After the events in the shrine, Ko talks to Tavares about a matter of great importance, realizing along the way how much their eldest brother’s absence has affected things. (In Ko’s POV)
Despite rarely seeing my eldest brother, I could tell that he was upset the moment that Tama left to take Aya to bed. Tavares was frustrated, visibly upset by the revelation of our birth parent’s failing health. I was surprised.
"You didn’t know?" I tried to keep my voice low and as calming as I could make it as I watched my brother pace around the room outside the family shrine, but I could feel Tavares’ nervous energy as though it was my own and that set my teeth on edge. "Tama didn’t tell you about how sick our bapi is?”
Tavares frowned at my use of our name for our birth parent, but then he finally stopped pacing and moved to stand beside Zeke near the shrine doors. “Mother mentioned that he was ill in her letters, but she never said how bad it was.” Tavares sighs and passes a hand over the top of his lover’s hair. “Tell me the truth, Ko: will he get better?”
I turned away from my brother, fighting the urge to start pacing myself. “I don’t know,” I muttered. “He’s so sick and Tama’s other husbands aren’t helping things at all. I’m the only one here and I can’t stop Haven on my own.” When Tavares growled at the mention of our mother’s first husband, both Zeke and I flinched. The sound was loud and full of anger as it echoed through the room and I could feel my brother’s rage in the air.
It took several seconds, but soon Tavares calmed down enough to speak in something close to his normally placid tone. He reached out for Zeke and pulled him close, kissing the side of his head and murmuring something to his lover in a voice too soft for me to hear even with my excellent hearing.
Once Zeke had replied to him, it was back to business for my brother who straightened his spine as though preparing for a war to break out right there.
"Tell me everything," Tavares said, biting the words out as though he was resisting the urge to snap at me. "How did Aya get sick and why the hell isn’t anyone doing anything about it?"
The remark stung.
"We’re trying,” I snapped, feeling a sort of helpless rage take over me. “But all of you are gone and Tama’s busy all the time. Maybe if you would visit more than once every few years, you’d know how bad things were.” I shoved my hands into the pockets of my trousers and tried to breathe past the pinpricks of pain that pulsed where my claws were steadily trying to slide out as a reaction to stress. “I think some of the others are trying to hurt Aya, but I can’t prove anything. I can’t doanything.”
Zeke took a step towards me, kindness apparent on his face. “You’re doing a lot,” he said, smiling at me with this look on his face that made me think that he was about to hug me. “You’re only a little bit younger than I am right?” When I nodded, Zeke grinned at me. “Then you’re doing fine. Just tell us what’s going on and we’ll do our best to help.”
I looked at Tavares and was surprised to see a look of pride on his face. I had seen my brother a handful of times through my life and even when he came with that big human of his, he hadn’t been so — so sweet. The way he looked at Zeke was like how Tama looked at our birth parent, tender and protective enough that anyone would think twice about picking a fight with him.
"I know Tama told you about the city expansion," I said before I could focus on the hard little pang of jealously that burst into being in my chest at the sight of how happy my older brother was with his future mate. "It’s more power for her and it brings more money into the city, but she’s been working long hours to make sure the expansion goes well."
Tavares frowned. “Let me guess,” he said, “Haven and the other spouses have been by the main house more and more often.” Tavares’ mouth twisted with disgust and he growled again, the sound pushing out through his clenched teeth. “How long has Aya been sick?”
"He never stopped being sick after the last pregnancy didn’t um… end well," I admitted softly, still feeling for the little sibling that I could have had. "But he was getting better. He was eating properly and working in the gardens every other day, but ever since mother started the expansion project, he’s been wasting away."
Zeke tugged at Tavares’ sleeve. “I thought you guys couldn’t get sick and die.”
Shaking his head, Tavares brushed a stray strand of hair out of Zeke’s face. “It’s rare, but it’s possible.” Tavares looked up at me. “But you think it’s something else?”
I nodded as fast as I could. “Either poison or magic. I’m not sure. All I know is that Aya gets worse right after he gets visitors from the other houses and you know how they feel about him.” Aya was our mother’s third spouse and the first one to give her any children while Haven was the first spouse and the last to give our mother any children. His bitterness was obvious, but until recently, I hadn’t thought that he’d be capable of something so despicable.
Tavares’ frown deepened. “I have some experience with this sort of thing,” he said without looking at either me or Zeke. “Once we come back from the temple tomorrow, I’ll start by going through all the food in the kitchen.”
"But if that’s poisoned, wouldn’t we all be poisoned too?"
"True," Tavares replied in a dark tone. "But if there’s something that he eats that no one else does, that would be a good place to start. We’ll have to start somewhere." Tavares raised one hand to his forehead and started to rub at the space between his eyebrows. "And Ko —"
"Please don’t tell the twins about this."
Tirenni becomes upset that Zeke didn’t light a candle for her on his first day in Anatea.
At first, Argot thinks that the sky is falling.
It’s happened before, when they were new gods and didn’t yet have the hang of world building, and so Argot imagines that it’s happening again. He takes the stairs two at a time, racing through the rumbling tower until he reaches the highest room and the only one that overlooks the sky outside.
"What’s going on, Tir?" Argot pushes his hair out of his face and scowls when he spies his younger sister throwing things around the scrying room that Tirenni uses to spy on her favorites. Some of those things are rather valuable and Argot can already imagine the lecture that they’ll gain from Shol once their brother finds out that they have some serious replacing to do. "Must you do this every single time that something doesn’t go your way?"
Tirenni wails in response, beating at the floor with her clenched fists. Tears stream down her face as she sobs wordlessly, plopping down onto the floor with a faint hiss of acid. Unlike Tirenni’s usual tantrums and tears when she wants something that her brothers aren’t willing to give her, these appear to be real.
Argot frowns and steps forward, bare feet crunching on the glass from bottles crushed from Tirenni’s tantrum.
"Tir, what’s going on?" He kneels down on the floor and reaches for his younger sister’s face. Cupping her round black cheeks in his palms, he pulls Tirenni close and pushes her pink hair off of her face so that he can look at her. "Why are you crying?"
With her breath coming out in hitching sobs, Tirenni can’t manage to speak. She cries instead, sniffling into the front of Argot’s cream colored robe as she claws at the thick fabric until it splits to bare Argot’s golden skin.
"Are you hurt?"
Tirenni shakes her head.
"Did one of the servants lose your pets again?
"Well it’s not like I can read minds, Tir," Argot mutters with heat in his voice even as he strokes his hand over the top of his sister’s soft hair. "Tell me why you’re crying and I’ll do my best to fix it."
Tirenni whimpers. “He didn’t pray to me,” she says eventually, still clinging to Argot’s robe. “It’s time for Bith and he prayed to Dorna, not me. After how much fun we had and how I’ve looked out for him, he chose to pray to someone else.” Tirenni wails again, the sound coming out loud enough to make liquid slosh over the side of the scrying pool, and then knocks her head hard against Argot’s chest. “It’s not fair.”
Trying to make sense of his sister’s words would take too long and so Argot takes the short way around it. “Who are you mad at now?”
"Acodiel’s little pet, who else?" Tirenni huffs out a sigh and mutters something that seems rather nasty underneath her breath. "I thought we were friends but he chose someone else to pray to."
Argot barely resists the urge to mutter a little nasty something of his own. “You can’t start taking other people’s supplicants, Tir,” he says, ever patient despite his sister’s squirming and fussing. “You’re not being fair. Not to that little demon. Not to Dorna.” Argot sighs and presses a kiss to his sister’s dark forehead. “You have followers that need you all the time. Focus on them instead of the little king’s pet.”
"But I don’t want to —"
Argot covers Tirenni’s mouth with the palm of one hand, silencing her and leaving the younger deity blinking up at him. “This isn’t about what you want, Tir. It’s about what you need.” He strokes his fingers through Tirenni’s fine hair and tries to project calm to the godling lying sprawled across his lap. “And what you need is to do your job. Or is playing with children too difficult for you?”
Tirenni gives Argot a nasty look that narrows her bright pink eyes. “I hate you,” she says in a decisive tone once her mouth has been freed.
"No you don’t, little sister," Argot says with a small smile settling on his face. "I brought you spice cake from the temple. You can’t hate someone that brought you cake."
After Zeke has another headache, the subject of their mating comes back up. Tavares wants to take things slowly while Zeke wants the claim as soon as possible. (Mildly mature)
One minute, Zeke is curled up in bed with Tavares reading to him and in the next, he’s wincing, eyes shut tight as he lifts a hand to rub at the crown of his head.
"Another headache, love?" It’s the fourth one that Zeke has had in two days and Tavares is getting worried. Tavares sits up in bed and puts the book aside. Zeke follows him a moment later, still wincing from the pain throbbing through his skull.
"You’ve been having a lot of those lately," Tavares says in a low voice, speaking quietly to keep from making Zeke’s headache worse. "Did you walk with any of Aries’ medicine?" When Zeke shakes his head and winces again, Tavares pulls him close and then presses a quick kiss to his forehead. "Go lie down on your stomach; I’ll take care of you."
Grumbling the whole time, Zeke moves around the big bed until he can get comfortable. Flopping down onto his stomach, Zeke whines at the stabbing pain that pulses behind his eyes. “I hate these headaches,” he says, tone verging on a snarl as pain makes him twitch. “I don’t know why I’m having them, but it feels like someone’s knocking on my head from the inside. They hurt.”
"I know, love," Tavares says as he starts to rub at the back of Zeke’s neck. "I know. We’ll go to the healer in the morning. Tama has one on staff." Tavares takes his time working on the tension in Zeke’s limbs, soothing him for several long minutes until he goes limp against the mattress and his tail twitches weakly. "Do you feel better?"
Zeke moans softly and stretches across the mattress as his toes curl.
"Much better," Zeke says, sighing a bit when Tavares nuzzles at the base of his tail. When Tavares shifts across the mattress and wraps his arms around Zeke’s body, Zeke goes with a soft sigh and a shudder that works right through his body. "Even if my headaches stop, you’ll keep rubbing me down right?"
Tavares hums and presses a kiss to Zeke’s cheek.
"Of course," he says as he pets Zeke’s skin with long strokes of his hand. "Like I’m ever going to pass up the chance to touch you." Tavares rolls Zeke over onto his back and nuzzles in against his throat, biting lightly at Zeke’s skin until he feels his lover shudder underneath him and then reach up to scratch at Tavares’ back.
Zeke whines and bares his throat to Tavares as instinct drives him to ask for something that he’s not quite ready for. The line of his throat is so tempting that Tavares finds himself leaning forward with his mouth half-open in preparation to bite down on Zeke’s skin and finish claiming him.
With his mouth a short distance away from Zeke’s throat, Tavares growls and forces himself to pull back from his lover before he does something that he can’t fix.
Predictably, Zeke whimpers and squirms underneath Tavares’s body, trying to pull him back down into their previous embrace.
"Please, Tav," Zeke says, whining as their bodies rock together.
"You’re still not ready," Tavares says in a low voice, still settled atop Zeke’s smaller body as though he belongs there. "I don’t want to claim you now only for you to regret it later." Instead of doing the smart thing and pulling away from Zeke completely as temptation threatens to overwhelm them both, Tavares presses one last kiss to Zeke’s arched throat, sucking hard enough on the skin that the beginnings of a bruise start to show up immediately. "Let’s wait until we’re back at home before we start planning for things like this."
When he’s able to talk again, Zeke wastes no time trying to get under Tavares’ skin. “I’m going to have a rut this month,” Zeke says, smiling when Tavares’ body jerks against his and he can feel exactly how much his lover likes the thought of that. “You’re probably going to wind up claiming me then anyway. Why can’t it be when we’re both aware of what we’re doing?”
"Not now," Tavares says lowly. "Not yet."
"Very soon," Tavares says, smiling before he kisses Zeke on the mouth and then rolls over onto his side on the mattress. "Now go to sleep, love. We have a long day ahead of us."
After a year, Mickey still doesn’t like Zeke and Aries is surprised by the revelation.
Without Zeke and Tavares, the apartment above the store is quiet.
Mickey brings dinner back from an assignment warding a new Thai place and they eat their food in silence on the couch. There’s something about the apartment that seems so much different with Tavares and Zeke gone for a month.
"I miss them already," Aries says, setting his plate down on the coffee table in front of the couch. The couch is big enough that Aries can fit most of his lanky frame on the cushions and he turns to look at Mickey as his lover finishes off his second beer of the night. "It’s strange, not having Zeke around cooking dinner for us…"
Mickey kisses his teeth and gets this sour, almost pinched expression on his face. “You’ll survive,” he says in a nasty tone. “We did just fine before Tav picked up the little pest and we’ll do fine now.”
Aries frowns at his lover.
"I thought I was imagining things," he murmurs. "But then you didn’t say goodbye to him last week and all you’ve been doing is complaining about him. I thought you were over this, Mickey." Disapproval is clear in Aries’ deep voice and he shakes his head as he looks at his younger lover. "You need to be happy for Tavares."
Mickey sneers and then rolls his eyes. “What the hell do I have to be happy about,” he snaps. “Some underage prostitute worms his way into Tav’s heart and has the nerve to keep fucking around on the side and you’re telling me I should be happy about that?” Mickey sets his beer down on the table with a loud clanking noise. “He’s going to hurt Tavares and you know it.”
"It’s been a year, Mickey," Aries says with exasperation dripping from his voice. “Over a year really and you still can’t get it in your head to talk to the child. Tavares loves him and you’re just going to have to get used to that.”
The expression on Mickey’s face is downright mutinous and he gives Aries a nasty look. “Like you got used to it? How long is it going to be until you fuck him too?”
"Are you serious, Mickey?" Aries’ first thought is to jump up from the couch and storm off to his laboratory, but he forces himself to stay seated. "Zeke is a sweet child and he’s going to be Tavares’ mate. Why the hell shouldn’t I be nice to him?"
Mickey reaches for his beer and downs it in two deep swallows. “You’re not worried that he’s going to replace us with that little demon? You’re not worried that he’s going to catch something from his job?”
"Of course not," Aries says with a barely masked roll of his eyes. "For one thing, incubi can’t catch venereal diseases. For another, Tavares wants us to be a family. All four of us. If you listened to him talk, you’d know that."
"So what, we’re supposed to play at being one big happy family?" Mickey pushes his hands into the long strands of his rich red hair, spilling it out around his face as if he’s trying to mask the bitterness leaching into his tone and his body. "I don’t know a damn thing about the kid aside from how loud he gets when Tav nails him. How the hell is this going to work?"
"Start by talking to Zeke," Aries suggests. "Stop being mean to him when he comes back with Tavares and treat him like he’s part of the family. I’m not telling you to fuck him or even that you should be attracted to him, but do you really want to make Tavares choose between his mate and us?"
"No," Mickey says, shaking his head.
"Then quit being an asshole as far as Zeke is concerned," Aries says, snapping for the first time all night. "And if I ever hear you bring up his job in a negative way, I’ll be sure to let Tavares know."
Mickey pales. “Geez, Aries,” he breathes. “You don’t need to be so cruel. I’ll behave.”
Quin and Brinna talk about their brother’s potential mate as they get ready for bed.
When Brinna comes to bed, her twin brother Quin is already waiting for her. Dressed in a light blue robe that has a similar pattern to the purple robe that Brinna wears, Quin looks sweet and sleepy as he curls his body around one of the bigger pillow on the bed.
"You’re still awake?" Brinna asks as she comes closer to the bed. "Why? Your hair is dried and you’ve already had it braided. You should sleep so that we can go to the temple in the morning." Ignoring her own unbound hair, Brinna reaches out and pats the top of her brother’s head where one of his horns juts out from the thick brown mass of his hair. "Don’t you want to see everyone tomorrow?"
The corners of Quin’s wide mouth turn down in a frown. “We should have seen them tonight,” he says in a mournful tone. “We should have gone to the shrine.” Quin’s fingers twist in the fabric of his robe and he looks up at her with sadness evident on his face. “Tama will be disappointed.”
"We had a very good reason for staying away tonight, Quin," Brinna says in a patient tone. "You had that vision last night, remember? If we went to the shrine tonight we would have caused trouble." Ignoring her hair for a change, Brinna climbs onto bed with her brother and wraps her arms around him in a tight hug. "Tomorrow will be better, I swear."
Quin utters a sad noise and knocks his forehead into Brinna’s arm. “Do you think Tavares’ mate will like us?”
"You’re the one with the visions, Quin," Brinna says, teasing her twin just a little. "Tavares is a good person and if he’s bringing home a mate after so long, they must be really special."
Quin snuggles close. “Nothing like the old one I hope.”
They both sniff at that, feeling the same sort of disgust over that one part of their brother’s past. It’s Brinna that breaks the silence by laughing quietly as she plays with the braids wound into her brother’s long hair. “I don’t think anyone could be that bad.”
Quin hums his agreement. “That’s impossible,” he says softly. “This one will be good for Tavares. It’ll be permanent.”
"Have you seen something?" Brinna brushes hair away from her brother’s forehead and then checks him for the fever that usually comes after a vision.
Quin shakes his head. “Not yet,” he admits. “It’s just a feeling. I’m sorry, Brinna.”
"Don’t apologize," she says. "Feelings are good." When Quin yawns, Brinna pats his head and then gives him a gentle little shove until he lies down on his side on the mattress. "Go to sleep, Quin. I’ll be here when you wake up and we can go to the temple with everyone."
Nurturing does not come easily to Tama unless Aya is involved.
Tama is so careful.
She bathes Aya with a soft cloth, wiping her husband’s creamy skin down with the lightest touch that she can manage. Aya is too thin, too pliable underneath Tama’s callused hands. Aya feels fragile and that scares Tama.
"You need to eat more," Tama says as she wrings the washcloth out into a small bowl. "You’re too thin, Aya." Switching from the damp cloth to a dry one, Tama starts to blot the moisture from her husband’s legs. "I know you’re having trouble feeding, but I wish you would let me help."
When Aya shakes his head, several strands of his dark brown hair fall free of his hair tie. “I can’t eat,” he says. “I’ve been trying to eat but nothing stays down. Not food. Not blood. Tama, I can’t keep doing this.”
Tama feels pain cut through her like a blade. “What are you saying, Aya?”
"I think this will be my last Bith celebration." Aya won’t meet Tama’s eyes and his hands shake when he tries to push his hair back behind one of his pointed ears. "I’m sick, Tama. Sick enough that it’s keeping you from the rest of your responsibilities." There’s a bitterness to the last two words that seems out of place when compared to his normal tones. "Maybe it would be better if I simply… died."
Tama shakes her head. “No, Aya,” she breathes. “Don’t say that. You can’t say that. I would rather give up everything if it meant keeping you alive.” Tama presses a kiss to the top of the hand that Aya has dangling limply off one arm of his chair. “We’ll try the healers again. Hell, we’ll go to the capitol if we have to.”
"We can’t leave Marran without a leader," Aya says. "Not now. Not during Bith."
Huffing a little, Tama bites at her bottom lip with her pointed canine teeth. “You’re right. We’ll have to wait until the city clears out somewhat.”
"You don’t have to do this, Tama."
Tama nods. “You’re right. I don’t have to do this, but I want to take care of you.”
Breakfast the morning after sees Tavares taking a shine to Pru.
The morning after their arrival in Bith, Pru brings breakfast right up to Tavares’ room.
"You know, we’re fine eating downstairs," Tavares says, smiling slightly as he watches Pru bustle around in order to set up their breakfast dishes on the low table that overlooks the grounds. "I’m sure you have better things to do than serve us breakfast."
Pru shakes his head. “Nope,” he announces cheerfully. “Char isn’t in charge today so he can’t make me run errands everywhere. I’m assigned to be your attendant today.” The thought seems to make Pru giddy and he bounces on the tips of his toes, smiling happily as Tavares bundles Zeke up in blankets and carries him over to the plump cushions. “I’m really happy to be of service, Master Tavares.”
"You don’t have to call me that, Pru," Tavares says in a kind tone as he pours coffee into a small cup and presses it into Zeke’s hands. "In fact, I’d like it if you sat down and had breakfast with us." Tavares pats one of the cushions near him and watches as Pru’s face turns a brighter pink than his hair.
Pru blinks at Tavares as though he doesn’t understand what he’s hearing.
Tavares smiles. “You haven’t eaten yet have you?” When Pru shakes his head, Tavares pats the pillow again until Pru sits down and reaches for one of the plates. “Eat with us. There’s more than enough food for three people and Zeke doesn’t eat in the morning.”
"I do eat," Zeke says, setting his now empty cup down on the table. He rests his head on Tavares’ shoulder and wiggles close until Tavares wraps one arm around his waist and hugs him properly. "I eat off your plate, don’t I? I just don’t eat a lot in the mornings, that’s all."
Pru pushes a plate of smoked meats and cheeses toward Zeke and Tavares. “You should eat,” Pru says in a small voice, eyes downcast as though he’s already expecting a reprimand. “My mother made everything special when she heard that it was for Master Tavares and she’d be disappointed if you didn’t like it.”
The worried notes in Pru’s voice cause Zeke to sit straight up. Zeke reaches for the plate that Pru pushes their way and pulls a piece of meat from the pile on the plate, holding it up to the light. “Should I even ask what this is before I eat it?”
"We have a lot of animals in common with the ones you have Earthside," Tavares murmurs. He picks up a piece of a smoky white cheese and pops it into his mouth, eating it quickly before reaching for a glass of water. "This should be goat meat since that was a smoked goat cheese that Marran is famous for."
Still eyeing the piece of smoked meat suspiciously, Zeke pinches it between his fingers and then wiggles it in front of Tavares’ green eyes. “Actual goat or demon goat?”
Pru giggles quietly and then claps his hands over his mouth when both Zeke and Tavares look at him. “Oh! Forgive me.” The little demon looks embarrassed and he hides his face again, uttering a little whining sound that echoes through the room. “I shouldn’t have laughed. I apologize.”
Tavares reaches out and touches Pru’s shoulder.
"You don’t have to apologize," he says in the slow and steady tone that he usually uses to ease Zeke out of his panic attacks. "I invited you to eat with us so please don’t feel as though you can’t be yourself around us."
Zeke finishes playing with his food and shifts so that he can meet Pru’s eyes when the young demon finally stops fidgeting long enough to look at him. “Tav’s right,” he says. “You have plenty of time to be serious when you’re out there with everyone, but you should be yourself as much as you can.”
Still blushing, Pru nods. “O-okay.”
"Good, now you should eat too," Tavares says. "I don’t want anyone passing out while we’re in the city so you and Zeke will have to eat plenty of food from now."
Zeke pulls some of his curly black hair back over his shoulder and starts braiding it as he looks over the spread of food in front of them. “I’m not really in the mood for food,” he says quietly. “Do I have to?”
Tavares gathers Zeke up in his arms and nuzzles his cheek until Zeke’s face flushes and his body goes lax against his body. The kiss they share isn’t chaste, but they behave themselves enough so that Pru doesn’t see something that he shouldn’t. When they pull back from each other, Zeke looks dazed, but happy, and Tavares can’t stop smiling.
"You’ll eat now?"
Zeke’s head wobbles in a nod. “Y-yeah.”
Dai knows when her brother sets foot in Anatea.
The sibling bond that Dai shares with her brothers starts to pulse halfway through an important meeting at the palace. That place in her head that has been dormant for over five years pulses with a constant throbbing pain that makes her vision swim as the connection tries to settle and link her to the sibling that has crossed over to Anatea.
"Do you need a healer?"
The sound of Nida’s deep voice makes Dai flush with embarrassment at the thought of the lord noticing her distress and she squeezes her eyes shut as tight as she can get them, willing the bond to stop for a moment so that she can think. It takes a long moment, but soon Dai can force her eyes open so that she can look up at the lord standing beside her.
"I-I’m fine," Dai says softly. "It’s just a headache. I don’t need a healer."
The admission sets off a wave of whispering from the lesser nobles crowded around them and Dai doesn’t have to be telepathic to know that all of the conversation now revolves around her less than noble heritage. The blatant gossip makes Dai’s eyes sting. After five years of rebuilding her family name and fixing her late mother’s East Anatean territory, the fact that Dai still serves as the main target of the council’s ceaseless gossipy nonsense makes her skin crawl.
When Nida clears his throat, the council room falls silent in a flash. He casts a scathing glare at the council members and when he speaks, his lip curls with distaste.
"You may leave," Nida says in a cold tone. "If the only thing you can find to discuss is gossip —and in public, no less— you may consider this session ended. We’ll meet again when you all feel like acting your age." Saying such a thing to a roomful of ancient demons is a grave insult, but Nida is the oldest demon in the room. The weight of his power fills the room and several of the demons within cringe away from it.
Nida’s display of power does nothing to lessen Dai’s headache, but it clears the room out in under a minute, leaving Dai alone with her lord.
"Must you throw your power around like that?" Dai asks. The bond thrums in her head, settling in even as it unsettles her, giving her the scent of the ocean and the feel of warmth despite how cold the council hall always is. "They’ll just spread around more rumors. You know they think that you’re sleeping with me already, what if the rumors get back to the king?"
Dai has met Acodiel once before in her time in Anatea and frankly, the little king scares the hell out of her. How someone so small wound up ruling most of the countries that she’s seen still makes Dai cringe. Starting a rumor that could make him distrust how well East Anatea is being run is the last thing that Dai wants.
Nida shakes his head, setting his long brown hair to swinging. “The king won’t care,” he says. “As long as we don’t start a war or burn out our treasury, I don’t think he gives a damn about what we’re doing here.”
Nida turns away from Dai and starts to gather up his papers.
The sibling bond in Dai’s head chooses that moment to send a pulse of heat and she winces, one hand flying up to her head to rub at the space between her slender horns. When she finds her brother —whichever one it is— Dai is going to have words with him about the proper use of their bond.
Nida frowns and sets his papers down atop the large round table. He looks at Dai as though he’s seeing something strange about her and then narrows his eyes as he reaches for her with a trickle of power.
"There’s an extra presence in your mind, Dai," he murmurs in a silky tone. "It wasn’t there earlier in the meeting. Would this have anything to do with your sudden headache? Tell me, Dai, who is it in your head?"
Dai winces again, more from how cold Nida’s expression is than for the still settling link. “It’s my brother,” she blurts out. “One of them, at least. We have a sibling bond and this is the first time that it’s been activated. I need to go to him.”
"Where is he?" Nida’s tone softens and he appears curious.
Dai sighs. “Somewhere warm. I can feel the ocean and sand under my feet.” Pausing, Dai lets her mind sink further into the link until she can feel the edges of her brother’s name. “I-it’s my little brother. The youngest. He’s here — in Marran.” Dai feels giddy at that and she sinks further into her chair at the thought of her youngest brother being so close. “I have to go.”
Nida raises one hand to stop Dai in her tracks. “I’ll go with you,” the older demon says and it’s not an offer that Dai can refuse. “I have a history with that city and I may be of help to you.” Nida’s dark eyes fill with eagerness. “I’ll arrange for transportation at dawn. Do not make me wait.”
"No, Sir," Dai says quickly. "I won’t."
Dinner time for the pages is… enlightening and crushes are had all around.
No matter the time, the kitchen in the main estate is always busy. No matter how late it gets, someone is always hungry or bored and the kitchen staff never get much time off. It’s different for the pages, and when Pru comes back from a busy day of running around Marran with Master Tavares and his pretty mate, most of his friends are already sitting at the long table waiting for him.
"You’re late," Char says, already frowning as Pru sides into an empty space across from him. "If your mother was here, she’d be upset." Char eyes Pru’s rumpled uniform and then sniffs with disdain. "You’re a mess on top of that. What did you do: fall down a flight of stairs?"
After a day of following Master Tavares around and of being so happy that he could burst, Char’s criticism takes some of the pleasure out of Pru’s day. He frowns down at the table, fighting back tears at the scolding.
Ebi comes to Pru’s rescue. The lanky cat demon sets a bowlful of thick stew down in front of Pru and then snaps his fingers right in front of Char’s pointed nose to get his attention.
"Are you Pru’s mother, Char?" Ebi asks.
The noise around the table quickly dies down as everyone turns around to see if Char is about to get a scolding.
When Char shakes his head and stammers “N-no” in a weak voice, Ebi hums and pats the long black length of his braid.
"Then you shouldn’t be bossing him around when we’re off duty," Ebi says in a firm tone that holds no room for argument. "How about asking him about his day or about Tavares’ new mate? You can fuss with him later, but good gossip always comes first."
Ebi ruffles Char’s dark purple curls until the other demon is a mess and then he sits down beside Pru with a smile on his narrow face. “Tell me, Pru,” is Tavares’ mate really pretty? Don’t hold anything back.”
"I met him too," Char mutters, a flush darkening his cheeks as he glances up at Ebi through his long eyelashes. "Let Pru finish eating."
When Pru offers Char a grateful smile, Char flushes further and ducks his head to compose himself as Ebi sits and smiles at them. “H-he’s really pretty,” Char admits a moment later. “He’s not as tall as you, but he’s not tiny like Pru either. You can tell that Tavares really likes him.”
"Better than he liked N—"
Ebi claps a hand over Pru’s mouth, cutting him off before he can finish asking his question and shushes him in that same breath. ”We don’t say that name in this house,” Ebi warns, voice dropping low until the clang of pots and pans a few feet away nearly covers up his speech. “I know you’re a baby, but you have to remember how badly our master was hurt. Will you try now?”
Pru whimpers, but nods his head anyway.
"Good boy," Ebi says, before pressing a sloppy kiss to Pru’s round cheek. Ebi cards his fingers through Pru’s soft pink hair until the younger demon returns to a mostly relaxed state. "Now tell us what your day was like."
Going pink again, Pru stares down at his bowl. “It was nice,” he breathes. “And Char’s right: Zeke is really pretty. People kept staring at him while we were out and Master kept growling at them.” Pru sighs at the thought of his master’s pretty mate and wiggles against the bench he’s sitting on. “Zeke was so nice to me. He shared candy with me and held my hand when we were walking through the temple.”
Ebi laughs and scratches at the base of one of Pru’s horns. “You’re so cute,” he coos. “I can’t believe you have a crush on our master’s mate.”
"I do not!" Pru makes a face and shakes his head. "Zeke is just nice and he helped me light a candle today. It’s not a crush!"
Char frowns at the more senior page and then, surprisingly, changes the subject to something a little less embarrassing for Pru. “Who did you pray to today, Pru?”
Relaxing, Pru offers Char a shaky smile. “Tirenni of course,” he says. “She’s my patron after all.”
"Would you like to go to the temple with us tomorrow?" Char offers. "If you’re not going anywhere with your mother, that is. I’m sure Tirenni wouldn’t mind hearing your prayers a second time."
Pru’s eyes widen and he start to turn pink again. “Oh! Of course I want to come.” He bites at his bottom lip and then smiles shyly at Char. “Th-thank you for asking.”