Nobody said anything for several moments after the two of them left. Raelne bit his lip. “You’re going to pay that guy a bonus, right?”
“There isn’t enough money in the world to compensate someone for this treatment.”
Suaj made an angry slicing motion. “The only thing more irritating than Joese’s behaviour is your constant apologising for it.”
“I’m s…okay. I just want to say, for the record, we’re not all like that. Honestly.”
“That’s self-evident, Mister Kine.”
“Is there really nowhere else I could sleep?”
“Not without inconveniencing even more people. Do you have an objection to my company?”
“Of course not. I was just thinking you need a break from me. That’s all.”
“I’m capable of judging my own limits. Allow me a few minutes to attend to my belongings and then you can come along at your leisure.” He stood. “Good night,” he said curtly to the four of them.
After Suaj left, Raelne smiled queasily at his three remaining companions. “Is difficult sometimes.”
Sernan gave Raelne an embarrassed grin of sympathy. “Yes,” Maner said gravely. “Some friends are.”
“Good night. See you in the morning.”
There was another smaller lounge near the rear of the carriage which also had clear views of the passing scenery. Though it was night, all three of the planet’s moons had risen and the effect of the moonlight on the fresh snow was rather pretty. It didn’t snow in Kosat, where he’d lived since he was five. It did sometimes up on his grandparents’ place. Damn, he missed them, and everyone else.
He checked his watch. He’d given Suaj twenty minutes. Plenty of time. Sure enough, he found the man tucked in on the upper bunk, facing the wall. Raelne did his best not to disturb him. Whatever he claimed, Suaj definitely needed some time on his own, or at least with his own kind. Raelne could wring Harnol’s neck. He hadn’t been this annoying on the flight out, but then he hadn’t had the ability to get away with it. Hell, Raelne was already convicted of murder. They wouldn’t hold it against him if he killed Harnol for being a pain in the arse and an embarrassment to Tuzax, would they?
Though the sleeping accommodation was as luxurious as the rest of the carriage, and the bunk’s mattress thick and of good quality, sleeping side-on to the direction of travel wasn’t comfortable, and it took him a good while to fall asleep. He woke with his heart pounding out of his chest.
“What the hell was that?” What had woken him? A sound? The train jolted again and made an awful grinding noise. “Have we crashed?” The bunk light wouldn’t work.
“Possibly. Get dressed.”
“I can’t see.”
He heard the man descend from the bunk with ease, as if the lights were on and he could see just fine. A click and snap, and then something landed on Raelne’s bunk. He was almost blinded as a bright light came on close to his face.
“Sorry.” Suaj moved the portable lamp. “I believe we may have derailed. Get dressed.”
He set the lamp on the fold-down table. Suaj was already stripping down to his underwear. Raelne stared. The man was covered in—
“Do you mind?”
“Uh. Sorry. Uh…I need…”
Suaj moved out of his way, clearly offended by his doltish behaviour. Raelne dressed as quickly as he could, very carefully not staring at the pure white fur covering Suaj’s body.
Before they could leave the cabin, a knock came at their door. Suaj answered and spoke to someone outside the room. Raelne waited. They probably weren’t in any imminent danger. There wasn’t enough shouting.
Suaj stepped back inside and closed the door. “The train struck an object on the track. We haven’t derailed but there’ll be some delay while they clear it. Most likely it was a group of rejers. It’s a common hazard. You may as well go back to sleep.”
“Right. Um, I’m sorry for staring before…”
“You’re not the first to do so, Mister Kine.”
The lights came on then, and Raelne could now see Suaj’s expression more clearly. He’d expected anger, but it was more…sadness. Perhaps resignation.
“People think you’re a freak, don’t they?”
“People are stupid, as you have seen ample evidence of today.”
“I don’t think it’s ugly. It’s, um…beautiful. You shouldn’t need to hide it.”
“Human fascination with my appearance is a distraction that I don’t want or need. I warned you about personal remarks.”
“Yes, you did. I apologise. I’ll, uh, turn away.”
“To what point? You’ve seen. Look to your heart’s content.”
Raelne flushed at the raw scorn in Suaj’s normally expressionless tone. “I’ve seen enough. I’ll use the bathroom, since I’m awake. Excuse me.”
He bolted out of the room and to the bathroom up the corridor. Idiot, idiot, idiot. He knew how sensitive Suaj was to people drawing attention to his differences, yet Raelne had made Harnol look like the diplomat on the team.
Suaj was so beautiful though.
He washed his face, used the toilet, dallied as long as he could. Suaj had left the lower bunk light on for him, and though he was facing away from Raelne, the stiffness of his back told him his companion wasn’t asleep.
“Please, Suaj. I need you to forgive me. I’m so sorry. It was ignorant and rude—”
“To admire me? To desire me?”
Raelne flushed hot. “I didn’t say I—”
“I said, you’re not the first. There’s nothing to forgive.”
“Then why are you angry?”
“I’m not. I… You’re correct. I perhaps need a break. This translation is very tiring for me.”
“What can I do to make it easier? If you’d like me to work with someone else—Werse, maybe?”
“And take on your Mister Joese? I don’t think so, Mister Kine.”
“Damn it, my name’s Raelne. Everyone calls you by your given name. I’m not your enemy. You turn every conversation into a battle. I just want to…to…to be a friend, damn you!”
“This is how you convince me?”
Raelne gritted his teeth. “No. I can’t drop my mental shield, but if I could, you’d see I bear you no ill will. I like you. I admire your ability and your patience. I’m very grateful for your tolerating Harnol and me, and the way you’ve tried to ease my way. Right from the start, I felt you’ve done your best and since you hate me so much, that makes it even more admirable.”
Suaj said nothing. Raelne felt like a prize fool. “I’m sorry.”
Suaj rolled over, and gave Raelne the full force of his extraordinary eyes. “Mister Kine…Raelne. I appreciate your admiration. However, you’re overlooking the fact that this…intimacy is artificial. We’ve been thrown together by circumstance, and because your range of contacts is necessarily limited, you’re trying to convince yourself that this means we should be friends. Much as Mister Joese is determined to ignore the fact that Werse loathes him.”
“Do you loathe me? You said you did.”
“My feelings are immaterial. What I’m trying to point out is that I’m unsuitable for the role into which you’ve cast me. I don’t make friends easily, nor wish to. I’m not someone who wishes confidences, or gives them. My patience with you is something that has been ordered. It doesn’t come naturally.”
“I see. I’m making an idiot of myself. Thank you for being honest. I won’t impose on your kindness any more.”
“For what it’s worth, you aren’t as much of a trial as your colleague would be.”
Raelne laughed dryly. “Why does that not thrill me as much as it might? You’re right. I just want not to be the stranger.”
“Unavoidable, I’m afraid. You aren’t here by choice, and you weren’t invited. Go to sleep.”
“And we won’t talk about this again either.”
“No. Good night.”
Bugger. Six months until he could get out of this situation. Longer if he didn’t manage to avoid strangling Harnol, or being thrown off the project by an enraged Suaj. If he could survive this train journey, he’d be doing extremely well.