A/N: Welcome to book 2 of Fractured Magic! There are no words to express how excited I am to share this next arc of the story with you all. Things are going to get very intense from here on out. As always, comments and shares are very, very appreciated!
Many forests sprinkled the southeastern corner of Calaidia, but none were like Lyryma. Lyryma was an entity of its own, a mystery premised on a simple question: how did it exist? How did it thrive when the climate was all wrong? Where other southeastern forests were sparse and dry, with little canopy coverage, Lyryma was dense and humid, with canopy coverage so thick in some places that not even sunslight could fight its way through. In long summers without rain, when the surrounding forests suffered, Lyryma still thrived. In cold winters, when snow touched Gallontea and Creae valley, Lyryma stayed warm and green.
The road to Illyon cut through one of the forests surrounding Lyryma and followed closely parallel to Lyryma’s border. As Unity’s team traveled it, if they looked to the east, they could see the point where the trees transitioned, like a harsh line drawn in a sandbox. Where the shadows deepened, Lyryma began.
In the course of his lifetime, Roman had traveled this road many times. He knew, then, that most things were as they should be. He also knew that one thing was not. The forest was much too quiet. No insects chirped and no birds sang, and the only sound he could really hear – apart from sounds his team made – was the wind rustling through the dry underbrush.
He closed his eyes and tipped his head to the side, trying to listen.
Across from him, Gareth and Trinity discussed the merits of different popular academic journals. Across the camp, the security team huddled in their usual circle, discussing something in low tones. Approaching feet crunched nearby, and just in the distance—
Roman opened his eyes to find Leandros standing over him. Because of the warm weather, he’d forsaken his usual heavy layers for a simple, light tunic, it’s shade bringing out the ice blue of his eyes. His arms crossed and, at Roman’s surprised stare, he looked away. Roman couldn’t help it, though. This was the first time Leandros had willingly sought out a conversation with him, and they’d been on the road for nearly a week, now.
“I could use your help with something,” Leandros said, when Roman didn’t immediately respond.
“Sure,” Roman said, trying to keep the surprise out of his voice. He rose and followed Leandros through their small camp – hardly a camp, right now. They’d stopped for a late lunch, not bothering to unpack any of their wagons or belongings for the short break. Leandros stopped at his trailer, holding the door open for Roman and not looking him in the eye.
Roman hesitated only a moment before climbing inside. The inside felt even smaller than the trailer looked from the outside. It was plain and clean, barely lived in. Even so, and even if it was maybe a third of the size, it reminded Roman of Dinara’s trailer. His chest constricted a little at the thought.
“Roman,” Leandros said, in a tone achingly familiar to Roman. It was a little annoyed, a little exasperated, but still with some undercurrent of fondness. Or so Roman liked to think, anyway. It reminded him of a simpler, happier time in his life, and the pain in his chest eased.
“Sorry,” Roman said, realizing he’d stopped in the doorway. He moved to give Leandros space to step up, but the trailer barely fit the two of them, and Leandros had to turn sideways to slip past him. Roman tracked his movements. “Why am I here? I thought you didn’t want to talk to me.”
“Who said you’re here to talk?” Leandros said as he passed a small black bag to Roman. “You’re not going to like the answer.”
With a frown, Roman opened the bag’s clasps and peeked inside. “Oh, no. No, no, no. I can’t help you with this.”
“Roman,” Leandros said, his voice almost a whine. “It itches.”
“Get someone else to help! I’m sure there’s someone around with the right experience.” Roman pushed the bag into Leandros’ chest and turned to leave, but Leandros caught him by the wrist.
“Roman, please. I don’t trust any of them.”
The implication there made Roman pause. That Leandros would still trust him with this, after everything he’d done. He sighed, tugged his hands through his hair, and said, “Fine. Sit down and take your shirt off.”
Leandros did as Roman said, sitting on the simple cot and shrugging out of his shirt, exposing a chest wrapped heavily in bandage. Roman hadn’t been able to look the last time he’d seen Leandros like this, unable to bear the sight of Isobel’s needle and string, and he tried not to look too much now. He certainly tried not to notice how Leandros had filled out since they were younger, how his shoulders had broadened.
“You want me to…what?” Roman asked. “Take them out?”
Leandros nodded. “Are you going to be alright with that?”
Roman sighed and knelt on the ground beside Leandros. He really hated stitches. “I’ll be fine. Can’t say I’ll be as steady as Isobel would’ve been.”
“Steadiness is the last thing I’d expect from you, Roman.”
Roman pursed his lips. He’d deserved that. Carefully, he unraveled the bandage around Leandros’ torso, trying to touch skin as little as possible. First sanitizing his hands with the solution provided in the small bag of medical supplies, he then sanitized tweezers and scissors, finally finishing by cleaning the area around Leandros’ wound.
“Do you know what you’re doing, or do you need me to talk you through it?”
Roman studied the wound. It looked much better, ugly as the stitches were. “I know what I’m doing, even if I’d rather not be doing it.”
Leandros sucked in a sharp breath once Roman set about removing the stitches. It was a slow process, Roman taking it one stitch at a time and trying not to think about what he was doing.
“Leandros?” he said.
“Talk to me. I need something to distract me.”
“Do I really want you distracted when you’re holding scissors near my skin?”
“You do if you don’t want me to be sick,” Roman said.
Leandros let out a short laugh, almost making Roman stab him in the side.
“Careful!” Roman said.
“Sorry,” Leandros said. After a long pause, he said, “I don’t know what to talk to you about, Roman.”
Roman’s hands stilled. He remembered a time when the conversations between them flowed easily, when they could talk about anything and everything and nothing at all. “How’s your mother been?” he asked, voice teasing. When he glanced up, he saw Leandros biting back a smile, an expression the alfar corrected when he noticed Roman watching.
“Happier, now that you’re out of my life. As vicious as ever, if not more so. I don’t want to talk about her, now or ever. You should know that.”
“I do,” Roman said easily, “But it got you talking.”
That was enough to get Roman through the rest of the stitches. When they were all out, only a fresh, pink scar remained.
“Thank you,” Leandros said, once the wound had been cleaned a second time and Leandros was able to tug his shirt back on. Roman grinned and opened his mouth to reply, but Leandros cut him off. “Don’t push your luck, Hallisey.”
Roman pouted. “I wasn’t going to push anything. Leandros…”
He would have continued, but a scream from outside cut him off.
Leandros and Roman were both up in an instant, Leandros making it to the door first and practically throwing himself out of it. But he froze on the stairs, and Roman was forced to peek over his shoulder to find the source of the commotion.
It wasn’t hard. Quick shapes moved through the trees and within seconds, a group of oanai had encircled their camp.
Leandros drew his pistol, and across the camp, Evelyne and the other security team members drew their own weapons. Roman caught Leandros’ wrist at the same time Thea stepped in front of Evelyne.
“Don’t attack them! They’re not violent!” Thea cried.
“Ms. Fairfax, with all due respect, they have spears pointed at us. If that’s not violent, what is?” Evelyne asked, though she made no move to push Thea aside.
“The girl is right,” one of the oanai said, stepping forward. He lowered his spear, but the others still held theirs ready. “We’re not here to harm you.”
Leandros hesitated, likely weighing his trust in Thea’s abilities against their current predicament, then shook off Roman’s hand and put away his pistol. “Put your weapons away. They won’t help much in this situation, anyway.”
Roman did a quick count. There were at least ten oanai. For so many of them to be so far from Home, it couldn’t have been a coincidence that they’d run into the Unity team. This was a premeditated ambush. And even with a dragon, even with four of Unity’s Enforcers plus Roman on the team, they didn’t stand a change against ten oanai. The oanai were hunters, fighters. They knew how to take out prey quickly and painlessly. Roman had fought alongside them, and he had no desire to ever fight against them.
“You let them sneak up on us?” Roman asked Evelyne.
Her eyes widened, and she spluttered a moment. “Let!” she finally spat. “And where were you? What were you doing?”
“What does that matter? I’m not captain of the security team.”
Evelyne’s hand dropped to the hilt of her sword, and for a moment, Roman thought she might draw it despite Leandros’ order.
“Roman, do shut up,” Leandros said, finally stepping down from the trailer and into the camp. To the oanai who’d spoken earlier, he said, “We’re just passing through; we’ve done nothing to harm you or your kin. What’s the meaning of this assault?”
“We only wish to ask you some questions.”
“Hell of a way to go about it,” Ivor, one of the other security members, said. For once, his hands weren’t buried deep in his pockets. One rested on the hilt of the blade strapped to his back, instead.
“If that’s true,” Leandros said, ignoring Ivor, “Ask your questions and let us be on our way.”
The oanai who’d spoken looked at the others and said something in their own language. Another said something back. “No,” the first oanai said, turning back to Leandros. You must come with us to home. We’ll ask our questions there.”
Home was hours out of their way, and knowing how oanai politics worked, they’d be stuck there for days while Home’s Council argued and dragged their feet. Leandros cringed and glanced over the group, instinctively seeking Roman out. “What do you think?” he asked, quietly.
“I don’t think we have a choice,” Roman answered.
“He’s right,” Evelyne said, grudgingly. She eyed the circle of oanai around them, “Much as I’d love to teach these oversized deer a lesson, the diplomats’ safety is our priority. Let’s just get this over with, then.”
“Not you,” the oanai said. “Just the alfar.” His gaze then tracked over to Roman, still standing behind Leandros. “And him.”
“Leandros, you can’t let them split us up!” Eresh cried. “The mission guidelines from the Magistrates clearly stated we should all stick together in any situation-,”
“Captain?” Evelyne asked, interrupting Eresh and watching Leandros for his response. Her gaze was curious, the least hostile Roman had seen it.
“You’re in charge while I’m gone, Ms. Corscia. Wait for us until morning, and if we haven’t returned by then, continue on to Illyon without us.”
Evelyne nodded, catching Eresh by the collar when he tried to approach Leandros. “Listen to the Captain’s orders,” she told the dryad.
“Come with us,” the oanai told Roman and Leandros, turning and starting toward the forest. The two humans shared a look before following, three other oanai splitting off from the circle to follow them.
Evelyne watched dispassionately as they went. Six oanai remained. Six of them against four security members. Still not great odds for a fight. “You have what you wanted, don’t you? What are you sticking with us for?” she asked.
“To make sure you don’t go after them,” one of the oanai answered peaceably.
“You heard my orders. I don’t intend to break them,” Evelyne said. She dropped back down to her spot beside the fire, the rest of the team uneasily following her lead and settling in to wait. Theodosia Fairfax knelt beside Evelyne, her wide eyes fixed on Lyryma.
Evelyne hated Roman and she didn’t particularly care for Nochdvor one way or another, but for some reason, seeing the concern in Thea’s eyes made her uneasy. “They’ll be fine,” she said, voice low so the oanai wouldn’t hear. “If anyone can take care of themselves, it’s those two.”
Thea relaxed at that, a small smile stealing its way onto her face. “I believe it,” she said. “But we won’t really leave them, will we?”
Evelyne knew what her answer should be. She was under strict orders from the Magistrates, and leaving Leandros and Roman to Lyryma would not only fall within the bounds of those orders, it would solve all of her problems. She shrugged. “You heard what Leandros said.”
“I heard what he said,” Thea challenged, “But are you really going to listen to him? You’re in charge while he’s gone, aren’t you?”
Evelyne studied Thea a moment. She’d thought the girl timid, at first. Seeing her like this, her long hair coming loose from its bun and her green eyes boring holes into Evelyne, a smirk on her face that promised and withheld, she couldn’t possibly. “What do you propose I do?”
“Rescue them,” Thea said.
Thea smiled a little wider, encouraging, and Evelyne replied without thinking. “If they’re not back by nightfall, I’ll consider it.”
The transition from the earlier forest into Lyryma had been an obvious one. The foliage transformed around them: the trees grew taller, wider, stronger. The crisp fall air turned warm and humid. Roman looked around fondly, remembering all the times he’d wandered through this forest. After he’d escaped Unity, all those years ago, Lyryma had been his solace. Home had accepted him, let him live there for as long as he needed. They’d healed him when he’d been broken, or at least bandaged him up well enough that he’d been able to keep fighting. It had been during that time that he’d first met Leandros, actually.
He looked over at his friend, but Leandros seemed lost in thought. Roman wondered if he, too, was remembering, or if his obsession with this mission left him with blinders looking forward.
“How long has Lyryma been like this?” Roman asked, suddenly. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Leandros turn his way, frowning. Roman just couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something different about this wood. The shadows seemed deeper, the quiet stifling.
“Egil noticed that quickly,” the lead oanai said. “The forest has been unhappy, as of late, and that has made it unwelcoming. It’s no longer safe for even our best to hunt alone.”
“I don’t remember introducing myself,” Roman said.
The oanai glanced at Egil, then quickly away, his ears lowering almost sheepishly. “We’ve met. I don’t expect Egil to remember, as it was a very long time ago. I am Noss.”
“Pleased to re-make your acquaintance, Noss,” Roman said. “Even given the circumstances.”
It wasn’t Noss’ fault he was sent to lead this ambush, after all.
“And yours as well, Egil. It’s an honor now, as it was then. I hope you’ll forgive my bringing you along. The Council only requested the presence of Unity’s team leader, but I know seeing you will ease their fears.”
“Ah, so we’re off to meet the Council,” Roman said.
As if realizing he’d said more than he should, Noss pointedly focused on the path ahead, relaxing only when Roman changed the thread of their conversation. Leandros didn’t speak once the entire walk.
Though Lyryma had changed, Home had not.
The came upon the city built into the ground several hours into their walk. As always, soft melodies drifted up through the mist hanging over Home. Roman recognized some from half-forgotten Council meetings he’d attended. He used to join them just to hear the songs; he’d always loved music and stories, even if he couldn’t carry a tune himself, and the sweet music of the oanai had soothed his fractured soul when he’d needed it most.
Noss led them down stone steps, past the statue of Ellaes that watched over the city, and through Home to Central Field. There, several oanai waited, many of whom Roman knew- and knew well enough to know they were all senior members of Orean’s Council. They stood when they saw the approaching humans, offering low bows that Leandros and Roman returned.
“Egil!” Mani greeted, “We had not expected you! And young mister Nochdvor. It has been a long time. I’m happy to see you two are still traveling together.”
Leandros ignored the last comment. His normally warm voice now cold as ice, he said, “I’d always meant to return, but I never imagined it would be as a prisoner.”
“Please do not think of yourselves as prisoners,” Apa said. “You’re welcome guests, old friends.”
“Who aren’t allowed to leave until you say so?” Roman asked.
“You ambushed our camp with nearly a dozen armed hunters and forced us hours out of our way; forgive us if we fail to see civility in the situation,” Leandros said, voice cold.
“Then don’t,” another council member, Ioka, said. He looked at Roman, eyes narrowing into slits. “You’re with Unity now, too?”
Roman frowned. He’d never liked Ioka. “You still make too many assumptions, Ioka.”
“So you’re not on Unity’s payroll?” Ioka said, then nodded at Leandros. “And he’s not leading this team of Unity’s?”
“Ioka,” Apa warned. All three Council members had more gray fur than Roman remembered them having, the twisting horns on their heads grown even longer with age. “This meeting has not started well. Please, let us begin again. We brought you here because we’ve heard one side of the story and simply wish to hear the other. We have no intention of detaining you for long.”
Beside Roman, Leandros relaxed infinitesimally. His stony expression didn’t change, but Roman stood close enough that he could feel the tension drain out of him.
“Let’s talk elsewhere,” Ioka said. “This is a conversation that should be held privately.”
Roman blinked surprised. Home didn’t usually care for privacy. Meetings were public, parties were held for all of Home, and even the doors of individual homes tended to be left open for neighbors who wanted to chat.
The two humans followed the oanai to an old, unused building near the field, Noss trailing a respectful distance behind. It was a beautiful building, with images carved along the stone sidings, half-obscured by ivy. Roman couldn’t remember a single time he’d seen it used.
Inside, they were led to a dining room of sorts, its tables clear of food and its halls empty. The melodies of Home couldn’t be heard, here; when Ioka closed the doors, full silence descended upon them. The Council members sat around the low table– low for them, anyway. When Roman and Leandros sat, it reached almost to their shoulders.
“Forgive the precautions,” a Council member Roman didn’t recognize said. “We would prefer not to overwhelm the people of Home any more than necessary.”
“Overwhelm them?” Roman repeated.
“We’ve had so much news of the outside world lately,” the Council member explained.
“Well, we can see that. You knew enough to expect the team – how?” Roman asked.
Mani nodded. “We were tipped off to Unity’s plans by a trio of orinians that passed through. We’ve been waiting for your team for some time.”
“Oh, so they made it! I’m the one who sent them your way. Are they still here?”
“They made it safely back to Orean. Our daughter escorted them herself and returned just this morning.”
“I didn’t know you had a daughter,” Roman said.
Leandros elbowed him. “You told orinians about this mission?”
“In my defense, I wasn’t on the team, then. And after Unity abducted and arrested them, I felt they had the right to know.”
Leandros frowned. “They what?”
“Therein lies the cause of our concern,” Ioka said. “Unity has already taken hostile action against Orean. We sympathize with Orean and don’t want to see them come to harm, but more importantly, whatever happens between Orean and Unity, we don’t want to be pulled into it.”
“If you don’t let us go, you will be,” Leandros snapped.
“Leandros,” Roman warned.
Leandros’ hands curled into fists at his sides, but he forced himself to take a deep breath. “I understand your position. But if you didn’t want to get pulled into anything, you shouldn’t have interfered at all. Unity doesn’t care for me – they hate Roman – but if anything happens to us while we’re in Lyryma, they will blame you. It’s a matter of pride. They’re looking for an excuse to spark a conflict with you, just as they were with Orean, and by taking us from our camp you’ve given it to them.”
Roman watched Leandros with wide eyes, wondering just when he’d gotten so…competent.
“If you know this mission of Unity’s is an excuse, why are you helping them?” Ioka asked.
Leandros shrugged. “Because it’s an excuse that will get me my uncle back.”
“If we find Amos, Unity’s excuse will collapse,” Roman said. “They’ll have to leave Orean alone.”
“That’s assuming Orean didn’t do it,” Ioka said. “Didn’t take Mr. Nochdvor’s uncle, that is.”
“Yeah,” Roman admitted. “Would you side with them, if they did?”
“That’s what we are trying to decide.”
“Orean is where we’ll find answers,” Leandros began, “But I don’t believe Orean is behind my uncle’s disappearance.”
“How can you be sure?” Mani asked.
“I saw the woman who took him. She was orinian, but she was also something else, entirely. Her eyes glowed, she wielded magic. I’m not even entirely sure she was alive.“
Roman knew Unity hadn’t believed Leandros and Rheamarie’s story. But instead of immediately expressing disbelief, Home’s Council members began murmuring among themselves.
Finally, Apa said, “That sounds like the creature Leihlani saw.”
Roman and Leandros both sat forward at once. “What creature?”
“While escorting the orinians south, our daughter met with a strange creature. She claimed it was a red dragon, but one without a heartbeat. A strange glow filled the space between its open wounds, she said, but it still reeked of death.”
Roman looked at Leandros. “Did the orinian–,”
“You two…you will find who’s behind this, won’t you?” Apa asked. “If what you say is true, perhaps this kidnapper is also responsible for the darkness that’s befallen Lyryma of late.”
“We’ll find them,” Roman promised.
“We need to discuss this further,” Mani said. “Thank you for your patience. Please, for now, go enjoy Home. We’ll send someone to escort you back to your team once we’re finished here.”
Leandros pursed his lips, but Roman grabbed his wrist and dragged him out of the strange building.
Outside, Leandros tore his arm from Roman’s grip. “I knew we weren’t just imagining things!” he said, more to himself than Roman. “This is proof. Something strange is happening, here.”
“I’m starting to agree with you,” Roman said. He, of all people, knew magic wasn’t impossible. There was no other explanation for his own…transformations.“
“But why Amos? What’s the point of taking him?”
“And what’s a red dragon doing in Lyryma? The answers won’t come just from wondering, Leandros. There’s not much we can do until we get to Orean.”
“I hate that,” Leandros growled. “I’m sick of feeling helpless! I’m sick of playing these games, of waiting when I’m told to wait, of wandering hours out of my way because I have no choice in the matter. Every delay we face makes it more likely that my uncle– that he–,”
“He’s not going to die because we took a few extra hours getting to him, Leandros.”
“How do you know?” Leandros snapped.
“Because when I was an Enforcer, kidnapping and killing is what I did,” Roman said flatly, watching Leandros cringe. “You don’t kidnap someone just to kill them weeks later. Either you need them alive, or you kill them immediately. Keeping them around when you don’t need to is more trouble than it’s worth.”
“Is that supposed to make me feel better?”
“Yes. Either it’s too late to help him, or a few hours’ delay won’t make a difference. And this delay did bring us a step closer to understanding what’s going on, so you should be happy.” Roman started walking while he talked, Leandros following automatically. “I know how important this mission is to you, Leandros. I do. I know better than anyone how important Amos is to you. But I also know you, and you need to stop beating yourself up over every little thing that goes wrong.”
Leandros pointedly avoided looking Roman’s way. They passed onto the plush grasses of Central Field, Roman still leading Leandros along.
“There’s really nothing we can do right now, so take this moment to relax,” Roman continued. “We’re in the perfect place for it.”
Leandros sighed. He looked out across the field, to where a group of young oanai were gathered, one playing a sweet, trilling flute while the others danced. “I suppose you’re right.”
“That’s the spirit!”
Roman stepped further into the field, his feet moving to the beat of the flute’s song. He wasn’t even aware he was doing it, nor was he aware of Leandros’ gaze on him, soft and uncharacteristically vulnerable.
He closed off again when Roman turned to face him. “Do you remember when we met?” he asked.
Roman’s smile widened. It was the same charming, boyish smile that Leandros remembered. “Yes.”
“I thought you were such an asshole.”
Roman’s smile fell. “I saved your life!”
“You wouldn’t talk to me!” Leandros countered. His eyes again swept over the field. It had been on this spot, too many years ago to count, that they’d held their first conversation. “Then you got drunk on fae wine and wouldn’t stop talking.”
Roman laughed. “And that’s when you changed your mind about me?” He fell back onto the grass, patting the spot beside him.
After a brief pause, Leandros sat. “Yeah,” he admitted. Another pause. “I should’ve trusted my instincts.”
“Oh, come on,” Roman said.
Leandros snickered and laid beside him, and they stared up at the darkening sky in companionable silence. Roman didn’t know how much time passed like that, but he knew nightfall was nearing. If they had to wait much longer, it would be too late to travel safely through Lyryma. Beside him, Leandros must have been having similar thoughts, because he pulled out his father’s old wristwatch and scowled at the ticking clock face.
“I’m sure they won’t be much longer,” Roman said.
Before long, the sound of rustling grass and approaching hooves made him sit up, Leandros joining a little more slowly. They both climbed to their feet as the Council approached. “See?” Roman whispered, ignoring his growing suspicion that something was wrong. “What did I say?”
“We cannot allow you to return to your team,” Mani announced, voice somber.
“What?” Roman asked. “But what about everything we discussed?”
“This is a mistake,” Leandros said, voice low in warning. “When Unity finds out about this, they won’t forgive you.”
Mani flinched, whiskers twitching, but said, “Circumstances have changed.”
“What circumstances?” Roman asked. “What changed your mind?”
Out from behind the Council members stepped a nympherai woman. She’d traded her customary bright colors for traveling clothes, but even so, even after so many years, her face was unmistakable, as were the flame-like markings that licked across her skin.
She smiled at them, and there was so much false kindness in it that Roman wanted to scream. Or run, maybe. Without consciously meaning to, Roman took Leandros’ hand, squeezing it so hard Leandros looked at him in alarm.
The woman’s smile turned sad. “It’s been a long time, hasn’t it?”
When she took a step forward, Roman took half a step back.
“Devikra?” Leandros asked, like he didn’t believe what he was seeing. He didn’t drop Roman’s hand. “What are you doing here? What’s going on? Is this about a vision?”
“Isn’t it always?” Devikra asked with a sigh. “It’s good to see you again, Leandros.”
“You too,” Leandros said, not sounding sure.
“Egil,” Devikra began, reaching for Roman’s other hand. Roman drew back. He could hear his heartbeat in his ears, picking up the closer Devikra got. He shook with the exertion of staying calm, of letting that dark side of him take over. He couldn’t lose control in front of her. Not again.
And Leandros…he still didn’t know.
“Don’t touch me.”
“Egil, please, hasn’t it been long enough? How many apologies do I have to give?”
“There aren’t enough apologies in the world.”
Leandros looked between the two of them with wide eyes, then took a decisive step in front of Roman. “Dev, explain. Now.”
“I can’t. I need you to trust me, Leandros, and trust that this is for your protection. I’ve instructed the Council to keep you here until I’ve given the all clear.”
“Instructed?” Leandros repeated. “Why would they listen to you?:”
Devikra only smiled that same sad smile. “Just trust me?”
Unable to listen anymore, Roman tore his hand from Leandros’ and promptly stormed off in the opposite direction. He could feel his control slipping as he walked, felt the pinching pressure behind his eyes that meant they’d transformed. He expected Leandros to follow him, but he hadn’t expected him to run ahead and cut him off.
He wasn’t able to close his eyes in time, the alfar’s sharp gasp telling him that Leandros had seen. It brought on a fresh wave of panic, carrying the transformation further. He was sure his veins were glowing by now.
“Is she following us?”
“No. She’s talking to the Council,” Leandros said, his voice so steady that Roman risked a peek. He found Leandros giving him a look that was more concerned than afraid.
It certainly wasn’t the reaction he’d expected.
A warm hand took his own, and when Roman looked down, he saw the white light of his veins setting Leandros’ pale skin faintly aglow. Leandros pulled Roman away from Central Field, Roman following his lead easily.
With each step, the glow faded and returned to normal. By the time they stopped, well out of the Council and Devikra’s sight, he almost felt in control again.
“What just happened?” Leandros asked.
“I…don’t want to talk about it.”
Leandros pursed his lips, but accepted the answer without argument. “And Devikra? You used to be friends. What happened?”
“I don’t want to talk about that, either.”
Leandros let out a sharp breath. “Enough, Roman! I don’t need answers now, but I want them eventually. Can you at least promise you’ll tell me when you’re ready?”
Roman looked away, refusing to answer. Leandros made a frustrated noise, but before he could say anything else, they were interrupted.
“Egil! Mr. Nochdvor!” Roman flinched, but it was only Noss. “Lady E– Lady Devikra has requested that I show you to your rooms. Please, come with me.”
Rooms, as it turned out, was actually just one singular room that reminded Roman strongly of a prison.
That’s not to say it was cold or dirty; on the contrary, it was a pleasant sort of space, with oanai-sized furnishings and warm, muted colors. But the room had a single window, placed far too high up for either Roman or Leandros to look out, and an oanai guard stood just outside their door.
After all of the emotions Roman had cycled through in the last hour, he hated how stifling the space was.
“There’s only one bed,” Leandros pointed out.
Roman eyed the bed in question. “So there is.”
Leandros dropped down onto it, maneuvering so he could pull the blanket over himself without having to sit back up. “You can take the floor.”
Roman frowned. He knew Leandros was – rightfully – upset with him, but the bed was big enough to comfortably fit a full-grown oanai. “What, you don’t want to share? Worried you’d enjoy it too much?”
Leandros scoffed, then muttered something to himself. “I hate you.”
“I know,” Roman said, softly. He couldn’t look at Leandros anymore, so he turned away. “You’re well within your rights to. But I still wish you didn’t.”
A heavy pause followed the admission. “Roman…” Leandros sighed. There came the rustling of fabric, and Roman looked over to see Leandros holding the blankets up. “Just. Come here.”
Roman didn’t wait to be told twice. He climbed into bed, only pausing when Leandros said. “Put that lamp out, first.”
Roman did, turning the wick down into the burner until they were plunged into darkness, then settled down into the bed with a contented sigh. He’d been sleeping on the cold ground for over a week now, so the plush mattress and Leandros’ warmth beside him had him drifting toward sleep embarrassingly quickly.
“I don’t hate you,” Leandros said in a low voice, startling Roman out of it. “I miss you. I worry about you, and it annoys me when you won’t let me.”
There was a pause, then Leandros added, “Do me a favor and pretend you’re asleep so I can pretend you didn’t hear that.”
“Not a chance,” Roman whispered, a smile spreading across his face and something warm sparking in his heart.
Leandros groaned. “Maybe I do hate you.”
“No, no taking back what you said now.”
Leandros reached out blindly, giving him a light shove. It was too dark to see, so Roman hadn’t realized how close they were. Leandros seemed to have the same thought, because he yanked his arm back as if he’d been stung.
“That’s it,” Leandros sat up suddenly, throwing the blankets off both of them. “I’m not doing this.”
“What! What are you doing?”
“We’re breaking out of here. Damn Devikra and damn Home’s ‘hospitality.'”
A/N: There was ONLY ONE BED