|This story, Talitsa February, written by Actene, was voted as the Best Short Fiction of 2017 in the Tenth Annual Halo Fanon Wikia Awards.|
|This article, Talitsa February, was written by Actene. Please do not edit this fiction without the writer's permission.|
“So.” Stray leaned back in his seat, fingers drumming against the faded leather. “You and Dyne, huh? Really making waves around here.”
Cassandra shrugged. She set her mug down on the counter and looked out the grimy window to the even grimier streets outside. “I guess you could say that. He’s the one really going out there and making the changes. I just help out where I can. Sometimes he needs backup, and I give it. You know, like I always do.” She forced a smile.
Stray touched his own mug but didn’t drink. “And refusing to take any of the credit. Like you always do.”
“I really don’t do that much…” Cassandra started to protest, but stopped when Stray caught her eye. “Alright, so I do my fair share. It feels nice. It really does. To make a difference, to stand up to the Syndicate…” She trailed off as her gaze shifted over to Zoey.
“What?” the girl demanded, scowling at them both. “You guys aren’t going to get weird on me again, are you? Being around you two is so awkward sometimes.”
“You’re the one who insisted on coming,” Stray pointed out irritably. “I didn’t force you to come.”
“Yeah, yeah. I just wanted to get out of my chores.” And keep an eye on you, she wanted to add. Maybe be there for you, if this hits you too hard. But she kept quiet. Why am I so worried about him? She stared hard at Stray, draped as always in that ratty old poncho, and wondered just what the warmth stirring in her belly really meant.
Stray caught her staring; she turned away, face growing hot. What’s with me today?
“So you help him. Guess Spartans really can make a difference off ONI’s leash.” The corner of Stray’s mouth quirked into a strange smile. “Who’d have guessed?”
“Please. You’re not doing so bad yourself.” Again, Cassandra forced a smile. Zoey stiffened. She knew what was coming.
“And… you and him…?” Stray let the question hang brutally in the air. He took a swig of his drink.
Something strange flashed in Cassandra’s gaze, a pang of guilt that swiftly hardened into something akin to defiance. Almost a challenge. “Yeah. We’re both really happy. I never thought a couple Spartans could really work out, you know?”
Stray shifted slightly in his seat. It was a subtle shift, but Zoey wondered if she should back away in case he decided to flip the table. But he made no move at all except to take another sip from his drink, that strange half-smile still tugging at his lips. “Who’d have guessed?” he repeated.
Cassandra tilted her head. “You already knew, of course.”
“Hey, I respect your privacy. But Diana doesn’t. And you know what a shitty little gossip she is. Just like a little kid, I swear.” Stray shrugged and set his mug down. “Well, good for you. Idiot like him needs someone like you looking out for him.”
He glanced over at Zoey. “Alright, you, let’s get going. Gavin’s probably wondering what’s taking us.” He tapped the table and nodded at Cassandra. “Bill’s on you. I’ll pay next time.”
“Sure you will. Just like you said last time.”
Zoey wasn’t sure why she felt so relieved as they stepped out of the bar. Was it about how amiably it had all worked out? Or now maybe Stray might have time to think about someone else? What the hell is up with me lately?
Stray said nothing as they pushed through the snowy streets. He stopped only once, to slip a credit chit into the hands of one of the beggars sitting at the street corner. Zoey had never seen him do that before, but she did notice his free hand, the one not holding the chit, balled up in a tight fist. She did not know what he was thinking about.