The washed-out fabric snapped in the breeze, threatening to sail away from her. She let it, not caring for just one moment whether it would escape or not.
Sage knew she would be scolded if it did, and that she might even spend a few days in bed for it. The suffering wasn’t something that she was considering now, nonetheless. Today, for the first sunrise in a long span, she felt strong enough to stand and let the wind snap around her, snatching what it would.
Everything inside her was silence. She could taste the sea salt in the air, feel the soft stroke of the breeze on her skin. Today, such a sensation was sufficient. She did not need her sight to savour it. She could sink, instead, into a vision of the sea: her mind’s eye sketching a sometime beach, a seaside scene that had disappeared some years since. At least this way she could not see the truth: the sunken treasure of bones, the waste shed by a civilisation that was now singing a swan song.
“Sage,” he called out behind her, and just for a second, she forgot who he was.
She turned suddenly, sensing the wind shift around her, the cool cerulean satin loosening from her eyes. Owen caught it, thrusting out one swift hand to snatch the strip from mid-air. A bitter sinking sensation struck her before she could stop it. Disappointment.
It had been sixteen weeks since Saxon had left. She was still expecting him every time she roused from a daydream.
It wasn’t fair on Owen, not really, but she couldn’t stop it.
“You need to keep this bound,” he said, stepping forward with the satin in his hands. “Tightly, as much as you can.”
“I know,” she whispered, the sound almost too soft to reach his ears. “I was just letting it loose for a moment.”
He smiled her a sad little smile, something on the lower side of his face only, and stretched up to fasten it back into place. Already, the salt wind and sunlight were stripping tears from her eyes. He clasped her wrist, and wordlessly she shadowed him back to the camp.
Their settlement was small, and shrank just as often as it grew. Most travellers did not desire to stay here for long, not if they could help it. Sage had no choice. Not with her eyes, and the delicacy they caused.
They had a tent, a shanty really, done up in cerulean swathes of cascading fabric. A splendid textile, once. Something to barter with. But it had been used as a living space, and now it was her sanctuary, and the sea salt in the air was steadily destroying it.
She settled down on the soft pile of cushions, finding the flat space that supported her head, shifting her back into the nooks and curves that had sculpted to her shape. Owen helped her shuck off the blue satin blindfold, and saw with concern the water that streamed from her swollen and shut eyes.
He would not say anything, not to punish her. He had seen the expression on her face.
“It was worth it,” she said anyway.
He gave her a half-smile, a more honest one this time. Exasperation tempered with solidarity. She could always trust in Owen, but that was part of the issue.
When Saxon left, he’d promised a swift return. As soon as he could make it back to her, he would. But he couldn’t proceed with her, not with her eyes and her headaches, and she couldn’t go on this way besides. So he promised to find the medicine and come back.
Sixteen weeks of staring at the sea through satin, and he was still as present as if he had not gone. Sixteen weeks of lying in scattered cushions and sheets, and he might as well have disappeared to the other side of the ocean.
Owen had come next, didn’t understand the promise she was staying for. Not really. Couldn’t understand that Saxon was everything. Still, he stayed, too.
It was chance that brought him through the settlement while she was solitary, struggling in the grasp of a splitting migraine and waiting for Saxon in silence. His natural curiosity dealt with the rest, sending him into the cerulean tent to see who lay inside it.
She didn’t grasp why he’d been passing through. He never said. Regardless, he was here now, her self-sacrificing saviour. It only stung the more that he was not the one she had been expecting.
Sage kept her eyes closed and saw him with her ears, sensed him setting out sustenance and fresh water — what small amount they could scavenge from the nearby steppes and sand dunes. She had survived on more when Saxon was around, but it wasn’t fair to criticise Owen for that. The steppes were getting smaller with every day they stayed. The sources of nourishment would be gone someday soon.
She allowed him to sit her up, gently, a spoon ready for her. He supported her as much as he could, helping her sit so that her head would not feel too heavy.
She could hear seagulls in the distance, beyond the cumbersome drapes of her tent, her world. She was pleased that the satin hid her eyes. She couldn’t deceive Owen that she was fine if he met them.
The atmosphere felt heavy, oppressive. It felt like a storm was needed to wash it all away, cool down the air and give them moisture. For days now, it had been the same. But the storm did not come.
Owen spooned mush into her unseeing mouth, and the storm did not come.
Someday, Saxon would come back. He would ride the sea or the stars and find her, holding the solution to save her. He would surround her in his embrace again and change the sad, solitary days of wait. He would send her singing to the sky of all the pain gone, all the uselessness gone.
But now she had this issue, because of Owen. No matter how she sought to fit the pieces together, Owen wasn’t one of them. He was a spare part, extra and loose. There was no position for him to fit when Saxon got back. He must have known that.
Someday soon, Sage had to suppose, Saxon would come back. He would sail the starsea and save her.
But for every day that Owen stayed, she knew the puzzle was shattering, and the pieces twisting. She knew she was losing the chance to keep them both. She knew she was choosing with every sun that set, every star that shone on her with Owen and not her with him.
Her sand-smoothed skin was a prison with no key, and someday soon they would have to sail away.