Jaera and Zain slipped up through the rear hatch, running shoulder-to-the-wall across the back of the officers quarters in the soft light of early evening. The ocean was turning to shards and edges as it gleamed in the setting sun, while shadows faded in the rest of the world. Half the sky grew hazy in shades in blue and gray while the other side rioted orange and purple and pink. Jaera led the way, leaned forward to watch for the rest of the crew while they aimed for Terius, leaning against the rail. He was watching the water, leaned on both elbows, and didn’t see them coming.
He didn’t mind either, when they claimed their places on either side of him, just raised his eyebrows carefully to examine the tilt in Zain’s smile and the quiet light in Jaera’s eye.
“What?” Terius asked quietly. He glanced between them, and they glanced at each other, preparing their answer.
“We need you to go into the city,” Jaera said. “To get paint.”
“Paint,” Terius repeated. He looked at Zain, remeasured his smile, as if he could see the tipping point coming when it would be come a full grin and was trying to calculate how much time he had left before that disaster struck. “Why me?”
“Because,” Zain told him. “All three of us can’t go, or we won’t come back to the ship. We’ll skip the face-painting altogether, get stuck in Festival, and that just wouldn’t be as much fun.”
Terius looked at Zain, and Zain looked at Terius, and for half a moment Zain imagined what it might be like to actually oppose him, to set one will against the other, feel the grating, and see which of them actually could stand over the other. And then he slid into a grin, and he half-turned away before it spread into a laugh, because the smile tasted better, and in the dark, so long after dinner, he wasn’t hungry for anything but sweetness. Because this wasn’t anything so important to make a fight out of. And because it was a better game, to see if he could talk his cousin around to agreeing.
Terius shook his head, Zain’s smile breaking the silence that had started to build better than a word. “This is the worst idea you’ve ever had,” Terius said.
Zain glanced sideways to Jaera. She bounced a little on her toes, shoulders pulled forward to keep her jacket close, hands shoved into her pockets. If she thought anything of Zain’s suggestion, it was lost beyond her opinion of the cold sinking into her bones. She flicked her eyes up after a moment, realizing that Zain was looking to her, and then just shook her head a little. Still, no disagreement, just a gentle nudge that she didn’t see any reason for him to be turning toward her. Then she turned her attention back to the street, and the street lights, and the quiet clatter that echoed in from the next street over. Her breath puffed out in little gray clouds that caught in the lamps, and faded in an instant. She shoved her hands down into her pockets.
“I think,” Zain said lazily. He swung his eyes back to meet Terius’ gaze. “Your memory is failing you a bit.”
There was something strange and magical about being in school after all the other students went home. The halls always echoed – made a few dozen kids sound like a rhinoceros riot – but the echoes hollowed and hallowed with only one set of feet tapping along the floor.
The halls seemed a lot wider than they did a week ago. Thalia stretched out her arm and brushed her fingertips along the wall. Because she could. Because no one would be running up behind her to make her tuck her elbows against her sides and let them pass. She put her foot down lazily, purposefully walked a wavering line. Because she could do that too. No one would complain about her getting in their way.
And then, on a moment, being out of the way didn’t seem so sweet.
Thalia dropped her arm.