Chapter 108

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It felt surreal watching the city get smaller, and smaller, in the distance.

Until eventually, New Rimar was only this vague, pale cluster of buildings. Leithan leaned his arms onto the handrail and kept observing it, as the wind blew wildly in his hair and long jacket, as the stretch of ocean widened between the ship and his home. The sun glistened on the foaming churn after The Angeli's passing, and the wind stropped at the two Rengleam pennants that flanked the vessel's stern – bright green leaves over black.

And soon, it was all of Asheth becoming smaller. Its western shore, thickly forested, turned into a green line, dominated by the volcano, looming above the rest. Toward the south-west of the shoreline, Leithan could just glimpse the black sand beach, before it merged blurrily with the rest.

Teshin had taken him there two weeks ago, after another one of his wide-eyed 'You're telling me you've never been?'

For what seemed like the thousandth time in less than one day, Leithan's chest snared with the ache of missing Tesh already.

The Angeli, a 140-foot long iron-hulled ship, had left shore a little after dawn. The crew bustled about on deck, coal burned in the boiler, steam plumed out of the pipes, and they were gaining speed fast.

Captain Reno Bluesmoke, a tall and proud Rengleam man with a fun tricorn hat, had given Leithan a tour earlier. Leith's luggage had been secured in the ship's most luxurious passenger cabin. Apparently, those were Princess Voniana's instructions.

After their departure, a few other passengers had stood beside Leithan, watching West Harbor and New Rimar, bathed in pale morning light. Now, Leithan lingered alone at the back of the stern, with the sea wind and his thoughts for only company.

The island seemed so small and vulnerable already, the blue of the ocean so very vast and majestic in comparison.

Leithan thought about last night – his friends had improvised a going away party at the Happy Monkey. It had been full of people, laughter, drinking, joking, and also some crying. Leith smiled as he got flash recalls of the stuff his friends had said.

"The coffee won't be as good," Jia had warned jokingly.

"Oh hey, Leith!" Shay had exclaimed at some point. "My favorite writer lives in Rimar. Think you could get her autograph for me?"

Rami had said, "This is all just some big scheme, isn't it? Because you're terrified of losing to me in the competition, admit it."

"No," Leithan had replied, "it's because I want to save you the humiliation of losing to me."

"That's it, huh?" Rilien had teased him too. "You start a revolution, and then you leave me alone to clean up the mess."

But Rilien wasn't alone, of course. He had Maureen, Shivan, and Frista. He had his sister Quin, and many others. Rilien would be okay, and so would New Rimar, without Leithan there, and they both knew it.

"I'm not leaving forever, guys," Leithan had said about a hundred times over the evening.

Still, it had been an emotional night. It had still felt like goodbye.

Leithan was lost deep in his thoughts, his ears full of the wind and foaming waves, his eyes filled with so much blue.

So he startled out of his skin when someone came up and appeared beside him at the handrail.

"You scared me—"

Leithan went still. 

It was Tesh. Grinning in the wind.

"What the fuck are you doing here?" Leithan blurted out. He smiled despite his best efforts. He really wanted to be angry. He was angry.

"Slipped aboard early this morning," Teshin said proudly, amusement on every word. "I explained to the captain and he went along with it. Said you were supposed to have a plus one anyway."

Before he knew it, Leithan punched his shoulder, then his chest. Not hard enough to really hurt him, but he needed to let the emotions out somehow. Teshin only laughed as he retreated backward and away, defensive hands raised.

"What the hell? Why would you—" Leithan stopped, his eyes narrowed. "No, wait. You weren't faking it yesterday. You were upset. So what changed your mind?"

Teshin leaned his elbows back against the railing, all casual. The leaf-green sweater he wore had been a gift from Leithan.

"Actually," Teshin said, and his voice and expression turned serious. "Actually I'm Xefen. I've been secretly in love with you this whole time, so here I am to steal you from my brother."

Leithan burst out with laughter, then shook his head in disbelief.

"I know it's you, asshole. Stop dicking around. What changed your mind?" Leithan asked, sticking his hands in his jacket's pockets to prevent it from flapping in the wind.

Teshin's expression changed, but this time it felt real. A small smile tugged the corner of his lips. His pale, bright eyes shone with warmth. Copper-brown hair danced in the wind, the tips of the longest strands brushing the arch of his neck.

Leithan wanted to kiss him.

Not yet, I'm still mad.

"It was Xefen," Teshin said, really serious this time. In fact, his voice rarely ever sounded this serious.

Leithan stepped a little closer, until the tips of their shoes almost touched. He stopped there, waiting for Tesh to keep going.

"He saw I wasn't feeling well, asked me what was going on," Teshin said. A trace of amusement glinted in his eyes as he looked at Leithan. "So, I told him about everything. And then, Xef's response was that . . ."

Teshin chuckled, glancing away briefly, like he was embarrassed.

"He told me that I was an idiot," Teshin admitted. "And that I should go with you. So then, I kinda realized . . . how right he was."

Note to self, send Xefen a thank you gift.

"Well," Leithan said, "now we know who the smartest twin is."

"He is," Teshin agreed. "But I'm the prettiest, right?"

"Thank Veya for that," Leithan joked calmly, no matter that inside he was a mess. "How else would I put up with you?"

"Ouch," Teshin said.

Leithan couldn't stop a silly grin from claiming his lips. He took Teshin's hands, then his wrists. He edged closer, until they caught and held each other tight.

With his gaze on the ocean, Leithan said, "You just had to do one last prank?"

And Tesh replied, "Who said it was the last?" 

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