All his life, Taavi had been dully aware that the Captain was always the last to leave the ship. It should not have come as a surprise to him that Erya’s promotion would mean that he could no longer meet her on the docks in the morning, as he had when she was a little cabin bird. He could not find her for a late lunch like when she was a full member of the crew, could not even share dinner with her as he had when she was an officer. Erya arrived home only after the sun had set, having registered with the portmaster, inspected the ship, dismissed the crew, contacted the banks to reserve coinage for the payroll, arranged the cargo dispatch, finalized the logs, reported to the ship’s owner, and finally, packed up her own things in the dark.
She came through the doors with her shoulders rounded, but smiling as if she’d caught a falling star in her pocket.
“Hello, Da,” she said.
He put his book down on the arm of the chair, turning to watch her put her bags down on the floor. One side of his face felt cool as he turned away from the fire, and the heat sank into his other cheek. “You’re late,” he said quietly. The street had been dark for hours, his neighbors already asleep.
Shrugging, Erya shook her head at him. “Just had to cross a little ocean…” She seemed to wait for him to guess where the trouble might have been.
Taavi cracked a smile and she returned it easily.
“I had a little extra business tonight,” she admitted. Dropping her coat on top of her bag, she nudged them both against the wall with the side of her foot. She held onto her smile easily as she crossed to the fire, and sank to the floor in front of his chair.
“It couldn’t wait until tomorrow?” he asked.
Her smile tilted. “I couldn’t,” she told him.
Taavi blinked at her. “Who was even still willing to deal at this time of night?”
“Some bribes may have been handed out to keep some doors open,” Erya said. She settled herself more comfortably on the floor, legs crossed and shoulders squared, her hands dropped carelessly in her lap. Holding his eye, she seemed to be waiting. He glanced over her, uncertain, and beginning to laugh at the strangeness on her.
Erya only blinked slowly and waited longer.
Something glinted in her lap, throbbing with the firelight. The leather of her wristband looked new, freshly oiled, and standing up in a perfect curve around the bones of her wrist. And the two fish swimming circles around each other on the face of it were lined in bronze. The metal was so close to the color of the leather, he almost missed it in the low light.
He met her gaze, eyes wide. “No…” he breathed.
She took a deep breath, filled her chest and forced it back out as her smile stretched and stretched until it seemed it might swallow her. “I earned it,” she told him.
Hastily, Taavi glanced at his own wrist, at the dark stamped lines of the fish on his own band, then back at the careful lines of precious metal on hers, just to be sure he had seen it properly. The shadows of the raised bronze only made it more obvious now, and he stared.
“Next time I come home, if everything goes the way it seems to be, if I can finish the job I started, the ship will be mine too,” she told him.
“Well, who even cares about that?” he asked quickly, wrapping his hands around her wrist. The bronze was smooth on the top, still newly sharp at some of the edges where it pulled away from the leather.
Erya laughed. “It came with a little house on the hill. Lord Kerem showed me. It sort of glows in the dark.”
“Of course, it does,” Taavi breathed.
“We can move in tomorrow,” she told him.
He looked up at her face, flashed her a smile, then looked right back down at the twisted bronze.
“And…” she said. “Before that, we can go back to the leatherman. To get you yours.”
More slowly, he lifted his eyes to hers. He was holding his breath and he wasn’t sure why. There was no shock in what she said. He had been aware, too, that nobleman’s metals were passed down from mother to son, father to daughter, parent to child, displayed on their wristbands. He had heard, somewhere, that they belonged to the family. But he’d forgotten it easily enough as well.
It had never seemed something likely to touch him.
Erya looked up at him earnestly, waiting for him to respond.
He ran his thumb over the bronze again, squeezed her hand, and ignored the stiff edges of the leather.
“How does it feel?” he managed.
Looking down, Erya hid another wide smile. “Like…” She couldn’t find the word. He didn’t expect her to.
Taavi squeezed her fingers again.