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“Do you, uh, y’know…” The client turned towards him, sweat beading his brow. The smell of nervous B.O mixed uncomfortably with the lavender oil and ozone-tinged scent of magic. With a sinking feeling, Liam knew what was about to come next.
“Do you offer, um, happy endings?” The man finally stammered, making a vague up and down motion with one hand. Liam removed his own from the man’s back, banishing the magic and taking one large step away.
“Nope, sorry sir.” He said. His voice was that of all professionals tasked to work with the public; an impenetrable wall of politeness. Even so, the client attempted a breach.
“Only, I heard… I’m willing to pay extra.” “I don’t do that.”Anymore. “You sure? Hmm, your name IS Liam, right?” “Out.” “But I-” “Out. Now. Or I’m calling your wife.” “Are you backmailin-”
Liam raised a hand, and the palm still slick with lavender oil started to steam and glow. The man jerked from the table, clutching the towel around his waist as he hastily gathered his clothes and fled. Liam heaved a sigh.
“I got a Mastery in black magic for this?” He grumbled.
He was finishing up sanitizing the massage table a few minutes later when his coworker Patricia stuck her head in. “Oh good, you’re done early?” She asked. Then she leered. “Your cop is back.” She winked. Butterflies broke through the unpleasant tightness in Liam’s stomach. The cop wasn’t his in the strictest sense. Not yet anyway. But it was nice to hear.
“Tell me you didn’t try your horrible British accent on him again.” Liam said, trying and failing to play it cool as he increased his cleaning speed by the power of ten. Patricia laughed, twirling a finger around one of her bottle-blond curls. “Of course I did! I said pip pip ‘ello govena. He looked like he wanted to die, it was great.”
“If he leaves, I’m setting your station on fire.” He flicked his fingers in her direction, a couple sparks of flame fizzling out well before they crossed the room.
“It might be worth trying to send him to one of the girls. So we could hear him stammer excuses.” She said in a sing song tone, before launching herself out of the doorway and down the hall. Liam looked in panic at the wet massage table. But well, he still had plenty of magic to waste left...
Less than a minute later Liam paused by the door to the lobby, smoothing down his blond curls and trying to make it look like he hadn’t run the whole way. Patricia’s shoulders were shaking, in silent mirth, but he ignored her. After one last steeling breath he opened the door--
And the breath was knocked from his lungs. Figuratively.
Fieval sat there, his back ramrod straight as always, despite the chinz chair. The shop girls had all wondered how many tea parties he’d had to sit through to get such posh posture, or if his parents had made him carry books on his head, because honestly the only time they’d seen English people were in Disney and Hallmark films. But Liam knew a large part of it was nerves. Even sitting still Fie somehow thrummed with nervous energy, and when it was just the two of them his perfect poise rapidly shattered… Liam blinked his own thoughts away, and approached.
There it was. The second Fie noticed him, his shoulders hunched and his hands started to fidget with the hems of his sleeves. His foot began to tap.
The shop girls didn’t understand Liam’s interest. “You’re way out of his league, honey. It’s just the accent.” They’d said to him, after Liam had buried his face into a pile of fresh towels and yelled about how he was going to marry that man. “He’s so far in the closet he’s in Narnia. Not worth it, sweetie.” They’d said another time. It was the first time he’d wondered if they were blind or stupid. Looking at the pink already tinging Fie’s cheeks, he wondered it again.
As usual, Fie’s back was like rock under his palms. “You need to relax,” Liam giggled, “Your doctor would be mad if I made everything worse instead of better.”
“Sorry.” Came the mumbled response. The muscles somehow became even more tense as he tried to make himself relax. Liam shook his head. With a smile, he set to work. For the first fifteen minutes he was stuck using light and soothing strokes until he was able to coax Fieval into relaxing enough that he could work on the knots. There were a lot, despite it only having been a week.
“I’m going to start, okay?” The back of Fie’s head bobbed in a nod, some of the tension returning. Liam huffed a sigh.
The scent of ozone crackled into the air as he summoned fire to one hand, a thin layer of intense heat. He dragged it down along the injured part of Fie’s back, prompting a hiss and twitch. A second later Liam had dismissed the fire and summoned the energy of ice to replace it, soothing the area he’d touched. The process continued. Fire and ice. Fire and ice. Fire and ice, until Fie was a boneless heap on the massage table. Liam wasn’t sure if it was relaxation or exhaustion.
He didn’t really know the science behind it. Whether it was the magic itself or the rapid combination of hot and cold, but this form of massage was becoming the go to for repairing muscle damage. All he did know for sure was that he was glad to have picked up such a skill, even though he’d initially learned it for less than pure reasons.
Fire and ice. Fire and Ice. In a way, they were his red strings of fate.
For the first time in years, Fie smacked Liam’s hand away and flinched back so hard he ended up pressed against the front door. Liam sucked in a breath, trying to keep the hurt from his face; the tears from his eyes. They stung. So did his hand. But he’d expected this. One step back for every two forward. It had morphed into a kind of dance between them. A stumbling waltz that somehow could twirl into the most breathless perfection despite occasionally stepping on each other’s feet. But he’d gotten spoiled. The interruptions, the ‘may I cut in’s, sneered from disapproving lips that had once been so constant had died down for so long. Ever since the last family reunion. That cold morning when Liam had watched Fie punch his uncle in the face through a haze of pain and numbness…
Fie was quivering, body tensed like a deer on the edge of flight. And maybe he would flee. Run from this, run from Liam and their life together. Chased by the hounds of guilt and shame that’d been set into his soul as a child by the very people who were supposed to love him unconditionally.
Liam ached to comfort him. His body quivered with the desire to sweep the other man into his arms and pepper his face with kisses. But he knew in times like this Fie was a pressure cooker, crushed under the weight of repression and unstable. So Liam clutched at himself, keeping the few feet of distance.
“Family reunion didn’t go well then?” He asked, trying to sound airy but coming across as anxious. Fie finally looked up at him, his brown eyes dark and distant.
“Quite.” He said. His gaze returned to the hand he had slapped, expression opening to become even more haunted. His ever prominent dark circles looked especially stark against his pale skin.
“It’s okay.” Liam assured.
“No. No it isn’t.” Fie said. He rubbed his face with both hands and then pulled himself up straight. With a pang, Liam knew he would leave. Would disappear and come back wasted or hurt.
But he didn’t. Instead of stepping back, Fie stepped forward. His grip was tentative; soft, and with a tremble that turned into a convulsive shudder as he buried his face into the crook of Liam’s neck. Liam made a sound of surprise, his mind blank for a moment, but his body moved without need of direction. He clung to Fie, crushing him against his chest.
“I love you.” He murmered. “I love you, I love you, I love you.” He wanted to drown Fie in the notion. He’d say it as many times as Fie’s family didn’t. As many times as they called him slurs instead. If he did, maybe one day, his boyfriend would believe it.
NOTES: It's Pride Month, and as someone in a wlw relationship in a bigoted small town, this prompt caught my attention for sad reasons. I hope my fellow lgbtq+ members are doing well. I mean, I hope you heteros are too, lol. But you know what I mean. And wow, why am I rambling? Imma just stop typing now.
“I totally misread cookout.” Dom grinned, and waggled his eyebrows.
“Oh lord.” Fie sighed. “Of course you did.”
“Oh c’mon, you totally did too, right? Mind jumped straight to dick.”
“Why am I friends with you again?”
“Cause you looooooove me.”
“Ugh. Against all reason. And common sense.” Fie sipped his drink, a ginger ale. He wished it was stronger stuff, which was exactly why he was drinking something that wasn’t. Liam caught his eye from across the yard, where he was chatting with the housewives that were now their neighbors. He looked like a personified ray of light; blonde, blue eyed, and thrumming with life. He was also wearing booty shorts. Which was, um. Kind of great. Perfectly acceptable in the heat and summer sun. Probably. Fie wouldn’t know; he’d never worn anything shorter than khakis out in public. Liam winked at him, which caused him to flinch look back at his drink. He could feel a flush tingeing his cheeks and ears. Maybe he could pass it off as a sunburn.
“Awwww…” Dom drawled, smirking. He took a swig of whatever expensive thing his husband sent with him to the event. Fie was willing to bet it cost as much as the downpayment he’d just put on the house.
“Please don’t get drunk and make a fool of yourself.” Fie said. “That’ll be hard enough for you not to do sober.”
Dom snorted, and carelessly passed the bottle to a random person near them, who took it and then looked confused. Dom ignored her.
“So this is your welcome to the neighborhood party? And we’re not gonna get drunk? Someone’s faaaancy.” He teased, as if he didn’t take weekend trips to Spain in a private jet on the regular.
“I’m just trying to give a good first impression.” Fie said, ever present nerves stiffening his spine and making him scan the crowd for unhappy faces. At this point he didn’t know if it was the police force training or his latent paranoia that drove him to access for threats in every situation. It felt like he was always holding his breath; waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Fie wasn’t allowed to be this happy. This content.
“Dude, relax. They already love you guys. Look,” Dom motioned to Liam and the gaggle of housewives, “the harpies are eatin’ him up.” (“Dom, don’t call them that.” Fie’s hissed reprimand was ignored.) “Every little gated community wants a gay couple now. So they can name drop you and feel progressive. They probably think the property values’ll go up.”
“I- I’m not gay.” Fie stuttered, on reflex. Dom rolled his eyes.
“Don’t tell your boyfriend.” He said.
Fie regained his composure, pretending to sip from the ginger ale that’d been empty for a while. He peeked in Liam’s direction.
“Do you… Do you think it’ll all be alright?” He asked softly.
“Sure dude.” Said Dom, not picking up on the delicate mood. But Fie liked that about him, blast it. “They’re totally going to come over and ask about how to decorate their houses and what purse goes with what shoes, though.” He laughed at Fie’s expression of alarm and dismay.
NOTES: why are all my prompts with one set of characters so far lol. imma change it up tomorrow
The sky broke; split apart by a jagged wire of lightning. The air crackled and simmered, and Finn felt static hiss against her skin and scales. The storm had swept in as if from nowhere. One moment clear blue skies and a gentle ocean and the next the horizon was bruised purple and the waves splashed in choppy jerks against the rocks. She looked at her companion. The other mermaid's eyes were wide; her naturally pallid skin bleached bone-white from exhaustion and fear. She looked ephemeral; nearly translucent. Her tail, which had surprised them both earlier by gaining golden tones and glimmers up in the sun, was milky transparent looking once more. Finn could see hints of her ribs, spine, and organs.
Deep sea mer were ghastly. Like ghosts, Finn’s tribe had always said. And she’d agreed.
But then she’d met Mikealangé.
She wasn’t part of the plan.
Go down, gain the trust of the sea witch’s coven, grab the crown, and make it home.
But plans change.
“This isn’t a normal storm.” Finn said, instead of questioned. Mikealangé shook her head, the frills along her shoulders and ears bristling. Finn could feel her own more impressive set raise, unbidden. The magic was thick in the air, like fingers pinching across their skin. Thunder boomed and rolled like a drumbeat announcing the arrival of their upcoming death.
“I should have known they’d never let me go.” Mikealangé whispered, voice hoarse and small. “I”m sorry, Finn. I’m so sorry. I-”
“Stop.” It came out as a snarl. She was furious. Furious because she knew what Mikealangé was about to offer. Furious because she could tell she’d already given up hope. Furious because this was all Finn’s fault. Mikealangé sank lower onto the rocks, wilting and pale. Like a corpse. Her delicate fins had gone ragged in the open ocean during the days they’d been fleeing. They lay in ribbons, limp. She would never be able to weather the sea in a storm such as this.
A mighty wave slapped the rocks, drowning out even the thunder and spraying them with a mist of salt. Soon they’d be overtaken; scoured and swept into the vicious tides.
“No.” Finn snapped, bearing her fangs at the sky. She flattened her frills tight to her muscular body, and flexed her powerful tail. She pulled Mikealangé to hher, white scales stark against her glossy black. The deep sea mer tucked against her, eyes closed. She was murmuring something, her lips moving against Finn’s skin. But the words were drown through the cacophony of the howling winds and thunder. Finn lowered her head and caught the end.
“Thank you for letting me see the sun. I’ll alw-”
“No.” Finn snarled again, grip tightening and claws dimpling flesh. “You’ll see the sun again. We both will. When it rises tomorrow.”I won’t let you go.
It was technically an eyrie, in the way a cardboard box someone lived in was a house. The outcropping in the black shale was small and awkwardly placed, facing the ocean with little protection from the sprays of brine the seabreeze smacked from the waves. It was lower than any self respecting member of his species would choose, where one large swell at high tide might someday sweep it all away. Even now, as the sun sank and water rose, he could stretch out and dip a claw into warm water.
Instead, Io readjusted one of his stones. It was a fruitless effort, like trying to shove the pieces from separate puzzles together, but some things simply had to be done. They ringed his nest loosely, all different sizes, as high as a couple feet in some places and a few inches in others depending on the success of the sandy grit cementing it. Holding his breath, he placed the latest stone into a possible slot. It was his best one yet, with a shimmering of purple along one side, a gem amongst coals. It fit neatly, and he trilled low in his throat - a purr like sound of contentment. It had no real chance of attracting a mate. Neither his plumage nor song were impressive enough to make up for the location or shabbiness of the materials, and he was the only one desperate enough to be on this sandy tourist dumpsite. None of his fellows would do more than fly over on the way to the better nesting sites.
The humans were making a fuss again, and Io ruffled the black and white feathers of his wings and legs, flexing his taloned feet anxiously. He brushed back his fringe of white hair, the clawed hands at the bend of his wings rough against his pale skin, and looked around the water dubiously. He couldn't see any of them swimming up towards him yet, but it happened regularly. By straining around he could see a sliver of the beach on either side for a long distance, and he did so now. The feathers dotted in his hair lifted in interest. They were leaving? More importantly... His eagle-eyes zoomed in on the discarded food, and he licked his sharp teeth with a black tongue.
He moved on hunger, the grumbling overriding caution and his usual timid nature. He scrambled up the cliff face for height to compensate for the weight of his growing display tail of glossy long feathers and leapt off - struggling to remain airborne before hitting a warm current which buoyed him up.
He waited until the humans had retreated far into the distance before he allowed himself to land. Though most humans feared harpies for justified reasons, Io knew he’d gained a reputation for being pathetic even among their kind. He wasn’t even venomous: wasn’t brave enough to hunt the food that would make him so.
But that food was far from his mind with the current buffet before him. It was all spread over a large striped blanket (a thrilling discovery - it would make the stone floor of his nest soft until the salt air claimed it), half eaten hot dogs and hamburgers and the colorful flat flakes Io hadn’t heard the name of. There were even cans that hadn’t yet been opened! Those gave him some trouble - his claws tearing the caps as he attempted to open them. Eventually he just bit into the side and slurped the wonderful fizzing stuff down.
His whole body shivered, his feathers fluffed out in a way that would make him look ridiculous to anyone else. His stomach ached from the sudden fullness.
Was this what humans called a picnic?
NOTES: brain is weird today lol. can i offer you a pathetic harpy in these trying times?
Io had learned the following things about the flashing bugs.
They did not taste good. Like an acrid spot of bleah on his tongue.
If you smeared them upon your skin they did leave a glowy mark!
The glowy mark faded after mere seconds, requiring a constant reapplying which wasn’t worth it.
Their guts were stinky when smeared, and left a stiff sensation like a slug’s trail.
With his practical trials wrapped up, the harpy came up with the scientific conclusion that the bugs were only good for observation and aesthetics. Aesthetics. He liked the word. It was slippery and he’d just learned it. The girls with the sunglasses and clicky box that made pictures had said it a lot as they asked him to spread his wings and stay still. “Strike a pose!” They’d said. Io hadn’t known what a pose looked like, or why he’d attack it. Was it food? They’d laughed, but not in a mean way he was used to, and showed him what they’d meant.
“Omph, boy, you are peek aesthetic!” They’d said. Apparently aesthetic meant ‘mood’ and ‘pretty’.
Io had never been called pretty before.
Even now the memory made his tummy all warm, like he’d guzzled the blood from a fresh rabbit. Io liked it. He wanted to show the girl humans these bugs and the island. It wasn’t a long flight; even he’d made it without too much issue. Maybe the humans could take a boat out? Io had always wanted to ride on one: especially the ones that hauled in the huge nets full of fish. But those kinds had always sprayed him with jets of water out of tubes when he’d tried to approach, and clanged awful bells that made his eardrums scream.
Maybe a nicer boat instead. A small one that played the tunes and had picnics. Then he could strike a pose with food. That had to be peek aesthetics.
Io preened his wings with his claws, smoothing the primaries back into place in preparation to fly back to the shore. Gently he took the bundle of flowers and a shiny rock into his talons, and hoped that the girls would be back on the beach when the sun rose.
At least Finn was enjoying the view. Not of the jungle, which was just a whole lot of nature shit. You see one leaf, you’ve seen them all. And what was more basic than a branch? Especially all these assholeish ones that kept spearing him in the sides and slapping back against his chest as he followed Michaelangelo, who seemed to have forgotten that whatever path he swathed through the forest wouldn’t be big enough for Finn to really fit through. The blond was talking now - chattering in his usual way, but Finn was happy to hear it was his enthusiasm-rambling instead of his nervous one. He’d mostly tuned out, something something dig site something something fossil, but it was hard to focus when just the other’s very voice soothed something inside him.
Plus, the view.
They were traveling at a slight incline, and Finn was happy to follow. Michaeangelo had lost some of the cushion in the weeks he they’d been apart, which was a little sad, but the lithe look was good too. Every look was good on him.
They reached another log that’d fallen across the trail, and Finn paused to fully appreciate the way his fiance scrambled over it.
“Not that I’m complaining,” Finn said, and it really was the opposite of complaining, “but are shorts good for traveling through underbrush?” Michealangelo looked down, like he’d forgotten what he was wearing.
“Various tribesmen native to jungle areas wear much less.” He mused. Finn could tell he was on the brink of expounding with trivia on who and what, so he headed him off by propelling himself over the trunk and stepping in close. He pulled a few errant twigs from Michelangelo’s hair, and the blond leaned into his touch.
“Wild pigs dragged my pants through the mud this morning,” he admitted, after a minute of silence basking in their closeness. Finn huffed a laugh. His fingers massaged Michaelangelo’s scalp for a moment, before he frowned.
“I think I found a tick.”
“Probably! We’ll have to do a thorough check for them once we get back to camp.”
“Looking forward to it.” And he was. It was going to be a very thorough check. The rest of the camp was going to hate him.
It wasn’t Limnophobia, really. There was nothing irrational about the fear of this lake and what lurked in its waters. But Zahir didn’t feel afraid. It’d been a long time since he’d felt anything very much. His body wasn’t as free. He could feel it shivering, the frigid water tightening skin into gooseflesh as it lapped like knives against his stomach. His legs didn’t want to move; like anchors keeping him trapped in the silt before the deep drop off. Zahir sighed. If he had enough energy to be impatient, he would have been. Instead, he counted down from thirty and wondered. Would it hurt? And, did he want it to?
Would he want to feel more alive, before he died?
Something brushed against his leg. It could have been a fish, but Zahir 's traitorous body gave a reflexive jerk even as his mind hissed finally. He looked at the moon, which was gibbus. Sacrifices had always been given on the nights of full moons before, but surely an offering offering would still work? It would be nice to think of at least his death having some meaning, as he hadn’t found any in life.
The something touched him again, this time lingering at his calf. It felt strange; rubbery and sinuous. It twined up Zahir’s leg and then tightened, and oh there was the pain. Like hooks sinking in all along it. The teen didn’t expect himself to fight as he was yanked down, but his body moved on it’s own. The otherwise complete silence of the sacred lake was punctuated by the splashes from his flailing limbs, one gasp, and an aborted yell before he disappeared below the surface. His kick hit something before his ankle was grabbed by what felt like a human hand.
The feelings finally hit him, all in a rush. The blackness of dread, the redness of terror. A heady cocktail of neurons sparking to try to save themselves. Zahir sighed in relief, the last of his oxygen leaving in a bubble as he let himself grow limp.
Then he was a the surface again, coughing water from his screaming lungs. He was being held up in multiple places, and looking down was able to see white tentacles wrapped around various spots that bled sluggishly from the teeth-like hooks in each cup. Across from him was something that almost looked like a person, and it was smiling at him. Well, it was showing it’s teeth.
“Giving up so soon?” It said. Or it must have said. Zahir heard the words in his mind, at least.
“It’s you.” Zahir replied, voice hoarse and broken. “You’re what’s been calling me.”
“Ughghgh!” It was a weird cry. A piercing, bird like, squawk mixed with a human’s sound of utter disgust and dismay. Beach-goers lifted their gazes from their phones and floaties and stared across to where a harpy stood among a group of attractive girls. It was an odd sight to the regulars. Sure, some few harpies had modernized and lived sort of like quasi-humans, but that was in them foreign parts and over the internet. This local harpy had always been like a feral cat: a menace to pets and wildlife, relatively harmless to humans, but full of hissing and spitting.
There was a lot of hissing and spitting going on now, but strangely the girls around him were all laughing. Mr.Bustefer J. Wilderforce, long time resident and full time busy body, pulled himself to his feet with a grumble. Really, he’d need to put in another complaint about the creature. For all that it hadn’t, it could easily slice someone to ribbons with it’s nasty wing claws or those finger-long talons at the ends of its birdtoes. And who knew what manner of infections and diseases the thing carried. One should think of the vulnerable children on the beach. And of course, the women. He would need to save these damsels from their own naivety.
“That beast is dangerous!” He called. His sword-cane was useless at walking in the sand, but he carried it anyway, as appearances must be kept. He thought it made him look dashing. He was the only one, though his wife had agreed once, absentmindedly while she’d been reading the paper.
The girls turned towards him, and Mr. Wilderforce stood straighter, sucking in his stomach pushing out his chest. The harpy looked too, his eyes went slit pupiled when they saw him. It made a sudden lurch, ducking behind one of the girls with its claws suddenly on either side of his stomach.
“Let her go! Back, fiend!” Mr. Wilderforce yelled. He brandished his cane, fumbling with the mechanism to slide the blade out. Sand had gotten in the groves and stuck.
To his great surprise, the girls didn’t run or scream from the beast. Blood didn’t pour and slashes weren’t made. Instead, the creature cowered lower and then disappeared from sight as the women all moved to block him. They stood between him and the beast; their expressions angry instead of thankful.
“Dude, leave him alone!” One snapped, hands on her hips. There was a chorus of agreement around her.
“But, my dear,” he said, flummoxed. “The creature was clearly about to attack you! All the screeching and hissing!”
“We gave him a lemon to try!” She snapped back. “It was too sour for him, he just couldn’t handle it.” Another girl grabbed a pic of Mr. Wilderforce, which set him more on edge than the harpy did.
“I don’t consent to any pictures.” He said, backing away.
“Then piss off,” she answered. He shook his head and stomped back across the beach. Young people these days! They had no respect.
“I hope you get rabies.” He muttered under his breath before crawling back under his umbrella.
They were laying on their backs on the ground. Well, Siraj was laying on the ground and Artyom was mostly laying on his chest, but it counted. The point was that they were both staring at the night sky as it stretched out like a blanket above them. Siraj paused in his humming, his fingers stilling for a moment from where he’d been twinning them in Artyom’s hair. Artyom loved how the deity gave even the most casual question from him his full attention and deliberation, but the weight of eons was starting to tell. Siraj had once described his memory very much like the night sky itself. Encompassing, tensile, and full of empty spaces scattered around bright points of interest. Basically, there was a lot to sift through.
“Memories with you are the galaxies,” he’d said, “crafted from each world I’m able to find you again. The millenniums without you are dark matter, the spaces between.” Artyom had nearly passed out with how hard he’d swooned. Siraj had said it without shame. There was no apologies for being corny. He’d just stared with the same implacable serenity as always.
Always. And what a perfect word that was. His own human mind could only handle so many memories of his past lives; things hazily recalled at random. Yet the word sank through his core every time, like it was plucking the strings of his soul. Always. He ached with it.
“Some are the same,” Siraj answered, pulling Arytom back to the present. “Some constellations only We can see; meant to guide us wherever we go. But most are different.” The god’s eyes fluttered closed, and he pursed his lips in concentration.
“I used to find it unsettling, I think.” Siraj admitted, letting the far off memory work its way into his mind. “Yes. The night sky had been important to me. When I first began to slip between realms, seeing it instilled a sense of wrongness.” He huffed a laugh, and resumed stroking Artyom’s hair.
“Amusing, is it not? A god of travelers unsettled by travel?” He asked. Artyom shook his head and flipped over so they were chest to chest. He latched on as best he could, but the earth was hard under Siraj’s back so he had to settle with a half sort of hug.
“It’s not weird,” Artyom said, “you’d left your home.” He could feel tears prickling his eyes, so he buried his face against the other. You left your home for me, remained unsaid. Thousands of times, for me.
Siraj shifted under him, and then there was a rustling of feathers. Wings joined the arms laying across Artyom’s back, tucking him in and shielding him against the rest of the world. It was just the two of them. Always.
The humidity was a clawing thing; some sort of huge beast who crawled over the top of you and suffocated you under its weight. The whole Flock was showing signs of suffering on this summer day. Guards were leaning heavily against their spears, Nest workers clung to the shade and fanned infants, and gatherers were mainly gathering breaks. Kiiri and Miira were laying flat under a canopy of stone, sweat soaked and ignoring the work they were supposed to be doing. At least for now. Miira would push through and start again… Any minute now. Really.
“It feels like I’m swimming through the air.” Kiiri said. He made a move with his arm, but then aborted the motion. His long braid stuck damp to the bare skin of his chest. The songbird at his shoulder was panting, wings spread wide. Miira nodded. She’d shed her leather armor as well, for all the good it had done. For once the two weren’t worried at the thought of their peer group coming to establish pecking order. They doubted even a love of bullying would survive in this heatwave.
“And you’re breathing in water every breath,” She answered back. Then, with a lot of effort she pulled herself uptight. He flesh peeled from the now heated stone sluggishly, like she’d been melting into it.
“Come on.” She said, picking up the straps she’d been tasked to turn into trapping materials. “Let’s go down around the mountain to the waterfall.” Kiiri made a pathetic sound, but let her haul him up.
“Are we forgeing ourselves?” He asked, picking up his own work. “Getting blistering hot and then plunging into ice?” “Sure. We’ll say it’s training.”
It was called a sand castle. It was a thing humans made, scooping up wet sand and packing it into piles. Io had often wondered about their purpose before. In the dark of the night he’d sometimes crept down and dug beneath them; sifting the grains for any scraps of food that might have been buried. But they weren’t for storing things; nor apparently were they mating displays. Though when he’d asked that the human gils had looked a little dubious, and one had said “well, I guess if it’s a really good castle”. But they’d all done the group giggling thing, so Io thought it probably wasn’t really true.
He was learning a lot in these past few days. About stretched truths and sarcasm and hyper-bolly. They weren’t lies, even though they were. They were little lies that everyone understood. He’d also learned about soda and lemons (ugh) and that he didn’t always need to flinch when a human raised their hand.
But right now, Io was learning about sand castles, and how he was bad at them.
It was his hands, really. The long claws at each end and the way they were positioned mig-wing. Now matter how dexterous his fingers, his primary feathers always found a way to brush into the sides and swept away any of the detailing. And he couldn’t dig a tunnel wide enough without it collapsing. But he tried his best.
“It’s looking great!!” One of the humans, whose name was hard to pronounce with his harpy tongue, but was something like Sisilia, said to him. Io tilted his head one way and then another, trying to understand.
“Isss thisss, a nicce lie? Or a sssarcassm?” He asked, his black tongue sliding against his fangs. Why were so many human words so difficult and full of hiss sounds that weren’t supposed to be hisses?
“No!” She looked surprised. “You’ve made it really tall. How did you keep it so skinny?” Io looked at the ugly thing. “Height issss bessst nesssting spot.” He said finally. “Ohh, so it’s a sand eyrie!” She said, sitting down next to him. Io looked at it again with this new image in mind. “Yesss…” He said. The feathers dotted in his hair raised, and he felt the good tingly in his guts again.
“I didn’t know you were a camping purist.” “Renting a cabin or a camper is not camping!” “Yes. Because it’s slightly bearable.”
Dominique threw her hands up in the air and collapsed into a seat with a huff. After a few seconds of sulking, she flopped over onto Alesandra’s lap and glared at her with lips pursed and cheeks puffed. Alesandra moved her tablet aside in time with the ease of long-practice, and pretended to ignore the girl below her. She hummed a note, tucking her long blonde hair behind an ear and making a check mark on the screen. Dominique’s grumpiness intensified, which was honestly adorable no matter how many times it happened. It brought out the golden flecks in her green eyes and a lovely flush against her dark cheeks.
“Come ooooon,” Dominique whined, grabbing Alesandra’s hand and pushing it into her black hair as a demand. Alesandra absently started to play with the strands as Dominique continued. “You’re rich as fuck, right? So like, you’ve been to summer camps, haven’t you? With all the rich people shit like horse riding?”
“We always went on holiday instead.” She answered. “Though there were a lot of horses at the summer palace one year.” She frowned at the memory. “One chewed on my Armani scarf.” “Nevermind the horses. Focus on the camping. And the fact we’re gonna go.” Dominique said. Alesandra sighed. “But don’t you want it to be a ‘best bros’ trip? Surely that’s what Fie meant when he invited you?” “Ha! As if Liam isn’t going to weasel his twink ass in on it. And I’m not third wheeling.” “As if you would be.” Fie and Dominique had that obnoxiously pure type of friendship, like platonic soulmates, which often left Alesandra and Liam sitting on the sidelines and sharing exasperated looks. Oh well.
“If Liam is really going, I can attempt it. Though there will be a mattress.” And an air conditioned tent, though she held onto that fact. Dominique brightened, and then fell sharply back into grumpy.
“Wairt - the fuck? You’ll go cause of him, but not when I ask?” She fumed, crossing her arms but still leaning her head into the scritches. “I’ll have someone to interact with when you and Fie go off and do… Whatever odd thing you do when camping. Antagonizing a bear or having catfish bite your hands.” “Dude,” she laughed, “What do you think camping is?” “Southern living?” Alesandra answered, dryly. Dominique snorted and rolled her eyes.