“Are you serious right now?” I asked no one at all. In the past few moments, I had been tag teamed by a ten-year-old and a frenemy of sorts.
Kase snickered. “She said it again,” he told Marlee.
Marlee rolled her eyes. “I heard.”
I looked back at them. “Can we just keep going, please?”
Marlee raised an eyebrow at me. “Sore?”
“Everywhere,” I replied, not even bothering to try to deny it.
She nodded. “Let’s go, then.” She went to go, then paused, glancing at Kase. “Do you want to lead?”
He shook his head, smiling. “I’m good, you can do it.”
She smiled at him and began walking. Kase and I followed close behind.
I leaned over to whisper something to Kase, keeping my eyes on Marlee’s back as I did so.
“Was that because you knew that she wanted to lead?” I asked softly.
Kase smiled. “Maybe.”
Something told me that he would never admit it outright, so that was probably as close to a yes as I’d get.
“Good job, squirt.” I reached to ruffle his hair, but he stopped me.
“Kai is allowed to do that to me, you are not,” he said very seriously.
I frowned at him, slightly hurt though I didn’t let it show. “Why not?”
Kai grinned. “Because I’m not allowed to do it back.”
I smirked at him, the hurt disappearing again as I realized he hadn’t meant it to hurt. “You can do it back, just don’t be surprised when I tickle you.”
Kase’s eyes widened. “No,” he breathed, already starting to grin.
“Yes,” I replied in kind.
“Marlee!” he called ahead, grinning.
I clapped my hands over his mouth, gaping at him before glancing up at Marlee. When she began to turn towards us, I retrieved my hands, pasting an innocent smile onto my face.
She shook her head at us, turning back to keep walking. Before she turned, I saw her mouth move, but I wasn’t able to hear what she said.
Beside me, Kase was cackling like a maniac.
“Ha, ha, very funny,” I told him dryly. “We’re a genius because we played a prank on Calypso.”
“Actually,” Kase said, holding up his finger, “you’re the one who called me a genius in the first place. Also, you’ve started referring to yourself in third person and you said ‘we’ instead of ‘you.’”
I kept looking at him as we walked, “And I’m supposed to do what? Keep doing that?”
Kase rolled his eyes. “Well, you already swapped back to first person,” he said.
I hadn’t even realized.
“Okay, then,” I told him, “since we seem awfully close to annoying each other—”
“You aren’t close to annoying me, but I’m probably close to annoying you,” Kase interrupted me matter-of-factly.
I growled slightly, trying to soften it to a huff as it left my nose.
Kase laughed. “Yep. Alright, let’s move.” He pointed forward as thought he was some sort of compass and wherever he pointed would be the right direction. In his case, north and south didn’t exist, it was just right and wrong.
East and west were probably knowledge and folly.
“Marlee,” he called.
She turned back again, looking slightly exasperated. “What?”
“We’re joining you because I’m driving Calypso crazy and she doesn’t want to kill me,” Kase said easily.
I shot him a look. “I wasn’t going to kill you.”
He shrugged. “Minor detail.”
I glanced at Marlee. “If she thinks I’m going to kill you—”
“I’ll save you,” he assured me.
“Lot of good that does me if you’re dead,” I muttered.
He laughed. “Calypso isn’t going to kill me, Marlee,” he said, “because if she did, once I’m dead, there’s no one to defend her.”
“How comforting,” I heard Marlee drawl. “Why don’t you come up here and we can discuss her true motives without her hearing.”
Kase thought that was the most hilarious thing ever because he doubled over laughing.
I rolled my eyes. “If Kase is coming up there, I am, too,” I told her.
“Oh, I forgot that you are only allowed to get so far from your bodyguard,” Marlee snarked.
“Uh, what?” I asked dumbly. I was being thrown for so many loops that I couldn’t keep myself .
“You’re my bodyguard,” Kase explained between giggles.
I sighed. “Glad to know that I’m of some use to you,” I said sarcastically.
“Well, only my shoulders hurt,” Kase said, trying to make a point.
I definitely got it.
“Sorry,” I told him again, feeling guilty.
“That’s not what I meant!” he said quickly, his eyes widening.
I shrugged. “I’m still sorry, whether you meant for me to or not.”
Something very close to a growl came from Kase’s throat. He jumped in front of me and held out his arms to stop me. His hands landed on my arms, but I didn’t feel his fingers land on my cuts. All I saw was the frustrated look on his face.
“It wasn’t your fault,” he said firmly.
I kept looking at him. “You shouldn’t have gotten hurt,” I told him, not even bothering trying to keep arguing about how it was my fault.
“Life happens,” Kase said, brushing it off. “Besides, I’m using my arms, so I’m not crippled. The worst that can happen is my being sore in the morning.”
I shook my head, laughing humorlessly. “You probably won’t be using your arms much tomorrow depending on how tight he held you.”
Kase shook me—or got as close to shaking me as he could. “Is the man going to come and hurt me again?” he asked me very seriously.
“No,” I said, then thought for a moment. “Well, you also said that there were people who can raise the dead, so if someone persuaded them to revive him, you very well might be hurt by him again.”
Kase looked annoyed. “You just don’t get it, do you?”
“Get what?” I asked dumbly. I was acting more like an idiot today than I normally did. I couldn’t figure out why, either.
“Marlee!” Kase called.
“What?” she asked, even more impatiently this time.
“I need you!”
Really, someone yelling in your face wasn’t nice, even when they weren’t yelling at you. The difference was surprisingly just as uncomfortable as having the actions done. I couldn’t figure out which one I disliked more.
Well, actually, maybe it was someone yelling in your face but not at you because then you can’t hit them back.
I could hear her stomping back down the hill and I closed my eyes in a pained expression. “I don’t need her to explain how I saved you,” I said. “You got hurt which means I failed. There’s nothing good about that.”
I wasn’t expecting the slap in the face.
“Snap out of it!” Marlee ordered me loudly.
Again, I didn’t like people yelling in my face.
“I can’t!” I yelled back, my eyes still squeezed shut tightly.
“You can!” Marlee yelled back. “It’s like earlier! You just have to try!”
I squeezed my eyes shut tighter, so tight that I started to feel my eyelashes getting wet.
I refused to cry.
“You can’t stop people from getting hurt, but you can stop that hurt from being irreversible,” Marlee said, quieter.
“Like, you can’t stop bruises, but you can stop torn muscles, broken bones, and death,” Kase contributed with all the easiness of a ten-year-old who’d never experienced more than two of those, max.
“I’m going to open my eyes when you two are out of my face,” I said, calming.
“How do you know we aren’t?” Marlee asked with a smirk in her voice.
I opened my eyes, but I should’ve known that she wouldn’t actually be out of my personal space.
“Ah!” I yelped before I realized that I was yelping. I backed up. “Seriously, personal space.” I gestured for her to back up.
Arms reached around me and I was squeezed tightly in what was probably supposed to be a hug but really felt like a strangling attempt.
“Personal space is overrated,” Kase said smugly, looking me in the eye. I was realizing just how equally we were height-wise.
“This isn’t fair,” I said, momentarily forgetting about the original topic.
Marlee snorted. “Yep, she’s fixed.”
I looked back at her, then back at Kase. “What did I do?”
Kase let go of me, snickering. “You changed the subject.”
“That’s not what I meant!” Marlee told him, already walking back up the hill.
“Well, what did you mean?” he challenged.
“I mean that the next person to have a crisis might get a slap in the face because I did that to Calypso, and either Calypso will yell at them to pull it together, or she’ll be disgusted that we’ve all had a breakdown today.”
I rolled my eyes. “You think you’ve got me all figured out,” I said, which, she kinda did. “You’re forgetting that you’ve already had your breakdown.”
“Hush,” Marlee ordered me.
Kase looked interested. “What was her breakdown?” he whispered.
I grinned and whispered back, “I’ll tell you on the way back, but we have to start moving.”
Kase’s eyes sparkled mischievously. “Deal.”