall opposite. He shot glances up and down; whenever a carriage’d go rattling by, he’d swallow a lump of panic. He scratched at his jaw, rolled his shoulders, felt around in his coat for a flask he didn’t have. Godsdamn, but his head always hurt.
Finally, he rested his head back against the brick and shut his eyes, breathing in deep.