64

“Are we going to tell Relyt what we’ve discovered?” she asked as she tucked her shoulder against the doorjamb of the dining room doorway.

Azriel looked at her and she raised an eyebrow. He shook his head and looked back down at the vegetables he was busy dicing on the cutting board, hands quick and sure with the knife he held. He was quiet so long she thought he wasn’t going to answer but then he did and for all that it did nothing but avoid answering her question he may as well have no spoken at all.

“Why would we?”

She scoffed and pushed away from the wall to walk across the dining room and around the island counter to the sink. She mulled over how to word what she wanted to say while she washed her hands and grabbed up a spare apron from the hook on the pantry door before she moved to stand beside him and help with preparing dinner. It was easy and simple, just like how they’d always worked in tandem back at the cabin to prepare a meal. They moved flawlessly together, more so than anyone else in the Court, at least in the kitchen. She hadn’t realized until that moment just how much she’d missed her cooking partner. Hadn’t realized that the loss of him beside her preparing meals more than anything else had made it difficult to move on from Rhyshladlyn’s loss. For while she had been closer to the Qishir, it was his Companion she’d gotten to know the best of everyone in the Court. And when things had gone from bad to worse and she’d left for her own safety and sanity, she had lost her closest friend.

But no amount of not wanting to lose this again was enough to keep her from saying what needed to be said.

“He’s still part of this Court, Az. Even if you have your problems with him, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a right to know what we’ve learned.”

The knife clunked against the cutting board as the Anglëtinean flinched hard but she didn’t look at him, didn’t react. Just kept up what she was doing as though the conversation they were having wasn’t difficult, as though it wasn’t important, even though they both knew it was. No one else was going to call him out on his bullshit issues with Relyt and while she wasn’t the Soul Healer’s biggest fan either, leaving him out of these talks was unfair. And any act of unfairness was a dishonor to their Qishir.

“Tee, it’s more complicated than I just have problems with him,” Azriel said as he turned away from the island counter to dump the vegetables into a pot on the stove top. He set the board on the island without looking as he moved around gathering up what he needed to start preparing the meat. “It’s that I’m remembering shit that no one else seems to remember, though I’ve got my suspicions that Relyt remembers the same things I am he just hides it decently well. It’s that every instinct I have is telling me he can’t be trusted, not anymore.”

“Like what?” she asked, abandoning what she was doing to turn around and watch him work, arms crossing under her breasts. She blew a wayward curl out of her face before tucking it behind an ear and tossing her braid back over her shoulder. “What could you possibly remember that would make you think he has any less right than the rest of us to be part of these discussions? What happened in these memories to make you not trust him?”

She watched the muscles of his upper back tense, watched that tension ripple down his spine and knew he was fighting not to release his wings. Knew that he didn’t want to have this conversation and not just because it was about Relyt which had been nearly as sore of a subject over the years as Rhyshladlyn’s loss had been. The longer Azriel stayed quiet the longer she stared at him until he dropped the meat he was working over, scattering spice bottles across the countertop as he did so. With a careless wave of his hand, he righted them all and sent them back to where they belonged. She watched as he gripped the edge of the counter until his knuckles went white with the grip, until the granite made a soft sound of protest.

“I tore his throat out, Tee,” the words were barely audible but she still heard them and she felt the blood drain from her face. As he kept talking she slowly dropped her arms to her sides, knowing that she was likely staring at him open mouthed and wide eyed but she couldn’t stop. “In front of the entire Steward Corps camp right before Rhyshladlyn disappeared, I ripped Relyt’s throat out with the intent to watch him choke to death on his own blood. Only… for some reason that I have yet to remember… he survived it.”

“Are you sure it’s a memory?” It was the only thing she could think to ask, to say, and gave herself points for how steady her voice sounded when she did.

“You know Bayls asked the same damned thing?” Azriel laughed but it was an empty sound and it made her skin crawl to hear it. “But yes, I’m sure it was a memory because every time he’s near me, every time we fight, the same hand itches to do it again. Only this time I’ll make sure he doesn’t survive.”

“Because you let him live that first time, didn’t you?”

He turned those mismatched eyes to her and the pain in them made her heart skip several beats.

“Yes, I did. And I cannot shake the feeling that if I hadn’t then Rhys wouldn’t be collared and we wouldn’t be in the mess we’re in now.” He turned away from her again, took a breath and let it out slow and careful before he resumed working the meat over as though he’d never stopped. But that tension was still in his shoulders, was still dancing down his spine. “I feel like I let my Qishir down and it’s eating at me, Tee.”

“And that’s why we’re not going to tell Relyt?” she asked for no other reason than to make absolutely certain she understood his reasoning. “Because you’re certain he did something atrocious enough to warrant you ripping his throat out, something no one else but you, and maybe he, remembers?”

“Just because no one else recalls it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, Tee,” Azriel retorted. “You of all people should know that.”

She frowned at him as anger swirled hotly in her gut at the dig but she pushed it down because she knew that he was cornered and prickly and no one in the Court reacted well in that kind of situation. Sighing heavily she rubbed at her mouth and tried one more time because it still didn’t sit right with her to exclude Relyt from something so major.

“Good point but we still should tell hi–”

No,” Azriel interrupted, tone final. “Because if I’m remembering shit like that? I cannot take the chance that he is, too.” Azriel’s voice dropped into a whisper but in the silence of her kitchen, a silence only broken by the sounds of his deft hands working spices and seasoning into the meat, of the vegetables cooking in the pots, it was loud as a shout. “I cannot take the risk that if he had something to do with this before that he’s still involved. I will not risk the life of my Qishir and this Court on the basis of being fair. And please, do not ask me to again.”

There was nothing else to say besides, “Alright, Az. I’ll drop it,” even though she didn’t want to. Even though she didn’t remotely agree that they should just up and abandon their Qishir’s wishes and teachings, regardless of the reasoning for doing so. But Rhyshladlyn wasn’t here, Azriel was. And unless Nhulynolyn gainsaid him? Azriel’s word carried as much weight as Rhyshladlyn’s did.

Which seemed grossly stupid in her opinion given how subjective the entire thing was to the Anglëtinean.

“Thank you.”

“Have you spoken to anyone else about these memories besides Bayls?” she asked, shifting gears to a topic that was in the same ballpark but safer.

“I was planning to do so at dinner since we’ll have everyone here again,” she didn’t need to see his face to know he was smiling around the words.

“Okay, good. That saves me the trouble of doing it for you.”

This time when he laughed it was genuine and filled with a mirth that danced and twirled around her kitchen and she smiled to hear it.

She went back to preparing the rest of the vegetables while he began to cook the meat and slowly her kitchen filled the smell of good food and her dining room filled with the chatter of her family as the Court poured in from the back yard and elsewhere in her house. Soon she was plating everything with Azriel’s help and getting settled at the table with everyone else.

But for all that it felt good to have her home filled with the people she and Adïmshyl had had in mind when they had gotten one that was far too large for just two Dhaoine, it didn’t dispel the shadows that haunted the table. It didn’t dispel the sense of impending disaster that lurked just out of sight in the hallway beyond the dining room doorway.

Rhys, I don’t know where you are, but I pray that we find you soon and that when we do, you can Heal the rifts left in the wake of your loss. She looked around as everyone laughed at a joke Nhulynolyn had told and felt fear for what the future held settle heavy as a stone in her stomach. Because I fear that if you can’t that the consequences are going to be more than any of us are willing to pay. 

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