Almighty Z felt much better physically after a relaxing hot shower and curling up in her soft bed for a nap. She was also feeling much better about her entire situation, now that she was back in control of her own army and Creep was nowhere to be seen. And by the morning, she’d have all the drones she needed to start strategizing a new attack. Things were looking up. With a sigh, she found a comfortable position and settled herself in the dark (she’d ordered the planet metamorphosis drones go make it night. All the light was giving her a headache, and anyway, she couldn’t sleep when there was light streaming in around her dark curtains.
Normally when she was lying in bed waiting to fall asleep, she thought about whoever she was fighting, or sometimes, what she was reading, or a movie she’d watched or something, and by focusing on something, her thoughts calmed and she fell asleep. Unfortunately, this time, her mind wouldn’t focus on anything. Instead, it tried to focus on everything. From the battle to ZOK to Jake saving her life, what? Two times? Three times?
What if he hadn’t been around? She’d probably be dead. Z shuddered at the the thought. Good thing he was around. It was strange to think that he hadn’t actually been there all that long. He’d just blended in with life in the castle like he’d been there forever. Too bad he couldn’t stay for forever...nobody ever did. They came in, stayed for a while, and left. Always. Almighty Z had gotten used to this, so she tried to not get attached to newcomers to avoid the pain of them leaving later. And she had more important things to focus on anyway. Her ZORG, her battles, her enemies. She had things to do, people to destroy. No time for complicated personal relationships. She was fine on her own and with everyone else at arm’s length.
With a sinking feeling, Z realized that this strategy had failed her this time. For some reason, she’d let her guard down and somewhere in the paper airplane races, play fights, and long talks Jake had snuck in. She pulled her dark blankets over her head and internally groaned. She was setting herself up for failure. She was going to lose it all eventually and it was going to be entirely her fault.
No. She pulled the covers back from over her head and sat up. She was getting nowhere in trying to fall asleep. If anything, she was more awake than when she started. She sighed again. She could feel exhaustion pulling at every muscle in her body, but she knew now that sleep wasn’t going to come easily.
She trudged out of bed. Her robe was hanging up on the other side of the room, but she didn’t feel like walking over there, so she pulled a black, fleecy blanket off the back of a nearby chair and wrapped it around her red tank top and grey shorts to keep warm. Then, she cracked open one of her double doors and slipped out into the hallway. ZIP was standing guard there, but he seemed to know that she wanted space, so while he did follow her for safety reasons, he kept his distance.
It was so dark and quiet in the halls that it was hard to believe that it was actually only one in the afternoon. Z crept along the walls, in the shadows, just because she felt like it. Some may have feared the strange shadows and creaks that seemed to pop up around every corner, but she knew every inch of the entire castle. If there was anything around to be afraid of, it was her. And maybe Malice’s cat on a bad day.
Almighty Z wandered down to the kitchen and passed through the dining hall, brushing past the table she and Jake had sat at earlier. When she got in the kitchen, she started heating up some milk to make herself a cup of hot chocolate. Every slight noise she made felt loud in the silence. When her drink was prepared, she fitted a lid over her cup and wrapped her hands around it before she crept back out of the kitchen and made her way through the corridors silently, occasionally pausing to take a sip of her scalding, yet comforting, beverage.
She didn’t feel like going back to bed yet, so she wove through the maze that was her castle, passing her tower of fun, dark, lonely, and full of interesting shadows in it’s loneliness. Zee smiled a little, remembering the last time she was here with Jake and the fun they had. She felt a lot of feelings, rapid-fire, before settling on loneliness.
She moved on, shuffling around until she decided to distract herself from all the thoughts racing through her head by finding a good book to read. Better someone else’s thatn her own. She took a shortcut to her library tower and wound up the stairs and around the shelves, trying to find something good and looking out the large windows to the stars when her mind wandered, which was a lot. Eventually, she found something, an old, cloth-bound book of fairy tales, and decided to go read it in the living room near her bedroom, so if she got tired she wouldn’t have to walk so far.
Not that she was getting tired. She wasn’t. Not by a long shot. Her feet were getting a little cold, though. And it was a little hard to keep her blanket on her shoulders and hold her hot chocolate and book at the same time. It would be nice to sit down.
She entered the room silently and found it already occupied. Jake was sitting on one of the couches, engrossed in a book of himself by the light of a lamp. His profile was illuminated, right down to each disheveled hair. Z thought about sneaking back out and reading in her room. She could; he’d never know she was there. She thought about the pangs of loneliness she’d felt earlier, and the gentle knawing of it she felt now. To hell with it, she decided, and spoke up. “What’re you reading?” she asked softly.
Jake jumped a little, relaxing when he saw it was her. “Z,” he said. “How long have you been standing there?”
She shrugged in response and nodded to the book, “That doesn’t answer the question.”
“Old sci fi,” he said. “Earth stuff. It’s kind of funny to read it now, considering that they couldn’t have dreamt up most of the stuff we do on a day to day basis when this was written.”
She nodded, and held up her own book. “Mind if I join you?”
“Not at all,” he said, scooting over even though she didn’t really need the space. She sat down and tucked her feet under her. In this process, the blanket slipped off one of her shoulders and Jake slid it back for her. She smiled. “Hey,” he said, seeing the cup, which she placed on the coffee table. “Hot chocolate? And you didn’t get me one?”
She rolled her eyes. “You can have some if you like,” she offered, gesturing to the cup.
He shook his head. “Nah, I’m joking.” She shrugged again. He looked at the rather beat-up looking book on her lap. “What’s that?” he asked.
“Fairy tales,” she said opening it up. The Beauty and the Beast was first. There were rosebushes drawn along the edge of the pages, and the title of the story was in a thorny font, with roses growing off the capital letters.
“Really?” he asked, apparently surprised. “I would not have pegged you for a fairy tale sort of girl.”
She gave him a look. “I am a Queen, you know.”
“Fair point,” he said, looking at her. “I forget sometimes.”
She looked over at him, not expecting his eyes to already be there. She looked back down at her book.“Really?”
“Yeah.” He thought for a second. “It’s like you’re two different people. Sometimes you’re Almighty Z, exterminator of annoying space hedgehogs, other times you’re just...Z.”
Something in her chest tightened. “Is that...good?”
“That you aren’t always cold, queenly, and destructive? Yes.” He caught her eyes. “I mean, I like both, but Z is my favorite.”
She felt like all the oxygen in her body had disintegrated, leaving her breathless, speechless, and with a sudden urge to kiss him. She didn’t. Instead, she simply said, “Good”, rearranged herself slightly, and read her book.
Jake did the same.
They read for hours, but Z didn’t retain much of what she read. She kept going anyway, eventually resting her head on Jake’s shoulder. He snaked his arm around her and put his head on hers, which Z decided might be the best feeling in the world. Eventually they both fell asleep like that, curled up together, their books still resting on their laps.