She expected the Tides to throw mugs or shoes at her at any moment. Instead she heard a muffled snort, and then, from the corner of her eye, she caught a few smiles. When they sang the chorus together—which involved some melodic purring—a few people laughed openly, and she finally relaxed, letting herself enjoy something she did well. Very well. She’d been singing all her life. Nothing felt more natural.
After Roar plucked the last notes, there was a beat of perfect silence before the sounds of the storm filtered back in and the chatter of the hall returned. Aria peered at the faces around her, picking up snatches of conversation.
“Barmiest song I’ve heard in all my life. ”
“Funny, though. ”
“What’s a yeti?”
“I’ve got no idea, but the Mole sings like an angel. ”
“I heard she was the one who found River. ”
“You think she’ll sing something else?”
Roar bumped his shoulder into hers. He raised an eyebrow. “So? Will she sing again?”
Aria straightened her back and filled her lungs. They thought “Arctic Kitten” was something special? They hadn’t heard anything yet.
She smiled. “Yes. She will. ”
For the first time in months, no one noticed Perry as he stepped into the cookhouse. All eyes were fixed on Aria and Roar. He pulled himself into the shadows and leaned against the wall, gritting his teeth at the pain that shot down his arm.
Roar sat on top of one of the trestle tables at the center of the hall, playing a guitar. Beside him, Aria sang, with a relaxed smile on her lips and her head tipped to the side. Her black hair hung in wet strands that spilled over her shoulder.
Perry didn’t recognize the song, but he could tell she and Roar had sung it before by the way they were in pitch sometimes and sometimes apart, twining like birds in flight. He wasn’t surprised to see them singing together. Growing up, Roar had always turned unlikely things into songs to make Liv laugh. Sounds connected Roar and Aria, just as scents connected Scires. But another part of him couldn’t stand seeing them having fun, right after he’d almost drowned.
Across the hall, Reef and Gren saw him and came over, drawing Aria’s attention. Her voice broke off, and she gave Perry an uncertain smile. Roar’s hands stilled over the guitar, an anxious look crossing his face. The entire hall noticed Perry now, a stir sweeping across the crowded tables.
His pulse picked up, and he felt his cheeks warm. He had no doubt they knew what had happened at the jetty. That everyone knew. Perry saw the disappointment and worry in their expressions. Scented it in the rancy tempers that filled the hall. The Tides had always called him rash. His dive after Old Will would only reinforce that.
He crossed his arms, pain stabbing deep in his shoulder socket. “No need to stop. ” He hated the hoarseness of his voice, raw after coughing and retching seawater. “Will you sing another?”
Aria answered right away, never taking her eyes off him. “Yes. ”
She sang a song he knew this time—one she’d sung to him when they’d been at Marron’s together. It was a message from her. A reminder—here among hundreds of people—of a moment that had been theirs alone.
He let his head rest against the wall. Closed his eyes as he listened, pushing back the urge to go to her. To bring her close. He imagined her fitting right beneath his shoulder. Imagined the aches fading, along with the shame of having been fished out of the sea, mangled before his tribe. He imagined until it was just the two of them, alone on a rooftop again.
Hours later, Perry rose from his spot in the cookhouse. He stretched his back and rolled his shoulder, testing it. He swallowed, and confirmed that every part of him still hurt.
Morning sunlight filtered through the open doors and windows, falling in golden shafts across the hall. People lay everywhere—in piles along the walls, beneath tables, in the aisles. The quiet seemed impossible for such a large crowd. His gaze went to Aria for the thousandth time. She slept by Willow, Flea curled into a ball between them.
Roar woke, rubbing his eyes, and then Reef climbed to his feet nearby, pushing his braids back. The rest of the Six stirred to life, sensing Perry needed them. Twig nudged Gren, who shoved back while still half-asleep. Hyde and Hayden rose, sweeping their bows across their backs in unison and abandoning Straggler, who was still pulling on his boots. Quietly they moved past the sleeping tribe and followed Perry outside.
Apart from the puddles and branches, and the broken roof tiles scattered across the clearing, the compound looked the same. Perry scanned the hills. He didn’t see any fires, but the pungent stench of smoke hung in the damp air. He’d lost more land, he was certain. He only hoped it wasn’t more farmland or pasture, and that the rain had contained the damage.
Straggler pushed his way forward and wrinkled his nose, looking up. “Did I dream that last night?”
The Aether flowed calmly, blue sheets between wispy clouds. A normal spring sky. No blanket of glowing clouds. No spools of Aether churning above.
“Was the dream about Brooke?” Gren said. “Because then the answer is yes. And me too. ”
Straggler shoved him in the shoulder. “Idiot. She’s Perry’s girl. ”