The wind whistled, kicking up plumes of sand as it danced around them, forcing them all to throw up an arm to protect their eyes.
“Shit, what is with this damned wind!” Jaro grumbled.
“Not up to the desert wasteland vacation, eh, there, Soulless?” Ishmariel called, voice woven with laughter.
“Fuck you, you winged bastard. You don’t like it anymore than I do!”
Ishmariel’s laughter rang out and several others in the party joined in as the wind settled and the sand cleared.
“Fair point,” the Anglëtinean replied, “but your discomfort is entertaining enough to make me forget my own.”
She shook her head as the joking continued but she tuned it out, eyes roving the glowing golden wall of Ryphqi City where it rose from the shifting, dancing desert sands three miles ahead. According to Alaïs who had spoken to Eiod, Nhulynolyn was indeed alive and was in the City with Azriel and the rest. Her Otherborn mate had come back, she hadn’t imagined it, but the Great Mother knew that she wouldn’t believe it was real until she could put her hands on him. So she hyper focused on searching for him.
There was a crack! of displaced air and then suddenly a figure was kneeling between her and the Xhlën she’d been speaking with. It took her a moment to fully register what had happened and when she did, her breath stalled in her lungs, her heart slammed into her throat and she staggered back a step. Because she knew that fall of red hair, the sweep of those broad shoulders, the feel of that magickal signature thundering against her skin.
But before she could catch her breath to say anything, he was standing and turning to face her, eyes just as icy blue as she remembered, face just as strikingly handsome and regal. He reached out a hand for her, face twisting with regret, with everything they’d never gotten to say before she’d watched him disappear. And her heart was suddenly in her stomach instead of her throat and she was shaking her head as he opened his mouth to speak. Because by all the gods in Existence, she was not going to go through this again.
“I’ll explain when I can. I have to save them first.” And then he was gone as quickly as he’d come and she was on her knees before she’d even been aware she was falling.
With less than a mile to go, the gates opened with a muted boom and warriors dressed in the livery of the Lord Queen of the Sinner Demons filed out and fanned along the wall to either side of those gates, leaving space for two tall figures to step up together in front of the opening. She squinted against the glare from the sun where it sat just shy of midday and felt her heart start to race because she knew Azriel on sight by the play of his rich black hair with its chestnut highlights and his iconic mismatched eyes. But it was the male that stepped out beside him that caught her attention the most. She knew who it was before his six wings spread wide in the colors of shadowfire, tips brushing Azriel’s own wings. Knew before she’d even seen the red hair with its highlights of gold and lowlights of yellow and orange and the golden skin that seemed to stretch for days. Her hands went white-knuckled on the reigns, every muscle tensing as she debated running to him now or waiting.
“Present…arms!” Azriel’s voice rang loud and crystal clear. The sound of steel being pulled as every single warrior pressed their blade-points into the sand and sank to one knee in the proper greeting to Thayne as the Eighth Qishir and her Companion, Lord Queen Alaïs followed on its heels.
There were protocols to follow. Things that had to be done in a certain order. Greetings and shit. But fuck if she remembered any of them right then, fuck if she cared. The only thing she had eyes for, had care for, was the redheaded Dhaoine kneeling to Azriel’s right. Her blood was a roar in her ears, her heart a drumbeat so loud that it made her skin shake, as the wind kicked up again and set Nhulynolyn’s hair to dancing like it had in her last memory of him she made her decision. She jerked the reigns and pulled her hörphé out of line for several yards before she jerked to a stop, swung out of the saddle and to the ground.
She was running before she felt the collective weight of everyone in the party’s attention settling on her. Picked up speed when someone called her name. But none of that mattered. She’d deal with the consequences of breaking protocol and showing such disrespect to Thayne and Alaïs later because by the Great Mother’s glorious, giant tits, her mate was alive and she was not going to wait another fucking second to touch him.
At the sound of his name that head of red hair flew up and those electric-blue eyes that had haunted her dreams stared her down from the rapidly dwindling distance. She was vaguely aware that her leg muscles were burning from sprinting across the loose sand but fuck if she cared. She called his name again and he was on his feet. A third time and he was running towards her.
She said his name a fourth time, this one a sob, as they made contact, his arms wrapping around her waist as she threw her arms around his neck. He swung her around in a full circle, moving with the momentum that neither of them had been able to pull back on but she hadn’t worried that he wouldn’t be able to hold her weight. Hadn’t worried that he wouldn’t have been able to keep them both standing. He was laughing but she felt the wetness from his tears where he nuzzled the top of her head, the wetness soaking through her hair. His heartbeat was thunderous against her chest, as though it were trying to break free of him to touch her own. The feeling of his magick encircling her in the same way his arms and wings did, feeling their signatures dance and twirl with each other once more, tore a sound from her throat as he stopped spinning them and set her feet on the ground, still hugging her fiercely as he sank to his knees so they were more closely of a height.
And then he was leaning back, arms coming up under hers so his large hands could cup her face, fingers spanning from her cheekbone to halfway down her neck, those eyes boring in hers with an intensity that she had missed. He looked at her as though he could see her Self where it lay hidden within her body, tucked by her heart, the one that had beat longingly for him for the centuries he was gone from her. And perhaps he could. Perhaps that was why he never minded bending the nearly full foot he had on her in height down to see her eye to eye, why he never minded being on his knees before her so neither of them had to strain to see the other.
She didn’t give him a chance to say anything else as she fisted her hands in his hair and pulled his mouth down to hers. He didn’t need any more encouragement as he kissed her back fiercely, as though he were a drowning man and she was the oxygen he had been denied. She squealed into his mouth as his hands moved to grab her buttocks and lift her up as he rose to his feet, her legs wrapping around his waist automatically. His low masculine laughter rumbled into their kiss and she purred happily back at him. He broke the kiss with a curse.
“Damn, I’ve fuckin’ missed you, B.”
“You fuckin’ better have,” she replied and he threw his head back and guffawed, his entire face lighting up with the sound, with the smile that spread across his face.
“Come on, let’s get back to everyone else, eh?”
She blushed as she realized that everyone was staring at them, as she remembered she had broken protocol, let alone disrespected the Eighth Qishir fuck fuck double fuck oh no. She peaked over her shoulder with a sheepish smile at Thayne who just sat astride her own hörphé with a shit eating grin, crimson eyes filled with unshed tears as she held Alaïs’ hand tightly. The Lord Queen smirked at her and she blushed harder.
“If you two are done?” Azriel’s voice made her jump and then yelp as Nhulynolyn swung her around as the Other turned to look at the Anglëtinean.
“I mean, there’s more I can do if any of you want more of a show?” Nhulynolyn quipped and wiggled his eyebrows. She huffed and smacked his chest. The Other turned an affronted look on her and she fought to keep a straight face but when he widened his eyes at her she broke down giggling, enjoying the way his face softened. She had missed seeing that look, the one he only ever showed her.
It was so goddamn good to have him home.
“We’ll shelve the rest of our reunion for now,” she answered Azriel, smirking when the Anglëtinean rolled his eyes.
“Then let us get inside the City,” Thayne said and Bayls turned to look at the Qishir. “We have a lot to discuss.”
Nhulynolyn refused to put her down as he clicked his tongue and called her hörphé to him, grabbing the reigns with one hand and holding her securely to his chest with the other as they walked the rest of the way to Ryphqi City. But she didn’t complain. Even if it meant she lost some face with the warriors that had stepped out to great them, even if it meant she looked like the tiny female who couldn’t defend herself, it was worth it to feel the play of her mate’s muscles against her body as he carried her effortlessly. It was worth it to hear the nearly subvocal purr of contentment he made as she snuggled against him and tucked her face against his neck.
As they stepped through the gates, Nhulynolyn laid a kiss to the top of her head, his voice a rumble in her ear, “I told you I’d always find my way back to you.”
“So you did,” she whispered.
“An’ so I fuckin’ did.”