When Sheba first found herself torn between Jenna and Felix, she hadn’t ever expected it to be a common problem.
The strange thing is, the siblings couldn’t be any more different. Jenna, like the fire she draws her strength from, can go from warm to scorching with just a breath, always in motion, consumed by a will to live so strong it galvanises everyone around her. Felix, meanwhile, is quiet and gentle, the hardness of his face hiding the softness of his heart. Like a young tree in a wind-torn landscape, he bends and warps under the constant assaults of life, but always remains standing, his misshapen trunk offering shelter and familiarity to others. What unites them is kindness, and determination. For Jenna, to run forward, to burn bright enough to shame the darkness that tried to define her life. For Felix, to live at all.
So different, and yet Sheba finds herself drawn to both. To Felix’s strong spirit and delicate heart. To Jenna’s fierceness and her laughter that comes to spite fate.
She wants to run fingers down Jenna’s hair and taste fire in their kisses, to press Felix down and keep her hand on his head until his eyes close and his breath breaks, and by the time she catches herself running through possible introductions to her family, it dawns on her that maybe this is more than the result of teenage humours after all.
Dealing with two crushes while trying to save the world, she could handle. Watching Piers do the same, slowly falling from his instantly formed crush on Felix to blushing slightly when Jenna compliments him too, isn’t that surprising. It’s not like Piers had many chances to dip his toes into the sea of heart matters back on Lemuria; when teasingly questioned about it, he’d admitted that he had tried, but that what few youths still lived on the island had grown bored with the vulnerability of actually seeking someone out and had instead embraced pining as a way of life, even when that pining wasn’t actually one-sided. What need was there to hurry and embarrass or hurt themselves, they asked, the few times he tried to actually move forward. They had all the time in the world. Well, Sheba couldn’t blame them, really, but it was no surprise that it had grated on someone as open-hearted as Piers. Finally finding himself in the company of people he so liked, it could almost be expected that his heart would be all too ready to try, to commit.
What she hadn’t expected was to finally meet up with the fabled Isaac from closer than a lighthouse’s width and find half his team displaying the exact same symptoms.
Really, what was with that bloodline?
“Those three became very close after the events of four years ago,” Kraden tells her when she asks him if she can use him as a sounding board. It’s a mutual and not uncommon arrangement, Kraden subjecting his theories to her less educated but quick and easily branching mind, she running her observations and dilemmas by his experience and sense of nuance. “I only arrived in Vale some months later, of course, but even then, you could still feel the void those who were caught in that flood had left behind. Jenna… when I first met her, she wasn’t doing well, having to live alone, but the boys stuck to her like glue. Garet especially… I thought it strange at first, because he hadn’t lost anyone close to him that I could think of, but if anything… he was the glue. He knew what they needed. He messed around to cheer them up, trained with them to build a sense of purpose, kept Isaac from becoming a well-trained, sharp-bladed ghost of himself. When they studied with me, I always thought that one day, the three of them would just move together.” He rolls his eyes, and smiles a little, nodding towards the three of them, for once joined by Felix as they all attempt to fish over the side of the ship. “Now, looking at this, I think maybe Garet was closer to Felix than I ever thought.”
“Or maybe he wasn’t close and didn’t want to miss his chance again,” she suggests, chest sparkling with excitement and theories.
“Hmm… you may be right. But should you be gossiping about this?” he asks her in the tone of someone who absolutely hasn’t been providing most of the gossip.
“Is it wrong to want to learn more about my favourite people?”
“… I suppose I can’t fault you for that.” He pauses, then smiles conspiratorially. “So have I ever told you about how Isaac almost fried us all when we got into Sol Sanctum?”
Sheba takes a seat.
So. Almost everyone she knows has a crush on Jenna and Felix. That’s fair. She can’t exactly blame them. From what she can tell, even Alex has something for Felix, judging by his little tantrum a few months ago, and she’s not sure Alex is human. Or has a heart. If someone had designed a character in a play to be as obnoxious as possible, they’d have come up with Alex.
The Vale kids are all into each other too. That’s fair too honestly. Bonding against adversity, all that. And, well, when it comes to Felix, it hasn’t taken long for her to notice what makes his breath catch, and Isaac’s ruthless strength is exactly the kind of thing that will make his eyes wander, will get him to stand silently and watch, every observant wallflower. But he’s not blind to the others too, Piers’s gentleness, Garet’s overprotective streak, even, to a point, Mia’s kind but strict healer voice, even though she could have sworn a couple of months ago that his eyes barely registered girls (maybe she needs to be more forward after all).
But the part that shocks her (honestly, scandalous, her doing it to everyone else is irrelevant, it’s doing it deliberately that matters) is how often she follows the trail of psynergy brushing at her senses like an itch, only to find Ivan and Garet sitting close together, occasionally even on each other, Ivan’s fingers on Garet’s chest or the side of his head, having silent but tangibly intimate conversations. Seriously. You can feel it in the air.
She had dismissed Garet the first time they met, but it really does look like he has much more going for him than she expected. And a lot of popularity.
“I’m bad with words,” he confesses, one day, after she gets him out of his shell by playfully asking if she can read his mind too. “I try to do things for people and it often backfires… I say things too fast and it backfires… at some point I figured, if we want to stand a chance against all this, we’ve gotta be able to understand each other properly… so I thought I’d let him read my mind a little…” He blushes. “And then gradually…”
“You started enjoying it, huh?”
“It—it’s not like that!” She grins wider and he sighs, cheeks and hair in harmony. “Okay, it’s kinda like that, but it’s more… I like having him do it. Being close to him. And I just…” He sighs, but the slightest hint of a smile warms his face. “… he doesn’t talk that much either, you know… so it’s nice… being together in that way. Sharing that.”
“I know what you mean,” she laughs. “I wish Felix actually talked about things. Was he always like this? Back when you were kids?”
“He was always shy. Not as closed off as now, but… he didn’t talk much. He was more of a listening person.” He sighs. “He was the one who didn’t talk and I was the one who talked too much.”
She pats his back.
“Don’t worry. We need people who talk on this ship.”
“Don’t you already do that?”
“Other than me and Kraden! Plus, you’re good at actually getting them all to communicate. I’m not that good at that. My technique is ‘poke it with a stick and see how it reacts’. It works sometimes.”
“Some of them definitely need it,” he grumbles.
“Is that a jab at Isaac?” she asks, sweetly. “I wouldn’t poke that guy with a stick unless I had some good armour on, personally.”
“Listen, he… it’s been rough on him, okay. He blamed himself for three years. I think the entire time, he just… he wouldn’t tell us, but I think even back then, when we were fourteen, he thought he needed to be strong enough to defeat Saturos and Menardi alone someday. He knew they were alive somewhere. He blamed them… but he blamed himself even more. Even when we found out Felix was alive…”
“… he still thought his father was dead huh?”
“Yeah. And then we left Vale, but one time we had to drop by for some supplies and…”
“… his mother. She’s not doing well. She just broke apart when he left. So I think he’s blaming himself for that too.”
“… must be hard being a leader type.”
He snorts, and she smiles.
“Tell me about it. You have no idea how hard it is to get him to relax.”
“Have you tried cuddling?”
“No, really, I’m serious,” she adds, brightly. “Sit him down with some tea and blankets and watch the sunset or something. Share some body heat. Does wonders. Get Jenna to join in. Felix if you can drag him in. You’ll see.”
“I can’t tell if you’re crazy, a trickster, or a genius,” he sighs.
“Maybe a bit of all three!”
(She kisses Jenna at the top of the ship, out of sight, while everyone else is busy preparing their landing on Kalt island. “For warmth,” she says, eyes twinkling at the pink spreading on Jenna’s cheeks.
“I’m a Mars adept, dummy,” Jenna mutters.
“Yes, and I’m not. I’m so dreadfully cold out here, won’t you help me?”
Jenna rolls her eyes, but she does kiss her again.)
Sheba had thought that the ache in her ankles after the endless cliff jumps of Air’s Rock would be the worst rock-related pain she’d ever have to deal with. She hadn’t counter on fireballs.
“Don’t move,” Mia tells her, quickly spreading a veil of water over her entire blistered body, and maybe for the first time, Sheba really is grateful to be an adept, because she hasn’t been this genuinely worried for her life since she fell from Venus Lighthouse.
From the way everyone else looks at her, they’re about as worried as she is. Maybe even more. It’s a strange feeling.
“I—I’m fine,” she croaks, her throat regaining the ability to move. Water promptly goes into it, and she splutters.
“Don’t move,” Mia says again, and suddenly the water is circling her, holding her in place, forcing her to stay put as it wraps and heals her, and oh, Sheba never thought she’d find any interest in being on this side of the fence, but suddenly her breath is coming short in a way that has nothing to do with the pain, and a whole world of possibilities is opening in front of her.
As Kraden would say, one should never give up on discovering and experiencing new things!
(Being burned half to death is something she would rather not experience again, though.)
Mia’s eyes meet hers, firm and cold and intense, and Sheba could almost think that she Knows.
But for now, the pain and the relief of its disappearance are still too high on her list of priorities to worry about anything else. So instead, she closes her eyes and lets the magic soothe her to sleep.
There’ll be time to worry about all those things if they win. And there will be many things to worry about.
“… we’re a big whole mess, aren’t we?” she muses as they carefully sail through the iceberg maze of the northern reaches.
At her side, Kraden chuckles.
“Are you denying it?”
“Hm. I suppose not. And yes, we are. But think of it this way. Do you think anything less would get us through the ordeals ahead?”
“Maybe you’re right.”