The fish were eaten, the fire put out, and any peace that might have been enjoyed after the fight was dismembered by the ongoing argument.
“Isn’t it easier for us all if I just leave?” Chris sat with his back straight and legs crossed, managing to look dignified on a piece of flaky wood. “I have things to do and so do you.”
“And can’t you just tell us why?” Lucius didn’t want Chris to stay, but he wasn’t about to let the man slip away for no reason again. That might have just been him convincing himself that he wasn’t just trying to annoy Chris, though.
“There are things in life that you don’t need to know,” Chris said in a tone of airy superiority. He lifted the foot that he had been digging into the rock-infested sand and placed it on a little hill. “Why is this even an argument? I don’t like you and you don’t like me. It should be a mutual relief for me to set off.”
“One, this is annoying you. Two, I’m bored.” Seeing Chris’s narrowed eyes, Lucius hurried on to the more legitimate reason. “Three, I’d like to know all I can about this place, thank you very much. A body disappeared in front of me and you got a gun. I’d really appreciate it if you gave me some information.” He put a large smile and raised his eyebrows in an exaggerated motion of politeness.
Reyna exhaled through her nose and leaned forwards, mouth straining upwards in amusement. “I’m glad I brought Lucius in,” she whispered loud enough so that Claud and Wila, whom were seated on the sand next to her, could hear.
Wila pressed herself against the rock and stared up at the uneven ceiling with a sigh. The overhang blocked most of the moon's sparing light, but enough wrapped the area for her discontent to be seen. A pout slipped onto her face as she turned to face the older woman. “Aw, and not me?”
Before Reyna could answer, they were distracted by a rise in Chris’s voice. “My name is Chris. Are you deaf?”
“Erm, guys?” Mikhail was standing next to Lucius, waving his hands in a futile attempt to get their attention and stop the fighting. “This arguing probably isn’t a good thing… Right…?” His only acknowledgement was a glance from both arguing parties.
“Psht, deaf? It’s just that your name’s really easy to make fun of. I mean, seriously; Chris Ackerman? I’ve already covered ‘Priss’ for the first name… Ackerman, Ackerman… Ooh, I know. What about Fu-“
“Silence,” Chris snapped. His hands, crossed across his chest, dug into his sleeves and crinkled the white fabric. The mound of sand his feet had been resting on was hollowed out by his sole. “I’m sorry to see that all your insults amount to are a load of foul language.”
“But it works!” With this, Lucius spread his arms and then lowered them again. “What does that say about you if you’re offended by said language?”
“I’m not offended.” Chris relaxed his posture to prove that.
Mikhail, sensing that the argument was about to deteriorate into a series of ‘nuh-uh’s and ‘uh-huh’s, stepped in between the two and held his hands out. His eyebrows were set in an irritated slant and his red eyes were narrowed in a similar way. “C-can… can we please stop this pointless argument? It, it’s not going anywhere… I’m sure we can compromise.”
“Hey, Mikhail, you’re not stuttering as much anywhere!” Lucius clapped twice. Despite his joking, he really was intrigued by the boy’s change in speech over not even a day.
“… Huh.” Mikhail scratched his cheek and his white hair fell in lifeless strands over his face when he tilted his head slightly to ponder this. Judging by his awe, the boy didn’t completely understand this, either. “I, I… I dunno. It’s not only that…”
“Not only what?” Chris lifted his chin and analyzed Mikhail, curiosity rippling over his features. “Elaborate.”
Lucius didn’t stop Chris this time. He wanted to see what the other man was aiming for, and he was starting to get an idea.
“Eh?” Mikhail’s squeak was spoken with a little less fear than Lucius had remembered it, if the lower pitch was any indication. “I mean… things feel c-calmer now.” The albino opened his mouth to continue, and then closed it again. His lips thinned in thought.
“Alright, alright.” Claud got to his feet before Chris could urge Mikhail on. A kick got rid of the sand resting in the folds of his pants, and he gave Chris an almost imperceptible shake of the head. “That’s enough.”
“Why?” Chris returned Claud’s warning with a lofty gaze. “Perhaps you know something you’d like to share?”
Wila tucked in her legs close to her and looked between the two men. Her face was settled with an unnatural level of serenity that greatly contrasted Reyna’s frozen grin. Like Lucius, she chose to remain silent in hopes of learning something new.
“No,” Claud replied without hesitation. He could best be described as horizontal, little sense as that made. Perhaps it was something about his unamused expression, or his even tone. “If Mikhail doesn’t feel comfortable about continuing-which he clearly doesn’t- then don’t push him. You said you’d like to leave?”
“Mikhail, would it be better if this was not spoken in front of them?” Ignoring Claud entirely, Chris turned to the boy with an expression that, if not placid, was at least dulled of his piercing look and stark intelligence. “This is something… just for myself. I promise not to divulge it to anyone else.”
Mikhail had the face of a boy who refused to smile for the yearbook. “I’m going to have t-to decline. I’d like to, to keep this to myself.”
Chris blinked, keeping his face blank a little longer, and adorned his face with a plastic smile. “It’s alright,” he said in a tone so pleasant that it was clear that it wasn’t alright, “there’s always others, I guess.”
“Wait, others?” Now that it was clear no more information would be parted, Lucius deigned it alright to rejoin the conversation. He tossed the stick he had been peeling into the sand that it has come from. “And so you really are going?”
“I said that I would only stick with you people until we were in the clear, correct?” Chris stood up and tucked a strand of hair behind one ear, which only cemented his image of conceit. “Esmeralda, dear, we’re leaving.” There was a flurry of grayish-white wings and his pigeon landed on his shoulder. It hadn’t been with them- had it just flown around the whole time? He whispered something to the bird and it nudged his head. The ensuing flicker of disappointment was snuffed after a second, but that was long enough for Lucius to notice and remember it.
“Wait, so we’re just going to let this guy walk away?” Lucius’s words held no argument; only a trace of fuel in case someone else wanted to ignite the protests.
“Eh,” Reyna said with a shrug, “he’s not fun. He can do whatever he wants.” Nonchalant as her words were, she released a long, drawn-out breath.
“Ditto.” Wila stared after Chris’s retreating back. Her smirk was like a ghost, haunting and unreal.
Mikhail sat down where Chris had been and looked at his palm, although Lucius was sure that whatever was troubling him didn’t have to do with the hand. The boy gnawed on his bottom lip and the dark storm inhabiting his features made him look years older than he was.
Lucius leaned back and switched his focus from Chris-who was almost out of sight, anyways- to Mikhail. Something was wrong, no doubt about it. To pry, or not to pry… That was the question. “Mikhail?”
“Yes?” Mikhail’s head snapped up, but his narrowed eyes seemed to stare somewhere beyond Lucius.
Lucius stayed silent for a nearly five seconds, judging Mikhail’s clasped fingers and his slumped yet stiff posture. Not now. Lucius waved him off. “Nothing. Just… nothing.”
The smile of a crescent moon hung above, sharp and familiar.