She stalked through the corridors with no real destination in mind. Just needed to put as much space between her and the meeting hall as possible. Which was dumb, really. What she was running from wasn’t a room or a group of people, it was a feeling. One that followed her like the scent of her Qishir’s tears and the emotions he hadn’t shown or felt when he’d stopped her from calling Relyt a coward before both Courts.
Feeling like she was being watched, she looked up and came to an abrupt halt at the sight of Rhyshladlyn leaning against the wall beside the open door to her and Nhulynolyn’s rooms. Shocked to realize she’d walked clear the fuck across the Palace and remembered nothing of the trip. But that was what happened when one was so deep in their thoughts, trying to untangle shit that was so knotted it was easier to just cut it and try to braid it back straight afterwards.
“You need to stop trying to provoke him,” Rhyshladlyn said softly the second she looked at him, tone conversational but not in the way that said she’d walked into dangerous territory and either needed to run the fuck away or die where she stood.
With his arms crossed loosely over his chest, head bowed, bell-laden hair falling forward into his face and hiding his eyes, he looked at ease. Nonchalant, like he was utterly unbothered but anything. And if one didn’t know what to look for, one would definitely fall for it. But she did know what to look for, knew that the one thing that always gave away what Rhyshladlyn was really feeling, where his head was really at was his eyes. But when one couldn’t see those? The small things in his body language gave it away just as loudly.
She could tell by the way those orange-amber eyes glowed brightly enough to sending sparks of light dancing on the floor at his feet that he was righteously upset. Could tell by the set of his shoulders, the way his fingers dug into his ribcage, the way the muscles of his arms and legs twitched, that he wanted to pace but was denying himself. He was coiled and ready for anything, but it was more than his normal. Like he was wound so tightly that if he startled, she would bet money that he’d rip a seam or five on his tunic, it was stretched so tightly across his chest and shoulders.
He wasn’t looking for a fight like she was, wasn’t searching for an outlet for the emotions filling his head to bursting like she was. But he had presented himself as the perfect target. Which was wrong, so very wrong, and she knew it was but he was here and her primary target wasn’t. That and the Great Mother and Father only knew that she never did handle being scolded well. At all.
“I’m not provoking fuck all,” she quipped and walked passed him into her sitting room. Just as she expected him to, Rhyshladlyn pushed off the wall and followed her inside. Like he lived here, like the common courtesy of being invited in applied to everyone but him. And if she wasn’t so irate at the Worlds in general, she wouldn’t have cared as much, but as it was that only added fuel to her anger. “I’m calling him out on his shit. Something no one else seems capable or willing to do lately. For some stupid ass reason.”
As she flicked a hand at the hearth to spark off a fire, Rhyshladlyn sat in a chair that gave him a perfect view the windows and of the doors that led to the bedroom, the bathroom suite, their shared office space, and the main door that led back out into the corridor. Speaking of… She blinked. He hadn’t closed it. What the fuck? Their disagreements tended to get loud if only because she didn’t have volume control when she was emotional and Rhyshladlyn’s natural orator skills made it impossible for his voice not to carry unless he was making a concerted effort. But there it was, the front door wide the fuck open. Inviting anyone walking by to eavesdrop on their conversation.
“Bayls, leave him be,” Rhyshladlyn said tiredly. “There’s no good to be had of poking at Relyt and you very well know that.”
Okay fuck that. “Oh, and there’s good to come out of being silent?” she growled, rounding on him and trying to swallow the urge to throw shit at him when she saw he wasn’t even looking at her. Was scolding her for standing up for him when no one else did, for giving a fuck and he wasn’t even going look at her. That’s just rude. “You’re obviously not okay, Rhys, and sorry but I’m not going to sit by and let that go on when it’s obvious who’s partially to blame.”
Those orange-amber eyes swung to her then and she recoiled at the intensity of them. Not to say they weren’t always intense, looking into those eyes was what she imagined looking into sentient fire would be like. Looking into them one saw the weight of millennia, an ancientness that outdid even what darkened Nhulynolyn’s eyes from time to time. An ancientness and a cold calculation that told whoever looked long enough to see it that Rhyshladlyn saw every single Dhaoine in his view as expendable, some more so and more quickly than others, but every last one of them were that nonetheless.
And she saw that calculation now though it was a bit different than normal. It was warm, the kind that a good, thick blanket on a cold day brought on; slow and creeping until all at once sweat was pooling at bent elbows and dripping down the back of knees and the air was too thick, but one knew the second they pulled off the blanket they’d miss the warmth it provided. And so one slowly, carefully and purposefully, baked alive.
Not a question, not a request, only partially an order. And with that look in his eyes, Bayls knew she wasn’t talking to her friend, to the Dhaoine who had made certain that she didn’t draw her sword on him all those centuries ago in Shiran City, that he saved her because otherwise she wouldn’t have survived to the next dawn. No, this was the Grey Qishir, the only living Greywalker, the legend and myth of Rhyshladlyn Ka’ahne given flesh and blood and sitting all coiled graceful violence in one of her fucking sitting room chairs. Gods where the fuck is Nully?
“You really need me to spell it out for you like you’re slow?” she asked with a shrug instead of answering.
It wasn’t being evasive, not really. She just didn’t want to throw in his face shit that he wasn’t ready to handle yet. For the least safe thing anyone could do with regards to Rhyshladlyn was call him on shit he wasn’t ready to see yet.
“Well since you obviously think I’m incapable of defending my own honor and taking care of myself… then yes. Spell it out to me like I’m slow,” Rhyshladlyn quipped and she glared at him.
The bastard just shrugged one shoulder, the move so similar to Nhulynolyn that a bit of her anger drained out of her. He relaxed back in the chair, eyes unwavering as he stared at her, hands resting on the arms of the chair, his hair framing his face, his hair-bells catching the firelight and glinting with it, their silence unnerving because it meant Rhyshladlyn was completely still. Something he never was.
The statement was a trap. It was obvious in how calm and collected he was just sitting there, watching her debate whether to step into his trap, back track and switch topics, or just spend the remaining hours between now and dinner locked in a silent battle of wills. But the problem was she couldn’t see where the trap was and that made her nervous and itchy. She’d never liked going toe to toe with Rhyshladlyn when it came to mental games, he was an adept that no one, not even his twin, could hold a candle to. Even when he was asleep and emotionally compromised, Rhyshladlyn still out did them all.
A byproduct, no doubt, of growing up as Anis-pig fucking-lanzir’s favorite toy. But sometimes, like now, it irritated the fuck out of her.
“I never said you were incapable of fuck all, Rhys,” she replied finally and walked over to drop heavily onto the couch that faced the hearth, keeping him in eyesight. If she purposefully chose to sit here because it also put a low table between them? Well, so what. That was just good self preservation at work. “Well, maybe handling your emotional shit, but who in this damned family isn’t shit at that?” Rubbing a hand over her face and into her hair she sighed and slouched against the back of the couch, eyes staring at the flickering flames in the hearth. “I’m just worried about you, Rhys.”
“But what’s going on with me isn’t your concern, Bay,” his tone was flat, factual. It didn’t lessen the bite of the words in the slightest.
She raised an eyebrow at him. “Why? Cuz I’m not fucking you or qahllyn to you?” She rolled her eyes and flapped her hand dismissively. “Cut the shit, Rhys. I’m married into the damned family. So even if I didn’t consider you my brother, you’re that regardless by virtual of me having mated to your twin.”
“No because my issue is something you wouldn’t be able to understand,” he ran a hand through his hair, sending those bells tumbling over each other without a sound. “Not because I think you aren’t smart enough to or anything remotely like that.”
“Then why? Why won’t you talk to me, or anyone?” she pressed, not caring that she was walking a very fine line. But gods prevailing, she was sick of seeing him suffer alone and in silence.
“Because I am a Qishir and it has to do with the caste I was born to,” he answered and she felt her heart break just a little at the loneliness in his voice. “And for all that Thayne is also a Qishir, her duties are greater than listening to me vent and whine about my shit. ‘Specially when I barely know why I feel the way I do.”
Bayls stared at him for a moment before saying softly, gently, “I may not be a Qishir, but you can still talk to me.”
But he wasn’t going to. Not about that, not right now, maybe not ever. It was hard not to feel hurt and disappointed. Fought to keep her face empty as Rhyshladlyn leaned forward, forearms braced on his knees, fingers loosely linked, his hair-bells letting out a single, soft chime.
“Why don’t you pick fights with Azriel or Tee or Adïm? Or fuck, anyone else in the Court? Cuz aside from my Others, my sister, and you, I’ve got an issue with every last one of them. But you only go after Rel. Why?”
The answer was a simple one: Relyt was at the top of her fuck this bastard up list. Everyone else had places on the list for a variety of reasons, but Relyt just took the lead at some point and kept it. But that wasn’t a good enough answer. It was a reaction, the conclusion to whatever caused her to feel this way. But it didn’t answer his question.
Looking back at the fire, she tapped her fingers against her thighs and tried to put words to how she felt, tried to find the why, or as close to it as possible. What she came up with still didn’t feel good enough but it was better than nothing.
“I always had a hard time trusting him ever since that Dream from back before the war,” she started, trying to find the best way to word her jumbled thoughts. “But now? Now it’s worse. He makes my skin crawl. When I’m around him I feel like I could bathe for a week straight, rub my skin so raw it comes off my bones, and I still wouldn’t be able to get rid of the stain his mere presence leaves behind.” She glanced at Rhyshladlyn and seeing the hard, flickering expression in his eyes, the threat that was on the tip of the tongue he wet his lips with she shook her head. “No, he hasn’t done anything to me to make me feel this way. Never once raised a hand to me, not unprovoked at least. But…” she trailed off and sighed, “but that’s all I have. I don’t know how to explain it besides that.”
They were quiet for a few minutes, the air charged with things unsaid, but none of those unspoken things felt heavy. It felt like Rhyshladlyn was itching to spill some shit but was holding himself back. Like the time wasn’t right or something. She wasn’t going to press him though, knew it wouldn’t get her anywhere. Even if all she wanted to do was close the distance between them, grab up fistfuls of his shirt and shake him until he talked, she wasn’t going to. Especially because the last time someone’d done that, a shadow had flickered behind those orange-amber eyes right before he’d punched the offender in the face hard enough that the bystanders saw stars.
She frowned, blinking as a headache started to form behind her eyes. That had been such an odd though to have. She’d never seen anyone stupid enough to put their hands on Rhyshladlyn like that. Want to and say as much? Sure. Actually do it? No.
But she couldn’t shake the feeling that the visual hadn’t been a by-product of being so tired and wired up from the almost-fight and everything else going on, but rather had been a memory.
“It’s like some old ass instinct is screaming not to let him too close,” Rhyshladlyn spoke up finally, voice quiet and hesitant, pulling her from her thoughts with a jerk, “because you won’t survive the encounter.”
“Yeah,” she looked at him and found he was staring at the fire, face contorted around emotions she couldn’t really read but sensed that she didn’t want to. “That’s exactly it.”
A thought dawned on her then and she sat up straighter, leaning forward into a pose that almost mimicked his own. It was such a bad idea but she’d made it a day for them, so fuck it.
“Is that why?” she asked, bringing that attention around to her again and when they locked stares she wasn’t worried, wasn’t afraid, didn’t recoil. Instead she took comfort in the weight of it, the intensity it held. Searched a face that was as unreadable as a steel, as perfectly portioned as though someone had sculpted him. Searched eyes that were glowing suns captured at the height of sunset, all golds and oranges and the tiniest flickers of red at the edges.
Rhyshladlyn raised an eyebrow, confusion flickering through his stony expression, a silent urge for her to elaborate. And for a brief moment she didn’t want to. She really didn’t want to, but her need to know outweighed her logical reasoning. And probably more than a little bit of her self preservation.
“Is that why you didn’t make the Oath back to him?”
The second she asked she wished she hadn’t because as Rhyshladlyn’s face closed down, eyes losing their glow and he pushed to his feet, she had her answer but it cost him. It was one thing for her to have speculated out loud in front of the whole Court that Relyt’s Oath was one sided because Rhyshladlyn didn’t trust him, it was another entirely for her to have done that and been right. Wished she hadn’t asked because the second she had her answer, however unspoken it remained, Rhyshladlyn now couldn’t hold that knowledge close to the vest anymore. Couldn’t pretend that everything was fine. By the Great Father’s massive balls, I need to learn to shut the fuck up while I’m ahead.
“Stop poking at Relyt, Bayls,” the Qishir called over his shoulder as he walked to the door, the dismissal clear. “For all that he’s a shit and no one seems to trust him anymore, he’s still my Steward however halfway Oathed he may be.”
“I’m not gonna give him a pass cuz he’s your Steward, Rhys. Sorry but fuck that.” She paused, swallowed and added, “With great respect.”
Rhyshladlyn’s laughter made her flinch. “Of course it is,” he shook his head, gripped the doorjamb with one hand and sighed. “Just leave him be, Bay. Please.”
Before she could say anything else, he ducked through the doorway and disappeared from sight, the doors closing behind him with a muted thud. The silence that followed was loud and terrifying because in the nearly five hundred years she’d known the male, she could count on two hands the number of times he’d said please.