Stuck With You - Chapter 9

"No, it's not! The other was about Sol. This one's completely different. I mean, it does make them sole-mate Sol-mate soulmates, but it's a completely different joke."

Chapter 9
Winter 460, a week later

Sol shoved the pile of half-finished toothpick sculptures aside until there was a big, empty space on his worktable perfect for his Plan. It was a great plan. He fixed performers' props all the time and there was no way he could mess this up. There was only one problem: he didn't have the prop yet. It wouldn't be a secret anymore if he went and got it because everyone would wonder what he was doing in Blythe's house. Well, Blythe's and Dray's and Adair's house, since they both lived in her wagon now, too. Every day Sol asked Adair to move in with him because that would be like a sleepover all the time, but Adair kept saying no, saying that Blythe's wagon had a bigger pantry and space for the easel she'd bought him. It wasn't fair, Sol should rank above food and art supplies. Maybe if he built a really smarfy thing that was part bed, part studio, part kitchen, Adair would move in.

Adair! That was the perfect way to get the prop! Adair could pretend to grab his paint or something, then sneak out with it when he left. Maybe it wasn't so bad that he lived over there.

"Hey, buddy? Do you know where Dray keeps their props? Can you get me their staff?"

A few feet away Adair was doing his best oversized magpie impression in the very well-enforced nest that was Sol's bed. Much like Sol had done to the desk, Adair had pushed Sol's collection of metallic odds and ends and broken pieces of appliances to the side. Sol craned his neck to see what he was drawing in his sketchbook, but Adair closed it and set it on top of the nest-pile before he could get a good look. "Yeah, I guess. Why?"

Sol tugged the sculpture of Adair's cat free from his arm and put the lid on the glue jar before grinning at Adair. "I'm gonna fix it up for them. Dray's gonna love it!"

Adair shrugged and headed out the door while Sol went into planning mode. The staff had looked a little dingy and scratched up when Dray danced with it last night. That would have been almost acceptable for a tinkerer like Sol-- until he saw the struggle Dray had separating the pieces to take it apart. It was then that Sol had his brilliant Plan. He'd take Dray's beat up old staff and fix it up so that it was like new. Better than new! He wasn't the carnival troupe's resident inventor for nothing!

Plus Dray seemed so gloomy and sad that Sol wanted to do something to cheer them up. He'd wanted to meet Blythe's sibling ever since he learned she had one because Sol's own sibling was great so that must mean that Blythe's was, too. And then he met Dray. Maybe Dray was great, somewhere under all the cynicism and frowns, but they kept to themself and didn't really talk to Sol or anyone. Okay, Etri was like that, too, but that was just because he was shy and Blythe had never said anything about Dray being shy. What Dray needed was something to make them feel welcome and Sol knew he was the one who could do it, especially with Adair here to help.

How had he gotten by before Adair sleepwalked into the carnival? Adair didn't mind holding down things Sol was hammering or grabbing stuff Sol forgot to have ready or taking emergency midnight trips into the city with him to dive through dumpsters. Sometimes his drawings even gave Sol ideas. And since Adair wasn't here to use it right now, now would be the perfect time to go through his sketchbook! Sol flopped onto the bed and grabbed the book. For a moment the nest teetered, but when only a few pieces of scrap metal clattered to the floor, Sol made himself comfortable and started flipping through the pages. A sketch of a bullfrog, this one probably won't be helpful... detailed study of a paintbrush tip, no, not this one either... a rough drawing of Dray dancing? Maybe this one would be...

A red sequined bag dropped into his lap. "Is this the right one? Dray's got a ton of prop bags and they all look the same."

Maybe if he combined this drawing of a bullfrog with that old cuckoo clock he found, he could make something that croaked the hour. "Huh?"

Adair took the sketchbook from his hands and replaced it with the strap of the bag. "Remember? You asked me to get the staff so you could fix it. Is this the right one?"

"That's right! Dray's surprise!" Sol jumped off the bed too fast and stumbled as he slung the strap over his shoulder. The bag swung around and smacked Adair in the head. No wonder Blythe always said he needed to slow down before he hurt himself. Hurting Adair was worse than hurting himself! Adair was his important. He felt for a bump on Adair's head and didn't feel anything. Was that a good sign? Would there be a bump already? Sol hurt himself on a daily basis but he wasn't really sure how Blythe figured out when he needed to be healed and when he needed to be shooed out the door. "Sorry! Does it hurt? Do you need to go to Blade? She always tells me to watch where I'm going and she's probably right-"

Adair ducked down and out of his reach. "I'm fine. But are you sure you should do this without asking?"

Sol blinked at him. "Hit you in the head?"

"No. I mean, yeah, don't do that, but I meant fix Dray's prop without asking. Dray's really... enthusiastic about their props. I swear they were baby talking to their fire swords this morning. It was kind of weird."

Sol peeked inside the bag. Adair had picked right despite his constant confusion about props. He called pretty much everything vaguely rod-shaped a baton. In Adair's defense, all of his paintbrushes looked the same to Sol, and he had yet to hand Adair the right one he asked for. Maybe if he used Adair's paint to color-code them all... Right, Adair had said something about carnies being weird. "Weird? Oh, with props. All carnies are like that. Etri's favorite knife is named Pokey. Well, when I say it's named, I mean I call it that, he doesn't, but I bet if I do it long enough he'll pick up on it. It worked with Blade's boots Kicky and Kicko."

"And you're sure it's okay to fix it without asking?"

Adair trailed after him and sat on the step stool while Sol took the three pieces of the staff out of the bag. The stool was there so Adair could reach the table built for Sol's height, but Adair was iffy about using it. Sometimes it was fine, sometimes his fear of heights was too much and Sol had to work on the floor with him instead. That was okay. Having a friend to help was worth way more than a table that was usually covered in last week's Big Plan anyway.

"I'm not gonna hurt it, just make it better. Like Blade does when we get hurt."

"But that's different."

Sol eyed the staff before connecting and unconnecting two of the parts. They did drag each time instead of sliding silently together and the catch was funny. It was a wonder Dray had put up with this because Sol would have gotten it fixed a long time ago. If he sanded it down and then soldered on a different connector, it should come together much smoother. "It's not different. She's a healer to broken people, I'm a healer to broken things. We both fix things. The difference is, she can't make broken people shoot spikes or ignite with the push of a button, and I can! I mean things, not people. I can't make people shoot spikes. But things like this staff – Ooh! Maybe I can make the staff ignite! And shoot spikes! And then ignite the spikes! And then-"

"Okay, yeah, I guess that makes sense. You go do that and I'll... umm... be over here." Adair retreated to his nest, which Sol thought was a little silly because it wasn't like he'd added the spikes yet. Maybe if Adair sat there long enough, though, one of Sol's piles of scrap would hatch into a little trash vulture or something. Sol could train it to pick through junk heaps, and perch on his shoulder, and say important words like "hello" and "smarfy" and "look out, Blythe's coming."

But first the staff. No sooner had Sol pushed the third piece into place when a voice that wasn't Adair's rang across the wagon, "You thief!"

The staff dropped to the table with a clatter. Sol glanced over his shoulder and, not seeing anyone there, lifted his arm to see in the blind spot caused by his biceps. There Dray stood with their hands on their hips, wearing a scowl so much like Blythe's that Sol wanted to hide despite Dray being half his size. "Wh-where?"

Unlike Blythe, Dray's furious expression and hands-on-hips didn't turn into foot-tapping or counting. Sol hated when Blythe counted at him. It make him lose track of his thoughts every time and that meant never knowing what it was she wanted him to stop doing. Dray glared up from the level of Sol's elbow. "I'm looking at him. You took it."

Dray wasn't all that scary, really, not after knowing Blythe for so long. If all they were going to do was stand there and accuse Sol of... something... without even throwing numbers at him, Sol was going to get back to work. He picked up the staff again and ran his thumb over the second connector. "I took what?"

"That! That right there!"

"This?" Sol looked at the staff, then back at Dray. It turned out he didn't need counting to lose track of what they were arguing about. Huh, you learn something new every day. "What about this?"

"That!" Dray took their hands from their hips so that they could gesture at the staff. "You took that!"

"I took this?"

"Yes! You took my staff!"

Oh! Now Sol remembered why Dray was here. It was Dray's staff that he was going to make shoot flaming spikes. He grinned at Dray and nodded. "Yeah! Yeah, I took your staff."

There was a brief pause between them, then Dray cleared their throat. "Well? Can I have it back now?"

"You mean the staff?" Sol pointed at the staff with the hand that wasn't holding it. He wanted to be clear that Dray wasn't talking about something else.

"Of course I mean the staff!" Dray gestured wildly toward the ceiling now. "What else have I been asking about since I came in here?"

"But I'm not done with it yet. I have to be a healer to it because it's a broken thing and I fix broken things."

"There's nothing broken about my staff."

Dray lunged for it and Sol reflexively lifted it up above his head. His knuckles scraped the ceiling and it hurt a little, but he knew Dray wouldn't be able to reach it. If Dray would stop yelling, Sol could have had this done five minutes ago. Maybe not the spikes yet, that might take a while, but the fixing part would be finished. "Yes there is! I have to sand it down and solder on a new catch so it slides together better--"

"Give. Me. My. Staff."

"--And it doesn't shoot spikes or light them on fire yet--"

"It's not supposed to do that, you goon!" Dray hopped onto the step stool and reached for the staff, their fingertips falling short yet close enough that Sol feared they'd be able to grab it if they jumped.

Sol needed to make Dray understand. It was a present to make them happy and now they were just about the opposite of happy. Or was sad the opposite of happy? Dray wasn't sad anymore, and that was what Sol had been going for, but angry wasn't what he wanted either. "But it was going to! It was going to be a surprise and now I told you and it's not a surprise anymore."

"What do you mean ‘surprise'?" Dray planted their foot on Sol's shin and grabbed onto one of his shoulders. Within seconds they had clambered up Sol's torso.

"I'm fixing your staff. ...Surprise!" Despite Dray's display of human parkour, Sol was having fun. Hey, maybe Dray would want to start an acrobatic act with him. Now that Etri was going to be Adair's sentinel, he probably wouldn't be performing much and Sol was going to need a new partner.

"It. Doesn't. Need. Fixed." Dray hoisted their way up past his shoulders until they sat astride the back of his neck. Sol waved the staff around, wondering how well Dray could keep their balance. He was pretty sure they were holding on entirely with their knees.

The door to the wagon swung open followed by a voice Sol knew all too well. "Freeze, you two!"

Sol spun so that both of them were facing the shadows standing in the doorway and he was pleased when Dray didn't even totter. Maybe this could work! He'd have to ask Etri about his future plans and if he'd mind Sol taking on a new partner. He'd have to ask Dray, too, of course, but maybe they--

That was when he realized Blythe was still addressing them in what Sol thought of her "stop-screwing-around" voice. He had no choice but to hand Dray the staff, which they snatched with a gleeful cackle, so he could pluck them from his shoulders and set them on the floor. Adair stood next to Blythe and it took Sol a worried minute to realize he was turning red because he was trying not to laugh. What was so funny?

"Well, I'd say that's unexpected, but I should have seen it coming when I heard you two bickering. Dray, do you always activate marks by getting into fights?"

What was she talking about? Sol glanced down at Dray to see if they had any idea. Dray must have taken his attention the wrong way because they glared and swung the staff behind their back to put it out of reach.

Adair had returned to his normal shade of brown when he nudged Blythe's arm. "Can I tell them both? Please? Pretty please?"

Blythe sighed and covered her eyes with her hand. "This is going to be a bad pun again, isn't it? Every time you ask, it's always a bad pun."

"There's no such thing as a bad pun." Adair gestured with both hands at Sol and Dray. "I guess this means they're sole-mates."

"I knew it. That's the same dumb pun you've been making since you met Sol."

"No, it's not! The other was about Sol. This one's completely different. I mean, it does make them sole-mate Sol-mate soulmates, but it's a completely different joke."

"Oh no," Dray muttered under their breath.

Sol just stared at Adair. If he waited long enough, maybe Adair would stop saying his name and explain what was going on. To his relief Adair came over and poked him in the side, but his words weren't any more helpful. "You two must have got off on the wrong foot, huh?"

Blythe and Dray groaned in tandem. Why was Adair talking so much about feet?

"You're going to be together through thick and shin now, I'll bet."


Dray held out a hand as though to keep Adair at a distance. "Enough is enough. Sol, he means look at your leg, you doof."

Finally someone was making sense. Sol did as he was told. The long black soulmark on the front of his leg had changed into the same rainbow of the other marks on his body. He'd always thought the mark looked a little like a footprint and... that was why Adair kept making all the feet comments! Dray's matching mark to his must be on the bottom of their foot, like Etri and Blythe's were on their hands and Adair's was on his back. Maybe Dray would want to share an act with him because they were destined to be important to each other. He let out a whoop and picked Dray up in a bear hug to spin them around. This was great! Now he knew who all of his importants were!

Dray's only reaction to this was to sigh when Sol put them back on the ground and to tug the wrinkles from their shirt. "I guess it could be worse. Pun-boy over there could be one of my soulmates."

Adair stuck his tongue out, which Dray ignored.

"Now that I know I'm stuck with you and you weren't going to steal it, I suppose I can let you have this." Dray held out the staff only to snatch it back when Sol went to take it. "Under one condition. You only fix it up so it works better. No spikes and absolutely no flaming spikes."

"Can I at least make the wicks self-ignite when you push the button? I really want to make it have a button that does something smarfy."

Dray hesitated, but handed it over. "I'm going to regret this. I know I'm going to regret this. Just be careful with it."

There was no doubt about it. Sol had the best importants! He met Adair's eyes and didn't have to say a word. Adair knew exactly what he wanted. "I'll go move the rest of the toothpicks off the table."

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