Things that I’m supposed to do:
I drink a cup of tea
“Let’s go home.”
It’s the end of a long day—longer. They’re all weary from battling the Guild, and there’s plenty of mop-up work for the Black Lizard dealing with those who would capitalize on anything left behind. The Port Mafia still rules the local underground and has no interest in letting others get a foothold in their territory.
But at home, they shed that. Ryuunosuke eases into their home with a sigh—perhaps relief, perhaps comfort. Gin makes tea and curls up in a chair, freed of the hard silence that guards her during work.
“Drink,” she suggests.
Her brother drinks.
They talk about their mother all the time, but sometimes Mary swears Dickon sprung up full-formed from the moor that might as well have given him birth. The animals swarm him with delighted sounds, gentle as though they were tame, and plants grow under his fingers as though his blood sings with magic.
The first time Cor saw sand, he ran across the beach with giggles and bare feet, not even noticing the stinging heat and grit. Zana watched with a smile and settled down to build castles.
He came back over, curiously, after her towers began to rise from the sand, looked with wide eyes, never touching. She was raising him at essentially a spaceport. He knew to keep his fingers away from delicate things.
But he was her little brother. She took his small hands and showed him how to shape and pat and firm the walls.
“Our castle,” she said.
A pause, a silent gap stretching out into the distant horizon and over the edge—
“Your parents are dead.”
She closed her eyes, no longer listening to details that only confirmed what she’d already known. Pain, crashing, screaming of metal and flesh rending open to space—
“Queen,” she corrected quietly. She opened her eyes, collected herself, and rose to go find her brothers, dismissing the servant with a gesture. She let her bodyguards flank her down the too empty corridors to her oldest brother’s study.
“King,” she greeted him.
“Queen,” he greeted back.
Zana ran Ijeve’s training facility, almost never leaving it, and had since she was a teenage girl, well trained but saddled with a little brother she wouldn’t leave. Her little brother wasn’t little anymore, but a warship who only came home on leave.
But how the messages flew between them!
She knew his triumphs and struggles before the battle reports rolled in, and every infuriating thing she didn’t need to know about his pilot. He knew about her frustrations with each new batch of trainees and which ones she had high hopes for. But they never said, I miss you.
Sleeping in the same room as Misaki was a strange feeling.
Saruhiko had always been alone, and now here was this other person breathing deeply in the same room, sprawled in trusting sleep like he’d never had to worry about who would come in at night or what they’d do.
The door quietly opened. Saruhiko feigned sleep, heart racing for a long moment.
Misaki’s mother glanced over them both.
“They’re fine,” her husband whispered loudly behind her.
“I know. I just like to check.” Then she was gone.
Saruhiko blinked in the darkness, breathed easier. It wasn’t a bad feeling.
Nanere first picked up the knives when she was a little girl. She rammed one into the knee of her mother’s love. When he howled and swung, she slashed his arm.
When he was finally gone, still cursing her, she gently washed her mother’s face and applied salve to her bruises, then fixed her mother’s makeup for her.
“He was our next meal,” her mother slurred.
Nanere thought of the shipyards and dangerous work available for tiny bodies that could fit into the small spaces between mechanical parts. She hardened her face and stiffened her shoulders. “I’m our next meal.”
Her little brother was so small.
Zana stared at him, tucked away like a curled up kitten beneath the blanket in her narrow bunk. She barely remembered him, a newborn when she’d been forced to leave.
But here he was now, his breaths soft and even with sleep, his freckled face open and trusting. She wondered why he would trust when it was their own mother that had brought him to the training facility and abandoned him to his sister’s arms.
Zana sighed and shifted in the chair to gently kiss the top of his hair. “I won’t leave you.”
Kasuru looked up from the ship plans he’d been poring over with Nanere for half the night. He was the designer; she was the builder ripping apart his every bad idea.
It was well past when Rhezere went to bed. The boy was getting longer, and he looked at Nanere like he was deciding how much vulnerability to show with someone else present.
He sighed and trailed over to the couch behind Kasuru’s worktable and flopped down with his blanket. In moments, his breath evened in sleep.
“You have a kid,” Nanere said.
Kasuru shook his head. “He’s not mine.”
She looked pointedly over at the boy curled into his blanket, choosing to sleep near Kasuru rather than in his own dark room and bed.
Cor hesitated, enough to make Zana stop pouring tea to narrow her eyes at him.
He squirmed despite being a teenager. “You don’t—” He huffed, then forced the words out. “You don’t have to stay here for me. Anymore.”
She stopped breathing, topped off his cup, sat. A slow inhale of steam. “I’m head of this entire training program,” she said quietly, sipped. “I’m not suffering on your account.”
She’d promised not to leave him.
“Little brother.” Zana waited for him to look up. “I’m fine.”
Cor finally nodded. His shoulders relaxed as he reached for tea.
Caitlin smiled as her very large husband tried to teach their very tiny five-year-old daughter how to dance. He was leaning over, holding her hands, as she stumbled one way then the other in the living room.
Finally, little Robin flopped down with a pout. “I’m just not made to dance.”
Caitlin knelt next to her. “Do you like to dance?”
Robin scrunched up her nose in evident distaste.
Suddenly, Monster scooped her up and swung her around in his arms. Robin’s delighted peals of laughter rang out as he danced with her in the air.
“Look, Mommy! I’m flying!”
Robin was now a slender, serious ten-year-old with creamy golden skin and shiny black hair. Her eyebrows furrowed in concentration as Caitlin went over the waltz with her over and over again.
Finally, Robin sat down with a sigh. “I’ll never get this.”
Caitlin smiled. “Do you like to dance?”
“I’d like to fly,” Robin answered wistfully. She set her face and got up to dance again.
Monster held Caitlin close as they watched their daughter glide down the staircase into her cotillion. She joined her tall, handsome boyfriend in a waltz. Stately, smooth, perfect.
“I think she likes to dance,” Monster whispered into Caitlin’s ear.
“I never got to tell her the rest.”
Robin smiled up into the eyes of her date. Monster smiled down into Caitlin’s.
“I think she knows.”