It shouldn’t make his heart clench low and tight with things he had told himself centuries ago he had given up, that he no longer felt, to watch him fall through the air with a grace he hadn’t had before the war. Shouldn’t make homesickness flush heat down his chest and across his arms to see the way Ryphqi lit up as soon as he’d touched the stone of the Steward Watchtower. Shouldn’t make him regret every fight they’d ever had and the chasm that spread between them, too large to ever close. Shouldn’t make him wish he could touch him without remembering starkly the way it felt for his throat to give way, the way his breaths gurgled wet and too thick. Shouldn’t make him this distracted from a battle, the first they’d truly fought in centuries together, just at the sight of him performing magick, no matter how small.
But then again, he really shouldn’t be surprised because old habits died hard and habits involving Relyt died the hardest.
Ever since he’d first met the Soul Healer, he’d been enamored, struck nearly dumb with the need to pick apart the puzzle of the other male, examine each piece and put them back together to see if the new whole was anything akin to the original. Wanted to learn everything he possibly could about the enigmatic Grey Soul Healer who had managed to do the unthinkable not once but several times. Had fallen for him in the same way he had for their shared Qishir: quickly and without realizing it until it was too late to distance himself. And the over seven and a half hundred years between that day and this one hadn’t lessened that need in the slightest. Seven and a half hundred years of heartache, of fighting, of sleepless nights, of time spent in the After, of war and death and loss and grief so strong it made his nerves ache hadn’t tampered the need to touch the Soul Healer and feel the way their bond to Rh… to Rhyshladlyn flared and encompassed them both. Rapidly approaching eight hundred years and even though he wanted to kill him, knew deep down that the Soul Healer’s death would be at Azriel’s own hands, didn’t tamper the want to go back to the way things were before his death, before the war, before Rhyshladlyn’s disappearance.
He should have let the Soul Healer fall to his death, the High Ones only knew he should have, but seeing him kick Sheieh away, hearing him order the other male to fly and save himself, Azriel just hadn’t been able to ignore that. He wasn’t able to let another Dhaoine who was so willing to save another die; even if that Dhaoine was Relyt, even if the Soul Healer deserved it after the last three hundred years of absolute shit he had put the entire Grey Court through. It was an affront to his honor and that of the Qishir he was Oathed to so even though he’d wanted to do everything but he had taken flight and caught Relyt mid-fall, saved him and brought him to the Watchtower he hadn’t felt anything from when he and Jerald had run out of the palace. The very Tower that now thrummed and sang with power.
“This doesn’t change anything.”
But it did, he knew that by the way he could still feel the press of Relyt’s body where he’d held the other male against him as he’d flown. Knew that nothing would be the same by the way he could still smell the cool spring breeze and winter’s ice of the Soul Healer where it clung to his clothing and his skin and his hair. Knew by the way Relyt’s magick wove in and around his and Jerald’s and the remnants of Rhyshladlyn’s before it linked them all and made the connection so much stronger.
As he watched Relyt’s face go slack with some emotion he couldn’t name, as he watched tears roll down a face that haunted his dreams as much as Rhyshladlyn’s did, he felt the tension of the City’s ambient magick grow tight, tighter, and then snap with a boom that shook the air and sent him tumbling backwards through the air. Trying not to vomit as he regained control of his flight, he banked and flew as fast and hard as he could for his own Tower, praying that Jerald knew instinctively to do the same as Ryphqi thundered pain and fear across his mind. Didn’t bother looking back at Relyt to see what the Soul Healer had done, how he had reacted. He had meant when he’d said he trusted Relyt’s abilities and his magick and he showed that trust as he turned his back and flew hard and fast for his own Tower. Prayed the entire way that he not only would get there in time but that trusting Relyt with this wasn’t a mistake.
Prayed as he dodged around buildings and other air-born Dhaoine that he hadn’t caused this to happen by saving Relyt and delivering him to the Steward Watchtower. Even though deep down he knew, he Knew, that if he had let Relyt die that they would have all died here. But it didn’t stop him from second guessing himself.
“You always do that in battle if you’re not actively putting your body to use, do you know that?” There was mirth coloring the words but it didn’t take the slight sting out of them. Turning to look at Rhyshladlyn he frowned, head tilting to the side, an eyebrow raised in the question he didn’t need to voice aloud for the Qishir to hear. “You second guess not just your choices in battle but your abilities and it weakens you and those under your command.”
He just blinked at the Qishir. But thankfully his fellow qahllynshæ wasn’t struck as dumb in the face of Rhyshladlyn’s statements.
“And what do you propose he do?” Relyt asked, grey eyes twinkling though Azriel couldn’t tell if it was with mirth or something else. He told himself it was mirth because if it was anything else he was liable to get violent.
“Get over it,” Rhyshladlyn replied easily as though it was the simplest solution in the World and perhaps, to him, it was. After all, battle came easily to him and always had. On a Field was where Rhyshladlyn was most at ease, was most himself. It was terrifying and amazing all at once. “The choices we make in battle are pure and instantaneous because we do not have the luxury of thinking them through first. So whatever you choose to do in the moment? Own. And whatever the consequences, if there are any, can wait until after the battle. Can wait until you’re counting the dead, mourning your lost, Healing the injured, and celebrating with the survivors.”
The Companion Watchtower was within sight, so close, when the precarious Balance of Ryphqi’s ambient magick finally stopped undulating. As Chaos settled thickly around him, as it made the air syrup thick and cloying, he watched as Thae’a’s Weave trembled, steadied, and then another pulse of pure Chaos hit and that Weave shattered like glass, scattering into millions of pieces all around him. He cursed long and hard in Anglë’lylel as he put more speed into his flight, left arm outstretched, the action bringing back a sharp-edged memory of when he’d flown with this much fear and hope towards where Lulphé had held his wife and son. He’d had the same desperation back then, the same knowledge that he’d not make it in time even though he had to make it, that he could not fail.
He was an arm’s length away when he felt Jerald’s end of the link flare white hot as Relyt’s doubled in strength. But it didn’t matter because the collective awareness of the deadly magickal creatures that filled the City below him shifted and he knew without looking that they’d discovered that they’d been duped. That now there were no false Dhaoine running for the above ground gates to escape them and the slow, agonizing death they brought with them. There was nothing distracting the creatures from going after the real citizens evacuating via the underground tunnels. But he didn’t stop flying to look, didn’t slow down because he couldn’t. It wouldn’t save any of them. The only thing that could save the entire City, that could save the Seven Worlds, was his Qishir but since Rhyshladlyn wasn’t here, he did the next best thing.
He tore down every single one of his Shields and Barriers, dropped his wards, and Called with the same thunderous desperation that had made his speak the Companion’s Oath when Anislanzir had been torturing him. Blew apart the door to the link he shared with the Grey Steward and Grey Warrior and the Grey Qishir that had brought them all together and screamed with the absolute, full Truth of himself for the first time since he and Rhyshladlyn had first shared a bed. It was stupid, so stupid because it left him too open, too unprotected, but he was facing an overrun City with innocents who stood no chance of escaping, not now, and not enough of them had escaped yet for him to accept calling the remainder acceptable collateral damage and he wouldn’t abandon them if there was even a sliver of a chance that he could save them all. There were probably better options but he didn’t have time to think of them. All that he had time for was to throw out that Call to the entire Seven Worlds, to shake the foundations of them with his power and his desperation and his grief as his tattoos began to glow, as the air began to boil around him.
His fingers brushed the Companion Watchtower as his voice joined the cacophony of noise that rose from the City like a tidal wave fit to pull him under and drown him. And on his very Self he would swear that something so achingly familiar, so powerful, that the mere brush of it made his heart stop as his palm touched the smooth obsidian of the Tower, Answered, “Yes,“ before everything went black.