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Uncalled For Actions (17/?)

Days 113 – 119 of the experiment.


[PARTS 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 ]

Gil stared up at Anevka from where Tarvek had tossed him, his lips still tingling from the surprise kiss. “What was that for?”

Anevka laughed at her brother’s retreating form. “Serves him right for spying.”

“Spying?” Gil frowned then touched his lips. “Wait, you kissed me because you knew Tarvek was watching?” Anger bubbled up as she continued to laugh.

“Oh, Gil, you’re so innocent; it’s just adorable.”

Gil got up, stepping out of her reach. “You used me to humiliate your own brother.” He couldn’t hide the hurt in his voice. I knew I shouldn’t have trusted her.

Anevka’s smile fell away. “Come on, Gil, it was just a joke–don’t be like that.”

Gil just shook his head as he continued to back away from her towards the gate then he turned and ran. He was only a few seconds behind Tarvek, but the tunnel and staircase were both empty already.

Gil took the stairs three at a time, throwing open the gate at the top with a clank. Which way? He was about to head back the way he’d come with Theo earlier–towards the burning atrium–when he heard a door slam in the opposite direction.

Following the noise, he found himself in an older, less used part of the castle. The hall sported heavy iron doors every ten meters or so. Gil stopped in the center of the corridor, straining to hear any sound, any clue which door he heard slam. His only other option was to just try to randomly open them.

The closest two he tried were, of course, locked and the third had been welded shut. Gil backed quickly away from that one when something began scratching and the knob shook–his father did say Sturmhalten was notorious for its monsters.

He considered just giving up when the door behind him suddenly opened.

“You,” Tarvek shouted, face red and eyes even redder.

Was he crying? Something inside of Gil twisted hard; it felt like his heart. Gil was the one that cried–when the other kids picked on him and pushed him down and stole his dinner and told him he was worthless. Tarvek was the strong one that always stood up to the bullies and got Gil through one of the hardest times in his life.

Seeing him weak was more unsettling than he cared to admit.

Gil opened his mouth to say something, but then just closed it again when words failed him. Tarvek continued to seethe in the doorway–his entire body vibrating. Taking a deep breath, Gil tried again to say something, anything, but this time Tarvek turned suddenly and stormed into the room.

Gil followed slowly in what ended up being a rather large and bright laboratory. At the center was a long workbench covered in a microscope, beakers and about a dozen little bottles.

And one familiar dart.

He picked it up, anger flaring along with a phantom pain in his neck. He spun, looking for Tarvek just in time to get a ball of fabric to the face that nearly knocked him off his feet with the force it hit him.

“Deidrick Lafayette,” Tarvek said. “That’s the name of the designer on Avenue Montaigne, Paris.”

Gil unwadded the bundle to find light blue trousers now adorned with a delicate floral design. “Maybe you’ll start a new fashion trend,” he said, tossing them back with a laugh.

Tarvek’s eyes darkened. “If by trend you mean everyone laughing at me all day then, yeah, I’m a trendsetter.”

Gil ducked his head–he never guessed Tarvek would wear the trousers the entire day. It didn’t seem so funny anymore. An apology was on the top of his tongue when the dart caught his attention again, bringing another surge of anger that was preferable to the guilt overwhelming him,

“So you going to tell me again how you didn’t drug me?” he asked, holding it up.

Tarvek scoffed. “I already told you, Holzfäller, I don’t care enough to drug you–it was all in your addled brain.”

“You think I imagined being attacked in your castle by one of your personal guards?”

“What are you talking about?” Tarvek said, snatching the dart from him. “Why would anyone attack you?”

He seemed to realize what he said a moment too late–his skin blazing as red as his hair, but Gil didn’t let the opportunity pass. “You mean besides you attack me? Twice,” he added, holding up two fingers for emphasis. “I guess we could also count that one cousin of yours–Tweedle–who threatened to punch my face in. That’s three attacks right there; two in the first few hours I was here.

“Then last night I was minding my own business when this crazy miniature mercenary took me down with two of those.”

Tarvek just shook his head. “I didn’t have anything to do with that.”

“Well, she’s your Smoke Knight, isn’t she?”

Tarvek frowned, his fingers fiddling with the dart. “There are hundreds of Smoke Knights-”

“Red hair, blue eyes-”

“You just described three-quarters of the people in the castle right now.”

Gil rolled his eyes. “Yes, the genetics run strong in your family–you must be proud.”

Tarvek crossed his arms over his chest. “Do you have a point?”

“Yeah, at the tip of that dart.”

“You know, having a conversation with you is an exercise in futility, if you can even qualify what we’re doing as conversing.”

Gil matched his defensive pose. “It’d be a lot easier if you just admitted you attacked me.”

Tarvek brushed past Gil, tossing the dart on the table then started to clean up. “Yes, you already established that I attacked you–get over it already.”

“I meant the drugs,” Gil said, picking up a bottle with no label and sniffing it until Tarvek took it away.

“I told you it wasn’t me.”

Gil sighed–futile was definitely the word he’d use, too. Tarvek would never confess. Of course, whatever he was dosed with the night before had lowered his resistance to suggestion. He’d said too much answering Seffie’s questions–had nearly given away closely guarded secrets if it hadn’t been for the training he’d received on resisting mind control.

So he figured one of these vials contained some of that truth serum, and he bet Tarvek’s self-control would be less defined. The problem was none of the bottles he could see were labeled.

“Fine, you had nothing to do with it,” Gil said, obviously surprising Tarvek. “Just like I didn’t have anything to do with your sister–Anevka kissed me.”

As expected Tarvek screwed up his face in disgust and looked anywhere other than Gil, giving him time to snatch up the dart and a bottle that was suspiciously less full than the others.

“Thanks for reminding me–I’ll be scarred for life.”

Gil shrugged. “I can’t help it if I’m irresistible to the girls in your family–Anevka, Seffie.” That freaky Smoke Knight kid.

“Are you trying to get hit again?” Tarvek said, voice heavy with the threat.

With a laugh, Gil patted Tarvek’s cheek as he headed towards the door. “I beat you once already.”

Tarvek shoved him ard in the back, but Gil was expecting it, easily hopping with the momentum and staying on his feet. “See you in the morning, Sturmvoraus–I have a party that I was very much invited to to get back to.” He waggled his fingers over his shoulder and slammed the door seconds before something hit it with a dull thwump then fell to the floor.

“You owe me new trousers,” Tarvek shouted from the closed lab.

In your dreams, Gil thought as he headed back towards the stairs to the steam party, but he passed right by without slowing. The earlier thrill he’d felt at being included had evaporated. Anevka had used him just like his father had warned him.

And worse–it hurt.

He wanted desperately to trust her, to have her as a friend and ally. At least now his eyes were open–he had no allies here; he had no allies ever. It was a lesson his father had tried to teach him for years and he was finally starting to understand.

Now it was time for a little revenge, he thought, pulling the dart from his pocket.

Gil managed to find his way back to the guest wing without being seen, slipping silently through the door while Barkley dozed by the fire. He tip-toed down the hall and listened outside his father’s room.

Hearing no snoring, he took the risk of trying the knob, finding it unlocked and the room empty. The Baron was probably chatting with the Prince or working somewhere else in the castle.

He found what he’d been looking for quickly–the case on the chest of drawers–and hurried to his own room, locking the door behind him. In the bathroom, Gil pulled out test tubes and chemicals from the case, setting up several tests on the vial and dart he’d snagged.

It was nearly three in the morning before he snuck the case back into his father’s still-empty room and curled into bed for a few hours of sleep while his last experiment finished. He smiled as he drifted off thinking of payback and Tarvek’s smug smile being wiped off his stupid, perfect face.

* * *

“We tend to think in terms of what we can see and hear–our two biggest input senses,” Miss Ziegler, the science teacher said, “but when it comes to memories, there’s another sense that is much more powerful. Does anyone know what that is?”

Several hands shot up in the air. Gil leaned his chin in his hand and stared at the clock–just fifteen more minutes and they were free for the day. Next to him, Tarvek carefully transcribed the answer Willow gave as Miss Ziegler elaborated.

Gil rolled his eyes at the precise way his friend wrote each letter, pressing so firmly with his pencil that Gil knew he could get his own set of notes just by rubbing a lead over the paper beneath to reveal the writing.

“That’s correct,” Miss Ziegler said. “Smell is one of, if not, the most powerful senses in our arsenal, especially when it comes to memories. Just think about your favorite memories–what’s the first thing that comes to mind?”

She pointed at Mathias. “What’s your favorite memory?”

“Solstice,” he said timidly.

“And what’s the first thing you think of when you think of the Solstice?”

“Presents?” he asked, getting a laugh from the other kids.

Miss Ziegler only smiled. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “When I think of Solstice, I think of evergreen wreaths and waxy candles and smoky wood stoves cooking a feast of pheasant and goose.”

Gil’s stomach grumbled at the thought. Not that he had any experience with Solstice–they didn’t exactly celebrate holidays on Castle Wulfenbach although some kids did hang wreaths and exchange presents in the winter. Gil never got anything, though.

“What’s your favorite smell?” Miss Ziegler asked Juniper Rosewell.


“And why’s that?”

“They remind me of my mother–she loves to bake and sometimes I would come home from school to find her in the kitchen even though we had servants to do that sort of thing. I would sit at the table and help her roll the dough and cut the shapes, and we’d talk about our days.”

“Those are lovely memories, Juniper–you’ll always cherish them.”

Gil’s stomach growled even louder at the thought of cookies. The clocked ticked by–ten minutes to go. He sighed, letting his elbow slip out from under his chin a little, his head sinking lower to the desk. Tarvek hummed his disapproval like he often did, making Gil roll his eyes.

The class seemed to drag on forever as the teacher went around the room asking each student for their favorite memory or scent. Each story made Gil more hungry or depressed until panic started to set in when he realized he’d probably have to add his own story.

What would he even say? Did he even have a favorite memory in his short, miserable life?

He glared at the clock, willing it to move faster and resolving himself to figure out the secrets of time and space when he got older if only to go back and escape this moment.

“And what about you, Tarvek?” Miss Ziegler asked.

Gil’s stomach plummeted as his heart shot into his throat–he was next.

Tarvek put down his pencil and bit his lip as he thought. Gil glanced from his friend to the clock and back repeatedly. How could time move so slowly one moment and quickly the next?

Tarvek straightened his papers, still thinking. He had just as much time to formulate a response; why was he stalling? Was he doing that because he knew how scared Gil was? The thought set off a burst of warmth in his chest for his best friend.

“Well,” Tarvek finally said after a little prodding, “if I’d have to choose a favorite scent it would probably be the smell of grass after a rainy day.”

Miss Ziegler and several of the kids nodded in agreement, but Tarvek only stared at his paper, brow furrowed.

“And why’s that?”

His frowned intensified, but then he took a deep, steady breath. “When I was little–before I came to Castle Wulfenbach–my father would get really busy so my mother would take my sister and me on picnics. It didn’t matter the weather. Even in the dead of winter, we would sit on wool blankets and eat steamy bowls of chowder in the snow.”

The corners of his mouth twitched into a smile, but it quickly faded along with the light in his eyes. “This one time, though, my sister didn’t want to come with so my mother and I went alone. It had rained that morning and the ground was soggy so we took off our shoes and socks and walked in our bare feet despite the mud.

“We laid there all afternoon, digging our toes in the cool earth, searching for bugs and listening to the birds sing.” Tarvek suddenly sucked in a gurgling breath, his lower lip quivering.

Before anyone could say anything, the clock struck the hour, ending the class. Tarvek shot out of his seat, leaving his bag behind, but Gil was right behind him, shoving everything from the desk into Tarvek’s bag before following him out the door.

“Wait up,” he called.

When Gil finally caught up, Tarvek grabbed his bag and shoved Gil away. “Leave me alone,” he said through clenched teeth, wiping at his eyes.

“Why? What did I do?”

Tarvek pushed him again then ran off, leaving Gil stunned and confused.

He waited for his friend at supper, but Tarvek didn’t show which meant Gil only managed to snag a single piece of buttered bread before the bullies confiscated the rest of his food–he’d forgotten how bad things had been before Tarvek, and he went to bed hungry and angry at being abandoned.

But when Tarvek wasn’t in class the next day and no one had seen him at breakfast, Gil began to worry. He barely paid attention and missed the entire discussion on how the sense of taste related to the sense of smell, only thankful he never had to come up with his own memory. After class, he waited to speak to Miss Ziegler.

“Do you know where Tarvek is?” he asked, his mouth a little dry with nerves.

Miss Ziegler set her glasses on the table–she looked a lot older and more tired than usual.

“I’m afraid, Prince Sturmvoraus isn’t feeling well right now.”

“Oh.” Gil stared at his feet. “That’s too bad.” Here Gil was angry Tarvek wasn’t at supper when he was sick? Some friend.

“Remember how we talked about memories linked to smells?”

Gil nodded.

“Well, I think those memories were a little too much for Tarvek to manage yesterday–it happens when we’re away from our loved ones. They call it home-sickness.”

“Oh,” Gil said again even though he had no understanding of homesickness. Castle Wulfenbach was the only home he knew, and there was no one here that he would miss if he left. Except Tarvek.

The thought of being away from him even for a night left his stomach roiling and his heart aching. Maybe he could understand after all.

“You’re a good friend to him, Gilgamesh, maybe you can think of a way to cheer him up,” Miss Ziegler said as she saw him out the door.

Gil sat alone at lunch and supper again, trying to think of ways to make Tarvek feel better which was easier said than done when he wouldn’t even talk to Gil for some reason. And it all started because of that story about the wet grass picnic.

That’s what gave him the idea, and when Tarvek finally showed his face again a few days later, Gil set his plan in motion.

“I’m not really in the mood for an adventure right now,” Tarvek said at breakfast that morning. He chewed a bite of toast half-heartedly then washed it down with a sip of juice. “Besides we have classes.”

Gil rolled his eyes–had Tarvek learned nothing from him. “Come on, it’ll be fun. No one even knows you’re back from being sick.”

Tarvek glanced around the dining room at the other kids eating and laughing. “But I’m right here–they can see me.”

Gil groaned–why was he being so difficult? “We’ll just say you thought you were better, but you were wrong and felt icky after eating so went back to bed, okay?”


“Come on, Tarvek, what’s one more day?”

Tarvek frowned at his bowl of fruit that he’d barely touched then sighed, letting Gil known he’d finally won. Gil pumped his fist in the air in celebration of his win.

“You’re not exactly playing into the whole, ‘I’m still sick’ thing, you know?” Tarvek said with half a smile.

“Oh, right,” Gil said then pushed Tarvek off his seat while dumping his food on the floor. “Oh, no,” he said loudly, getting the attention of some of the kids nearby, “aren’t you feeling well? You must have passed out and fell and made a big mess. Maybe you should go back to bed, Tarvek.”

Tarvek narrowed his eyes at Gil then slowly stood, wiping fruit from his shirt. “Maybe you’re right, Gil,” he said just as dramatically. “I don’t feel well at all.”

Just then one of the older girls came over, brow knit in concern. “Should I call the nurse?” she asked, wringing her hands together. “Or maybe von Pinn?”

“No,” both boys shouted, startling her.

“It’s okay,” Gil told her, swinging Tarvek’s arm over his shoulder, “I’ve got him–he’s not as fat as he looks.”

“Hey,” Tarvek said then leaned all of his weight on Gil, nearly knocking him over. 

Gil struggled to keep them both upright as he picked through the slippery mess of their breakfast on the floor. “I think he just needs one more day of rest and then he’ll be fine.”

“Are you sure you don’t want me to get the nurse?” the girl asked Tarvek.

Tarvek shook his head. “I’ll be okay. Gil can take care of me–he’s not as dumb as he looks.”

Gil growled under his breath at the insult, but didn’t say anything as he moved them along, still trying to carry almost all of Tarvek’s weight–maybe he was fatter than he looked.

The moment they left the dining room, though, Tarvek shoved off of Gil, pushing him into a plant that Gil barely managed to keep from knocking over.

“Jerk,” Tarvek muttered.

Gil fixed the plant upright then joined Tarvek, grinning like an idiot.

“Well?” Tarvek said after a moment. “You got us out of class, now what?”

“Oh, right, the adventure. Come on, this way.”

He snatched Tarvek’s hand and started running, Tarvek struggling to keep up as usual. They wound their way out of the school and through the forbidden halls of Castle Wulfenbach, garnering some attention from the crew, but no one stopped them.

“Where are we going?” Tarvek finally asked when they started heading into a restricted area.

Gil tugged on his hand, but Tarvek dug his heels in, refusing to budge.

“Don’t you trust me?” Gil asked, batting his extra-long lashes. Tarvek chewed his lip for a moment like he was weighing his options or trying to decide if he did trust Gil–his hesitation hurt more than Gil wanted to admit. “Why are you still mad at me?” he asked, surprising both of them.

Tarvek blinked. “I’m not mad at you.”

“You yelled at me,” he said softly, kicking at a scuff on the floor, “and pushed me.”

“Oh.” Tarvek went back to biting his lip, looking everywhere but at Gil.

Now Gil felt sick–like his stomach was being tied in a knot and his heart squeezed still. He rubbed at the imaginary pain in his chest. If homesickness felt anything like having your best friend mad at you, he wouldn’t wish it on his worst enemy–he could barely breath when Tarvek stopped talking to him, and all he wanted now was to fix things.

“Come on,” he said, softly, taking Tarvek’s hand again, “I just want to show you something. Please.”

Agonizing moments passed before Tarvek sighed and let Gil pull him forward with a relieved sigh. “If we get in trouble I’m telling them I’m delusional with illness and have no idea where we are–you’re taking advantage of my debilitation.”

Gil rolled his eyes. “Agreed; now come on.”

A couple minutes later, they were crawling through some ductwork into the bowels of the ship. Tarvek said nothing–didn’t even comment about them maybe being lost like he normally did. Maybe he did trust Gil after all.

The thought bolstered Gil’s resolve–Tarvek was his very best friend, almost like a brother, and he was going to do this one thing to make him feel better.

He hoped.

Soon enough, they came to a grate blocking the way. Both boys peered out into a drab gray hall like all the others on the ship.

“Where are we?” Tarvek whispered, tickling the hairs on the back of Gil’s neck.

“You’ll see,” he said just as quietly before spending several minutes working the screws from the grate with his fingers until they were raw and numb.

Together, they lowered grate and scrabbled out of the vent. Gil didn’t even bother to put the grate back–barely anyone came this way–and led Tarvek down the hall.

It had taken him a while to find this place on their pilfered maps based on hearsay and conjecture. Castle Wulfenbach was the size of a small city. Thousands of people lived here year-round, and the city never landed or stayed in one place for very long.

Supply zeppelins came and went throughout the week, but it couldn’t possibly be enough to keep the ship fully stocked, at least in Gil’s young mind. They always had fresh fruit in the school no matter what–von Pinn said it helped growing minds and bodies develop correctly, and one time he saw the crew carrying fruit still covered in dew from somewhere in the ship when no supply craft had been scheduled to arrive.

Several days of poking around brought him to the large cavernous room tucked into the corner of the ship.

“What is this?” Tarvek asked, taking a tentative step inside.

Gil waited at the entrance for Tarvek’s reaction, lower lip caught between his teeth with anxiety.

Tarvek stood motionless a few feet inside just staring up at the trees soaring above them and the glass wall built into the top of the ship beyond that. The early morning sun glinted off the dewy grass and gently swaying leaves.

When Tarvek didn’t’ move or say anything else, Gil finally joined him on the squishy ground. The first thing he noticed was the smell–damp and loamy. Dirt and trees and fruit and compost and a million other scents he couldn’t identify having grown up inside his entire life. It smelled amazing. Much better than cookies or candles or even roasting pheasant.

Tarvek took a few more steps then a deep breath, letting it out slowly.

“Do you like it?” Gil asked, turning his face up to the warm sun. “I don’t think most people even know we have a forest on the ship. It’s crazy, isn’t it? But they grow all sorts of fruits and vegetables here. And flowers. And there are birds and bees and stuff. What do you think?”

He spun to face his friend, expecting the same excitement he felt deep in his bones but found tears streaming down Tarvek’s face as he choked on a sob, fist jammed in his mouth.

Gil ran to him, alarm chasing away his earlier elation. “Tarvek, what’s wrong? Why are you crying? Talk to me, please.” Gil felt tears welling in his own eyes and blinked them away–Tarvek needed him to be the strong one now. “Did I do something wrong again? I don’t understand–you know I’m stupid when it comes to, well, being around people.”

Tarvek shook his head, apparently unable to answer then just walked right past Gil into the small forest. Gil followed a few feet behind, his bloody fingers worrying the edge of his waistcoat.

Did he screw up again? He was always making such a mess of things. If only he understood people and what he was supposed to do.

He smacked himself on the head a few times, tears pooling in his eyes. “I’m sorry,” he croaked.

Tarvek stopped ahead of him but didn’t turn.

“I didn’t mean to hurt you more,” Gil continued, the words coming out in a rush. “I just wanted to make you feel better, and you said you liked the smell of wet grass and then I found this place that has grass, and they make it rain in the mornings from the sprinklers up above so I thought you would like it, but I’m so stupid and don’t ever understand what people want, and I’m sorry so please stop crying. Please.”

The word caught in his throat as the tears overflowed down his cheek. “I don’t want you to be sad anymore,” he whispered. Gil squeezed his eyes shut, forcing the tears out. His chest was being crushed by an unseen vice making it hard to breathe, and the pain in his center had to be his heart shattering into a million pieces.

“You found this place for me?” Tarvek asked after a moment.

Gil nodded and wiped his face with the back of his hand that only smeared the tears and snot across his cheeks. “You said your favorite memory was a picnic with your mom in the wet grass–I thought this would remind you of it.” He gestured weakly at the grassy area in the center of the trees right below the center of the glass dome.

“My mother is dead, Gil.”

“Oh.” His lip started to quiver again as the tears blurred his vision. “I don’t have a mother either,” he said softly.

“You don’t even remember your parents; that’s different.”

Gil looked away, his face burning with humiliation and guilt and other emotions he didn’t understand. “I’m sorry,” he mumbled to his now-muddy boots. “We can go.”

He spun on his heel, not waiting for Tarvek’s answer, but a hand grabbed his elbow, stopping his desperate retreat. Slowly, Gil turned to face his friend, not sure what to expect. He’d made a mess of things like he always did–you’d think he’d be used to that by now, but it still hurt to know he’d screwed everything up.

He was surprised to find Tarvek’s expression neutral, eyes dry now. “You did this for me?” Tarvek asked again.

Gil nodded then followed Tarvek’s gaze over to the trees and damp grass before returning to his friend’s face as the corners of his mouth twitched into a small smile. “It smells just like home,” he whispered then threw his arms around Gil, hugging him tightly.

A gasp of absolute relief exploded from Gil as he relaxed into Tarvek’s embrace. “Do you really like it?”

Tarvek stepped back and wiped his eyes with a nod. “It’s amazing, Gil. How do they have trees on a ship? We’re in the air! It’s crazy; I love it. But-“

His smile fell and with it, Gil’s heart. “But what?” He fiddled with the buttons on his coat, avoiding Tarvek’s eyes again. He hated being so insecure.

“But,” Tarvek said, grabbing Gil’s hand to get his attention, “too bad we already ate breakfast. It’s not really a picnic without food.”

Gil looked at their joined hands then slowly up to Tarvek’s smiling if blotchy face, relief filling him–maybe he hadn’t completely messed everything else. “But you didn’t eat,” he said softly, “you spilled your food on the floor.”

Tarvek laughed. “You mean, you threw my food on the floor.”

Gil laughed too because it was all so ridiculous. “It worked didn’t it?”

“I could have just told them I was still sick–they would have believed me.”

Gil shrugged. “What’s the fun in that?”

Tarvek shook his head and squeezed Gil’s hand before letting it go. “My life would be so boring without you, Gil.”

Gil’s heart shot into his throat as his emotions soared. “So you still like me?”

Tarvek gave him a weird look. “You’re my best friend, Gil–I love you, you know.”

Gil nearly knocked Tarvek over in a crushing hug before darting off into the trees.

“What are you doing?” Tarvek asked, laughing as Gil scrambled up a tree like a monkey.

A moment later, Gil hopped down from a branch right in front of Tarvek and dumped an armload of fruit into Tarvek’s fumbling hands. Then he stripped off his coat with a flourish, laying it out on the ground. “Ta-da–a picnic!”

Tarvek laughed harder. “It’s brilliant, and I’m starving since someone used my breakfast as an escape mechanism.”

Gil plopped down on a corner of the coat. “Do you, like, read the dictionary for fun or something?”

Tarvek threw a cherry, bouncing it off of Gil’s head who snatched it out of the air in an impressive show of speed and agility then popped it into his mouth.

Shaking his head, Tarvek sat next to Gil and bit into an apple with a sigh. “This is almost like home in the spring when the snow has melted and it’s starting to get warm.”

“Do you miss it?” Gil asked, laying back with his hands behind his head to stare through the glass dome at the clouds drifting by.

“Sometimes,” he said then chewed his lip for a moment. “But there are lots of things I like about being here, too.”

“Like what?” Gil said, waggling his eyebrows until Tarvek tossed a handful of wet grass at him.

“Fishing for compliments is beneath you.”

“The ground is the only thing beneath me.”

Tarvek rolled his eyes. “Idiot.”

The two boys laughed until their stomachs hurt then kicked off their shoes and dug their toes into the soft grass.

“So you never got to answer Miss Ziegler’s question,” Tarvek said suddenly. “What is your favorite smell?”

Gil took a deep breath, senses overwhelmed by the scent of the grass still stuck to his cheek then glanced over at Tarvek. “I don’t know–I’m kind of leaning towards wet grass, too.”

[ Part 17 ]

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