The pain was intense and she was confused as to why she had gone from fine one second to this. Wondered when she had lost track of the enemy she’d been trading blows with. Wondered why this pain hit on a level that she had never felt before. By the Great Mother’s glorious tits, it was all consuming, stealing her breath with the power of it.
Her hands spasmed and she watched with a muted detachment as she dropped her blade to the ground. Watched as her Shields flickered once around her before they dropped away, too.
“Bayls! Bayls, no!“
Her attention snapped up, making her vision wobble as the action worsened the pain. She stared at where Nhulynolyn was literally tossing Dhaoine this way and that. When they didn’t move fast enough he growled, the sound felt more than heard. As she began to slowly lose sight of him behind the churning bodies of the Field, a sound like angry ocean waves ripping apart ships dropped a cacophonous silence over them all. Then suddenly the Other was right in front of her, looking like a thing out of her darkest dreams. He was drenched in blood and goopier things, eyes battle-bright, six wings spread wide behind him, the top set a rich cerulean, second set cerulean fading into a dark purple, the bottom set that dark purple fading into pitch black; each feather ruffled and fluffed, the span nearly as wide as Rhyshladlyn’s, if only a foot or two shorter.
He looked like death made flesh, looked like the twin neither of them had seen in centuries, standing there with his power leaking out the corners of his eyes in sparks of blue and purple and black. He was like a god given a breathtakingly handsome form. But for all that he looked fearsome, the look he gave her was full of love and the kind of terror that one felt only when one’s beloved was grievously injured.
The problem was, she didn’t understand why that look was directed at her. Not just because she was fine, just in a lot of pain, but also because she hadn’t earned that much emotion from him. She didn’t deserve it.
“Bayls! Stay with me!” his voice was like glass ringing, threatening to shatter under too much weight, and she frowned up at him, wondering when he had gotten so incredibly tall and why he was crying. She wondered absently if he’d always had wings or if they were new as he dropped to his knees, face a twisting mass of fear and desperation. “C’mon, B, stay with me. Breathe, that’s it. I’ve got you.”
She blinked and swayed on her knees, body falling forward, her hands coming out just in time to keep her from eating the ground. The pain bloomed worse with the action and she keened.
“Bayls!” Nhulynolyn’s voice was a million tiny shards of glass scraping against her skin, making her heart ache with the pure desperation and hints of grief-denial that wove around the undulations of his accent on her name.
That keen became a scream as hands roughly grabbed her up and then the World was nothing more than agony and jerky up and down movements. But she didn’t open her eyes to see what was happening.
It took too much effort and she was so very, very tired.
“Hold on, B! Hold on!” The denial was less now, the grief and desperation and fear stronger, thickening the accent that no longer sounded around his words. “Stay with me! Fuck, come on, B! Don’t leave me. Please.”
She sucked in a breath as awareness rushed back in and the memory-dream faded.
“Bayls?” His voice wasn’t like what was in her memory but it was close and that made her fight against the wave of exhaustion that tried to pull her back down. Made her suck in a breath that had her flinching at the pain it caused, one hand twitching in an attempt to reach for him, to let him know she was still here. That she was okay. “Heya, Bay.”
Tears pricked at her eyes at the relief that drenched those two simple words. That relief told her how worried he had been and still was, how terrified he had been and her heart ached with that knowledge. Because she had promised to make sure he never sounded like that again, that she would be more careful in battle. Had promised that he wouldn’t have to fear that she’d be injured on a Field and never wake up again. But gods only knew that she hadn’t been prepared for how powerful and quick Hounds were face-to-face. Had been prepared for how horrifying the fuckers were when one wasn’t hauling ass after a wounded Otherborn and flying off.
The guilt that swelled in her chest then made her feel like she was going to vomit. Because if he sounded that relieved that she had woken up? Her injuries must have been nearly as bad as they had been the only time she’d ever seen his wings.
“M’sor’y,” she mumbled, the words jumbled together and hardly audible but he took her hand and squeezed it gently.
“Hush now, you’re alright. You woke up, s’all that matters.”
She didn’t agree with him. There was way more important shit to focus on besides her simply having woken up. Like how he’s feeling, if he’s okay. Has he been sleeping, has he been eating? But she knew better than to argue. It wouldn’t get her anywhere. He would shelve everything to do with himself and his health until he was certain she was taken care of. And the only thing she’d succeed in doing if she argued that would be to set them to screaming at each other and he’d still win.
“Ha’n’t me’nt for the Houn’ to…” she groaned softly, voice failing her as catching her breath was difficult and she swiftly ran out of air. She didn’t have to see him to know Nhulynolyn shook his head at her refusal to listen. He shouldn’t have been surprised, she was nothing if not tenacious.
“Did I not jus’ tell you to hush? Stubborn git,” he muttered and she would have snorted if she wasn’t focused on making her lungs get with the fucking program and work properly so she could talk with coherency. Nearly five centuries should have taught him that much.
“W’happen’d?” she asked instead and his hesitation told her a lot more than if he’d responded right away.
That pause was him reliving watching the Hound come at her. That pause was him fighting against the tidal wave of emotions that had swallowed him in the moment when she hadn’t been fast enough to defend herself before it had been on her. The absolute, unadulterated terror that had him roar her name when he realized he wouldn’t make it in time to defend her either.
“I dunno what you remember,” he started and sighed, his other hand petting along her forearm. She knew the look she’d see on his face if she opened her eyes. Knew what it looked like when he watched his darker fingers play across her pale skin, the contrast of it startlingly as his fingertips pressed against each freckle they came across, counting them silently. Could see the way his lips twitched, the muscle at the bolt of his jaw jumping as he fought to make his mouth work and obey his will to speak. He always looked the same whenever she was hurt, whether it was from a battle wound or an emotional wound, that was what he’d do. He’d sit beside her or in front of her and hold one of her hands and pet her arm with the other, count her freckles and her scars and her blemishes, would trace her veins. His gaze unwavering and filled with the intensity she imagined only gods could have.
She’d asked him why once. The answer he’d given her had only made her have more questions: “It helps me know you’re real.”
“Not much,” she answered gently. “Jus’ that Houn’ coming at me an’ feeling scared… I couldn’t move quick enough to… to defend… myself.” She gulped in air as deep as she could and sighed when her voice failed her again. But with each passing minute it was becoming easier.
“That’s basically what happened,” he confirmed and his hand clenched around hers before easing up. “Rhys took care of them, though, he did some kind of Working and dropped unconscious immediately after. I called Alaïs while Tee got you brought inside and taken care of. Adïm, Shadi, and Xhesh are on clean up duty while Thayne makes calls to her people to find out what the fuck happened. Azriel and Relyt are at each other’s throats and I can’t really say I blame them, I’ve had to break them apart more times in the last hour than I have in the entire damned time I’ve ever known them.”
He fell silent again and she listened to everything he wasn’t saying. How he didn’t say what her injuries were, how long she’d been out for, whether Rhyshladlyn had woken up, what Alaïs had said, why Azriel and Relyt were at each other’s throats. He didn’t keep it from her, he knew better and it wasn’t something he was capable of doing even if he wanted to. But he wasn’t saying it for a different reason, one that was important.
That was when she realized he was speaking like Rhyshladlyn, that in the last four sentences he’d spoken to her, his accent was all but gone, his inflection different. He sounded tense and on edge in a way she hadn’t heard in far too long and it made her teeth itch.
“I called Alaïs while Tee got you brought inside and taken care of.”
That was the sentence that she had to pay attention to. It was the one that held the most information, the one that told her the most without him speaking that shit aloud.
Because Nhulynolyn would trust no one but himself to get her taken care of, to get her inside to safety, but yet he’d allowed Thae’a? It made no sense. Even if Rhyshladlyn hadn’t been knocked out, Nhulynolyn wouldn’t have even turned to his own twin for that. And Rhyshladlyn was the only Dhaoine Nhulynolyn trusted more than her. Even the day she’d nearly died on the Field, he’d been mortally wounded himself when he’d seen her go down, but he had fought against his own injuries to see to her, to make certain she survived. He’d nearly died getting her off the Field to the medical tent and Healers because he had refused to risk that she’d die, that anyone else would make her worse.
So why was this time different?
“Nully?” She swallowed hard and opened her eyes, blinking against the soft candlelight that sent shifting shadows dancing across the walls. “Why did you call Ally?”
As his eyes met hers she felt her stomach drop out even if the pride that she’d figured it out that made those irises sparkle made her chest feel tight in a way that had nothing to do with pain. Because under that pride was a fury that she had no words to describe, a fury she remembered seeing on Rhyshladlyn’s face what felt like lifetimes ago when he’d nearly spoken a death attend to Relyt. It darkened his eyes, made his voice husky and filled with smoke and dancing flame-shadows.
“How did the Hounds find the cabin?” he countered and her breath left her in a whoosh.
Fuck. It was so much worse than she’d imagined. Because until he asked that, she hadn’t even thought about it. Sure it had crossed her mind when they’d all run outside to find the Hounds pouring over the retaining wall, to find Rhyshladlyn twisting and ducking and blocking with magick and swords alike. But she hadn’t had the chance to ask it out loud before things had gone tits up.
The implication alone was enough to make her want to vomit every single thing she’d ever eaten in her life.
“Exactly,” he added seeing her reaction.
“Gods, who would… I just…” She trailed off, shaking her head, not daring to speak it, too afraid to make it real.
“Soon as you’re good enough to move, I’ma get us out of here and back to one of the safe houses while I get this shit figured out.”
“What about Rhys?” Their Qishir was many things, but she couldn’t imagine that he was a traitor to them, that he’d have given the coordinates to the cabin to the creatures he despised, that his father had used to torture him with, that he’d encountered that fateful night in Shiran. It just wasn’t a thought she could even comprehend, not in reality and certainly not even in the hypothetical.
“He’s not my priority right now,” Nhulynolyn answered and she snorted.
“That’s bullshit, Nul,” she replied and raised an eyebrow when he opened his mouth to argue. “He’s always your priority. I knew that when we got together. So why are you trying to tell me he isn’t now?”
Nhulynolyn looked away from her and she frowned as he shuddered hard.
“He dropped the Shields and opened the doors between us, fully opened them, not that bullshit he did in Rel’s tent before the Oiki attack,” his voice was soft, like he was afraid to speak too loudly, like he was hesitant to speak at all, “and I saw… I saw things, B. Shit that I wish I hadn’t because now I can’t unsee them. An’ I don’t know what to do with this new knowledge.”
“You know that isn’t actually an answer right?”
The Other huffed, eyes sliding back to hers with a don’t be a twat look that would have made her giggle if her ribs didn’t hurt.
“He can take care of himself. Whatever gets thrown at him, he can handle it,” the Other said at length. “That’s why he’s not my priority.”
She raised both eyebrows. “And what? I’m incapable of taking care of myself?”
Nhulynolyn made an exasperated noise. “B, just focus on gettin’ better. I got the rest right now, okay? Please.”
The please was what did her in. He rarely said it and after everything that had happened? She didn’t want to push it. So she didn’t. Instead she just nodded and pulled at his hand where it was still wrapped in hers and smiled when he climbed carefully up onto the bed and curled up against her side.
They were lucky Rhyshladlyn had been able to take the Hounds out, even if he’d had to drain the Shields and Barriers and wards on the cabin dry to achieve it. And she only knew that had happened because the air felt different, the gentle brush of his power that had been there since day one was gone, and the emptiness in the wake of that loss was a heavy pressure on her Self that she very much did not like the feeling of.
As that information sank in fully, she closed her eyes tightly against the prickling of tears that pressed against them. Because without Rhyshladlyn, she likely would have never been able to feel Nhulynolyn in her arms again, never been able to see his eyes or his smile, to hear his voice and his laughter and his breathing as he dozed lightly with his head on her chest, one arm flung over her waist, legs tangled with hers.
And that left a heavy lump in her throat that was almost impossible to swallow around. Because Nhulynolyn was right: how had the Hounds found the cabin? There had to be a traitor among them, there was just no other explanation.
And that thought disturbed her far more than any that she’d had since waking up.