Kyrin was surprisingly nervous.  He wasn’t given to introspection most of the time – his native tendency was to let things come, react, then go on, and he’d found, over the years, that his reactions tended to be better than his plans most of the time, at least in the short term.  In fact, if you pinned him down?  He’d probably admit that most of his plans were great right up until the end, when things tended to go a bit… er.  Scorpion-shaped.

Like right now.

“You mange-furred, sand-brained, hyena-loving, thoughtless, brainless, and… I don’t even know what else!  I can’t believe you’d…”

Creative.  Inventive.  He gave her full marks as her vocabulary went from mere comparison to words he didn’t think she actually knew, and considered that he probably  should be offended that she did.  He was the older brother, after all.

“…tail-chewing, sand-licking, snake-kissing –“

Hey, now.

“… alpaca-kissing jackass!”

“Look, Eshai – I deserve that – I guess.  I just – “

That’s when she hit him.  At least, that’s what he hoped happened, because one minute he was trying to calm her down, and the next thing he saw was stars, then the ceiling of his cabin and his jaw really hurt.  Ow.

He got up slowly, speech slurred – his jaw creaked.  Where’d that come from?  “I missed you too.”

“How long?”  Eshai’s eyes were firey.


“How long.  How long were you sitting out here laughing at your sister?  I was so afraid, and so alone, and I didn’t know anything!  I thought you were dead!  I thought..”

He just hugged her, then.  And she hit him on the chest and she cursed a few more times – then she buried her nose in his chest and sobbed.  When the great heaving sobs changed to quiet crying, and she’d gone from trying to hit him to burrowing closer, he squeezed hard and tried, “… can I tal.. ow.  Tal’ now?”

“… your jaw. Oh.  Sandspit – I’m sorry, Kyrin – “  She pulled back, and reached up to touch where the swelling was already getting pronounced, whispering a little … request?  A prayer?  He wasn’t sure – he couldn’t make out all the words.  The sudden flash of some kind of cold, somehow wet magic rushed through him like a cold night wind.  The pain in his jaw vanished as abruptly as he’d discovered the woodgrain pattern of his cabin ceiling.

“Better?” she asked.

He worked his jaw. “… yeah.  Yeah it is.”  And then he hugged her hard again. “I wasn’t laughing.  I’m proud of you, you silly fluffbrain.  Look at what you did?”

Eshai burrowed into that hug again. “I didn’t do anything.  It was all everybody else.”

“Awww.  Feeling less heroic ‘cause you’re an idiot?”  

She hit him in the belly.  Less hard.  But pointed.

“OW okayokayokay – stop that.  When you did that before you didn’t know how to actually throw a punch.  Where’d you learn, anyway?”

“Malien and Maisy.  That’s not important.”  Eshai looked up at him. “Why?  Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Because you’d have stopped.”


He sighed, and let go, moving to sit on his desk. “Eshai – I found out about you right after you torched the old Boss.  I didn’t even know Bel was coming after you – she told me who you were after she met you the first time.  I didn’t know what to do, at first.  I figured.. .maybe we’d get you into the camp, then get you spirited out somewhere safe.  All I know is she sent me a dispatch and I got on the first airship heading out – do you know how hard it was to even find a portal to get there, much less get to where those portals were?  And the world was falling to pieces.”

“Sure, but-”

“Hangon, Hear me out.  I got there two days after you fried that sack of hyena shit.  And.. I walked in to Bel talking about how amazing you were, and into a bunch of people going to pieces.  So.. I convinced her we could take over.  Do something.  So all that happened then.  But that’s not you, right?”

He went on, noting her thoughtful expression – that was already different.  She wasn’t the thoughtful sort, and he started wondering what all he’d missed.  That brought a strange pang to his chest, and his eyes went to that missing ear.  “Anyway – you were set.  You were doing more than I ever had, and with less, too.  I.. gave up, Esh.  Don’t tell anybody else?  I didn’t know what to do, or how to change anything.  You didn’t – you came up with this crazy scheme and ran with it, and you were actually getting somewhere.”

Eshai looked down – “It wasn’t-”

“Hush.  It was.  You can tell yourself all you want that it wasn’t special?  But that’s the thing.  It’s was audacious and stupid and crazy and dangerous, and very nearly got you killed.   I know a little – not enough, but a little.  The thing was – what drove you was, at least a little… well.  Us.  Me, your sibs, mother, father.  Tell me you wouldn’t have dropped everything to come take care of me, if you found out I was still around?”

Eshai stared hard at the floor, her hands, flexing those metal clawtips. “… yeah.”

“You were safe.  Meesha and Bel were keeping an eye on you – don’t you dare be mad at them.  They had their own reasons, and were just glad I let them.  I figured I could get everything ready to help you, and be there when you needed me most.   Aaand.. If they did do something to you?  A bunch of scavvers wasn’t going to be much use in killing every last one of them and getting you out.”  

Eshai looked up sharply, startled. “You wouldn’t!”

“I would.”  He surprised himself with his own grimness there. “I failed everybody long enough.  I wasn’t failing you.”


“The point being – you’d have stopped.  All those years, all the work, all the sacrifice – everything – you’d have thrown it away just to make sure I was okay.  And you know what?  I couldn’t let you do that.  Not .. not when you were that far along.  Not when you’d done so much.”  

“… yeah.  I get it.”  She moved to him, then, finally hugging him, her arms shaking as she pulled herself in close. “You’re /alive/,” she said, as though the thought just occurred to her, just struck home.

“Unless you slug me again.  No promises, then.”

Eshai laughed, then – softly. “No.  Next time I’m going to burn your fur off.”

“Next time?”

“Well.  I mean..”  

They both laughed, then.  He leaned in and nosed that spot right between her eyes. “Now that you’re here, though – now that all this is over?  You’re /here/, Esh.  I may not be father – but … I’m here. You’re staying.”

“… yeah.  Yeah I am.  I was going to anyway.  Bel… “  Eshai stops.  Thinks.  Eyes him. “You.  And Bel.”  And her sudden grin is wide.

“Er.  Yeah.”  Kyrin rubbed the back of his neck, not embarrassed exactly.   “It sort of happened.  She’s really great – keeps my tail sharp, you know?  It doesn’t hurt that she’s got..” 

Eshai reached up and grabbed his muzzle. “Nope.  Nooooooope.  No.  Not going to imagine any of that.  I’m happy for you, but you just keep all that..”  She let go.  Waved a hand at him. “There.  I’m going to put up with you snogging her, and I’m really happy for both of you, and I’m going to tease her a lot.  But I don’t want any details.  Not now.  Not ever.”


“I said not ever, Kyrin.”


“So help me I will hit you again.”

He just laughed, helplessly. “Eshai – I’m really glad you’re here.”

“So am i.  You haven’t.  Uhm.  You haven’t found anyone else?”

“Not yet.  I gave up looking, though, and found you – maybe it’s time to start looking again.  If you could turn up out of nowhere.. No offense, but, Rose was always fiercer and meaner than both of us.  And Lyric and Aeri?  You know those two made it, if any of us did.”

“.. you think?”

“I think it’s possible.  Not likely, but possible.  Who knows?  We’re not giving up though – I did that once, and I’m not doing it again.”

“Right.”  Eshai drew back, standing straight. “In the meantime – I’ll start putting together an infirmary.”

“And learning to fly.”

“And learning to fly.  Bel told me.  I can’t wait.”

Kyrin grinned.  “Good.  I’ve got a surprise for you.”  

As he watched her go, he actually considered that weird feeling she left him with.  So odd, really – but for all that he worried and fretted and raged, he always felt.. Well.  A little empty.  Bel helped, but.. This.  This was different.  This was something new and bright.  Joy?  Maybe.  Hope?  Definitely.  Whatever it was?  He blamed her for it.    



Author Aunne
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