On the third morning of the Golden Runner’s voyage, Davitts woke with his heart racing and the sensation of something heavy sitting on his chest. He lifted his head for a quick look, even though he knew nothing would be there.
“Davs?” Zie yawned from where he was using Davitts shoulder as a pillow. “Bad dream?”
“No. Not...no.” Davitts struggled to sit up due to the intertwining of limbs and blankets. They’d tried various sleeping arrangements and taking turns with the two bunks, but somehow they always ended up in the same bed by morning.
Ess helped the process by rolling off the edge of the bunk and giving Zie room to maneuver. “Bad feeling, love?”
“Not a good feeling. Something is wrong with this day.”
Stark naked, Ess sprawled on the empty bunk while Zie finished fighting his way free of the blanket tangle. “Worse than the day we left?”
“What?” Davitts had to shake his head before he found his thoughts again since Ess was having a languid, exposing stretch. Far too distracting. “No. Not...like that. A smaller wrongness, I guess. Not as spikey.”
One purple eye peeked out from the tangle of Zie’s long hair. “That’s horribly vague, but I suppose it’s enough to not hide under the bunk for the day.”
“Would you do that to us?” Ess affected a wounded expression. “Hide and abandon us to deal with whatever bad things come along?”
“I suppose not. In any case, furniture tends to be a poor barricade against most things.”
Not the easiest thing to tell when Zie was joking, though it didn’t matter when he bent over the packs to retrieve clothes for the day. Davitts’ thoughts scattered before the lovely view of his beautifully rounded ass. He allowed himself a small pat of one tempting cheek—and got growled at for his efforts—before he turned away from distractions, pulled his pants from the end of the bunk, and started to dress.
The disconcerting wrongness persisted, a feeling he’d tried to explain to Ess once as if one’s fingers kept vanishing and reappearing until the correct number of fingers became uncertain. Ess said it sounded strange, but they didn’t try to say they understood. Davitts appreciated that. Though strange applied to all the days since Zie had appeared in Auntie Lana’s common room.
He and Ess had certainly taken a third person to bed before whom they both found attractive. Once or twice it had lasted more than a night. Three nights, maybe, at the longest. They’d never stayed with anyone this long. Nor had they both developed such a fierce protective streak for any of their bedmates before. They’d agreed that Zie shouldn’t go on alone and without much discussion, some deep-rooted instinct at play.
Of course it was the right thing, now that we know what he’s dealing with. He’s been facing those monsters alone all this time. He was at the end of his endurance and he needed us. Needs us. And I like him in all his soft-spoken, prickliness, even if I don’t entirely trust him yet.
“Davs?” Ess’s voice brought him, blinking, out of his thoughts. “You’ve been holding that boot for quite a while. Is there something going on between the two of you?”
“What? Oh. No. Just thinking.”
“Our Davs is so serious this morning,” Ess said in a whisper the dead could’ve heard.
Zie finished wrapping his ankle and pulled on his boot with a ghost of a smile. “Our Davs is very handsome being serious in nothing but his trousers.”
Face heating, Davs hurried through dressing. The morning had just begun and already the strangeness threatened to burst the day at the seams. Both of them calling him our Davs. Completely unexpected.
The deck already bustled with activity when they left their cabin with sail rats swarming the rigging and junior officers shouting commands. Davitts was no sailor, but even he could tell the wind had shifted.
Captain Unav had the wheel and called down the moment she spotted them. “Wind mage! I was about to send someone for you.”
“At your service, Captain.” Zie turned to face her, claws flexing and sheathing restlessly.
He’s nervous. He’s not done this before. Of course he hasn’t. This isn’t a sylvas boat.
“Go stand with Hennel.” She nodded to her helmsman posted before the mainmast. “We’re losing the wind. On my mark, fill the sails, but gently, mind you. Do not tear my ship apart.”
“The greatest care, Captain.”
Zie strode over to Hennel, only the slightest limp still visible in his steps. Hennel bent to speak in his ear and Zie kept his gaze on the sails, but nodded and slid out of his coat. Their nearness sent a sharp prickle up Davitts’ spine. Surprise number three of the morning. Jealousy was an infrequent visitor, one he always sent on its way as quickly as possible, and this was ridiculous. Zie needed assistance, instructions. All necessary for the safety of the ship and crew.
“Steady!” Captain Unav called out, and the crew froze at their tasks. “Full sail!”
The larger sails—Davitts couldn’t begin to name them all—had already been released, but now the youngsters in the rigging scrambled to unfurl the rest. Almost as if the captain somehow had known the precise moment, the wind abruptly died.
“Time to earn your keep, wind mage!” Captain Unav bellowed in the sudden silence. “Fill those sails!”
Zie raised both hands, much as he had when he’d called the light spell, his eyes squinted half shut. For a moment, nothing happened. Then he braced one foot back and leaned into his spell. A soft breath of air ruffled Davitts’ hair. The breath became a steady breeze, which grew into a wind just strong enough to move the sails.
Captain Unav was grinning as she called down, “That’s it, bucko! A bit more, if you please!”
Zie pulled in a breath and pushed with enough effort that Davitts could almost see his magic. The sails belled outward and the ship leaped forward through the waves. A little smile played at the corner of Zie’s mouth when the crew cheered, but otherwise he kept his concentration on his task.
“I hope this isn’t as exhausting as the light spell,” Davitts murmured in Ess’s ear.
“Don’t think so. Light felt like a…” Ess thought for a moment. “Not like it was unnatural, but like it was a stretch for him. The way you can use a bow if you have to, but it’s not pretty.”
Davitts gave him a shove for that. “I can shoot just fine. But I take your meaning. Wind may have been one of his early, ah...what did he call them?”
“Disciplines.” Ess’s grin grew as he waggled his eyebrows.
Ess laughed, but they both kept their attention firmly on Zie, alert for any sign of faltering. So far, he held up well, shifting his position from time to time as Hennel helped interpret orders barked from the helm for more wind in this sail or that.
Davitts started to believe his ominous feelings had been wrong this time. Always a mistake.
His thoughts shattered when a call issued from the crow’s nest, “Red sails off the stern, Captain! Three-master!”
Captain Unav engaged in some impressive swearing about what the gods should do with pirates before she shouted back, “Colors, girl! Are they flying colors?”
“Don’t know it, Cap’n!” the lookout responded. “But there’s coral on the flag!”
For a moment, the captain simply glared at the waves, but it wasn’t a long moment. “Zie, ease back half! Let them approach! I want every being with even a drop of selak blood at the stern! Move your arses!”
Angel writes (mostly) Science Fiction and Fantasy centered around queer heroes. Currently living part time in the hectic sprawl of northern Delaware and full time inside her head, she has one husband, one son, two cats, a love of all things beautiful and a terrible addiction to the consumption of both knowledge and chocolate.