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A Bathhouse in Arbalest

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“You think that scar makes you ugly,” she said.

I straightened up, pulling the towel off my head. She’d gotten out of the tub and was just standing there, dripping water on the floor. I watched her walk toward me, that creepy single eye of hers fixed on my tits. I don’t got much in the chest department but I got some, and it bobs when I’m naked. I was glad it was hot and steamy in the bathhouse along of how I had a reason to be red in the face already.

“You think yours make you ugly,” I said.

“No. I think my scars show what I am. But you think your scar makes you ugly.”

“I am ugly.”

“No, Mildmay. No, you’re not.”

She stepped closer to me, naked, same as me. Her voice got soft in a way that made my stomach curdle like milk left out on a stoop for a week in Thermidor.

“Did Kolkhis tell you you were ugly?”

Fuck. I could taste bile at the back of my throat now. I shuffled backward away from her — flat up against the fucking door. The wood was all swollen from the damp and it wasn't going to budge in the frame one damn bit. I braced my shoulders against it and glared up at her. “Kolkhis don’t have nothing to do with—”

“Oh, yes, he does. Because I’m right, aren’t I? He told you you were ugly. That no one would ever want to kiss you.”

Kethe, I wished she would call me ugly, or a stupid little rat or whatever. That would’ve been a lot easier to take than her not just making a pass at me but picking that old fucking scab open. I felt something touch my upper lip. The tip of my tongue. Not so cool and collected after all, Milly-Fox. “Maybe,” I said.

“He lied.”

She was just a few inches away from me now, and the pupil of her working eye was huge. The one in her dead eye was the same size it always was. Every hair on my neck and arms was standing up.

“I can show you just how terribly he lied to you, Mildmay.”

“No,” I said, making no bones about it.

Something in her good eye flickered, and I could see the little muscles around her mouth tighten. “You won’t ...”

“No. I ain’t tribby, and I don’t want you. And —” I stared her straight in the eye, and my throat went all tight “ — you promised you wouldn’t rape me.”

Those little muscles tightened again — and then her fists did too.

“Hit me,” she said all of a sudden.

“...the fuck?”

“Hit me. If you won’t kiss me, hit me.”

“Powers and saints, you don’t —”

“Hit me, damn you. You want to. You’ve wanted to for years. I know you want to hit me, you know you want to hit me. So hit me.”

And, fuck her, I did want to hit her. I screwed my eyes shut, like I’d actually been fixing to kiss her instead, and I braced my whole body real tight because I knew what was coming. And it did: the binding-by-forms, falling on me like a ten-ton weight, and her saying through her teeth that had to be clenched even tighter than mine: “Hit me.”

But I’d stood up to the binding-by-forms before, and I stood up to it again.

When I opened my eyes again she was just staring at me, like you’d stare at a fly if it’d pushed your flyswatter off its back and given you the stink-eye. I whipped my towel around my waist and held it there with one hand while I wrenched the door open with the other.

“Bye, Felicia.”