He dropped his face into his hands, index and middle fingers pressing against his temples, elbows propped on his knees. It was well into the afternoon and he was exhausted. Tired on a level that no amount of sleep would help with, not at this point. He had stepped outside onto the porch to take a break from the discussions that were getting them nowhere, that they had gone round and round in circles on since daybreak. Had stepped outside to get a break from the cascading energy that filled the cabin that he had largely occupied alone for the past several centuries but was now filled to bursting with the Court he had expanded it to fit.
It was hard to breathe inside. Not that it was really any easier to breathe outside, not with Rhyshladlyn on the property, but he’d come outside regardless because at least out here he didn’t feel confined, didn’t feel trapped with nowhere to run to. Sure the humidity of the Desert didn’t help make the air any less thick and cloying outside than it was inside, despite the cooling spells that regulated the cabin’s internal temperature. At least he felt free out here.
And he would rather face oppressive heat outside where he could run and had space to swing his arms without hitting something by sheer accident. Even if he missed the cool spring air that still touched everywhere else in the Worlds as summer rapidly approached, this was still better than confinement, imagined or real.
He growled softly under his breath, hands sliding up into his hair, fingers twisting round the strands and pulling, the ribbon he had used to hold them back coming undone at the action. As the curtain of his hair fell around his face he choked back a louder sound, one that wouldn’t go undetected. Remembering the last time he sat somewhat like this, feeling confined and like he couldn’t breathe despite being just the opposite. Back when he had been faced with burying Azriel alone, back when he saw Rhyshladlyn face to face for the last time, when he held the Qishir for the last time. Back when he’d sworn he’d follow him to the ends of the Worlds, when he swore that he’d never be alone. By the Many, looks like we’re both failures when it comes to keeping our words.
But despite how valid Rhyshladlyn’s reasons likely were, this wasn’t his home anymore, it was Relyt’s. This was the place he had painstakingly added on to, upgraded, and altered so that they could all live here and yet no one had moved in with him. Until Rhyshladlyn had strode back into their lives, providing no answers, having known Azriel had been alive this entire time? Relyt had slept alone here.
Until Rhyshladlyn had returned and just stepped back into his place at the their head like none of them had changed, like nothing had changed when everything had? He had never spent more than a handful of moments with any of the Court here at the cabin. Maybe shared a meal, but outside of the holy days? He had spent the majority of his time here on his own.
Over the centuries he had learned the way the wood settled at night, the way the wards and Barriers and Shields sang sweetly when the Storms rolled across the Desert. Had learned how the shifting wind on the cooler Desert nights when he had every window open would pull old scents out of the bedding and couches and carpets, teasing him with Azriel’s musk and Rhyshladlyn’s spice. Over the centuries he had left more ghosts of himself here than there were of the memories he, his Qishir, and their Anglëtinean had made together.
And the fact that that was different now, after so long with him in a solitude he shouldn’t have suffered in? It made him want to scream. Made him want to break things. But he couldn’t. Well, that wasn’t entirely accurate. He could but the only things he could break that weren’t living things were the inanimate objects of his home. And he had no desire to waste even more time than what had been wasted already replacing things he’d broken in a fit of anger because people were inconsiderate. Because he couldn’t handle the very thing he had wanted for centuries.
He may not adhere to his people’s teachings as rigidly as he used to but he wasn’t completely uncivilized; he had better control over himself than this. So he wouldn’t break anything, living or otherwise.
No matter how much better it would likely make him feel.
Dropping his hands, he twisted in his favorite rocking chair and looked through the window to where Rhyshladlyn stood looking down at a map that had been spread across the low table in the sitting area. One hand cupped his chin, a finger tapping absently at his lips. He looked surreal standing there, surrounded by all the similar yet different aspects of their home, looking much like he always had and yet not all at the same time. He hadn’t bothered to put on a shirt since waking up, wearing nothing but a pair of loose cotton pants that were slung low on his hips, showing off the shadows of his Greywalker markings that marched across miles of tanned muscle.
The way Rhyshladlyn held himself in their sitting room, it reminded Relyt of a night so very long ago when he had watched Rhyshladlyn stand with the same scrutinizing look among a sea of notes and papers and maps. Reminded him of a night when he watched the unthinkable happen, the night everything truly changed; the night that Rhyshladlyn went from having three sets of wing scars to two. Standing there now, he looked every inch the warrior he had been when Relyt had first met him when he killed the shopkeeper. Only now he looked older, wiser, but for all that he also looked darker, like there was an echo, a shadow, that followed him around but one only ever caught it in one’s periphery, never head on.
Standing there, he didn’t look like a Qishir capable of leveling Worlds with a single thought. He didn’t look like a Dhaoine with the ability to vaporize thirty magickal creatures with a finger snap. He looked just as normal as the rest of them and it was unsettling because Relyt knew better. But for all that it unnerved him, it was still one of the things that had enamored him of Rhyshladlyn; the fact that for all he was an indescribably power Dhaoine, he never rubbed it in one’s face. If anything, he went to great lengths to treat everyone as though they were equal to him.
“I am your Qishir,” Rhyshladlyn didn’t raise his voice, didn’t so much as project it either, but it packed all the weight of a punch at full force regardless. “And this is your only warning to never lay your hands upon this one again. I may not hold to the old ways as many of my caste do, but make no mistake, when it boils down to it? I am your superior, I am your better. And it would behoove you to remember that just because I treat you as an equal does not mean that you are one.”
With a rough shake of his head he pulled his gaze from Rhyshladlyn like a drowning man breaking the water’s surface. Until, of course, one pushes him just a bit too far. He needed to focus on someone besides the Qishir.
Azriel sat on the couch to Rhyshladlyn’s immediate right, leaning forward and gesturing at the map, looking between Thayne who sat to the Anglëtinean’s right, Rhyshladlyn, and Nhulynolyn who was kneeling on the other side of the table.
The male looked just as he did in Relyt’s memories. Sure the Azriel he remembered was older, with more scars, with shadows that moved behind his mismatched eyes, with a darkness that lurked beneath the surface of the awareness that flowed ahead of him but that Azriel was still there in this one. And as weird as it was to know that, to even think it really, it still managed to comfort him more than the fact that the Anglëtinean warrior had been reborn. That he was back. That he hadn’t been gone all that long, not really. He still looked at their Qishir like Rhyshladlyn was the sun and the moon and life made flesh; as though Azriel couldn’t fathom Worlds in which Rhyshladlyn did not exist at his side. The love that shown on the warrior’s face whenever he looked at the Qishir was breathtaking and Relyt rubbed at his sternum, trying to dispel the ache that had settled in quick and deep at the sight.
It was almost harder to look away from Azriel than it was to look away from Rhyshladlyn and he pointedly didn’t focus too hard on that fact.
Bayls wandered in from the kitchen, setting mugs in front of her Otherborn lover, leaning across the table to hand Azriel and Thayne each one before handing another to Rhyshladlyn who took it absently, clearly distracted by his thoughts. He watched as the Qishir floated it above his left hand in a casual display of power that Relyt knew he wasn’t even aware he was doing. Rhyshladlyn had often done that when he was younger: did some impressive act of magick while distracted and utterly unconsciously. If anything the times that he did acts of difficult magick like it was nothing was all the more frighteningly impressive.
But where he and Azriel had expressions of holy shit Bayls just rolled her eyes, mouth moving around words he guessed were something akin to, “Do you ever not show off?” to which Rhyshladlyn blinked and almost dropped the mug as a blush spread across his face, Azriel and Nhulynolyn’s laughter loud enough for Relyt to hear from the porch.
Watching as Bayls grinned before walking back into the kitchen where Shadiranamen and Xheshmaryú worked in tandem with Adïmshyl and Thae’a to prepare the evening meal, he felt like an outsider looking in, removed where he used to be included. But they hadn’t excluded him purposefully, it had been his choice to step away. But they looked so at ease, his Qishir and their once shared Anglëtinean, Thayne and Nhulynolyn and Bayls, all gathered round the map on the low table. It was hard not to be resentful of the ease with which everyone interacted with Rhyshladlyn. Like he’d been gone only a handful of hours versus nearly five hundred years.
And he resented them all the more for that ease because he couldn’t forget the fight he and Rhyshladlyn had had in his tent just a few days ago. Couldn’t forget how he had lost it and physically fought him just hours after that. He regretted it greatly because he didn’t doubt that whatever divide had yawned between them was now all the wider and he had no idea how to fix it. A simple I’m sorry just wasn’t going to cut it, that much he knew.
When Thae’a called out from the kitchen, he jumped and looked away when he heard Rhyshladlyn call something back and the eruption of laughter that followed.
By the Many, he was jealous it seemed so easy for them to accept that Rhyshladlyn was back. As though it didn’t bother them that he never answered why he’d left, why he’d kept that Azriel was alive from them all, why he’d chosen now of all times to return and tell them that his Companion had been reborn a mere fifty years after they’d buried him. To rejoin them as though the last four and a half centuries and countless battles and sleepless nights and nightmares and near-misses hadn’t happened.
He had so many questions and no answers, but he doubted with this whole Selves in jars insanity that he’d ever be afforded the time to ask them. Not that I’d get actual answers even if I did. The thought was petulant and childish and he immediately felt bad for it but that didn’t stop it from feeling far closer to the truth than it should.
Rubbing a hand over his face, he tucked his hair behind his ears and stared forlornly at where his qahllyn’qir swirled on his forearms and hands, where the scarring marred his arms from when he had tried to tear them out. The need to scratch at them was all the more intense now that Rhyshladlyn was in close proximity and it worried him. Because being so close to the Qishir should have eased his qahllyn’qir, not made the whispers that he didn’t deserve them, that he needed to rip them out, louder.
With a heavy sigh, he pushed up from the chair and made his way to the door to rejoin the planning for how to handle the newest issue that apparently superseded every other issue they had. As he reached out for the door handle and fought down a wave of memories, he wished emphatically that things hadn’t changed.
And even though he knew things may never be like they were, no matter how much he wished they would be, that wouldn’t stop him from trying to make the present as close to what the past had been as was possible.
He just prayed it didn’t backfire in his face.