Inbetween: Chapter Forty Six

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They were heading north again. Asa somehow managed to convince himself that they were already as far north as they could possibly go. He found it hard to believe there was anything further north than the mountains they now inhabited. They were adjusted to the colder climate and they had more appropriate attire this time, but it did not make the experience of being on the top deck of the airship any more enjoyable.

The ship they took this time around was much smaller than the one Alenna used for her journey to Detreya. It made sense. The trip was shorter and she needed less crew and supplies for this journey. They were also traveling through a huge mountain range and this smaller ship was better suited to navigating between the peaks so they did not need to increase their altitude and instead weaved between the mountainsides without climbing up into the clouds. The smaller ship meant there was less space in the hull for them to while away the time until the journey was over.

After having so much space to himself in Alenna’s home, Asa felt a bit claustrophobic in such close quarters so he elected to stay up on on the deck in the wind and cold. The world was so different this far to the north. He could not help but marvel at the sheer rock faces and snowy peaks of the mountains as they passed by.

Willow had done most of the appreciating of the scenery on their trip away from Detreya. He felt as though he had missed out on that opportunity by being too preoccupied at the time. Now he was able to give more of his attention to properly appreciating the world around him. Aside from the wind and the cold, being on the deck was a wonderful experience. He thought it was an excellent place to be alone with his thoughts, and these days he needed more time to think than ever.

He was glad that they were finally getting to do something, even if he was not entirely sure what they were doing heading further north with Alenna. He felt useless hiding in the mountains and idling away his days. Willow encouraged them to think of it as a vacation, but he could tell that even she could not stand many more days of free time without direction.

Since he had no idea what they would be doing here in the extreme north, he could not begin to guess if things would be better soon. Alenna had agreed to start sharing news with him, but she was still not very forthcoming about what she had in mind for them. Yuri seemed happier with this arrangement, but it drove Asa up the wall. He would rather be completely in the dark than have crumbs of information that just made him want to ask more questions.

Yuri told him about the current situation in Detreya. He was itching to go back and do something himself and he saw from the look in Yuri’s eye that he had contemplated formulating a plan to sneak back to his city himself. Fortunately, he had exhibited remarkable restraint and kept with their initial plan to make use of Alenna’s hospitality and trust her to keep her word to not withhold vital information from them.

He found the only way he could keep track of time while watching the ship winding its way through the valleys between the mountains was to judge how numb his fingers were. This part of the world had not featured heavily in his geography lessons. Everyone expected him to know every corner of Detreya, but he never guessed he would ever be this far abroad for any reason. Worrying about that would do him no good now. He just wanted to remain vigilant and do what he could to protect Yuri and to make sure that Yuri did not know just how much he was fighting to keep him safe. If he knew, then he would just put himself in more danger trying to be the protector instead. Asa doubted Yuri would ever grow out of wanting to be all things to everyone, but he was confident that he could orchestrate things so Yuri never had to do more than he could handle.

His musing was interrupted when Willow came to sit down next to him. He glanced over at her and could not resist the urge to smile at the sight of her bundled up in what seemed to be every spare cloak and blanket on the ship. Yuri told him about the cold weather in the land Willow came from, so her aversion to the cold seemed comically overplayed. He could not fault her for her hatred of the cold though. The landscape was breathtaking and the crisp, cold air was refreshing at first, but Asa longed to return to the warmer climate of Detreya.

“Hey,” she said while gathering the cloaks and blankets around her so only her face was visible.

“Hey. You know, you’d be warmer inside.”

She groaned. “Don’t remind me. You’re always up here though, and I wanted to talk so here I am braving the cold.”

“You were on the deck a lot yourself when we were sailing north from Detreya.”

“Well, I had a lot of thinking to do then.”

He nodded. “I’m doing a lot of thinking myself these days.”

He felt her watching him, but she remained silent. He appreciated that she was able to restrain herself from asking what he had to think about. She was a curious person by nature, so not asking had to be driving her up the wall. If he felt ready to tell her he certainly would, and he hoped she realized that. It just was not as though he spent a lot of time hiding himself and his feelings away from the others so he hoped that his usual forthcoming nature would reassure them now.

“I wish we weren’t going on this trip,” Willow admitted with a sigh.

“You’d rather be left behind? I’m glad we’re invited along. Yuri needs us.”

“I wish none of us were going.”

It was hard to tell because of the mass of layers hiding her body from view, but Asa was fairly certain she pulled her knees up to her chest and rested her chin on top of her knees. The look was a slightly comical since the excessive layers she wore made her appear much younger, but he did envy her for being as warm as cozy as was possible in this environment. His fingers and toes were wishing he had the sense and consideration to bring an extra blanket of his own.

“Yuri would drive us both mad if we stayed behind while Alenna went off to do who knows what up here in the far north,” he pointed out.

“I know, but it is so inconvenient. I was just starting to get the hang of reading your language and now we don’t have privacy for lessons.”

He was surprised to hear this. While she always seemed determined to learn to read the words in their books, he got the feeling that she found their lessons infuriating. Now he wondered if he had misread her feelings about their secret reading classes.

“We could still practice,” he offered tentatively. She was so adamant about keeping her inability to read a secret that he knew better than to hope that she would take him up on this offer.

“We can’t,” she said with a pained look on her face. “I don’t want anyone else to know.”

He shook his head. “No one is going to judge you for it. No one doubts that you’re educated and intelligent.”

“I just don’t understand how I can understand all of you and be understood speaking my language, but your writing isn’t just in a different alphabet but another language.”

“That is a mystery. We probably won’t figure it out on our own if we haven’t already. If you want an explanation we’ll have to tell someone more academic than me.”

He was only teasing, but he could tell that he had made her miserable merely by suggesting it. Maintaining his place in Willow’s good graces proved much more complicated than doing the same with Yuri. He and Yuri’s personalities had grown up together so they were more complementary than most. He never had to work at understanding Yuri’s mind. It came to him as second nature. His understanding of Willow only came from constant conscious effort. He was glad that so far putting in the effort seemed to pay off. Before meeting Willow he never thought he would be willing or able to put in the effort to grow to care for someone who was not Yuri. Even when Yuri talked about finding someone so they could be a proper trinity, he did not put much care or effort behind the idea. As far as he was concerned, he assumed Yuri would find someone he liked and he would learn to tolerate sharing his time and affection with this other person. In that sense, Willow came as a pleasant surprise. He doubted he would ever be as close to her as he was to Yuri, but he thought that they were making progress toward something resembling closeness.

Willow sulked in silence for a while in response to his suggestion. He tried not to watch her too carefully as he did not want to pressure her into giving a response to his suggestion before she was ready.

“You’ve got to be freezing,” she said out of the blue.

He shrugged. It was cold, but he did not think it was nearly as bad as Willow made it out to be with all of her bundled up layers.

“Come here,” she offered while gesturing awkwardly with her over-encumbered arm.

He scooted over so the gap between them was negligible. Willow somehow managed to shift her mass of blankets to cover his lap without uncovering a bit of herself. Whether she just had a knack for preventing herself from getting cold, or the blankets she got her hands on were deceptively large, he could not tell, but he was grateful for the gesture. Since she was out here, he had stayed out a bit longer than he originally intended and his hands and feet were now going numb.

“You were starting to go blue,” she said by way of explanation.

“I have been out here for a while.”

“You could always go back inside. Yuri is probably wondering where we are.”

“Nah. You’re out here so it’s not so bad and Yuri knows we can’t go far.”

“Thanks.”

“You know, eventually you will be able to read our books and we’ll figure out why you can understand our spoken language but not our written language, but I am sorry you have to wait.”

“It’s okay. We have more urgent matters to attend to than figuring out what is going on with me.”

“I don’t know about that. I think that fact that you’re here is important and I don’t think I’m the only one. Alenna has taken an interest in you too.”

“Don’t remind me. Sometimes she scares me a little.”

He laughed and looked around to confirm that they were still alone on this part of the deck. The wind made it hard to be overheard, but it was still better to be safe than sorry when it came to being less than gracious about their hostess. They appeared to be alone so he felt that he was safe in saying what was on his mind.

He leaned in close, still not trusting to not be overheard if he was too careless. “I’m still not entirely convinced we should completely trust Alenna. Of course, she hasn’t done anything malicious, but I can’t shake the feeling that she has her own interests at heart when she acts.”

Willow nodded and leaned her head in as well. “It’s hard to tell because she seems so nice sometimes, but she always seems to have part of her mind working on a different level than the one where she’s just talking to you. I don’t know about you, but I notice it is happening, but I can’t follow it.”

“It’s politics,” he explained as simply as possible.

She rolled her eyes. “I hate politics.”

He did not think he needed to respond. He was sure that it was abundantly clear that all their lives would be infinitely easier if only their fate had steered them away from politics.

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