It’s easy to forget how young they are. The Dolorosa's the eldest of their little group by sweeps, and she's barely twelve. It's easy to forget when the Psionic is already so tall and broad-backed, when the Disciple's horns are as long as her hands, when the Signless packs so much weariness into the crease between his brows, for all that he's barely into the second dark season of his eighth sweep.
It's easy to forget when they're on the run from yet another team of archeradicators, or travelling swathed in cloaks and deep hoods during the cooler patches of daytime, blinking away the sharp white afterimages from their too-sensitive eyes, or watching the Signless as he's making one of his speeches, hands spread pleading and innocent of any weapon.
It's easy to forget when the Signless and the Disciple spend their mornings murmuring to one another under the meagre shelter of an ailing tree, eyes heavy and exhausted, offering one another comfort the Dolorosa and the Psionic can't pin down into any quadrant; not pale or ashen or even black, definitely not concupiscent but unlike anything conciliatory they’ve ever seen. It's easy when the Dolorosa runs her thin calloused fingers over the dirty unravelling weave of her skirts and elegant shawls, sad for the destruction of something beautiful and trying not to show it. It's easy when the Psionic talks about the voices he hears, at the edge of audibility, on the nights when all he wants to do is crawl into a 'coon and shake till the sopor ripples with it.
Sometimes, though, they're reminded. Sometimes those reminders are harsh, a knock to the skull to wake up, to grow up, while they still can. Sometimes they’re a little better, as when the Psionic pokes fun at the Signless's horns and the Signless's reaction is less a dignified frown than it is a pout. Sometimes the Disciple hunts down a fat quackbeast for the night's lone meal and gets so excited she does a spontaneous little jig, kicking up dirt while the Signless plucks and guts the thing and the Dolorosa builds up a careful smokeless fire.
This time it's the Psionic, making a pun just as terrible as his usual. Nothing special, just a bit of wordplay, a poor joke to break the tension after one of the longest nights they’ve had in perigees, and that hovering expectant silence which the Psionic always expects them to fill with applause.
The four of them spend a long blueblood's heartbeat blank-faced and unmoving, the Dolorosa and the Disciple respectively with politeness and confusion, the Signless's face as unreadable as it only gets in their greatest moments of peril. And then, remarkably, the lines in his forehead smooth themselves away, and he lets out one first bark of laughter as the other three shift in their seats. But the Signless doesn’t stop; he keeps laughing, deep and wheezing, and when the Dolorosa reaches forward he lifts up a hand, flat and palm-outward, gesturing her back. He laughs and he laughs and he clutches desperately at his stomach, cloth bunching under his fingers, and he laughs. The Psionic's smug look turns worried or perhaps irritated, and still the Signless laughs. The action wipes half the sweeps from his face, letting him finally look his own age. Pale tears squeeze their way past his shut eyelids and stain his cheekbones pink, and it is finally in reaching up to wipe them away that he quiets down.
The Psionic gazes at him, steady and annoyed, and when the Signless returns the look, he says, If you're done now?
His words get all tangled up between teeth and tongue and come out a little slurred. That's okay; they're all as used to interpreting his lisp as they are the Disciples half-feral speech, all purrs and growls bending themselves into language.
The Signless doesn't quite manage to straighten the upward tilt in his mouth to something more serious before he sets off again, elbows braced on thighs and torso shaking with his laughter.
He surfaces for a moment to gasp out, Your faces! before he falls back into wheezing little chuckles, the occasional snort bringing some variety.
The Dolorosa and the Psionic share a glance, the two elder members of their group commiserating over the doings of the youngest.
It’s easy to forget how young they are, for the most part. But sometimes they manage to give each other a little reminder.