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tell me what you want (what you really really want)

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The thing was, he knew he was in for it the moment that Siskier showed up at his door with her Harebrained Scheme face on—she was nearly as bad as the captain, and obviously she was where he got it—he’d just underestimated her. Completely. Terribly. Catastrophically.

“Don’t think,” Siskier said, eyes all a-glitter so that she looked downright manic, “that none of us know that you spend half your downtime peeking in your shoebox or drooling in shop windows! You are the most obviously obvious guy to ever be obvious. Someone’s coming to award you your crown this very weekend, I bet. Until then, I think you could stand to spoil yourself a little more!”

“D’you really think I look like that much of a charity case?” Mizer asked.

“Well, duh,” Siskier told him. “Also I think there is an actual saint for hopeless cases in the neighboring country. Jenon was going on and on about it earlier.”

“That seems like Jenon,” Mizer said, nodding. “He does like to show off.”

“If only he could get it through his dumb head that nobody’s impressed. Hey! You’re trying to distract me, aren’t you!”

“Damn, so you caught on.”

“Nice try.” She fumbled with the pouches on her belt, smirking. “Anyway, Velleman is being a huge fussbutt and demands that you stop tracking mud all over the fort floors because it makes more work for everybody else, so either you need to do something or you’re reassigned to mop duty permanently, and I just happened to be the gofer for this message because Velleman is a dumb noble and thinks that’s all I’m good for, so—” she paused for breath— “I thought that as long as we’re doing something about your feet, we ought to really do something about your feet. Ooh, so that’s where I put it!”

And she held up tiny glass containers with cute shapes in either hand, tall lids squeezed in each juncture of her fingers. She looked awfully proud of herself, and also she looked downright evil.

“I just learned today that in all the hoity-toity salons in the richest rich corner of Tiera,” Siskier proclaimed cheerfully, “they do this thing called pedicures.”

“Oh, god, no,” said Mizer.

“Ohhhhh yesssss,” said Siskier, and wiggled her eyebrows.



“I am humiliated.”


“I have completely lost face as a man forever.”

“That’s very nice.”

“I will never be able to look another person in the face ag—hey, what did I tell you about using that shade of pink?! It looks terrible with my complexion!”

Siskier rolled her eyes, giggling. “It’s a base coat, dummy. I’m gonna paint more layers on top of it, so that just a little bit of pink shows in between the designs. What d’you take me for?”

“Oh. Well, that’s all right then,” said Mizer, and flopped onto his back.

“Hey, Mizer,” Siskier said.

“What? And no, I will not wear the toe rings, they’ll just get caught on things and I’ll rip my toes off in the middle of a fight.”

“Thank you for that cheerful mental image,” Siskier said, rolling her eyes. “But what are you gonna do when fall and winter hit? I know you’ve spent most of your time in like, the hills and south of there, but it gets pretty cold in Tiera. If you go around with no shoes forever, you’re gonna get frostbite.”

“I guess we’re just gonna have to fix the country before then,” he said flippantly.

Siskier’s head popped up over his knees to glower at him. “Don’t be a dumbass,” she scolded. “Even at the rate we’re going I don’t think we’ll have stuff a hundred percent by the time it starts snowing.”

“We’ve got rid of Pandra at least,” he said, tucking his chin to his chest uncomfortably to look at her while he spoke. “That’s something.”

“We think we’ve got rid of him,” Siskier said. “Remember, no corpse has turned up yet.”

“You spend too much time around Medoute. You’re getting to nitpick just like her.”

Siskier’s whole face lit up, though Mizer hadn’t meant that as a compliment. “Anyway, I just think you’re gonna need to find some way to compromise, or we really are gonna have to stick you in the base and not let you out all winter. You’ll have to take over watching the little kids from Luciana, since she’ll be well enough to come fight by then.”

Mizer groaned. “Anything but that,” he said. “I’d go stir crazy.”

“Then, start thinking, I guess.”

He sighed theatrically and wiggled his toes on the foot Siskier wasn’t painting. It didn’t relieve the tickling of the wet brush any.

After a few impatient minutes, he sat back up. “Aren’t you done with that yet?”

“Beauty takes time,” she said, as snooty as if she was any one to judge.

But the patterns on his nails that were finished did look pretty cool. It wasn’t like any of them were pictures of anything—she’d just made braids of color with the different paints, abstract designs that made no sense but caught the eye.

“Did you design that tattoo yourself?”

“Yup,” she said. “And gave it to myself, mostly.”

“Eugh, really?”

“Well, there were parts I couldn’t reach too well. Jenon turned blue, then green, then he got all red in the face and tried to yell at me, so I gave up asking him and had Garlot do it. That was pretty intense.”

“In an oh-my-god-what-if-he-screws-up way, or in an oh-my-god-there’s-a-cute-boy-putting-a-long-sharp-thing-in-me way?” Mizer asked with his most winning grin.

Siskier’s ears turned red immediately. To her credit, her hands didn’t shake or slip. “Oh my god, shut up.”

“I guess I’ll take that as both,” he said. She didn’t answer.

Mizer looked at his feet. It had been a while since they’d really been this clean—scrubbed mercilessly top and bottom instead of just washed haphazardly. At first it had stung—his skin was still red around the nail beds—but it felt kind of nice now that it was done.

“You know, for someone who I bet just splurged on polish for the first time today,” he said at length, “you’re pretty good at this.”

He watched as Siskier bit her lip and grinned.