Flash Fiction: Aimless Midnight (693 words)

Terius looked at Zain, and Zain looked at Terius, and for half a moment Zain imagined what it might be like to actually oppose him, to set one will against the other, feel the grating, and see which of them actually could stand over the other. And then he slid into a grin, and he half-turned away before it spread into a laugh, because the smile tasted better, and in the dark, so long after dinner, he wasn’t hungry for anything but sweetness. Because this wasn’t anything so important to make a fight out of. And because it was a better game, to see if he could talk his cousin around to agreeing.

Terius shook his head, Zain’s smile breaking the silence that had started to build better than a word. “This is the worst idea you’ve ever had,” Terius said.

Zain glanced sideways to Jaera. She bounced a little on her toes, shoulders pulled forward to keep her jacket close, hands shoved into her pockets. If she thought anything of Zain’s suggestion, it was lost beyond her opinion of the cold sinking into her bones. She flicked her eyes up after a moment, realizing that Zain was looking to her, and then just shook her head a little. Still, no disagreement, just a gentle nudge that she didn’t see any reason for him to be turning toward her. Then she turned her attention back to the street, and the street lights, and the quiet clatter that echoed in from the next street over. Her breath puffed out in little gray clouds that caught in the lamps, and faded in an instant. She shoved her hands down into her pockets.

“I think,” Zain said lazily. He swung his eyes back to meet Terius’ gaze. “Your memory is failing you a bit.”

“It’s not,” Terius assured him.

“I’ve done worse,” Zain said. “Thought of much worse.”

Terius paused, resettled his shoulders and took a breath, and gave Zain half a smile. “We are not going swimming at midnight, because some saltsoak in a taproom told you that you can’t say you’ve really been to Delvire, until you can say you’ve caught a Delvire silverback under the docks with your bare hands.”

Zain raised an eyebrow at him, just one quick and sharp, and let his smile spread invitingly. “We’re not?” he asked.

Whatever Terius had intended to say next, Zain’s look froze the words on his tongue, and he just took a breath and held it. Looking to Jaera for help, he blinked at her. She blinked back, but didn’t shake her head the way she did to Zain.

After a moment, Terius let the breath out. He shrugged his jacket down his arms, shook it out and handed it to Jaera. She held it in one hand for a moment, her other hand still tucked in against her side for warmth. Then, sheepishly, she pulled the long sleeves and thick fabric on over her own.

“We’re not,” Terius said. The rigid strength of the statement was gone, but his quiet tone was firmer, and Zain knew he’d never break it.

Zain glared at Jaera.

She tilted her head in apology, but her shoulders were starting to uncurl, and she had balled her fists happily in the extra material of Terius’ sleeves.

“Tomorrow night?” she offered. “It will be warmer. Or at least I’ll bring a real coat.”

Terius stared at her. “Or we could go in daylight.”

She raised her eyebrows, asking if he really believed that. He held his composure for only a moment before he shut his eyes and smiled, knowing that would be too boring for him too.

Zain shoved his hands deep into his own pockets, and bounced on his toes, and glanced between them. “So, do we go home then?” he asked, and prayed that they would say no.

“No,” Jaera said.

“No,” Terius echoed, so fast, that might have been Zain’s worst idea yet.

“So…” Zain faced the street. He set his heel on the cobblestones, and turned his toes back and forth without putting them down, waiting for them to pick a direction. “Which way, my friends?”

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