Tugging on the ropes, reigning in the sails as he steered the ship through the billowing clouds. The wind buffeted the airship around, but he held steady. The sun was high and the moment he saw the colored sails of the airships trailing after the Flying City, his heart rose.
The wind at his back, keeping the sails full, Aaron felt at ease. They had caught up the Flying City finally. The trip had remained uneventful and he was happy that it had. He’d wanted to catch up the City as quickly as possible, and the airstream he had the ship in was helping beautifully.
Straining his eyes, Aaron kept watch through the clouds. Pulling on the ropes, he angled the sails to catch the wind, taking them around in a large arc, following the wake of the Flying City. The moment they broke through the clouds, Aaron nearly broke into a smile, it seemed like forever since he’d last seen the splendor of the City with everything that had happened of late.
The sun hit the glass towers of the Flying City, setting them alight. Around the city were the ever present airships coming and going. Their colored sails creating a festive aura as the airship approached the city.
Aaron spun the wheel, taking the ship from the force of the airstream, heading onto an approach for the docks. He was far ahead of schedule for his normal route, so Keern probably hadn’t saved his normal berth at the docks for him. Hoping it would be open, he steered the ship past several larger airships and a large starships moored at the docks.
Lucky day! he thought catching sight of his spot sitting open between two other ships.
Spinning the wheel, he turned the ship so the starboard side was facing the white metal of the dock. The side of the ship bumped up against the dock and Aaron held the wheel as he released the ropes he held in his other hand. Quickly releasing the wheel, he moved the to the side of the ship and grabbed the mooring ropes, tossing them onto the dock as he moved. Leaping from the ship, he pulled on the ropes, keeping the ship from floating away from the dock. Bending down, he lashed them tight to the large mooring pins.
Looking up from his work, he looked Van in the eye. The swordsman was standing on the deck of the ship, leaning against the railing, watching him.
“You can either stay or leave, but I am heading in for a drink,” grunted Aaron, holding the man’s gaze.
“I will remain close by,” said Van quietly.
Normally Aaron was good at reading people. It looked as if Van was a little tense, but it was hard to tell with the man. He hid his emotions well.
Aaron scrutinized him for a moment longer before breaking his gaze. He didn’t want or need to worry about whatever was going on in the man’s head. He had his own problems and goals to think about now.
Lashing the sails up, he turned and called down into the opening leading below deck. “We’ve docked! You can come up now!”
“I figured as much,” said Mai, climbing the stairs, Katha following in her wake. “I’m also going into the city as well.”
Aaron grunted, turning and heading for the edge of the deck. He stepped down on to the dock. Mai stepped after him.
“You’re not following me,” he said darkly.
Mai gave him a hurt look. “I wouldn’t think of it. No, I’m glad we’re here, as the information I tracked down in Douglas’ Bluff says I can find something here. Just don’t leave without me though.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it,” grunted Aaron starting off in the direction of his usual hangout place. The last time he’d left dock here he’d physically kicked her off his ship and taken to the skies before she could follow.
Aaron permitted himself a small internal smile as he remembered leaving her angered, standing on the docks as he flew off. Turning his gaze to the docks around him, he shifted his thoughts. It felt good to be back. The noise of the man and machine working across the docks was a familiar sound and it raised his spirits. Foregoing his normal rounds of the vendors and shops that normally supplied him with jobs, he started straight for the bar he loved.
He moved through the crowds purposefully. With his mind focused so intently on his destination, he nearly missed the swish of the black coat as the man moved past him. Aaron blinked and stopped, turning to look, but the man had passed.
Scanning the crowd for any sign of the man, he shook his head. Another ghost… he assured himself, pushing the sight of the man from his mind. Just another ghost of the past… Mai is the only one who could have tracked my down. And if he was here…
Aaron pushed thought from this mind and focused it back on his destination. He would not let figments of his imagination ruin his homecoming.
It was unusual for him to think of it as that, but he was happy at the thought.
Stepping out of the din of the street into the quite of the bar, Aaron took a breath and then moved up to the counter, sliding onto a stool.
Putting on his best grin for the young woman behind the bar with her back turned to him, he said, “I’ll have the best brew you’ve got.”
At the sound of his voice, she turned around and looked slyly around the room before leaning on the bar top in front of him. “Well this is unusual,” said Grace, looking him over sly curiosity in her voice and showing on her face. “About as curious as the way you left last time. What brings you back so early?”
Aaron gave a small sigh, thinking of Mai. “I needed to come back…”
He closed his eyes for a second. “I needed to come see this place… and you…” he said finally looking her in the eye.
She raised both of her eyebrows in surprise at his statement. “This is something entirely new for you, Aaron Backer,” she said shaking her head. “What happened to you since I last saw you?”
“A lot,” sighed Aaron shaking his head.
Grace leaned in an gave him a kiss on the lips. She held it for a moment, surprising Aaron with her forwardness and passion in the kiss. They hadn’t been together in a long while and he’d usually give her a kiss when he came into port to show that he still cared, but nothing very intense.
Leaning back she looked at him for a moment, examining him, scrutinizing his reaction. Turning suddenly, she pulled out his favorite brew and a couple of glasses. She set them on the bar with a clink. “You’re not escaping this time. Tell me what happened,” she said seriously.
Aaron blinked. “What about your guy friend,” he said his mind going back to the last time he’d been in the bar.
“Aaron, I know you. Something has happened and I want you to spill. What my guy friend thinks is not important right now. What is important is that you tell me what happened to you. Where is the usual man I know who blows in with the winds?”
Reaching out, Aaron uncorked the bottle and poured some of the brew into the glasses, sighing. Placing the bottle upright, he took his glass and tossed it back in one gulp.
He couldn’t look Grace in the eye. It was hard for him to dredge up his past and he’d hoped back when he’d first dated her that he would never have to bring it up. But he trusted and cared for her too much to leave her questioning look hang for long.