the reason
“Holt!” called Sergeant Ryvers across the courtyard, his booming voice somehow not drowned by the pouring rain. “Where are you, boy? Rifles didn’t fire themselves last time I checked.” He was looking for me, and I was more than certain that I was not willing to be found, as I ducked into an alcove, pressing my back against the rough stone wall in hopes that Ryvers would indeed not catch sight of me. If he did, I feared what he would say to me for abandoning my post as mock-sniper during a training drill where we were supposedly in a forest about to ambush an enemy. I failed to see how rain would be reaching us in such a thickly canopied environment, but it was perhaps Ryvers’ lack of imagination that led him to pick the regular courtyard for us to train in instead of the warehouse; piled high with cargo crates and with steel rope hanging from the ceiling. Besides the satisfactory imitation of a forest environment that it would have provided, it was also dry, unlike the courtyard.
Obviously, because it was raining outside and not inside, with the only exception of the change rooms in the eastern wing of the facility, where water frequently leaked from a rain pipe that had cracked on the roof and broken the plaster ceiling. Now the ugly rusted pipe jutted through the perfectly white plaster ceiling, and I often found myself staring at it, somehow sympathizing with the absolute starkness of the object.
However, the way in which I stuck out in the crowd like a sore thumb was not to my benefit currently, if it ever was. There was one student who seemed to hate me: Frey Elin. He was something of my antagonist, and he saw fit to smirk at me before announcing my hiding place to the Sergeant. But...oh, that grin. Like he was bent on my demise, his lips curled upwards, a canine flashing in the dim grey light. Frey was loved by all, praised by all, and envied by all. I supposed, all but me. Maybe that was what he loathed so about me. I sometimes did wonder why I did not like him. He was rather charming, if I were able to say the words without them leaving a sour taste in my mouth. He smiled in that white-knight way at most people, spoke formally with his elders, was intelligent, strong, brave, and had the same dark sense of humour as I did. In fact, I was certain that he and I could have been friends. But there was just... something. Perhaps it was “silly” intuition, but I was of the strict belief that intuition was a sensation meant to warn humans of something their slow minds were incapable of comprehending in time. I was also, however, of the quite pessimistic view that one’s gut only felt things when taking blows. But besides his personality, he was handsome. With a tall, slender, muscular (though not hulking), and broad-shouldered build, earlobe-length brown hair, sky-blue, glittering eyes, straight white teeth, and well-shaped lips. Currently, I could feel the gazes of onlookers from inside the building who had probably all gathered to behold the class of strapping young men train in the pouring rain with their clothes absolutely plastered to their toned bodies.
To my great lack of fortune’s favour, he drawled loudly, “I thought I saw Wren earlier this morning?” He used my first name; he knew I hated the way he said it. “I could have sworn I heard his pretty voice humming some tune or the other, too. Did he forget something in the change rooms, perhaps? It can’t have been his rifle, he left it on the floor over there.” He gestured towards the opposite corner of the courtyard. Then he made a show of looking around. He smiled broadly and in a way that was far too friendly as he turned to face me, spreading his arms as he assured the company, “Oh, it’s alright boys. It seems that our sniper is suffering of a cold. Maybe he needs a hug?”
I glared at him as chuckles rose in the class. The issue was that most of our classmates thought the two of us were close friends. They were of the opinion that this was simply banter. Little did they know.
I heaved a sigh and shoved off of the alcove’s wall, walking towards and past him, clamping a hand on his shoulder as I did. It seemed an exasperated, boyish, and brotherly action. It wasn’t. I had dug my fingernail into a pressure point, and felt him flinch as he retained his grin, which had become quite tense, to my great amusement. A ghost of a smirk flitted over my lips as I released him and continued my walk until I reached my rifle, where Sergeant Ryvers was waiting for me. He noticed all attention on us, and snapped at the class, “Back to your training, you scum. There’s nothing to see.”
I rolled my eyes; luckily my hair covered most of my face. Ryvers turned to me and pinched the bridge of his nose. He said, “I know you’re an artist, kid, but there’s not much time for it now. The boys are tired, and you’re smart, fantastic at your role,” he referred to my being sniper, “So you’ve got to stick with them, right? They’re your family, now. We ain’t got no one else.”
I nodded my head, and replied with a soft, “Yes, sir.” He offered a smile that wavered with weariness, and lowered a large, calloused hand to ruffle my hair as he walked back to his alcove, boots clacking on the flagstones.
I backed away a step, prepared to take up my position again, and collided with someone. I apologized hastily and insincerely; he steadied me, taking my shoulders and leaning over me a bit. He was too close for comfort, but he was warm when it was frigid and miserable outside. His breath was hot on my neck as Frey teased, quiet enough that only I could hear, “Seems someone’s taken a shining to you. Eh, Wren?”
I scowled and shoved him away from me, though my muscles protested at the sudden jarring cold again. Was it possible to despise someone’s body heat? He laughed to himself as he walked back to his training partner.
I spent the next hour with my rifle raised as if to shoot at the “target” Ryvers had given me (the training exercise was meant to test how long I could keep my shooting arm steady), staring at Frey’s back.
I found myself thinking back to the rusted pipe in the change room when I finally was able to look away.
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