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It has been far too long, Chaka realized, nuzzling Pell’s neck as he eased his partner back onto the makeshift blanket of their robes on the sand. Hands clawed at his back, teeth sunk into his shoulder, and Chaka reached for their pack, fingers groping to find something, anything, to make this go smoother.

—only to bump into a package he knew for certain hadn’t been there when they left their rooms.

“Someone’s been into the pack.”

Pell pulled away instantly, eyeing the pack warily. If something was planted by a rogue Baroque Works member or a stubborn rebel, it certainly wouldn’t be the first nor the best hidden. Strangely certain that anyone trying to kill them would be slightly smarter than to hide something within their… personal effects like this, Chaka pulled the paper-wrapped package out.

It wasn’t lightweight, or particularly large; tucked into one end was note, which Pell plucked off. He blanched, coughed uncomfortably, and read, “‘For the occasions I missed.—Vivi’.”

“Ah.” Both stared at the package for another moment before the paper was tossed aside and the box opened. There was a horrified silence, then it was Chaka’s turn to cough.

“She is certainly… practical.”

“Yes…. Oh, look, a book.” Paper rustled, and Pell placed it down carefully. “With pictures.”

They studiously looked past each other.

“She was being thoughtful.”

“Yes.”

“But it would probably be best to dissuade her from giving us another gift like this.”

“Yes.”

“Or at least,” and here Chaka glanced over, catching the faint twitching at the corner of Pell’s mouth, “keep her from buying books we already own.”

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