Flash Fiction: Friendliest Threat (518 words)

“I like living,” Cayley said. Glancing between the trees, she nodded to herself as if this was a new opinion she had arrived at. She was satisfied with this dirt road and its pleasant shade, so she could approve of existence.

“You wouldn’t know it,” Mir murmured. “The way you keep acting like it’s a bad habit you’re trying to break.”

“Oh, everyone likes their bad habits,” Cayley said. She slipped Mir the friendliest glare in her wide repertoire and dared her to say something more.

Not for the first time that day, Mir wished that she had a bag on her back. Hitching the strap a little higher on her shoulder and flicking her gaze forward again would have made the perfect non-response. Instead, all she had was a shirt, breeches, boots, and pockets, nothing to lend enough weight to this stroll down the King’s Road to make it feel like anything more than an afternoon’s pleasure. It had stopped seeming like a skin-of-their-teeth escape the moment they were out of sight of the city gates. The feeling that they were just walking off a heavy lunch settled in, and then started to press a nerve.

“You don’t like it?” Cayley asked, making her dare a little harder to ignore with a thin smile.

“I love it,” Mir said. “Breathing? Best hobby I ever took up.”

Cayley made a show of tilting her head back and filling her lungs in one long breath. Then she sighed it back out. “Nothing quite like it.”

Mir nodded. “I’m thinking of going into it professionally.”

“Oh, yeah?” Cayley asked.

Mir nodded again, more emphatically. “It’s getting so tiresome, just fitting it into my spare time.”

“You’re not afraid that it will be stressful? Having to breathe in, and then out, steadily, all day long?”

“I thought we laughed in the face of fear?” Mir asked.

Cayley smiled. “And the pay cut? Breathing can’t bring in nearly so much as selling gullible folk things that don’t exist.”

“Some sacrifices you just have to make, for the chance to do something you really love,” Mir said.

A moment of silence spread between the two of them. The breeze sighed in the trees and their boots thunked dully in the packed dirt of the road. Then, slowly, Cayley stopped.

“Are you actually thinking of quitting on me?” she asked. She stared at Mir. Her eyebrows were scrunched together, her mouth half open to lead into another question.

Stopping two strides later, Mir blinked. Then she shoved her hands into her pockets and shrugged. “Maybe,” she said.

Cayley took a step toward her. “Maybe?”

“And maybe I just finally, after a decade of arguing with you, found a threat that works.” Mir gave her half a smile and a quiet dare of her own.

Cayley stared a little harder.

“I’m choosing where we go next,” Mir said.

“You have a horrible sense of direction,” Cayley said.

Mir blinked slowly and didn’t move.

“Which will make this wonderfully interesting,” Cayley said. She shook her head as if already disapproved of her decision. “Stars, I like living.”

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