Kon took his time pushing chairs under desks and shutting the classroom’s blinds. Outside, Kinjra and Belen were playing, tossing a bruised seabell back and forth like a ball. The pale blue fruit squished and leaked juices, sticking to their hands and leaving stains on their sleeves and arms. Though neither of the kids cared about the mess, Jrana would likely get upset at Kon for letting their daughter get so dirty on his supervision.
Darkness filled the classroom as Kon closed the final blind, leaving only a sliver of light as thin as the lunar ring in the sky. His fae – the orb of woven lute strings – was lingering by the crack in the door. The ridges of its gold-and-silver shell glittered as it rang like a bell, drawing Kon’s attention. Kon followed his fae through the door and locked it with a key on his belt.
The Pale Hawks’ school, much like their nest, was a round, domed structure built to be raised on wheels. Nearby, a hitch protruded from the side of the building, fit with ropes to be pulled by Leb’s steers. Kon glanced at it briefly, then to Leb’s son as he tripped and tumbled to the ground. He laughed as he caught the seabell in the crook of his arms, crushing it against his chest in the fall. A deep blue stain was already forming on his gray tunic.
“Whoops,” Belen huffed with the last of his laughter.
Kinjra jumped in the air, her arms held high. “Game over!” she exclaimed. “I told you I would win! You’re too big for your own good!”
At the comment, Belen rushed back up to his feet, discarding the flattened seabell on the ground to instead brandish a pointed finger. “I caught it!” he retorted. “This game isn’t over until one of us fails a catch!”
Kinjra crossed sticky arms over her coat and grinned. Slowly, her eyes moved from Belen to the seabell, flat and discarded. “Sure looks like you failed a catch to me,” she chuckled.
Belen’s jaw dropped in protest. Before he could shout another word, Kon made his presence known by stepping forward and loudly clearing his throat. “You should go home and clean yourself before dinner, Belen. You don’t have to worry about Kinjra. I’ll accompany her to the canteen tonight.”
The boy’s pointed finger dropped to his side. “Will do, Mister Kon. But Kin! This isn’t over!” Belen took off running, then glared back at Kinjra and shouted. “Rematch! Same time tomorrow! I’ll find a fruit! You be ready!”
Kinjra curled her hands around her mouth to project her voice further. “You’re on!” she yelled back.
Belen waved as he turned and disappeared between two nests. By cutting through the middle of their ringed encampment, he would reach his home and his father’s stables sooner.
Kon and Kinjra needed to go the opposite way. Their home wasn’t far, so they left at a leisurely pace. “You should clean up, too,” said Kon. “Get the dirt and fruit pulp off you, then put on some nice clothes. Your mother is probably home already. I’ll talk to her about tonight while you get ready.”
Kinjra nodded, her lips faintly curled into a smile.
“I think I’ll talk to your mother outside,” he mumbled. “Where nobody can hear us.”
Kinjra frowned, groaning. “You’re no fun!”
“If you want your privacy to be respected, you need to respect other’s privacy, too. Promise me. No eavesdropping.” Though Kon’s tone was airy, he delivered his words with a firm gaze. Kinjra’s speckled yellow eyes observed Kon intently, before drifting on ahead and abruptly widening.
“I promise,” she whispered.
But Kinjra’s whispers weren’t the only ones Kon heard.
Only Miss Sut – Kon’s boss, and the Pale Hawks’ other teacher – lived between his nest and the school. The pair worked on alternating schedules, though as of late, Kon was filling in for the old woman more often than not. For the first time in days, Miss Sut had left her nest. Kon could see her standing outside his home, engaged in conversation with his wife.
Though Jrana and Miss Sut were the same height, the widow stood with her back so crooked and her shoulders so bent that she ended up closer to Kinjra’s size. With her face buried in a giant, purple, feathery robe, the widow’s voice was muffled. Jrana whispered a response before cutting their conversation short. She had bladed her body so she would see when Kon and Kinjra approached.
Husband and wife made eye contact. Kon smiled, though Jrana’s sharp face bore no hint of joy or humor. Her long, curling eyebrows were raised, forming spirals over her furrowed brow.
“She looks mad,” Kinjra said beside him. “And not at me, for once. What did you do?”
“I’m not sure,” he replied. What possible reason could Miss Sut have to talk to Jrana? Kon searched his mind and returned nothing. The two rarely spoke, and most often, they were only pleasantries. Miss Sut had never been the social type.
The old woman retreated into her three-story nest with an innocent wave. Her home towered over the rest of the flock’s, tripling as her office and a library. At that height, the curved structure looked more like an egg, balanced on top of an even break. In the ring of nests that surrounded Gul’s canteen, Miss Sut’s home stood out, more so than the school, stables, or Imet’s clinic.
No more than a hundred steps away, Jrana leaned back on one heel as she waited, her free foot tapping impatiently. Kinjra let Kon pass her, then went around his back to put herself closer to the nest. “I’ll let you two have your privacy,” she said, then pattered through the open door of their nest and slammed it behind her. Kon had no illusions of his daughter rushing to clean up. His fae could hear her breathing not far from the door.
Kon approached Jrana warily. Her bright, cerulean eyes shone as she observed him. Though she would have finished work much earlier, his wife was still wearing her dirty overalls. Like Kinjra, her hands were stained with dirt and fruit juice, too. She stood with her arms crossed in front of her. When Kon reached for her, Jrana pulled her elbow out of the way.
Kon dropped his arm. “Let’s go for a walk,” he said. “It seems I’m not the only one with something to talk about.”
“Smart man,” Jrana replied. Hard as she tried to mask her feelings beneath a severe exterior, Kon could hear the anger bubbling on her tongue. “Where do you have in mind?”
“The school,” he said. “I need to show you something.”
Jrana didn’t lead the way, though she didn’t let Kon take the lead, either. Side by side, the husband and wife walked. Not so close that they touched, but close enough that Kon could feel the hairs standing on Jrana’s bare arms.
Kon’s fae glided between them, pursuing Jrana’s clam-shaped, blue-gray cloud. Even for humans without the Sight, their fae still grew minutely with age. Typically, their shapes became more fixed or rigid. The main difference between her fae and Kon’s was their transparency. Kon could see through Jrana’s misty essence like a veil.
“You should go first,” Kon said, breaking the silence.
“Oh?” Jrana asked. “What if I still want you to sweat?”
Kon stopped in his tracks, halting Jrana with a slight brush of her arm. “Honey. I’m serious. I want to handle this first. What did Miss Sut say?” As he spoke, Kon left his hand floating between them.
Jrana reached for it, her fingers slipping neatly between his. She pulled herself so close that her swirling, cerulean eyes filled his entire vision. Tears were forming in her eyes as she blinked. Her lips parted, then closed. Reconsidering. Kon reached to wipe the tiny stream as it fell down her cheek.
“Why didn’t you tell me about Rin?” she whispered. Kon closed his eyes and drowned in her voice. “Why would you keep that from me?” she sniffed. “How could you not trust me?”
Kon let go of Jrana’s hand and took a step back. He looked over his shoulder – first at Miss Sut’s nest, then at his family’s – before gazing back at his wife. The Pale Hawks were gathering at the canteen, and neither the widow or their daughter were visible in the windows. Those facts did little to comfort him, but then again, nothing would. Not when he talked about his brother.
Judging by Jrana’s reaction, she would have already heard some details. Kon spent his entire adult life avoiding thinking about Rin for a reason. But how could he ever explain that to his wife after all the times he preached about honesty? Jrana would think of him as a hypocrite. A man who sets rules, only to break them.
His wife began tapping her foot impatiently, pulling Kon’s focus back to the present. Jrana was frowning, her painted yellow lips shining in bright contrast to her dark olive skin. With her chin tilted and eyes squinted, her gaze cut through Kon like a blade. Jrana’s long, chestnut hair billowed around her, tied in loose braids. A chilly breeze had passed them, prompting the woman to shiver.
Kon began handing his coat over the next second. Underneath his thin, paper-white teacher’s coat, he wore a comfy wool sweater. Jrana thanked him as she shrugged the coat over her shoulders. When she finally straightened, Kon found his voice.
“How much do you know?” he asked. As much as he hated it, he had to know. “I won’t know where to begin, otherwise.”
Jrana shook her head, her eyes and mouth wide in disbelief. “You don’t get it, do you? I don’t want to know what happened. I just want to know why I’m hearing about my husband’s brother from anyone other than himself. I’ve told you about all my demons, Kon. Why are other people telling me yours?”
Kon couldn’t blame Jrana for being angry. He was just as angry with himself. “Please, Jrana. Let me have a moment to think. There’s a good reason I buried my brother in the past. I just need to find the right words to articulate it.”
Jrana stared at him, unmoving, like a statue. When she let out a breath with a nod of her head, Kon let go of his, too. He looked around, but found no comfort in the empty field and paling sunlight.
“Can we have this conversation somewhere else?” Kon asked.
“Stop being paranoid. Nobody can hear us.”
Kon shook his head. “Please,” he begged. “Can we talk while we walk, at least?” He proffered an elbow with a sad grin.
Jrana sighed before taking Kon’s arm. As they walked along the treeline toward the school, his wife lightly stroked his shoulder through the sleeve of his sweater. Even if she was upset, she could still feel pity.
“I’m sorry,” Kon said. “I know those words don’t mean anything right now, but I truly am sorry.”
Jrana sniffed as she whispered. “If you’re sorry, then prove it. Help me understand.”
Kon took a deep breath. In the distance, he could see the bed of grass that Kinjra’s fae had created. He led his wife in that direction. As they walked, he tried to speak, but still, the words froze on Kon’s tongue. His suppression of his past had let a profound regret harden like ice, somewhere deep in his heart. He could feel the cold tension seeping through his veins with every pounding beat of his heart.
“My brother, Rin…” he began. Jrana looked at Kon in his peripherals, trusting him to guide her to safety. His eyes never left the ground. The stretch of treaded dirt seemed to go on for an eternity.
“Yes?” Jrana prodded.
“Rin was three years older than me,” Kon sighed. “Nine, when I was six. I was still young enough to have the Sight, back then. My brother-” Kon continued, the words stumbling. Just outside the school, he halted and faced his wife. “Rin never lost his.”
Jrana’s eyes fluttered with understanding, each blink grounding her. Helping her process. “He was a Seer,” she muttered, her voice breaking mid-sentence, no doubt matching the break in her heart.
Kon nodded his head, guilt swelling in his chest. Every breath felt heavier than the last, forcing his lungs to work harder and harder to keep him conscious. Jrana’s upbringing had given her good reason to resent the Seers, Fate, and fae. If she had known Kon and his kin had the potential too, she would have never opened her heart to him in the first place. With tears in his eyes, Kon stepped away from his wife, his back to her as he faced the lone patch of grass. Each blade was as thick as his fingers and as tall as his calves. He stood there for a long moment, listening only to the flock gathering at the canteen. His wife was utterly silent. Kon waited for her to leave him.
Jrana took a step, then another. Toward Kon, not away from him. “You didn’t think I would love you,” she said. “You thought I would leave you if I knew.”
Her voice poured out of her like an overflowing river, the splash of cold water to Kon’s face startling him into motion, the stream of words carrying his gaze back to her. It killed him to see her face a damp haze. Both of them were crying.
“Kon…” she whispered, stepping closer. Jrana put her forehead against his so there was nothing else for him to see but her eyes. Swirls and ripples danced across her oceanic-blue irises. Kon could sense his fae float closer, nestling itself in the space between their bodies. The sounds of flockfolk chattering and insects buzzing quieted, then, leaving Kon with just him and his wife’s breathing. When she spoke, her voice made him shiver. “That is literally the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. You idiot man.”
Kon’s body shook against his will as Jrana tightly embraced him. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t utter a word.
“That changes nothing,” Jrana continued, drowning out the silence. “You keeping this from me? It changes nothing. I chose to love you. I chose to marry you. Not because Fate told us we were destined for each other, but because you are the sole person in this world that can inspire me to be better. Even now, after all these years traveling the world along your side, I have not met a single person that’s half as kind, considerate, or understanding as you. Where you come from doesn’t change that. It’s the man you became, on the other hand. If anyone knows what it’s like for others to hold your family against you, it’s me. I would never – not in a million years – stop loving you. I don’t care if Fate has taken an interest in you and decided to choose you, too. I will not let it come between us.”
Kon sobbed, even as Jrana kissed him, their wet, shelled lips slipping between each other perfectly. It was impossible to know how much time passed as the husband and wife held each other, sharing each turbulent breath. Kon’s arms were looped tight around Jrana’s waist. Jrana scratched Kon on the back of his head delicately, in that spot just behind his ear. Like his mother used to scratch him, before that terrible night.
Ever since Kon heard his wife utter Rin’s name, he couldn’t get those images out of his head. The meteor falling and the spiritfire blooming. The wraith lunging for Rin and Taking him. The Rin-wraith playing with the Pale Hawks’ lives like it was a sick, cruel game.
“It was never about keeping a secret from you,” Kon uttered, the words broken by his ragged breaths. “It was about keeping a secret from myself, really. When I was young I decided if I could just shut that whole part of my life away, it would be like it never happened. I could just live on happy, no longer terrified by the idea of outliving more of my family.”
Kon carefully pulled himself out of Jrana’s arms.
“If I didn’t,” he continued, “I would have never been able to fall in love. Not with you, and not with music. We would have never met, and our precious baby girl would have never been born. At that point I had everything I ever wanted. I buried my old family beneath my new one. Talking of it would only dredge up more darkness. It was much easier to just bask in the light.”
Jrana wiped her face with the sleeve of Kon’s coat, then reached again for his hand. “I understand,” she told him. “You don’t need to worry. I would never force you to speak of what happened.”
Kon took his wife’s hand as he dabbed the water off his face with his sweater. “I don’t know if it’s something I can ignore, anymore. I might need to talk about it… some day.”
“That’s what you have me for,” Jrana assured him, with a gentle peck of his wrist.
“I’ll let you know when I’m ready.”
“No pressure. No rush.”
“Thank you,” Kon breathed. “But I’m afraid there’s more we need to talk about.” Jrana rose an eyebrow, then frowned as Kon led her to the patch of overgrown grass. “Our daughter has been keeping a secret from us, too.”
Though the sparkle of magic had long faded, the fae-grown patch of green stood out vibrant against the chewed, yellowed clippings scattered among dead leaves, mud, and tree roots.
“Can you see that?” Kon asked. For all he knew, the grass was as invisible to Jrana as the fae who made it. None of the other children had noticed. Not even Belen.
“See what?” she asked. “You mean the long grass?” Jrana clenched his hand tighter. “I’m surprised Leb’s steers missed a spot…” she tried. Kon could hear the hollow of doubt in her words. Jrana made the connection between conversation and context. She just didn’t want to admit it.
The confirmation inspired an equal mix of relief and worry in Kon. Jrana being able to see the overgrown grass meant everyone else could, too. If their daughter didn’t learn how to control her fae soon, it would only be a matter of time until the others found out.
Kon sighed, letting go of Jrana’s hand and crouching. “They didn’t miss it,” he told her while ripping the dense blades of grass out of the ground by its roots. “This wasn’t here when we arrived. It wasn’t even here an hour ago,” he mumbled.
Jrana huffed a frustrated breath. “Kon. What are you saying?”
There was no easy way to put it. Kinjra having the Sight would only prove Jrana’s fear that Fate was determined to take everyone she loved away from her. “Can you help me?” Kon asked instead. After a moment of silence, he stopped what he was doing and look back up at his wife.
Without Kon’s hand to hold, Jrana began clasping the seashell necklace that hung from a string around her neck. Her mouth was open – words on her lips – but she was motionless. She wore a grimace like she was stricken.
For a long time, they remained like that. Still. Quiet. Kon took a deep breath as Jrana held hers.
“Please,” Kon said. “Help me protect our daughter.”
Jrana’s eyes flooded with realization. The breath she had been holding rushed out of her like a stream. The sky was getting darker as the sun retreated under the eastern horizon. Though the heavens were still lit in blues and purples, the dense canopies of the Sallow Woods cast the flock’s encampment in shadow.
With another wipe of her face, Jrana knelt down beside Kon, grabbed two handfuls of grass, and tore them from the earth. It wasn’t even a hundredth of the mass, but it was a start. Kon joined his wife in silence. Though he harbored no doubts Jrana’s mind was swimming with questions, he would give her all the time she needed. The pair were almost nearly finished when she finally spoke up.
“How long?” asked Jrana. It had been the same question Kon asked Kinjra, at first.
“Not long after we found the Warbler’s remains. Please don’t blame yourself for not noticing. Kinjra managed to hide it from me too, even with my Sight. I only found out when this happened. Her fae did it to protect her when she fell out of the tree.”
Jrana nodded as she unearthed the last of the evidence. With tears in her eyes, she tore the grass further, then tossed it to the wind. Kon helped shred and scatter the rest. In silence, they worked. The fear distorting Jrana’s expression never left her.
“It’s inevitable,” she whispered, barely audible. Kon only caught the words as they reverberated through his fae. The orb of coiled lute strings floated closer to her, as if to give her comfort. Jrana’s clam-like fae landed on the ground beside her, its misty, oceanic light dimming a little with every torn blade of grass.
“You know I heard that. Don’t you?” Jrana dusted her hands clean before looking Kon in the eyes. “What do you mean by inevitable?”
Jrana sighed. With no work left to keep her going, the woman sat back and folded inward, her shoulders sagging with defeat.
“Jrana, honey. It’s like you told me, before. This here,” he said, lifting a handful of torn grass. “It changes nothing. We became a family long before Fate decided to give Kinjra and I the Sight. We still have a choice. I won’t let Fate take me anywhere, and I won’t let it take our daughter, either.”
As he spoke, Kon crawled closer to his wife, still on his knees, and wrapped his arms around her. Though she didn’t hug him back, Kon pulled his wife tighter. With one hand stroking her hair and the other gently caressing her back, the husband gave his wife all the comfort he could.
“I’m not going anywhere,” he repeated. “Kinjra isn’t going anywhere.”
“Who are we kidding?” she sobbed. “Thinking we can defy Fate? Thinking we can live on, happily ever after?” Her voice was so bitter that Kon’s mouth sizzled in pain. “I don’t want to be alone,” she cried softly. “I hate being alone.”
“You’re not alone now,” Kon assured her. “And I promise you, Jrana. You never will be. Between Kinjra, the Pale Hawks, and me, I can promise you that. If you can’t have faith in Fate, then have faith in me. Believe in me.”
Kon wasn’t even sure his wife could hear him. Not over the sound of her sniffing and the racking of her chest as she fought for air.
Slowly, Jrana pulled herself out of Kon’s grasp. Her cerulean eyes gazed into his. Her lips parted as she steadied her breath. “Don’t do that,” she whimpered while wiping her face. “Don’t make a promise you can’t keep.”
“I promise,” Kon insisted. Jrana’s eyes shimmered as he leaned closer, lifting her sharp chin up with the tips of his fingers. His lengthy nails faintly brushed the side of her neck as he drew her into another soft kiss.
“I love you,” Kon whispered. The words filled his wife’s mouth in search of her heart.
“I love you too,” she echoed back. He could feel the warmth of her voice tickle the back of his throat, like sound waves vibrating.
Kon leaned back and took his wife’s face in his hands. The smile on his face was too meager. Jrana frowned as she saw it. She grabbed Kon by his wrists, then dragged his hands down to his lap.
“What?” she asked curtly. “Please don’t tell me there’s more.”
“Listen to me, okay? Do you remember what it was like when my fae first started growing? How it would use magic against my will, whenever I played music?”
Jrana clenched her jaw and nodded.
“Gul took me somewhere private,” Kon said. “Helped me figure out how to control my fae. If we’re going to hide Kinjra, that means I need to help her learn, too. If she doesn’t, another incident could happen like this one. With an Eyrie so close, we’re in Seer territory, now. We can’t waste any time. Kinjra and I-“
“-No,” Jrana interrupted. “I know what you’re going to ask, and my answer is no.”
“Please,” Kon begged. “Just hear me out.”
Jrana leaned further back. Her gaze drifted to the sky, and the thin sliver of light that was carved across the heavens. Darkness was already creeping amidst the vibrant colors of dusk. Jrana began to rise, prompting Kon to get up and help her to her feet. It was getting late, and Kon could hear his wife’s stomach grumbling.
“I’m listening,” she said. Jrana turned away from Kon. Her gaze settled on Miss Sut’s nest, which stood between the couple and theirs.
“Thank you.” Kon took his wife’s hand as they walked, side by side. “Kinjra’s fae is strong,” he said with a quiet intensity. “It’s a miracle no one else saw it happen. If any of the kids had the Sight, there’s no way they would have missed that glimmering flash of magic.”
Jrana sighed as she wiped the last of her tears from her face. “Absolutely not, Kon. How can you even ask me this, on tonight of all nights? In this place, of all places?”
“Technically I haven’t asked you yet.”
Jrana glared at him, unamused.
“Don’t you see it? That’s exactly why it has to be tonight. For whatever reason, Fate had chosen for all these things to happen today, of all days. The Seers of Coastwatch Eyrie will be leagues away to the north, waiting for the meteor to crash wherever it was Divined. If Kinjra and I head south, there’s no chance of them finding us. All we need is one evening. If you give that to us, I’ll make sure Kinjra’s fae never puts her at risk again.”
As they walked, Jrana shook her head. “I can’t sit through the meteor shower alone. Not after what the other mothers told me about what happened to-“
Kon’s wife cut herself off, not wanting to upset him. “The canteen will be open late for the adults tonight. You could wait there with Gul, Cres, and the others. I will come straight to you the moment we’re back.”
“I don’t know.”
“Please. I just want to protect our daughter.”
Jrana didn’t respond until after they reached the door to their short, yellow nest. In the shade, the structure looked more like graybark than sundlewood. As Kon took a look around, he noticed the world seemed less vibrant. Clouds gathered in the sky as the sun continued descending.
“If I let you two go, what do I get in return?”
Kon gazed into the swirls and ripples of his wife’s eyes. Though Jrana was no longer crying, her stare leaked sadness. “Besides our family sticking together?” he asked.
Jrana let go of his hand and crossed her arms over her chest. “Yes, Kon. What do I get besides the fulfillment of your wedding vows?”
Kon shrugged, his grin uncertain. “What do you want?”
Jrana opened her mouth, but before she could answer, the front door of their nest creaked open behind Kon. He had been listening to his wife so intently that he didn’t even notice Kinjra looking out the window as they approached.
“Are you two almost done?” asked Kinjra. Jrana’s stomach wasn’t the only one that was growling. Kinjra’s oblong, green fae hovered between her bare feet, glowing dimly. She had changed into a nice white shirt and shorts long enough to reach her ankles. “I’m starving,” she declared. “Can we get dinner before it’s cold? Please?"
Kon and Jrana shared a glance, then nodded to Kinjra in unison.
“If I’m going to let you two go out tonight, I’m expecting a pleasant, family meal. Hate to break it to you, Kinjra, but you’ll be eating with your parents tonight. Belen and Etal can wait until breakfast to see you.”
Kon and Kinjra shared a glance, then smiled at Jrana in unison.
“Seriously?” Kinjra breathed.
“Seriously,” answered Jrana.
Kinjra stared at her father, her mouth and eyes both opened wide. Her fae between her feet was rising, growing brighter. His daughter really didn’t believe Kon would convince her mother. “Let me get cleaned up and change,” said Jrana.
Kinjra stepped outside, giving Jrana space. “You really did it,” she said. “Thank you, Dad. I love you.”
Kon nodded, smiling widely. “I love you too, Kin.” He knelt to her level, then spread his arms out wide. Kinjra pattered into him, giving him a hug.
By the time he let go and stood, Jrana was finished getting ready. She joined her husband and daughter in the brisk dusk, then locked the door of their nest behind her. Hand in hand, the family and their fae departed for the canteen, where they would share a pleasant meal.
Happiness sang in Kon’s heart.