Author’s Note: They are both very stubborn. Or perhaps a bit weak. It’s all in the perspective, truthfully.
“I am too weak to hit you, but do not think that I won’t when I regain my strength,” she warned, not sure why Agache’s laughter was comforting. Perhaps it was the way he touched her face and brushed her hair back. His touch was rather gentle, and she found his gestures soothing, things she missed in her isolation. She had never thought that she would be so desperate to feel anyone’s touch at all, and she wouldn’t want it after Malzhi or the king, but from someone like Agache or Anokii, someone who watched over her and cared for her, it was different. She was not threatened by them as she was by the king or Malzhi or any of the other ministers. Agache had called himself a friend. A friend’s touch after what she had just suffered, that meant so much to her.
She could almost imagine she was back with her mother to care for her, to let her know that she was loved, and so she would have pretended had she woken to Anokii and not to Agache.
“I am glad to hear you awake to threaten me.”
“You should not be.”
“The poison was stronger than we thought. It must have been because you come from another land, have a different heritage… I thought we might have killed you, and that I would never forgive myself for,” he said, guilt in his face. “I think we must send you back across the border.”
“What? Didn’t it work? I thought the whole point was—”
“Malzhi has been accused of the poisoning. There are not many who believe he is innocent. In fact, I doubt anyone does. If they are loyal to him now, it is because they are prepared to support his coup. It is time for you to go.”
She pushed her hand against the bed, forcing herself up so that she could look at him. “Then… What are you not telling me? Why are trying to make me leave?”
“You are not safe here. You need to leave. It is nothing more than that.”
Agache placed his hand on her cheek. “How many times have I almost killed you? I do not think you should stay. Now is perhaps our last chance to get you safely across the border, and you should take it. There is not much time left. We will not be able to take you once everyone knows that you have recovered.”
“Excuse me?” Agache frowned. “Why are you refusing to go? I thought that you wanted nothing more than to be free. You can be. You can return home. This alliance has served us well, but this fight is not yours. It has always been ours, and we will finish it.”
“I am not the sort that runs away in fear. I did not before, and I will not now.” She almost laughed. Where was this coming from? Had she been so close to death as to terrify him, was that it? He could not stand to see her come close again? Why had he not sent her back after the first time the king used the bindings against her? He had asked, she supposed, but he had not done it. “After all I went through at Malzhi’s hands, at the king’s, you truly think that I can walk away before it is finished? Before I see them pay? You cannot be that much of a fool. I deserve to see that, and I will not be denied it.”
“You are so stubborn.”
“So are you.”
He watched her, and she watched him, neither of them moving for a long moment. She thought she saw something in his eyes, but as soon as she prepared herself to ask, she heard Anokii moving on the other side of the room, and they both turned toward the sound.
“I am glad to see that you are awake, my lady.”
Agache rose, walking away from the bed and joining his cousin near the wall. The queen let her gaze fall to the bed. She did not know how to look at either of them, not after the thoughts that had gone through her head. She shook her head, reaching for the bedpost, using it to balance her as she stood. She did not feel all that well.
“You should not be walking yet.”
“Anokii, please, do not lecture me. I do not want to hear it,” she said, moving to the next bedpost. She leaned against it, closing her eyes. If she was too weak before them, they would conspire to send her back, and she did not want to go. Not yet. She had too much left to do before she returned to father’s castle, and she knew that she needed to prove that she could do it.
“You are going to make yourself ill again,” Agache said, annoyed, wrapping an arm around her waist and trying to lead her back to the bed. “You are not yet ready to resume dancing, my esibani. Let yourself rest and recover.”
“I do not want to rest. You will send me home.”
Anokii frowned. “I know that the king is still recovering, but that is not—sending her back will mean war as soon as he is out of bed, and you should know that he is stirring. That is what I came to tell you just now. The rumors say that he will be awake by morning, if not out of bed. Of course, that could be the physician bragging, but if it is true, then it is already too late to send the queen away.”
“See?” The queen asked, looking up at Agache with an almost triumphant smile. “You cannot make me go.”
He sighed. “I should. You have been hurt too many times already.”
She laughed. Her head hit his chest, and she tried to straighten herself up, but she was too tired to stand properly. She would have to sit, but she did not want to sit. Sitting was too close to lying down, and if she laid down, then she would be forced to stay in bed. She would rather stay where she was.
“You need to rest.”
The queen grimaced. “Anokii—”
“I was talking to him. He has not left your side since you collapsed.”
The queen lifted her head, smiling at Agache. So she had scared him. She rather thought he deserved that and perhaps a bit more. “You are so stubborn.”
“So are you.” He grinned, and she wondered how often they might say those words to each other, if they would enter into every conversation they shared from now on.
She looked at his face, knowing his fatigue was worse than it seemed, and what she could see was more than enough. “I’ll rest if you do.”