Men’s voices: the first deep and soothing, yet with a note of irritation.
“She’ll be fine. You fret worse than a woman, which is why I do not live with one.”
I was warm, and rested someplace soft though I wasn’t quite to the point where I could stir and so I listened. The next was strong and familiar to me, and held a strain and sorrow to it that broke something in my heart to hear.
“I failed her; I failed her and look what they’ve done to her.” A light touch settled on the back of my hand where it rested on my stomach and stayed there.
Another voice, masculine and still, yet lighter than the first.
“So we pay them back Aal. We send every last one of them back to their bind points and with any luck, back to the aether they were born from, never to be seen or heard from again.”
I frowned and a fourth voice came to me.
“She’s waking up.” This voice too was familiar, light and playful as ever: Toxemia. I dragged myself up out of the depths of my slumber and gripped Aal’s fingers with my own where his hand rested on mine, and said the first thing that came to my mind.
“I missed you.”
Nervous laughter flittered through the room from the other three men; I heard the first voice, Nepech say,
“Welcome back baby doll.”
I opened my eyes and blinked several times waiting for everything to come into focus, Aalairius sat on the bed by my side, he looked so terribly drawn, his complexion nearly gray from exhaustion, his expression pinched with worry. I smiled at him and traced the stubble on his cheek with gentle fingers, tears springing to my eyes. Tears glittered in his own as he leaned forward and kissed my forehead.
Toxemia leaned in the doorway to mine and Aal’s bedchamber. Nepech sat in one of our small galley chairs at the foot of the bed, his lover Astat and the owner of the second voice stood beside him leaning against the armoire. Astat’s voice did not match his body; he was broad of chest and shoulder and so solidly built it was hard to believe he was a sorcerer for he looked more suited for plate than cloth. I blinked.
“What? Did Sin send the best in the Legion to watch me sleep?” I asked. They all laughed.
“Nah, we loves you Sirona, and Aal needed the company.” Tox said pushing off from the doorway to sit beside the bed on the floor where I could see him better.
“I’s loves the Tox too.” I said, falling into our playful banter. Tox grinned at me and I smiled back, still holding onto Aalairius’ hand firmly. I turned my head to take them all in.
“How long have I been… asleep?” I asked. Astat answered me.
“Almost two days. Telemos had his work cut out for him; your legs were pretty bad, he said he wouldn’t be surprised if you were out for three or more.” He fell silent as Nepech sat forward intent on me.
“Tell us who they were baby girl, Astat and I will tear apart the Abyss and Asmodae and bring you their back hair for a rug.” Tox laughed but the fire in Nepechs eyes frightened me. I wasn’t aware he and Astat liked me very much, I hadn’t ever spent much time with them, and our assignments within the Legion usually did not bring us near one another. I closed my eyes the image of the sorceress Kuraia and the assassin Switchkin surfacing behind my closed eyelids. I flinched and opened my eyes when Aalairius touched my face, smoothing his thumb along my jaw.
“Hey, no… It’s okay.” He said his brow creased with worry. I smiled a little weakly and all four men looked grim. Tox piped up first.
“You’ve been screaming a lot in your sleep. Cursing too, you punched Astat in the face and told him you wouldn’t tell him anything even if the world was ashes and there were no secrets left to keep the last time anyone tried to calm you down.” I felt my face color a deep crimson with embarrassment and looked to Astat at a loss for words. He laughed.
“It’s okay you have a good right hook. I’d hate to be a Furback on the other end of it when you actually mean it.” He grinned at me and I smiled back… I remember telling the sorceress that at one point, and I had punched the assassin… Switchkin had smiled at me then, he had smiled at me and reached for another one of his knives.
“I think I’m going to be sick!” I blurted. Tox jumped back and Aalairius let go of my hands so I could move as I went up on my knees and scrambled for the washbasin in the corner. I made it, and was rather indelicately sick into the porcelain bowl. Aalairius knelt beside me and held my hair back, rubbing useless circles on my back in an effort to comfort. I knelt on the stone floor covered in woven rush mats and waited for my stomach to calm. Astat handed me a tankard of clean water.
Nepech had stood and was as straight as an Egrasi rod, the cloud of almost palpable anger swirling around his head and shoulders again. I put my back to Aalairius and leaned gratefully into his embrace and away from the mess and got a look at my legs. They were scarred as they had been in Asmodae from the knees down, though better healed; the faded white of old scars as opposed to the rosy pink of new.
“They look a lot better.” I commented, my voice sounding hollow. Aalairius held me tighter and I tipped my face up to see his. He looked so stricken and it wrenched my soul to the point I put my hand to my chest above where the first button of my beloved’s shirt that I wore was clasped.
I put my hand against the floor and shaky, and with the aid of my lover I slowly stood. It wasn’t terrible, it hurt a bit at first, a deep ache in my bones and the searing pull of tight muscles but eventually I stood with no aid and though Aalairius spotted me I took a few tentative steps.
“Right, I’ll go tell the Legion.” Tox said grinning and was out the door as I asked…
“Tell them what?”
Aalairius lifted me, swinging me up into his arms and brought me back to our bed, settling me on it. He pulled the blankets over my lap even as Astat took his lover by the shoulder.
“You two need some time. We’ll see you tomorrow night.” He said as he steered Nepech out the door. I was confused. Our bedroom door closed behind them and suddenly we were alone. I drank in his features as he knelt beside the bed holding my hands in his and suddenly there were tears. Not in my eyes but in his and he laid his head in my lap and sobbed and said…
“I’m so sorry I failed you.” His shoulders shook with his grief and I rested my hand lightly in his hair and the other on his back.
“Shhhhhh you didn’t fail anything.” I soothed. He held to me as if it were the last he was to ever see of me, his arms locked around my middle, behind my back and I did the only thing I could… I rubbed useless circles on his back and made gentle sounds until he was all right again. Although I am not sure he would ever allow himself to truly be all right after his perceived transgression, even though I was firm that none had been committed, at least not by him.
I trained my thoughts away from Elethor and simply sat with my beloved, cradling him against me…
Aion, how was I to do this?