72

It was difficult to believe he was back. Even as he walked as much of the property as he could, even as he worked to catalog the damage and clean up as best he could while he waited for Nhulynolyn, Alaïs, Azriel, and Thae’a to arrive, he struggled to accept it. Even when he felt the residual pulse of his ‘s power as it saturated the air in and around the cabin what’s left of it at least he struggled.

Because he’d spent what felt like eons waiting to be freed. Eons of the same thing done over and over with no new results. And then one day, everything had changed and he’d ended up in Shiran City, had found Shadiranamen, had held his oldest friend, had walked with her. Then in an eye blink reality had whined and torn and he’d found himself once again standing in the front room of the cabin much like he had seven and a half centuries ago when Rhyshladlyn had Called him from the depths of his mind. Only this time he’d rose to his full height in the middle of the cabin alone. And then shit had exploded when Rhyshladlyn’s power thundered across a link that was shaky and marked with holes that shouldn’t be there. And as soon as that power had touched him, he’d thrown back his head and screamed his loss and his emptiness and his imprisonment to the fourteen winds as the cabin had blown apart around him.

And when the dust had settled? He stood at the epicenter of an explosion made of pure magick so strong it had left him breathless for reasons that weren’t entirely because of the tears that had traced too warm tracks down his cheeks.

“Xhesh! Brother, you in there?”

He shook himself out of his stupor and leaned the broom he’d been using to sweep against a counter and made for what had once been the front wall with its door and bank of windows but now was just a yawning opening that left the oasis plainly visible. He was halfway across the front room when he saw Nhulynolyn jump over the half destroyed retaining wall, saw Azriel and Alaïs and Thae’a drop down one after the other behind him. But it was the sight of his ‘s twin that had him stumbling over his feet. Not because he didn’t know it wasn’t Rhyshladlyn he saw striding across the debris-strewn sands but because in that moment he saw Rhyshladlyn’s power, saw the echo of their Qishir, their Heart, shimmering around his fellow Other like an afterimage that glowed around him.

But then Nhulynolyn’s face split wide with a grin that made those blue eyes of his sparkle as he stretched those long legs of his and ran towards the cabin and the illusion was gone. Because that grin and the eyes it made sparkle were wholly Nhulynolyn. Rhyshladlyn’s smiles in all their forms had never touched his eyes like that, ever.

Nhulynolyn’s joy was infectious and not just because he could feel it across their link that thrummed with steady life despite the lack of the one they shared with their . So Xheshmaryú took off towards him, jumped from the porch to the sand and grass below it and met Nhulynolyn halfway, swinging the male in a circle much like he had Shadiranamen. When they stopped moving, he clutched at Nhulynolyn, buried his face against the side of his neck while the Other did the same to him.

Neither of them said anything as they moved in tandem to step back, Nhulynolyn’s smile still bright, still touching his eyes, but it held a dimness at the edges. A warning. One so strong that Xheshmaryú opened his mouth to question it when Nhulynolyn shook his head slightly, eyes narrowing as his voice whispered across Xheshmaryú’s mind.

*We’ll talk about it later. Right now go see everyone else.* 

Xheshmaryú nodded, clapped him on the shoulder, and turned just in time to catch Alaïs as she launched herself at him with a sound that he knew she’d deny was a squeal of happiness. He caught her easily just as he always had, as he always would. Her half-choked back laughter as he swung her like he had Nhulynolyn made him smile so widely it hurt his cheeks but he didn’t care. Seeing even just Nhulynolyn and Alaïs made it all worth it. Sure they were missing two important members of their Court, of their family, but he knew deep in his bones, deep in the Self that Rhyshladlyn’s very existence kept alive and thriving, that Shadiranamen and his kè would be joining them soon.

When exactly he had no idea. But it was definitely going to be soon.

“Did you see him?” He set Alaïs down and met Azriel’s eyes squarely even though the pain in them, the terrible hope that was not nearly as strong as the markings he’d inked under his skin would make one believe, made making unwavering eye contact nearly impossible. But Xheshmaryú did it because the Anglëtinean deserved that much.

“No,” he answered softly. “I didn’t even sense him until his power thundered across our link and, I’m assuming, gave me the ability to hold this form without him being free.”

Azriel turned his back to them all, hands clenched into fists as he took several steps away. He must have moved to go after the Anglëtinean when a hand on his arm stopped him.

*Leave him be. Of everyone, he’s taken Rhys’ disappearance, his supposed loss, the hardest. An’ to have two of his Others back but no sign’a Rhys? It’s been hard an’ I don’t blame him for it.* 

He raised an eyebrow at Nhulynolyn who shrugged and dropped his hand away.

*Did Alaïs disappear like the rest of us did?* he asked, changing the subject if only because the idea that anyone had suffered for their collective failure as Others to save their kè was something he didn’t want to dwell on right then.

*No.* Nhulynolyn snorted at the look on his face and nodded towards where Alaïs had walked over to Azriel and was talking to him softly, eyes tracking every small shift of expression on the Anglëtinean’s face. *She isn’t tied to Rhys, Xheshy, she’s tied to me.*

*I know that but… she still should have followed us all to the in between because your power, your strength, comes from Rhys.* 

Nhulynolyn sighed heavily and kicked at the a piece of jagged, half singed wood at his feet, sending it skittering a few feet away.

*She being an Other like us predates Rhys’ Awakening though,* the Other answered and Xheshmaryú startled, turning to fully look at his fellow. *We do, too, in a sense, but not really. Our links to my twin are tied to him being a Greywalker. Al being an Other, even indirectly, of Rhys? That was tied solely to their bond as siblings an’ nothin’ more.* 

*Holy fuckin’ shit,* he muttered, knowing his face must reflect his shock. *Could that be the answer to freeing Rhys, do y’think?*

Nhulynolyn grinned crookedly. *It’s a thought I’ve had since I came back but didn’t wanna chance followin’ without backup.* 

“You both know it’s obvious as shit when you’re having a secret conversation between the two of you, right?” Thae’a snarked.

He looked at Nhulynolyn with a mock guilty look. *We need to work on the whole not being naughty thing.* 

Nhulynolyn shrugged. *I just hope she doesn’t try to spank me again. I don’t wanna halfta explain to Adïm why his mate here’s got fluster face.*

Xheshmaryú snorted hard enough it hurt while Nhulynolyn guffawed loud enough he made Azriel and Alaïs jump at the sudden noise. They shared another look and doubled over with laughter until tears streamed down their faces. It took a few minutes before he could breathe enough to speak.

“Apologies, Tee,” he said, voice colored by his laughter. “It’s good to see you again.”

“Uh huh,” she replied but smiled to take the sting out of the words. “We should get inside. We’ve got a lot to talk about.”

“Thae’a is right.”

He watched as Azriel walked through the debris, scorched grass and melted sand, the tattoos that marked every visible inch of his body glowing in the light of the afternoon sun. Watched as he climbed the stairs just like he had a million and one times before, watched him cross the porch and step through the front door where he paused and looked back at them all. It was in that split second moment that he didn’t see this Azriel but another. It was in that moment that he saw the Azriel his kè had fallen in love with, the one that for all that he’d seen a thousand years was young and soft edged and gentler. Saw the Azriel who hadn’t died, who hadn’t lost his Qishir, who hadn’t fought a war on the enemy side only to learn nearly too late that he’d been tricked into fighting against the love of his life.

Then he blinked and it was gone.

“You all coming? Because I’m sure as fuck not cleaning all this up by myself.”

Nhulynolyn grinned wide, slow, and mischievous, jogging across the distance until he was standing beside the Anglëtinean who gave him narrowed eyes. “I vote that you do seein’ as you’re closest to Rhys an’ he’s the one who did this.” 

Azriel’s laughter was sudden and filled with the kind of mirth one only heard when it was surprised out of someone. It trembled in the air and Xheshmaryú felt himself smiling before he was even consciously aware of wanting to at the sound. But then again, the Anglëtinean had always had a laugh that was just as infectious as Rhyshladlyn’s.

“How am closer to him? You’re his literal twin who is also his Other.”

“Yeah, but never put my dick in him,” Nhulynolyn ducked around the slap that Azriel aimed at his face, both of them laughing. “Therefore you are closer to him than I will ever be.”

He watched Azriel chase Nhulynolyn inside, both of them yelling unintelligibly as they ran around the front room.

“Have they always been like this?” Thae’a asked as they watched Azriel chase Nhulynolyn inside, both of them yelling as they ran around the front room.

He looked at her to see if she was being sarcastic or serious. Though really he should have known that because for all that she had been part of the Court for centuries she’d never really been afforded the opportunity to see how the oldest among them interacted. Hadn’t been there from the beginning when Nhulynolyn and Azriel had learned how to handle each other as the two most important males in Rhyshladlyn’s life. Hadn’t been there for the ups and the downs and the stable days in between.

He didn’t answer her though, not because he didn’t want to but rather because he couldn’t, the memories it brought up were too painful. So he just laughed instead and headed for the cabin

“Oh, Tee, honey,” Alaïs laughed, “they’ve been like this since the day they first met. And have only just gotten more and more insane as time progressed.”

“By the Webs, that thought is terrifying.”

“The real thing is way worse,” Alaïs answered.

“Because of course it is,” Thae’a muttered and her own laughter rang out like the chiming of bells.

Gods aplenty if feels so good to be home. 

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