Stuck With You - Chapter 10

The yellow and red weren't so bad and Dray wouldn't have minded if those were the only colors the marks turned, but the green, blue, and indigo were colors they would rather do without.

Chapter 10
Winter 460, the following day

Dray passed the ball of gold foil and colorful crèpe paper from hand to hand as they watched their unsuspecting target pull a thick book out of his coat. This week had been terrible and to top it off, Blythe's friends were the most irritating people Dray had ever had the dubious pleasure of meeting. Adair wouldn't be so bad if he didn't take up the entire wagon with his cooking experiments and painting supplies. Why Blythe thought buying him an easel was a good idea, Dray would never know. Canvases in various stages of completion were propped up against every wall. The wagon hadn't been made to fit three occupants even if the three possessed a normal amount of canvases, which was to say zero. Sol continuously and cheerfully prattled on and on about whatever crossed his mind, giving Dray no silence at all when forced out of the wagon by the stench of paint. And Etri... Etri didn't speak much, but he was so frigid, so condescending when he did speak, that Dray had itched to throw him off guard from the moment they met. Now, so engrossed in a book and with the others gone into town for yet more cooking supplies for Adair, Etri was in the perfect position.

When Dray had spotted these micro-novas at a market stall well off the main streets the others visited, they knew exactly what they'd do with them. The other three firecrackers were tucked under Dray's mattress for later where Blythe wouldn't find them. She would never approve of Dray possessing them, not after the pillow incident years ago. All Dray had to do was light this baby up and the resulting flash and bang would scare the pants off Etri. ... Hopefully not literally, since Sol filled more than enough of the group's pantsless quota.

Dray smirked and crept closer. The frozen winter grass crunched softly under their slippers, too quiet for Etri to notice. His nose remained close to the pages of the boring-looking leather tome. If it was that interesting, perhaps it would be worth borrowing later if Etri would agree to let one of his precious books out of his sight. There was the possibility, though, that Etri needed reading glasses and the resident healer hadn't noticed, so Dray made a mental note to slip this into conversation with Blythe.

A few more steps put Dray into position, close enough that Etri would experience the blast, while not so close that he would be hurt by the sound. They wanted to prank him, not deafen him, and hurting someone wasn't conducive to using them for future practical jokes. Dray pulled their current favorite box of matches from the pocket of their skirt and ran their finger across the rough surface. Finding a way to incorporate fire was always the best part of any prank. Not all of their ideas could include it, but when one did, Dray came prepared. Blythe considered it overkill that Dray collected matches, lighters, and various fire-starters the way she hoarded "more useful" yarn and plants. She just didn't understand how amazing fire could be, which was an atrocity considering that she danced with fire, too.

With an expert swipe, the match was struck and brought to the fuse. The flame danced on the tip of the match and filled Dray with a familiar sense of kindred. It was soothing to watch the tiny light sway, the color brightening and dimming as it devoured the wood. Blythe would never understand how calming fire was. She would never--

The match and the nova went flying out of Dray's hands.

Dray stared at the empty space where faithful fire had been. They had only an instant to register its absence when the explosion had them scrambling to cover their ears. Through the ringing came the sharper sound of Etri's voice. "Your head is made for thinking, yes? This nearly removed it from your body."

"I..." Dray spun around and couldn't make him out, not through the spots that flashed across their vision and not with Etri dressed like the gloomy, monochrome shadow he always was.

Dray rubbed their eyes and as their vision began to return, a different, flickering sort of light caught their attention. Was Etri holding a new match? Dray reached greedily for it only to have Etri let out a curse before dashing away. Dray squinted. No, not a match. Fire licked at the patch of dead grass where the nova must have landed. Desiring the flames that Etri had so rudely knocked away, Dray followed him. The heat wonderfully contrasted the brisk air and Dray closed their eyes, imagining what it would be like to be able to step inside and feel the fire lapping against their skin like Sol could. He'd shown this "trick" last night and for this Dray was all the more irritated by him. Why couldn't Dray have been so lucky as to have that sort of weaving? Mind control was nice and all, when it worked, but Dray would give it up in a heartbeat for control over fire.

Dray took a step forward, well aware that they could only get so close. One more step couldn't hurt. Then another. Then... their knees smacked against something hard and Dray tumbled forward. A split second of fear crossed with glee about the proximity to the flames, then the taste of ash left them spluttering. They brushed their hair out of their face and stared down at singed ground that wasn't even warm. They supposed they should be thankful for this, but it was a little hard to be grateful when they were covered in soot and didn't even have any fire to show for it.

When Etri groaned behind them, all the pieces fell into place. Etri had the opposite weaving to Sol, so he and his light-snuffing ways were the reason the fire died out. Yet another reason not to like him.

Dray pushed themself onto their knees, which must have been where the flames died last because it was the only part of their body that felt warm, then to their feet. Wonderful. To add to this crummy week, now their favorite coat was entirely ruined by the ash. It wouldn't matter to Etri who only ever wore black. If anything he better matched the whole mopey aesthetic he had going on, and the large smudge covering his face did make this failure of a prank at least somewhat worth it. Dray held out a sooty hand. Etri, master of impassive facial expressions, broke habit to scowl or possibly squint-- it was hard to tell under the dark smear-- and allowed Dray to help him up. This settled one thing Dray no longer had to worry about. Neither of them had soul-marks on their hands, so while Dray was stuck with Sol, at least they weren't stuck with his brother. One good thing was bound to happen in a week this awful.

Etri stared down at Dray long enough to make them feel antsy. Dray self-consciously brushed at the soot on their coat to avoid meeting those icy blue eyes and said, "Look, I know it was a stupid move not to let go of the nova, if that's what you're thinking."

"It is not."

If it wasn't that, then it must be the prank itself. Onto the next apology, or at least as close as Dray was willing to get to an apology. "Right. Then if it's about the nova itself, it was more dangerous than I expected."

"Perhaps, yet no. I may see your legs, yes?"

"You... excuse me?" Dray's ears still rang from the blast and they couldn't have heard that one correctly.

"I have a suspicion and as I cannot see of myself to check, I must ask of you."

Sometimes talking to Etri made Dray wish for a translator. His Concordian could use some work. "So you want to see my legs?"


Dray rolled their eyes. It turned out Etri was as bizarre as his brother, he just hid it better. Ever since Dray had wrestled Sol for the prop he'd stolen and activated their soul-marks in the process, Sol wouldn't stop asking to see his matching mark on Dray. Sol wanted to see their foot, Etri their legs... Oh no. With growing trepidation, Dray lifted the hem of their skirt.

Their knees, once covered by the black marks that Dray assumed-- and hoped-- would never change because who would touch their knees as a first touch, had blossomed into shifting rainbows. The yellow and red weren't so bad and Dray wouldn't have minded if those were the only colors the marks turned, but the green, blue, and indigo were colors they would rather do without. Most people were more fortunate and their marks only changed to two or maybe three colors. A full rainbow clashed with Dray's entire wardrobe. For this reason they'd kept their shoulders covered ever since Blythe had triggered her marks and now they'd have to do the same with their legs. So much for shorter skirts in the summer. All Dray could hope was that their remaining black mark would never be touched or, that failing, it wouldn't turn that awful rainbow. They hated the though of never being able to style their hair up again.

Dray let their skirt fall back to the ground and rubbed at the back of their neck. "I suppose this means I have to stop placing explosives near you."

Under the soot Etri's lips twitched. Did this mean the dour bore was capable of a smile? "It would be appreciated."

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