It was beginning to get dark by the time Zahari and Nikifor returned home. Yasen had already sent Andon and Danail home, which was just a small hut on Zahari's property. They had been offered rooms inside the house, but they preferred to live on their own. The two men took care of their own horses and fed them before heading inside.
Tsveta immediately greeted them, hugging her brother and kissing her husband. When she tried to move away from him, he put his arms around her and pulled her close for another kiss. After allowing him his kiss, she playfully pushed him away.
"Looks like you've been busy today," Nikifor commented, noticing that her pants were dirty. "What've you been doing?"
"Just working with the horses," she replied before turning to Zahari. "So how'd it go?"
"Good. He's been arrested and if he's not shut down, I don't think anyone wants to support his business anymore. At least, that's the impression I got from some of the others down there." Zahari smiled, which was something Tsveta had not seen much from him lately. "Where's Alena?"
"I think she's upstairs," Tsveta said. "I'm going to go see how Dana and Mira are doing with dinner. It shouldn't be too much longer until it's ready."
As soon as Tsveta revealed Alena's location, Zahari started towards the stairs, barely hearing what his sister said afterwards. He wasn't sure why he was so eager to see Alena; she would surely be angry that their trip south had been delayed. But if it hadn't been for her, he wouldn't have been able to get the slave trader shut down so easily, and he felt as if he should thank her.
He knocked on her door, but after a few moments when nothing happened, he wondered if Tsveta had been wrong or if she was somewhere else. He was about to leave when the door opened to reveal a red Alena. All thought of what he meant to say vanished upon sight of her.
"What happened to you?" he asked, even though he could tell that she had obviously spent too much time outside in the sun.
She scowled and started to close the door, not wanting to put up with him, but Zahari threw his shoulder in between the door and its frame before she could close it and then squeezed himself into the room.
"That didn't make it obvious enough that I didn't want to talk to you?" Alena growled at him.
"I know you're mad at me, and I'm sorry that I couldn't take you today. But I need to thank you. You've helped me shut down a disgusting business."
Not wanting to stay any longer than necessary, he left after he finished speaking, shutting the door behind him. He stopped just outside her room and felt his heart pounding. Never before had he been so nervous simply talking to someone. He justified it in his mind because he'd never been around someone so volatile with a sword before, but he wasn't so sure that was the only reason.
After allowing his heart to calm, he started walking away, but when he heard an opening door behind him, he turned to see Alena leaving her room, and he was glad to see that she did not have her sword with her.
"I want to apologize," she muttered as she walked closer to him. She made sure they weren't too close, but close enough that there was no need for her to speak loudly. "I haven't been very nice to you, and you don't deserve that."
"It's okay," he said. "You've been through a lot lately. I wouldn't expect you to be fine with everything that's happened to you."
"It's no excuse. I'm not going to argue about a stupid apology. If you don't want to accept it, fine. I'll be gone tomorrow anyway." Irritated, she turned and headed back into her room.
"Alena, wait," he called. When she turned around again, he continued. "I do appreciate the apology. And if you want to, you are more than welcome to stay here until the seas calm down. I'm sure no one would mind."
"I'd rather not be a burden," she mumbled.
"It's not a problem," Zahari assured her. "You could stick around for years and it wouldn't be a problem. As long as you didn't kill anyone." As soon as that last part left his lips, he regretted saying it. He didn't even know why he said it; it just came out.
"Just don't give me a reason to kill anyone," Alena said with a slight smile. "But what am I supposed to do if I'm stuck here? If I sit around all day, I probably will kill someone."
"Uh," Zahari tried to think fast, but not much was coming to mind. He didn't think she would want to work outside much considering what the sun did to her light skin, and she didn't seem like the type who would be happy working in the house helping Yodana. "You could teach me Stasian."
"Why?" It seemed like an odd request to her. Unless he planned on going to Stasia, there was no need to learn the language. She also didn't think that she'd be the best teacher of the language.
"I don't know," he said with a shrug. "I was supposed to learn when I was younger and I never did. My father did business in Stasia and was hoping I'd be able to translate for him. It's not like I'm planning on ever going there again but it'd be nice to finish something I started for once."
"I'll think about it." Once again, she started to head back to her room, but once again, Zahari spoke to stop her.
"Dinner should be ready soon," he said. "Why don't you come eat with us?"
She walked past Zahari and started heading towards the stairs, and he followed her in silence. He let her walk in front of him by several steps until they made it down the stairs, where he took over the lead and showed her to the dining room. Everyone else was already there. Tsveta was holding Galina and sitting by Nikifor at one end of the table, and Yasen sat across from her. Mira and Dana had just served the meal, and then took seats on the same side as Yasen, but left room for Zahari and Alena.
Alena started with the bread, as that seemed to be the only thing she knew was good to eat. She pushed around the rest of her food with a fork as she munched the soft bread. She slowly started to sample the other foods and found that most were enjoyable, but the meat had a sweet sauce on it that she almost spit out.
"Are you still planning on going down to Trelo tomorrow?" Nikifor asked Zahari.
"You're going to be gone tomorrow too?" Yasen asked before Zahari could respond, and he didn't sound happy about it. "That's four days, now, Zahari. If you don't want to work, could you at least hire someone to take your place? If it wasn't for your new friend helping us out, that fence would still be down. And we haven't had any time to groom the horses either and there are more repairs to be done on the tack and the barn."
"It's just one more day, Yasen. After that, I'll be able to help you out."
"Until you decide to run off again," he muttered.
"I can go down to Trelo for you," Nikifor offered. "Unless Alena has any objections to going with me."
"Or we could hire more help," Tsveta suggested. "We can certainly afford it."
"There's no need to hire anyone else," Zahari argued. "We're just a few days behind on work. We'll be caught up soon enough. Andon and Danail are more than competent enough to handle a little extra work for a few days."
"Is this normal?" Alena asked Dana quietly while the others argued about what to do.
"Not really," Dana whispered back. "But anytime Zahari's not around to work for more than a couple of days, he and Yasen argue. Unfortunately, Zahari always wins the arguments, but he really isn't around enough to work as much as he needs too."
After dinner was finished, Alena wanted to talk to Zahari, but he hadn't been in a good mood since the argument, and as soon as he had finished eating he left. A door slammed, and Alena assumed that Zahari had gone outside, and when she went out to find him, she saw him, but not where she had expected to find him. He was in the process of climbing a tree that grew close to the house, and once he was high enough, he was able to jump on to the roof from the tree.
Although she had not spent any time climbing trees recently, it was a favorite Stasian pastime for children, and she considered herself skilled at tree climbing. Her assessment of her own skills was justified, as she was able to climb the tree with ease and join Zahari on the roof.
He turned quickly when he heard her jumping on the roof behind him. "What're you doing up here?" he asked, surprised. No one ever came up there except him. When Tsveta was a young girl, she joined her brother on the roof, but ever since she had decided she was too old to be climbing around, the rooftop had belonged to Zahari.
"I think I should stay," Alena said. "At least for now. I don't want to cause any more trouble than I already have."
"If you really want to go, it's not a problem," Zahari said without knowing why he was trying to convince her to go. He did want her to stay.
"No. I really think it'd be for the best if I stay. Yasen seems to need you here and I'd hate to take you away from your work."
"Yasen tends to exaggerate," he muttered. "He can get along without me for another day."
"But he shouldn't have to. You have a duty to make sure everything here is taken care of, and I can't take you away from that. I'll be content to stay here until you can get away."
Zahari kept his mouth shut. From the tone of her voice, he knew there would be no convincing her to go to Trelo until she thought it was a good time. If it had not meant losing an argument with Yasen, he would have been glad that she changed her mind about going. But as much as he hated losing arguments with his brother, he thought it wasn't a bad price to pay to avoid going to Trelo.
"Do you come up here a lot?" Alena asked after a short period of silence. She had walked over to the glass above the indoor garden and started walking towards the edge.
"Sometimes I need to get away from everyone," he said. "This is the best place. Tsveta's the only other person who would think to come up here and she won't." He was about to tell her to be careful as she approached the edge, but he remembered who he was talking to in time and didn't want to get pushed off the roof if she got angry.
"Guess it's not going to work out so well for you while I'm here. I've got no problem coming up here. It's actually nice. You can see everything from up here." Looking towards the cast ocean, she couldn't help but think of home, but she knew that it would make her time in Fiamett even more unbearable, so she looked away and tried to push all thoughts of home away.
"I'll just have to find another place to hide and make sure you don't follow me next time." As he spoke, he started to walk towards the tree in order to climb down. He had only climbed up to the roof to be alone, and it was apparent that he was not going to get that on the roof, so he saw no sense in staying up there.
Once Zahari had left, Alena sat down and once more, looked out towards the sea. With a small sigh, a tear fell from her eye. She never liked to cry, but she felt as if she were in one of the few situations where such behavior was acceptable.