‘I was just scared!’ Jaisa exclaimed, knocking over xer chair as xie leapt up. ‘I swear, I didn’t want to be a part of it!’
‘We know,’ Distro comforted.
‘I didn’t want to die!’
‘No, no,’ Distro rose to her feet and took the seces’ hands in her own. ‘Of course you didn’t. Nobody can blame you for doing what you had to do to survive. We understand.’
‘I— I just—’ a choking sound escaped Jaisa’s gills, and xie stumbled sideways into Coi’Lili’s arms. ‘I— Can’t breathe!’
‘Yes you can,’ Coi’Lili said gently. ‘Open your gills and take one deep and slow breath.’
‘I can’t!’ Jaisa cried, tears welling in xer eyes. ‘I can’t breathe!’
‘Shh,’ Coi’Lili wrapped his wings over xer and gave xer a tight squeeze. ‘You are okay now. One deep breath, now. One breath. Deep and slow.’
Jaisa tried— Once.
It took three times to take the breath.
But xie managed it. And then xie took another. And the next one was easier.
‘There. You are breathing now my sweet one,’ Coi’Lili rubbed Jaisa’s shoulder, and his lips met the fin on top of xer head. ‘You are breathing.’
‘How about we get you something to eat?’ Distro asked, finally letting go of Jaisa’s hand and making her way to the door. She poked her head out and motioned something to the guard outside before turning back to Jaisa. ‘Harka will take you to the kitchens, now. He’s one of my best guards. You’ll be safe with him.’
‘O-Okay,’ Jaisa let out a long sigh, and let Coi’Lili walk xer to the door. Xie couldn’t meet the guard’s eye, but let xerself take his hand when it was offered. ‘Thank you. I…. I’ll tell you more later.’
‘In your own time,’ Distro said softly.
Jaisa gave the queen a nod before Harka shut the door and put an arm around xer. He made to lead xer away, but his hand slipped from xer back as Jaisa couldn’t bring xerself to move.
Xer legs felt as weak as jelly now that xie was alone with this… stranger.
And as he stared back at xer, his arm still raised mid-air xie felt small, and frail, and venerable. And even though his eyes were soft and sympathetic and his step towards xer was slow and calm, Jaisa felt xer breath catch in xer gills again and xie flinched away from him.
Harka stepped back, raising his hands submissively and shaking his head.
‘I’m s-sorry,’ Jaisa stammered. ‘I-I just— It’s really hard to—’
His hand raised to quiet xer, before he pointed to his ear. Then he signed, ‘Deaf. Only sign. WSL main. ISL second.’
‘O-Oh,’ Jaisa let out xer breath. ‘Deaf. Deaf…. Uh…. I also sign.’
‘I thought could,’ Harka gave a chuckle. ‘Being seces.’
‘Yes, I learnt from birth,’ Jaisa replied. ‘Before I learnt to lung-breathe. ISL, SSL.’
‘SSL much different?’ Harka asked. ‘WSL very different ISL.’
‘SSL is not very different from ISL,’ Jaisa signed, feeling xerself start to relax. The familiar language was helping ground xer, and xie could easily guess why Distro had left xer alone with Harka. ‘Many signs are the same. Easy to learn both.’
‘Hard both WSL and ISL,’ Harka shrugged. ‘Maybe not best with ISL. But good enough.’
‘Very good,’ Jaisa complimented, feeling xerself give a grin. ‘You are very clear.’
‘Good, good,’ Harka returned Jaisa’s grin. Then motioned down the hall. ‘Come kitchens? Distro said you need eat.’
‘Yes, okay,’ Jaisa replied, and found xie was finally able to take a step forward. ‘Are the kitchens far?’
‘Just few hallways,’ Harka explained, starting to lead xer. ‘Not far. Not with wolven legs. Seces legs, maybe longer.’
Jaisa felt a laugh escape xer, and quickly smothered it. ‘Yes. Things feel bigger here. Chair is like couch. Bed here is same size as whole bedroom back home.’
‘Imagine poor Queen,’ Harka’s grin grew wider. ‘Toilets. Queen so small. Sometimes fall in!’
Another laugh escaped Jaisa, and xie didn’t bother to smother it this time. ‘Fall in?! She falls in toilets?! Why not have small ones made? She is the queen!’
‘She much too proud for that,’ Harka replied. ‘She insists on using all wolven things, no help. Can be funny. Sometimes take ten minutes for get in cart out of city. Sometimes knock shelf over climbing top to get books. But she always okay.’
‘Always always,’ Harka replied. ‘She just stubborn…. What about you? You stubborn?’
‘No,’ Jaisa signed. ‘I am a pushover. And a coward.’
‘Oh well,’ Harka gave a shrug and grinned before shoving open a heavy-looking door to reveal the kitchens. ‘Nobody perfect.’
Again, Jaisa laughed. And then watched as Harka turned to a nearby cook.
‘Hello Pink’Ribbon,’ he signed.
‘Hello hello hello!’ the avio signed back. ‘Welcome welcome! To you and to your blue one! What is it you have come for, Q?’
‘Food,’ Harka responded. Then put his hands in his pockets and grinned.
When he did, Pink’Ribbon let out a loud laugh and smacked him playfully with her wing. ‘Cheeky cheeky! Tell me what food you have come for, Harka! Or I will give you nothing!’
‘Food for xer,’ he told her, before pointing to Jaisa.
‘Food for you, Q?’ Pink’Ribbon asked.
‘Food for me,’ Jaisa confirmed.
‘You are Distro guest, yes, Q?’ she signed. ‘Who has eaten fish for many days now, Q?’
Jaisa nodded, and Pink’Ribbon beamed.
‘Easy easy! Sit and wait! I will make you food now!’
‘Thank you,’ Jaisa offered the avio a grin and watched as she began going through a fridge.
It was interesting, Jaisa thought, to watch her work. Xie’d never been much into cooking, and as xie watched Pink’Ribbon chop seaweed and trout into perfectly even cubes, xie recalled xer own cooking methods; taking a fish, sticking it in a frypan, and peeling off the burnt bits…. Though, more often than cooking xerself, xie just headed to the port’s market and got something there.
Jaisa wondered if xer frypan was still in xer room— If xie still had xer room at all, and it hadn’t been given to someone else in xer absence.
Not that it mattered, much, Jaisa figured. Xie didn’t own all that much— Though, xie would have liked xer figurine collection back. Maybe the port had held onto it for xer?
Xie hoped so.
Harka gave xer a nudge.
‘What thinking about?’ he asked.
‘Hoping I was not reported dead,’ Jaisa admitted. ‘I want all my shit back.’
Harka let out a loud laugh and shook his head. ‘Strange struggle.’
‘Very,’ Jaisa replied, giving the wolven a half-smile back. Though, as xie did, xie felt xer heart sink and anxiety rise to replace it in xer chest, and xie turned to continue watching Pink’Ribbon cook.
Things would never be the same, would they?