AN: Yet another Shadow Children story…this time it's not Luen haha, it's Trina (Trey and Nina). Dedicated to my fellow fandom member, electronickittendetective, who helps me keep the Margaret Peterson Haddix tag full on tumblr.

This story is set post-Among the Free!

Disclaimer: yo if I'd written the Shadow Children series, I probably would've, idk, used Nina's real name when writing in her own point of view. Like, holy cow, pretty sure she doesn't use a fake name when thinking of herself.

~o0o~

Trey wasn't exactly sure what'd prompted him to offer to search for Nina, he only knew that when he slipped into Hendricks school's empty hallways, relief rushed through him.

It wasn't that he hated people, it was more that he really wasn't used to being around them, even though he'd spent quite a while at the school what seemed like ages ago. Luke seemed to have adjusted far better than Trey had, and as though to prove that, Luke was back in the cafeteria right now, bustling around trying to organize a bunch of terrified kids into a game of dodgeball. Granted, the kids had gotten braver since the first time Trey had come here, but they were still afraid of their own shadows sometimes.

Like I am, Trey thought glumly as he jumped at the sound of footsteps. It was only a teacher, and Trey shyly nodded at them before quickening his pace.

Only a few months after everyone was free, Harlows and Hendricks had both opened up again. Frankly, Trey wasn't sure why he and his friends had come back. Luke could've stayed with his family. Trey could've left to find his.

Even as he recalled the image of his mother and her graying hair, he shoved it out of his head. He always got so anxious whenever he thought about her, thought about trying to find her again.

It was better to focus on right now, on finding Nina.

Or Elodie, that was. Trey dimly remember Nina asking her friends to just call her by her real name.

In hopes to break the ice between the two schools, the girls had been invited to the boys' evening games the past two months. But Nina—Elodie—had only shown up once, the first time, when she'd had to come just to get even a few of the Harlow girls to show up.

Trey slowed as he approached the very familiar door in the equally familiar hallway. Rubbish, he told himself. It's just a door. Nothing to be afraid of.

A door to the outside, muttered a scared little voice in the back of his mind.

"Which I've been through many times and come out fine," Trey said out loud. The strength in his own voice surprised him. He'd expected himself to stutter.

Pushing that out of his head, Trey opened the door and stepped out into the cool night air. Habit kicked in, and he headed off to the forest at a quick but quiet pace, trying not to look around too much for fear of . . . nothing in particular, really, he was just afraid.

Okay, Trey thought, as he stepped under the canopy of the leafy trees. Where could he find her? She was probably at Harlows. What if he had to go into the actual school to find her? He had no idea where her room was, or whether boys were even allowed at Harlows. The girls had only just begun coming into even one main room of Hendricks, and the boys certainly had yet to be given an invitation to go to Harlows. What if they didn't even let him in, and they just sent him back into the forest again?

He hesitated in his steps as he realized glumly that he should've just let one of the other girls search for Nina, instead of volunteering himself. He didn't have any idea how to find her. Pretty much his only clue was that she was usually at Harlows, and it wasn't as though "Harlows" was a small building in which he could easily stumble upon a certain brown haired girl.

But just as he nearly turned to go back, he realized he had no idea where he was. Draped in darkness, the trees seemed to loom above him, and with a jolt of panic Trey became painfully aware he'd forgotten a flashlight. The shadows wrapped around him, making it difficult to discern anything besides vague shapes. Glumly, Trey added this as another reason why it'd be hard to find Nina; at this point he wasn't sure if he could even find Harlows in the first place, forget going inside it. Even though he'd explored the woods many times before, it was always with company—first, with Jason, traipsing out to that secluded clearing in between Harlows and Hendricks. Then it was with Luke and Trey's other friends, exploring or gardening or generally following Luke around as he taught the other kids how to act like Trey assumed normal, non-shadow children did. He'd never felt the need to memorize the ways through the wood, because he was always following someone else when he was here. And even if he knew, he wasn't sure he'd be able to identify his surroundings with so little light.

Well, Trey thought, stomach getting a little queasy as his mind raced to form an emergency plan—he had two options: sit and wait for someone to find him, or keep walking and hope he'd run into someone eventually. Hopefully, that someone or something would be one of the other shadow children and not a creepy kidnapper. Or better yet, maybe it'd be one of the teachers or even Mr. Hendricks himself; though Trey dismissed that idea as he woefully remembered the fact that wheelchairs and forest undergrowth didn't mix well.

For a moment, Trey thought he'd prefer to just sit down on the ground and wait, but a single glance at the dark forest reminded him that it'd probably be hours until anyone found him. He didn't wanna sit here in the dark any longer than he had to.

Shivering as a chill breeze wafted through his thin uniform, Trey began walking again, watching the ground even closer than usual in hopes to spot any stray roots or snagging undergrowth so he wouldn't trip.

Alas, it wasn't even a single minute later when he felt a jerk against his shoe and he found himself falling forward. He yelped and desperately threw out his hands, which stung as he landed, but thankfully protected his face from plowing into the dirt. As he sat up, brushing the specks off his hands and arms, he peered around to see if he could spot the source of his downfall. The most likely candidate was a jutting root he'd somehow missed seeing.

"Hello? Who's there?"

Nina?

Trey perked up and scrambled to his feet as he heard the familiar voice.

"Nina!" He blushed the second the words came out of his mouth, realizing his mistake, and was suddenly thankfully that he couldn't tell where she was, because that meant she probably couldn't see how pink his pale face had become. "I mean, Elodie, it's me, Trey!"

He stepped a little to the left, where he thought the voice had been coming from, and a moment later there was a rustling sound and Nina appeared in front of him, pushing past a leafy branch.

"Trey!" she said, the surprise in her voice going unmasked. "What are you doing in the middle of the woods?"

"Uhhh." Trey was now vehemently aware that he was covered in twigs and dirt. Gosh, he hoped he didn't have any leaves in his hair. "I was looking for you?"

Nina blinked as she took that in, and stepped a bit closer so it no longer felt like they were just awkwardly standing several yards apart. This made it easier for Trey to see her—the usual brown braids, delicately done, the smooth skin that shone a little in the dim light. She wasn't wearing her Harlows uniform; instead, she wore a denim jacket over a simple outfit of jeans and a t-shirt. Words decorated the shirt in fancy lettering, but he couldn't read them in the dark.

Agh, why did seeing her so casual make him feel like his cheeks were on fire?

"How come you were looking for me?" she asked.

Trey shuffled a bit. "Well, I guess Mr. Hendricks and Luke were wanting to see you at the game nights. They, er, sent me to invite you to come back." He paused, then said, "Uh . . . if you don't mind me asking, why are you in the middle of the woods?"

Nina sighed and sat where she stood, not seeming to care as dead leaves crunched softly beneath her. She patted the ground next to her, and with a jolt, Trey recognized it as an invitation to sit.

The ground was softer than he expected, covered as it was in a layer of fallen leaves (which, as he'd learned from Mark, were normal around this time of year). Careful to brush away any stray twigs that might dig into his legs, he found it wasn't half bad.

"I guess I just kind of wanted some alone time, you know? Which is pretty silly, I suppose, since I got about fourteen years of it before coming to Harlows. But, I dunno, I also . . . kinda missed this place." Nina's voice grew softer as she talked.

"This place . . . You mean Harlows . . . ?" Trey asked, voice wavering in uncertainty.

Nina shook her head and waved a hand vaguely around the woods. "No, mostly just . . . the woods. I didn't realize much I liked it in here until I went to that Population Police prison for the first time. I think I got attached to it, the way the trees and the sky seem to listen to me more than any actual person did."

Trey had no response to that. It almost sounded like something Luke would say, and he had a feeling that if he and Nina hadn't gotten into a philosophical conversation about gardening yet, it was bound to happen soon. Trey, on the other hand, hadn't really ever considered liking the trees or the sky. The trees were better hiding places than an open field, he supposed, and the sky was nicer than a being in a population police cell. Personally, though, he almost preferred just having a roof above head instead of worrying constantly that he'd either be caught or there'd be a weather related natural disaster (he'd read about hurricanes and lightning storms, after all).

Trey pursed his lips. "So, you've been skipping the game nights to come here for alone time?"

Nina smiled a bit. "Well, kinda yeah, but also to watch the stars."

"The stars?" Trey repeated, confused.

"Of course. They're beautiful aren't they?" Nina raised a hand as though to gesture to the sky, then stopped. "Wait a second. Have you even ever looked at them? I mean, I hadn't before I came to Harlow either, but didn't you ever look up and just stare at them when you guys came down here to meet with us?"

Trey could feel another blush coming on. "Well . . . not really . . . I guess I was looking at the ground, and we mostly just followed Jason . . . and there are trees in the way, right?"

Nina stood up so suddenly Trey flinched, then held out her hand. Turning even redder, Trey took it, and she pulled him up onto his feet and led him through the trees, ducking under stray branches, brushing aside leaves. Her hand felt warm in his. Yeah, he was definitely turning red again. Darn it, why did he have such pale skin? Perhaps he should trade some studying hours to garden outside with Luke—maybe then his blushing wouldn't show up so well.

After slipping between trees and undergrowth, Trey felt even more lost than before, but finally, Nina seemed satisfied, stopping in a clearing which felt much brighter than the surrounding forest.

"Now," Nina said, and Trey noted that she was smiling wide, and there was a glint in her eye. "Stand right here, in the middle of the clearing. And look up."

Tentatively, from his spot in the clearing's center, Trey looked up and peered through a gap in the leaf canopy that revealed the open sky.

He wasn't sure what he'd expected. He'd seen pictures of space in his astronomy textbooks; he'd glimpsed the night sky a few times since he'd left home. But he'd never actually looked, and he hadn't expected the sky to be this incredibly vast.

It sprawled out far as he could see across the deep blue, blocked only in the corner of his vision where the leaves obstructed it. Facts that'd told him stars were fiery space balls suddenly seemed inconsequential as Trey saw the millions and millions of speckled pinpricks, swirling above him, endless blankets of vague shapes and patterns. It brought to mind passages from his textbooks, stunning him with the thought that the largest specks could be planets ten times Earth's size. He felt insignificant--small. But it wasn't in the "I'm a third child, I don't mean anything, I'm only a drain on the community's food and resources" kind of way. It just . . . suddenly felt like Trey's fears no longer mattered. The terror that always seeped into his bones fled, replaced by an inexplicable sensation of connection to a bazillion worlds above his head that he'd never get to see.

"It's . . . "

"Beautiful," Elodie finished for him, her voice a whisper that faded into the sky. He tore his gaze away for just a second to glimpse the echo of stars reflected in her eyes.

He couldn't say anything more, and minutes later, Elodie lay on her back, staring up into the sky, and Trey laid down too once she insisted the view was even better from the ground.

"Jason showed me this," she muttered, then her voice softened. "But I've learned to appreciate this on my own, in a way. The sky is a really amazing thing, just wait until you see it in an open field. It makes your bad thoughts kinda melt away, ya know?"

Trey smiled, and they returned their gazes back to the sky, their hands timidly intertwined beneath a blanket of stars.

~o0o~

AN: Anyway, hope you enjoyed 3 I plan to make this another two shot, with a chapter about Luen. And if you read this and aren't already in the fandom community on discord, tumblr, instagram, etc. then go ahead and contact me, I'd love to get to know another fan!