Shreya made it to their meeting place before Ellie did, but didn’t have much time to breathe before she heard the other girl running her way.
She made sure her face was dry and her expression cool and composed. There wasn’t anything she could do about the redness of her eyes, other than pretend that she was having a bad reaction to something in the air. She hoped that excuse would be enough to cover for any weaknesses to come.
“Shreya!” Ellie skidded to a stop in front of her. She thrust a thick, gold and brown-trimmed book towards her. “I got you the history thing you wanted. It’s an abridged version, but it has footnotes about other books and we’ve got them, so whatever you want to know more about, just tell me and I’ll grab those for you, too.”
“Oh, thank you,” Shreya said. She practiced a smile, considering it a victory when it didn’t falter.
“Sorry if you were waiting for a long time. I had to go to a council meeting to get it. They’re not as strict with their time limits as they should be.” Ellie dumped the book back inside her bag. “The council needs help. A lot of it. Luckily I was there to lead them in the right direction.”
“Are you going to go to more meetings?”
Ellie laughed bitterly. “Hell. No. I’d rather jump off a bridge,” she said. “They’re obsessed with electricity and like, other new technology stuff instead of with the townspeople. They should be eating and breathing Stockbrunn. Not literally, but you know what I mean. They should obsess over that, not electricity.”
“Electricity,” Shreya repeated. She liked the sound of that word. “What words are similar?”
“Energy. Power. It’s something that can move mountains and light up towns,” Ellie explained. “Gas, steam, and wind can do those things, too, but electricity’s different. You can do more with it. Honestly, though, I don’t know a whole lot about it. There’s some towns in Casterne that use it.”
“Have you seen it?” Shreya pictured it as a liquid fire coursing through the veins of trees.
“I think so? It’s that spark you see and feel sometimes. Do you know what lightning is? The white flash you see in a storm, and there’s a thunder rumble noise with it?” Ellie asked. “That’s electricity happening. And you can see it in smaller ways. Have you ever walked around a carpet in wool socks before?”
“No, I do not think I have,” Shreya said. “When I talk to you, I feel like I know so little.”
Ellie waved her hands out in front of her. “That’s okay! You know a lot of other things. I only know these things because of where I’m from. You’ve got me beat, anyway, since you know all of your things and Casternian. I couldn’t do that.”
“You give me too much credit.”
“You deserve all the credit in Casterne, and I’m not just saying that.” The way Ellie smiled had Shreya smiling back without trying. The facade broke in her presence, giving way to something more genuine. “You’re a great person.”
“Stop that.” Shreya rolled one of her hat’s strings between her thumb and forefinger, trying to distract her smile from getting any bigger. “I am not that great. You are.”
“Because of my title? A title’s a title.” Ellie pushed the toe of her boot into the dirt.
“Not your title. It is you. You bring out my fun side,” a side of her that rarely came out with anyone else. Something about Ellie gave her permission to be silly, and try and do things she couldn’t back at home. “Do you say I am great because I know how to speak multiple languages? It doesn’t take much to be great, then.”
“That’s a small thing that makes you great, among a bunch of other small things. It stacks.”
“Do you want to learn our language? I can teach you phrases,” Shreya said. The prospect of having the linguistic upper hand for once excited her. While her Casternian wasn’t the worst, she was still painfully aware of her shortcomings: the woodenness of her speech, the way she had to unpack every word and repackage it. Ellie introduced her to new vocabulary every time they met.
Reading that Cavalier book was for more than entertainment. It was for study, as well. She’d get more practice traveling through storybook pages. Unfortunately, she hadn’t been able to read more than the back, and Ellie’s apology letter within it. Quiet days up ahead meant she’d finally be able to read it.
“This isn’t going to stop me from wanting to learn it, but, um… What does it sound like, and what’s it called?” Ellie lifted her bag off of her shoulder, and set it down. The history book peeked out of it.
“It doesn’t have a precise name. We call it something like our language, or the language.” Neither of those translations had the right level of care. Casternian was too sterile of a tongue, too distant and at arms’ length. “It sounds like…what do you want me to say?”
Ellie rolled her shoulder. The weight of her bag may have strained it. Shreya hoped it was nothing serious. “How about you answer one of my questions from yesterday? What do you honestly think of me? You can be brutal.”
“You win’t understand it.”
“Won’t,” Ellie corrected, “and that’s the point. If my suspicions are wrong, I don’t want to know a thing. I like the mystery factor of the maybe, maybe not. Maybe I’m right. Maybe I’m wrong. I like not having a clue.”
“You do not. If that was truth, you would never ask.”
“Zip zip zippidy zip zip,” Ellie babbled. “That’s the beginning of my secret. Me, at my most honest. You should do it, too.”
“That is not how my language sounds. It is not zippy.”
“I know. I wasn’t making fun of you. It’s all I’ve got to work with, okay?” Ellie cupped her hands out in front of her, like she was holding an invisible baby bird. “Zip zippidy. Zip, zip, Shreya.”
If that’s supposed to be her heart she’s cradling, she’s more of a romantic than I thought. Shreya could play along. Messing with Ellie was one of her favorite games as of late. She stepped in closer, and gently uncurled the other girl’s fingers.
“Me, at my most honest,” she echoed Ellie. Shreya smoothed her hands up Ellie’s arms, surprised at the firmness of her biceps. She ran them back down, and felt the subtle wrist straining she was doing to flex her arms. You don’t have to try and show off. You’re fine, and nervous, if her racing heartbeat was any indication.
Shreya brought her hands back up, and let them rest on Ellie’s shoulders. She stole a glance into her brown eyes and instantly knew she’d made a mistake by looking. Up close, she could see the beginnings of what she may look like in a few years, a captivating maturity to her looks that her youthful spirit covered up. The gentle arc of her eyebrows. The willful gaze she wore, the sort that Shreya sought to be appraised in. They commanded a presence like this. And then, there was the smile tugging at the corners of her lips, a smile Shreya wanted to widen.
She leaned in at an angle, bringing her mouth close to Ellie’s ear. Shreya cooed softly in her home language, letting the syllables take their time. “You keep making me forget that I’m not supposed to like you. I’ve got so many reasons to hate you, to be mad at you, but you…” She laughed under her breath, Ellie jumping a little in her loose grasp. “What are you doing to me, Ellie?”
Ellie didn’t move. “Zippidy zip zip,” she whispered back. “Zip zippy zip zip. Zip zip? Zip zip.” A heavy sigh. The zips took on a sadder tone. “Zippity zip zip. Zip…zip zip, Shreya.”
She took that as a cue to say more, sticking to her native language. “You’re surprising and confusing. I don’t think that’s a trait all humans share. It’s you, only you. You’re something else, Ellie.” Not that she knew many for comparison, but this girl was unlike any she’d read about.
“You’re beautiful,” the words came out of Ellie quietly. “Crap, I mean, you sound beautiful. Dammit, I can’t talk. Pretend you didn’t hear that.” She slipped back into character, and said, “zip zip zip. Zippidy zip zip zipper. Zips zip zipper zip, Shreya.”
Pretending didn’t do anything to soothe the somersaults happening in her chest. Still relying on the safety of the Marjani language, she said, “see? You keep paying me compliments and treating me nicely. You’re not fair.” Shreya slid her arms forward, to let them drape languidly around her neck. “It’s just you doing things like this that makes me forgetful. You need to control yourself, or else…”
Her words hung in the air without response. Not letting go, Shreya eased back to gauge Ellie’s reaction. Her smile had escaped her lips and became the brightness that illuminated her eyes. Those eyes, they looked into Shreya’s, flicked downwards, and back into hers again. A question.
Shreya repeated the motion. An invitation. Ellie moved in, her eyes closing and her hands meeting Shreya’s waist—
and she shoved Ellie off, taking a big step backwards as she did. Ellie stumbled, regained her footing, and looked the very image of someone who’d cracked a clay doll. Red-faced, making false start vocalizations too strung together for Shreya to understand.
“Okay, okay, great,” Ellie slowed down. “Great! Isn’t sharing secrets like that great? I had a good time, didn’t you? Good, yeah, good. A good time was had, indeed.” The slower pace didn’t seem to help her be any less flustered.
“I am sorry.” Shreya didn’t have the comfort of her language to hide behind anymore.
“Nothing to be sorry about!” She laughed a laugh so forced it made Shreya cringe. “I got carried away, yeah. How embarrassing. Man, oh man, that’s embarrassing.” Ellie laughed again.
“You startled me. I got scared.”
Ellie rubbed her arm against her eyes, as if she was waking up. “Sorry for being gross. I took that way too far. Caught up in the moment, y’know? Ew, me,” she said, making a face. “Are we okay?”
“You are not gross,” Shreya said, “and we are okay.”
“What were we talking about before?”
“Yeah! Electricity, it sure is a cool thing. What a thing electricity is. It powers things up. You can make it in these generator stations, or something,” Ellie explained, fumbling her words. She grabbed her bag and hefted the strap over her shoulder. “I can show you it at the house. The socks thing. Cool, let’s get going and see some electricity.”
She hurried off at a speed between walking and jogging. Shreya took her time, taking in the surroundings spread out before them. Green, and brown, and life. The clicking hum of insects. The smell of wet wood. Moss clinging to a forgotten log. Overturned rocks and the brief splashes of color brought by the presence of flowers.
They moved in the cool shade cast by trees overhead.
“S-so, how’s your day been so far? What did you do today?” Ellie asked without turning around. “Sorry I forgot to ask.”
A phantom hand squeezed its way around her heart. Shreya took in a breath to steady herself. “It was alright.”
“…And we’re definitely okay?”
“Yes,” Shreya said, thankful that Ellie misattributed the strain in her voice. Her fears of Ellie digging into the issue were unfounded. “Did you want to train? I warn you I am not an experienced teacher. I do not know where to start.”
“How about at the beginning?” Ellie suggested. “Just kidding. If it makes you feel any better, I basically know squat all so you can’t go wrong no matter where you start with me.”
Shreya didn’t go near the odd thing she said in the middle of her sentence. “Okay… What do you want to do?”
“We should do something to establish a baseline, right?”
“A starting point. Yes.”
“Let’s spar!” Ellie stopped them, her usual smile and energy restored. She took her bag off, and then paced around to check if the area had an adequate amount of space. They’d ventured off far from the walking path.
“What is that? A game?”
“It’s when you practice fighting. It’ll be fun,” she said, “and I wanna show you I’m not as defenseless as you think. I’m rusty, but I used to get private self defense training. My Mom insisted on it.”
“Ellie, I do not want to fight you,” Shreya said with a sigh. “You will never fight anyone like this. This is not practical.”
“We’re not fighting. We’re sparring. It’s different. Don’t you think learning how to fight unarmed, without weapons, is an essential skill?” Ellie sat down in the grass, her fingers making quick work of her boot laces. “No shoes allowed.”
“It is important, but…”
“Think of it as a game.” Ellie kicked her boots off. “Shoes.”
“What are the rules?” She untied her leather shoes, and slipped her feet out of them. Why am I doing this?
“No headshots. The neck and up is a no. Don’t start at full strength. The point of this isn’t to hurt each other. We’re trying to show technique,” Ellie said. She stuffed her socks into her boots.
Shreya added, “no blood. Blood and we stop. And we stop if you get hurt in any way.”
“We’ll stop if you get hurt, you mean.” She jumped up to a stand. “Keeping your cape on?”
She took off her knife belt and set it aside with her shoes. “Is that a problem?” Since she hadn’t been able to go home, she hadn’t bound herself as well as she usually did. Shreya had to borrow some of her chest wrappings and arm bandages to keep her upwards-laying tail tied to her back. She wore her shirt tucked in, as an added help for keeping it all in place. Her cape kept all of that covered up.
“I don’t know. It gives me something to grab.” Ellie stretched her arms over her head. She bent down to reach her toes.
Shreya tied her hat strings tighter beneath her chin. “Grab? What does ‘grab me’ mean? Is that what you plan on doing to me?”
“…Is that a legitimate question, or are you trying to mess with me? I can’t tell if you’re serious or not,” Ellie said.
“Okay…” To Shreya’s disappointment, Ellie didn’t go for the bait. “Let’s do this with throwdown rules. You win by taking your opponent to the ground, or when they tap out. Three rounds.”
Shreya bent down at the waist, keeping her back parallel to the ground, arms and shoulders forward. Ellie backed up to give them some more room to move. She brought her hands up into loose fists, her body slightly angled. She had her left shoulder aimed towards Shreya, her left heel following suit in front of her while she rocked back and forth on the ball of her back foot.
“Count of three. Three, two, one…go!”
Ellie moved forwards, then backwards, light on her feet. She strafed to the side, Shreya watching her dance-like movements in amusement. Didn’t she know she’d be thrown more easily like that? Shreya pivoted to stay face-on with her. Ellie got closer and then dipped just out of Shreya’s swiping range. On the defensive, Shreya stayed mostly stationary, allowing Ellie to come to her on her own terms.
That proved to be the right move. Overly confident from all her footwork, Ellie came back into striking distance. Her right fist swung for Shreya, who stood up straighter to block it. What she missed was Ellie’s other hand. It connected with her side, the hit more solid than she expected.
Shreya grasped that arm by the elbow to stop her. Ellie attempted another hit with her free hand. It made its mark, getting Shreya in the shoulder. She hit her a second time in the same spot, and then a third time much harder than the first two. With a growl, Shreya moved forward to knock her down, pushing her weight forward. Hitting didn’t matter here. It was all about the takedown.
Feeling herself sliding, she gripped Shreya’s shoulder to hold on for dear life. No luck there. Ellie tried to rip her other arm out of Shreya’s hold. Shreya gave her what she wanted, freedom of her arm. She let go, moved her hand to her hip, and took her straight down.
She would’ve been more gentle with dropping Ellie if she hadn’t pummeled her shoulder. Shreya backed off, out of her fighting stance. Ellie stayed sprawled out, trying to catch her breath.
“Shit,” she wheezed out, “that was fast.”
“I did not hurt you, did I?”
“I’m good…I think. How about you? Is your shoulder okay?” Ellie got back up. She rubbed her elbow to check for any bruises forming.
Shreya did the same for her shoulder. “You take your games seriously.”
“Yeah, well, sparring’s a good way of getting to know someone. I’ve got to take it seriously. I want you to have a better idea of who I am,” she replied. They got back into their starting positions. “Impressed yet?”
“It is too early to say,” Shreya answered.
“Heh. Ready? Three, two, one…go!”
Less bounce this time, Ellie exploded forward. Shreya met her charge. She reached for her middle, attempting a tackle that Ellie side-stepped away from. Not losing her momentum, Ellie aimed her hits for Shreya’s side. The one-two-three hit combo clipped Shreya. She pivoted on one foot, and slammed her open palm Ellie’s stomach.
The pain of that hit was palpable. It flashed across Ellie’s eyes. Shreya backed off and made an X across her body with her arms.
“Stop,” Shreya called. “You are hurt.”
She wiped the sweat from her forehead. “I’m fine. Second round’s a stalemate.” Ellie brought her fists back up, not giving Shreya much time to reason with her. “Final round. Three, two, one, go.”
Determination on all time high, Ellie launched herself at Shreya. She snapped a fast jab at her. Shreya ducked down to avoid it. Planning to swing in low from the right, Shreya started to move only for Ellie to slap her left hand over her upper back. She clutched her cape. Startled, Shreya took steps backwards to shake Ellie’s hand off.
Ellie took advantage of her momentary panic. With her other hand, she grabbed Shreya’s left wrist, and then in one fluid motion her hand on Shreya’s upper back moved. She hooked her arm around her neck, stepping forward as she swept her foot behind Shreya’s left knee. They fell forward together, Shreya hitting her back on the ground and Ellie laying on top of her sideways.
Her arm wrapped behind her neck hadn’t cushioned the fall by much. Rocks dug into her back. Shreya closed her eyes, her head spinning. Ellie’s weight lifted off of her. Whatever Ellie was saying—something about her cape being a good target—washed over her. She sounded far away. Underwater.
When she resurfaced, she saw Ellie standing over her, just like—
no, don’t think about her. Shreya willed herself not to. She tried to get up, but her cape wouldn’t move. Her feet planted on her cape, Ellie had her pinned. Trapped. And that look she was giving her…the forest’s shadows made it impossible to read. Malice? Anger? Ellie’s posture showed she was
ready to strike and take your ears from you. She knows your secret. Shreya slapped her hands against the top of her head. The hat hadn’t moved. She’s going to take it. She’s going to hurt you just like Shanti did, because you left him. She’d ran, escaping from her people’s forest and into this one, all while Danilo lay dying. She abandoned him, all while people who wouldn’t cry for her stood around him, hoping and praying and wishing that it had been her instead of him.
Who’d miss the misfit, the wolf who wasn’t a wolf? Shanti could tell everyone she died trying to hunt down the rabbit, and no one would bat an eye. Compared to Danilo, Shreya was nothing to her community.
the rabbit’s knife stained in red—
the way he collapsed against Shanti—
Shreya squirmed. Ellie crouched to her level, saying something she couldn’t parse. Everything was going hazy, like a fog was passing through. Ellie reached for her arm. Shreya moved her hand away. “Get off of me.” As soon as she did, Shreya stood back up.
“I’m sorry! We don’t have to spar ever again. It was a silly, silly idea,” Ellie said. “I shouldn’t have done that to you without a training mat. Where does it hurt the most? Your back?”
“My back is fine.”
“You’re crying. Your back’s not okay. Shit!” Ellie walked back and forth. “You need to lie down. You shouldn’t be standing. I’ll…I’ll get the water. You lay down.”
Shreya wiped the back of her hand across her cheek. Ellie was right. She looked at the streak of water on her hand. “It is not about the game. I am okay. It is about Dan—” The strength of her voice snapped. It crumbled away to pitiful puffs of air.
“What is next today, looking for your friend? We are doing that.” Shreya picked up her shoes. She took in a shuddering breath through her tears. Helping Ellie would get her mind off of everything. She could go back to keeping everything far away from her.
“We can look for her another day.” Ellie grabbed her boots and socks. “We’re going to the house.”
“She is important.”
“You’re important,” Ellie said, her voice sanitized of its merriment. “Put your shoes on and let’s go.” Once they had all of their things packed and ready, Ellie offered Shreya her hand to hold.
Ellie walked ahead of her as they went. She kept her hand behind her, linked with Shreya’s. Walking like that afforded Shreya more privacy as her tears continued to fall.
~ * ~ * ~
Two jars of oatmeal were set out on the table.
No one had touched them.
Shreya leaned her head in her hands, covering her eyes as if that would dam the water coming out of them. Ellie sat across from her, quiet. Although they weren’t talking, her presence was enough of a help. The gentle breaths Ellie was taking in, the near inaudible inhale and exhale, gave Shreya something to focus on.
She lowered one of her hands to the table, and moved it towards Ellie without looking. Ellie took it. She smoothed her thumb over Shreya’s pulse point. It was when her ears picked up a change in her breathing—a sniffle—that Shreya finally looked at her.
“I swear I don’t cry this much,” Ellie said, smiling weakly. “You’re, like, my soft spot or something. I’m way cooler than this.”
“I think you are mine, too.” Her voice had gone hoarse. “You are an interesting girl.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment.”
“Please do,” Shreya said. She glanced at the food jars. “I do not think I can have that, not right now.”
“That’s okay. Don’t think you have to. I only took them out in case you wanted to,” Ellie said. “We can take things easy, okay? We don’t have to talk about whatever’s going on. Think of today as your day. We can do anything.”
“I think I want to talk upstairs.” Shreya’s limbs weighed heavily as she got out of her chair. Her exhaustion was from more than the sparring. Too much had happened in a single day. “Join me.”
She walked up the stairs and sat on the first bed she laid eyes on. Not that there was much variation among them. They all looked aged and worn down. The mattress squeaked beneath her, the coils pressing against her. She found a more comfortable spot against the headboard, and stretched out her legs.
Ellie took a seat on the edge of the bed. If she’d been in a better mood, Shreya would’ve teased her for that. Instead, she silently patted the spot next to her. Looking grateful, and a touch relieved, Ellie took it.
“I do not know where to start,” Shreya said. “It has been a terrible day.” And there went her voice, becoming watery soft all over again.
Ellie sat up more. “Is it okay if I hold you?” Shreya nodded. Ellie put her arm around her shoulders, sitting closer. She matched Shreya’s voice for softness. “Take as much time as you need. I’m not going anywhere.”
Being this close, there was a lot of Ellie to take in. The thrum of her heartbeat. Her pleasant scent. Shreya spoke, “I was with my sister and her friends this morning. They seemed nice. Okay…except one of them. He brought a fish to shore when he didn’t need to, but it wasn’t that big of a deal.”
“Where did this happen?”
“In the woods.” Where else could it have been? “We had a fire. We were eating fish. Everything was okay, and then, most of the group left to watch my sister and her friend fight. I stayed at the fire with one of her friends, because I do not like fighting, sorry.” She knew she was stalling by drawing the story out. “He was friendly. Very friendly.”
“Friendly like me?”
“No, not like you. There is no one like you there for me.”
“I know how that feels…”
Shreya let out a big sigh. “We talked. Then, we met everyone else. Things were okay. My sister won her fight. She and her friend were bleeding, and it disturbed me.” She was thankful that her sparring with Ellie hadn’t resulted in anything similar. “Blood is not unusual. We fight hard.”
“Do you win a lot?”
“No, my sister wins. That is okay with me. It is a sport. It is meant to be fun.” Shreya took in another deep breath.
Ellie squeezed her shoulders. “You can stop whenever you need to.”
“Thank you. I want to keep going,” Shreya said. She readied herself for the worst part of the story. “We found a rabbit after that. And we…we surrounded it. Everyone wanted to kill it but me.” Her head threatened to spin again. “The rabbit was not doing anything. It did not deserve to die.”
“Four legs or two?” Ellie asked. “Were they trying to kill it for fun?”
“Two legs. It was not for fun. It was for food but in a disrespectful way,” Shreya said. She remembered the way Adikavi passed his knife back and forth, and the way they all openly discussed killing the rabbit. “It did not feel right. She did not look dangerous. She did not provoke anyone. She was there. That was all. She begged for her life.”
“So they killed the rabbit?”
Shreya turned her head towards Ellie, tilting her head so she could hide against her chest. “No. They did not,” she mumbled. “My sister was going to force me to. She wanted me to prove myself to her. Kill the rabbit, and you’re one of us.”
“That sounds like a gang initiation.”
“Gang? No gang. It is family. It is community,” Shreya said. “Th-there’s someone I have not told you of in my story. He is someone important.”
“Who is he?”
“My sister’s Forever.” Shreya couldn’t think of a better word for it in Casternian. “He was there, and he said he would kill it for me. He got down a-and then that rabbit attacked him.” She closed her eyes to try and hold back more of her tears. It wasn’t working. “The rabbit had a knife and she hurt him so bad, Ellie.”
Ellie hugged her closer. Shreya could feel her heart pounding in her chest.
She continued, “The rabbit ran. Everyone else carried him back and my sister and I stayed to talk. I would not let her chase the rabbit, and we fought. She…” Shreya’s voice became whisper thin. “She hates me. Shanti never wants to see me again.”
“Was she the one who put that shoeprint on your cape? I didn’t say anything when I first saw it, but…I saw it.”
“Yeah. She was very angry. She had a knife. I thought she would hurt me.” Shreya tried not to relive that moment. “It was horrible.”
“Your sister pulled a knife on you? That’s fucked up, Shreya.”
“It should have been me, not Danilo. The rabbit should have hurt me.”
“Bullshit. Don’t say things like that,” Ellie shot at her.
“What if he’s dead because of me?” Shreya asked.
“It wasn’t your fault,” Ellie said. “The only one anyone should blame for this is the rabbit. It’s not fucking fair to put it all on you.”
“None of this would’ve happened if I was normal,” she whispered. “If I was normal, I could’ve killed it and been done.”
“Community comes first always,” Shreya said, “but it’s not like I can go back there. My sister warned me not to.”
“Then don’t go back. Come home with me to Stockbrunn,” Ellie said.
She thought of Sunflower and Marietta, and how they instantly knew she was a wolf. There’d be no hiding in Stockbrunn, not among the people who’d be her enemies if they saw through her disguise. “I can not.”
“Why not?” Ellie’s voice rose. “I can keep you safe. No one’s going to force you to do anything you don’t want to do. No one’s going to be pulling knives on you. You keep saying you’re not like anyone from your home. You don’t have to be.”
What the fuck are you? Her sister had screamed that at her.
“I’m not like them,” Shreya said, “and I can’t be like you. I’m nothing.”
Not a wolf; not a human. An entity all her own.
“You’re not nothing to me,” Ellie said. Shreya looked up at her, into her eyes looking at her like she was all that was important. She would’ve gotten lost in that look if it weren’t for the space between them shortening.
Something cracked inside of her. It must’ve been the electricity Ellie spoke of, the thing that had the strength to move mountains and power entire towns. It was the pull that brought them together, Ellie’s hand finding hers as they leaned in closer.
Shreya’s eyes lulled to a close. Her senses filled with the girl before her. Ellie, the girl who’d so thoroughly planted herself in her head. Ellie, the girl set to inherit a legacy she rejected. Ellie, with her love of wheat oatmeal, lockpicking, rebellion, games, and laughter—she was kissing that girl, and she was kissing her back in earnest.
They parted, still holding each other to keep one another close.
Ever the eloquent one, Ellie spoke first. “Wow. That happened…”
“I know,” Shreya replied, “that happened.” She let go of her, and settled herself so she could more comfortably lay against Ellie. “And yes, before you worry, we are okay. We are very okay.” She felt incredibly tired. The day’s events had taken their toll on her. Her emotions had ran her ragged.
“Wow,” Ellie repeated numbly.
“Thank you for listening…” Shreya wasn’t sure what else she said. That was the last thing before she gave in to the urge to sleep.
~ * ~ * ~
She woke with a start some time later. Ellie was trying her best to slide out from under her without disturbing her. The coil springs made that an impossible task to win.
“Sorry,” Ellie said. “I have to get home. The sun’s gotten too low.”
That’s right. Ellie had Stockbrunn to return to. Shreya sat up, careful to keep her cape behind her. “Alright.”
“You’re staying here for the night, right?” Ellie asked. Shreya nodded in confirmation. Ellie said, “I can lock you in here, but if you go out it may mess up the locking mechanism. I’ve got it rigged in a certain way. You’re not trapped in here, just…nevermind. Basically, if you leave, it’s not going to stay locked.”
“I am not leaving. I am going back to sleep,” Shreya said, “and when I wake up, I will do some reading. Remember to leave the book.”
“And eat the oatmeal. I don’t know how well it’s going to keep through the night.” Ellie frowned. “I wish I didn’t have to leave you. I don’t like the thought of you staying out here all alone. Maybe I can try and see if I can stay with you tomorrow night? Would that be okay?”
“It is okay. This is how it is.” As much as she wanted her to, it would be better if she didn’t. Keeping her disguise through the night seemed a difficult prospect. What if her hat came off, or her cape and clothes shifted to reveal her tail? Anything could happen from her tossing and turning at night. “Sleeping in a house like this is better than how I usually sleep. I will be okay.”
“Alright… I’ll see what I can do. Bye, Shreya.”
She said farewell to her in her language, “take care, Ellie.”
“Zip zip,” she chirped back to her, and she left down the stairs.
Shreya rolled over on the bed, her eyes to the ceiling.
I hope things really are okay.
A/N: Hope this was worth the wait! THAT HAPPENED. But what’s going to happen next for them? Ahhh, I can’t wait to find out what waits for them. Anyway, let me know your thoughts in the comments. I was originally going to split this chapter in half, but I decided that it’d be best to keep everything all together.
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