“Jesus, Vic!” Jane cried, her flip-flops slapping against the ground with such volume that she highly considered letting them fly off and abandoning them to the wolves. They were orange, nondescript, nothing anyone would remember, anything like that, and she could always get another pair. The man in front of her grinned over his shoulder boyishly before he looked straight ahead just in time to leap over a log. Jane followed suit, barely clearing it.
He was taller than her, which was really absolutely no fair in the first place, but she kept pounding her feet into the ground in a desperate attempt to keep up. “Just cheese it, girl! Look, we get separated, y’meet me at Feldspar, y’dig?”
Did it matter that she still didn’t get what half of his phrases meant? Jane looked over her shoulder quickly and saw the flashlight beams waving around the forest again. “Urgh…okay, fine!”
Who knew that someone coming up to her and asking if she wanted to tag would end up like this? Her mind had filled with images of giggling and silliness at the time, imagining herself running around as a kid wreaking havoc on the other children with her mad tagging skills, and here it was entirely not what she was expecting at all! A can fell from Vic’s giant hoodie pocket, and Jane swept down and scooped it up with the air of a practiced athlete before he even noticed.
She squeaked in fright when another flashlight suddenly appeared to their left, and Vic veered so violently away from it so quickly that she didn’t have a chance to catch up with him. With her heart pounding painfully in her chest, she flew over another log and kept running forward as hard as she could, doing a little mental math in her head about the island. Maybe I can lose them in Amethyst Acres and sneak out through the Glade and get up through the Path of Opal…God, that might be my only chance. Oh…POOP. Jane ducked her head down and ran with all her might.
It’d been completely innocent. She’d met up with Vic for this game of tag that seemed really kind of strange for him to be playing in the first place. The playground had been a logical place to meet for said game, and she guessed she probably should have known from that little gleam in his eye that something was up. He’d tossed his cigarette into the sand and ground out the little glowy part of it, exhaling a cloud of smoke far to the side away from her, before he’d thrown an arm around her shoulders and started guiding her into the town.
“Y’ready for this?” he’d asked, grinning down at her as brightly as a boy, and she’d excitedly agreed until the spray can had been shoved into her hands.
And then he began to create, and Jane lost all sense of time after that.
Dragging herself out of the not-so-distant memory, Jane realized the only sounds she could hear were her flip-flops against the ground, her panting breath, and the faint song of a dove. She slowed, looking all around her, but saw nothing. “Thank God,” she whispered, jogging a little deeper into the vibrant and prolific orchard she found herself in just until she felt safe enough to double over and grip her side. She hadn’t been training enough since getting out of Mother of Pearl, and now she was paying for it.
Well, it wasn’t like I thought I was gonna have to run from the police! Jane reminded herself, forcing herself to stand and regulate her breathing as much as she could while she walked slowly through the trees, focused on the distant mountain. The police…jeez, what would Peter and Freya think! She was like…a hardened criminal now, wasn’t she? Was she going to have a mug shot?!
But at the time, it’d felt so…incredible just to stand there and watch him. Vic’d nudged his cap to the side just enough to keep the brim out of his eyes as he’d shot her a grin over his shoulder and began to shake the spray can in his hand. “What are you doing?” she’d asked, coming closer, but he held out his arm and glanced at her again.
“Whoa, stay back, don’t want any’a this shit gettin’ in you.” But before she could protest or pout, he’d removed the cap of the can, tossed it to her, and began to spray along the wall of the plaza wall.
He liked the color black, she’d decided, watching the fluid lines that he created easily, his head tilted to the side and his tongue barely peeking out the corner of his lips in utter concentration. It’d looked like he knew what he was doing, but Jane couldn’t understand it for the life of her. “Vic, I-”
“Hey, girl, c’mon, keep it down. Y’want the popo smellin’ us out t’night?”
Jane still had no idea what a popo was, but she began to wonder if it was perhaps connected to the police. She tucked her hands into her own hoodie pockets, exhaling as she glanced up at the trees and sent dragon’s breath floating through the air. Nothing growing on them right now, but she guessed that made sense. They were in the middle, after all, and all Peter had managed to grow so far was winter peas.
…geez, what was Peter going to say when he found out she was out this late anyway? She wasn’t an adult yet! He could totally punish her if he wanted to! Jane groaned in frustration, rubbing her cold face quickly with gloved hands as she began to make her way up the Path of Opal. It was her own fault, but she hadn’t known what was going to happen, dang it!
Then again…she didn’t see how it had been anything wrong in the first place.
“What is it?” she’d whispered when he was done, the great arching and jagged letters exploding in black and white against the red-bricked wall.
Vic’d only grinned and tossed an arm around her shoulder, leaning close to her as he pointed with that hand up at him. “’S my tag.”
She’d stared for a few moments of absolute silence, mouth agape, still swimming in the fumes of all the paint on the wall as she processed the words. “…Vic!” Jane had spun around to stare at him, knocking his arm off her shoulder and sending him stumbling for balance. “You said you wanted to play tag!”
He’d stared right back at her before he snorted, covering his mouth with his long hoodie sleeve and just barely concealing his grin. “Jane, are you serious, girl?”
“Yes!” With an emphatic foot stamp on the ground, she’d thrust her fists against her hips in indignation. “You said you wanted t-”
“To tag things, shawty. Y’tellin’ me you really don’t…aw, fuck, who am I kidding?” He’d laughed again before he’d gestured to her to follow him and sat down with her on the ground. He proceeded to tell her a rich story all about this art of…tagging, graffiti, and all sorts of other terminology she couldn’t even remember. After a few minutes, she’d merely sank into watching him speak, seeing that vibrant light in his eyes that she’d seen so rarely recently, what with that stuff happening with his friend the drummer and all that she still didn’t really understand. It’d been infectious just watching him like that. She’d felt her adrenaline start pumping just like it did when she played soccer or rugby or anything else, and she realized belatedly that it was because she was the same kind of passion in his eyes that she saw in every other player on that field.
Jane shook her head with a faint smile as she looked up toward Feldspar Summit and almost immediately caught shape of a shadowy figure, wiry and tough and outlined by the full moon that nearly swallowed the sky above them. “So you got out all right?” she chirped, and Vic nearly fell over.
“Shit, Jane, don’t fucking scare me like that!” Vic laughed, leaning back against a nearby tree, and Jane approached with as stern an expression as she could pull up while also knowing that she was failing miserably. “…what?”
“Oh, you know EXACTLY what I’m going to say, mister!”
He quirked a brow and smirked at her, tugging a box out of his pocket and flipping it over. “Jah, Vic, thanks f’the best night ever?”
Jane quirked a brow at him and crossed her arms tightly over her chest as she observed him pulling out a cigarette and tucking it between his lips. “More like, geez, Vic, thanks for almost making us DIE!”
“Y’weren’t gonna die. C’mere, shawty, pop a squat.”
“That still sounds REALLY gross, just so you know,” she informed him solemnly, but approached and sat on the tree trunk across from him, immediately digging her elbows into her knees and watching him cup his hand around the cigarette and spark a light. It illuminated his face intimately for a moment, casting a gleam on a few scars here and there across it and the hardness of his eyes. She still didn’t understand why there was such a sharpness there sometimes. Part of her wanted to know…and part of her reminded her that this was the man who’d ruined any appreciation she had for the awesome game of tag by almost getting her killed.
Vic flicked the lighter closed and glanced up at her as he took a drag of the cigarette just before he blew a cloud of smoke to the side, into the breeze blowing away from them. “So. D’you like it?”
“…the chase scene?”
“Naw,” he snorted, shaking his head and grinning as he tucked the lighter away again. “Jane, you a piece a’ work, girl. The tagging.”
“Well. It’s apparently ILLEGAL,” she began emphatically as Vic slid down the tree trunk, knees bunching up against his chest and parting to let him see her still from his slouching position. “Which I sort of wish you’d told me before I went out and watched you do it. I mean, what if I get like…sent off to Azkaban or something now?”
“…you mean Alcatraz?”
“Whatever.” Jane waved it off. It was unimportant.
Vic smirked at her before he spit out another cloud of smoke. “Awright, scared stiff, got that. But what about IT?”
It. That felt like a pretty loaded word. She screwed up her face and poked her lips out and scratched her head. “…you mean the…tag?”
He shrugged unhelpfully, waving his cigarette as an invitation for her to continue.
Huh. That was a little harder to put into words, really. “It was…really…weird. Because I’d never seen anything like it before, you know?” Jane looked at him, feeling her eyes widen. “But there was something really…beautiful about it too. Something artistic. I could see you loved doing it, you know? You looked like I do when I play my viola or something like that.”
Vic waited for a few more moments in silence before his smirk widened a bit and his eyes took on a different gleam, affectionate warmth of sorts. It reminded her of how Peter’d look at her when she did something ridiculous, or Freya right after Jane finished rubbing her back and telling her that people were stupid for making her cry. “Y’think you’d wanna learn?” he asked, his voice softening even as his eyes warmed. It was weird. But it was also good.
Did she want to learn to do something that was…potentially illegal? Did she want the chance to feel that spray can, cold against her fingertips, as she created something for so many people to see and to enjoy later on? Did she even have some sort of statement to make? Jane stared at the spray can in her hand, picked up when it was abandoned by its owner in that fit of haste, and bit her bottom lip, tasting the strawberry gloss there. “…yeah. Yeah, I think I would.”
A cheerful laugh sounded from Vic as he pushed himself to his feet and sauntered over to her, ruffling her hair affectionately. “Now that’s what I like t’here.” He extended a hand and she took it, letting him heave her up from the tree trunk. “C’mon, shawty, you got a man back home’ll kill me if you freeze t’death or somethin’.”
He chucked his arm around her shoulder once again, an action that was becoming so familiar to her that she immediately fell into step beside him, faintly feeling his fingertips twirl around the waves in her pigtail for just a moment before he abandoned both them and the cigarette, leaving it to die in the cold snow beneath them.