He was invited.
Cyrin turned around to face Clarity with a look of realization as they put the situation together in their head. Clarity remained calm, sipping at her drink and glancing around like she was bored. Sparrow’s face was getting irritatingly smug, and they were tempted to throw their champagne at it like Mireya had.
“You invited him over here?” they demanded. “Why did you do that?”
“He’s got a proposal for you,” Clarity said stubbornly. “It’s about the First Spell. You can’t just pass that up.”
“I thought we were done talking about that,” Mireya said. “We just went over it. We told you we weren’t going to do anything.”
Clarity sighed. “I know you don’t like him, but can you just listen? He’s only here to talk.”
“That’s an understatement, Clarity,” Cyrin said quietly. “We don’t talk with him. He—”
“He’s my boss,” Clarity said. “I work for him, not with you both. I’m supposed to communicate with him. If I happen to hear from him that not only you’ve discovered an insanely valuable item, but that he knows of buyers that will have to go to you for a job you should really take, what else am I to do?”
“It was him you got that information from?” Mireya asked, and Cyrin could hear a hurt note in her voice as she understood. “While you were in the other room?”
“You’re misunderstanding her intentions and mine, I think,” Sparrow said, smiling infuriatingly. “I’m not here because it helps me in any way. Of course, big deals help the Arcade economy, but I don’t directly benefit from that either. And Clarity’s just trying to help you get on your feet as freelancer mercenaries.” He pursed his lips. “I’d like you back with me, naturally, but I don’t see how I’m getting that to happen.”
“You aren’t,” Cyrin snapped. “Not ever again.”
Clarity shook her head. “Just say your thing before one of them gets too mad.”
Sparrow straightened, shuffling away from Mireya slightly before he spoke. “Your old client’s dead, first of all. Not to worry, though, because I’ve got some new buyers lined up for you.” He grinned, and Cyrin felt their stomach turn. “A couple people showed up together a short time ago, looking to hire you both. They’re obviously new, with barely any idea how the Arcade works, but they seem to have enough determination to get the First Spell and enough money to pay up.”
“We don’t sell to the highest bidder,” Mireya said, speaking like she was repeating it, though it would be the first time Sparrow was hearing the words.
“Are you sure you wouldn’t?” Sparrow asked, raising an eyebrow.
“Think about it a bit,” Clarity urged. “The two of you have the problem of having the lower hand in all your deals. You haven’t been a team on your own long enough to be established, and you’ve had to take what you can get on your jobs. This time, though— you could ask for whatever you wanted. It’d be your first chance at setting your own terms.”
“Not only that, but you’d always be the thieves who stole the First Spell,” Sparrow added.
“You think that we’d just want to hand that item over to someone?” Cyrin laughed bitterly. “Do you think we believe for a moment that you aren’t gaining anything from this, too?”
Sparrow gave him a pitying look. “Did you get your trust issues from your time with me, or have you just always been that way?”
“Okay, enough,” Clarity interrupted, pulling Cyrin back as if she expected him to lunge, even though his entire body felt too tense to move without snapping. “Julian, let me handle this for a moment. Mireya, join the huddle over here.”
Cyrin turned away from Sparrow’s smirk as Mireya walked over, and he thought he could feel furious sparks leaping off her.
“Since when is he Julian?” he whispered.
“Since we became associates,” Clarity replied. “Look, I know you both quit for good reasons, but he’s not that terrible. He’s one of the more effective anarchists, and he wants good things for magic.”
“I’ll judge that for myself,” Mireya said.
Clarity put a hand on each of their shoulders. “Okay,” she said quietly. “So we can’t agree on that. But even though we don’t work for the same cause or person anymore, you know I still want to see you succeed in what you’re doing, right?” Cyrin and Mireya both nodded after a few moments. “I think this is how you finally get stable.”
“I still don’t want to see that artifact in anyone’s hands,” Mireya said. “Even if they offer a ton of money for it.”
“Especially if they offer a ton of money,” Cyrin added. “That means they’ve also got a ton of power, and they shouldn’t get to control magic on top of that.”
“Then don’t let them have it,” Clarity said with a shrug. “Steal the First Spell, get your money, and double-cross them. It’s a win-win.”
Cyrin paused, turning it over in their head, and they could tell from Mireya’s silence that she was giving it some thought as well.
“I guess it’s been a while since I upset a rich person,” Mireya said lightly after a few moments. “I’ve made fun of Cyrin recently, but it’s not the same.”
“And I’m not rich anymore.”
“And you’re not rich anymore. I really need to ruin things for an actual aristocrat.”
Cyrin nodded, forming a plan as he glanced at Clarity. “If we get it for ourselves, could we leave it with you for safekeeping?”
“Of course. You know I’d treasure that.”
Mireya met his gaze, and he caught an adventurous spark in the brown of her eyes. “We should do it,” she suggested. “This could mean the end of our difficult stretch. I’d like to feel a little more secure in our partnership.”
“I would, too,” Cyrin agreed. “It can’t be too hard, anyway. We’ve already gone down there once.”
Even though they’d made the situation into a win, the victory still felt hollow when they faced Sparrow again and Mireya said, “We’ll meet with these people.”
Sparrow smiled. “Glad you came around,” he said, and the thin layer of cheerfulness in his voice didn’t hide the taunt underneath. “I’ll guide them to the meeting space on the Arcade’s second floor— you know the one. I told them you’d be there in about twenty minutes from now.”
He knew he’d get us to agree before he even talked with us, Cyrin thought, feeling disgusted with himself. I can’t believe I gave him that satisfaction of being right.
Some of it must have shown on their face, because Sparrow glanced at them and laughed. “Well, Cyrin,” he said, with a shake of his head. “Do you still feel like pushing me off a roof?”
“If I were the type to do that, perhaps,” Cyrin said darkly.
“I’m not so sure you aren’t,” Sparrow said, looking them over with a smirk. Before they could come up with a retort, he turned away and walked back towards the elevator. “Take care, my Specter. You too, my Stormguide.”
Cyrin grimaced, glaring until the elevator doors closed over. He heard Mireya sigh as she took the last swig of her champagne, then she held the empty glass to her hip. He’d half-expected her to throw the rest of it at him after the use of the possessives, but she deserved to have at least some of her drink left after that encounter.
“Well,” she said, exchanging a glance with him. “In twenty minutes it is.”
“After this, we’re done with accepting the clients he recommends us to,” Cyrin muttered.
Mireya gave Clarity a look that made him think she wasn’t quite over the invitation yet. Maybe he wasn’t supposed to be over it either. “I’ll make the treacherous journey downstairs now,” she said, talking over her shoulder as she moved away. “You won’t lose your way if I ask you to meet me on the street, will you, Cyrin?”
“It’d be a harrowing task to find it, but if I can’t manage at first, I can always try jumping out the window with the jetpack again.”
The serious look on Mireya’s face twitched into a small smile. “I believe in you.”
Instead of waiting for the elevator, she took the stairs to the side of it. When the heavy fire escape door swung shut behind her with a bang, Cyrin drifted back to the railing. He curled his fingers around it, letting the coldness of the metal sink into his palms. It gave him something to focus on when he wasn’t sure he felt like looking Clarity in the eye yet.
“You’re angry, aren’t you?” Clarity asked quietly.
“No.” Cyrin paused, then clarified. “I’m angry with Sparrow. I’m upset with what you did.”
Even in their attempt to be honest, they knew they weren’t fully expressing everything. Saying I feel hurt by you was a little more vulnerable than they wanted to be right now.
Clarity’s shoulder bumped into theirs when she moved closer. “You didn’t have options once,” she said. “I haven’t got them now. I know what he’s done, and I know that you and Mireya don’t like that I’m still with him, but I hope you know I’d still choose the two of you over him.”
The glass of champagne, forgotten on the railing, had gone flat. Clarity’s smoke no longer clouded the air. Despite her body heat so close, Cyrin couldn’t suppress a shiver.
“I know,” they said, biting back the truth of I hope so.
“I can call you in Storm City if you want,” Clarity said abruptly after a long moment, and when they glanced at her, she rolled her eyes. “What? It gets boring without you here.”
Cyrin tilted their head back, pretending they needed to consider it. “You can call, but you’ll have to listen to me talk about how the Renvara mountains are so much better than the Keravara ones.”
“Forget it, then.”
A small smile spread across Cyrin’s face as he picked up his glass, clinked it against her own, and placed it in her hand. The hurt was still there, under just enough bitterness that he wasn’t over it yet. But the two of them could leave it be for a while. Maybe distance and a day or two would make it easier to approach. “I’ll let you finish that. Safe wandering to you.”
“Make sure you close my window once you’ve jumped out so you don’t let in the cold,” Clarity called after him as he went to the elevator. “Or else I’ll make you start leaving the old-fashioned way.”
“Don’t you dare,” Cyrin shouted back, and just before the doors closed between them, he thought he heard a sharp, crystalline laugh under the howling of the wind.