There was no hiding from sleep. Hushed, it crept through doors or windows, with all the familiarity of a cat too comfortable in its own domain to announce itself at the door. On padded feet, it might climb the stairs, ease itself into a room. On the space of a blink, it slipped in a shadow, then seated itself boldly in the corner. Not there, and then there all at once, calm and unsurprising. It was always there, prepared.
But Nesha could run from sleep. She drank her hot drinks, kept her hands busy, kept her feet moving. There were always small stacks of things to do and always thoughts to chase around her head. It didn’t matter that sleep was a quick-sand thing, gripping her all the firmer for how hard she kicked against it. Tugging her down more forcefully after each attempt to push it away. She tipped her head back to drag in waking air and ignored the way it pulled at her ankles.
She woke up deliciously warm. Sleep fell away slowly, letting her down easy, and sunlight glowed behind her closed eyes. When she blinked them open, everything was flushed with yellow, edged in soft shadows. The window was closed, but she could still smell the ocean salt outside, locked in on the balmy air from yesterday. There was a faint citrus sharpness from somewhere she had yet to find. And she took a long breath in, pushed it back out, conscious, but thoughtless.
He breathed behind her.
Her back rested against his ribs. His arm laid flat beneath her neck. She listened to him, gently waking into the strange room.
“You know hiding in plain sight is actually a dumb idea, right?” Kayda asked.
She tapped a copper coin against the the table cloth and absently narrowed her eyes at it. The server had dropped their change back onto the table in a careful stack, but she had taken it apart, scattered it between her napkin and the silver service in the center of the table. She slid her fingers along the edges, an old habit to check for clippings, then didn’t let them go.
Brais sat across the table from her and sipped his tea.
One day, Emmy wanted to stick a knife into the alley wall, yank down, and watch the paint tear away. She wanted to see how thick the paint had become, with all her graffiti stacked on top of each other, night after night after night. She had never had a good count of how many paintings she had sketched on the wall in loud dashes of neon colors over quick splashes of white or black or blue to destroy the last one. But it had been every night. Every night for the last year.
Or two years.
She hadn’t recorded the first time.
She sat at the end of the pier, visible only by her loose blonde hair in the dark. The breeze lifted her hair away from her shoulders, tugged at the long lines her jacket which was unbuttoned and unnecessary in the warm summer night. She barely moved otherwise. She breathed, and she idly kicked her feet in the water. Boots still on. Sleep-walking again.
Seeing her, Danail left his rounds immediately, and hurried to the end of the pier. Carefully, he sat down beside her, and then, he paused.
A long time ago, he had been told – by someone he could not name, but who apparently held sway – that it was wrong to wake a sleeper. He had worked out for himself that it would be wrong to let a sleeper drown. Between the two, it usually left him sitting cross-legged beside her for a few minutes while he tried to find a way to convince a person in a dream to get out of it.
“Agate,” he murmured, proud that he had finally managed to ask her name the last time he walked her home.
At midnight, Elida gave up pretending she was moments away from sleep. She gave up pretending she wasn’t cold, grabbed the blanket in both fists and yanked it tight around her shoulders. Pulling her knees to her chest, she kicked the end of the blanket back over her feet, and tucked her head as deep into the pillow as it would go. Then she took two, long breaths, willing her blood to remember its job.
Her skin still felt as if it were trying to sneak itself into numbness before she could catch it.
Groaning, Elida shut her eyes, slowly talking herself into getting up. There was an extra blanket on the other side of the room. Her coat was hanging uselessly off the back of her chair. There were clean knit socks somewhere.
“Can I lean on your shoulder?” Lyn asked. She was already tucked in against Ket’s side, knees tucked up underneath her on the long couch, and her head had started to lean toward him.
Ket glanced at her sideways. “I suppose,” he said, and he turned back to the book propped against his knee.
She smiled apologetically. “I’m sorry,” she murmured. Pushing herself away from him, she almost pulled her head up again, but just ended up looking at her lap. She ran one hand back through her hair tiredly. “You don’t have to–”
“I said yes,” Ket interrupted. He shrugged.
Sadie strode out of her room, her mouth a short, sour line as she made a direct line for the fridge. Watching from the couch, Dana got the sudden impression she was watching a conqueror who hated that she had been dragged into war in the first place. She resisted to urge to get up and make sure that Sadie hadn’t just left something to burn behind her.
“Something wrong?” Dana asked.
Sadie pulled a bottle of orange juice from the fridge and poured herself a full glass. “I took a nap,” she said sharply.
“I’m sorry,” Dana said.
“I hate naps,” Sadie said.
“I know,” Dana said. “Maybe you should sleep more at night.”
Sadie considered that for a moment. “Or just admit that I hate sleeping,” she muttered, more to herself than to Dana. She took a long gulp from her glass, then shoved the bottle back into the fridge. “Such a waste of hours.”
Aline was on the porch again when Candre came down the stairs. The house was all tones of gray as night slowly seeped away and she looked like a black and white painting wrapped in a dark blanket, with her blonde hair snaking down her back, and her pale bare shoulder peeking out where the cloth had slipped. She wore her sleeveless undershirt and the over sized breeches she liked to sleep in, but her hair was still combed and knotted into its tail.
Shaking his head, Candre finished wiping the sleep out of his eyes. He wandered into the kitchen, listening to the floorboards creak in their familiar way, and poured himself a cup of water. It was cool from being left out over night and the first few swallows did most of the work in waking him up. Then he splashed a little on his face to finish the job. He collected an apple from the cupboard, closed the cupboard door with his elbow and slid out the front door.
Aline looked up at him with a quiet smile. Candre sank down beside her on the front step.
“Good morning,” he said. He went to take a bite of his apple, but ended up yawning against the back of his hand instead.
There was no easy dawn that morning, no cool, lingering dark. The sun rose, dug hot, steady fingers into the earth and yanked it around to face it. Danneel woke into too-bright daylight, her blanket already pushed to the side, her mouth sticky after her short hours of sleep.
She had slept like something dead, she realized. There was no other way to account for the way she had lost time, the way daylight had invaded. And that woke her up fast.
Evander was already moving. He knelt on the ground, rolling his small sack of things inside his blanket. They had all gotten used to packing their small pile of things into even smaller packets for easy carrying, but he still gave it all of his attention. He tucked the end of the blanket in itself as if someone might be along to inspect the tightness of the fold, and he tied the rope to either end with careful knots, as if there were no hurry, and nothing else in the world. It bothered Danneel a little – the rest of them had learned to do it so much quicker – but he was also the only one who never made any noise as he walked, or had to stop to repackage his things midday to stop them from clinking.