The passing of centuries did little to alter the landscape of Ylorc. The rooms and tunnels of the ancient city were as changeless as the mountains that housed them, tucked away in their inhospitable corner of the world, hardly seeming to notice the lives of the people within them. The Firbolg king was perhaps the only exception to the rule, shaping the destiny of the mountains as he had for countless centuries. It was his world, and he knew every inch of it. He didn't need to follow a heartbeat to find what he was looking for, but he did anyway because that vibration was the one thing he had never grown tired of even after all this time.
None of the Bolg noticed their king as he slipped past them, invisible in the shadows of a long abandoned hallway. The room he wanted had stood empty for hundreds of years now, left frozen in time. It had been Jo's and first Rhapsody's sentimental heart then his own dislike for change had been the reasons it was preserved in the same state it had been before she died. He should have known he'd find her here; it was exactly the sort of stupid, overly emotional gesture she excelled in.
Tugging down the veils that covered most of his face to give her the full force of the annoyed expression he wore, Achmed opened the door. Colorful candles covered every surface, releasing the soft scent of beeswax into the still air. They did little to illuminate the small room though, the flames burning so small and low they were almost invisible. The fire in the hearth seemed to mirror them, flickering sadly around the logs without much interest. The woman seated on the edge of the bed didn't seem to notice, staring distantly into the flames and barely stirring at his arrival.
Centuries later, and she was still beautiful, Achmed reflected without really being able to say why he appreciated that fact. The faint firelight brushed against the golden hair and softened the line of the black ribbon pulling it back. The simple black gown she wore transformed her skin into porcelain, with a face made more fascinating by time and wisdom. The same soft light that framed her so well turned his hideous face into a maze of harsh shadows, but he'd never had to worry about frightening her.
Rhapsody glanced up as he took a seat beside her, giving him a faint smile that didn't reach her eyes. "Did Grunthor send you to check up on me?"
"He was hoping you'd died of a broken heart. Kept saying something about wanting a midnight snack." He replied. The harsh, sandy grate of his voice seemed to shatter the peace of the room like a stone against glass. He was good at ruining moments. It had the intended effect, though. She laughed softly, the first time he'd heard her do so in a long time.
"Well his hearts in the right place." She admitted with another, more genuine smile. "I know he's been worried about me."
We both have. But he'd never say that, not even to her. He'd hardly seen her in the week since what had essentially been Ashe's funeral when he had made that final transition from man into dragon. At first he'd let her have privacy. After all, he was hardly the most comforting person in a time of grief, especially since his low opinion of Ashe meant he viewed this as a time for celebration more than anything else. But then Grunthor had started to get concerned and even he had begun to get uneasy with her silence. To him a week seemed like more than enough time to grieve for anyone, particularly someone who had been withdrawing from life for a long time before that. After all it wasn't like she hadn't seen this coming or had time to prepare for it. They had all known Ashe would change eventually, fully embracing the elemental forces that had always been a part of him. But Rhapsody had never been good at letting go of people she loved.
"I thought I was going to be ready for this," She remarked softly, unintentionally echoing his thoughts. "I know you think I'm being stupid."
He shrugged, not feeling like lying. She sighed faintly, staring back at the fire as she added, "I miss him."
It shouldn't have taken as much courage as it did for him to wrap an arm around her, but he had never been much good at this sort of thing. He caught a faint glimmer of amusement in her emerald eyes as she settled her head against his shoulder, like she knew exactly how hard this was for him. He wondered if she knew why, or if she just put it down to his general awkwardness with emotions.
She fit perfectly against him, like she was meant to be there. He'd wanted to hold her like this every day for as long as he could remember, but he'd never told her that. He didn't tell her a lot of things, like the way he missed hearing her sing when she was away, or the way her heartbeat was the last thing he listened to before he slept each night. She was the center of his world, but he could never have said that to her.
He didn't care that he'd been counting down the centuries and years and months and days until Ashe left. Most people would have felt guilty over wanting another person essentially dead, but the only thing about it that bothered him was the way it hurt her. He wasn't stupid enough to assume that now he would get some sort of magical happily ever after. It would take a long time for Rhapsody to get over her husband enough to feel anything more than friendship for him, and even longer for her to get over the pointless guilt that would undoubtedly accompany those feelings. But he had forever, and he'd already proven how long he was willing to wait for her.
Rhapsody knew him better than anyone in the world, was one of only two friends he had ever had and he still knew she would have been surprised at the depths of his feelings for her. They frightened him sometimes. He was a master of keeping people away, of holding the entire world at arms length and refusing to let anyone through the armor of sarcasm and bad manners he wore. He didn't do it for stupid, predicable reasons like not wanting to get hurt. Everyone got hurt, and he would have been a fool to think a nasty attitude would protect him from that. Dealing with people was just difficult, as simple as that.
He was a monster, as he was so often told by people when they saw his face. Monsters weren't supposed to have feelings like loneliness or pain. They certainly weren't supposed to end up with the most beautiful woman the world had ever known. She was everything he wasn't, everything the world would never let him be. Kind, caring, hopeful even after all she had seen and done. He never missed an opportunity to mock her for those qualities, but they were what he admired the most about her. The fact that she would carry on with her life after this and refuse to let Ashe's loss change the way she viewed the world or treated others amazed him. He would have done the same thing, of course, but in all the wrong ways and for the wrong reasons. She did it because she refused to let anything stop her from seeing the good in the world. She certainly persisted in seeing it in him, even when he thought she was wasting her time. Monster, remember?
In all of his impossibly long life, he had never once told someone he loved them, had never had those three words said to him. It scared him to even think them, especially about her. He had never had to face the possibility of rejection before since he went out of his way to push people away and save them the trouble. Now though he couldn't help but contemplate all the ways this could go wrong, all the things she could say to hurt him and all the things he could do to ruin everything.
She sighed softly, shifting closer to him and closing her eyes as if that could keep out all the dark thoughts and broken feelings. As if she trusted him to keep her safe from them, even though he was the stuff of nightmares himself. He wondered if her dreams were going to get worse now that Ashe was gone. He wanted to bring a gloved hand up to brush the stray strand of hair out of her face, but he didn't. Call him a coward, but it was just easier to sit there in silence and say he didn't want to rush things.
"Thank you." Her voice was a musical whisper, too soft for anyone but him to have heard. "You're a good friend, Achmed." A simple, quiet remark, easy to dismiss or be discouraged by, but he couldn't help but noticing that the light in the room had increased. The flames in the fireplace seemed almost hopeful.
He smiled faintly, knowing she wouldn't see and not caring that the expression twisted his face into something terrifying. For the first time in his life he was optimistic.