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Книга Komarr. Содержание - CHAPTER NINE

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"Shopping?" she said doubtfully.

"Or whatever." He trod over to her, still smiling tightly. His hand slipped behind her back, to hold her, and he offered a tentative kiss. She returned it, trying not to let her dutifulness show. She could feel the heat of his body, of his hands, and how thinly stretched his affability was. Ah, yes, the work of the evening, defusing the unexploded Tien. Always a tricky business. She began to pay attention to the practiced rituals, key words, gestures, that led into the practiced intimacies.

Undressed and in bed, she closed her eyes as he caressed her, partly to concentrate on the touch, partly to block out his gaze, which was beginning to be excited and pleased. Wasn't there some bizarre mythical bird or other, back on Earth, who fancied that if it couldn't see you, you couldn't see it? And so buried its head in the sand, odd image. While still attached to its neck, she wondered?

She opened her eyes, as Tien reached across her and lowered the lamplight to a softer glow. His avid look made her feel not beautiful and loved, but ugly and ashamed. How could you be violated by mere eyes? How could you be lovers with someone, and yet feel every moment alone with them intruded upon your privacy, your dignity? Don't look, Tien. Absurd. There really was something wrong with her. He lowered himself beside her; she parted her lips, yielding quickly to his questing mouth. She hadn't always been this self-conscious and cautious. Back in the beginning, it had been different. Or had it been she alone who'd changed?

It became her turn to sit up and return caresses. That was easy enough; he buried his face in his pillow, and did not talk for a while, as her hands moved up and down his body, tracing muscle and tendon. Secretly seeking symptoms. The tremula seemed reduced tonight; perhaps last evening's shakes really had been a false alarm, merely the hunger and nerves he had claimed.

She knew when the shift had occurred in her, of course, back about four, five jobs ago now. When Tien had decided, for reasons she still didn't understand, that she was betraying him—with whom, she had never understood either, since the two names he'd finally mentioned as his suspects were so patently absurd. She'd had no idea such a sexual mistrust had taken over his mind, until she'd caught him following her, watching her, turning up at odd times and bizarre places when he was supposed to be at work—and had that perhaps had something to do with why that job had ended so badly? She'd finally had the accusation out of him. She'd been horrified, deeply wounded, and subtly frightened. Was it stalking, when it was your own husband? She had not had the courage to ask who to ask. Her one source of security was the knowledge that she'd never so much as been alone in any private place with another man. Her Vor-class training had done her that much good, at least. Then he had accused her of sleeping with her women friends.

That had broken something in her at last, some will to desire his good opinion. How could you argue sense into someone who believed something not because it was true, but because he was an idiot? No amount of panicky protestation or indignant denial or futile attempt to prove a negative was likely to help, because the problem was not in the accused, but in the accuser. She began then to believe he was living in a different universe, one with a different set of physical laws, perhaps, and an alternate history. And very different people from the ones she'd met of the same name. Smarmy dopplegangers all.

Still, the accusation alone had been enough to chill her friendships, stealing their innocent savor and replacing it with an unwelcome new level of awareness. With the next move, time and distance attenuated her contacts. And on the move after that, she'd stopped trying to make new friends.

To this day she didn't know if he'd taken her disgusted refusal to defend herself for a covert admission of guilt. Weirdly, after the blowup the subject had been dropped cold; he didn't bring it up again, and she didn't deign to. Did he think her innocent, or himself insufferably noble for forgiving her for nonexistent crimes?

Why is he so impossible?

She didn't want the insight, but it came nonetheless. Because he fears losing you. And so in panic blundered about destroying her love, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy? It seemed so. It's not as though you can pretend his fears have no foundation. Love was long gone, in her. She got by on a starvation diet of loyalty these days.

I am Vor. I swore to hold him in sickness. He is sick. I will not break my oath, just because things have gotten difficult. That's the whole point of an oath, after all. Some things, once broken, cannot ever be repaired. Oaths. Trust. . . .

She could not tell to what extent his illness was at the root of his erratic behavior. When they returned from the galactic treatment, he might be much better emotionally as well. Or at least she would at last be able to tell how much was Vorzohn's Dystrophy, and how much was just . . . Tien.

They switched positions; his skilled hands began working down her back, probing for her relaxation and response. An even more unhappy thought occurred to her then. Had Tien been, consciously or unconsciously, putting off his treatment because he realized on some obscure level that his illness, his vulnerability, was one of the few ties that still bound her to him? Is this delay my fault? Her head ached.

Tien, still valiantly rubbing her back, made a murmur of protest. She was failing to relax; this wouldn't do. Resolutely, she turned her thoughts to a practiced erotic fantasy, unbeautiful, but one which usually worked. Was it some weird inverted form of frigidity, this thing bordering on self-hypnosis she seemed to have to do in order to achieve sexual release despite Tien's too-near presence? How could you tell the difference between not liking sex, and not liking the only person you'd ever done sex with?

Yet she was almost desperate for touch, mere affection untainted by the indignities of the erotic. Tien was very good about that, massaging her for quite unconscionable lengths of time, though he sometimes sighed in a boredom for which she could hardly blame him. The touch, the make-it-better, the sheer catlike comfort, eased her body and then her heart, despite it all. She could absorb hours of this—she slitted one eye open to check the clock. Better not get greedy. So mind-wrenching, for Tien to demand a sexual show of her on the one hand, and accuse her of infidelity on the other. Did he want her to melt, or want her to freeze? Anything you pick is wrong. No, this wasn't helping. She was taking much too long to cultivate her arousal. Back to work. She tried again to start her fantasy. He might have rights upon her body, but her mind was hers alone, the one part of her into which he could not pry.

It went according to plan and practice, after that, mission accomplished all around. Tien kissed her when they'd finished. "There, all better," he murmured. "We're doing better these days, aren't we?"

She murmured back the usual assurances, a light, standard script. She would have preferred an honest silence. She pretended to doze, in postcoital lassitude, till his snores assured her he was asleep. Then she went to the bathroom to cry.

Stupid, irrational weeping. She muffled it in a towel, lest he, or Nikki, or her guests hear and investigate. I hate him. I hate myself. I hate him, for making me hate myself. . . .

Most of all, she despised in herself that crippling desire for physical affection, regenerating like a weed in her heart no matter how many times she tried to root it out. That neediness, that dependence, that love-of-touch must be broken first. It had betrayed her, worse than all the other things. If she could kill her need for love, then all the other coils which bound her, desire for honor, attachment to duty, above all every form of fear, could be brought into line. Austerely mystical, she supposed. If I can kill all these things in me, I can be free of him.

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