She looked beautiful, the sunlight bouncing off the auburn highlights in her black hair, the way that light haloed around her making her crimson eyes pop in a way that stole his breath. Though it was more the look in those eyes that seized his lungs and stopped his heart. She looked at him like he was her entire World, like he was everything she had never asked for, like he was everything what she had always needed. He didn’t think he deserved anyone looking at him like that, least of all her, but he couldn’t control her. And even if he could? He wouldn’t.
Because the fact she loved him of her own free will and choice made the impact of her love all the more potent.
He reached out a hand that trembled, ignoring the pain in the shoulder joint that made him regret the action for all of a second before she knelt before him and her smaller hands encircled his.
“Lulu,” he whispered carelessly, using a nickname for her that only he had ever spoken, one he had given her in a fit of insanity one night after she’d sent stars dancing across his eyes after a particularly powerful orgasm. He’d been smiling up at her, entranced by the beauty that she held not just in her body but in the Self that her body housed, and the nickname had rolled off his tongue as he’d cupped her cheek. Her laughter had been sweeter than anything he’d ever tasted, pure enough to burn him alive but he hadn’t cared, still didn’t. Because the moment true joy had lit up her face and showed that she held the same ethereal beauty that the Anglë was so well known for, he had known he was irrevocably in love with her. “Lulu, what are… are you doing here?”
It hurt to speak, to breathe, and he knew it wasn’t because he was made weak whenever she looked at him like that. But what exactly it was that made everything hurt escaped him in the face of seeing her again. He had missed her, gods aplenty had he missed her so much. It was an agony so sharp it was fit to sever his heartstrings and leave him dead where he fell. Centuries without her had done nothing to dull the intensity of the pain brought on by the loss of her, if anything it had heightened it.
And if that wasn’t the most unfair thing in history he didn’t know what was.
“You need to get up, Eiod,” her voice was clearer than he remembered it being, crisper, her accent thick and lilting, wrapping around his name in such a way that it sounded like two syllables instead of one. She had never sounded like that, having suppressed her accent because it had reminded her of the native tongue she had refused to speak. And the fact that she sounded that way now had his attention focusing in on her. “You need to move. The Grey Qishir is coming, you need to be alert so he can find you.”
He frowned, hand twitching in hers as he struggled to sit up, struggled to breathe through the pain that was becoming worse with each passing moment. Frowned because there was no way his Qishir was telling him to seek aid from her murderer. It didn’t make sense because she shouldn’t be here, she was dead. He knew that. Knew, too, that she was erased from the Cycle of Life and that he’d never see her again, that this wasn’t real. It couldn’t be real and that made his heart skip a beat, made tears prick his eyes. He was dead and on the Cliffs of Oblivion, suffering for his sins, for his failures. And his torture was seeing her with that look on her face, hearing her speak his name with a reverence that turned it into a Song. That was the only explanation for what was going on right now.
“I don’t under…stand…” he fought to take a deep breath, to swallow back the tears he could feel burning down his cheeks. Fought to be strong for her like he had always been. But as always, she was having none of that and reached out to brush the backs of her fingers across his cheek, wiping away his tears. He choked back a sob, swallowing thickly, eyes closing against his will but gods he just couldn’t see her face right now. Not when he knew it wasn’t real.
“Eiod,” there came that two-syllable Song of his name again and he felt his heartbreaking all over again, as if that were even possible. “Please, you need to pay attention. You need to get up, you need to move. Rhyshladlyn is coming and you have be alert so he can find you.”
He was shaking his head, nuzzling her hand when it shifted to cup his face along his jaw, her hand warm and cool all at once, the scent of her thick as it filled his nostrils, clung to him like the sticky pollen of the Uriqenqe Tree. She even smelled the same, gods help him, like spicy honey and vanilla; two scents he had never thought would go perfectly together until she’d walked into his slave cell and saved him.
“I… I can’t.” And it wasn’t a lie, he couldn’t. More even, he didn’t want to. He didn’t want to be found and saved. He didn’t want to live a moment longer when death and a respite from the pain of being bereft of her presence in his life was just a wrong move away. He had felt so relieved when he’d felt a secondary ripple hit the Palace that he had forgotten all about why he was even crossing the main courtyard in the first place. Because if he was in the After? His heart wouldn’t hurt anymore and so he had welcomed Death with open arms.
But it would seem he’d be denied that just like he had been denied growing old with her.
He could feel her bemused, fond smile, knew it by the shift of the calm quiet that surrounded her and he swallowed hard again, more tears falling too quickly for him to fight back, for her to wipe away.
“Yes, you can,” she asserted, tone telling him she wouldn’t stand for him to argue with her. “You can because you are strong, Eiod. You can because while you feel ready for death you are not ready, it is not yet time for you to cross the River. Please, my love, you must know that you are so very needed here even if you feel you are not.”
Knowing he shouldn’t, knowing it would only make things worse, he looked at her, his free hand fluttering at his side uselessly before it obeyed his command to lift and touch her face, to see if she felt as real as she looked. And she did, the skin of her cheek just as smooth and soft as he remembered it begin and he rubbed his thumb along her cheekbone, feeling the muscles beneath his fingertips shift as she smiled. She had always been like that: assertive and kind and filled to bursting with a truth that made her more enemies than it did friends but it had been one of the many things he loved about her. How no matter what, she seemed to know exactly what he needed to hear and when he needed to hear it.
Clearly death hadn’t changed that.
“I miss you,” he whispered, voice cracking around the words when she nuzzled into his hand, turning to press a kiss to his palm.
“I know, love, I know. But you must get up now,” she answered, voice just as quiet as his own. There was a sadness in those crimson eyes, a sadness that spoke of the centuries they had lost, the millennia they had squandered thinking they’d had all the time in the Worlds to discover each other, to love each other. “Please, Eiod, get up. Rhyshladlyn will be here soon.”
His breath fell out of him like raindrops and he closed his eyes again, unable to look at that sadness, at the love that wove around it, looking back at him any longer.
“Why me?” he asked instead of answering, instead of doing what she said. It was second nature to question everything she asked of him before he did it anyway and her being long dead didn’t change that.
“Because Ryphqi knows you saw Alaïs, knows you know where she was when the Palace was blown apart and Rhyshladlyn needs your help finding her,” she answered, tone filled with the same annoyed amusement at how stubborn he could be that she’d had before her death. “Because it knows exactly what you were going to see the Lord Queen about and that is information Rhyshladlyn desperately needs.”
It was like nothing had changed, like he hadn’t gathered the ashes that were all that had remained of her body when the Grey Qishir had wiped her from Existence and gone to her homeland to bury all but a silver’s worth of them at the base of her favorite tree on the Isle of Songs. As though he hadn’t worn the ashes he hadn’t buried magickally sealed in a locket around his neck every day since then. It was like he had never lost her.
“As my Qishir wishes,” he answered at last and her responding chuckle made his cheeks heat.
“U’ei oy vol,” she whispered the words against his lips.
He sobbed then, the sound ripped from his throat when he felt the a whoosh of air as her presence left him.
“Eiod!” His name whip-corded across the Currents, the single syllable it was supposed to be and he lifted a hand straight up, ignoring the pain that lanced down his arm and spiraled out from his shoulder joint across his chest. Ignored the way he felt relieved when he opened his eyes and saw Rhyshladlyn Ka’ahne, his sworn enemy, the one who had murdered the love of his life before his very eyes, jogging towards him. Ignored the way his lips still tingled from a kiss that hadn’t really happened.
Because if he focused on either of those things his mind would break and that was the last thing he wanted right now.
“I’m here,” he called, dropping his arm.
But Rhyshladlyn caught it by the wrist, his grip firm but gentle. A rush of energy that tasted like safety and forgiveness and the soft moments between true night and dawn breaking flowed down his arm. He shivered when it spread through him and took his pain with it, took the ache and the agony and the shortness of breath. He blinked owlishly up at Rhyshladlyn who just grinned crookedly back down at him.
He twisted his arm in the Qishir’s grip, his own fingers curling around Rhyshladlyn’s wrist over the silver hourglass god-Mark that shown in stark relief against his tanned skin. He nodded at the Qishir’s questioning look and the Qishir pulled him to his feet with a short, careful tug, free hand steadying him when he swayed.
“Thank you,” he said with a sincerity that surprised him nearly as much as it did Rhyshladlyn.
The Qishir shrugged and let go of him when he was sure Eiod wasn’t going to topple over.
“No thanks necessary,” he mumbled, rubbing at the back of his neck as he shuffled back a few steps, giving him breathing room.
In that moment Eiod realized he may have misjudged the other male. Here was someone who was supposed to be his enemy, who technically was his enemy, and yet he’d saved him? Healed him without question and then in the face of Eiod’s sincere expression of gratitude, he became shuffle-footed and sheepish. Acted as though it wasn’t any big deal when it was.
Standing before him was a Dhaoine whose power crackled in the air despite the at least thirteen Barriers he could sense wrapped around him. And yet, despite having clearly displayed that power by Healing him as easily as one would change a shirt, he looked sheepish, like he hadn’t meant to go that far but wasn’t going to apologize for it. His eyes carried a mirth that was both pure and dark with an edge of danger and warning, his lips curled in a grin that matched that look in his eyes, face open in a way Eiod had never imagined it could be.
What is even happening anymore? But for all that he wanted to ask that question out loud, he was nothing if not diplomatic and intelligent with it and he knew doing so at that moment was beyond ill-advised.
“Still,” he pressed, a small smile playing at his lips despite him trying to remain stoic, “I appreciate it.” And it wasn’t a lie. I must have a concussion that he didn’t Heal properly because this is the closest I’ve been to him since he killed Lulphé and I’m not afraid. I’m not angry. I don’t want to hurt him; instead I’m grateful. What is wrong with me?
The moment Rhyshladlyn went serious and focused was like closing a door. The mirth dancing in his eyes snuffed out when he blinked, the crooked grin twisting his mouth dropped away, and the hand that had been rubbing at his neck dropped to his side. Staring back at him wasn’t the enigmatic Greywalker that had the Seven Worlds scrambling to keep up but rather the Grey Qishir that had kept his word to seek retribution for his Companion. It was like night and day between the two and Eiod fought to keep from taking a step back in the wake of that sudden change. Fought it because even though his memories happily supplied reasons for him to be afraid of the Qishir, he wasn’t. He knew that Rhyshladlyn wasn’t here to hurt him, had no reason to. Sure, it was probably only because Eiod had information he needed but still.
He’d be lying if he said there wasn’t a dark part of him wanted to be as unhelpful as possible given that this was the bastard who had killed his Qishir, that had ruined his chance at a happy life. But he wouldn’t, he couldn’t. Lulphé had been adamant before her death that she needed to make amends for what had happened to Azriel as a result of her inaction and while she had indeed made amends with her own death, he knew she wouldn’t approve of him dishonoring the memory of her by acting like a petulant fledgling. No matter how delicious the idea was.
“I have some questions for you.” He wasn’t shocked when Rhyshladlyn said it, after all he’d been given the heads up. His ears rang with the words, bones thrumming in the aftermath of that voice that overflowed with the same power he had tasted when the Qishir had Healed him.
“Ask away,” he replied, his hands clasped behind his back to hide the way they shook.
While some part, a dark and petulant one, wanted him to be unhelpful, he wouldn’t be. Because he had promised to bring Lulphé honor always. Had promised to do all he could to be worthy of her.
And he intended to keep that promise, even when he didn’t want to. Especially when he didn’t want to.
I love you, too, my beautiful Lulu. T-u’ei oy vol, oo.