For what could have been anywhere between twenty minutes and five hours, Taivuttaa lay on the bed, staring up at the ceiling and trying to breath. It was much more difficult than he would have expected it to be, but at least it stopped him from thinking about anything else. He didn't have asthma, or allergies, and he was fairly certain it wasn't a panic attack. No, the problem was quite without a definite cause, and so should not have existed, logically. He crossed his eyes trying to glare at his chest, then eventually gave it up as impossible when his head started to hurt.
Sleep refused to come. Whenever he felt his eyelids droop, his mind would recall something Shoe had said, a flash of concern or annoyance on Novi's face, or the scowl that had never seemed to leave Salugi Eszme's face. He sat up and stared at the wall, daring it to start talking to him and cap off the night with definite inarguable insanity. After a while, he gave that up and fell on his side, the pillow reforming about his face like a peculiar sort of hug.
It was as warm in the bedroom as it had been in the office, and it smelled just as strongly of spoon cookies. Taivuttaa hugged the blanket, pulling it up away from his feet. His mother had made lusikkaleivät every other Sunday for years, he couldn't remember ever smelling them and not thinking of her. He considered climbing under the bed and sobbing for a while, but it didn't seem like the right thing to do. It never did, even when he was certain he was supposed to, that it would make him feel better. Three years worked like an unfortunate, enormous emotional ice pack.
He rather wished he had an ice pack of the physical variety. The Oralmat XIII had done wonderful things for the various cuts, scrapes and bruises he had sustained, but the ingredient in the spray that was meant to actively dull pain was beginning to wear off. He groaned and threw a self-pitying scowl at the closet door, but only for two seconds.
There were pink and yellow bunnies on it.
He got up and stumbled to the closet to check, the pain in his knees and his overall exhaustion making the fifteen steps a surprisingly difficult journey. However, he forgot all about that as soon as he reached the closet door.
It was indeed decorated with very deliberate cartoon bunny rabbits, all of which sported merry grins and, here and there, carrots in their mouths. Taivuttaa bit his hand to repress a fit of laughter as the mental image of Novi's generally moody face was juxtaposed over the bunny door in his mind's eye.
Never mind why it was the way it was, it was simply enough for him that he had seen it. He yawned, still grinning at the myriad cuddly-looking bunnies, then staggered back to the bed. His body felt like a shoelace that had been freed from a particularly fierce knot. He pulled the blanket up to his shoulders and hugged the pillow into a comfortable position. Sleep yanked insistently at him, taking full advantage of the ample distraction afforded by the bunnies. He slept so deeply that he awoke in the same position he'd laid down in.
Sunrays poked politely through the thick synthetic wood blinds, casting slits of yellow light across the bunnies. Taivuttaa sat up and waved dozily at them, then laid his head back down on the pillow. The scent of a sensible breakfast mixed in with the ever-present cookie smell, urging him to get up and seek out the source.
After a half-hearted, nonsensical argument with himself, he sat up and swung his legs over the side of the bed, expecting naked wooden floors and a shiver. His bare toes met slightly scratchy carpet, and the shiver never came. He rubbed his eyes, then stood up, reminding himself that he was in Novi's apartment, not Algorithm's starkly efficient house. Somehow the two had begun to pretzel together in his sleepy thoughts.
Keeping a hand on the wall to steady himself, he wandered down the hallway. The smell was coming from an archway near the office door. With no door of its own, the archway afforded a friendly, if particled view of blue and white checkered tiles and matching counterspace. If he hadn't already figured that Novi was responsible for the cookie aroma despite his denial, this sparse peek into the kitchen would have had the deciding vote. Taivuttaa stretched his arm over his head and walked in, not expecting anything and blissfully indifferent.
His hand caught in the top bar of the archway's frame, he gripped it and leaned forward, slowly opening his eyes. Then they widened and he nearly lost his hold on the frame.
Salugi Eszme was sitting at the very small breakfast table, reading a newspaper the way some people might mug an innocent pedestrian, and eating a large bran muffin with a fork and knife. She waved to him curtly, without looking up from the paper.
Shoe was nowhere to be seen, but Novi was standing in front of the stove, attacking a batch of eggs in a smallish blue frying pan. His face was set in an irritated frown, but his clean-shaven face and crisply clean clothing prevented him looking totally defeated. He glanced at Taivuttaa and smiled, transforming himself for a few brief seconds, before turning back to renew his assault on the eggs. "Is there anything you refuse to eat?" he asked in a school teacher voice.
"Beets," Taivuttaa heard himself say. They made his throat close up and eventually made him vomitpeppermint was worse. But he didn't think it would be very polite to mention this. He was better at avoiding peppermint than beets, as the latter was used infernally often in food dyes. He made a face at himself, then sat gingerly in the chair across from Salugi and almost immediately wished he'd found somewhere else to sit. Like Sonntag.
She slapped the paper down onto the tabletop as though it had wronged her in some way. Then she sighed and finally looked up at him. It was amazing how pretty she was without a scowl messing up her face, he thought, then instantly felt guilty for thinking something so rude. She wasn't even smiling, she just looked tired and preoccupied, but the change was still too dramatic not to notice. Taivuttaa rested his chin on his fist so he wouldn't gawp.
"Did Novi take care of you?" she asked, meeting his eye and holding on to it.
Novi strode over to the table and set three plates down on it. "Best save those kinds of questions for when I'm not around. A body could take offense."
"Your body could do with a hard kick to the rear section," Salugi retaliated, smoothly. She picked up her fork and absentmindedly stabbed the scrambled eggs. "But at least you do your job."
"He does it very well," Taivuttaa said, hoping the honest praise might ease the tension that had begun to grow. It didn't seem to have much effect.
Novi sat in the remaining chair, eyes on his plate. "You owe us both an explanation, Eszme."
"I don't owe anyone anything," she snapped.
She seemed about to say more, but Novi slammed a palm on the table. "Don't act like a spoiled little girl!" His voice wasn't loud enough to be a shout, but it carried the same kind of weight.
Salugi popped a sliver of muffin in her mouth and chewed thoughtfully, as though he hadn't spoken at all. After a moment of painfully awkward silence, she said, "I do not have to explain how a thief broke into my apartment. I honestly don't knowI came home and found him there, then chased him. We'll find out the whole story when we catch him."
"You have a lead then?"
She nodded briskly. "Now that's enough of that. It's my own problem, and neither of you need to get involved."
While Novi snorted, Taivuttaa leaned forward and gripped the edges of his seat. "Why not?" Then he nearly bit his tongue. Instead, he let go of the chair and filled his mouth with eggs, staring intently at Salugi's shoulder. It seemed the safest part of her to look at.
The practical breakfast of scrambled eggs, buttered toast, and the sudden addition of a sweating glass of icy orange juice acted as a comforting barrier. As long as he was picking at the food, Salugi seemed less inclined to glare at him. She stabbed her muffin a few times. "For one, you don't even know what you can do yet."
For some reason, this made him blush, which didn't make sense even to him. It might have been that she was nearly smiling, or worse, that he felt stupid and useless for not being able to answer in the negative. She was right, he didn't know why she'd pulled him out of his hiding place, or why she'd pegged him as 'exceptional' and handed him over to Shoe. He hid his confusion with toast.
Novi peeled an orange and divided it between the three of them, a pensive look on his face. It suited him better than the cousin of Salugi's scowl. "Can you tell him, or is it just blind intuition?" Taivuttaa picked at a slice of orange and felt his ears turn red. He hadn't even been able to word the question that well in his mind. He was the subject of discussion and yet he felt thoroughly left behind.
"I have a hypothesis we can put to the test." Salugi finished off the muffin and stood up. "Have you got any alcohol or soft drinks?"
With obvious reluctance, Novi stood up and retrieved a bottle of beer from the refrigerator. Salugi took it from him, then set it on the table next to Taivuttaa's orange juice, unopened. "Which of these do you feel like picking up most?"
An incredulous smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. "It's a little early for beer..."
"No, you minty little twit," she sighed, rolling her eyes. "I didn't ask which you'd rather drink right now. Which do you instinctively want to pick up?" The distinction made little sense to him, other than in a purely semantic sense, but she had lifted a hand to her hair, looking rather agitated. "Close your eyes and just reach out based on instinct."
Repressing a shrug, Taivuttaa set both hands on the table, using the coolness in the wood to distract himself from himself. He breathed deeply, listening for Novi and Salugi's positions in the room. Salugi wasn't moving other than to tap her sandaled foot on the tiles, making a sticky sort of squeaking clap-clap-clap. Novi paced in between the stove and the table, but seemed to stop himself every few steps.
Taivuttaa grimaced, trying to blink without opening his eyes. His hands had gone very cold, and one even felt wet and clammy. He lifted one eyelid to check on the situation.
He'd reached out and grabbed both the glass and the bottle. "Does this mean something?"
"Most likely. Hard to tell with just this." Salugi took his wrists and removed his hands from the drinks. "One more thing and then I think I'll have it."
"Oh good." Blushing again, he looked at Novi for support while Salugi filled two plastic cups with water. Novi had stopped pacing and had gone to lean on the counter, his elbows bent and leaving his forearms to dangle in front of the top drawer. When he caught Taivuttaa's eye, he smiled, then looked away.
Salugi set the cups of water on the table and cleared away the beer and orange juice. "Now which?"
"They're the same" Novi started to say, but Taivuttaa snapped an arm out to pick up the glass on the left.
Grinning, and thereby looking completely alien, Salugi reached out to take it from him, then stirred it with a butter knife. Bubbles quickly formed, nearly spilling over the rim of the cup. "Surfactants," she said, relaxing her grin a bit. "I know what you can do now."