As the cabin hatch slams shut behind Captain Hua and Quen, you start to turn, and—oh, this again? Once in a day should be enough, you think dizzily, as the world whirls around you once more, and the deck swerves and swoops and rises up to meet you, the deep thing's alarm pulsing through you as it feels your muscles finally falter for good and give up the struggle to hold you upright—

—and though its limbs whip out toward you, they are not fast enough to reach you before Lu does. She catches you before you can do more than begin to slump toward the boards—nestles herself neatly in against your front, not minding the slime and sex and ichor and salt that streak your fur, and catches you firmly around the midsection in a mirror of her earlier hug, and as you fall limp against her she steadies and balances your weight without the slightest sign of effort.

"There you are, now," she says—slightly muffled with her muzzle pressed against you, and mazed though you be at the moment, you can't but wonder what you must taste like, all the mess in your fur—"there you are, just don't go sideways on me—" while she's wriggling around sort of sideways herself, turning the face-to-face embrace—well, face-to-brisket, given her height and yours—into a companionable sort of side-by-side one, supporting you all the while with shoulders and arms and her weight balanced against yours. It's tricky, a couple of times, as your knees threaten to go out from under you again. But by the time she's done, your head's a little clearer, and you're bolstered anew by the fierce protective concern that thrills warm and powerful through the ever deepening communion between the deep thing's mind and your own.

That, and the measure of its own strength you can feel it lending you—feel it not only in your mind and heart, but as if its tendrils of thought intertwined with your own had begun to extend themselves gently down through your neck and chest and belly and limbs, tracing the sinews that carry your will through your body. Tracing, and enfolding, and limning them in some subtle and unutterably comfortable fire which does not burn but only gives you to feel as if your lovely monster has found a way to reintroduce you to yourself—to begin to compose the quarrel between your muscles, tired and exhausted and sorely overused, and your mind, which knows that you have still to traverse most of the Bitch's length, fore to aft, to reach the captain's cabin.

That trip seemed an impossibility, a moment before. Now it seems only the hardest task you have ever faced in your life. Alone, it would be impossible still—but you need not fear that fate. The deep thing is with you, and Lu is with you, and with such strength on which to rely, it is only to fail that you feel impossible.

But the walk is very hard, nonetheless.

You almost fall, a couple of times—for all the deep thing is doing for you, for so much of your weight that Lu gently and quietly and very insistently takes upon herself, it's a couple of times still too much, and your knees try to give. But Lu steadies you, then, and the deep thing gives you more of itself in those moments, and you feel yourself able to go on, and so you do. But by the time you're at the hatch, it's still the liveliest of mercies that you have the strong stout wood of the Bitch herself to lean against, for a moment's respite from what is just now the dreadful task of simply holding yourself upright.

The thump from within is a surprise—not only hearing it, but feeling it through the sturdy boards. And hard on its heels, a yelp—Quen, that'd have to be—and a growl—your captain, of course, who by the sound of it has begun to shrive your erstwhile crewmate in a very energetic fashion indeed. By the sound of it, and much more so by what the mind-sense reveals to you—exhausted though you be in every sense, you nonetheless are surprised to feel yourself stirring slightly in response. The sheer intensity of what they're both feeling—

Lu looks sidelong up at you, shows you a crooked sort of grin. "We'll want to move smartly to the bath, I think. Tarry too long, and one or the other of them is just likely to barrel into us. Ready?"

It feels like a trespass—like an intrusion, to enter upon such an intimate entanglement of minds and hearts and bodies as that you feel in the mind-sense from within the captain's cabin. But she did invite—no. She ordered Lu to bring you here. And there is that of you, too, which is very curious—of you, and also of the deep thing, you realize. Powerful as it is, and vast and timeless though you have already come to feel the communion with it to be—it is nonetheless very new to its knowledge of your world, and that knowledge itself still but slight. It has never seen before as it sees now through your eyes. And it would like to see what lies within the captain's cabin as much as you know you would. And so—

"Ready," you answer. And Lu lifts the latch, and pushes, and the two of you make your uncertain way inside.