Wynn barely paused before she returned to her bed, just kept her eyes on Seryn as she moved away, settled under the blankets, tucked her head back down into the pillow. Seryn waited a long time before she sat up, as if she had to teach herself how all her bones fit together again before she could. Then she curled forward, silent, resting her forehead in her palm.
For a few long minutes, Anie watched her, waiting for her to lie back down. The rest of the room hummed with sleep, steady breaths in and out, sighs in the dark. Seryn hung on her hand in silence. Anie could see her shoulders rise and fall, but she was still, too quiet, to be resting. Her back was to Anie, and she didn’t see when the girl slipped out of her own bed, padding toward her in the dark.
Hesitantly, Anie touched her on the shoulder. She was so carefully, so light, she almost didn’t feel Seryn’s shirt under her finger tips. Seryn twisted toward her immediately, as if Anie had hit her. Anie froze.
“Can’t sleep?” she whispered.
Seryn looked her up and down, then glanced over her shoulder at the rest of the room. She seemed to be checking the other bed, making sure all the other heads were down as they were supposed to be. “You shouldn’t be out of bed,” she whispered back.
For a moment, Anie considered slipping back the way she had come. Tucking herself back under the blankets seemed easy. Her feet were getting cold on the stone floor. Another minute, and she sat down next to Seryn, and tucked her feet up onto the mattress.
“What’s wrong?” Anie asked.
Seryn took a breath, tilting her head as if the question was a stranger thing than she had the taste for at midnight. “Nothing,” she said. “Everything’s fine.”
“Was it a nightmare?” Anie pressed.
“I used to get nightmares when I was little,” Anie said. “My sister, Mel told me that there was a nest of Night Birds out my window. I think I looked like you when I woke up.”
“What are Night Birds?” Seryn asked.
Anie tried not to look at her like she was stupid. Then she realized Seryn probably couldn’t see her very well in the dark, since she could only trace the line of her cheek, the shadow of her eyes. “They’re invisible. They scream and they’ll tear your toes and ears off to make their nests.”
“That’s terrifying,” Seryn murmured. Anie wasn’t sure how she managed to sound so tired and so honest at the same time.
“Thea gets nightmares too,” Anie said.
“About the Night Birds?”
“I don’t think so,” Anie said. She looked down at her hands. “She doesn’t tell me. But she says the best way to relax again after, is if she…” She spread her fingers, let a little light flicker along her palm.
Seryn grabbed her hand, smothering the beginnings of the fire. She didn’t even flinch at the heat, and Anie stared at her. Neither Momma nor Thea would have ever risked their hands that way.
“I am relaxed,” Seryn told her.
Anie shook her head just a little. Her fingers were tight enough to prove that was a lie, even if her tone kept the secret.
“And we don’t do that here,” Seryn said.
“I know,” Anie said. “Why not?”
“Because it hurts you,” Seryn said. “Use up your strength that way, and it won’t be around when you need it. For fighting. Or running. Or just getting to tomorrow.”
Anie didn’t believe her. She replayed the words to see if Seryn believed them and slowly decided that she must have. She rolled her shoulders back uncomfortably.
“If you don’t ever Work, it’ll make you sick,” Anie told her.
Seryn turned to look at her, but Anie couldn’t read her expression any better for knowing she was facing her. She might have blinked, slow. Her eyes might have narrowed, just a little. “I’ve heard that,” she murmured. She took a breath, like she intended to say something more, but she didn’t.
Anie hesitated. “You don’t get sick?” she asked.
Seryn considered her and carefully shook her head. “And there are other ways to relax,” she said. “Get back to bed.”
Gathering herself off the bed, Seryn stepped into her boots. She pushed Anie by the shoulder to usher her off the mattress. Gently pressing her ahead, Seryn herded her toward her abandoned bed, watched to see that she jumped back onto the cot, and kept moving toward the door. Anie slipped her feet under the blankest immediately to warm them up, but crossed her arms over her knees rather than lay down, watching Seryn move straight toward the door in long, quiet strides.
Seryn’s hand closed on the latch. She tugged gently. The door clicked against the jam and didn’t move.
Anie fingered the blanket, waiting.
Seryn tried to open the door again, as if she hadn’t tried a moment before. Then she braced her hand against the wall. She dropped her forehead against the door. She rubbed at the back of her neck and whispered something – two hummed syllables – that Anie couldn’t hear.
One arm crossed over her body, Seryn crossed the room again. Sinking onto her cot, she sat, turned, laid down, and didn’t move for the rest of the night.