Author’s Note: This scene… Oh, I went back and forth about it. On the one hand, things seemed to have been leading to this point. On the other, it was not what I wanted because I felt that it went too far. In the end, I decided to keep it, because while in part it was too far, it also… wasn’t.
Or, in other words, I’m still a bit neurotic about this decision, but it is… It allowed me to finish the story, and that is important.
“You need to stop coming into my room at night—or at what passes for night in this horrid place,” she said, grunting as she turned over to face Agache. She swore that she had just closed her eyes when he came in, and she was still feeling the effects of the poison, still tired and weak, needing this slumber. “One of these days, I’ll just stab you.”
He laughed, and she sighed, tempted to hit him. She knew that he had to come and go in the late hours of the day, not just because of the heat but also because of the work he was up to, but he needed to stop coming just after she fell asleep. She could not help being annoyed by that.
“Come with me,” he said, holding out a hand, and she rose, reaching for her robe and pulling it over her nightgown before she accepted his hand.
“If you wanted to talk to me in the catacombs, why did you not send word? I would have met you there, and you would not be waking me now.”
“I am not taking you to the catacombs,” he said, crossing to the curtain that shut out the sun. She frowned as he opened it, shaking her head. He had gone insane. He would burn, having his head exposed like that, and he could not be more foolish if he tried. “This happens twice a year. Both days are our favorites, though we have yet to predict them accurately. It is rather… funny. My cousins were just hoping for something like this, but I did not know until I came into your room that it had happened.”
She found herself smiling as she stepped toward the balcony, welcoming the night, a true night with no sun. “An eclipse.”
“Yes. Darkness. We cannot help but enjoy such times, such nights. Were we able to predict them, I would take advantage of them, execute some sort of plan, but it surprised me again. I shall simply bask in the darkness instead. Anokii told me to enjoy it, after all.”
“You already are, judging from the way you are glowing. You should not be celebrating this moment here, though. What if someone sees you on my balcony?”
“They will not recognize me,” he said, and then he sighed. “Though you are correct—I should not put anyone at risk by being here. I just know how much you miss the night, and since it means so much to us, I shared it with you.”
“I am in your debt. Again.”
He shook his head. “Any debt has been negated by your efforts to assist us. We are allies, and allies should not stop to count the cost. If they do, that is when the alliance breaks. It should not be uneven, no, but if all one thinks about is whether or not it is equal, it is bound to fail. Sometimes there will be inequality. That is how life works. It is rarely fair or just.”
“Here, perhaps, but in other places there is greater balance and more freedom.”
“Were you ever free? You were esibani. You were bred to a purpose and forced to fill it. What freedom is there in that?”
“Everyone has a duty, and mine was not so intolerable until I was sent here,” she said, for she knew he did not understand the ways of her people. Her life had not been all duty, and she was free for a great many hours of the day. Her training had made her feel so close to flying at times, and she took comfort in the dance that was footwork. “When I was there, the only thing I resented was that long ago our people gave up their wings and stopped flying. That has been my longing all my life, to fly as the avians do, to soar through the sky and dance in the heavens.”
“You do seem meant to fly,” he told her, and she blinked, not sure why he’d say that. Was it that look of avian that Malzhi claimed she had? She did not see it herself. “I saw you when you were practicing your footwork. You could have soared then, as light and agile as you were, and I thought you would at one point. Then you heard me and threw your knife—far too accurately for my liking.”
She smiled. “I was trained for defense. It serves me well these days.”
She’d thought in the darkness he couldn’t be burned, but she would swear that he was, other than the fact that he was still lit with his people’s natural phosphorescence. That didn’t seem right, not if he was burning in the sunlight creeping past the eclipse. “Your glow has shifted colors. I didn’t know you could do that.”
He grimaced, pushing back his sleeve and wincing as he saw the reddish tint to his skin. “It goes with our emotions, and I should be embarrassed to have mine betray so much.”
“I do not know what it means. You need not be embarrassed with me.”
He bowed to her. “Thank you for that. Now I think I should go before you find out.”
She laughed. “What could possibly be so terrible? You do not care for the color? I suppose it creates some bad memories of being in the sun—”
He hadn’t moved, she would have sworn he hadn’t moved, but he must have because his mouth had met hers, and she could feel the light from him on her skin even as she wondered at what was happening. She knew what a kiss was, of course, and even if she hadn’t, Malzhi and even the king had made sure she did not long ago, but this—Agache—was different. He was gentle even as he was insistent, taking more and more from her, but she gave it gladly and without revulsion, wanting more as much as he did, unlike when Malzhi had caught hold of her or when she experienced the cruelty inflicted by the king.
Agache stepped back, cursing in his native tongue. “I shouldn’t have come. I… It was… I did not come here to do that, I swear I did not. I had something of a plan to discuss with you and then—All I meant was to show you the eclipse, and I did, but how could I have—Please forget that I ever did that. It was… It was the eclipse. It can make us do things we know that we should not do. I have put you at considerable risk by coming here, and if anyone saw that… I’m sorry. I am going now.”
“You are the queen. You are a married woman. I cannot—The king could kill you for that, and you should not forgive me for it.”
He was over her balcony and gone before he’d finished speaking, and she closed her eyes, shaking her head. That moment was one that had its roots back in their travels together, something she had thought only a foolish curiosity about the sort of man hiding under that cloak of his, but she had been drawn to him even then, perhaps out of desperation since he was the only one she knew coming into this land, and having been his ally, working with him and knowing his secrets and her his… Oh, how could they have been so stupid?
How had they allowed themselves even the thought of such a thing? She did not know how to ignore the way she felt, but she must. She could not do this. She was the queen.
She was the queen because she was married to the king. She wasn’t allowed to love someone else, and damn her for thinking she had might feel something for someone else. She could not love Agache. Even if the king were to fall when this was all over, such a thing was wrong. It was impossible.
She had to forget it, as he had asked. She would forget it. Perhaps not tonight—she felt a bit burned where he’d touched her, and her lips still tasted of him—but she would. She crossed to the water dish, pouring herself a glass and washing the taste of him off her lips and tongue, wishing she could as easily rinse the sin away with that same water. She cursed, her grip tightening on the glass before she hurled it at the wall and the tears started.