"Everything's fine." Danjel Sefarre drawled over the sound of his typing. Jael didn't know what the man was writing all the time, but he certainly was diligent about it. "Three shipments went out since you were last here. Got confirmation of their arrival just yesterday."
Jael nodded. All was standard so far. Their job of babysitting the export of site seven artifacts from Kenhelm had turned rather boring. Most times he came to visit like this, Sefarre didn't even look up.
"Faridon says there's a lot left. We could get 'em out a lot faster if we shipped more loads. There's plenty of room. Faridon isn't hardly excavating any of the other sites anymore with what we're paying him for these. But the boss is solid on keeping number of shipments down. Apparently this is all pretty hush?" The ring buyer still didn't look up, but he did look interested.
Jael refused the bait. "Apparently." Occasionally Sefarre got curious, but it was safer all around if no one else knew just why the site seven artifacts were so important.
"Yeah, I suppose if I don't get told anything then you probably don't either, eh Moireka?"
Jael sighed inwardly at that and outwardly gave a bit of a wry smile. He'd long stopped trying to correct the man. It would seem he was no longer Jael, but rather just generic Moireka. At least ever since he had started going on these check in visits without Ari. "Sounds good. I'll be back in a few days then."
Sefarre waved a dismissal and Jael left. Routine and easy as always.
Kenhelm hadn't changed much since their last vist, even less so in the month they'd already been there. Jael spent most of that time studiously not looking up. It wasn't really the heaviness of the clouds, he was mostly used to that. It was more that he found himself wishing for rain, and looking at the not-sky would just get his hopes up. Kenhelm didn't get rain any more than the rest of the outer cities did.
It had been raining in Lujayn when they left and, despite all expectations to the contrary, he actually enjoyed seeing that city covered in grey for once. A lot of the buildings in Lujayn were covered with reflective glass windows. Most days they mirrored the blinding blue of the sky; made it seem as if the whole city was built up in the clouds. That day, however, all they could reflect was the same grey that now and continually blanketed Kenhelm. It had made the posh inner citiy seem closer to earth somehow, less pretentious. Yet, even that marked that place as a cut above the rest. Nowhere in the outer cities was getting any rain.
Jael was alone that day, which was no longer unusual. Though, even after a month, it still bothered him more than he would ever admit. He was happy that Ari could now spend a bunch of time with Faolani, really he was. And he knew that brothers with normal lives would grow up and move apart and not have this constant clinging need for each other, right? He knew all that, but as much as he told himself all of it, it didn't really help. He was still irked by the fact that Ari wanted to spend more time with his girlfriend than his brother.
Not that Ari had ever even hinted as much, but Jael could read the feelings in the room well enough to know when he was a crowd instead of company. He didn't like that any more than the couple in question did, so really it was a mutual, if unspoken, decision for him to be out alone so frequently. That solution was likely only temporary until a new equilibrium asserted itself. Things would settle into a new, but still acceptable, level of normalcy eventually. These were all things he told himself over again and still it made no difference. The whole situation just rankled.
Fortunately things had been quiet in Kenhelm. Azar Faridon was quite happy to continue selling to Mackram, and also just as happy to now have a buyer for the site seven artifacts that didn't also come with a kidnapping. Sefarre was handling the actual exporting of those artifacts to wherever Mackram was having them processed. Jael really didn't know or care about what happened to them once they were in the smuggling ring's hands. His boss had many ways of ensuring his goods were delivered intact. It was the part between digging them out of the ground and loading them onto the train cars that concerned him. Hence his weekly visit to Sefarre's office to make sure all was still going smoothly.
It used to be their weekly visit, but after the third time, Jael told Ari to just let him go alone. It gave them time alone, and it gave him time away from them, and he didn't regret his volunteering, much. Jael didn't like having to deal with people alone. The grateful look Ari gave him each time made up for it somewhat, but mostly Jael was just glad in some small way that Ari had the decency to feel at least a little bad about taking the out. Gods he really needed to stop being so petty.
He parked the car in it's hiding spot in an old abandoned parking garage and would just walk a meandering path from there. He was slowly making his way back to the underground apartment after checking in with Sefarre.
Anymore Jael liked to take his time getting back. It wasn't exactly dread, but he found some measure of peace from being alone that he never would have expected. He really missed his easy camaraderie with Ari, but he would rather have solitude than feel like a fifth wheel.
Also, he enjoyed exploring their small corner of the abandoned sector. It truly was empty of people. Since the eastern Armed Conflicts, Kenhelm's population had shrunk considerably. Not even the homeless came into this section of the city. They tended to fill the alleys of the city center where handouts were more forthcoming. Plenty of buildings still stood, though many were in bad states of disrepair. Quite often Jael wondered how safe it would be to try and get into one of the old office towers. He'd love to get on the roof and throw some wind around. Mental images of the building falling down around him tended to curb those impulses. Ari's sharp reprimand if he ever did try was also enough to make him keep walking past.
Jael hadn't used his magic once since leaving Terscher, and he found himself strangely wanting to. Not so long ago it wouldn't have been unusual to go so long without calling his wind. Even on their usual jobs, there were so few opponents it was safe to use it on. Now he found himself missing the freedom to call on it so liberally. Never mind that he had been in fights for his life, the thrill of the wind seemed to make that part fade in his memories.
Finally he decided it wasn't so much about using his magic, as knowing that he could. In Kenhelm there was no need, and great risk to calling up the wind. What he really wanted was to not have to talk himself out of it every time the desire to move a little air came upon him.
Almost unbidden, Jael's feet stopped walking when he spied an old metal paint can that had rolled up against the corner of the street. He took a few furtive glances around, but he hardly needed to. The area was deserted and surrounded by tall husks of old buildings. There was no way anyone could see him. Internal debate raged for a moment before an inner voice fueled by his magic said to hells with it.
Jael flicked one wrist and a sudden updraft sent the can flying straight up in the air.
Jael spun at hearing the voice behind him, hands raised for an attack and all instincts on high alert. A few frantic heartbeats later he recognized the rather startled face before him as Faolani's. While they both stood staring, the can dropped behind him with a clang. He flinched, she grinned.
"Gods..." Jeal breathed out as he dropped his hands. She, of course, was stifling a giggle. "That's not even remotely funny."
"Sorry." Her smile belied any actual contrition.
"What are you doing out here?" His heart was still pounding, but at least he could breathe normal again.
Her grin faded, but her eyes were still twinkling at his expense. "I'm just headed home, thought I might find you here on my way. Seems I was right."
"What? Ari didn't offer to escort you?" While it was nice to find something he could tease his brother about instead of the other way around. Poking at Ari's protectiveness with Faolani was one of the ways Jael was trying to get used to having her around.
"Oh he did, but his heart wasn't in it." The twinkle in her eyes shifted focus, but didn't lessen. "He really didn't want to leave before you were back. You know he starts getting hives as soon as you're five minutes late."
"Right." Jael laughed, but inside took her words rather more seriously than they were meant. Some part of him was grateful to hear that Ari still worried over him, albeit exaggerated and unneeded as it was.
"I actually did want to talk to you for a bit, so it's good he wasn't so insistent today."
Jael wasn't quite sure what to make of that. All inner thoughts were put on hold a moment. "Me?"
Faolani's grin didn't wholly return, but she was clearly relishing watching him squirm. "Yeah, you. Aridan's birthday is next month, got any plans?"
Ah. So that's what it was. "He told you that?"
"It came up." She shrugged. "I asked. He said he doesn't plan anything because you usually surprise him."
"So? What have you got?"
Jael spent a moment in silent debate, then decided to just tell her. "Well, back when I thought we'd be working a normal job again I planned to smuggle him here to spend a day with you. I haven't come up with anything better yet."
Quite a bit of the twinkle left her eyes at that. "Oh."
Jael hid his clenched fists in his pockets and just waited. He knew he waited in vain. There wasn't anything either of them could say that they both didn't already know and couldn't, or wouldn't change now.
"Well," She said finally. "That gives my idea more merit."
"And what's that?" He tried not to sound bitter, he really did.
She responded to his tone with reproof. "I was going to send him out for a day with you."
That brought Jael up short. He just stared at her, not sure if he believed what he heard.
"You two can go out and do whatever you want, and when you're done, come to my place and I'll have a good dinner ready."
He had heard right, and she was serious. "You really think that'll be good?"
"No." She said it quietly matter-of-fact. "I think you'll both drag your feet and complain and I'll have to shove you out the door myself. But I also think that sometime in the middle of the day you stubborn asses will give in and come back smiling."
Jael had to smile at the mental image, but... "I'm not so sure-"
"Look," Faolani's voice turned soft instead of sassy and it forced him to look her in the eye. "I may not have known you all that long, but I'm not blind. You guys are drifting and it's because of me, at least in part." Jael made to protest, to keep up appearances or something. She raised a hand to silence him. "Don't even try to tell me that isn't what this is about. You're giving him space because you think he wants it, he's giving you space because he thinks you want it. You both hate it, and you both feel freed by it, and you both feel guilty as hell about it. How close am I?"
Jael ran an angry hand through his hair, and then realized he had to admit defeat. With a heavy sigh, he capitulated. "Pretty near."
"Well, I'm sorry if I step on anyone's ego here, but it's time to put a stop to it. I am not going to be the force that drives you apart." She was smiling again, though not the mischievous grin of before. "I'll make sure Aridan shares his time better if you meet me halfway and stop running off so much."
"I don't..." Jael first instinct was again to protest, but something held him back and tripped up his words. One of Faolani's brows rose eloquently. She was right, he finally admitted to himself. She was absolutely right. It was his fault as much as anybody's. "Deal."
Faolani smiled, and Jael managed to return it. "Well, this wasn't at all what I was thinking this conversation would turn to."
Jael just shrugged. "You can probably look forward to more like it. You've joined a group with some serious dysfunction."
She didn't bat an eye. "Speaking of which, Aridan has probably paced a hole in the carpet waiting on you." She waved a quick goodbye and turned to leave. Before she could go more than a step, Jael called her back.
"Hey, Faolani, just one thing more. That good dinner on Ari's birthday? Let him cook it with you."
"He'd be thrilled."
"I'll do that then. See you around." She waved blithely and continued on her way.
True to Faolani's prediction, when Jael finally made his way through the trapdoor down into their underground apartment, Ari looked like he had been worrying. Jael couldn't see a path worn into the carpet, but it was old and had been paced many times before.
"Finally," Ari sounded more relieved than disapproving. "Something happen with Sefarre?"
"No, everything's fine."
"Well what then?" Ari's worry melted into teasing. "Did you get lost or something?"
Jael pretended to focus on walking down the steps so Ari wouldn't see how much he was trying to hide. "No, took a detour." His brother's eyebrow rose questioningly at that and Jael knew he had to give more answer. Just as before, the inner voice said to hells with it, give Ari one secret so he doesn't think to look for the other. "Went through some of the abandoned section." Jael paused for a heartbeat. He knew he was going to get reamed for this. "Threw a little wind around where no one could see me."
Ari's eyes went wide, and his mouth worked for a moment with no words emerging, but instead of exploding as Jael expected, Ari simply sagged down onto the sofa. "Gods, please just tell me you were careful."
"I was careful." Again his brother's eyebrow lifted, and again Jael found himself compelled to elaborate. "This whole section is deserted, but I checked just in case. I didn't try anything big, even though it was easy to call up today."
Ari just nodded with what sounded like a resigned sigh. Jael was still braced for a scolding, but it seemed it wasn't going to come.
"You're taking this better than I thought. I expected more yelling." Ari smiled wryly up at him.
"Well I was about to, but..." he shrugged and the smile faded. ''It is deserted, and we have done that sort of thing before. So long as you're careful, I'm not going to say you can't."
Jael dropped onto the sofa beside his brother, finally assured that he was in the clear.
"I just..." Ari continued in a softer voice. "I just don't want to even think about what could happen if the wrong people saw."
That, combined with the thought of Faolani scaring him half to death earlier, sobered Jael up quick. He wasn't about to mention that, though.
He certainly wasn't going mention how he hadn't really done more than a cursory check for onlookers, or just how often and how strongly the desire to play with the wind came upon him since leaving Terscher. And yet, maybe he wasn't the only one feeling such restlessness.
"Do you ever just want to use your magic? Not for any real reason, but just because you can?" Jael lowered both his head and his voice and altered the question before his brother could answer. "Or really because you wish you just could?"
Ari was silent so long that Jael thought his brother wouldn't answer. Finally he just said, "Yeah, sometimes."
"A month isn't that long. Or at least it wasn't before." Hells, he'd gone years after the first time before even trying to use his magic again. Why was it so hard to go a few days now? Was it just the thrill? Was it just the empowerment? Was it just that for a few fleeting moments he could use his power with near complete abandon? "Is it really like they say of us? Are we really just users hooked to a drug we can't let go of?"
"No way." Ari's voice was firm, though it seemed to be as much to reassure himself as Jael. "That's just the blather of those who could never know. We went through a hell of a lot in Terscher, and both used our magic more than most of our jobs combined. I'm feeling it too, even though I..."
"Don't have to worry about your magic going wild." Jael filled in dully where Ari trailed off. It was mildly nice that Ari wouldn't just out and say it, but there really was no point in dodging the topic. "I'm just tired of having to always talk myself out of it."
"Well let's not then."
Ari's eyes were lit up, and Jael couldn't believe what he was hearing. Was this really Ari, the eternal voice of caution speaking?
"Tomorrow afternoon, let's you and me go toss some magic around. This deep in the deserted part of town, we'll be safe enough. Just like last time we were here."
Jael nodded, a little dazed. This was not at all what he expected out of Ari. Not after how badly things almost went in Terscher. Not after all of Ari's admonitions that they needed to lay low while they were in Kenhelm. Then he realized with a sly smile, his brother had been spending a lot of time with Faolani lately. If anyone could calm the voice of caution, it would be her.
"I was going to go grocery shopping in the morning. Figured you wouldn't be interested."
"Not really, no." Just as Ari copped out of going to check up on Sefarre, Jael opted out things like buying groceries quite frequently.
"Faolani invited herself along." Ari's upbeat tone didn't change. If he saw Jael's face twitch toward a frown, it didn't show. "Should be back around noon, and then we can go out for some practice."
"Sounds good." Jael tried hard to keep up his end of Faolani's deal. He'd take what he could and give what he had. Somehow they'd work it out. Ari smiled back and meandered off towards the kitchen. As Jael watched him rummage around in the refrigerator he had to wonder. Was Ari just as good at pretending as he was, or did his brother really not feel the distance growing between them?