Galen took the seat opposite Terius and for a moment they sat quietly looking at each other.
Galen didn’t really belong in the room. His clothes were too plain, just a rough sailor’s jacket and breeches and he didn’t have the jangle of coins at his hip. The room was well lit, gleaming on all it’s edges. Everyone walked or sat back with glass tumblers in their hands and sipped slowly. He didn’t have a drink in his hand and Terius supposed it was for two reasons: he couldn’t afford it, and the light drinks weren’t to his taste. Still, he offered to buy Galen a round, which Galen refused with a shake of his head and a smile. He knew he didn’t belong there, and he didn’t claim to, and he didn’t mind.
Looking at him, Terius realized that Jaera must have learned her quiet assurance from him. He laughed at the thought. She’d been raised by Galen. She must have learned everything from him – how to walk, how to talk, how to tie knots and how to steal an extra apple from the barrel – but they were the only two people he’d ever seen who could walk into a room outside their class with that much assurance. Every movement made a simple statement about who he was, without claims to something greater, and without any apology.
Terius couldn’t remember the last time that Galen had approached him. He’d seen the man almost every day for the last decade, but he couldn’t remember him ever saying the first word. He almost laughed at that too, but stopped himself, unsure of what to say to him.
“Havin’ a good night?” Galen asked.
“I am,” Terius told him, nodding.
“Looks like you’re still celebrating,” Galen said. He took a glance around the room and turned back with his eyebrows raised.
“We get a little excited about coming home,” Terius said. “Not having to pull duty shifts, not being pulled away from the barrels after a glass and a half…” He raised his tumbler to show it off, full with red wine and then set it to the side without taking a drink. “You could have brought Jaera with you.”
Galen shook his head. “We did our celebrating already, the first night we got back.” He paused. “And she told me she’d spent the afternoon with you.”
“We went down to West Park,” Terius told him. “She told me she had dinner plans with you tonight.”
Galen looked down and smiled. “Good on you. I told her I had a bit of business to take on.”
“Business?” Terius asked. He leaned forward in his seat, crossed his arms over the table in front of him. “What kind of…”
Galen was rubbing his jaw with his knuckles. He held Terius’ eyes, waiting for him to understand.
Shaking his head a little, Terius sat back again. “You don’t usually lie to her.”
“Neither do you,” Galen said. “I’ve liked that about you. Today it made me trip a bit.”
“Sorry to hear that,” Terius told him. “I’ll start lying to her tomorrow. I’ll tell her the sky is green and the ocean orange and that she’s not the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. Right after I finish explaining that the sun is just a slice of cheese.”
Galen smiled. “I’ve heard better.”
“Well, I don’t practice my lies that often. Give me time. I’ll dream some cleverer things up overnight.”
“She told me about your plans,” Galen said.
Terius hesitated at the turn in the conversation. “What plans?”
“The ones about what happens after you go back to bein’ too noble for her and you find yourself a suitable girl,” Galen said. “The ones where she quietly steps back and watches you marry somebody else.”
Terius looked down. The plan had sounded ugly when they’d settled it at midnight, with no one else around. Here, coming out of Galen’s mouth it sounded worse than vulgar and Terius knew he’d meant it to be that way. He was still smiling, but it had taken a painted, grisly finish.
“I don’t like the plan,” Terius said.
“Yeah, she doesn’t either,” Galen told him.
Terius swallowed, trying not to feel the punch behind those words. It was difficult, knowing exactly the look she must have had in her eyes when she told Galen, those falsely steady words she must have used.
“You stated it badly,” Terius said. “She’s not stepping back. We’ll both step away. She won’t be the only one to lose something. And we don’t have much choice. It’s either this or say good-bye now, which hurts even more to think of.”
“Well, later’s become now’s sooner or later,” Galen said, quick. “Just wait until you see how much it hurts after you’ve seen it coming for weeks and months.”
“I offered to end it,” Terius told him. “Now. If she wanted. It’s nothing that I want, and I would fight heaven and earth to keep her from saying she does. But if she did – if she asked me to let her go now – I would do it. But only for her, and no one else. So if you’ve come here to talk to me into it, save your breath. I’ll only do it for her.”
Galen actually smiled then, and he nodded. He took a deep breath, before leaning forward over the table. When he continued, his voice was quiet. “We talked. Jaera and I. We made plans of our own, for what happens after, because I don’t mind the stepping away, but she shouldn’t have to watch you love somebody else. I’m gonna take her away, get a ship and a life that she’ll love. But there’s one piece of the plan she doesn’t need to hear, but you do.”
Galen paused then, maybe to make sure that Terius was listening, maybe just to make each word after the pause sound heavier.
“If you hurt her, I’m going to hurt you.”
Terius leaned back, suddenly aware of the size of Galen. He had a decade on him, and that decade was spent on shipboard, hauling and running. There wasn’t a line on Galen that wasn’t edged with corded muscle.
“You’re lookin’ scared already,” Galen said. “And I would tell you not to get too worked up about it – cause I don’t have the money or the rank to make you really hurt over it, don’t have the power to get myself out of the hanging if I actually beat you down into the floor, so it’s not going to be much. Just one hard hit to the face – but you’re gonna feel it like I did beat you down. It’s gonna feel like every inch of the dirt you just pulled, every inch of the punishment you’d get if you didn’t have the rank to get away with it, the punishment I’d give if I didn’t owe you allegiance and if it wouldn’t take me away from her too. You’re gonna feel it for a very long time.”
Terius listened until he was sure that Galen was finished. Then he kept quiet a moment longer.
“Make sure you do,” he said finally. He met Galen’s eyes. “If I hurt her.”