12

“What is going on with you?”

For a moment Ishmariel stood frozen halfway around the corner, eyes locked onto the sight of Azriel and Rhyshladlyn in the middle of the corridor a few feet away. The former was looming over the latter, looking equal parts frustrated and concerned; the inches of height difference only noticeable in moments like this when Azriel utilized it. But where most Dhaoine would have shrank away from the male, for all that the Anglëtinean warrior cut an imposing figure even when he wasn’t trying to use it to his advantage, the Grey Qishir seemed utterly unphased. Just stood statue-still facing off against the displeasure and worry that buffeted the air around Azriel like waves against a shoreline. Just met those mismatched eyes with a blank expression and even blanker eyes, arms hanging loosely at his sides, the lines of his profile as sharp as Ishmariel was used to but softer somehow in the afternoon sunlight that filtered in through the windows.

The sunlight made the red in Rhyshladlyn’s hair brighter, turned his hair-bells into sharp flashes of light that shifted and twinkled as he moved subtly with his breathing. Standing there, the Qishir looked every ounce of the high-bred, gorgeous male he was; every feature spotlit by the setting sun. But for all that he looked warm and inviting, the way he stood, how engaged he was in the one-sided conversation, spoke to how cold he really was. At least in that moment.

And knowing how animated, how involved and focused Rhyshladlyn could be, it broke Ishmariel’s heart just a bit to see otherwise. Like the Qishir wanted to be anywhere else but standing before his Companion discussing the High Ones only knew what.

“Well? Talk to me, Rhys!” Azriel pressed when the Qishir remained still and silent. “Something’s going on, that much is obvious. I want to help, but how can I if you won’t talk to me?”

“To be fair,” Rhyshladlyn’s voice sounded as flat as his expression and his eyes, “I haven’t talked to anyone.”

Azriel growled lowly, “Was that supposed to make me feel better?”

“No,” Rhyshladlyn snorted, “it was just a statement of fact.”

The Anglëtinean huffed. “So no one knows what’s got you like this. Of course they don’t.”

“Why d’you suddenly give so much of a fuck?” Rhyshladlyn countered, the words like a punch to the gut. “Cuz I distinctly recall there being several months where it would’ve been easier to pull the teeth of Hound than trying to get you to notice fuck all around you. Especially if it had anything to do with me.”

Ishmariel clamped a hand to his mouth to muffle the shocked bark of noise that tried to escape at those words and ducked back around the corner and out of sight. This wasn’t just the typical lovers spat he had heard the Grey Qishir and Companion were known to get into on the occasion. This was… oh by the High Ones, this was way worse than that. This felt like a bridge was being doused in oil and Rhyshladlyn was watching Azriel hold the match, was waiting to see if the Anglëtinean struck it and dropped it to the bridge or tossed it aside.

And judging by the tone of Rhyshladlyn’s voice, Ishmariel didn’t think the Qishir believed his Companion was going to do the latter.

What?” Azriel spluttered followed by the sound of shuffling footsteps as he no doubt paced away to the wall and back again. “I have always given a fuck about you, Rhys, you know th–”

“You’ve had a funny ass way of proving that of late, Companion Azriel,” Rhyshladlyn interrupted, tone harder than stone and sharper than steel. It didn’t take someone knowing him well to hear the warning in those words, in that tone. Didn’t take knowing the stories that followed the mentioning of his name to know that Rhyshladlyn had gotten sick of waiting and had lit that match himself.

Ishmariel swallowed a curse and pressed his hand harder to his mouth as he closed his eyes. Those words were the precursor to a formal fight and in the middle of a random Palace corridor no less. I need to warn someone, this needs to not happen here. Problem was, the quickest way to the main section of the Palace where everyone else was was down the hallway Azriel and Rhyshladlyn were currently occupying. And even though Ishmariel knew them getting into a fight, physical or otherwise, was bad he doubly knew that drawing that attention to himself was worse.

So against his better judgment, and his instincts, he stayed right where he was. And prayed that the two males kept it to just words and underhanded jabs and a battle of tones that he knew only Rhyshladlyn and himself, and anyone else who had the unfortunate luck of happening upon this spat like Ishmariel had, could hear. Because Azriel sure as fuck didn’t.

“Are you still on that?” The Anglëtinean hissed in exasperation, hurt and confusion and something that tasted like regret coloring the words. There was more shuffling footsteps and soft thud.

“Yeah I’m still on that,” Rhyshladlyn bit back, each word a heavier blow than the one before it. “A better, more important question you should be asking is how could I not be.”

“Look…” A heavy sigh, another thud, “yeah… I-I fucked up, Rhys, I won’t deny that. But I’ve apologized, over and over again. I cut contact, I haven’t answered correspondences, nothing. And I… I just don’t know what else to do to get you to forgive me. Let alone believe I’m doing better. That I’m trying.”

There was a beat of thick silence filled with so much tension Ishmariel could taste it on the back of his tongue.

“Do you honestly think that’s enough? That it… that I should feel better because you did all of that?” The ambient temperature dropped so fast that Ishmariel watched his breath form small mist clouds as frost crawled down the walls all around him. “You only did all of that shit because I asked you to. And then, if what you did in the first place wasn’t bad the fuck enough, you didn’t even listen to my request. So I had to fucking make it an attend because gods fucking forbid you learn how to–” Rhyshladlyn cut himself off and cursed in a language that made Ishmariel’s bones thrum, that reminded him so much of when Nhulynolyn and his ilk would speak in the language of Others.

The walls and floor trembled as Rhyshladlyn’s power breathed all around him, searching for targets. Ishmariel stayed as still as he could, praying that he went unnoticed by that sweeping, cloying, deadly power. Though he doubted the Qishir didn’t know he had an audience, Ishmariel still didn’t dare move. After all it was only mid-afternoon, the Palace was always busy and this time of day was no different, but that didn’t mean he was stupid. Didn’t mean he wanted to make it obvious that what should have been a very private argument was very much not that.

“Words mean fuck all, Azriel Veratone,” Rhyshladlyn’s continued after a few tense moments. His voice was pure poison as it whip cracked out, shattering the frost his power flux had birthed. “And even if you had done anything that made up for… for…” another curse, in Tengú this time, “that it doesn’t mean I have to forgive you. Nor does it mean I owe you forgiveness. Not when what you did was shit I ordered of you when my requests, my pleas, went ignored.”

“But–”

Njiet!” The Sinxhët word bounced off the walls, beautifully melodious and terrifying all at once. Spoke volumes more to how upset the Qishir was than the temperature drop, than the taste of his power in the air. “You made a choice, Azriel. No one forced you, no one drugged you, no one coerced you. You chose to do such a stupid, stupid thing. Now you get to live with it.”

“Rhys, please, just… talk to me,” Azriel implored and Ishmariel didn’t need to look to know the expression on the male’s face; the way the Anglëtinean’s mismatched eyes were full of sincerity and pleading, one hand probably out stretched towards his Qishir who was likely stony faced, eyes dark and flashing. Unshakable in his decision to give his Companion not an ounce more of leeway than he already had.

High Ones prevail him, it hurt to hear this conversation.

“I’ve talked to you enough, Azriel,” oh I was wrong, hearing the resignation in his voice hurts way more “and I’m not doing it anymore. So if you don’t have shit to say to me that isn’t to do with this topic? Don’t fucking talk to me. I’m done.”

“Please, Rhys… Come on,” Azriel called. “Rhys!”

“Fuck off, you winged dick,” Rhyshladlyn snapped back. “Actions, choices, have consequences and I am sick of paying for yours.”

Pounding footsteps aiming for his end of the corridor had Ishmariel scrambling for a room, an alcove, but he didn’t make it in time. He was caught with his hand testing a doorknob as Rhyshladlyn swung around the corner with all the banked fury of a far off thunderstorm gaining speed. Froze as those orange-amber eyes landed on him, as that powerful body came to an abrupt halt. Distantly he heard Azriel stomping away in the other direction, the Anglë’lylel curses the male hissed as he went making Ishmariel flinch and hope that Rhyshladlyn didn’t understand that language.

But judging by the way the Qishir seemed to shrink in on himself, Ishmariel knew Rhyshladlyn understood every word.

When the only sounds were Rhyshladlyn’s breathing and Ishmariel’s heartbeat thundering in his ears and the muted noises of a bustling Palace, he let go of that door handle and marveled at how he didn’t feel afraid. If anything he embarrassed that he had been eavesdropping in the first place. That Rhyshladlyn had to come face to face with the reality that that painful conversation had been heard by another, and worse yet, that the Dhaoine who’d heard it was someone who knew him and Azriel. Even if it wasn’t Ishmariel’s fault they’d elected to have that discussion so publicly, he still felt bad about it.

And under that embarrassment, under that sympathy, there was a current of anger that Azriel had had the audacity to confront Rhyshladlyn like that about a topic that was obviously sensitive–never mind heated–in such a public place.

“Qishir Rhyshladlyn,” he effected a proper bow in the way of the Race, arms spread wide, releasing his wings to show the undersides. The only thing he didn’t do was bow low enough to show the back of his neck or drop to a knee. As the Honorable Warrior, he technically outranked Rhyshladlyn but he still wanted to show the Greywalker respect. Wanted to give his sympathies and show that at least there was one Dhaoine who Heard him, who Saw him, and expected nothing in return for it. “My sincerest apologies, I did not intend to eavesdrop upon you and your Companion. I was on my way back to the meeting hall and came round the corner to see you both and I… I merely wished not to interrupt.”

Those eyes regarded him with a cold detachment not unlike a wild predator deciding whether to kill its prey or let it go, body far more at ease than it had been in the brief glimpse Ishmariel had caught before he’d ducked out of sight. But the pain the Qishir was feeling was evident in the way those eyes were flat, the way his jaw twitched like he was grinding his teeth, the way his hair-bells were so very quiet when they normally never stopped chiming. And it made Ishmariel ache to see it, the instincts born of him being a qahllyn and Oathed Warrior demanding he soothe his wounds, even if Rhyshladlyn were not his Qishir.

Where is his Triad? Why are they not flocking to him in every attempt to ease him?

“Be at ease, Ishmariel,” Rhyshladlyn said at length, eyes losing their frigidity, but only by a fraction. “No offense is taken.”

“My innumerable thanks, Qishir Rhyshladlyn,” Ishmariel replied as he rose from his bow.

Rhyshladlyn nodded and started walking again. Ishmariel watched as he walked by, strides long and swift, those orange-amber eyes not looking at him once as he passed. Turned to follow him as the Qishir went around the next corner and disappeared from sight and rubbed a hand over his heart, feeling like something was squeezing his lungs. For in Rhyshladlyn’s wake the air was stagnant and filled with the barest hint of tears despite how Ishmariel hadn’t seen a single trace of them in the male’s eyes.

High Ones See and Keep us all. It took everything he had to let Rhyshladlyn walk away, to turn around and continue the way he’d been heading. The only thing that helped make it easier was the knowledge that he had a duty to tell Thayne what he had witnessed, what had happened. That and the need to make Rhyshladlyn’s effort to not shed the tears Ishmariel had smelled worth it.

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