Chapter 11 can be read below the cut.
It was the morning of December 8th, and all Veitlen could think about as he stared down at his socks was how much he dreaded leaving the townhouse. He’d already woken up earlier than normal in order to leave before Ellis and Asha could talk to him. Kallinu wouldn’t be awake this early either, so he could definitely walk to the Academy on his own.
Veitlen carefully crept out of his room and peered down the hallway toward his aunt & uncle’s room. The door was shut, and he couldn’t hear any sounds of movement. He kept his footsteps as quiet as he could until he got to the front door. It creaked when it opened, and he made sure to open and then shut it as slowly as he could so the noise wouldn’t be as noticeable. He locked the door, then let out a sigh of relief. Maybe this wouldn’t be as bad as he had originally thought.
Veitlen let out a squawk and spun around to see Kallinu standing outside the gate, grinning from ear to ear. “You know what day it is!” ze said. Ze threw zer arms up in the air. “IT’S YOUR BIRTHDAY!”
Veitlen rubbed his face. “Oh no.”
“You need to celebrate today!” said Kallinu.
“No,” said Veitlen. He walked through the gate and shut it, then started walking toward the train station without another word to Kallinu.
“You’re no fun,” Kallinu grumbled.
“Good,” said Veitlen.
Tjara was lecturing about something, but Veitlen was still anxious and could hardly pay attention. No one other than Kallinu had said anything strange or congratulated him, but he had the sinking feeling it wouldn’t last. He tapped his pen against his notebook, staring down at the paper. He’d barely written anything down and would definitely have to ask Nymue for her notes later.
“Are you okay?” Temurlin whispered to him.
Veitlen had seen Temurlin lean over, but he still jumped in his chair. He ran his hand through his hair. “I’m fine,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong.”
Temurlin didn’t look convinced, but he didn’t say anything about it. Veitlen turned back to his notes, and desperately hoped that he’d be able to pay at least a little bit of attention to Tjara now.
At lunch, Veitlen sat at the usual table with Kallinu and Ren. The two of them were deep in conversation and ignoring him, talking about something inconsequential. He’d tuned them out after he’d gotten back to the table with his food.
Kallinu suddenly turned to face Veitlen. “So, Veitlen,” ze said, zer eyes shining. “You’ve got something to share with us.”
Veitlen dropped his chopsticks; they clattered against the table and he grabbed one before it fell to the floor. “No, I don’t,” he said hurriedly.
Ren looked embarrassed. “It’s okay, Veitlen. I overheard it earlier,” she said.
Kallinu whipped zer head around to look at Ren in shock. “You did!?” ze exclaimed. “What? When?”
“When you were talking to Veitlen between classes,” said Ren.
Kallinu pouted. “But I wanted to tell you,” ze said.
Ren frowned. “Um, isn’t that something Veitlen should be telling me himself?”
Veitlen watched them bicker without saying a single word to him. This was becoming a familiar thing – Ren and Kallinu had been spending more and more time talking to each other. Kallinu hadn’t been calling him up as often as ze had before, either. Normally, something like that would have bothered him. At this particular moment, he was rather thankful for it.
He made it through the rest of his classes without any further interruptions. Veitlen waved to Kallinu as he left the Academy. Kallinu barely noticed, as ze was once again preoccupied with talking to Ren. He remained alone in his own thoughts all the way until he got to the restaurant where he worked.
Veitlen pushed open the front door to see the owner, Katter, standing in the middle of the floor with a big smile on his face. “Veitlen!” he said happily. “It’s your birthday! Happy birthday!”
“What? How did you even know that?” Veitlen demanded.
There was a middle-aged woman by the counter who was presumably picking up an order. “It’s your birthday, young man? Congratulations!” she said.
Veitlen grimaced for a moment. “Th-thank you,” he said.
The woman waved at Katter as she left the shop; he gave her a wave in return. Veitlen stared at the door, frowning, before he turned to face Katter. “How did you know that?” he asked again.
Katter patted Veitlen’s shoulder. “Veitlen, it was on the paperwork you filled out when I hired you. Now come on, let’s get to work.”
Veitlen’s shift ended at eight o’clock most nights, and this one was no exception. He took his usual box of take-out, waved goodbye to his coworkers who were still there, and left. Ellis and Asha wouldn’t be home tonight, so he’d be able to eat alone without them asking him a million questions.
He walked in silence a few moments and then turned the corner to see Temurlin walking toward him. The other man was dressed in running clothes – with no sleeves. Veitlen didn’t think he’d ever seen Temurlin wear sleeves, aside from a jacket or their military uniform.
“What are you doing here?” Veitlen asked.
“You work around here, don’t you?” said Temurlin. Despite that sentence, he looked surprised, like he hadn’t expected to see Veitlen.
“Yeah, but who told you I worked anywhere?” said Veitlen.
“I overheard Kallinu talking about it,” said Temurlin.
Veitlen scowled. “Of course you did. Anyway, what are you doing here? And aren’t you cold?”
“I’m fine,” said Temurlin. “It’s not even cold out.”
“Okay, but why are you here in particular?” said Veitlen. “Do you even live around here?”
Temurlin pointed down the street. “Yeah, and I go running around this time most days. Not usually on this route. That’s probably why I haven’t run into you before.”
“Makes sense,” said Veitlen. He noticed Temurlin frown down at the bag in his hand. “What? Are you hungry or something?”
Temurlin’s eyes widened, and he pressed his lips together in what Veitlen assumed was embarrassment. “No, no!” he said with a wave of his hand. “I’m fine.”
“It’s okay, you know,” said Veitlen. “I can always just throw something together when I get home.”
Temurlin looked hopeless, but he took the bag from Veitlen. They ended up walking a little further to a spot in Veitlen’s neighborhood where there was a wall low enough to sit on. For some reason, Temurlin still looked embarrassed, even though he’d decided to take Veitlen’s offer basically immediately.
Veitlen shivered and rubbed his arms. “I can’t believe you aren’t cold,” he said.
“I can’t believe you are,” said Temurlin. “You’re wearing a lot more than I am.”
“That’s what I don’t understand,” said Veitlen.
“You’re too skinny,” said Temurlin. “If you had more muscle, you wouldn’t be so cold all the time.”
“Or I could have just brought a jacket with me today,” Veitlen grumbled. Temurlin didn’t respond, and Veitlen stared off into the dark for a moment. “Are you planning on doing anything after this?”
Temurlin frowned at him. “Did you…want me to do something with you? At this time of day – uh, night?”
“I know it’s late and you probably want to go home,” said Veitlen hurriedly. He pointed toward the sky. “But it’s so clear tonight! And it’s a new moon! You can see a lot more of the stars than usual.”
Temurlin actually looked intrigued. “I didn’t know you were so interested in stargazing,” he said.
“Kallinu got me into it,” said Veitlen. “Turns out there’s a bunch of interesting things you can see in the night sky, especially at this time of the year.”
Ellis and Asha weren’t home, just as Veitlen had expected. He led Temurlin up to his room and then out the window onto the roof. The stool he kept on the balcony was specifically for getting up on to the roof, and it took a bit of convincing for Temurlin to actually step onto it.
Veitlen leaned back and pointed up at the stars. “There’s the Winter Triangle,” he said, tracing the shape with his finger. “Syrin is at the top, Beren is at the right, and Kaione is to the left.”
The perpetual meteor shower – fragments of Ellinen burning up in the atmosphere – didn’t distract him. The nights in Senna had been so dark that shooting stars had been visible every single night. They did did, however, seem to be distracting Temurlin, since he kept looking around.
“It’s really easy to see constellations in the city because of light pollution,” Veitlen continued. “It’s completely different out in the country. I don’t know if you noticed that when we were out in Fyrda. There are so many stars. You can even see the Dark River.”
“Dark River?” Temurlin questioned.
“It’s the band of dust in the middle of the Silver River,” said Veitlen. “You’ve seen that in pictures, right?”
“Oh, yeah,” said Temurlin. “I just didn’t know what it was called.”
Veitlen turned to look at Temurlin. He was lying on a borrowed towel with his hands on his chest, still looking skyward. “That’s really all I know,” he said.
Temurlin made eye contact with him for a moment. “That’s probably a good thing. You’re looking pretty cold,” he said.
Veitlen instinctively rubbed his arms. “Yeah. And you know what? It’s pretty late now! You should probably go home. Whoever you live with must be wondering where you are,” he blurted out.
Temurlin sat up. “Yeah, I definitely did not expect to stay out this long. My mom is not going to be happy.”
After Veitlen said his goodbyes to Temurlin (which also probably took too long), he went straight back up to his room to shut the window. The entire room was fairly cold from him leaving it open so long. He would definitely have trouble falling asleep later, if he’d even be able to sleep at all. It wasn’t that late in the night, but he was sure he’d be spending at least an hour or two thinking over his own behavior and if counted as too clingy or not. But that could wait until after he’d made something to eat, since he was now starting to regret giving away his own dinner to Temurlin.