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We Sunk Down to the Bottom of the Sea

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It's still night when she wakes up, startled, disoriented. It takes her a second to remember where she is, why she's there, why all three of them are there. Above them the full moon shines bright surrounded by a thousand little stars; around them there's only sea and waves, salt and the deep unknown.

Reese closes her eyes again hard, trying to call sleep back to her. She knows that, no matter how much the Tox has changed her—and God, it's changed her—, she is still, at her core, human; and that's just not how humans work.

Next to her, Reese can see Byatt's back turned to her, can see the outlines of her spine marked against the clean shirt they managed to find for her. Byatt's shoulders rise and fall in regular intervals and her exhales echo slightly against the wooden boards of the boat. She's sleeping, or she's pretending to be; Reese can never tell with her.

Reese gives up on sleep soon after, sits up carefully, trying to not rock the boat too much. They've gotten good at this during the past few days; moving around, living, coexisting, within the tiny confines of their little boat. 

On the side opposite to hers, Hetty sits with an oar in her hand and her gaze to the water. Reese leans her back against the side of the boat and looks at Hetty closely until she turns towards her. Hetty's good eye fixes on Reese's face, as sharp and bright as ever, and in that moment, Reese feels like they are too close and too far away from each other at the same time.

It's not a new feeling, not by far. Reese has grown used to it during the years she's been friends with her and Byatt. Up until just under a week ago, they'd always been HettyandByatt and Reese off to the side. Always there with them, but never with them . It's different now, in some ways, but the same in others.

Hetty is closer now, less like an unreachable point in the horizon and more like an island in the middle of the ocean only a few arm strokes away. She's there, waiting with outstretched hands for Reese to exhaust herself in the water, for Reese to swim to her. And Reese will swim towards her, has been trying to reach her for years.

But, at the same time, Hetty is still as wrapped around Byatt as she's ever been. She's still there in the blink of an eye the moment Byatt starts thrashing around the boat, or when Byatt has a restless night, or when Byatt tries to say something despite her damaged throat—not damaged, changed . There's never any hesitation in Hetty's face as she frets over and tries to help her.

It shouldn't hurt, not when Reese goes to sleep every night with the ghost of Hetty’s soft lips over hers and wakes up to a smile and fingers running through her hair. But it does hurt sometimes; especially in the nights that remind Reese of sleeping alone while Hetty and Byatt cuddled underneath her.

"You think too much," Hetty says now, barely more than a whisper. "You always have."

There's a tone in her voice that Reese can't quite place, something that could sound like worry or fondness or fear or fatigue. Her mouth, though, is set in an almost smile, a gesture Reese has seen so much of since they left Raxter and that never fails to make her heart ache for Hetty's old smiles, all carefree and young—oh, so young, without a care in the world.

There are so many things Reese could say right now, so many things that round her brain and pile inside her mouth, ready to be released into the night air. So many words, so many feelings, so many truths.

"You sleep," she says instead and she's sure her voice sounds as sharp to Hetty as it does to herself. "I'll keep watch the rest of the night."