87

Azriel dropped heavily onto the rocking chair beside her with a rough sigh that spoke to how much pain he was in. She didn’t comment on it though. It was an unspoken agreement that they’d come to long ago when both of their loves were gone that if he didn’t acknowledge her heartbreak over Nhulynolyn’s absence, she wouldn’t acknowledge his. After all, when one wore one’s grief upon their skin for all to see, there came a point when being asked how one was holding up became anger inducing and pointless.

But this wasn’t just pain over losing Rhyshladlyn. This was physical pain from legs that were healing but not well and not fast enough for any of their liking. If it took any longer, there was a high chance that Azriel would be permanently disabled, that his legs would never be as whole as they had been. The reason for it was noble, even if she thought him stupid for it, and it was why she bore witness to his pain silently but still saw it. If he was strong enough to decide that the risk of being crippled until next he crossed the River, she was strong enough to see him go through the aftermath.

Once he was settled she looked back out across Thae’a’s back yard with its riot of artfully placed wildflowers and herbs with the thick lush green grass that she had thought only ever grew in Temples in Fènwa. That or in the old palace in Shiran City. It certainly didn’t grow naturally, not in a desert. Over the back wall Ryphqi’s Heart Watchtower stood tall and proud, glowing just a brightly as it had since it and Shiran’s Towers came awake what felt like years ago but was barely even half that. A breeze ruffled the grass and whispered through the plants, pulled her hair around her face and made Azriel produce a hair tie from somewhere so he could pull his hair back into a messy braid.

They didn’t speak not because there wasn’t anything to say but because they didn’t need to say anything. They knew each other through their shared loss, their shared pain. Knew without needing to say it out loud that Azriel had resented that Nhulynolyn had returned while Rhyshladlyn hadn’t. Knew that the Anglëtinean felt immeasurably guilty for that resentment and that it was what had caused him to forego his own injuries in the heat of battle and risk never being able to walk again in order to heal her Otherborn mate. He checked on her daily because he needed reassurance that she forgave him for his ill feelings. Needed to make sure that the very real chance that Nhulynolyn would truly die wasn’t going to consume her.

So at least twice a day, he came to sit beside her wherever she was in the house, usually outside on the back patio in one of the rocking chairs Thae’a had placed outside when it looked like both the Grey and Honorable Courts were going to take up semi-permanent residence in her home. Twice a day he let how much pain he was feeling both physically and otherwise show on his face, in his body language, in the way that not even Malkuth was around his neck like the serpent Other usually was. Twice a day Azriel showed her that what energy and magick and power he had to spare while trying to Heal himself was spent working to save Nhulynolyn, to make sure that he woke up and spoke her name like a devotee in the face of their god answering their prayers.

Sometimes they spoke, sometimes they didn’t. Sometimes he came to her side and gripped a shoulder or a hand before he wandered back off again. Sometimes he brought food and drink. Sometimes he just laid eyes on her and left. The only consistency of it was that he was always there, in some form or another. He saw the horror of her beloved every day for hours so that she didn’t have to. He put his hands inside and outside of Nhulynolyn’s broken, struggling to stay on this side of the River body daily so that she could hide. So that she didn’t have to add any more fuel to the nightmares that plagued her when she’d first seen him when Xheshmaryú had brought him screaming through Thae’a’s wards.

Seeing the same male who had fought ten Hounds in that same living room days before all but eviscerated had shaken her to very core. Seeing someone she had fought beside on too many Fields to count, who she had woken up beside for centuries, who she had cried into the chest and onto the shoulder of, who she had fallen so fast for she had thought for the longest time that it wasn’t real, destroyed like that had killed something inside her. Had taken something vital to the innocence she had clung to because no one else in the Courts had it anymore and shredded it. And that was to say nothing of how she’d felt after hearing that Rhyshladlyn had appeared and spoken an attend that ordered Nhulynolyn to live, to survive, before touching him. Her stomach had been in her throat when she’d seen her mate like that but her heart had broken hearing Azriel speak of how Rhyshladlyn had appeared like a specter, saved his twin, and then vanished as though he’d never been there. Hopelessness had been a bitter, bitter taste on the back of her tongue that day.

Part of her wondered if this was how Rhyshladlyn had felt that fateful day in Shiran City when he’d seen Azriel torn apart and roughly spliced back together before his own sword had pierced his heart and dropped him to the stone floor. And if it had been, though obviously worse because Rhyshladlyn had been trying to save Azriel and had failed, she totally understood why he’d run from them. Understood why he had taken his grief and hid away from them while he tried to live with it, to try and recover in the aftermath of it.

Because Nhulynolyn wasn’t dead but by the Great Mother and Father some days, some nights, it felt like it. And when that feeling was strong enough to choke the air from her lungs, she had to fight not to go to the room he was in, to lay eyes on him and make sure he very much was still on this side of the River. Fought against the urge only because she had enough nightmares, woke up enough times screaming his name, that she didn’t need or want anymore. Plus when… if… he did pass, Azriel would come and find her, it would be written across his face plain to see. And so far, that hasn’t happened.

Great Mother and Father willing it won’t for a very long time yet. 

Azriel leaned forward in the chair with a low groan before he slowly, carefully rose to his feet, left hand white knuckled where he gripped the cane he had no choice but to use. He technically needed two but had been too stubborn to use them both. It slowed his gait, increased the risk that things would heal wrong or lopsided or not the fuck at all, but none of them had the spare energy necessary to argue with him.

He stood for a moment breathing deeply, slowly resettling his mask on his face before turning those intense mismatched eyes to her, the orange-amber glow of his tattoos shifting as though they were alive but she knew it was just a trick of the light. At least, that’s what she told herself because the alternative was too creepy, too scary, to think about it.

“I’m calling a dinner meeting between both our and Thay’s courts,” his voice was strained around the edges, the only sign left that he was in so much pain he could barely breathe through it. He told everyone that it would only be a couple more days yet that he’d need the cane before he’d be as good as new but she knew better. Could read it in his eyes, in his voice, in his body language. But she didn’t call him out on it. Though she was beginning to wonder if she should.

“I’ll be there.”

He nodded. “I know.”

She raised an eyebrow. “Then why tell me?”

Guilt flashed across his eyes, quick as a lightning strike and she narrowed her eyes at him, shifting in her chair so she could look at him straight on.

“Azriel…”

He shook his head, lips twisted in a smile that wasn’t remotely amused.

“Relyt and Sheieh will be here in four days time, a week at most.”

A bubble of anger fought to break through her calm but she pushed it down. It wasn’t time for her to feel yet. Not until Nhulynolyn was awake and moving, not until she knew for absolute certain that he was not going to die on that bed.

“Why.” It wasn’t a question but Azriel answered it regardless.

“Because I want to confront him about what we found in the cabin, about how hours later shit went sideways.”

“You think he was involved somehow.”

He didn’t answer but his silence was answer enough as he carefully stepped away from and around the chair, heading towards the door. She watched him go before turning back to look out over the yard and the Watchtower that glowed and pulsed with a low hum that she swore was growing steadily louder as the days went by.

Staring at that Tower she swore that if she found out that Relyt had been involved in the attack that had done that to her mate, she was going to kill him. Fuck waiting for Rhyshladlyn’s return, fuck waiting for anyone else in the Court to come to a vote. It was bad enough he was guilty of the shit they had proof on, anything else was just salt in the wound. And if he had put the salt in this particular wound?

Well, as the saying went, it was better to ask forgiveness than permission.

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