It felt like hours before he pulled himself up from the ground. But he knew it had only been minutes, if even that. Still, his joints popped as he straightened up, as he released his near death grip on the railing, leaving behind perfect imprints of his fingers and palms. With yet another sigh, a sound he was so sick of making, he pushed his hands through his hair, taking solace in the way his hair-bells chimed and sang soft notes of his name.

He leaned over the railing and dipped his hands in the fountain’s pool. Cupped some of that cool, refreshing water in his palms and brought it up to splash his face, to lick off his lips as it dripped down in a manner not unlike his tears had. Dropping his hands back into the indents they’d made, he stared at the statue before him. Vaguely recognized that it was done in his likeness, or what he assumed was his likeness. After all, few Dhaoine in the Worlds had eight wings let alone were warriors who wielded two swords simultaneously. But that was where his assumption ended. Because he didn’t know really what he looked like now as he’d spent the last several decades avoiding mirrors, or any reflective surface really, with the single minded determination of a Dhaoine with something to hide. Or one who was running from something. 

“Rhys…” Nhulynolyn said from his right. Not close enough to crowd but enough for Rhyshladlyn to feel the barest waft of the Other’s warmth.

“Fuck,” he whispered, the word clipped at the end but no less vehement for it as it snapped out at the air like a slap to the face. “Shit just feels so wrong, like I’m lost, like I’m missing something major but no matter how hard I try, no matter what I do, it dances just out of reach.”

He looked away from the statue and sidelong at Nhulynolyn whose ancient eyes were staring straight at him. At the worry and confusion in those eyes, so unlike his own, Rhyshladlyn abruptly rain out of steam to talk. Was suddenly so tired of trying to find words for something he didn’t even understand himself. With a low, vicious Sinxhët curse he shook his head and turned away from the fountain, from the tears he’d shed at its feet, from the deformation he’d done to its railing with his hands, and made for the Palace. 

Nhulynolyn stopped his with a hand on his arm just below his elbow before he’d made it very far.

“Stop runnin’,” the Other hissed but it didn’t have any bite, not really. “Let me in, let me see what you ain’t have words for. We don’t need them, remember?”

Rhyshladlyn shook his head as his instincts all but roared at him that letting Nhulynolyn or any of his Others or Blood Oathed Triad see those things was a disaster waiting to happen. That the truth he was steadfastly ignoring would do a damage there was no recovering from. Best for him to figure it out himself and prepare for the fallout rather than scramble to save what he could in its aftermath.

Was it cowardly of him? Maybe. But fuck it. He’d done more than enough for the Worlds to be afforded a moment of cowardice every once and awhile.

“This is something I have to figure out on my own, Nully.” Rhyshladlyn pushed all the regret he had into those twelve words. The hand on his arm tightened before it released as the Other paced away a few feet and stood with his hands on his hips, head bowed so that all that fiery hair fell in a curtain around his face. “For all that I’m confused and lost and scared, my instincts tell me I have to discover what is wrong on my own. That there’s a lesson here that only I am supposed to learn, that only I can teach.”

“Gods but you make me violent sometimes, d’you fuckin’ know that,” Nhulynolyn growled and suddenly his vision was filled with six plus feet of pissed off, worried Otherborn and he blinked, leaning back to put distance between their faces not that that mattered much. Nhulynolyn just stepped closer, invaded his space, pressed in close until their noses were nearly touching. Until the Other’s scent, so similar to his own, overpowered the scents of the gardens around them. “I exist so that you are never alone. So that whatever lessons you teach or learn, I also teach and learn. You may have been my mirror, Rhys, but I am still your twin. I am the other half of you that you’ll never find in anyone else. So shut everyone else out, fuck it an’ them, whatever. But by the Old One’s perverted humors an’ dirty bed secrets, stop doin’ it to me.”

Rhyshladlyn flinched and reached out to Nhulynolyn on reflex, cupped the side of his twin’s neck with his hand and pulled him closer, ducking his head until their foreheads touched. His other hand flapped useless for a heartbeat before it came up and cupped the other side of Nhulynolyn’s neck as his twin made an exasperated sound low in his throat and gripped Rhyshladlyn’s hips. With a sound that made them both twitch, Rhyshladlyn dropped every Shield between them, opened every door, feeling like he was crawling into Nhulynolyn’s skin like one crawls beneath their blankets on a cold winter’s night. Allowed them to mesh Self to Self for the first time in centuries, so closely tied it was hard for him to know where he ended and Nhulynolyn began.

The last time they’d done this was the day he’d learned he was a Multitude, that his birth giver had performed a spell to keep him and Nhulynolyn from speaking, from utilizing their link. As soon as that spell had been negated, the rush of his Otherborn twin touching him for the first time had dropped him unconscious to the floor where he’d laid for hours. If he hadn’t been so strong, separating themselves again would have been impossible. But he had been made the kè for a reason, even if he didn’t know what that reason was or believe the right decision had been made, it was no less true.

As Nhulynolyn sifted through his thoughts and emotions and memories, through his dreams and nightmares and flashbacks that were real and yet made him wonder how they could be because they didn’t match with history or the present but felt like they were the truth far more so than what reality was at that moment, Rhyshladlyn tried to keep them just separated enough so that when he stepped back it wasn’t too jarring. Tried to direct the flow of information so that the important things could be read and known but certain things kept hidden. But it didn’t matter and he shouldn’t have tried. After all, nothing ever went according to plan where he and Nhulynolyn were concerned.

“Motherfucker,” Nhulynolyn disengaged with a violent jerk and Rhyshladlyn cried out as the doors and Shields slammed back into place with a ricocheting thud he felt in his bones. “You… holy… how did–” Nhulynolyn cut off and cursed long and dark in the language of the Otherborn while Rhyshladlyn stared at him, one hand rubbing idly at his sternum and the ache that had bloomed behind it.

But before either of them could say or do anything else, Shadiranamen appeared with a pop of displaced air.

“You are both needed back in the meeting hall.”

Nhulynolyn glanced at the Phuri before leveling Rhyshladlyn with a look that was equal parts fear and anger and worry. “In a minute. Got some shit we still gotta discu–”

“No. You are both needed,” Shadiranamen cut in, tone hard and all sibilant hisses, “right now. No delay.”

As the Phuri blinked away, Rhyshladlyn caught Nhulynolyn’s hand, squeezing it when his twin jerked in his grip once. It wasn’t an attempt to pull away, if he’d really wanted to get free, Nhulynolyn was more than capable of it. It was more a fuck you than anything else. But Rhyshladlyn held on, pulled so that Nhulynolyn stumbled forward a step, putting them nearly as close as they had been before.

“I will disclose that information when the time is right,” his voice was low, barely above a breath, a whisper full of pleading that he normally refused to show to anyone. “But please, keep it to yourself. And yes, even from Bayls.”

Nhulynolyn growled. “I cannot lie to my mate, you know that.”

“I’m not asking you to lie, I’m asking you to not proffer up the info.”

“Gods, why are you so difficult?”

It was a rhetorical question but he answered it anyway, “Because you’re annoying and a brat.”

Nhulynolyn rolled his eyes as he wrapped his free arm around Rhyshladlyn’s shoulders and pulled him close. They stood like that for a moment, until Rhyshladlyn relaxed in the Other’s hold, his own arms wrapping around Nhulynolyn’s waist.

“I love you,” Nhulynolyn whispered into his hair, breath making his hair-bells chime as it sent them tumbling over each other. “You annoy the shit outta me, but I love you.”

“I know,” he replied, smiling into his twin’s shirt. “I love you, too.”

The conversation wasn’t over, not by a long shot, but it was shelved for now. Which was just as well because seemed like there was more shit to deal with back in the meeting hall. Nhulynolyn kissed his forehead and disappeared with a soft pop and Rhyshladlyn took a deep breath, let it out slow, and blinked after him.

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