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“That’s Vana?” Jack gestured at the wall hanging, so faded he could barely make out the figure of a woman, her face turned up to the white disk of the sun and bathed in light.

Kyna nodded.  “It was here when I moved in.  When I was an apprentice.”  To whom?  Jack had been in the cottage a bare hour, but it was evident the girl lived alone, from the single narrow bed to the way she’d rummaged for a second plate and cup.

“She talks to me now,” Kyna went on.  “I thought I was going mad.”

Jack could empathize, remembering a cloudy day out at Sky when he’d realized both that the priest from Port Nobel had followed him aboard the Maelstrom and that only he and Mad Johansen could see her.

“What does she… sorry. I didn’t mean to pry.”  Jack pushed back from the table and walked to the window, squinting into the sunlight.  Beyond the wooden sill, chickens pecked in the dusty yard. Songbirds squabbled in treetops above a narrow, clear stream leading back to the rise of hills that certainly looked like the Hybernia of his childhood. Goats glared back at the house from behind a wooden fence, and fat, sheepy clouds rambled across the morning sky.

“Just stuff,” Kyna said from behind him.  “The animals and the garden.  The weather.  Last night was new.”

Jack gritted his teeth.  “I should apologize for that too.  Maybe.  I think.”  What had he done last night?  What had Diel done, with his body? When was last night?  Where was his damned ship?

“Please don’t apologize.”  He could barely hear Kyna’s voice, but it sounded like she might be on the verge of tears.  “It was special.  A gift from us to them.  And… and them to us.”

Jack was suddenly furious.  A gift.  A theft, more like.  There would indeed be yelling.  At Diel, and maybe Vana if that were even possible, but not at this little bird.  Hell and damnation and when had he started swearing like that?  Mum would scrub his mouth with lye soap.

“Oh, hey.  Hey.  I didn’t mean…”  He scrambled for words, for time to figure out what whas going on, where he’d woken up – not alone. He walked over to stand behind her chair, putting his hand on her shoulder.  He could feel her flinch a little through the thin blouse, and mentally kicked himself harder.  “I’m sorry. I’m awful at this.”

He let go, sliding effortlessly into the smooth kneeling position Mum had made him practice so carefully, on the off chance – fat chance – his sire should ever grace their doorstep.

“I’m terrible at it, in fact.”  Kneeling, it was easy to swing a leg forward and collapse onto his back cleanly, the way Lt. Sy had shown him.  “Horrible.  Dreadful.  I’m running out of adjectives.”

He squinted up at her against the bright windowlight, trying to make out her expression.  “I mean it.  The only thing left is faking some sort of death spasm.”

The girl’s features came into focus as she leaned down and tilted her head.  “Tense?  Nervous?  Overly dramatic?”

That was more like it.  “Define ‘overly,’” Jack demanded, propping himself on one elbow.

“Rolling around on the floor when you could just hold still and play dead.”

“I’m a sailor,” he protested.  “The only things I see die are fish.”  That was only a little lie.  He hadn’t really seen the Cheval’s men die as his plane strafed lightning across their deck.  He’d been looking forward into the churning Sky, thinking about the next run, taking Blaine’s advice for once.  “Give me a break.  Just a tiny, wee, pathetic, or a plain old break, if you really hate adjectives that much.”

Kyna slid from the chair with the same dancer’s grace she’d used to leave the bed, dropping to her knees beside Jack with a flutter of skirts and ankles that made his heart skip a beat for a moment, no matter what else he might think or say about waking up to a farm in the middle of nowhere while his crewmates faced a fleet of unimaginable airships spilling through the broken Sky.

“You get one break,” she told him, leaning forward until the world was lost in a curtain of her hair and the smell of wildflowers.  “This is it.”

The kiss was even softer than Jack’s imagination had promised it might be.

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