Star was only fixated on Rose as she spoke the words that meant nothing to Zephren. “We can take him to Novan.”
Looking up at Rosakai’s face, Zephren was confronted with a dark, almost annoyed, grimace.
He found himself gulping as he asked aloud, “Who’s Novan?”
Rose didn’t take his eyes off Star, keeping her gaze locked as he whispered, “He’s a friend. And a good two days journey away at least, into illegal government territory… Not to mention we have to hire an airship to take us the last leg of the journey.”
Star’s jaw clenched as she stared up at him with fire in those ice blue eyes. “If you want to save Zephren, this is the only way I know how.”
Zephren’s stomach was acid as he looked at Rose, his heart aching as the siren said nothing. It was easy to see Rose was weighing the pros and cons in his mind, making a calculated decision of risk versus reward.
‘Who am I to them anyway? I’m no one. I’m not worth it.’
Desperation swelled inside Zephren, a sudden want to live and survive. “I’ll fight for you.” The words left his mouth without thinking, without really knowing what he was offering.
Rose looked at Zephren, a dark light lurking in his eyes. “You don’t need to say that,” Rosakai stated, though his words were careful, “I wasn’t going to refuse.” He squeezed Zeph’s shoulder gently, the faintest smile in his eyes and at the corner of his mouth, a warm compassion returning.
The tight toxic sick in Zephren’s conscious was still there, Rosakai’s words giving him no relief; an unease was still creeping in the back of his mind.
Rosakai turned towards Star. “Will he last long enough to get there?”
Star nodded, a spark of hope in her face. “Yes, he has at least a few days in him, especially if I check the wound every few hours… He is at least partially siren so it’s likely he’ll make it longer than a human would. But we need to leave soon. In fact, I would leave now.”
Rose nodded, sighing heavily. “Get him dressed, and the both of you packed. All the medical supplies come with us, as well as all the rations.” Rosakai’s hand slid from Zephren’s shoulder as he walked towards the door. “We leave now; as soon as everyone’s battle ready.”
‘Battle ready?’ Who exactly were they going up against?
Images of Zephren standing at the edge of a burning city flashed through his mind, the gunships dropping bombs, fracturing the land.
Rosakai’s words snapped Zephren back into reality, a twinge of pain returning to his nerves.
“I’ll inform the others,” Rose said, sounding diplomatic, “you come downstairs when you’re ready.” He kept his back to them, one foot already out the door. Stopping, Rose eyed Zephren over his shoulder. “You really up for this?”
Though Zephren nodded, it was stiff. The truth was, whether Rosakai had meant the journey or Zeph’s own offer to fight, he knew he wasn’t prepared for either. “I told you I wanted to be stronger,” he said, quietly, trying to reassure himself more than anyone.
Rose didn’t give any reassurance as he walked into the hall, simply closing the door behind him.
Zephren blinked up at Star, unsure if he was really relieved. “Thank you for not giving up on me.”
She put her hand on his, small white markings breaking through the dark, rich tone of her skin. “Believe me, if Rose is going this far to keep you alive, no one is going to give up on you.”
Zephren felt his tight mouth smile at her words. She was so beautiful, and truly seemed kind. As she packed up her medical bag, tucking her hair behind her ears, Zephren noticed how white hair shone and sparkled.
“Are you...” Zephren cleared his throat, wondering if it was personal to ask, “are you also part siren?”
She didn’t look up, a sparkling smile parting her dark lips. “Yes, but I take more after my mom. My father was a siren…” she looked slightly mournful as she spoke of him, “He was killed a long time ago, but I still miss him. My hair, my eyes…it’s all my dad.”
“I’m sorry…” Zeph offered, quietly. Though he now knew his mother, too, had been killed, he hadn’t known her and therefore couldn’t share in Star’s remorse.
He looked over her dark skin, the white patterns shimmering with the same slight iridescence that Rosakai’s held.
Star looked at Zephren laughing slightly as she placed her hands on her wide hips. “Are you wondering about this?” she asked, pointing to a white mark on her neck that looked like a crescent moon.
Blushing deeply with embarrassment Zephren stuttered to find his words. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to stare.”
She waved her hand at him, shaking her head. “It’s usually the first question I get asked. I’m not sure if it’s because my dad was a siren, or if it’s a form of vitiligo…it just makes me unique.” She shrugged, saying with a wink, “Besides, I like talking about it because I think it’s super pretty.”
Zephren laughed a little with her, smiling at her confidence. “It is pretty,” he said, genuinely. The blush stayed in his cheeks as he remembered what Star had said to him about Rosakai’s appearance. “Listen, about Rose—”
“You don’t need to be shy,” she interrupted, giving him another wink. “He tends to have that affect on people…just…” her brow furrowed slightly, “If I were you, I wouldn’t get your hopes up for anything other than a pretty face.”
Eyes wide, Zephren stretched out his hand, as if he could physically stop the idea. “Oh, no no no! I wasn’t thinking, I just…” He sighed, his thin, skeletal shoulders dropping. “I just can’t remember ever being around other people. I’m awkward and I… Everything’s just new.”
There was a moment of silence before she changed the subject saying, “I have some clothes here for you. Is it okay if I help you get dressed?”
Nodding in agreement, Zephren had no choice but to use his burned hand to painfully steady himself. As Star moved to help him, he suddenly realized how much taller he was than her.
“Shorter than you expected, too?” she laughed, “I can read you like an open book. You’re going to have to work on that.”
Zephren felt more like she was reading his mind, than the look on his face. “I’m sorry I’m so obvious.”
“Don’t be sorry. Sirens are naturally taller than humans; that’s why Rose is so tall.” Star stood beside Zephren, leveling her hand over her head, and following it into the center of his neck. Stepping back, keeping her hand in place, she narrowed her eyes. “You’re probably around…five-ten? Five-eleven? I’m five-five, same height as my mom. Unfortunately, I did not inherit the long willowy legs of my dad, but hey, I’m pretty cute.” She beamed, bringing a set of dark clothes over to the bed.
Even standing near the dark fabric Zephren could remark on how sickly his complexion was.
“I had these ready for you, but I’m not sure which ones will actually fit.” She held up a few different shirts against him, as well as trousers.
Zeph grimaced as Star uncomfortably contorted him into the clothing. The shirt he assumed was once again Rosakai’s as it almost went past mid thigh. The pants however fit well, if slightly loose.
“Wow, good match! Shirt’s too big, but can’t do much about that with your arm all bandaged. The trousers look nice though! Lucky you’re around the same size as Ryker.”
“Ryker?” Zephren asked, raising a brow.
“Another siren here. You can worry about him later.” Star was hesitant as she asked. “How…do you feel?”
For a moment Zephren had forgotten that he was getting dressed to embark on a long journey in the hopes of saving his life. “I honestly feel fine.”
Zephren looked down at his bare, boney feet, thoughts of them back on cold white tile haunting him. “Star, can I ask you something?” he whispered, catching her attention.
“Of course. Are you okay? Does something not feel right?”
He laughed a little nervously, “No, the clothes are fine. It feels strange to be wearing clean clothes, but…it’s good.”
Her face fell into worry as she looked at Zephren, “Then, what is it?”
Eyes still glued to his feet, he looked in disgust at his thick almost purple veins standing out prominently under his paper skin. “Am I…hard to look at?”
She gaped at him, blinking rapidly. “What? Hard to look at?”
He nodded, his entire demeanor growing quiet. “I’m so thin…unhealthy. My skin is grey…my hair looks like it might fall out.” He could feel the deep-set circles under his eyes. For the first time he really did sense the gravity of his health. “I look like a ghost,” he breathed, his chest rattling.
‘Rose…’ He thought of Rosakai’s long sparkling hair, his silver eyes, his strong muscular build… Zephren looked nothing like that. He wasn’t strong. He wasn’t ‘battle ready.’
Star frowned, sympathetically as she held both his shoulders gently, looking up at Zeph. “Zephren, you were abused for years. You’re malnourished, you’re injured. You won’t always look like this, and even if you did, it wouldn’t matter. More importantly than how you look, you’re brave, Zephren. You’re here and you’re fighting. That’s not something hard to look at… That’s something people want to see.”