Well, I wrote this for Gali (who doesn't have an account on here so I can't tag her rip) for her birthday and thought I'd post it here as well! Happy birthday <3
Arkas isn’t hungry enough to join the clan at dinner so he walks to the beach, away from the large bonfire in a clearing just past the sand.
Nebris is sitting on the beach, staring out at the golden sky. It’s pink around the edge and the sun is a brilliant yellow disc, casting glittering light across the rolling green waves.
“Hey.” Arkas sits down beside Nebris. He has his knees drawn up and is tracing circles in the sand with a lazy finger.
“Oh hey Arkas.” They’ve become close enough throughout the weeks on Peyal that small, private moments between them like this are common. Arkas regards these moments as treasures, keeping them in some locked part of his heart.
Without Nebris, he would still be alone in Corax right now. Gratitude pours from his mouth whenever he can mention it.
“Not hungry?” Nebris asks. “Whatever they’re cooking, it smells delicious.”
Zisteau joined his family for dinner as usual, with Erin, Blame and Kurt.
“I’ll get leftovers later. There’s always leftovers.”
This is true. Zisteau’s clan always leaves the remains of a meal wrapped in palm leaves and placed on the log seating area for any clan members who should join late. At first, Arkas was surprised at how their culture is easygoing at times, yet fierce at others. Only casual and open like this to the right people.
Arkas knows he is lucky to be Zisteau’s friend, they all are. There was uneasiness first, between the humans and the Grax.
But Zisteau was forgiven. He’d been welcomed by his mother and father with open arms, and they listened to his side of the story. They even accepted once he started dating Kurt.
And in time, they’ve come to see the humans as friends.
“Good idea. I didn’t eat either, I’ll come with you later,” Nebris says.
“Sooooo,” Arkas drawls, watching as the small waves wash up the beach and over his bare toes. “What’cha thinking about?”
“Just watching the sunset. The sky is pretty,” Nebris says.
Arkas agrees. The sky, and in turn, the ocean, is changing colours as the sun slips past the horizon. He digs his feet into the sand, relishing the cool sensation as it slides over his skin.
There’s no need or even desire to steal here. Everything is free and open. Arkas has gone on hunting expeditions with the clan, learning how to fashion weapons from trees to catch small wild animals and tools to grab at fruit from the highest branches. Everything is slower, less calculated, less life-threatening.
Arkas has to admit he enjoys it. He thought he’d miss the thrill of thievery, the plans made and the defiance of authority, but now he gets his thrills in other ways. Just the other day he’d scaled a coconut tree, Nebris below and smirking, sure he’d fall. Arkas thinks he took his victory graciously (well that was a plain lie; he’d whooped in excitement and held the two coconuts he’d retrieved high above his head, taunting Nebris).
“It’s getting dark. Want to head back home?” Arkas asks Nebris, watching his eyes flicker across the ocean.
“Nah. I like it here.”
With the last streaks of pink fading from the sky, it is nice. It’s warm enough to not worry about the encroaching night, and Arkas spends his time watching Nebris instead.
He’s been doing this a lot lately, just enough to feel slightly guilty - although he doesn’t know why. Nebris is attractive but there’s more than that, there’s a connection he feels in having lost someone in the same way Nebris did. Someone he was so close to.
There’s the way the loss has stuck in Nebris’ eyes, and so Arkas finds himself watching his eyes a lot.
“You don’t mind if I stay?”
Nebris chuckles. “I don’t mind, Arkas.”
Arkas sifts through the sand at his side. The waves wash over his feet, a slow rhythm. It’s only when the water comes up to his ankles before receding that he notices the tide coming in.
Arkas can’t believe Nebris doesn’t mind. He’s still a tagalong, still an outsider, was never part of Naziv before it became whatever it is now. He knows he annoys Nebris sometimes, and while he gets a kick out of that, it’s still surprising when Nebris sees him as a friend.
Arkas’ hands linger, hovering over the sand. The word ‘friend’ tastes dry on his lips, wrong and awkward, but they can’t be more than that, can they? They’ve grown close over the weeks in Peyal, it’s true. But Nebris is healing from the loss of Etho still, and Arkas from the loss of Pakratt. Surely there can’t be more?
Maybe a future, Arkas thinks, looking out over the waves towards the last splash of red at the horizon. The sky is dark blue and peppered with brilliant stars, stretching out across an endless plane above them.
Maybe there’s a different future with Nebris. Something more than friends, something… something Arkas has to admit he’s imagined at night and when he’s alone, or when he looks at Nebris’ eyes.
“Wanna swim?” Nebris says, standing up. Arkas blinks.
“It’s warm, the water looks nice, I feel like swimming.” Nebris is already pulling his shirt off and dropping it to the beach. He wades shin-deep into the water.
Arkas follows, doing the same. Well he’s not about to complain, seeing Nebris wade further into the water towards the horizon, his bare back tan from the time on the island.
Arkas strides to catch up, the cool water eddying around his waist as he moves deeper. He knows there’s a reef further out - once, a few of the Grax took him out in a boat to spear fish for dinner. There had been multicoloured fish, coral, and other creatures Arkas had never heard of before.
“Hey, you splashed me,” Nebris says as Arkas moves beside him, but he doesn’t sound that upset. Arkas grins, flicking water up towards him with his hands.
Nebris splashes him back and Arkas feels an inexplicable jump in his heart as the droplets hit his skin. Nebris is smiling, watching Arkas as he steps back.
The ocean brings calm to Arkas. Above the stars shine and the moon hangs low over the island as he looks back. The simmering golden glow of the bonfire flickers, a beacon in the wide expanse of dark water around it.
Nothing anchors them there except family, and Arkas repeats in his head what he’s learned in his time with Nebris and the others. Home is wherever my friends are.
“What’s that?” Nebris asks. Arkas looks back again and turns his eyes to the water. He didn’t mean to mouth the words but he must have.
“Oh nothing,” Arkas murmurs, stepping closer to Nebris and letting his hands trail through the water.
“I’m really glad you decided to come with us…” Nebris’ voice fades out, and he looks at the water between them. His cheeks are pink and Arkas can feel the vulnerability radiating from him. It’s not like Nebris to be tender, Arkas has learned. From what he’s heard, before Etho’s death, Nebris was prideful and provocative. Arkas wouldn’t have minded knowing that Nebris, but he likes what he’s got now.
He knows he’s mellowed too. Before Pak’s death he’d go out of his way to steal, he’d irritate Pak so much with his constant requests for help and resources. Pak was patient, Pak was helpful, Pak was reliable. Arkas never quite knew how he saw the man but he knew there had been a touch of something more, something that could almost have been romantic.
And then he was gone.
Arkas shakes his head. His eyes are stinging. They still do that when he thinks of Pakratt, and it leaves him feeling raw and open. It’s scary to feel this way and he wants to hide it in front of Nebris before remembering that Nebris has been through nearly the exact same thing.
“Thanks for letting me come,” Arkas says, fading out of his thoughts.
“I didn’t want you to stay behind, alone,” Nebris replies. He steps close to Arkas, who can now feel his body heat. His heart skips behind his chest.
Arkas can feel his breathing; the waves move in a steady motion behind them. He watches Nebris and he wants to say something better than just ‘thanks’.
“Arkas,” Nebris says. His voice is almost inaudible beneath the slow beat of the waves. His sentence doesn’t continue with words; he stands on tip-toes and leans up towards Arkas.
A shiver runs up Arkas’ spine and he leans down to kiss Nebris. He keeps his eyes open. There’s surprise in the purple ones below him. Perhaps surprise that he reciprocated, although Arkas can’t imagine doing anything else. It’s natural and easy to be kissing Nebris.
Arkas puts his arms around Nebris’ back, skin slipping on wet skin. Nebris pulls him close with a similar motion, silver moonlight bending around his face.
Arkas’ lips tingle and he doesn’t know how long he kisses Nebris but when he pulls away Nebris is flushed, a smile on the edge of his mouth.
“So it’s like this,” Nebris rumbles.
Arkas reaches to brush drops of water from his jaw. “I wasn’t sure whether…”
“Whether I liked you?”
“I wasn’t sure if you liked me.”
“Well, I guessed we’ve solved that.”
Nebris laughs. “Yeah. Yeah we have.”
“Hold on, I’m not quite sure,” Arkas says, bending down to kiss him again. “Just to make certain.”
Nebris presses closer, sending ripples from their bodies out into the water.
Arkas pulls away and stands, watching Nebris glow in the moonlight. He stands in the moment, in the peace washing around him with the waves. The something he’d thought was so unattainable but is now very, very real. He looks back at the lighted island and the moon, bright above it, blurring at the edge of a cloud.
He isn’t a thief, an outlaw, an accomplice, and he isn’t on the run. He is standing in the warmth of Nebris’ embrace, out in the ocean, safe but untethered to anything. He looks at Nebris and kisses him again, almost laughing from the happiness swelling in his chest.He is home.