Flash Fiction: The Three Fish Pact (971 words)

“I don’t like that look,” Terius said quietly.

There was no urgency in his tone, so Jaera finished reading her sentence, braced lightly against the cabin wall behind her, and looked up, slow.

The wind was running calm on the water, waves whispering politely back, while the ship wove through on a long lean. It slid one way on the ocean, took a breath, rolled back the other way, and it was easy, just sitting there. She had one heel set lightly against the planks, and her other leg tucked beneath her. Her book rested on her knee. The breeze sifted down her back, cool and comfotable, and Terius sat just beside her, tucked into the corner with his booted foot idly resting against the sole of hers. Easy.

Terius was looking across the deck, eyes narrowed slightly. A gust pushed his blonde hair across his forehead, and flipped one of the pages of his book up against his hand. Looking down, he pushed it back into place, and smiled a little when he met Jaera’s eye. He nodded back across the deck. “Does that look good to you?”

Out of the corner of her eye, she glanced across at his cousin, Zain. The other boy was making a slow loop across the deck, one button done up on his jacket to keep it closed, curling hair turned wild in the salt kicked off the ocean. He was headed their way, but he was taking his time. His hands hung a little too still at his sides, proof that he was hiding some thought or another, and his mouth was slanted in a dangerous, shallow smile.

“It looks like Zain,” she murmured. Without turning her head, she flicked her eyes back to Terius. “Like he always looks, so…” She shrugged. “No, it doesn’t look good.”

Looking down, Terius smiled, shook his head once. He couldn’t have expected anything else from her. “He looks like an angel in his sleep,” he murmured. “Exactly like one of those old paintings with the smooth faces, minus the flaming sword. It’s creepy.”

Jaera held back a laugh.

Terius shut his book and leaned forward on his knees. “We should make a pact,” he whispered. “Right now.”

“Sure,” Jaera said. She shook her head, quick, and looked at him, sharply confused. “What?”

“He’s coming to ask us to do something,” Terius murmured. “Whatever it is, we should make a pact right now. We’re not doing it.”

Jaera eyed Zain for a moment.

“It can’t be good,” Terius said.

“It could be,” she joked.

“Now,” Terius whispered. He gripped her elbow, playfully panicked. “Before he gets here, or it will never work.”

Quickly, she tapped her fist to his. “We won’t do it,” she whispered.

He tapped her fist a second time. “We won’t do it,” he repeated, firmly.

And Zain dropped into a lazy run for the last few feet in front of them, then dropped and slid to arrive beside them. Raising his eyebrows, he glanced between them, quickly running through his usual silent question: Am I interrupting anything. Jaera shut her book around her finger and faced him smoothly, while Terius just smiled expectantly.

“Are either of you on duty tonight?” Zain asked, leaning on his elbow.

Jaera shook her head. “No,” she said.

“Good,” Zain said. He straightened brightly. “Because I just caught a fish.”

Jaera and Terius blinked.

“A fish?” Jaera asked.

“A big one,” Zain said, proudly. “It took me all morning.”

Jaera hesitated. She looked toward the rail, toward the water too far below on the other side to be easily reached. “How did you…”

“Not important right now.” Zain held up a hand to stop her, scrunching his nose, and shaking his head. “Not a great story. Might be good enough to tell on a more boring day.”

“Oh,” Jaera said. “You mean, after you’ve figured out how to embellish it for proper bragging?”

He flashed a smile at her. “It’s a big fish,” he said. He set his hands more than two feet apart. “And I’m thinking it belongs in Lainan’s bunk, because, you know, he’s my brother. He’s on watch tonight. I figure between the three of us we can distract everyone that needs distracting and get it there. And…” He paused, looking down a little. “I got too little ones, too, by accident.” He held his hands closer together, curved his fingers in, gauging the size of them. “I’m not sure where they go. I’m thinking boots.”

Terius sucked in a slow breath, and winced slowly at the end of it.

Zain’s eyes narrowed. “What?”

“That sounds really fun,” Terius said regretfully.

“But…” Zain said.

Terius pointed a thumb, first at Jaera, then at himself. “Unfortunately… We made a pact.”

“What?” Zain demanded. He pushed himself up off his elbow, and immediately leaned toward them, meeting both of their gazes carefully.

“We made a pact,” Jaera said. “And we can’t break our word.”

“Strong as… ocean roots,” Terius agreed.

“You made a pact not to…” Zain began.

“Put fish in Lainan’s bunk and boots. Exactly,” Jaera said. “And it’s too bad. I would have loved to do that.”

“And I would have, too,” Terius agreed. He raised his hands helplessly. “I love fish.”

Jaera pointed toward him over her shoulder, nodding at Zain. “He loves fish.”

“Bad timing,” Terius said, and shook his head. “Sorry.”

Zain blinked at them. He paused, tilted his head, pointed a finger in the air as if he were calculating what they were saying. “You made a pact not to do just this?”

Terius nodded. Then he kept nodding. Too long.

Then, he started to lean, just a little, so that his shoulder touched Jaera’s. Eyebrows high, she looked sideways at him.

“We have to make pacts more often,” he whispered.

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