A week of forced politeness, stalemate negotiations, and diplomatic dinners left Kyr feeling like he’d punch the next person to say the word ‘truce’ in his presence. The fact that he’d barely seen Solan or Torin—one or both of them constantly with Lokan as the terms of the treaty were hammered out with all the speed of a glacier moving to the sea—only frustrated him more. He’d been invited to sit in on the first day, to participate as a human at least nominally on the side of the Fae, but he’d refused, telling Solan he’d have more fun watching paint dry. Solan had smiled a bit and kissed his cheek, and the only time they’d had alone together since had been a few hours of sleep each night in Solan’s bedroom in Arian Mawr.
Solan’s mother had been the first to suggest Arian Mawr as a neutral place to hammer out terms, and represented the town’s interests herself, leaving the mayor to what she termed the more important job of keeping the town running no matter who was in it. The remnants of the human army had been mostly rounded up and were now camped on the outskirts of town, still prisoners under the watchful eye of the Fae in fact if not in name. Kyr sympathized with them and even with the fighters still caught up in skirmishes elsewhere, refusing to believe that the war was done. He itched to do something other than sit around and pretend to make nice, restless in a way that even running until he dripped sweat couldn’t erase.
Spring came suddenly, almost overnight; a few heavy rainstorms and the snow was almost gone, soaking the earth into thick mud and leaving deep puddles all over the streets for cars to splash on passersby. When the rain stopped Kyr went out to help clear away the twisted wrecks of vehicles from the fields below the hill. He was a little surprised when a group of Fae soldiers, led by the pale scarred woman he and Torin had seen on the road to Arian Mawr, came to lend a hand. Little conversation passed between them but Kyr started to understand it was all over, finally, when he watched Fae and human working easily side by side.
Another week passed and the peace talks moved carefully forward, but Kyr still couldn’t shake his restless unease. He managed to catch Torin alone on a clear evening mid-week and together they walked away from town, past fields that were still more muddy brown than green.
“I feel kind of useless,” he said when the town’s lights had grown small behind them. “Really fuckin’ useless, actually.”
“You kind of are. You’re a soldier but there’s no war left for you to fight.” Torin kicked a small rock out of his path, sending it flying into darkness off the toe of his boot.
“Thanks, Tor. There’s still skirmishes down south. Maybe I should go down there.”
Torin gave him half a smile. “To fight on which side?”
“Both sides,” Kyr said, laughing. “I’ll be the best fucking double-double agent there is.”
“You’re not nearly pointy enough to pass for Fae.” Torin slung an arm around his shoulders. “And too short.”
Kyr made a ‘hm’ noise, then suddenly threw his weight against Torin’s side, knocking him into the wet sunken grass at the side of the road. Torin’s outraged yelp cheered him up immensely and he fought to stop laughing long enough to offer Torin a hand. He was still laughing when Torin kicked his feet out from under him, landing him in the mud with a rotten squelch, and tackled him, trying to pin him down.
By the time they’d wrestled each other into exhaustion, they were both covered in slimy, smelly mud and soaked right down to the skin. The nights were still cold enough to chill and they huddled close together, shoulders bumping, on the walk back into town, ignoring the stares and raised eyebrows. Solan’s mother took one look at them and ordered them to strip on the porch so she could hose their clothing off, then sent them straight upstairs to the shower. Standing under the hot spray and half-listening to Torin telling him to move his scrawny ass and stop hogging all the hot water, he felt the tense muscles across his shoulders finally start to relax a little.
He stayed up late that night, slipping through comic books that now seemed too idealised and a little silly, until Solan came in and sprawled bonelessly across the bed, still fully clothed. He put his head in Kyr’s lap, absently nuzzling at Kyr’s thigh in a way that made Kyr even less interested in the comic book, and heaved a deep sigh.
“Long day?” Kyr asked, putting the comic aside and running his fingers through Solan’s hair.
“People are stupid,” Solan mumbled. “Fae people, human people, all idiots.”
“Just figured that out?”
“They’re just... Everyone has to argue about every little thing, so it takes hours to decide on everything. I’m surprised we could all agree on lunch today.”
“Exactly why I’m not there playing diplomat with you.”
Solan laughed a little, though it turned into a sigh halfway through. “Somebody tell me what a high school dropout is even doing playing diplomat with kings and generals and Ceridwen. Who is scary, by the way. All she has to do is raise an eyebrow and grown men shake in their boots.”
“Technically you’re not a dropout. You just didn’t finish high school due to mitigating circumstances.”
“You learned that phrase from Torin, didn’t you?”
“Yes.” Kyr pinched his ear, making him squirm, and stopped when the squirming got too distracting. “Doesn’t mean I’m not right.”
“Remind me to get my diploma when all this shit is finally over.” Solan yawned hugely. “And I thought war was bad. I’m going for a shower.”
He heaved himself up and wandered out of the room, absently scratching at one hip. Kyr waited for a moment, glancing at his discarded comic book, then got up and went after him, catching him at the door and pushing him inside, kicking the door shut with one foot. He silenced Solan’s half-hearted protests with his mouth and quickly got him out of his clothes before slowing down to take advantage of their brief time alone together.
For once he was the first one awake when dawn crept into the bedroom through the slim space between the curtains, while Solan still snored softly beside him, dark curls tousled over the pillow. Kyr gently traced up the outside line of his ear, brushing a fingertip across the point and thinking about the first time he’d done it, when the fact that Solan was Fae had seemed like the end of the world. Smiling a little, he kissed the corner of Solan’s mouth and eased himself out of bed, heading downstairs to the kitchen to put the coffee on.
The first half of spring had passed before the first main version of the truce was signed and sealed by both sides, and afterwards both human and Fae armies made their way further south, to the town where Kyr and Torin had trained to become soldiers. Torin disappeared for a few days to visit his family—reminding Kyr that he hadn’t seen his father, stepmother, or stepsister since he’d sent Magdalin on her way at Camp Bobby—and Kyr spent the time showing Solan around the town and the now-empty barracks. They met Ermey once, on the street outside, but after a brief nod to both of them, Ermey continued on his way without comment.
As the spring began to shade towards summer, the talks resumed and Solan was pulled away again, joined by Torin when he came back from seeing his parents. Soldiers were gradually sent home unless they requested to stay, leaving the town quiet without the nightly parties and slightly drunken get-togethers. On a rare night off, Kyr tracked down Akiva and Mikael, relieved to find they were both alive and unharmed, and dragged Torin out to join them at a local bar. By midnight they were all drunk enough to stagger down the street arm in arm, singing loudly and off-key, and Kyr decided the next morning that the hangover was worth it.
Celebrating came naturally on the evening the next stage of the treaty was signed, until a party was in full-swing in the courtyard of the town’s biggest hotel, which had been given over entirely to high-ranking officers both Fae and human. Kyr spent the first few hours wandering through the crowd, drinking a beer and talking to people he knew, watching how former enemies were beginning to mingle and tentatively make friends. After a while he moved up to the balcony where Solan was sitting with Lokan, Ceridwen, and Torin, dropping onto Solan’s lap hard enough to make him grunt.
“Is this what you wanted?” he asked Lokan when Lokan glanced over at him.
Lokan raised an eyebrow. “You in Solan’s lap?”
“No,” Kyr said, laughing despite himself. “Humans and Fae getting together. Partying together.”
“I’m not going to say it’s a bad thing.” Lokan looked back out over the crowd moving endlessly in the courtyard, bright and flashy colours in the light of lamps and bonfires. “Somewhat unexpected, but better than rioting and trying to murder each other.”
A sensation like cold fingers ghosted up the line of Kyr’s spine and he shivered, reaching down absently to touch the butt of the gun on his hip, glad no one had even attempted to tell him and Torin to give up their weapons. He could see Torin’s own gun strapped securely to his belt, half-hidden under his loose sweatshirt, but the sight didn’t reassure him as much as it should have.
He tried to distract himself by tickling Solan but it didn’t work for long. As it got closer to midnight he left the balcony again, walking down the stairs alone after both Torin and Solan told him they didn’t want to brave the drunken crowd. He wondered if things were getting out of control down in the courtyard and if that was what was making him fidgety, but despite the general consumption of alcohol, everyone he saw seemed to be happy and genial.
He moved past the courtyard, into the relative quiet and cool darkness of the park that stretched around one side of the hotel, and found a path to jog along. It brought him in a wide circle and he came back into the courtyard through another entrance, a little sweaty and breathing hard, but beginning to force himself to relax. The crowd hadn’t diminished any in his half-hour absence and he decided to go back up onto the balcony until it began to settle down.
Something prickled along his senses as he approached the stairs and he stopped, glancing around himself. To his left was only the motion of the crowd, dancing and talking and drinking, but when he looked to his right he saw a small island of stillness. The man was standing with his eyes raised towards the balcony where Lokan now leaned on the railing with Torin beside him, both of them watching the crowd. Ceridwen and Solan were standing by the top of the stairs, half-hidden by the wall, their heads close together.
Kyr saw it all in a split-second look and grabbed for his own gun even as the still man pulled an ugly snub-nosed pistol from somewhere in his jacket, taking aim in a classic shooter’s stance. Time seemed to slow and Kyr fought to get his gun free from its holster, flicking the safety off with his thumb, feeling like he was making every movement through molasses while all around him people partied without even noticing what was happening in their midst.
He and the man fired almost at the same instant, the stutter sound of two shots overlapping and echoing through the courtyard. Kyr saw the people closest to them start to turn, their faces beginning to slowly show drunken confusion, even as his shot blew half the still man’s head away in a burst of blood, bone, and brains. The still man collapsed in graceful slow-motion, but Kyr didn’t wait to see him hit the cobblestones, already bolting for the stairs up to the balcony.
He ran as hard as he could, trying not to see the image playing in front of his open eyes, but it wouldn’t stop. Even as he shoved someone out of his way and heard someone else scream—high and drilling; not a soldier, a distant part of his mind said, because soldiers don’t scream at death—he saw Torin straighten up again, alerted by some instinct similar to Kyr’s own; saw him suddenly give Lokan a hard shove back away from the railing even as the still man fired; and saw Torin jerk with the force of the bullet’s impact and collapse like a puppet with its strings suddenly cut.
He ran, taking the steps two at a time, knowing even as he did that it was too late.