"Don't say it," Meda says without looking, before you've even opened your mouth. "People only ever say two things, and I'm sick of both of them. And your face tells me it's not some architectural emergency."
"Sorry," you say. "I'll leave you alone."
She doesn't respond, just keeps staring out into the darkness.
It's a few nights later before Meda comes and sits next to you as you're finishing your soup. She's not apologetic, but she's at least less harsh. "It wasn't about you at all, really. I don't get on well with people."
You gesture broadly at the crowd around the fire. "Why live here, with the camp, then?"
She shrugs a little, looks off to the side. "I lived off by myself for years. But even then people saw me as a monster to fight or a weapon to use."
"And it's better here?"
"At least sometimes, they leave me alone when I ask." She pauses. "It's not that they don't know I'm useful, but at least I'd still be welcome here if I weren't."You nod. "You help with maintenance, right?"
She laughs. It's not unkind, but you feel like you're missing the joke. "Occasionally, yes."
You're not sure how to respond, so you change tack. "I notice you listen to the stories a lot. Do you at least enjoy that?"
Meda considers, her gaze flitting between the others in the circle. "It's something to do, at least. It reminds me that I'm not the only one who got a raw deal. But it feels pretty pointless after a while."
The nightly circles, the openness people show here, still feels pretty alien to you. That's hard to say out loud, though. "Marelle thinks it's important."
Meda shakes her head. "Marelle thinks it's still possible to fix the world. But I think the world was always broken. I just wasn't always someone who got cut by its edge. And how do you fix something that's never been whole?"
You nod slowly. "Yeah, it seems hard enough just to build something stable for ourselves out here."
"Well, if there's one thing I'm good at, it's stability. But stability isn't happiness."
"You're not happy here?"
"Trying not to be what I am certainly wasn't helping. I've gotten it through my head to stop doing that. Doesn't mean I don't still feel like a monster or a tool. And I'm not sure I even know what happiness would be."
You remember times you felt happy, so long ago they feel like dreams. And more recently, a quieter form of happiness. But not really one you know how to share. "Well, what do you want?"
She doesn't respond for long enough that you're surprised when she does. "I guess for what I am to mean something that's not just my reflection in others."
There's nothing really you can say to that.