Solan walked the entire way downtown to the arena expecting trouble, but the streets were quiet in the early afternoon sunlight. A few groups of teenagers passed them on the way back to the nearby high school after lunch, chattering and giggling and ignoring them except for one girl who said ‘excuse me’ and slipped past them to catch up with her friends. Gradually Solan started to relax and pointed out a few more things to Kyr, then held the door for him to go into the arena.
A class from the elementary school had already taken up residence at the ice rink, little kids tottering around on skates and holding onto chairs or a parent’s arm. A handful of teenagers and young adults glided in and around the clusters of children, carefully avoiding them and sometimes stopping to help someone who had slipped and fallen. Solan saw Kyr watching the whole thing with a slight smile of amusement as he paid for their borrowed skates at the desk in front of the rink, and slid an arm around his waist s they walked over to a bench to change out their shoes.
Once on the ice they moved down to a clear space at the far end of the rink and Solan attempted to learn to skate backwards, holding onto Kyr’s hands and hoping he wouldn’t fall on his butt in front of so many people. Music blasted over the speakers high overhead and for a little while he let himself relax and have fun, at least as much as he could when he was busy trying to stay upright while avoiding little kids with no sense of personal space.
After about an hour the rink began to empty out as the kids were packed off back to class, and with the extra room to maneuver, Solan settled more comfortably on his skates and let go of Kyr’s hands. For a while they just skated around the outside of the rink in an easy silence, until a young teenager Solan didn’t recognize skated up and challenged Kyr to a race. Solan tensed up, feeling fear settle in his belly, but the boy looked friendly and Kyr agreed after a moment.
“First one to make three laps around the rink,” the boy said, grinning, then looked at Solan. “You be the judge. But make sure you’re fair.”
Solan held up a hand, relaxing. “I’ll be fair, promise.”
He moved more into the middle as the boy directed Kyr to the ‘starting line’ and gave the signal for them to go when they were both settled. The boy was fast and agile on his skates, but Kyr had a bit of height on him and the powerful legs of someone who had spent four years playing soccer and hockey. Solan found himself grinning just watching them, standing slightly unsteadily on his skates in the middle of the rink with his arms crossed over his chest and his gloved hands tucked into his armpits to help keep them warm. By the third lap Kyr was easily out in front and passed their starting point a good ten feet before the boy.
“Next time,” the boy panted, sliding to a stop and leaning his hands on his thighs. Someone called from the stands and he glanced that way, then lifted a hand in a wave and skated off the rink.
“Made a new friend,” Solan said, grinning a bit, as Kyr skated back over to him.
“Fucking needed that.” Kyr took a deep breath. “You look cold though. Want to head home?”
“Sure. Hot drink first? The Snack Shack here does good hot chocolate.”
“It’s a date.” Kyr took his hand as they skated to the door and stepped up onto the rubber mats in front of the benches. “We should sneak in here when it’s empty though and work on your stick handling skills.”
“My lack of stick handling skills.” Solan thumped down on the bench and leaned over to unlace his skates. “You looked good though.”
“I always look good.” Kyr leaned over to nuzzle his hair then moved down to kiss his temple then his cheek, turning his chin gently to kiss his mouth. “And nobody tried to kill us.”
“No, they didn’t.” Solan bit his lip against pointing out that one friendly teenager wasn’t acceptance from the whole town and shoved his feet back into his boots. He picked up his skates in one hand and offered the other to Kyr, helping him up from his seat. Together they walked out to return the skates to the front desk and then went down the hall to the Snack Shack.
Over burgers, fries, and steaming mugs of hot chocolate, they talked mostly about school and a little bit about their plans for after graduation. The whole thing felt so normal that Solan almost felt dizzy, half-expecting it all to come crashing down around them. On the walk back to his house he did see one woman give them a disapproving look, brows drawn down over eyes the same colour as the sky, but nobody stopped them or even shouted anything at them. Solan tried to think of walking down the street almost anywhere else—like back in the city—without his ear cuff on and Kyr holding his hand, and couldn’t even imagine it.
His mother called a greeting to them from her studio as they came in, and Solan wandered down there to say hi while Kyr ran up to the bathroom, muttering something about hot chocolate making his back teeth float. Still smiling, Solan leaned in the doorway and watched his mother put the last finishing touches on her clay sculpture—now fully revealed as a foal on splayed knock-kneed legs, its fine inquisitive face turned up towards the butterfly about to land on its nose—and slid it into the baking oven.
“You two have fun?” she asked, wiping her hands off on her apron.
“Yeah, we went skating. It was good. No one said anything to us.”
“Mr. Alandar’s called a town meeting.” She made her ‘tsk’ noise of disapproval. “Over one nineteen-year-old boy who’s not even going to be here by the time the meeting even gets organized. People are stupid, Solan.”
“Don’t ever be sorry for the stupidity of other people.” She glanced past him into the hall. “And don’t tell Kyr. You have a few more days here and I want you both to enjoy it as much as possible.”
“Are you going to go when he does get it all arranged?”
“I’m almost sorry to miss it.” He kissed her cheek. “Don’t worry about making dinner too early, we ate at the rink.”
“I’m making dinner at the usual time,” she called after him as he headed back down the hall. “If you’re not hungry then, you can make yourself something later.”
“Okay,” he called back and went up the stairs, meeting Kyr at the landing. “I need to do some studying. Going to join me?”
Kyr made a face but followed him into his room, sprawling out on the bed with a comic book as Solan went through his bags for his notes. He settled down beside Kyr on the bed and a comfortable silence settled over them, broken only by the sound of pages turning and Kyr’s occasional snort of laughter at something funny in the comic book. Outside the sun began to set, sending long fingers of red-gold light through the curtains, until it got too dark to see without turning on a light.
“So after we graduate,” Kyr said when Solan had settled back onto the bed. “Well, after you graduate anyway, I’m still up in the fucking air. You going to live in dorms at whatever university you go to?”
“I don’t know. I guess, probably. Can’t really afford an apartment on my own.”
“You can with me. Hell, if I manage to graduate, I bet I can get my father to buy me a place just out of sheer fucking relief.”
Solan laughed. “How about we just make it through the rest of the year before we start talking about buying houses? Have you applied anywhere?”
“Time’s kind of running out. You need to—”
“Stop being my mom, Solo. Or I’ll gag you.” Kyr rolled over onto his stomach, setting the comic book aside and pillowing his head in his arms. “You’ve probably gone your whole fucking life knowing what you want to do and where you have to go to do it. That wasn’t really me.”
“It’s not like your life is over, Kyr. Start thinking about it. I’ll help you as much as I can.” Solan reached over and smoothed a hand down the line of his back, feeling the play of lean muscles under fabric as Kyr shifted position.
“Are all the universities you picked human universities?”
Solan paused, thinking about it. “I think maybe one is Fae-friendly, because it’s sort of near a border between Fae territory and human territory. It’s a little further north too. The others are human-run.”
“So you’ll have to keep pretending, unless you get into the northern one. When do you stop pretending? Do you stop when you’ve got a degree? Do you stop when you’ve done some research and made a name for yourself? Do you stop when you’ve got money? When you retire?”
Solan leaned over to kiss the back of his neck. “When it feels safe, I guess. Maybe by this time next year, everyone will have signed a treaty and it won’t matter so much.”
“It just kind of really fucking sucks.” Kyr rolled onto his back and wrapped both arms around Solan’s neck, pulling him into a rough hug. “I wish you could just be you.”
“I’m me no matter what I look like.” Solan kissed him quickly then looked up at the sound of his mother’s voice floating up to them from downstairs. “You hungry?”
“I’m always hungry.”
“Right, stupid question.” Solan got up and pulled Kyr to his feet, holding his hand all the way down the stairs to the dining room table.
Most of the conversation over dinner was about art, and after they’d tidied up Solan and Kyr were both invited into the studio. Solan sat at the small table in the corner to sketch while his mother walked Kyr through the steps of making a sculpture, helping him roll out the clay and start forming it into small objects. Glancing at them, Solan smiled a little at the intense look of concentration on Kyr’s face as he formed a lump of clay into a rough but recognizable cartoon dog. His smile widened when he realized Kyr was making a sculpture of one of the dogs he’d drawn for the murals at St. Sebastienne, and Kyr gave him a quick wink.
The rest of the week passed quietly, though once or twice Solan overheard his mother speaking on the phone in a low, angry voice. He didn’t mention it to Kyr and just tried to enjoy the rest of break. On the day before they had to leave to return to school, he left Kyr working on a new sculpture—something he’d proved almost as talented at as drawing—and walked over to Bran’s house. He stood out on the front porch, looking at the familiar wooden door and trying to muster his courage, then wiped a sweaty hand on his jeans and rang the doorbell.
Bran’s mother answered, her smile fading into a wary look. “Hello, Solan. You’ve... come to see Bran?”
“Yes, ma’am. If he’s home.” Solan hoped his own smile didn’t look as stiff as it felt, and tried not to fidget.
“Well, he is...” She sighed and held the door open. “Come on in.”
She called for Bran as Solan stepped inside, inhaling the familiar scent of cooking spices, and Bran came down from upstairs, pausing on the bottom step when he saw Solan. For a moment he hesitated, then he sent his mother away and crossed his arms over his chest, unconsciously jutting his chin out in a way that Solan had once found both aggravating and attractive.
“Just came to say bye,” Solan said into the awkward silence. “We’re headed back to school tomorrow.”
“Okay.” Bran sighed. “Be careful, I guess. The radio was saying the fighting’s moving that way and people are pretty angry.”
“I’ll be careful. Thanks.” Solan bit his lip then laughed a little. “Hey, you remember sitting on the little kid swings in the park at midnight? And someone drove by and flashed their lights at us. I thought I was going to have a heart attack.”
“I remember.” The corner of Bran’s mouth turned up into a grin and he stepped down onto the wooden floor. “You told me to bring flowers to your grave, because your mom was going to murder you. I miss you, Sol. It’s not even that I, you know, still want to date you. I don’t care if you’ve got another boyfriend. I just miss hanging out.”
“I’ve got another break coming up in a month or so. Maybe we can get together then. But Kyr will probably be with me again.”
“Maybe I can live with it.” Bran pulled him into a tight hug. “Or you could call, you asshole. They do actually have phones up there at that fancy-ass school of yours, right?”
“Fine, I’ll call.” Solan hugged back for a few moments then gently pulled away. “I’ve gotta get going. I’ll talk to you... soon. Promise.”
“See you around, Sol.” Bran lifted a hand in a wave as he left, shutting the door gently behind him.
Solan walked back to his house with his head down and his hands shoved into the pockets of his coat, lost in thought. The house smelled of baking cookies when he walked in, and he sniffed appreciatively as he took off his coat and boots. Kyr passed by him on the way to the bathroom, flashing a grin and his clay-streaked hands, and Solan continued into the kitchen to see if any of the cookies had come out of the oven yet. He snagged one, still warm and slightly gooey, off the baking tray on the counter, and headed into the studio to see what Kyr had been working on.
“He’s really very good,” his mother said from behind him as he stood studying the hockey player Kyr had sculpted, caught mid-slapshot with the stick raised high. “I asked if I could take that one to the show with me.” He heard her laugh. “I think I embarrassed him a little.”
“He doesn’t think he’s any good. I think maybe someone made fun of him when he was younger. His dad, or maybe his stepmom. He nearly punched me the first time I told him he was good.”
“Well, keep telling him. I’ll let you know what the gallery owner says. And dinner’s in an hour, so don’t eat any more cookies.”
Solan wiped guiltily at his mouth. “Sorry.” He turned away from the sculpture and kissed her cheek before squeezing past her and going to find Kyr.
They all ate too much for dinner that night, and afterwards, over cake and ice cream, Solan’s mother presented Kyr with a set of coloured pencils identical to the set Solan had received for his birthday. Kyr took them hesitantly, blushing under the tan of his cheeks, and said thank you so sincerely that Solan had to fight an urge to pull him in and kiss him breathless.
“Now you don’t have to steal mine,” he said, giving Kyr a gentle shove. “Though you probably will anyway.”
“Hey, what’s yours is mine and what’s mine is also mine. Get used to it.” He set the pencils carefully aside, as though they were breakable, and scooped a spoonful of melting ice cream from Solan’s bowl, bringing a laugh from both of Solan’s parents.
The rest of the night passed so quickly that Solan felt as though he’d just barely gone to sleep before it was time to get up and pack their stuff into the back seat of Kyr’s car. After everything had been squeezed in and he’d said goodbye to his parents, he paused a moment before getting in to look out over the snowy street. It still slept in the early morning light, most of the houses dark as their occupants snatched a few extra minutes of sleep under the blankets. He smiled a little at the lopsided snowman in the front yard of the house across the street, then slid into the passenger seat, pulling his seatbelt on and waving to his parents as Kyr backed out of the driveway and turned the car’s nose back towards the Academy.