Timeline 40: CHANGE YOUR LIFE
The same place, Marina thought, incredulous. The fucking same place—
Perched in the same hot prissy way on the same white stool at the same corner of the long stainless counter at the brunch bar, holding her same egregiously artisan mimosa in that—way she had, that elbow-crooked way that she'd held Marina's face and Marina's toothbrush and Marina's switch right before she'd snapped it with neat prim little flicks that marked up Marina's hip and and her back and her tits; and—and Marina's heart was beating. Those fucking retro curls that had massed in Marina's hands, spilling over; the half-hour of spellwork it had taken her to smooth them into place every morning because she was fussy; she was priggish; she drove Marina crazy; she wouldn't drink a fucking mimosa unless it was rimmed with a swirl of a salt that was only formed as a byproduct of some kind of magical mining practice Marina had never been totally clear on and: there. A meeting of fingers, and a flick. Marina had seen that, in another lifetime, and had felt herself grin.
Yeah, Marina had said, swaggering in fresh off the high of breaking through the Brakebills wards, solo, getting her own back and more, but do you know—and the woman had sputtered, and then she had laughed; darting a look at Marina with one scandalized little hand coming up in front of her chest as she'd turned toward Marina while Marina, watching, had felt her tongue come out to wet her lip.
"Yeah," said Marina now, swinging herself up onto the stool next to Zelda. "But do you know a spell to make this place less douchey?"
It would be different, Marina thought. It would be different this time, she could make sure it was different. She didn't even have those stupid extra boxes in this timeline so there'd—she'd have to—fuck it, she could come up with a research project, that part was easy; and she could change, she could sacrifice, she could commit to—to all murder done strictly off-premises and this time definitely no admitting to blackmail: it could work. She'd make it work.
Zelda sputtered as she had; and then, as she had, she laughed. Marina's heart was hammering and she leaned in: conspiratorial, because Zelda loved to be in on a secret as long as the secret was the right one. She already liked Marina: sitting here, right now, she already felt drawn to her. Marina knew it because Zelda mirrored her lean; and because a lifetime ago, panting, with her lipstick smeared all over Marina's thighs she'd told her so; and because her beautiful fastidious little hand was coming up to toy with her necklace, and she was turning toward Marina, and smiling.
It would be good this time, Marina thought. She crossed her legs; reached out and touched Zelda's arm. A perk of a second life: this time, they would be great.
Timeline 31: MAKE A FLOW CHART
After the unpleasantness in 23 Zelda abandoned all pretence of observing proper protocol; by the time it all started happening again she'd almost forgotten to feel guilty about that. In the Library of the wee hours, when no one else was around, she marked every time loop reset with the same ritual. Three keys to unlock the drawer, then the careful extraction of the two books inside it: the one case-bound in leather with marbled endpapers, the other xeroxed, folded and re-folded, hastily stapled after the time Zelda had thought she'd mislaid the fifth page. The irony of the end result had not been lost on her.
On the quiet floors her heels clicked: the books cradled in her arms like a child. In the Revision Room, while the typewriters clacked away, she retreated well away from all printed materials to pour herself a Scotch. Steady her nerves. By the time she had sipped her way through it the hardback had filled in; the stapled pages, as usual, had not changed. She gathered up her two volumes and her empty glass, and clicked her way back to her office, no longer even bothering, anymore, to justify herself.
So she was the first to know—back in her office, paging through the newly-revised book, that this time, for the first time since 23, Marina would do it again. The eventuality that Zelda had—not waited for. Say rather: prepared. She thought: It's what any mother would do; and looked down at her hands which, without conscious thought, shadowed the gestures of the spell.
Best, she thought, to expedite the process to whatever extent possible. And so once on earth, on the day in question, she skipped brunch on 19th and went straight to Midtown. The Periodical Room of the Public soi-disant 'Library' was on the ground floor, and filled absolutely to bursting with the most egregiously unsuitable segments of the population. Children; the non-magical; the untrained; anyone with a modicum of undiscovered magic and a habit of fidgeting could stumble upon information with which they had no business coming into contact, absolutely no business at all, simply by walking to the far end of the room and rummaging through the neatly-labeled boxes there. Today, on one of the dark wood tables, a homeless woman gently snored. Zelda pressed her lips together. She had only just managed, when Marina had first brought her here—but this time, of course, would be different. This time she knew what she had to do. This time, she thought—catching a glimpse of sandy hair, angling her body as she performed the revelation spell on a copy of My Life with Evan Dando, Popstar—everything would be fine.
"Yeah," Marina said, sidling over, right on cue. "But do you know a spell to make this place less fucking granola?"
Zelda thought she managed the choke of surprise well. To her annoyance, she didn't have to manufacture the laugh.
In her defence it was—had always been—
"You wanna try to stop me?" said Marina, back at her apartment, with that insouciant little glance back over her shoulder and the up-down flick of her lashes and—it wasn't getting distracted, Zelda told herself; it was part of the plan; it wasn't to her disadvantage, morally speaking, that the way Marina shrugged a freckled shoulder out of that black leather jacket just pulled her forward; made her—nearly unrecognizable to herself; made her want to leave bruises, handprints, incriminating evidence on all that—skin, oh, Marina's soft pale flushing markable skin.
"On the contrary," Zelda said, standing suddenly very close to Marina by the table with the boxes, her fist in Marina's hair. "I admire your initiative." The line was well-delivered, she thought; well-executed; and it wasn't Zelda's fault that the scent of her, that gorgeous spicy—"The blackmail opportunities alone," she said, purring it into Marina's ear; her face somehow buried already in Marina's long lovely clove-smelling hair; Marina moaned.
And Zelda still. The whole core of her still melted for that sound. From the very first time she'd heard it, she'd wanted—so much, she couldn't. But to think: when it had happened, that first time, she hadn't yet known what to do with her hands.
And that was it, she thought. Eight timelines of running through it and she could admit she was weak; there were all of these—weaknesses; there had been, from the start. But in these, in this very specific situation, these extremely particular circumstances it was actually—actually justified to simply. Let herself—
"Fuck," said Marina, who was squirming, twisting, pressing her thighs together like she did; like she couldn't even know, now, that Zelda loved; panting, "Goddamn. You're quick off the mark. Who'd have thought a prig like you had it in y—fuck," as Zelda wrenched her head back. Her mouth watering. When she'd got her nice and warm Marina's lovely spine could arc all the way back, she was so—slippery; Zelda wanted to. To bend her in half—and—
Let her go all the way over and she got her leverage back so for a minute Zelda held her halfway. Dropped to her knees, eye-level with her own fist holding Marina by the hair, and mouth flooding buried her face in the gorgeous milky skin of her neck and—and breathed, oh, let herself, oh—bite just at the join of the shoulder in that way that always—and Marina, shivering all over, all over, her splendid little body coming up in gooseflesh like it always did for a thrill:
"You want to play rough?" Marina growled, and god help her Zelda did.
So she pulled Marina's head down far enough that Marina got her hands down behind her; pressed into them and kicked out with her feet; got her legs around Zelda and pulled her the rest of the way to the floor. They grappled. Marina's wiry legs in her leather trousers clenching and—twisting; snaking up to wrap around Zelda's thigh and her waist as Marina flipped her: Zelda's back thudding on the floor blinking up at Marina, her hair falling down out of its tie, her leather jacket still hanging half-off a pale shoulder. Zelda got her arm around Marina's waist; a leg up to mirror Marina's around her waist, punching her hips up and Marina—gasped, face flushed already eyes already rolling up, grinding down against her through her leather and Zelda's silk as Zelda grabbed her behind and yanked on her hair and Marina's hips were giving those jerky little shudders they did when she was so turned on she could already, already, and the thing about this situation in particular.
The thing, Zelda thought, panting, about this situation in particular, as she unfastened Marina's fly, shoved her hand in until the zipper teeth dug into her wrist and then pulled her knee up for Marina to rut against and oh, Marina did—Marina did—was that Zelda wanted—she'd always wanted—god, extravagance with her; Marina made. She made people want such things. Close and hot and constricted; no space between them, hardly, for Marina to move but she was still soaking Zelda's fingers, just the tips of her fingers but it would be enough because Marina was so—much; she was too much. There was nothing about her that was, was moderate or well-considered; for that entire blazing fortnight in 23 Zelda had been terrified and, and disapproving, restrained and restraining and at the same time thinking constantly about what would happen if she just—pushed instead of pulling; sped them forward instead of slowing; let go of enough that she could keep one step ahead of Marina and make her—
"Fuck, fuck," Marina said, and mouth open she shoved her hips down against Zelda's hip, and stayed, and Zelda curled her crushed fingers as best she could while Marina shook.
Zelda didn't wait. With no time for Marina to get her breath back she flipped them. Marina groaned because of course she liked that as Zelda knew she'd like that; lifted her hips to help Zelda peel her out of her leathers and whatever was under them, Zelda didn't—didn't stop to notice; she kept going; she didn't—when they'd learned each other together Marina had always been one up on her, always ahead; always able to, to distract Zelda from what she'd intended but now—now Zelda knew to. To climb down her body. Bite at her hips and the insides of her thighs; dark lipstick smeared navel to knees like the bruises to come. She knew Marina would whine for it. She knew she could, could keep her going if she kept her guessing, gave her sharp blooming blossoms of pain and denied her clit, didn't give her time to think, because this Marina didn't know what she could do to Zelda in return even though she was—god, Zelda thought, her instincts were good; as Marina's fingertips dug into her scalp; her neck; the top of her shoulders.
She looked up Marina's body; Marina was looking down. Heaving great gasping breaths and several lifetimes ago Zelda wouldn't have been able to stop herself pressing her mouth between her legs, tongue out and teeth for Marina to rut against until she came all over Zelda's face but now she would—god, could she—things were different now, they were but—
"I have to," Zelda gasped, and licked a long stripe up Marina's sweaty inner thigh. It wasn't. Wasn't getting distracted even if, oh, she thought, oh oh, tearing off her fluid-smeared glasses to suck at Marina's labia, nose at her clit the scent of her, hands full of her behind with Marina's thighs on her shoulders it wasn't getting distracted but it was so good, so good so treacherously good the way Marina though she was flat on her back held Zelda's head down and ground against her face. Rubbing more than anything; leaking like mad, she always left Zelda such a needing tangle and she wanted, how could she still want so much to—
"You motherfucking," Marina panted, "dark horse," and Zelda with her heart beating out of her chest grabbed hold of Marina's hips and flipped them both again, pulling Marina back down on top of her so that Marina, hands on the floor over her head, could ride Zelda's face, looking back down at herself doing it while Zelda spread out her hands. Dug her nails into her hard little behind and Marina made a high-pitched whine fucking down harder against her tongue and her teeth so Zelda drew her had back and slapped her, hard enough it stung her palm.
"Yeah," Marina said. "Oh fuck, oh—please," as Zelda did it again; Marina quivered for it before the blow even came. "Please, fuck—yes, again, again," which was good, it was—going to plan, it was, was as she'd planned it was god it was good, it was so good, it had always been so good, and Zelda was lucky her mouth was occupied or she would have said—things, she would have said inadvisable things to a Marina who wasn't here, Such a poison-hearted little——"More," said Marina—you just need a firm hand, don't you, someone to keep you in—god as Zelda swiped two fingers through the mess on her chin and reached up to press them just—just a little, could only get them a little into Marina's hole, hitting her again with her other hand as Marina sobbed and ground down on her—You always did need a, god, corrective, you scoundrel rogue you lost lamb you wicked wicked thief traitor—oh— and Zelda hit her once more with the hand that wasn't fucking into her and then reached down to undo her own trousers one-handed; shove her smarting-hot hand against-into herself and come pulsing around her own fingers as Marina above her panted "More, please, please please, more."
Needy little—villain, Zelda thought, woozy, slapping Marina again with her left hand wet with her own come and driving into her as best she could with her right; and "Yeah," Marina said, "yes, keep, keep, more," so Zelda gave her a little twist of her wrist and Marina sobbed and pulled herself forward on her elbows so she could thrust quicker and lower and dirtier and Zelda could scarcely breathe and didn't want to, and she hit her and hit her and Marina at last drove down so hard Zelda's teeth hurt and wailed as she came.
"Shit," Marina said. She rolled off Zelda: onto her back, lying panting up at the ceiling, one hand over her eyes. "Oh my god."
Get her into bed, Zelda thought. Pushing herself up, dizzy, half-mad: get her into bed, and then. More.
She let Marina paw at her; get her clothes off. Trousers in the living room; blouse in the hall; brassiere on the floor next to Marina's bed as Marina pushed her back into it.
"It's—once a night, for me," Zelda told her, because this Marina wouldn't know any different and she didn't want—well, want. She couldn't let her get her breath. "But if you let me," she said; and Marina did.
By the time Marina passed out at last it was well into the early hours of the morning. Zelda crept back across the apartment, her legs shaking, gathering up her accoutrements by touch: brassiere from the floor by the bed; blouse from the hallway; trousers from the living room; and dressed by the ambient light of the city, coming in through the floor-to-ceiling windows which they'd neither of them thought to obscure. Someone got a show, probably, Zelda thought; and she thought it in Marina's voice; with Marina's callous little laugh at the end of it.
By the side-table with the boxes she stopped. Brent Hammersmith, read the name-plate on one. Brenda Johannsen. Harriet Schiff.
Zelda cleared a little space on the table. She retrieved the siphon from her bag, placed it in the center spot, and took a deep breath to steady her hands for the casting. Then she set a silencing spell in the direction of Marina's bedroom; and began to work.
When the contents of the boxes were safely siphoned off—not just Harriet's but all of them; she knew when to take a page out of Marina's book—Zelda's movements began to return to their usual crispness. She exhaled; placed the siphon in her purse and closed the latch with a definite little snick. Then straightened up; her heart already slowing; walked to the front door and lifted the silencing spell, neatly; precisely; before shutting it behind her and clicking off down the hall.
Marina would be dead to the world, anyway, after that. Zelda drew herself to herself; her legs steadying all the way down the hall; into the elevator; out onto West 38th and then—well, why not, why shouldn't she take the old familiar path: turning on 5th and back up past the, and she almost laughed to herself, "library," a certain buoyancy in her step, she had to admit; holding her purse just before her chest, safe and secure. Past the wide stone steps with their couchant lions; the arches and pediments where she and Marina—and from which Zelda, now, was walking away. Settled. Calm; and businesslike. She turned into Bryant Park, its news kiosks and coffee stands boarded up now as the sky began to lighten overhead; and slipped behind a tree next to the bus stop at the corner of 42nd and 6th; and was gone.
Back in the Library—the true Library, Zelda thought, smiling to herself—she retrieved each item from her purse in sequence, and placed them one after the other on her desk: lipstick; handkerchief; glasses case and cloth; the siphon that would keep her daughter safe. She closed her purse with another click, and lowered herself into her desk chair. For a moment she simply sat, and observed the neat line of tools. An accomplishment, secured.
Well. If she was to be truly completist. Dotting all the i's, and crossing the t's. Three keys, and the drawer opened for her. Almost whistling, she withdrew the bound book and the little stapled booklet, and carefully lowered the siphon down in their place. Spine straight she clicked her way along the hallway to the Revision Room, thinking it was really remarkable how marvelous she felt considering that she was filthy; and hadn't slept in a day and a half. But she seemed to herself light; radiant; her whole body both relaxed and yet humming with energy. In the Revision Room the mood struck her for something more whimsical than Scotch, so she conjured herself a bright, bubbling Moët & Chandon to sip while she beamed at the clicking typewriters. When they were finished, she gathered the volumes back up, resting secure in the crook of the arm not holding her Champagne, and walked them back to her office, where she spread them out before her to check her work, beginning with a perfunctory glance at the photocopied record which was constant and never—
Bubbling up in her, curdling: no, it was—couldn't be, she didn't. She didn't understand. It's the drink, she thought, vaguely; it's gone to my head; and retrieved her wastepaper basket, very calmly, from under her desk, and very calmly vomited into it several times. And then again, for good measure.
When there was nothing more to expel she closed her eyes. The pages for the other Marina—not this Marina but Zelda's own—they had never changed. All the alterations in all the timelines past and Zelda had never seen so much as a comma out of place; so quite frankly it couldn't be happening now; it made no sense. It was done, she thought, desperately. It was done, as she'd planned; and there was no reason that this one thing, this one good deed, this one—hopelessly minor in the scheme of everything that had happened and would happen, a single night's work, Zelda protecting Harriet against the predations of an opportunistic little tart, would mean—Zelda breathed. Forehead against her hands against her desk.
It couldn't be. She'd imagined it, probably. She raised her head, opened the little book again, her fingers dry against the creased photocopy paper.
Disaster. All there, in black in white: disaster for Marina and disaster for—for the Library. For the Library, Zelda thought, unable to breathe; and she'd done this thing and now. Shelves torched; books gone. Lost, forever. And if this turned out to be the last one. The last loop, the last time, the one that stuck: Zelda's Marina flayed alive, and Zelda's home and her life's purpose destroyed. Impossible, Zelda thought; and then: unacceptable.
Unacceptable. It could not. She could not accept. There would be another way.
There were—clues. It'd changed other things, what Zelda had done. There was—the sheltering of four people, disguised and memory-altered, which hadn't figured into Marina's story before; the arrival of a fifth, more dangerous; the defrauding of the Library by two. For that last, certainly, Zelda could watch. She could watch, she thought, breathing deeply, her head still spinning from the vomiting and the lack of sleep and the shock. She could watch for it and she could—Zelda's Marina would know her, not like this current Marina; but she wouldn't suspect what Zelda had—what she'd done; what she knew. That she could find her: but she could.
She had to. She would. She would find her Marina again; and she would stop it. She would stop it. Everything, she thought, would be fine.
Timeline 23(A): SHOW NO SHAME
That afternoon, elated, sliding down the Brakebills hall and through the open door with its click behind her: oh, Marina thought, this old dump; and had to put a hand over her mouth to stop herself laughing aloud like she could've done, she could have, nobody would have heard, nobody could have caught up to her; in that moment she was unstoppable. A single-handed operation; not so much as a co-conspirator on the inside and she had goddamn done it, they'd lowered their wards and they hadn't got the first idea who they'd done it for; and standing there, in front of creepy Fogg's creepy collection of memory boxes stretching out over a whole—table, Jesus, all those kids who'd had their heads reached into and something ripped out of them that had then just been, what, kept here, in a grody dark room where as far as Marina could tell from the fucking blanket of dust in the place. They weren't even being used for anything. Well, she thought. Why shouldn't she? What was a simple spell to enchant her bag bigger, on top of everything else she'd done today? These things weren't going to line anyone's pockets sitting around in the goddamn ivory tower.
And then she just walked out. Her and the boxes, back on Bleecker Street in early June, autumn leaves still caught in her hair. She probably looked insane and she couldn't care: fucking skipping through the Village like a lunatic at six on a Thursday with her backpack digging into her shoulders and her face doing—something, something glorious enough that it scared the tourists and the harried commuters climbing up out of the subway station and the neatly coiffed boys with their cuffed white jeans, on the prowl. She couldn't sit still for a cab or an Uber and she couldn't wait until she'd walked all the way back to Midtown, so she banged brightly into the closest hedge bar, the strip joint on 20th Tyler managed, and ordered a whiskey and soda and a private room and to be left alone for ten minutes: no girls. And then she rummaged around in her bag for the box with Marina Andrieski on the plate, and then—
—it was the best—Jesus—
On top of it all, on top of—of everything, it was. What it did to your peaking adrenaline high to open a box and have a whole missing chunk of your past self shoved back into you. One, Marina thought, laughing, laid out on the floor of the club staring up at their dark ceiling, of the stranger cocktails she'd ever mixed; and Marina'd tried her fair share of what was out there. Back out on the street, grinding her teeth, speeding along in the sunshine: it didn't make you happy, exactly, even if it was the best fucking rush she'd ever—God, she thought. Everything brilliant. Weeping joy and fury, bright hard incoherent, and on top of it all so hot she couldn't hold herself together if someone didn't touch her now, now—
Bridal shops; yoga joints. As the sun dimmed she found herself in an all-white over-designed art restaurant with a line out the door and a menu sporting the phrases "plant based intelligence" and "high vibration foods"; some asshole started shouting at her for cutting in line so she, laughing, made a gesture behind her back and suddenly had a VIP reservation for which none of the staff could imagine who had been so neglectful as to keep her waiting—as recompense for this oversight, might she want to drink for free at the bar? Not especially, Marina thought, but the sonofabitch was sputtering behind her so she smiled, and sashayed past, and looked over at the corner of the stainless-steel slab where a tall blonde, perched on a stool, moved her hands near her drink and the salt rim—
"Yeah," Marina said, sliding onto the stool at the corner of the bar, her skin still buzzing. "But do you know a spell to make this place less douchey?"
The woman sputtered; then she laughed. She had a kind of 40s-retro thing going on: high-waisted, wide-legged trousers and cat-eye specs, the kind of coiffed Victory curls that Marina had flirted with herself a few years back, and a long pendant she'd started fiddling with as soon as she turned toward Marina.
"I suppose one would have to determine how to scientifically quantify the ambient level of, ah, 'doucheyness'," the woman said, shooting Marina a coy little look with her dark lip quirking up and her hand coming up to touch her nape. Three-quarter length sleeves; long creamy white forearms. Brakebills girl, probably. Marina felt her grin go wide and wild and she moved her backpack to the floor, shifting closer to the woman as the woman shifted closer to her and the boxes clacked against each other and the leg of the stool.
"Zelda," the woman said, and put out her hand; and gave a high, surprised giggle when Marina, instead of shaking it, leaned forward to press her lips to the back of Zelda's hand.
Back at Marina's place she couldn't wait she couldn't think; all the confused threads of the whole insane day just came together into a fucking tsunami for her and so not a lot registered, honestly, except that Zelda seemed just as, whatever, starved and desperate and fucking crazy for it as Marina felt; and that she had been a Brakebills girl, must have been, her long pale body with no marks on it anywhere but what Marina left with her teeth and her nails and her red lips; and how when Marina touched her soft and then touched her hard Zelda made these little, overwhelmed noises like she'd just been fucking told something, some piece of information that changed everything and Marina knew that feeling, she knew it, she wanted to give it to Zelda as many times as Zelda could physically stand.
Some time before it got light again Marina was fucked-out enough to take five minutes to order late-night delivery from the best 24-hour empanada place in Hell's Kitchen. They ate it in bed, side by side as the sun came up through the wall of windows. Zelda called the sunrise lovely. Marina said the east-facing loft was hell on a hangover, and then she got up and stumbled to the bathroom, half-tripping over her backpack; and when she came back with damp washcloths for their hands, Zelda had peeled back the top flap, and was looking inside.
"Oh, apologies!" she said, when she saw Marina. "Sorry, apologies, I didn't—it was—a bit open, I was—"
"You're a nosy bitch," said Marina, approvingly. "It's cool, I can work with that."
"Well," said Zelda. Kind of huffy, but she looked pleased. "I just—I'd never seen anything quite like these."
"Yeah?" Marina said. "I can believe that"; and something flared in her chest. She could believe it; could easily believe it; could believe easier than anything that the great minds behind Brakebills Academy would keep a whole goddamned room full of boxed-up memories they'd torn from their test rejects and, more interestingly, from people like Marina, people who'd pushed them, people who'd pissed them off; and that all the time the bright young minds chosen to continue on as fucking—torch-bearers would find nothing to turn them off, repulse them, keep them from continuing on, pretending everything was pure as fresh snow, no dog shit lurking. But then—how would Marina have felt, if they'd kept her at Brakebills and let her graduate and then years later she'd fucked someone with a bag full of other people's mislaid memories?
Mind: blown, she thought; and smiling, hip cocked, tossed the washcloths on the duvet then grabbed the backpack from Zelda; unzipped it the rest of the way and took out a box. Kathy Petroshki, the plaque said. Marina let her backpack slide to the floor, performed a little locking spell just in case, then handed Kathy's box to Zelda, who turned it over in her hand. Rapt.
"Where did you get it?" Zelda said. Her voice low, rough. Hypnotized-sounding, and—shit, Marina'd thought she was done for the night, but maybe not.
"Well," she said, drawing out the word, letting her knees hit the corner of the bed and then folding herself forward, crawling toward Zelda like a cat, "I don't know if I should tell you."
"You—why ever not?" Zelda said, looking up from Kathy's box with her big round eyes genuinely startled. Like anybody with a couple brain cells couldn't put it together.
"They may not have been obtained… entirely legally," Marina said, and bit her lip to keep from laughing when Zelda's eyes went even bigger, her mouth frozen in a half-smile that Marina just couldn't resist: leaning in to kiss it off her, suck at her bottom lip until it widened into a real smile then nip and, hm, bite for that fluttery little thing Zelda did with her hands like she didn't know where to put them as I'll show you where to put them, Marina was thinking, and pressed against her, and growled.
Some time later, with the sun all the way up and pounding through the glass wall with a force which, most days, she'd have thought rude, Marina stumbled out of bed and into the kitchen and Zelda followed after, walking in her mincing little way as she tied Marina's silk summer robe around her. The thing was short on Marina; on Zelda it barely covered her bush.
"Jesus," Marina said. "Mercy. Half an hour, I'm trying to make us a couple coffees."
Zelda pushed her hair out of her face, and her blinking eyes. "Pardon?" she said; because of course she did.
"That thing's fucking—hot on you," Marina told her. "Sue me." Her voice came out a little sharp but Zelda's face was relaxing as she slid onto the stool at Marina's kitchen bar; her mouth lifting at the corner, pleased.
Zelda rested her chin on her hand, watching Marina grind coffee beans and set up her French press.
"What are you going to do with them?" Zelda asked.
"Hm?" Marina said.
"Those—boxes," Zelda said. "What are you planning to do with them?"
"Oh," Marina said, "hm"; and then she turned, hand on her hip, and gave Zelda a long, considering look. "Well," she said. "Stick around another hour or so, and I'll take you along."
Marina'd had a vague mental picture of getting there right at ten ten when the doors opened; turned out, she and Zelda rolled up at half-past one. As problems went, she guessed it was a good one to have: standing at her kitchen island at eleven-thirty with her phone out, the boxes lined up in front of her and Zelda pressed to her back, kissing her nape, asking Who is Marty Hodgeman? What about Bianca Ferry-Smith? while Marina, trying to concentrate on her list, gasped out nonsense like No fucking idea and Working on it, Jesus and Yeah, God, harder, bend me over and fuck me however you—; after which, showers again. So that was their morning.
Sometime after noon they did succeed in leaving the apartment, and luckily the walk was short enough that Zelda couldn't ask many questions, and even Marina didn't have time to get distracted. Zelda did pull up a little sharply when Marina turned them off 5th and up the stone steps, but Marina could understand that. If she were following a magician thief on a recon mission after a one-night stand, she wouldn't expect a trip to the muggle library, either.
"Trust me," she told her. Zelda pursed her lips in her prissy little way, but she nodded, after a moment, and followed Marina in.
"I dated this guy," Marina told her, under her breath, on the way through the entrance. "Well, 'dated.'" She cleared her throat. "Real crunchy, do-gooder, still friends with his exes kind of guy. You know the type. This place was a side project of a friend of his."
"The—." Zelda pronounced it thee and then she turned her whole body to face the donor recognition plaque, arms held carefully in front of her like the schoolmarm she probably literally was; what was Marina's damage? "The—New York Public Library was a side project of your date's friend?"
"Kinda," Marina said. She smiled, and took Zelda's hand, and led her on a winding path between students, slouching along with their coffees and their backpacks, and tourists stopped in the middle of the hall, bent back with their phones out taking pictures of the ceiling. It'd been a while since she'd been here, but the room wasn't hard to find: right on the ground floor, and famous enough to be well-marked. They threaded their way around long wooden tables: a kid with a nervous knee looking at a series of glossy photos of skateboarders suspended above half-pipes; an old woman paging sedately through a printed newspaper. Marina steered them toward a section off in a corner: shelves upon shelves of manila magazine files, neatly labeled and packed with photocopied and stapled volumes in all sizes and colors. Girl Germs read one file, at eye level. A little further along: Hermana, Resist. Marina cast a light silencing and camouflage spell, so as not to corrupt the delicate sensibilities of the teenage skateboarder and the New York Times aficionada.
"This was the side-project of my fuckbuddy's friend," she told Zelda, who still looked totally perplexed. It was a cute look on her; Marina almost regretted having to go on. "It's—her main gig is an online thing," she explained. "And it's tragically under-monetized. The whole thing is like, encoding magical knowledge and making it widely available to people in the know, totally accessible, totally for free. I know," she said, at the look of horror on Zelda's face, "I try not to think of the revenue stream they're missing out on there. Or the bartering potential, if know-how's what gets you hot."
"Indeed," Zelda said. She looked a little pale.
"Anyway, that's not their thing; they're all very selfless and blah blah blah. But their model is still like, you have to choose which info will be useful to the whole, whatever, magically-enabled internet, right? Not that many people are gonna be interested to read about some magician from the 1600s who, I don't know, pioneered enchantments to control milk fermentation so she could make designer cheeses. But somebody would."
"A—researcher on the seventeenth century," Zelda said.
"Sure," said Marina. "Or a magical cheese freak. So the concept here is, it's an archive. A place where that kind of, like, specialized knowledge can be stored, and people who are interested in magical dairy-maids from the 1600s can come and read all about them."
Zelda seemed to mull this over. Then she reached out and extracted a copy of The Guerilla Graywater Girls Guide to Water, holding it delicately by one corner, her pinky extended.
"Um," she said. Her voice shook; Marina supposed it was kind of a lot to take on board.
"Right," she said, and came around behind Zelda, rummaging in her purse. Zelda was so fucking tall that Marina couldn't put both arms around her and have any hope of seeing what she was doing; so she snaked the left around Zelda's waist and used the right to hold up the lens, standing pressed to Zelda's side. Through the enchanted glass, Guerilla Graywater Girls expanded in Zelda's hand: from a quarter-sized stapled booklet to a real, leather-bound book: Epidemiological Enchantments: Patterns of Early Modern Magical Plague Resistance, 1346-1390, by Maria Nitzow. Zelda, with trembling hands, opened the front cover, stamped on the inside: Property of the Library of the Neitherlands.
"This is—is scandalous," she said, and then shut her mouth tight.
"Useful, though," Marina said, and Zelda gave a little gasp, which was. Delicious. Marina held her as she kind of—vibrated, turning pages, looking down at Nitzow's introductory run-down of the quantitative methodology she'd used in her analysis of magical disease prevention. On all objective fronts it was seriously not that thrilling of a read, but apparently it did it for Zelda, who was breathing like she had when Marina'd had her tongue up her ass.
"You're scandalous," Zelda breathed, still looking down at the book. "You're a villain"; and Marina felt her smile go very, very wide.
Later, thinking back on the next few weeks—
Well, she really should have known it would end like it did. Marina being Marina, especially; but even for a person less dependent for her living on combativeness and paranoia, there were, in retrospect, certain clues that not everything was copacetic. Like, for example, the time she'd come back from the shower and Zelda was sitting naked on her heels on the floor by their makeshift research station, moving her hands in a complex spell over the cover of Fem Rockers U Should Know. Marina hadn't even been all that quiet—barefoot yes, but yawning aloud—but Zelda had been so into what she was doing that she'd still jumped half a foot when she'd realized Marina was there; and she'd dropped her hands to her sides like a guilty six-year-old, and blushed all across her face and her gorgeous neck.
At that point, a person with her head on right might have, oh, taken the valuable research materials away from the infiltrator, and started asking some pretty aggressive questions. Instead, Marina had felt—horrifyingly—fond.
"Who's the villain now?" she'd asked, sidling up to naked Zelda, and Zelda had sputtered adorably and handed Marina some bullshit about how she'd been following up that lead they'd discovered the night before, that thing about Theo Diya's undergraduate advisor, even though she had to know Marina knew she was lying: they'd checked out Rockers in order to research the Tanzinger box, or maybe the Schiff one; anyway it was nothing to do with Diya. A person with her brain in any kind of order could have drawn some relevant conclusions; Marina, on the other hand, had treated the whole thing like foreplay.
"So diligent," she'd said, or some shit like that, as Zelda's flush had pinked up again and goose bumps had come up on her arms. "And here I was, in the shower, not thinking about the research at all."
Zelda cleared her throat, and her blush traveled down and—down; and she lifted herself up off her heels so she was kneeling in front of Marina on Marina's floor and then—then Marina wasn't asking her any more questions about Theo Diya and Fem Rockers U Should Know, that was for sure.
The thing was, the whole fucking situation was—well, not the weirdest extended orgy Marina'd ever been part of; but between the headiness of being reunited with her own memories, which: since she hadn't remembered what she hadn't remembered, she could only really tell what a gaping fucking hole they'd left in her after the fact, so here she was being flooded with longing and relief all at the same time; between that and the newness and hungriness of this thing with Zelda, who had essentially moved into Marina's apartment, unasked and unquestioned; who had casually gone out to Saks on the second morning like the stuck-up little princess she was and had since been cycling through her two new pairs of Alice+Olivia palazzo pants and her four new Givenchy turtlenecks with seemingly no place she needed to be other than with Marina at the library scouting new volumes, or with Marina at their study table poring over census information from Leiper's Fork, Tennessee in order to match it to phone records they'd hacked on Marina's laptop, or more often than anything, with Marina in Marina's bed, her whole hand up Marina's cunt telling Marina she was shocking, wicked—
"I need," Marina panted, so—full, shifting her fuck, her hips, "I need—Jesus—"
"You do," Zelda said, "don't you. You need it so much, you're such a—"
"Please," Marina said, "Please," and Zelda slapped Marina's face and then grabbed Marina's chin to bring her back around and kiss her hard in the stinging aftermath as Marina sobbed and moaned.
"Blackguard," Zelda panted. "Always need so—much to be taken in hand"; and she reached down between them to brush so, so lightly over Marina's clit as she twisted in tiny increments the fist inside her and Marina shuddered all over her body close so close and Zelda did it again—
"Keep," Marina got out, somehow, with the zero breath she had in her lungs; and Zelda brushed her again, light, light as stuffed full Marina felt spheres rotating inside of spheres inside her, whole body squeezed tight tight tight and held there, right there, Zelda light, right there, brush, again, split open and pinned and trembling so hard she could see the motion of it in Zelda's shoulder as she twisted and brushed—
"Oh," Marina whispered, "finally, finally, fuck—"
—and became a shaking arch as her insides clamped down on Zelda's fist and she pressed her hips into Zelda's thumb and let herself explode.
Afterward she always wanted—as soon as Zelda's hand was out of her she had this stupid need to prove herself; wanted to—it was ridiculous but in the moment she always actually kind of meant it when she crawled up Zelda's body and told her she'd be good, she'd make it up to her, if Zelda let her make it up to her she'd do anything, could do anything, she would. Thinking back about the whole thing after it all blew up, Marina wondered what she'd have done in one of those moments if Zelda had said in all seriousness, oh, Return the boxes. Marina might actually have taken the trouble. She might have gotten dressed, and loaded up her backpack, and taken the boxes somewhere Zelda would never see them again, rigged up something safer than a safe-deposit box or a Brakebills safe room and then come up with some story about why she suddenly had to leave the apartment every day and then just continued on like that, fronting like that, acting like that was a life anyone could live because she was crazy, Zelda made her crazy—but Zelda, of course, never said anything of the kind. Instead: "What do you want I'll do anything, I can do anything," Marina would babble, as she did now; and Zelda: "Hmmm," considering, her mobile, expectant smile spreading out over her face like she was some kind of condescending but optimistic teacher as she reached around Marina's back to trace twin lines from Marina's inner thighs, under her ass and around the front to just under her hipbones. Marina whimpered. Kissed Zelda hard as Zelda kept it up: thighs; ass; hips until Marina ground her cunt down against her and said "All night if you tell me to"; and Zelda in approval bit at Marina's throat.
Marina was clumsy with fucking. Twice she fumbled the buckles on her own harness; didn't even think to use magic until Zelda, leant back in Marina's bed, moved her hands and the straps fastened themselves up. Snick, snick, snick; leather snugging itself under Marina's ass and around her hips: not satisfied to watch, Zelda leant forward and ran her hands over the lines she'd traced before: inner thighs; ass; hips; her lovely fingers on Marina's black-and-gold cock as Marina bit her lip and let herself be inspected: head, shaft, ridges up near her pubic bone and then Zelda gripped her with one hand, and pressed the base against Marina's clit as she reached around her to dig nails into her ass with the other and Marina groaned.
"Come on," she said.
"Pardon?" said Zelda, and she put on a shocked expression, the priss, and slapped Marina's ass again so Marina said, "Come on, let me, Jesus, come on, come on," half out of her mind. She could feel herself sweating.
"Mmm," Zelda said. She slid her fingers under the strap at Marina's right hip and made an adjustment so tiny Marina could barely feel it, looking the whole time like she'd walked into a used car lot and wasn't too impressed by any of the tires she'd kicked; Marina squirmed. Bit her lip. Zelda handled her flesh, frowning, arranging dispassionately the skin of her ass and her thighs, and Marina bit her own lip until she couldn't any more, she couldn't stop herself.
"Fuck, please," Marina bit out, squeezing her thighs together, some dam inside her breaking as "please let me, I'll do better I'll do—anything, I'll—please—"
"Get on top of me," Zelda said, lying back, "and do as I say." And Marina, open-mouthed, feeling stripped of any—shame, or—desire to be anything other than allowed, almost fell over herself to obey.
(That could have been the moment, she thought, later. The boxes, Zelda might have said. Use them for the good of bloody humanity, my child—but she didn't. She never did.)
Zelda drew Marina on top of her but stalled her when she angled her hips to just—she'd have just rubbed the head of her cock against Zelda's cunt. Just—she was so—she thought she'd have almost been able to feel it, nudging against-into the warm wetness of her but—but Zelda put her hands on Marina's hips and Marina stopped. Whining, high in her throat. Wanting to move. But she'd claimed she could be good and so she made herself go soft as Zelda placed her limbs: one of Marina's knees snugged against Zelda's cunt, the other outside her thigh, with the strap-on jutting between the two of them. Marina held herself still, still in the place she'd been put, as Zelda one-handed reached over to Marina's bedside table and dispensed lube into her own palm. She wrapped a hand around Marina's cock and Marina, watching, whimpered.
"You think you can be trusted to?" Zelda said, as she stroked her, and Marina, nodding, nodding—
"Yeah, yes, I—"
"You'll do as I say. Only what I say."
"What you say," Marina repeated, dazed, watching gold-spangled black silicon press through the ring of Zelda's hand, god, she got her so—
Smack hard to her ass and then with the sting of it still cresting Zelda dug her nails in and used them to pull Marina closer against her with her other hand still on Marina's cock, pressing the base against her and fuck, she thought, please—
"I will," she whispered. "Please, please, Zelda, please—"
"Mmm," Zelda said, with the slightest—just the slightest breathiness about her voice, just the slightest hitch in her fucking stern and patient expression while Marina above her was doing all she could not to choke on her own tongue, Jesus Christ. "The begging can continue," Zelda said, and she pressed Marina's hips back just enough that she could guide the head of Marina's cock where she wanted it. She moved her own hips in shuddery little motions, rubbing it against her clit.
"Please," Marina muttered. She sounded like an idiot; couldn't give a fuck. Just wanted—fuck, wanted—"Please," she said again, "Oh my god, Zelda, please, please—"
And Zelda was, was breathing harder now, her hips were moving, using Marina as a thing to rub herself off against and it was making her—tossing from side to side, that long white neck, one of her beautiful hands climbing Marina's body to play with her tits and the other still on her smack—
"I said," Zelda said, genuinely panting now, "the begging can continue"; Marina thought she might cry.
"Please Zelda," she said, and the tremors redoubled in Zelda's legs and her hips; "oh my god," Marina said, "oh fuck, please, please, Christ," as Zelda lifted her hips enough to slide Marina's cock—inside, her mouth coming open, gasping through the feeling of it when Marina couldn't, she couldn't—
"Please, oh," she said, and Zelda slapped her ass again, circling her own clit with the two first fingers of her other hand.
"Let's see," Zelda said, "what you can do"; so Marina with a kind of a sob, relief and desperation and Zelda feeling it when she couldn't—when she could almost—thrust her hips with the quick little upward thrusts that Zelda—
"That's it," Zelda said, hand on Marina's shoulder like she was comforting her, which was infuriating. Zelda wouldn't want her to go harder so Marina went—quicker, with that little upward feinting thrust—
"Good girl," Zelda told her. "Work—for it, you're always so. Desperate, you want so much."
"Anything," Marina said. Her thighs and her abs burning but she kept—"I'll be anything I'll be good for you I'll do anything I'll, Zelda, please—"
"Oh," Zelda said, that breathy surprised little Oh like Marina, dripping sweat, muscles screaming as she pushed in; in; in; had finally managed to attract the momentary notice of the woman she was—Jesus, and Zelda hit her, and whatever she saw in Marina's face, she made that noise again.
"Oh—my god," Marina said, making herself—keep—
"Are you being—good or getting—distracted," Zelda said, still so fucking stern even though she could barely get a breath that Marina couldn't stop—
—"You feel so good it feels so good, god Zelda, fuck, please, please"—
—her whole body shaking, half an inch from coming again, but she kept up those—little, quick, pushes, humping into her like a dog to the sound of Zelda's Oh and her Oh and her palms slapping smack! against Marina's tits and her smack! ass until Zelda turned her face away, her thighs going tight around Marina's hips and her nails digging into Marina's tender-hot skin as she pulled her in hard and held her there, Marina's lips at Zelda's throat, both of them shaking.
Afterward Zelda told her to pull out so Marina did; and Zelda told her to take off the harness so Marina did; and Zelda told her to go to sleep without making herself come so Marina sat naked in her armchair in front of Zelda on the bed and made a show out of shoving her right-hand fingers into her cunt and her left-hand ones into her mouth and grinding until she soaked both her palms, Zelda in the meantime having come over to yank on her hair and tell her she was vicious, base, iniquitous, and—well.
With everything going on at the time, Marina wasn't exactly thinking clearly when it came to Zelda, and the memory boxes, and the whole kind of fantastic, fucked-up situation.
Which is probably why she turned out to have such a shit-poor instinct for what to say around Zelda and when to just keep her mouth shut. The thing that really galled her, afterward, was just how easily their whole explosion could have been avoided. Marina would have been happy not to even mention her plans for the boxes, if Zelda was going to have kittens about them; but she had to admit that the failure to predict the shitshow was squarely on her. Frankly she'd assumed they were on the same page weeks before. How could they not have been? Even after it all imploded, Marina was never sure.
It was so stupid, was the thing. An afternoon, like any afternoon: Zelda sitting upright in the armchair with a teacup on the side-table next to her, holding a glass up to Snarla in Love; Marina sprawled on her bed in bra and panties, uncovering the dissertation on the provenance of magical traces found in the mines of Virginia City, Nevada, which lurked under the guise of a slightly worse-for-wear copy of I'm So Fucking Beautiful. Kathy Petroshki of memory-box fame was from Virginia City, and the author of the dissertation presented a preponderance of evidence for early-00s magical tampering with the deposits in the mine shafts which, when compared against the history of gold securities trading they'd printed out three days ago—
"Holy shit," Marina said, sitting up. "We'll pin her to the wall."
"Hm?" Zelda said. It sounded like she was still absorbed in whatever she was reading, so Marina grabbed the dissertation and the securities records and skipped over to show her, leaning against the arm of the chair.
"We'll have her dead to rights," she said, delighted. "The bitch will have to do whatever we say"; grinning, and moving around the front of the chair to meet Zelda's answering look. Only, Zelda wasn't grinning. She was frowning. Her eyebrows were creeping together.
"Pin her to the wall," she said, and licked her lips. And then: "Is that—what are you planning to do with. All these?"
At which point idiot Marina—tragically, no going back—apparently just didn't have the fucking imagination to believe that anything she could say would legitimately be news to Zelda, at this late stage in the game.
"Come on," she said. "Don't pretend you don't know. We're talking about like—a country of unaffiliated magic, just waiting to be colonized."
Zelda looked down at the trading records and I'm So Fucking Beautiful in her lap; and she got very quiet. Marina stood there, scoffing; watching her swallow.
"I suppose I just didn't," Zelda mumbled, and then, "I suppose I thought it was all just"; and then: "You're—you're really going to use these against them. All of them. For personal gain."
"Uh," Marina said. "Yeah? I mean, with most of them just a little blackmail, some bribery, nothing—"
"You're going to hurt them," Zelda said, "for personal gain." She was getting to her feet, setting Snarla on the chair with its bottom edge exactly parallel to the edge of the cushion, her clutch held tight in her other hand. "You're going to. To compel them. To take away their—lives, you're going to. Make them compromise their—everything, and. And do with their magic what you want them to. That's. Really what you're going to do. Aren't you."
Standing front-to-front Zelda looked down at Marina: stony, unmoving, like she might have a whip in her hand; and Marina felt herself melt. Hips snaking. Eeling up to her, looking up at her with her head tilted, her mouth tugging up—
"Have I been bad?" she said. Pouting, coy, glancing up into Zelda's icy blue eyes. "Do you need to—"
"I need to—leave," Zelda said: absurd. "I need—I've—"
"What?" said Marina, half-laughing, but Zelda was already—rushing over to the bed, gathering up her bag and her coat.
"—made a mistake," she was saying, not meeting Marina's eyes; and "I need to—"
"You're shitting me," Marina said. Following her around the apartment, watching her gather up her designer turtlenecks; feeling they'd both gone insane. "How can you not have—what did you think we were doing this whole time?"
"I know; I should've; how could I not have," Zelda was muttering. She stuffed a pair of pants in her duffel saying "could still be time," and "need to look at," and then she turned toward the door and this couldn't—Marina couldn't—she reached out for Zelda's wrist; to talk to her; stop her going; shake her out of this wackjob alternate reality she'd slipped them into; and Zelda's shield spell went up so fast that Marina, hedge boss of the East Coast, didn't even see her moving her hands.
"I'll need you," Zelda said, "not to touch me": a quaver in her voice which had always been so steady. Marina put her hands up; took a step back. At least, she thought fleetingly, as she backed into it, the table with the boxes was in behind her.
"Zelda," Marina said. "Why don't you—"
"I'll need you," Zelda told her, "to stay there," closing her eyes on a breath and opening them again, "and not follow me. I'll know if you try and I'll—"
"This is bananas!" Marina shouted, from behind the shield. "How can you—tell me what you want and we'll—if it's the blackmail you don't have to be involved, I—"
"No," Zelda said. "No, it's. Too late for that, I'm afraid," with a shrill little laugh that Marina had never heard before. It made all the hairs stand up along her spine. "I was so—determined to believe it was nothing serious. A game, really, but I should have…"
Marina felt the table rattle behind her; shake against her back like a very localized earthquake, and then—still. Zelda sighed.
"Too late for that too, now," she said, like to herself. "I should have gone directly to the library stacks. Not wasted so much time."
"The—I showed you that place!" Marina yelled, and started casting to remove Zelda's shield spell but Zelda blocked her easily and then, apparently feeling that any further talk was a waste of her suddenly-precious time, turned and walked through Marina's door.
"Whatever!" Marina yelled after her, hands gripping the table behind her on either side of her hips. "Your dreams aren't this good, you'll be back and it'll be great! We'll both be great!"
From down the hallway came the quick clipped sound of Zelda's heels; and then the whoosh of the elevator; and then Marina was left alone.
Timeline 23(B): LEARN SOMETHING
But how had Zelda been so wilful, so blind, how could she have—when Harriet's name had been right there the whole time. When Zelda'd known it would be since before she'd sat down in that bar and—and bantered, flirted, she supposed, with a woman she had already known was a thief and a murderer and a dangerous extralegal element who in three month's time would contact Zelda's daughter with an extremely suspicious offer to sell Harriet her own memories back and how, knowing all of this, could Zelda have done what she'd done? Everything she'd done; god, she'd lost weeks to a pair of, of—well.
A block away from Marina's building she made herself pause, and breathe, worrying at her pendant until the sparks at the edges of her vision subsided and the rush-hour traffic on 5th Avenue no longer swam before her eyes. What did you think we were doing this whole time? Marina had asked, and it was a good question. An excellent question. A question Zelda ought to have asked herself long ago instead of whatever she'd been, what had she been thinking when she—and flashing behind her eyes, under her skin: Marina begging her, breathless, squirming and crying out and clamping down on her fist—
Zelda reached out; steadied herself on the nearest building. So. So she knew what she had been thinking, at the time.
She wasn't—without recourse, she thought. Hurrying on toward Bryant Park, and the portal. The Council had said it was only to be done in an emergency, but. Harriet, she thought, hurrying down the path, the name drumming a tattoo in her brain; Harriet in the park and Harriet back in her office in the Library. The proper Library: clean and empty, no undesirables. A place for everything and everything in its place, with only approved personnel in the section to which she hurried now, none of whom would question the Head Librarian if she removed from the shelf the volume of one Marina Andrieski, and brought it back to her office, and closed the door.
Zelda sat behind her desk. She needed steadying: a glass of something, or a pipe. But of course it wasn't done while actually reading one of the dear books; and time was of the essence. So she smoothed the papers on her desk; straightened them and smoothed them; and breathed, and smoothed them, with Marina's voice in her head: a country; pin her to the wall; and then she opened Marina's book, and read:
Marina's childhood. Marina's expulsion; skimming until she found her own name and then—dry-mouthed—continuing on to an alley knife fight; a pile of bodies; Marina distracted for three weeks by research and by Zelda meant an in for a rogue element in her cartel which it took five months to root out completely, and then—a bribery campaign; the contents of Adela Tanzinger's box put into use as leverage to secure an Abyssinian amulet, which meant somewhere off the page Marina had learned enough to view the memories without disturbing them, or removing them; and then—a fling with a demigod as the margins of wider wreckage crept in around the edges; how could Zelda have—how could she have fallen for such an—opportunist, for someone who would—would scavenge for loot in the wreckage of Brakebills, another of Fogg and Chatwin's failed attempts; who would step over bodies still living, still warm; who would sell her misbegotten articles for what she could get who would—would tuck Harriet's box in the back of her closet as if it were just another pair of shoes or an old Halloween costume as the magical world crumbled around her and the whole staff abandoned the Library; who would smile that little smile Zelda had thought of as "mischievous" as she slipped drugs into people's drinks and tied them up and used them as bait for a bargain with a world-ruining void of a being; who would follow some strangers—who would follow them into another world, another time—
Zelda found herself standing. Sweating, before her desk and her office door, trembling hands smoothing the pages of the open book.
The revisions. Twenty-two times, select volumes had been pulled. Twenty-two times they'd been trolleyed to the Revision Room. Changed. Each person's traces wiped clean. But if this book were pulled—if it were changed and yet Marina—this Marina, Zelda's Marina, with her lashes she'd fluttered at Zelda and her blackmail she'd planned with Zelda and her mouth she'd put all over Zelda's skin and her memories of Harriet's memories, Zelda's Harriet—if all traces of her were wiped away and yet she were allowed to continue on in another place—unrecorded—unchronicled—
Well. It mustn't happen, that was all.
Zelda snapped the book shut on her finger. Crisply, she clicked down the hall. Calmly she opened the cover on the copier; with precision she placed the book face-down. Starting at the page where her Marina slipped through a door into another life, she pressed the button again, and turned the page, and again. And again. When it was done she collected her little sheaf of papers, still moving with great exactness, and walked the book and the papers back down the hall; and closed her door; and sat down at her desk. The edges of the copy paper aligned just so. Its corners smooth.
She had options, Zelda thought. She unlocked her desk drawer, the one with the triple locks that she'd only had cause to use a handful of times previously, and slid Marina's bound book into it, and locked it again. And then, smiling, a little shaky at her own daring, she ran her hands over her… unofficial edition. Pleasing, she thought, considering the chosen disguise of all those illicit volumes in the false library, sitting about for anyone to read: well. The story of Zelda's Marina would fit form to content. But there, the similarity ended. No one but Zelda would see it. She would keep it safe. Would keep them all safe. Would keep tabs on Marina, the villain, the threat: and in the meantime, with the resources of the entire Library available to her, she would research the mechanics of memory boxes so that if it happened again. Yes. If it happened again, then she would be ready. A small alteration only: one night, she thought, should do it. In and out, and Harriet would be safe. Zelda would know what to do.
It would all work out, she thought, petting her photocopied pages, safely enclosed by the familiar walls of her office. Everything, after all, would be fine.