I stared, still and silent with some un-named emotion, at the dragon. Being too large to fit in the doorway large, purple, and winged, he was in his humanoid form. He wore a strange expression, and I struggled to understand it. It was happiness, mixed with pain, sorrow, guilt...and gratitude, I was surprised to find. He had tears shining in his eyes, and I did not think them merely of sadness. I had forgotten about his telepathy...and wondered how long he had been listening out of sight, and was afraid to think it. It seemed there was much of that in my mind lately...fear. I dared to ask him as much, though my voice wasn’t as defiant as I wished. I moved to sit up, facing away from the Shadowsong. I wanted a better visage to face this gentleman, who I was still instinctively quite formal with. The Shadowsong begrudgingly allowed me to move, knowing my preferences, but he arranged himself in a half-propped position behind me. He had his hand on my leg, not restraining me, but just enough to make it clear that the warning in his face still stood. I was confused at his blatant protection of me-did he not just tell me that the dragon was safe?-but I kept silent. Had he wanted it spoken, he would have done so himself.
Rori took his good time in answering, watching both the Shadowsong and I closely, gauging our respective reactions. His expression changed only to add a bit more grief than had been there before. I thought I saw a glimmer of fear flit through his tear-brightened eyes, but it disappeared quickly enough that I couldn’t be sure. He took a breath, shakier than his still stature led to believe. “Since ye were to be screamin’. Ah heard ye screamin’.” I looked at him oddly, confused, then quickly looked at both the Brown and back at the Shadowsong. The Brown held up his hands in denial of an answer, but the Shadowsong seemed as confused as I, but more unsettled. It did not reassure me. Rori shook his head. “Nay, ye screamed in yer mind as ye slept. Ah was to be findin’ the Brown, tellin’ him...an’ he was to be bringin’ me here.”
“So that’s who Shadowsong was looking at over my head...” It was my turn to have fear dance my face, and it was not slight. He read my mind too well and over too much a distance, for my liking...how much had he heard? Why? What would he do with it? Panic started to rise, a slow roil in my mind.
He must have heard my thoughts again-and realizing it did even less to reassure me-because he quickly held up his hands, and hastily replied. “No, no...ah not to be betrayin’ ye...not like they did...not like they did.” His voice grew faint, and there were glittering tears that fell down his face at this, albeit a scant few only. Had I not been so terrified of what information he could now have to use against me, I would have believed him, terrified or not. “How do I know?”, I whispered. I saw the Brown’s wings twitch in agitation, though I had not managed to yet read his face. Another streak of fear shot through me, and suddenly I couldn’t breathe nor see. And then I felt the Shadowsong sit up, and pull me against him, wrapping his arms around my waist in support. I was grateful for it, and grasped his hands hard, leaning back against him.
The Brown had, during this exchange, come slowly closer to us, and was now standing a few feet behind him, within sight but just out of touch. His face was shuttered, not coldly so, but in thought that he did not wish to betray yet...simple neutrality. As a diplomat, he was skilled at such displays, and at doing so without putting off others. “You know, because I trusted him enough to lead him to you. You know better than to think that I do not know exactly what I lead to you there, love. Do you think I would allow you to be harmed or used there?”
His voice was soft, but slightly injured. He was in part insulted, and I did not blame him-my fear could easily imply a lack of trust in him, his abilities, his handling of his duties, his word, and his care of me. I knew it, and thus was afraid of retaliation-I had seen his temper loosed and I feared him angry-but I did not intend it. But he did not look angry...he understood my fear, this time. I gave him an agonized, guilty look, my voice faint. “No...no, love. But...you know why I take the care I do.” I was shaking now, the fear coming too close to breaching my control. I feared the dragon who wanted me as a student, and through no fault of his own, I feared my own lover.
The latter put his hand on Rori’s shoulder, silently asking entrance, which he was quickly granted. Rori could read my face as well as my lover could. The Brown quickly and smoothly knelt in front of me, coming down to my level. I was humiliated by my lack of control in front of Rori, who was not family, but the Brown seemed not to care one whit. He put his left hand on the side of my face, and set his right to stroking my rumpled hair out of the way. He brought my face close to his, leant his forehead against me. “Trust me...I would never bring you to harm.” His voice held veiled pleading, which only one who knew him could hear. I looked up at him, at that, daring to hope. He smiled, and continued in my mind, where only I could hear. “He was himself frightened...too much so to wish to betray you, too purely so to be a feint. He likes you.” My face changed from one of barely-dared hope to sheer dumbfounded shock, and a hint of an amused smile flickered over his face. “I daresay enough to be treating you as clan, mayhaps even a lover, unless my eyes deceive me. Do not foresake him so soon.” Out loud again, he continued. “Listen to what he has to say.”
I closed my eyes, drinking in his scent-night, velvet-blue, starlight shining sharp as a keen-edged blade and just as beautiful, and shadows dancing over a lotus-filled pool-as I had done with his brother earlier. His scent was as intoxicating as his brother’s bardic voice, but this time it was not as easy to calm myself. I shook, hearing the Brown murmuring his own Elvish in my mind, feeling his hands at my hair and shoulders, strong and reassuring. I felt annoyingly small, and dearly wanted to cling to him, and he knew it. But I was too proud to express as much in front of an effective stranger, and that he knew also. He waited, and allowed me what time I needed, left hand on the side of his face, right hand on his chest above his heart. Had his jerkin not been so well-made that it allowed no give in the fabric, I would have been bunching my fingers in it.
When I could control my fear enough, I nodded, just enough for him to feel. He smiled, nodded in return, and kissed me briefly but tenderly before rising to stand just inside the doorway opposite Rori. Dear love of mine...he knew well that that simple six inches did much to soothe my fears. How he’d learnt that so fast, I would never know, nor cease being grateful for. He looked pointedly at Rori, whose pained expression still held so much fear and guilt. The Brown nodded, and Rori took a deep shuddering breath. “...May ah give ye more sights to be seein’?”
Confused, I looked at him, his eyes pleading, and had a flash of memory swipe my mind. I remembered the pool, when he had leant against my forehead, showing me his home...I nodded. “Y-yes.” I rearranged myself, so that I was sitting so that I did not distance one inch from the Shadowsong, but was well able to allow Rori to comfortably reach me. Slowly, he broached the five feet between doorway and nest side, and knelt almost exactly where the Brown had. He brushed his fingers lightly down the sides of my face, and it surprised me to find it was as pleasant for me as it is for a housecat to have it’s fur stroked. I closed my eyes, instinctively purring-much to the amusement of the Brown and the Shadowsong, both quietly chuckling-and I felt Rori smile and lean his forehead against mine again, not releasing my face.
I heard it, as a faint caress in the corners of my mind, but before I had time to exclaim in surprise, the memories started.
Banishment. That’s what their faces all said, the faces of the dragons looking at him. It whispered scathingly in the air around him. Anger, hatred, ill-intent...it was in their faces, all of them, as they all slowly turned to greet him, one by one, as he left his sleeping-place for the morning.
He knew. He knew what sentence had befallen him before he was forced to execute it. I felt his fear, his pain, his grief, as he turned and fled, as fast as may be. No time even to gather his most valued possessions, little though that would have taken.
They pursued him, one of them scoring deep into his right flank before he took off. I felt the pain of the muscles being ripped, felt the hot, steaming blood dripping, falling, to the earth. I felt the cost of the effort from flying with such a wound, and I heard his mind. “Why? WHY?!”, he screamed to the sky in his mind. The agony of betrayal, of banishment, without so much as a trial or a word...to receive such a sentence in court is a nigh-execution in and of itself! To pronounce it while he was asleep? That was almost more of an attempt on his life! Or, possibly...a boon, if attacking him in his sleep had been forbidden. He would never have escaped were he in the court circle...not alive.
But that agony...he had as long a memory as any dragon, and with that comes much mistrust...he could not believe that any would be kind to any banished, not even-especially not!-the one giving the sentence. It was not their way. But...gods, why? What had he done, what had they found...why?
He had almost forgotten about his pursuers until he was broken out of his anguished thoughts by a roar, from one of his kind, too close for safety. A fresh streak of fear spiked through him...and he re-doubled his efforts, and again I felt what it cost him. I felt the wound bleed anew, felt the sear of pain in his haunch as what little scab had been made re-opened. I saw him spot the building of the humans-or so he had thought at the time-and the mountains connected, saw him find one both available and suited to him on the territory. I felt his relief when he smelled the border seals that forbade war on their grounds, ones that his clan would not dare to broach...and I felt that relief cost him. He lost speed, much speed, and his tail was scored by fangs. He roared in pain at the hit, lost stability... and then broached the borders. I heard the fading sounds of his pursuers’ furious roars, and I felt him crash into the ground near his new shelter-to-be, tearing up many of the trees and finally falling unconscious with his ungraceful landing.
And then I was looking at him, shaking and wide-eyed. His eyes, ever black and glittering, looked at me now with a mixture of fondness, hope, fear, but also calm. “You see...” he traced his fingers down the sides of my face again, and I felt him smile as I melted into a purr at the sensation. And he kissed my forehead, softly, exactly in my third eye. "...I could not betray you. Not as they did...not...not as they did.” My eyes had drifted closed again, my wings going somewhat slack with my purring at his touch on my face, which he had not stopped. But I had the oddest sensation that the “they” he spoke of were not his own betrayers, but mine. I wondered what he knew.
It floated through my head, a faint caress again, and I snapped my eyes open, staring at him despite his hands still on my face. Be silent...not yet, his eyes said, keen with awareness that I had heard, acknowledging that he was the source. I nodded, in my mind, hoping he could sense that, as seemingly connected to me as he was. I did not move. I was becoming keenly aware of a growing sense of familiarity to him...a strong growing connection that felt unusually deep-seeded. Mate... the word whispered unbidden in my mind. No...no, I would not say my suspicions yet. Not yet...had he heard?
His lips curved into a hint of a smile, hearing my thoughts again, but then as he heard more his face grew troubled. I hoped he had not caught the whispered unbidden word...it did not seem as much, for sheer concern and a bit of fear graced his open book of a face...and I suspected that I would see something far different had he heard it. “Wha’...wha’ did they do to ye?”
I closed my eyes, pain searing my mind intense enough to wrack my body, and I flinched into him, back hunched and wings hard and defensive. Shadowsong was instantly alert, a hand on me in a heartbeat, and the Brown had instinctively moved a step closer. I put a hand on the Shadowstorm’s leg in reassurance, closest to me and within sight of the Brown. It was the most I could manage. They both relaxed, even if only halfway. I opened my eyes, after catching my breath and reeling in the aftermath of the pain, the writ of which was not quite gone from my eyes. It was my turn to have unshed tears shining in my eyes, and I hid none of it as I re-met Rori’s gaze. “I don’t know,” I whispered. “Can...does...does that work both ways? Can...can you look? Can I send?”, I finished in his mind.
His face was shocked, along with the other two, from what I could sense and feel. None of them expected me to allow him that much. They knew, all three, what that would do to the connection between him and I, which I so feared...and Rori at least had not known I possessed the skill until now. I hastily babbled a qualifier. “I mean, well, you’re in my head that much already, and you can do it, so it’s not much more than you already have...and it’s convenient, so...”
The Shadowsong silently stroked between my wings, to reassure me, and the Brown collected himself, now smiling. Rori was smiling also, this time the smile lighting both eyes and lips with pleasure and relief, and he ran a hand over my hair and then took my face again. “Aye...” he whispered, “aye...it do. Show me.” And he leant his forehead against mine, eyes closed. This time his hand went around to the back of my neck, his fingers half-twined in my hair. I watched him for a split second, studying his expression...then closed my eyes, and summoned what little I had of my memories to mind. The faded images, as clear as words writ in smeared wet chalk, the pain, the betrayal, the fear, the abandonment...the sensation of being utterly alone.
The screaming, the fleeing...young I had been. Very young...scarce what the dragons would have called a teenager. I saw them all burn, burn in fire hotter than the oldest dragon’s breath, and I saw them come for me...saw my mother baring her fangs in defiance at me. I saw them all die...I was the last, looking up at all the elders. “Please...” I begged them. Just the one word...but it was for naught. I saw a great gaping jaw open above me, and I closed my eyes, huddling into myself. I gave a small whimper, a silent prayer...then pain, and the blackness of death.
I focused on it, all of it. Sharpened it, gave him as much detail as I could of what little I had left of them. I was sure he could see more images than I; it oft enough happened that way when I used this method to show others my memories of things that scarred me.
I opened my eyes when it was done, ending the transfer, the agony still written in my face. I was crying, and I was shaking, trying not to curl in on myself. It took him a few seconds to come out of it, but his face was stricken as he looked at me. “Good gods...” It was almost inaudible. “I’m sorry...” Understanding was etched in his face as much as it was stricken. He knew why I feared him now...knew why I had been so terrified by him at the pool, terrified enough to forget myself, after he’d roared at me. But at his words, I broke. I ducked my head, wrapped my arms around myself, and then I was crying in earnest.
I do not know how it happened, but one moment his hands were at my face, and the next he was holding me, both of us half curled in mirroring directions. I had my face in at the crook of his neck, my opposite arm over his and clutching his shoulder. He mirrored me, breathing warm breath steadily in my neck. It was a humanoid equivalent of how two dragons would curl around each other in their natural form...though how I knew that, I did not know. I simply knew it was. It was the most calming thing I had ever experienced. Sounds of breathing and heartbeats, scents of dragon fire and musk, sensations of comforting strength and of soft skin by my face. It is all I knew, just then, and it was all I needed.
The Brown and the Shadowsong had their jaws on the floor. I could not blame them. One moment I was riding out an anxiety attack in fear of Rori, then next I was sharing memories with and then willingly curled around him. It was not normal for me, not in speed of closeness and trust, nor in physical manner. I had never curled around anyone quite like this, and I felt them raise eyebrows, silent conversation and barter had over our heads.
The Brown cleared his throat. “Er...would you like us to leave you be? There is a sitting room...” I wasn’t surprised he wasn’t keen on having Rori and I alone in his room. I didn’t think he was THAT close to Rori. I was surprised he would loan his sitting room, though...usually he would ask for a different territory to be chosen.
Rori was stroking my hair now, as he had when he found me bathing and saw my flashback in my mind, and while progressively more and more languid I was still mostly frozen and reeling over the memories I had just relived. “No...no, ah can take her-”
“My room. I have a sitting room too. Is that back passage still there, love?” I interrupted him, my voice strangely clear, and I raised my eyes to the Brown inquiringly. He looked at me, evaluating. He would be asking me questions later...and I did not know if I could answer them. But he nodded. “Yes...it is still there. Would you like to use it?”
I nodded, slowly, apologetically, and spoke quietly. “I...cannot control myself enough to keep my composure to get anywhere else.”
Understanding dawned in his eyes. More at ease with my answer, he allowed Rori to raise me to my feet, and led the way over to the corner where the door was hidden. He opened it, turning to me, an expectant look in his eyes. I went to him, wrapping my arms around his neck and nuzzling him. I cared not for the extent of my expression in public. Today was to have been for him, his brother, and I...now it seemed it would not be so. I had not seen them, just them, in some time...it would be sorely missed, and we would be hard pressed to get to each other again for a full week after. It would soon come to pain.
He buried his face in my hair, arms tight around me, himself shaking. It was already taking its toll. When I pried myself away just far enough to look at his face, he was in tears. I stroked his face and wiped his tears, in the way of his people, and he closed his eyes. There were times it was simply exquisite, and there were times-like now-that the intensity of the sensation was such that it was almost overwhelming, and mixed with pain. I pulled his head to me, and kissed him. I took my time and was not shy about it, meaning it to tell him that I had not forgotten and he was still my first. He clung to me a bit longer, returning it in full and shaking, then released me. Separation overlong was hard on him, and I knew that if he stayed in my arms overlong he would not be able to leave them. I lamented that this had happened this day. He gave one look to the Shadowsong, nodded, and quickly left.
I then turned to the Shadowsong, who picked me up, tall as he was, for ease in hugging me to him. He hugged me almost as tightly as his brother had-he was of the same species, even if Irish, and while lovers we were not, we were close enough he took the same toll as the Brown. I ran my fingers through his hair, rubbing the nape of his neck, and laid my head on his shoulder as he buried his in my hair. He was shaking also. He loosened his hold on me to look at me, his eyes deepening to a shade of rich dark kelly green. I stroked his face with one hand, and kissed his cheek. I felt him shiver. In Gaelic, he whispered in my ear, “Ye come straight to us when ye to be bein’ done with him, ye to be hearin’ me? One night not be enough fer me...an’ yer lover be needin’ us both. We were to be surprising’ ye with it, so don’ ye to be tellin’ him ah was to be tellin’ ye, but we were to be takin’ the week off to be seein’ ye. Yer twin all but ordered us to...as did the Lady of the Darks.” His tone was desperate. I didn’t know what was wrong...but I nodded, half afraid at the desperation I heard. “Come back to us.”
I nodded. “I promise,” I whispered in his ear. He shuddered again, then, and almost whimpered, but set me down. I showed Rori hastily through the door first, and then took one look back at the Shadowsong, smiling sadly at him. He returned it, nodded, and quickly shut the door. I could not avoid these next few hours, but oh how I wished to!
When I got through to the other side, through my gowns-for the door led into my closet-Rori was already waiting for me, having chosen a floor cushion large enough for two people, and somehow managing to have found and used my tea-set. I did not know what he had started to brew, but it smelled divine.
I sat down opposite him, choosing to ignore the blatant theft of my herbs and un-permitted use of my belongings, and looked at him, my eyes still as full of turbulent emotions as his were. “So,” I asked him, “...What do we do now?”