It had rained all night—and Caution should know, she’d been sitting there all night. To Caution, still sitting at her window, watching soldiers try to train for a war while various servants ran around them tying white ribbons to everything in sight, it felt like it had been raining for years.
Any minute now, her maids were going to burst in. She had a lot more maids assigned to her now, although she had asked that the twins stay on with her as well. They would congratulate her for the umpteenth time, and then the horrors would start. Her dress had to be made by tonight. The wedding was going to be tonight. It had to be; Andy was leaving in the morning. Caution wondered—and not for the first time—what the hell she’d been thinking. Well, she knew what she’d been thinking, she just wasn’t sure why.
“I always thought my mother would be there on my wedding day,” she muttered to herself. She comforted herself with the thought that her mother probably wore white at the funeral, as a sign of purity or some nonsense. It was probably the same kind of outfit she would have worn to a wedding.
At least it was a nice day. Caution didn’t know what the seasons in M’leo were normally like, but in the middle of the night she realized that this was summer. The rain smelled like summer rain, right down to the faint hint of metal. More than anything, she wanted to go walking in it. She wanted to—”
“Mistress! Mistress! Are you awake? Oh, congratulations, Mistress!” One of the new maids, an older woman who looked like she needed some knitting needles and a tea cozy, bustled in, carrying a plate which contained a single piece of toast.
“Good morning,” Caution said, dragging herself away from the window. “Why have you got toast?”
“You need to eat, Mistress.”
“Um, yeah, but—”
“Toast is best on a day like this. Nerves and fruit don’t mix, my dear. Trust me. I’ve never known a bride that wasn’t sick on her wedding day.”
“Now, now. I’m going to take proper care of you, my dear. You just leave it to me.”
“I hope you got a lot of sleep, Mistress. Today is going to be a busy day for you, to be sure. The seamstresses will be here any moment with your dress. Then we’ll just have to fit it and—oh, you’re going to look so beautiful, Mistress.”
“Yeah,” Caution said slowly. “Good. I mean, great. I mean, I’m really excited.”
“Congratulations, M’lady,” another maid called out, as she came in, carrying a tray of flowers. I’ve brought your flowers.”
“Uh, thanks,” Caution said, trying to smile. “They’re beautiful.”
“Well, they’re not just for looking at, my dear,” the older woman said, setting the toast down in front of Caution. “First, you eat the pink ones, to show your budding love.”
“I’m sorry,” Caution laughed nervously. “I thought you said eat.”
“Oh, Mistress, you are a funny one, aren’t you? Always quick to joke.”
Caution looked at the tray of flowers, which looked a lot like carnations. No wonder all the brides in M’leo were sick on their wedding days. “Am I… you don’t expect me to eat all those?”
“Oh, but you must, M’lady,” said the woman with the flowers. “It is part of the cermony.”
“Of course. Now, I’ll set these here, M’lady,” the woman said, walking over to a table that Caution was sure hadn’t been there before and putting down her tray.
The rest of the morning was a lot like that: women came in, congratulated her, then made her do things she didn’t want to, because that’s just what brides did.
Despite all of M’leo’s totally insane traditions, some, it seemed, were universal. Caution was told emphatically that she would not be allowed to see Andy before the ceremony, and when her dress arrived, it was white and puffy. They didn’t have the something old, something new thing, but it was practically law that if your would-be mother-in-law was dead before you got married, you had to wear the jewelry she wore on her own wedding day.
“Come, my dear,” the Grandma maid (as Caution thought of her) said, while Caution was being sewn into her dress. “I’ll take good care of that necklace. You’ll get it back after the wedding.”
Caution grabbed defensively at her neck. “Not happening,” she told the maid.
“Mistress, some things are bigger than you,” the Grandma maid said. She held out her hand. “This is tradition.”
“No. You know what? I’ve been a good girl and played along with your stupid traditions. I’m wearing a dress that was picked for me, shoes that look and feel like death, and I’ve been told I can’t wear makeup. I’ve eaten your flowers and pretended to enjoy your toast. I’m wearing my own damn necklace.”
“Yes, Mistress,” Caution barked. “As in, I tell you what to do, you do it. I’m about to be your Queen; you’d do well to get in the habit of obeying me.”
The old woman looked almost as surprised as Caution felt, but she backed off. Caution tried not to let the fact that she felt like a rotten bitch show too much. Finally, she said, “Does anyone know where my purse is? I need a cigarette.”
Caution’s purse was brought to her, but the closest thing she could find to a cigarette looked like it had been unrolled, emptied and put away wet. Caution was desperately trying to light the only salvageable piece when Creep walked in.
A thousand things went through Caution’s mind right then, but she didn’t say any of them. Instead, looking completely and utterly defeated, she held up her broken cigarette and said, “Creep, can you fix it?”
Mr. Creep didn’t speak; he just stared.
“Fine,” Caution said shortly. “Whatever.”
Mr. Creep didn’t move.
“Your dress,” he said finally.
“Yeah, what about it?” Caution asked. She was beginning to remember that she had good reason to be mad at Creep, and things that had previously not bothered her about him were starting to. She prepared herself to answer anything he said as harshly as she possibly could.
“It…” Creep sighed. “It suits you.”
Caution opened her mouth to make her scathing comeback, but all she managed was a weak, “Oh.” She paused, then held up her cigarette. “Can you fix this for me? I wouldn’t ask, but, I don’t know, nerves, I guess.”
Creep didn’t come any farther into the room. He eyed the cigarette from where he was. “It is poison,” he said after a moment.”
Caution looked at it. “Kind of. I mean, I guess. Can you fix it? Or if not, can you find me a stiff drink?”
Creep got the suggestion of a look on his face. It was the same conspiratorial look he almost had on right before he zzzted Caution into the tree.
Caution picked up on it. She looked around the room at her maids. “Could you guys wait outside, please?”
The maids exchanged looks, as if to ask what could be said to a Chonti that couldn’t be said in front of them. Then they looked at Caution’s face, and were all out the door in two seconds flat.
Caution stepped off her little block with a groan. “I’ve been stuck there for three bloody hours. Now, what’ve you got for me?”
Creep contrived to look confused.
The part of Caution that wanted to scream obscenities, stomp her feet and in other ways show Creep how unwelcome he was was greatly surpassed by the part of her that wanted them to go back to being friends—if that’s what they were to begin with, anyway.
“So you have that drink for me?” Caution asked.
“No,” he said flatly. “I have your cigarettes.”
“Took them from your purse, yes.”
“You went through my stuff? What the hell?”
Creep handed her the box. It was in remarkably good shape, still in the battered plastic wrap it was in when she bought it, just in case.
“It is my sworn duty to protect you, Caution,” Creep explained. “From all threats, including yourself. They are poison.”
“So why are you giving them back?” Caution asked, as she took the box from him.
Creep shrugged. “You look like you could use one.”
“I really could,” Caution said, opening the box. “Look at that,” she said, pulling one out. “I get a wish.”
“I do not understand.”
“When you get one that’s upside down like this, you get to make a wish,” she explained.
“I don’t know,” she said around the cigarette. “You just do.” She lit it and inhaled. “You want one?” she asked, pointing the open end of the box at Creep.
“What did you wish for?”
“Ah. Earth thing: you can’t tell your wishes, or they won’t come true.”
Creep took a cigarette carefully from the box, with his too-long fingers and put it in his mouth. Before Caution had a chance to hand him her lighter, the end of his cigarette burst into flame, then went out, leaving a glowing ember. He inhaled slightly, then pulled it from his mouth. “If you tell no one of your wishes, how can anyone help you realize them?”
Caution finally managed to pull her eyes away from Creep’s cigarette. “Don’t know. I think they’re supposed to be granted by the universe, sort of. People aren’t supposed to help.” Caution went through the door to her bedroom and sat down on the corner of her bed. “I kind of wonder how I got here, you know?”
Creep joined her, looking far too much like an experienced smoker for her tastes. “It was written,” he said, by way of explanation. “Beyond that, I cannot say.”
“It’s sort of ridiculous, though, when you think about it,” Caution said after another drag. “I mean, if it hadn’t been written, if the prophecy didn’t exist, no one would have picked me to be queen, not ever. No one would have even looked twice at me.”
“I would have,” Creep muttered.
Caution’s eyebrows shot up. “Huh?”
“More than twice, given the opportunity.”
Mr. Creep took a long and poorly-timed drag from his cigarette before speaking. Finally, very quietly, he asked, “Do you love him?”
“Oh. I don’t know—I mean, he’s nice. He’s really damned hot—and I mean hot. And he seems to care about me. I’m kind of stuck here now—and I don’t mean that to sound like an accusation, Creep. I get why you did it. I wish you hadn’t, but I get why you did. Andy really is a great guy, and even if we’d met on earth, there’s a good chance we would have ended up…” Caution trailed off, lost in imagining what Andy would have been like on earth. He would have been a star. Everyone would have known his name and the two of them would probably end up getting married and… “God, we’d turn into my parents,” she said aloud.
Creep looked very sober—even more than usual. “Caution,” he said slowly, as if to make sure he had her full attention. “Do you love him?”
“I don’t… I don’t know, okay? I guess, maybe I… It’s kind of like… well, no, not really.”
“Then, will you do me one favour?”
“Yeah, I guess. Sure.”
“Please, please do not marry him.
Caution stood up from the the bed. “That‘s your favour?”
“That’s a pretty damn big favour.”
“You do not love him.”
“I could grow to. You don’t know.”
“You could, I suppose.”
“Well, then? I mean, I thought the prophecy said I’d be queen.”
“And since Kiros is dead, I mean, don’t I kind of have to marry him, if the prophecy is going to come true?”
“If it is to come true, yes.”
“What do you mean if? You practically dragged me here. It was all must and written and—what do you mean if?”
“Caution, my job is to protect you, so that you can fulfil your destiny. I must do this regardless of the costs, to you or myself, regardless of the sacrifices we may each have to make. This is my sworn duty.”
Caution took another drag. “I don’t get it. Why don’t you want me to marry Andy?”
Creep stood up so suddenly that Caution almost tripped backwards in surprise. “Because you do not love him!” Creep shouted.
Caution actually backed up. Creep was scary enough when he wasn’t shouting.
“Because it is a lie, to him and yourself. And because…”
“Because when I think of you in the arms of another man, my blood runs cold. I am sorry. If you loved him, if I thought you could be happy, I would stay silent. I could bear to lose you then, but not like this. I beg you, Caution, not like this.”