It started snowing an hour out of Arian Mawr, big fat flakes that drifted down and sat on the windshield until Kyr flicked on the wipers to brush them away. The clouds overhead had bulked up in the hour he’d been driving and the wind gusted against the side of the car, but he didn’t think the storm would be nearly as bad as the one that had trapped him and Solan in a tiny motel for two days. He glanced over at Solan in the passenger seat and saw Solan had dozed off, his head tipped against the window. He’d returned the cuff to his ear once they’d passed the outskirts of Arian Mawr, even though Kyr had argued that he could get away with leaving it off at least while they were in the car.
Kyr left him to sleep, adjusting his grip on the steering wheel as the wind rocked the car to one side. He had no intention of speeding back to the Academy, grimacing at the thought of all the studying and homework he’d put off for the past week. Solan was going to have to help him well into the night if he wanted to have a hope of passing the upcoming exams.
At lunchtime they stopped at a roadside diner for greasy chicken and fries, eating it at a booth by the window to watch the snow swirl outside. The radio on the counter crackled with each gust of wind, but it still came through clear enough for Kyr to hear the news announcer talking about the latest firefight between humans and Fae, a short but brutal battle that had left casualties on both sides. The announcer had an analyst in the DJ booth with him and they discussed the likelihood of the Fae army moving further inland; in the analyst’s opinion the real threat wasn’t from the obvious army moving in from the coast but from the wild Fae up north, and Fae who had infiltrated human cities. He said ‘infiltrated’ with such gusto that Kyr rolled his eyes, but he saw Solan put down his chicken half-eaten, looking nervously around the diner.
“Relax,” Kyr said softly. “They’re talking out their asses.”
“Still.” Solan picked up a fry then dropped it again. “Sometimes I feel like everyone looks at me and can see what I am.” He touched the cuff in his ear. “And sometimes I have these nightmares that I’ve forgotten to put the cuff in and I accidentally walk out without wearing it so everybody sees.”
“Like those dreams about showing up to class naked.” Kyr grinned, hoping Solan would smile and relaxing when he did.
“Like walking down the street in the middle of rush hour naked.” Solan ate the fry this time. “It just really stresses me out.”
“Don’t worry.” Kyr reached over to take his hand. “I’m not letting you walk anywhere naked. Nobody else gets to see that but me.”
Solan rolled his eyes but laughed at the same time. “All right, point taken. But I need to keep an eye on what’s happening out there. If the fighting does come closer... I don’t know. It’s scary.”
“I know.” Kyr glanced around quickly and raised Solan’s hand, kissing it before releasing him. “Be kinda nice if they had to shut school down though.”
“Not for those of us who actually want to graduate.” Solan picked up his chicken again and ate it in a few big bites, licking grease off his fingers when he was done. “And when we get back, you’re looking at colleges.”
“Not if you don’t put some effort in.”
“Sex for good grades? You might just fucking have something there, Solo.” Kyr stuck his tongue out, then wrapped up his garbage and went to throw it out.
On the way back he paused by the radio to listen again, leaning one elbow on the counter. The analyst had been replaced by someone who spoke in the strident voice of a fanatic, denouncing Fae and their supporters. Her reedy proclamations of doom if they didn’t were interrupted by a breaking news bulletin, and Kyr paused a moment to appreciate the irony in it as the announcer informed the listening public that the Fae had just launched another attack, taking a human patrol by surprise and wiping them out.
He moved away from the counter as a murmur of unease went through the diner and went to collect Solan, herding him out into the cold and snowy air. Solan stayed silent all the way back to the car and looked out the window while Kyr pulled out of the parking lot and back onto the highway. Kyr left him to his thoughts, concentrating on driving through the snow and wishing there was something he could do to remove the stressed look already creeping back into Solan’s eyes.
They stopped again just outside the city to get donuts and coffee. The snow had begun to clear after leaving a few inches of fresh snow on the streets and sidewalks, and the clouds started to pull apart to reveal clear sky even as Kyr and Solan walked back to the car. For a few minutes they just sat inside it while the heaters pumped warm air over them, watching the roads steadily fill up with rush hour traffic and other students returning from break.
“What did Bran say when you went to see him anyway?” Kyr asked finally, just to break the silence. “Come back to me, Sol, leave your human boyfriend behind?”
Solan laughed. “No. He just said he misses me and I should call him sometimes.”
“Yeah, I bet.”
“Now who’s jealous?” Solan reached over and tickled his ribs, making him squirm. “Your eyes are nearly as green as mine.”
“Shut up.” Kyr settled his coffee cup in the cupholder beside him. “Just tell him if he wants you, he’s gotta go through me, and I’ll beat his fucking ass.”
“Don’t be a pain.” Solan flicked his ear. “Nobody’s fighting over me. I can actually make my own decisions.”
“Yeah, yeah.” Kyr put the car into Drive and sat at the entrance of the parking lot with his signal light ticking, waiting for a space in the rushing traffic. When he spotted one he put his foot down and nearly slid the car into it, grinning at Solan’s strangled yelp.
The Academy parking lot was already filling up as he pulled in, students going back and forth from cars to their dorms and the cafeteria. Kyr helped Solan carry their bags up then offered to run to the caf for dinner, leaving Solan to unpack and put things away. He grabbed sandwiches and water for both of them and was on his way back when someone called his name.
Jax came up to him when he stopped, panting a little from having run from the cafeteria to catch up. He took a deep breath and straightened up, crossing his arms over his chest and looking Kyr over with an expression that immediately made Kyr bristle.
“What do you want?” he asked.
“Enjoy yourself with the Fae?” Jax sneered.
“Fuck off and die.” Kyr pushed past him but was forced to stop when Jax grabbed his arm.
“All right, I’m sorry. Can we just... talk for a minute?”
Kyr glanced around then shrugged. “All right, talk.”
“Without you yelling?”
“Don’t say stupid shit then.”
“I still think it’s really stupid that you’re... doing anything with Solan when he’s, you know. Especially right now. We’re at war. You think when it comes down to it, he’ll choose you? Fae don’t care about anything but other Fae.”
“See, that’s stupid shit, Jax.” Kyr glanced around again to make sure nobody had come within earshot. “You’ve never even really spoken with one, so shut your fucking face. I’m not going to tell you again.”
“I’m telling you this for your own good,” Jax said through gritted teeth. “If he gets found out, it’s your ass on the line too, Kyr.”
“He’s not going to get found out.” Kyr gave him a long cool look. “Not unless someone reports him, and I’m not going to. Neither are you.”
“If he turns on us...”
“He’s not a fucking rabid dog!” Kyr saw a couple of students look curiously in their direction and lowered his voice. “I wish I’d never told you, but I did, so now I’ve gotta live with that. But you say one word and I’ll kill you.”
Jax took a step back from him, his mouth tightening into a thin line. “Fine. If that’s how you want it. I hope he does turn on you. I hope he fucks you right over.”
Kyr didn’t bother responding, just turned on his heel and walked away, nearly shaking with anger. Even Solan’s welcoming smile didn’t make him feel better, and the smile faded anyway as soon as Solan got a good look at his face. He shook his head when Solan asked what was wrong and just sat down on the bed to eat his sandwich, feeling a little calmer with the food in his belly.
“I told Jax,” he said finally. “When I’d just found out and you’d run off, and I wanted help finding you. Now he’s on my ass about it.” He looked up at Solan’s horrified expression and bit his lip. “I’m really sorry.”
“He hates me.” Solan dropped his sandwich on the desk and wiped at his mouth, his fingers shaking. “He’s always hated me. Now he knows—”
“I’ve got stuff on him. He’s not going to tell anyone.” Kyr got up and took Solan’s hands. “And he hasn’t told anyone yet, so why would he tell now?”
“Because he’s pissed off? Because he hates me? Just because he can?”
“Now people would ask him why he waited so long to report you.” Kyr freed one hand from Solan’s panicky tight grip to smooth his hair back. “And I told him I’d kill him if he breathed a word of it. It was a huge mistake and you have no fucking idea how sorry I am, but he’s not going to tell anyone.”
Solan looked up at him and Kyr could practically feel him wanting to believe. “What do you have on him?” The ghost of a smile touched his mouth. “You know, fair’s fair.”
“He set a couple fires last year, the ones that took out the Outlook Trail. He was arrested for arson before, and if he gets caught again, his ass is toast.” Kyr kissed the corner of Solan’s mouth, where it had curved up slightly. “Pun not meant.”
“I’m a little astounded to know you even know what a pun is.” Solan pulled him onto his lap and hugged him tight. “It’s just really scary, Kyr. I need to... really keep my head down for the rest of the year. And you need to be careful too. You’ll be arrested too.”
“Nobody is getting arrested. I promise, I swear it on my future grave. Nobody’s getting arrested.” He ran his fingers through Solan’s hair and pulled him into a rough kiss, meaning to distract him. From the way Solan kissed back, and the way he bucked his hips slightly under Kyr’s weight, the distraction worked very well.
Classes began again the next day and Kyr didn’t have much time to worry about Solan and Jax after his first three classes all dumped a major project on him. As he ate lunch in Solan’s room, he complained about it being a punishment for having a week off to have fun while the teachers still had to work, punctuating his point by waving a carrot stick around until Solan started laughing helplessly. After lunch he got a test back—a pass, though still a low one—and skipped the last class to go jog the indoor track for half an hour just to relax his brain.
He had a quick shower after and met up with Solan to go down to St. Sebastienne and finish outlining all the murals they had left except one. Kyr left Solan working on one of the messier murals and went down to the one Solan had promised to let him do alone and not peek at until it was done. Humming to himself, Kyr went to work, taking his time with the sketch so it would be perfect even before he started outlining and then painting it. He’d asked Solan’s mother some questions about painting while Solan had been off doing something else, and she’d shown him a few tricks that he couldn’t wait to try out. Until then he was content to make sure every line was in the right place.
He finished the sketch with some time still left before they had to go back to the school and decided to leave it at that so he could do the outlining the next day and then start painting. He wandered back down the halls to find Solan and pitched in to help finish the first flat coat of paint on the mural Solan was working on, standing back to squint at it when they were done.
“It looks okay,” he decided after a few minutes of silence, and ducked Solan’s swat. “Maybe I’m not so horrible after all.”
“Go fish somewhere else for compliments. I’ve already told you how good you are.” Solan knelt down to clean off the paint brushes. “This is taking a lot longer than I thought, but I figure we’ll be done before final exams.”
“Then what are we going to do with our time?”
“You’re going to apply to colleges.” Solan swiped a damp paintbrush across his nose. “And study.”
“Yep.” Solan kissed his mouth and took the paints back to storage.
Kyr jogged down to check on the special mural while Solan was gone, and met him back by the doors to go out to the car. While it was warming up he turned the radio to the news station so they could listen to the latest reports. The human army had succeeded in striking back at the Fae and the war seemed to have ground to a halt again, albeit one that was dependent on who gained the upper hand in the vicious fight over the latest city. Kyr wasn’t even sure who had laid claim to it first, and he wasn’t sure who would end up controlling it either.
“This is depressing.” Solan reached over and turned the radio off. “Let’s just go.”
“You want really depressing, take a look at my homework,” Kyr muttered. “Think I could just not do it and tell them it’s because of the war?”
Kyr glanced over at the sharpness in his voice. “Hey, I was just joking.”
“I just don’t find it very funny, okay? People are dying.”
“I’m sorry.” Kyr reached out to take his hand, relieved when Solan gave his fingers a light squeeze. Neither of them spoke on the rest of the drive nor on the walk up to Kyr’s room, but as they were lying there in the dark, waiting to fall asleep, Kyr felt Solan kiss his forehead.
“I didn’t mean to snap,” Solan said softly. “I know you were joking.”
“I know you know.” Kyr laughed a little. “I’m not mad. Love you, Solo.”
“You too.” Solan kissed him again and his weight settled back onto the mattress. After a moment Kyr heard his breathing settle into the deep rhythms of sleep.
Kyr lay awake a lot longer, watching the play of moonlight through his window, and when he did finally sleep, his dreams were dark and restless, leaving him feeling completely drained when his alarm went off. He slapped it silent and left Solan still dozing under the blankets while he got up and went to quietly turn on the TV, keeping the volume low.
The early morning news was little more than coverage of the war and he saw that the standoff had finally broken during the night. The Fae had overrun and claimed the city as their own and the latest reports had them marching southeast. Swallowing hard, Kyr dug out a geography textbook and looked up the correct map, confirming the fear that spiked in his belly: the Fae army was headed in the direction of Oakenheart Academy.