Legal Theft Flash Fiction: In Between (1015 words)

“I need to talk to you.”

Delanie looked over her shoulder. Her hands kept moving, snapping against the long laces of her boots to pull them tight. Looking back down, she tied a tight knot in three quick pulls. “Do you?” she asked, trying to keep her voice light.

“Yes,” Vant said. His tone stayed heavy, his eyebrows bent together as he nodded seriously.

Slowly, Delanie straightened, watching his expression, and begging for it to shift. He held her eye as if there was nothing in existence outside the officers cabins. Shore leave still held, and she thought he might be right. It was possible, from the unhindered creaking beams, and the quiet echo that followed the two of them around the cabin, that they were the only two on the deck. The docks, a few yards away would be rolling with crowds, and maybe there was a fisher or ten somewhere closer, but none of them were close enough to say that they weren’t blessedly alone. So, Delanie looked down, dropped her foot off the chair she’d been propping it on and took a long step away.

“No,” she said. “You don’t.”

“Please,” Vant said, quickly. “Just listen to me for a moment. This is important.”

Delanie looked back at him, and dropped her voice low, almost hoping that even he wouldn’t hear. “I already know,” she murmured. And she blinked, and looked past him to the floor again. “And you shouldn’t say a word.”

He stared.

She shifted back, wishing that she had said it a little quieter, or that he had said nothing at all.

“You know?” Vant repeated, disbelief painted clearly in the flatness of his voice.

Delanie nodded.

“Del,” Vant said, then stopped, for a breath. “You know about the mutiny?”

Pausing, Delanie, weighed her options for explanation. She hated all of them, as soon as they occurred to her. “Yes,” she said, finally. “But this conversation is the last time you’ll ever hear me admit it. And if you’re smart, like I know you are, you’ll do the same.”

“What are you talking about?” Vant asked. “This is a mutiny that will dethrone the Clan Lady. You can’t ignore something like this.”

“It’s all arranged,” Delanie told him. “And it’s too late. Nothing we did could stop it.” She glanced at the door. Seven steps away. It would be so easy to just leave.

Vant shifted behind her, let out a heavy breath.

“They came to my father a month ago,” she whispered. “To see which side my family would fall on. Father said they were guarded about it. And he pretended to be stupid.” She looked back to Vant with a tight smile. “It’s the family stance, you see? We don’t know this is coming, and when it does, we just might keep our heads.”

“Who came?” Vant asked.

Delanie shrugged. “Some Reanden cousin. They’re keeping succession in the bloodline… only reordering it.”

“Del,” Vant tried again. He leaned forward into a single step, held his hands between them to further close the space. “We’re officers…”

Delanie shook her head. “We won’t be on duty when it happens,” she whispered.

“How could you know that?” Vant demanded.

Delanie pulled back immediately. Six steps to the door. “My cousin called in a favor. And an aunt of yours. And they’d be better off with their own calling commands anyway.”

She tried not to look at the hard edge growing in his stare, tried not to notice that his eyebrows were drawing tighter, not just incredulous anymore, but angry. It was no surprise coming from him, and shouldn’t have been a surprise coming from anyone. This was an atrocity. But she felt like her blood had boiled away over it a long time ago. She was just cold now.

“It’s all arranged,” she told him again.

“No,” Vant said. “That can’t be your response.” He shook his head, too hard, and too fast.

Delanie let her eyes drift to the floor behind him again. “How did you find out anyway?”

“We are officers!” he nearly shouted.

“We are watch commanders!” she shouted back. Her eyes snapped to his. Her face tightened, and she had to swallow something that felt like her own lungs to keep from screaming into his face. “There are a dozen officers above us! Another dozen on the same rung. And we are standing on the ship that they’re going to use to take a throne, and they didn’t ask us for our help. They don’t need our help. A few weeks from now, when we’ve shoved off, and wandered into a part of the ocean where no one else can touch us, it will happen, and if they don’t need us to pull it off, what could we do to stop them?”

Delanie hated the sound of her own voice by the time she was finished speaking, but couldn’t quite close her mouth after the last word. Her lips hung open, like it might hurt to touch them together, to seal this on the air.

Vant only stared at her, wordless, and motionless himself.

It took long seconds to lift her heels off the planking. She pulled her feet through the steps as if they were anchor stones, moved away from him in the echoes of the cabin, touched the door, and let her hand slid down to find the latch. The door swung open, too easily, squealed on the hinge, too much like any other day.

“What will you do when it breaks?” Vant asked behind her. “Which side will you fight for?”

Delanie looked back. The windows were bright behind him and yellow light slid across the floor to frame his shadow. It didn’t quite reach her.

“Who says I’ll fight at all?” she asked.

“It’s not in you to cower,” he returned, immediate, doubtless.

She smiled without meaning to, then stopped. She pressed her lips together between her teeth. “There has to be something in between,” she murmured. Slowly, she looked at him again, then looked away. “Maybe I’ll just stand there and swear.”

I’m a thief! I stole the first line of this piece from my friend, Bek. Be sure to stop by her blog tomorrow and see what important discussions her characters are holding.


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