"Haven't seen the captain in a while."
It's an offhand comment, most likely a half-hearted attempt at conversation in the sea of voices that drowns the dining hall, but it makes you blink in surprise. How strange. You barely even noticed the absence of the captain's all-seeing eye and familiar stern voice. Sam quirks an eyebrow, his face twisting into an expression of disbelief.
"You find this surprising?" Sam asks, a sneer sneaking into his tone. "What have you been paying attention to?"
Him, you think as your face heats up against your will. He's been by your side a lot these days, always ready to strike up a conversation, always eager to listen to the few words you might have to say. His is a puzzling existence; you can't quite predict his actions, but more importantly, you don't know just how you might react to him.
You hear the soft thrum, thrum of his fingers on the tabletop and catch the impatient look on his face.
"Food." It's your half-apology for making him suffer through yet another long silence. The smile that spreads across his face looks unconvinced.
"You don't even look at the plates in front of you!" he exclaims with a small chuckle. "Do you take me for a gullible fool?"
He hits you when you nod in response, and you both burst out laughing.
Early next morning, the captain finally emerges from his cabin, his movements looking slightly sluggish as he paces back and forth in front of all the crew members. His usually clean-shaven and tidy appearance has deteriorated from what looks like days of neglect. You've never seen him look this shabby.
He casts a surveying eye over the crowd that he's just summoned to the deck of the ship, and even though he's let his appearance go, nothing has changed about the ease with which he commands attention, demands the respect he's due.
"Those of ya who've been in my hire longer know just what's coming," he begins, and you might be the only one who sees the way his wandering eyes linger on Arlen a moment longer than they have on the others. His pacing ceases. He turns around, fully facing everyone, and assumes a straighter posture, his hands clasped behind his back. "Some of ya might not know, but we are headed on course to Lumir. This has been much too common an occurrence over the years, judgin' from the number of ya comin' up to me and askin' where the hell we're headin', so I've come up with somethin'."
You half-expect a pause for dramatic effect, but the captain's never been that type of person.
"After Lumir, there'll be no more confusion. I've been negotiatin' a contract out with a merchant Arlen's befriended. We'll be operatin' on a more stable schedule from now on, transportin' goods between Lumir and Phayntae." And with that, the captain turns and walks away, leaving no room for argument. Some are surprised by the sudden change, but you see no discontent on the faces around you.
Except for Sam's. The boy looks stricken, enraged even. His shaking fists clench and unclench, and he keeps his wide eyes focused on the nothing in front of him. Hesitantly, you raise a hand, but you barely even touch his shoulder before he angrily shakes it off, sending you that fiery glare you've come to fear, yet adore at the same time.
"It's a safer route," you blurt out in an attempt to placate him. At your words, he visibly bristles, and before you can say anything else, he stalks off.
That's it, then. You're left with no explanations, only the various questions buzzing around in your skull. Does Sam really hate others deciding things for him so much, or is it something more?
You scratch your head as the crowd dissipates, and you stare blankly at Arlen bumping into a couple of people as he makes his way over to you.
"Arlen," you murmur, raising your eyebrows at the sympathetic expression on the raven-haired man's face.
"Quinn." He nods at you. "Ah, don't look so troubled. He'll come around soon enough. Hey, how about I show you a new card trick I've devised?"
You shake your head slowly, and he steps back with a shrug. "You've gotten quite attached to 'im, haven't you?"
Attached? You? The notion...makes you uneasy. Regardless of whether or not you're attached to the boy you've only spent a few days with, his reaction to the captain's decision has stirred up your interest. And his defiant eyes, they stop you in your tracks and steal your breath away.
"I'm just-" you pause to think of a proper response "-looking out for 'im."
Arlen smiles a smile full of secrets, and his sharp eyes seem to see through you. "That so?" he murmurs. "Well, I wish you the best of luck, Quinn."
As comforting as Arlen's presence is, the moments when you question if he really does have your wellbeing in mind leave you more than a little bit uneasy.