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“You took that soldier boy home, right?” Dorothea asked.

“How’d you know?”

“It was the right thing to do. So I knew you’d do just that.” She shrugged. “In any case… Tell him that I’ll revive his comrades. But I won’t promise anything else.”

“Will do. Thanks, Thea.”

She said nothing else but nodded slightly and smiled before turning away.

They separated here, for now, and Shark was for some reason surprised to find Cerid still at zir place. The boy was pacing the floor in a tight circle, arms folded behind his back and face scrunched up with impatience and worry. “Well?!” he demanded the moment Shark stepped inside.

Ze deliberately took sweet time in locking up and unlacing zir boots. “Nice to see you too.”

His cheeks flushed with embarrassment. “Apologies.”

“Naw, no worries. I’d be upset too, if I were in your shoes.” Shark smiled. “Thea says she’ll come and help your friends who died. Who knows what’ll come after that, though.”

“Yes!” Cerid cried, leaping to throw his arms around Shark and slap zir back to the result of a surprising amount of pain. “Thank the Gods!” When he backed away, smiling brightly, only to see Shark staring at him with bewilderment, he threw his hands straight above his head. “Once again, I am sorry. My excitement got the better of me. Erm...” He cleared his throat and tugged at his collar.

My, but wasn’t he cute when he blushed? “No big deal. Not every day you find out the dead can be brought back to life so easily.” Shark crossed through the narrow entranceway and made a straight line for zir bedroom. All apartments in the building had the same streamlined structure where, from the doorway, the bedrooms were straight ahead while the living room was to the left and the kitchen was to the right. Shark liked the convenience of it all; it wasn’t as if ze had a lot of stuff ze needed room for.

Ze got busy pulling out necessities for the trip, though there weren’t many. The second they got bathed in Sacer’s summer heat, the thick, insulated clothes so essential in Sirpo would betray them. Only a single spare outfit was stuffed into a bag, and on top of it were daily grooming products and the small box ze stored zir earrings in when ze slept. It felt more like packing for a sleepover than what Shark imagined would be an epic and emotional confrontation with the ones who had disavowed zir.

Cerid, who had kept his respectful, somewhat nervous distance while Shark worked, piped up with uncertainty. “Excuse me, but have we met before today?”

“Nope,” Shark replied easily. It was a half-truth; they had never spoken before today, thus they had never officially met. Shark had seen Cerid before, but it had been years ago. Thirteen, if ze remembered correctly. But it wasn’t something worth discussing.

Against expectation, Cerid’s eyes widened. “Shark. Shark Olyen? I do know you!”

Shark froze, then forced zirself to relax, ease the tension that had rocketed up zir back. “Yep. Thaaat’s me! The one and only.”

“I knew that I recognized those teeth! You are a member of the Olyen family, the one that…” He looked to the floor, probably realizing a bit too late that he’d trodden into sensitive areas. “Never mind.”

“You can say it. I won’t get mad,” Shark said breezily, though the words were more of an order to continue and get the tension out into the open as ze tried not to laugh over being recognized by zir teeth, of all things.

“You deserted Sacer several years ago,” Cerid mumbled. “I have heard stories about you. Your Shatterer magic was devastating to the enemy, and you were so instrumental that even the reputation of your family after the… incident,” he said delicately, “had started to improve. But you left. When was it…?” He smiled in triumph as it came to him. “Aha! Yes. You departed six years ago.”

Shark sighed and sat on the cold stone floor, figuring Cerid would be more comfortable sitting here than on the bed he seemed either too prim or too nervous to approach, based on the sketched out looks he was giving it. Ze had forgotten that guests didn’t just make themselves comfortable anywhere. Dorothea always veered straight towards the bed and plopped down, forgoing a perfectly good couch that Shark had placed in the kitchen so ze could lounge and read as dinner crackled on the stovetop. “We technically have sort of met. I’ve seen you, but you were like, five or six, and I was ten. It’s not a shock to me that you don’t remember.”

“But you do,” Cerid said slowly as he lowered himself in response to Shark patting the floor. There was a good few feet between them, still. “Did I make an impression somehow?” He sounded doubtful.

Shark smirked. “You cried when you saw your sister get pushed to the ground.” Yes, ze remembered it even now. Another Creed had been inducted into the beginning ranks of the military and therein had been taught exactly what place in the world weakness would get them. Cerid, whose mother had brought him to see his older sibling off and watch the older kids learn how to fight, had burst into tears.

“Wha?!” Now, his face turned red, and, paired with the smooth pale-green hair that framed and hung over his face, his head looked just like a strawberry, a treat Shark hadn’t been able to savor since abandoning Sacer and its climate. Cerid looked like all blood members of the Creed family, each one with that same hair color and eyes like glowing buttercups that were strangely unmarked by the dark orbs of pupils. The boy in front of zir now, though, was the exact opposite of the serious, steadfast reputation of the noble bloodline. Hilariously so.

That said, Shark couldn’t help but devolve into hearty laughter. Ze fell back and hit zir head against a small bedside table, making the oil lamp on it jump. “Ah, ow! Haha, you’re ridiculous in the best of ways, you know that?”

Cerid’s eyes were wide. “No one has ever described me in such a way.” He chuckled quietly, though he looked confused by Shark’s reaction. “But I remember that day now, if vaguely. My sister teased me about it for months. All of my siblings, actually…”

“Makes sense. If I were them, I’d never let that go.”

“Quite.” Cerid frowned, distracted by his own thoughts, before speaking hesitantly. “If I may… Why did you leave, Mister Olyen? We needed you then, and we could use your strength especially now. A magic like your Shatterer has limitless applications in combat.” Ideas danced behind his eyes, but he seemed to at least know better than to get too excited about having found two lost relics in one place.

“First, just call me Shark. Second, I didn’t abandon the army first. I was kicked out of my home. Then I abandoned the army and came to live here.” Ze sighed. “Life’s real funny.”

Cerid gaped. “You were… How awful! Was there no place to go?”

“Here, obviously.” Where home had been found with Dorothea.

“Of course.” Cerid’s brows knitted with sad sympathy. “I am truly sorry for what you must have gone through, though I admit I cannot empathize. Me talking about my sister so casually… How that must have felt to you! Once more, I apologize.”

Shark frowned. “Don’t feel bad for what you have just because I’ve been through something. It’s not like I’m that bitter either!” Ze laughed. “Like, how dare you have a happy family when I don’t! Naw.” Though Cerid’s instant and deep sincerity in his contrition was a bit disarming.

“A happy family. Of course.” He tilted his head, thinking. “Anyhow, I had not thought about it like that. But you are right, of course.”

“I usually am.” Shark leaned against the bedframe, the edge of the low mattress digging into zir upper back. “Uh… While we’re on the subject. Is my family still alive? Do you know?”

“I have not heard much about the Olyen family since the incident of your departure caused a stir. On that note, I shall warn you that, in Sacer, there will be those who think of you as a dastardly traitor and nothing more. You might not be treated kindly in certain areas of Sacerian lands. However, rest assured that so long as you are with me, I will not allow a single word of vitriol to be said against you.” He gazed at Shark with eyes narrowed in determination.

“Huh. How gallant,” Shark teased. “You’ve swept me off my feet.” Ze laughed as Cerid blushed. “But seriously, why make an offer like that to someone you don’t even know?”

“Because it is the right thing. I do not have to know a person long to understand that the right thing to do is to be kind. Protecting another from harm is a part of kindness.”

“Hm. I’d say it’s a kindness very particular to you, then.” People had different perspectives on kindness because it was a thing determined by who you thought was in the wrong. Cerid had called Dorothea cruel because she hadn’t initially agreed to do what he wanted, what he was fully convinced was right for her to do. It hadn’t mattered that he didn’t know what Juncture did to its wielders; he had only had eyes and a mind for his murdered friends. Shark couldn’t fully say he was wrong, either, but still. Thea’s life was all that really mattered in the end. “And I appreciate that, but getting too wrapped up in sticking to what you think is kind means you might not consider the perspective of the ones you’re so certain are being unkind.”

Cerid’s face fell. “You are referring to your… friend? And the things I said?”

“Yep. So, know this.” Ze smiled coldly and leaned in to captivate Cerid’s wary gaze. “If you or your people try to make her use her magic for your goals after she’s refused, I’ll turn every ounce of my power against you. Got it?”

Cerid shivered. “I understand,” he whispered.

Shark smiled like ze had just told a funny joke. “Good! And with that, I bid you goodnight. Esteemed guest, you are free to have the couch. There’s some spare blankets in the bathroom closet and some dried fish wrapped up on the counter if you get hungry.” Ze had never claimed to be a generous host, and Shark felt not one bit guilty as ze plopped into bed. “Prepare for an early morning,” ze called as an alarm clock was wound up for an hour before sunrise.

“Goodnight,” Cerid called timidly a few minutes later after he’d settled himself.

But Shark, as if there were a simple switch within zir that allowed for immediate jumps between wakefulness and sleep, was already snoring. Memories of a different life danced in dreams, fleeting and aching, and the rest would prove to be a fitful one.

That was partly why, when Shark woke to tortured screams coming from the room where Cerid was staying, ze was able to leap to action quickly.

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About the author

Sara Mullins

Bio: Hi everyone! Hope anyone who reads this is doing well and taking care of themselves. I love storytelling and aim to become better and better as I continue to write and practice. In terms of what I like to write... In truth, though it's what I'm worst at, the goal is just to get to the fluffy romance scenes. The obstacle is only what lies before and between. Alas. Again, take care, all.

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ArthurScott ago

The interactions between the characters are so smooth and not stilted!

I never knew about ze, zir pronouns before! Never!