In the early mornings, when the sky is dyed a pale orange and when the calm quiet stifles the usual rowdy chatter of the sailors, Arlen likes to watch the ocean.
Mind you, that's his job.
But when you climb the stairs up to the deck and catch sight of him, the silhouette of his back suggests that there's something different about him looking out for enemy ships from the crow's nest and this. For one thing, he's not speaking, laughing, or making any sort of noise; even the highly animated Arlen is affected by the early morning lethargy.
When you make your way to his side, he acknowledges you with a small smile and a nod before he turns back to the horizon, preserving the dream with his silence. It's a strange, but not unpleasant, change from his usual loud greeting.
"Cap'n'll be up soon."
For once, you're the one to speak up. Your clear voice makes heads turn and the spell that the sunrise has conjured on their groggy minds is broken. Almost all at once, crew members get up, grumbling about something they have to get to. Arlen though, he simply nods again and stays captivated by the sunrise.
As you stand there with him, you realize don't know much about where Arlen comes from. He laughs easily, talks freely, but in all his small talk, he never lapses into musings of the past. Most of what you know stems from the captain, overheard from afar and stolen for yourself to keep.
"How nostalgic! I never thought I'd see this town again."
"Do the fishermen still remember us from when we used to help them? Not that Arlen did much work, that god damned lazy son of a-"
Other than that, there's nothing else.
You frown to yourself and stop your daydreaming before Arlen notices and asks you what's on your mind.
He stretches next to you, arms raised, open palms facing the sky, and he yawns loudly. You glance back at the horizon, and it's lost its orange tint.
"Back to work now, Quinn, or I'll throw ya overboard," Arlen says, imitating the captain's gruff way of speaking before laughing to himself and walking off.
You take a moment to be baffled at the perplexity that is Arlen.
The captain is seething, raging even. He storms up and down the deck, and you can hear his heavy steps from the kitchen. As the floorboards creak, you fear that they'll break under his wrath and that he'll fall on the sack of potatoes left out by the head cook.
He's shouting too; his muffled voice reaches your ears from above all too easily, and you wince at some of his loud cursing. "Seasick! He's seasick of all things!" You hope to God that Arlen will somehow manage to quell the captain's rampage.
"Who's seasick?" This is Sam, whispering to you in a hushed voice as though the captain could hear him if he spoke normally.
You raise and lower your shoulders in a vague shrug before you even think it over.
Being seasick isn't something a seafarer does, or at least not one who's experienced. Even on your first time on a ship, so long ago, you didn't get seasick; you can still remember the constant swaying and rocking under your feet that threw your nerves into a frenzy and had you scrabbling desperately for something to hold you steady. Yet, you didn't feel a bit of nausea.
By that logic, nobody on the ship should be having any problems, except for Sam, but he's just fine. Since the first day, he's been fast on his feet and definitely much more composed than you were all those years ago.
Ah right, there was someone else who was also new.
"The second mate," you add much too late.
Sam's used to your long pauses though. Lately, he's been stopping by more often to help you and the head cook. You two usually spend the time in comfortable silence as he helps with the simpler preparations.
Today, however, the silence is punctuated by sniffles as he struggles to cut the onions that the head cook handed to him with a mischievous smile. You feel for the poor boy since you've had experience with the abomination that is onions, but you also make sure to stay a safe distance away.
"Second mate?" Sam asks, rubbing his upper arm against his teary face. He keeps his head down, and you note the redness in his cheeks with a bemused smile.
You nod in answer. "The old one returned home. There's a new one."
"Why's the captain so angry then?"
"The new one said he had experience on ships?"
At this, he gives a chuckle and glances up at you.. You catch a glimpse of his red eyes, the shudder of his eyelashes against his cheeks as he blinks away tears, and guilt floods into every fiber of your being.
Without thinking, you hold out a hand for the knife. "I'll help."
When your fingers brush against his knuckles, his hands immediately draw away, and you find yourself feeling lost in that split second of contact.
"No thanks," he grinds out, curt and clipped. "I'm almost done."
You want to push a handkerchief into his face and tell him that the cook isn't even adding onions into tonight's dinner.
Instead, you nod once, and shy away under his glare.
"Anyways, it's quietened down up there," Sam remarks. "That's strange. Shouldn't he be yelling just a bit longer?"
You scratch the back of your neck awkwardly, still feeling tense from what just happened. "Arlen, probably," you mumble.
"Arlen the captain tamer, eh?" Sam jokes, finishing the cuts on the last of the onions. You give his work a quick look-over, inwardly wincing at how crudely he handled the knife. Maybe you should have instructed him more instead of offering to do it yourself. Maybe you should have paid more attention to his chopping than to how heart-wrenching you found his teary eyes.
"That bad, huh?" he asks, breaking you out of your haze of thoughts. Suddenly, you realize that you're grimacing, and you quickly return your face to a more neutral expression.
"Needs work," you say dumbly, lowering your eyes.
He shrugs, placing the knife on the counter. "I was never much good at cooking," he sighs before straightening his back. "Well, next time, you'll have to teach me! Right now, I'm going to see how Arlen works his magic."
You can feel a smile lifting the corners of your lips no matter how much you will it to go away. He's about to turn away, but you stop him with a hand on his small shoulder. It makes him stiffen, but he relaxes visibly when you thrust a handkerchief in his face.
"Quinn, you scared me!" he exclaims, laughing as he takes it from your outstretched hand. You laugh with him, ruffling his already unruly hair.
"Can't have the others teasing you for crying."
"I'll knock out anyone who does!" Though he says this, Sam dabs at his eyes anyway. There's something strangely elegant in this simple action. "Thanks, Quinn. I'll let you know if Arlen's still alive or not."
You doubt your good friend is in much danger from the captain's wrath, but you nod anyway and send him off.
Later, the cook comes back, and eyes the mess of onions with a clicking of his tongue. He turns to you with a frown on his face.
"You did tell the boy not to come to dinner tonight, right?"
You raise a questioning eyebrow at his words, even as he takes a knife and scoops the onions into a small bowl.
"I expect he'll be rather angry once he finds out that the captain is extremely allergic to these things."