He shadowed her down the hallway, watched the way her muscles shifted and bunched and relaxed in her arms as she swung them with just enough force to propel her body weight ever forward. Watched the way the skin beneath her tunic over her shoulderblades quivered with the need to throw her wings out to either side and hiss in the way she was so fond of doing to throw others off. He watched the way her hair swayed above her upper back, pulled loose of the holder she’d had in it when she’d stalked of the Dining Hall like a humanoid force of nature. He watched the way it bounced and tumbled like a golden red halo around her head, way longer than it had been when they’d first met but he didn’t mind.
She moved like nothing could stand against her, like nothing scared her. For all that she was the youngest of the entire Court, one wouldn’t know it to look at her now. One wouldn’t know that to feel the way her power breathed through the hallway, making an aura around her that moved in tandem with her steps like something alive and sentient. But she’d always been like that. It was one of the things he loved about her. That and the fact that for all that she was short for a Sinner Demon, she could hold her own with the best of them and never once let her lack of height be used against her. When it came to looming, the only Dhaoine she couldn’t give a run for their money was Rhyshladlyn. But not for lack of trying.
“I don’t know why I’m not allowed to just kill him now,” she muttered, the fury that wrapped around each word thundering out like a punch to the gut. He couldn’t help but smile because she’d always been his little firecracker female, ready to throw hands and other things in defense of those she loved.
“Because Rhys would throw a fit. Even if the fucker deserves it,” he answered, lengthening his stride to keep pace beside her. “An’ the last thing any of us needs is to anger Rhys… even if we don’t know where he is.”
She huffed a breath out with enough force to send a breeze dancing around her, making her hair ruffle and sway around her face before it settled again. “I know that we can’t fuck with him, I know, but by the Great Mother, he’s done something, something bad. But for all that I know that, I can’t put my damned fingers on it and until I can, I don’t want to call him out.”
“Which is totally understandable. You’ve got your own safety to consider with that,” he smiled as he watched her face relax in increments. For all that she was hotheaded and quick to throw hands at a copper drop, her anger would always drain away if she didn’t act on it right away. Like a river breaking through a dam, it would rush with all the destructive power water could have but once that initial break happened, it would settle down to the easy flow it was supposed to be.
“He made Azriel fuckin’ cry, Azriel of all godsdamn people! And I’m supposed to just, what, let that slide? Rhys never would have, so why should I?” She growled, low and rumbling, raking her hands through her hair before she gripped the ends and tugged at them.
He watched it all in silence, just let her take her time figuring out what she wanted to say, how to voice it. He knew better than to interrupt her or to try and rush her. She’d come to it in time and at her own pace. Anything faster than that and it wouldn’t all get out and they’d just be right back here.
As they walked after Azriel, chasing the scent of his tears and his desperation for answers and hope that didn’t get handed back to him on a platter with his own heart, he looked at her. Really looked at her. She had matured sure, and she’d done it beautifully more so than he had ever expected, but underneath that maturity was an oldness that reverberated like one’s breathing in a deep cave. Her eyes weren’t as bright, the way her magick had once whispered and danced along her skin was muted as though afraid to make itself known. She walked with her head held high, daring anyone to mess with her, just like she always had, but there was something else to it. An undercurrent that zinged along his nerves, that made his instincts chitter warnings that rose in volume every so often before they settled back out. She was the same as she’d always been but not all at once.
It made his teeth hurt sometimes.
“Cuz you ain’t Rhys,” he whispered it, not wanting to interrupt her introspection but the quiet had begun to hum and he felt compelled to break it before it got any louder. “And that’s okay. You don’t have to be him. No one does but him.”
“I should have stopped them before it had gotten that far,” her voice was soft in a way he hadn’t heard since they’d buried the Anglëtinean seven and a half centuries ago and it made his heart seize in his chest. “I knew Az was getting more upset than normal, that there was something I wasn’t hearing, well before Eiod walked in with Jerald, but fuck. Fuck. I’m his best friend and I failed him.”
“But it ain’t your job to mother everyone in this Court. It was Rhys’ an’ in his stead it was, it is, Azriel’s,” he kept his voice soft, careful to let it carry without the volume. But he could tell by the way she stiffened, by the way her power receded back beneath her skin, that he wasn’t going to get through to her.
She was nothing if not stubborn as fuck and the gods only knew he loved her for it. But she’d never quite learned how to keep that stubbornness from getting her dragged down by everyone else’s problems. She wasn’t required to fix everyone, no one was, but that had never stopped her from trying.
You need to take time for yourself, too. Before you wear yourself ragged.
“I wish Nully was here with me. He would know exactly what to say. He always did.” Her voice broke around the words. She swallowed thickly, tilting her head back to stare at the ceiling, her eyes glittering with unshed tears. She wiped her hands at her face jerkily, blew out a breath and lengthened her stride. “But he’s not here, Bayls. He’s been gone for three hundred fucking years, you know that. Now get your shit together, Azriel needs you to be on your game. Have your breakdown later.”
He reached to grasp at her arm, to stop her, to show her he was right here, that he had always been right here, but his hand met an invisible, solid wall that stopped him short. The sound he made shook the air around him and for a moment he thought she’d heard him when she stumbled, but she just wiped at her face again before taking the next turn in the hallway, leaving him staring after her with his arm outstretched. Closing his eyes he took a deep breath of her scent, pulled it deep as he curled his outstretched arm against his chest and fought at his own tears.
“I’m right here, B. I told you I’d always find my way back to you.”