Stuck With You - Chapter 6

Adair took the non-marked wrist and watched as the colors of Sol's hand blended into each other in an artistically pleasing way, crimson fading though amber into a brilliant sunshine yellow, then winding through chartreuse to forest green into deep indigo, and from indigo into violet and back into crimson.

Chapter 6
Winter 460, now

Adair ran his hand over the purple wall that blocked his view. It was weathered wood that could use a fresh coat of paint, but more importantly he was pretty sure he'd just walked into it. He took a few steps back while he rubbed feeling back into his nose. The wall was attached to a wagon-home that hovered a few feet off the ground, which wasn't too unusual considering that plenty of people lived in these kinds of traveling houses. He and his master had lived in one temporarily when they traveled during Adair's apprenticeship. What was odd was one shouldn't be in his bedroom.

The cold sting of a gust of winter wind prodded his mind into realizing the obvious. He was outdoors. That made way more sense than a house appearing in his tiny rented room. He'd put too much time into his art this week and hadn't slept nearly enough-- he must have spaced out and wandered outside while half asleep. He reached to pull his cloak tighter against the chill only to discover that the only thing he wore was a pair of old cotton pajamas. Please, don't let this mean... he glanced down. Pajamas and the slippers with the ducky heads that quacked with every step. Well, his feet would be warm even if he was in the middle of a ... where was he, anyway?

His groggy mind caught up that maybe he should turn around, if just to check that no one was laughing at the idiot boy dressed in pajamas who, judging from how his face felt, had bumped into the wall more than once. With his fingers crossed for luck, he turned. No one was around, just parked wagons as far as he could see. He was pretty sure he wasn't dreaming-- shivers and a sore nose could attest to that-- but this wasn't anywhere he'd visited before. He would remember wagon-houses that were this garish and crowded together.

Sleepwalking. He must have sleepwalked away from his nice warm bed and into a transient town. He wasn't looking forward to asking for directions back to the inn, that was for sure. The slippers had been a funny idea when he bought them, but he hadn't expected anyone to see him wearing them. That was when it hit him what "transient town" meant: a carnival camp. Carnival performers were notoriously strict about keeping outsiders away from their caravan and he'd just wandered right into the middle of one. This night couldn't get any worse.

A hand grabbed him by the back of his shirt and Adair couldn't shake out of the grip. "I'm sorry! If you tell me how to get out of here, I'll leave. I didn't mean to be here, I swear!"

The grip loosened and Adair spun around, expecting to see some sort of guard ready to toss him out on his butt. The man was large and muscular and could certainly work security if not for the fact that he, too, was wearing pajamas. Probably wasn't on duty, then. Adair risked a glance down at pale toes peeking out of the hem of the man's pants. No slippers, though. He shivered at the thought of bare feet in the middle of winter.

The man was paler than any Adair had seen before, unless that was just the bright yellow and orange stripes of his nightclothes giving him the impression of being bleached out. He grinned a wide smile and caught Adair's wrist in a grip which Adair first thought was intended to drag him away but turned out to be some kind of greeting. "Hi! I'm Sol and I'm important!"

"I'm Adair?" He didn't mean it to sound like a question, but none of this made any sense. He almost wished he was still asleep because odd dreams were better than odd reality.

At least that strange introduction meant Adair knew who was being shouted at when a woman's voice bellowed, "Sol! I know you're out here!"

Sol's grip tightened on Adair's wrist, not painfully, but enough for Adair to guess that he probably didn't plan to let go. "We have to hide!"

Meaning Sol didn't belong here either, which put Adair back on slightly more solid ground. Muddy ground, maybe. Hiding made sense, all things considered, even if nothing else did. He allowed himself to be dragged past a few more wagons and then pulled under one that had marginally more of a gap between the floor and ground than the others did. Adair ducked under easily, but Sol had to squeeze in, kicking Adair in the shoulder and nudging his knees into the dirt in the process. They settled in and Adair took his paintbrush from behind his ear-- luckily sleepwalking-him had the automatic instinct to grab this on the way out-- and focused his weaving into it so he could check for spiders. This time of year they should all be dead, but it would be just his luck to sit in the middle of a cobweb. The light from his brush glinted off a few old webs stretched across the corners and beams, but where he sat and Sol hunched was safe enough, minus the problem a lot bigger than bugs.

Adair tucked his brush back behind his ear so he could keep his hands free in case he needed to scuttle out again. "Why was someone looking for you?"

Sol fidgeted, although Adair wasn't sure if it was because of the question or because he was folded nearly in half. "The healers think I'm sick but I'm really not sick. I can't be sick when I feel a lot better now, right? So since I'm not sick I snuck out as soon as they left and I thought they didn't see but my brother must have ratted me out and now Blade wants to drag me home and I don't want to go. It's boring in there and the carnival's starting tomorrow and I wanna be there to help set up. I'm good at setting up and they let me do the lighting. It's fun!"

Adair's muddy, not so-solid ground became more like quicksand. From what he could gather from Sol's rapidly spoken-in-one-breath explanation, Sol lived here and that meant he was a carny. This was potentially a good sign for Adair not being thrown out since he was befriending a carny... if hiding under a wagon counted as the start of a friendship. Either way, someone with the name "Blade" didn't sound like someone Adair wanted to be caught by even if Sol would vouch for him. He risked the question, "Who's Blade?"

Sol pushed past to peek out from under the wagon before crawling backwards to where he sat before, the front of his pajamas now dusted with dirt. At least the actual ground was dry, if chilly. Adair steadied himself until he was squatting on the balls of his feet. It was nice of sleepwalking-him to remember his arcane focus, but it would have been nice if he remembered a coat or the cloak or maybe a pair of real shoes, too.

Sol didn't seem to mind the cold. He gave up on hunching and laid down on his back and gestured vaguely in the direction he'd looked a few seconds before. In Adair's weaving-light his hand seemed oddly stained, like he'd smeared his hand across Adair's paint palette. "She's one of the healers and she's my important like my brother and she's his important, too."

Healers and being asked to stay inside explained Sol's pajamas, but for everything else, Sol may as well be speaking another language. Did all carnies talk like this? Adair needed better clarification but wasn't sure where to even begin. "She's your... important? Is that why you're hiding from her?"

"Nah, I'm hiding because she's my healer. I said that, right? That she's a healer? Yeah, I think I said she was a healer. The important thing just means she's really fussy about me, like my brother is. Fuss, fuss, fuss. They're always afraid I'm gonna get hurt or something. Do you have a brother? Blade says she lived with her sib for a while but I never met them so I don't know who that is. I don't know how a sib can just leave because I wouldn't want to leave Etch, especially because he's my important and-"

Adair had to ask before Sol's tangent led him who knows where. "What's an important?"

That stopped Sol mid-ramble and he pushed himself up on his elbows so he could look at Adair. "You know, your important. A person who's important to you?"

"Oh. Like your brother. That makes sense. Siblings are important." Adair had a younger sister, but he wouldn't have called her his important. He hadn't seen her in months, which made him feel a little guilty if Sol considered his own sibling such a big part of his life.

Sol stared at him with his pale eyebrows scrunched up, then he broke into a laugh so loud it sent Adair scrambling to shush him so they weren't found. Unless they were supposed to be found because the person looking for Sol was someone he cared about? Adair still had no idea what was going on.

Once Sol's laughter was under control, he flopped back down in the dirt. "Like a brother, yeah, but not like always a brother. No, like... that thing, you know? That thing people all have? Like this."

Sol held up his hands and now that Adair sat nearer, he could make out that his hand wasn't coated in paint at all, but a pulsating rainbow of color. The opposite wrist was the same way. Now it made sense: an "important" was a soulmate. Adair had four of those, but hadn't yet met any of them since all of his marks were the same black smudge they started. He gestured at Sol's hand. "Can I look?"

Sol shrugged and scooted over so he was closer. Adair took the non-marked wrist and watched as the colors of Sol's hand blended into each other in an artistically pleasing way, crimson fading though amber into a brilliant sunshine yellow, then winding through chartreuse to forest green into deep indigo, and from indigo into violet and back into crimson. Adair had seen changed soul-marks before, mostly from a distance, but none had been so perfectly hued as a rainbow. Most had two, maybe three colors that sometimes blended well together, sometimes didn't. He'd always thought that each color represented a soulmate, but that didn't make sense if Sol had an entire rainbow on his hand and wrist. "Does anyone else have one like this?"

"Yeah! Etch and Blade do." It made sense that the marks of Sol's soulmates matched his own, but his next words left Adair gaping. "And yours too, I bet, but I dunno because I can't see it."

"My... what?"

Sol stared back at him. "Your mark? When I touched you my hand went all pretty and rainbowy. You have a mark too, yeah?"

How had Adair missed that? He'd kept such a close eye out in case any of his marks ever changed or in case he made anyone else's change and of course he was oblivious when it finally happened. It could be any of his marks considering how Sol had been bumbling past him and grabbing him for the past fifteen minutes. He rolled up his sleeve, but his forearm remained stained black. Looking into his shirt showed only the same black smudge on his chest that he always had. He was pretty sure Sol hadn't grabbed him by the waist... Adair groaned. Go figure, the first one to change was the one he couldn't see.

Well, at least he had someone he could ask. He tugged up the back of his shirt. "Did it change?"

Sol poked him in the middle of his back, exactly where Adair knew the mark was. "Yeah! It's like mine, same colors and everything. I told ya I was important! We're soulmates."

Adair craned to see between his own shoulder blades and had to admit defeat when his neck began to cramp. He never cared much about mirrors but right now he'd give just about anything to have one. This was incredible! He'd worried for so long that he didn't have any soulmates. His ex-boyfriend used to always say his marks were broken because he had too many of them. It was a huge relief to know for sure that Feren was wrong.

He pulled his shirt back down and grinned at Sol. Not only did he have a soulmate and he wasn't broken, the first soulmate he found was someone else who wore silly pajamas out in public. He could do much worse. His ex, for one, would have been much worse. A thought struck him. "Hey, you know what this means? We're Sol-mates! Get it?"

"Yeah. That's what I said?"

"No, I mean, like your name is Sol."

Sol smiled blankly at him, as though waiting for the joke. "Yeah. Pretty sure I told ya that."

"And we have marks. We're Sol-mates."

Adair got the feeling Sol was trying to humor him when he patted him on the arm. "Yeah. Isn't it great?"

"No, I mean yeah. I mean... oh, forget it." His pun was clearly wasted on this new friend. Maybe his next soulmate would have a better appreciation for terrible jokes.

"There you are!"

The loud, sudden voice caused both of them to jump and Adair was thankful his head was nowhere near the floor of the wagon floating above them. Sol made a face and mouthed "Blade" as he was hauled out by the shoulders.

Adair could stay under the wagon and crawl out the other side to get away. The woman with the scary name didn't have to know he was here. He knew he couldn't do this, though. Leaving behind someone who was meant to be his friend would be a horrible thing to do. He took a deep breath for courage, then pulled his weaving out from the paintbrush until the underside of the wagon was again dark and crawled out after Sol. The now-blinding lantern light made his head ache, but made it easy to see the woman about his own age who had her hands on her hips and Sol caught in the center of her tirade.

Her reprimands ground to a halt when she noticed Adair. She brought her hand to cover her face and shook her head. "Oh no. No, Sol. Not another one like you. You get away from me for a few minutes and what, find the nearest dork in pajamas? Who's this?"

At least Adair felt less self-conscious about the clothes thing when he had someone else being a dork alongside him. "I'm Adair."

Sol threw his arm around his shoulders, nearly knocking him off his feet. "And he's important!"

Blade let out a long, definitely exaggerated groan before uncovering her face. "Of course he is. Come on, let's find you both some normal clothes and you can tell me why you were hiding under a wagon with this goofball."

"Are you talking to me or him?" Adair asked.

"Take your pick."

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