Nathan laughed, a quick, short chuckle. “I’m sorry, Shin.” He walked forward the two paces that separated them and placed a light hand on his friend’s shoulder. Even at such a delicate touch, Nathan felt Shin’s muscle flinch slightly.
“Speaking of secrets, Shin,” he began, but Shin pulled his arm and his person from Nathan’s reassurances.
From a guarded, withdrawn expression, Shin said, “It’s nothing. Probably wound the muscles up too much fixing your antique station.” He flashed Nathan a wry, hooded smile.
Nathan noted how his friend stood somewhat off-balance, favoring the arm Nathan had just touched. It was also the arm connected to the shoulder Lizard had slapped that premeal, and the one Nathan himself had punched in jest on their return from their workcycle. Still, none of those hits had been heavy enough to warrant the reaction Shin had. Nathan felt a pang of concern. “Shin,” he began.
“It’s nothing.” Shin moved away to the wall. He picked up the scanscreen and its wires and dumped them into his satchel.
Sighing, Nathan bent and carefully gathered a few modules. He carried them to Shin and set them on the floor. He returned and repeated the gesture till all were clumped just outside the bag.
“Thanks,” Shin grunted while packing the autodrill and the remaining tools.
“Shin,” Nathan said again.
“Hm?” Grunt. Pack.
Nathan thought for a full jiff before continuing. “I… might know someone you can sell to.”
Shin glanced up, sensory wires looped over his wrists like rainbow bracelets as he gave Nathan his full attention.
Nathan shuffled his slipshods, watched their dance, and tried to think of the right words to say. He cared for Shin, he really did, but wasn’t certain how far he could help without risking his own future plans. “You saw the skin…”
Shin nodded, his actions still poised above the satchel opening. “And the comm,” his friend prompted.
“Right. That, too,” Nathan said, allowing the illusion that the two were related. “Thing is, my neighbor hooked me up with the sk- with them.” He looked around, mostly to the wall he shared with Franks.
Shin defrosted, setting the mods into his bag and straightening. His expression appeared hopeful.
Internally, Nathan groaned. His conscience kicked briefly at his next words, though he could have sworn it had died a full year ago, at the last funeral he’d attended. “Yeah, his name’s Franks. He’s got a cousin or something at Fantastique.”
Shin flinched slightly at the name, as any sane city dweller did. Still, he swallowed and tried to look more determined. “I do need to sell them,” his eyes fell to the remaining coils on the floor. “Especially since their absence will be noticed, like, imminently.”
Nathan laughed. “True.”
“So… can you mesh me with this Franks?”
Kick, went Nathan’s conscience. “Sure,” said his mouth. “I’ll walk over there with you right now.” He paused. “Er, you may want to pack everything in tightly and only show him one or two.” He turned to Shin, noting his friend’s awkward gestures around his arm’s condition. “I’d hate for you to get hurt.”
Shin met Nathan’s gaze. Each man’s eyes spoke of an open honesty the other would never voice aloud. Instead, Shin nodded. “Thanks.”
Continued from Skinwalkers, XXX.