She stood in the doorway, shoulder tucked against the jamb, arms wrapped around her middle. Part of her was thankful that everyone else was in the front of the house discussing logistics or some such shit. Another part of her wished there was a guard on the door to keep her away like they had for the last week. Sure she knew she shouldn’t be here. Knew she shouldn’t be staring at the body of her beloved, Healed more than he had been but still so dangerously close to tipping face first into the River where he’d drown and she’d lose him forever. But she had to be here. Had to come.
He looked peaceful laid out on the single person bed with the sheet tucked around his hips. If one could ignore the black bruising that curled around his entire torso and up over one shoulder to lick at the long line of his neck. If one could ignore the crosshatching of scars that marred and mounded the skin over his ribcage, that danced and dipped down his side towards his hip where it disappeared beneath the sheet. If one could ignore the way his chest barely rose and fell, the way his breath rattled in his chest as the lung that had collapsed struggled to keep up with its twin while it still healed.
He looked peaceful if one could ignore the signs that he had nearly died. If one didn’t know what he’d looked like before.
She’d never forget the moment when Xheshmaryú had dropped them both to the carpet in Thae’a’s front room. Would never forget how he’d screamed at the way his body had been jostled, a sound she prayed she never had to hear again in her lifetime. He was powerful enough that he should have been at least awake by now. Was strong enough that even without Rhyshladlyn’s link to him wide open and thrumming with energy, he should have been conscious and at least semi-coherent. He’d been mortally wounded in worse ways than this, had been dropped in situations where death was certain and he’d walked away. But this time was different. For some reason this time was unlike any of the ones before it and gods help her, she didn’t understand why.
He’d stepped between danger and Azriel, had known that the chance he’d come home alive was slim and he’d done it the fuck anyway. And gods but she wanted to hate him for it. Was so angry that she wanted to kill something just to take the edge off. But if their positions had been switched? She’d have done the same thing so she couldn’t be angry with him though the Great Mother and Father only knew she wanted to be.
She took a breath that shook more than she was willing to admit to. Let out one that trembled with the tears that made her vision swim. But she didn’t walk away from the doorway. Not yet. She needed to see this, needed to see her beloved, her stubborn ass Nhulynolyn, half dead despite every effort all of them could make to Heal him. Needed to look at him and see what was at stake if they failed.
Sure the Balance of the Worlds was the supposed real risk, but not for her. If they failed to get the line work drawn up properly and in time, if Rhyshladlyn failed to get free and burn the bridges that connected the Anointed One to the Grey Court, let alone the rest of the Worlds, it wouldn’t matter that Nhulynolyn had survived the attack on the cabin. Wouldn’t matter that Azriel had been spared for the sacrifice her mate had made. If Rhyshladlyn fell? So would they. So she stood in the doorway, shoulder tucked against the doorjamb and let the first tears fall, the only ones she’d shed since she’d screamed Nhulynolyn’s name while Thae’a and Jaro had hauled her back into the kitchen while everyone else had swarmed him. Memorized what Nhulynolyn looked like so that while she worked to get everything set up for Rhyshladlyn she never forgot what was truly at stake.
Wiping angrily at her face and the tears that stained it, she pushed off the doorjamb, turned on her heel and headed back for the front of the house, detouring on the way to grab a go bag from her and Nhulynolyn’s room. She’d ducked away from the meeting to say goodbye to the mate she had prayed fervently for centuries to come home to her, to come back so she could smell his skin when he slept beside her, could feel his lips on her neck just behind her ear, could hear his laughter and see his smile, could feel whole for the first time in too long. Had ducked away because she wouldn’t be here when Relyt and Sheieh arrived so what the fuck was the point of hearing the same rehashed issues over and over again? It wasn’t like they could actually decide shit all until Rhyshladlyn was back with them.
Staring at their empty bed that hadn’t been slept in since the night before they’d gone to the cabin together and gotten Rhyshladlyn’s journal, she swallowed the rest of her tears. Buried them under layers of fury, froze them for a time when she could let them out in full force. Stomping out of the room she made for the main part of the house where everyone was either clustered around the kitchen island preparing an evening meal or the dining room table going over logistics for the rescue attempt. She looked over them all and tried to remember that it wasn’t them she was angry with, that it wasn’t them that she was impatient with. But the Great Mother and Father forgive her, they were such easy targets.
Dropping her bag to the floor with a thud she snapped her fingers, calling Rhyshladlyn’s journal from the table to her hand. As all eyes turned to her she met them all one at a time, daring them to say something against her. Met them all as she vanished out her bag and the journal and crossed her arms, raising one eyebrow as she did so in a challenge that would only have been louder if she released her wings.
“We moving or what?” she asked, impatience coloring her tone despite the effort she made to keep it at bay.
“We just had some last minute things to–”
“It was rhetorical, Az,” she interrupted. The Anglëtinean growled lowly at the insult but she didn’t care. “We’re wasting time. Time none of us, but especially Nully and Rhys, don’t have. So I don’t care what you think still needs to be discussed, shelve it and let’s get fucking moving already.”
“Bayls…” Thayne trailed off at whatever expression was on her face when she looked at the Qishir.
“I’ll take Xefras and Xhesh with me,” she started and held up a hand when half of them opened their mouths to protest. “No more than those two will go with me. Xefras because he knows where we’re going and Xhesh because he can blink us out of range if we encounter shit we weren’t prepared for. But honestly? Fuck there being danger. Fuck waiting.”
“We have to make certain there’s no surprises, Bay,” Azriel implored and her patience snapped as she rounded on him with a snarl that made the air thick with humidity.
“If it were Rhys on that bed back there,” she pointed jerkily towards the hallway, “you’d have been gone the second you knew the location of the person who could save him. So don’t you dare give me that bullshit, Azriel Veratone. I’m not gonna stand for it. Not today. Not when my mate is dying while we debate whether our plan, whether Rhys’ plan, is full proof.” She huffed out a breath, closing her eyes as she counted to ten, willing herself to be calm before she tried again. “No plan is ever full proof when it comes to this family, Az. Ever. So I’m not going to bother this time. I’m just going to trust that we’re doing what’s right. I’m going to trust that Rhys knows what he’s talking about, that he knew we have his journal, that he knew I’d remember the plans he showed me and how to draw them, let alone that I recognized the very same line work when he Spoke an Oathing Sacrifice.”
Xefras blinked, looking astounded and she wondered what all Rhyshladlyn had told him about the Qishir’s past, what all the Dragaen had heard through rumor and stories. But she didn’t ask right then. It wasn’t the time for it.
“You ready to go, Xefras?” she asked instead. When he nodded she turned to Xheshmaryú who nodded before she could ask. “Good. Let’s get going then,” she clapped her hands and made for the front door.
Xefras jogged across the room until he was in step with her, Xheshmaryú two steps behind them. As the Dragaen ducked through the front door, Xheshmaryú following right behind him, Bayls stopped and looked back at everyone else. Looked at each member of the Grey and Honorable Courts and felt a prickling along the back of her neck. Recalled a Vision that had come in the form of a Dream what felt like lifetimes ago when things had seemed so much simpler and knew that it hadn’t been a warning about then but rather about now.
“Make sure that when Relyt does get here, Thayne and her Court aren’t here.”
“Why?” Alaïs asked.
“Because when Azriel confronts Relyt with the proof we have of his betrayal, he’s going to go insane. And it’s best if the only other Qishir powerful enough to face off against him isn’t here when it happens,” she answered.
“I don’t understand. Why would that matter?” Thayne sounded the most confused Bayls had ever heard her. But she didn’t reply, just stepped outside, closing the door behind her.
But just before it closed completely she heard Ishmariel rumble, “It’s in case they fail.”