Flash Fiction: Just Water (606 words)

Zain decided to steal across the deck badly that morning. He came out of the hatch and glanced over his shoulder, both ways, before he pulled himself over the last rung of the ladder. Then he skirted behind the officer’s deck and came back with the two water sacks, walking all wrong, toe to heel, to keep quiet. Then he looked over his shoulder again, slow and careful.

He tied the water sacks tight to his back, or as tight as he could with the heavy shifting water rolling with the sway of the ship. Then he toe-heel walked himself to the rigging, and set his foot on the first rung.

“What do you think you’re doing?” Alrein asked.

Zain turned back to him slowly, his eyebrows rising innocently.

Alrein blinked back at him, eyelids falling dully as he did. Zain wanted to applaud him for his excellent look of disgruntled disbelief.

“Hm?” Zain asked.

“What are you doing?” Alrein asked again. He nodded to the sacks on Zain’s back.

“It’s my watch,” Zain told him. He nodded up into the rigging.

“Thirsty?” Alrein asked.

“Very,” Zain said.

“Put them down,” Alrein ordered.

Zain took his foot out of the rigging, and turned back, pushing his eyebrows even higher. “What? Since when am I not allowed to bring water on my watch?”

“I don’t know,” Alrein said. “When exactly did you decide that you weren’t going to drink that water?”

Zain crossed his arms over his chest. Some of the other sailors were starting to look his way, so turned his shoulders squarely away from them. “I didn’t,” Zain said quietly.

“Your watch is six hours long. You can’t drink that much water.”

Zain shrugged. “I thought I would share.”

Alrein’s eyes narrowed farther. “And by share you mean…”

Zain hesitated. “You don’t know what sharing is? Your brothers and sisters must love you.”

“Whose head is it all going to end up on?” Alrein asked.

“What?” Zain asked. “No one’s. I mean, maybe mine, if it turns out to be a really hot day, but the weather looks fine right now.”

Alrein shook his head.

“Did… did you want me to say yours?” Zain asked. He looked at Alrein sideways. “I know all of us were looking for a rescue from the stench, but I had no idea you could even smell yourself.”

Alrein glared. “Put them down.”

Zain smirked and leaned back on his heels. “Nah.”

“Now,” Alrein said.

Zain shook his head. “I really don’t have to.”

“What are you doing with it?” Alrein demanded.

“Nothing, I swear,” Zain said. “On all the stars, my right hand, and my mother’s hair.”

“Get to the Captain’s cabin,” Alrein said. “Now.”

“I’m going to drink it,” Zain said. “I swear. No, I promise.”

Alrein grabbed him by the shoulder and pointed him toward the Captain’s cabin. Zain didn’t bother to dig in his heels. The water was heavy enough to make him slouch and slow, and Alrein kept a firm hand at the back of his neck. Alrein pushed him up the stairs, and knocked too sharply on the Captain’s door. Zain would have hid his grin, if he thought there was any point to it.

“What do you have against a man staying hydrated?” he demanded, turning to face Alrein as the door opened. Alrein pushed him inside.

Over his shoulder, Zain caught Terius’ eye as the other boy stood at the rail with rope and bucket, flour bag and water sack, and winked.

“What do you even think I’m going to do with just a bunch of water?” Zain demanded, laughing over the Captain and First Mate’s initial questions.

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