“Did you have many friends in Kerch?” Hanne asked. They were sitting in the snow, bundled up together underneath a sheepskin blanket.
Nina’s eyes lit up. “Yes!” She grinned, immediately sitting up and gesturing wildly with her hands as she spoke. “Well, first there was Inej. She was wonderful! I think you’d get along. Inej is really clever and wise. Sometimes she sounds like the old lady at the orphanage.”
“Yeah, really. I mean, there are a few things that Inej and I disagree on, but… I miss her so much. She was my first real friend.”
“Well, now you have me.” Hanne inquired. Nina faltered, and something passed unspoken between them. This was different from a friendship, they both knew. Maybe it would take a long time before it could progress to anything more, but… They both harbored their feelings, deep down. They both felt it.
“Right. I have you. There was Jesper too! We had the most fun together, eating waffles. If you ever get to visit Ketterdam, there’s this one place you’ve got to try. Anyway, there’s Jesper’s boyfriend, Wylan. Wylan is pretty cool, actually. I think a lot of the time he’s…”
Hanne nodded along encouragingly as Nina went down the list of her friends, including some kid named Kaz who she apparently considered a friend, but he would never say the same. As Nina spoke, her pale skin shone almost as white as the snow in the early morning light. Her hair, tied in a ponytail, bounced almost as if it was just as excited and full of energy as her. Nina truly was a sight, and Hanne would never tire of looking at her.
“Hanne? Earth to Hanne?”
She blinked in surprise. “Oh, sorry. You were saying?”
“Okay, well, there’s also this kid named Kuwei. He doesn’t speak Kerch very well, but I think we got along. He’s in Ravka learning to use his powers right now. Used to be pretty close with Leoni and Adrik.”
“Fire. He’s an Inferni. Anyway, there’s also—,” Nina paused, stuttering. “There was Matthias.” Her voice sounded flat, and her hands dropped to her sides.
“You loved him.” Hanne observed.
“Perhaps.” Nina agreed. “But I was also sixteen when I met him. And he tried to kill me, a lot. Maybe I loved him. And maybe I hated him too.”
“It doesn’t have to be one or the other.”
Nina smiled sadly, tears welling in her eyes. “I miss when things were easy. When everything wasn’t so, so complicated. When I didn't have to decide if I loved somebody who hated me, or justify my grief to others. I’m allowed to be happy. I’m allowed to move on.”
“There are people out there, Nina. There are people who love you.” Hanne tried, placing a gentle hand on the other girl’s shoulder.
“I know, Hanne dear, I know.” Nina planted a kiss on her cheek.