Christein woke up with no idea where he was. He was tired and confused and seeing his little cousin lying on top of him only made it worse. The last thing he remembered was fighting Hynnkel. He looked down to try to determine if that had been a nightmare or real, but he couldn’t get past his shirt being torn open. What had happened?
He sat up carefully, holding her against him gently. He frowned. It wasn’t like her to sleep through someone touching her.
“Amadhay?” he whispered to no response. “Amadhay? Wake up.”
She looked peaceful. He couldn’t remember the last time he had slept as peacefully as it seemed she was. He had to wonder how she did it. He had nightmares every night. He dreamed of the people he’d hurt for Arne Riff. He dreamed of his weakness, of not being able to keep Amadhay safe. He dreamed of his rejection. Then again, she didn’t have those problems. She didn’t share his memories or his failure. Maybe it was easier for her to sleep because she didn’t know what it felt like to be ruined.
Her entire body cringed, and then she was limp, her head lolling back as if she had no bones in her neck.
“Amadhay? Wake up. Please?” he pleaded, sitting her up into his arms so that he could see her face. She cringed again but this time, her hands moved, clutching for someone. Black shot off of her, encompassing Christein.
Christein froze instantly, panic lancing through him as he realized he no longer had his cousin in his arms. He could see something, something small. It was her, he realized with only the slightest relief. She lay curled up in a small ball, her hands covering her ears as if she were trying to block some noise out. She was scared. He couldn’t see what she was frightened of, only that she was. It was a tight fit where she was.
He was suddenly surrounded by light. He glanced down and saw his hands were smaller, much smaller. He was immediately sure that he knew where he was. He could feel Amadhay’s fear. It was overpowering. She couldn’t talk, couldn’t cry, couldn’t run or attack. She couldn’t do anything. She was at the mercy of the small room. It was closing in on her.
Then Christein was himself again, seeing baby Amadhay for the first time. Her tiny face was so scrunched up. Her hands were reaching out though, it seemed, to him.
And then it was gone. A new scene took its place. This time Christein knew what it was immediately. Three-year-old Amadhay pulled on his tail “Monkey!” she exclaimed happily. Just like then, he smiled and tried to correct her, but she was stubborn. “Monkey,” she decided, petting his tail. “Pretty Monkey.” He was smiling at her when it changed again.
Now his smile dropped off of his face when he was looking into the face of his father. He glanced down and sure enough there was a little Amadhay, staring in something between fear and anger. Riff backhanded Christein, making his head smack against the wall much too hard.
“Leave him alone!” cried the brave little girl right before she bit Riff’s leg hard enough to make the man scream. She dashed away to get to Christein. Christein tried to reach her before his father did, but as always he was too late and the little girl was grabbed away from him and shaken.
The image changed again, but this time it wasn’t a memory of a time long ago. This was only six years ago and a day he would never forget. He was leaning against a wall, smirking. He bopped the nine-year-old’s nose, which she responded to by punching him. When he tickled her, she laughed until Riff had entered the room with a man, his knot, and their son who was only a few years younger than Amadhay. Riff ordered her to kill them all. Amadhay had looked to him for guidance, for protection, but all he could do was shrug. He shrugged and handed Amadhay a knife. She had looked at him, her big blue eyes pleading, but he had looked away.
This time when the image shifted, Christein was back on the bed, his bare chest heaving and eyes wide. He let go of Amadhay and made a dash out of the room, his hand over his mouth. He made it to a bathroom just in time. As soon as he was in front of the toilet, he threw up everything in his stomach. Staring at the blood swirling down the drain as he flushed the toilet, he tried not to think of the memories Amadhay had just forced him to relive.
He went back to her bedroom and sat on the edge of the bed, putting his head in his hands. He was sick of missions that ended with him regenerating. He was so sick of feeling like he’d let Amadhay down. And he was sick to death of his brother. He opened his eyes when Amadhay made a pained sound. He started when her body shuddered violently on the bed.
He launched himself across the room. “Amadhay, hey!” he started shaking her in hopes she would wake up. “Wake the fuck up!”
Her eyes snapped open. “Monkey?” she asked, frowning. There was a strong confusion in her gaze until everything seemed to fall into place.
He hugged her tightly. “Don’t do that!” he yelled at her, making her confused again. “What in the Water is wrong with you?”
She shook her head in confusion. “Do what?” she asked, though she didn’t move from his hug. “Monkey, are you alright?”
“You’re sick, Amadhay, you need help.” Amadhay tensed when he said those words. He wondered what she thought he meant, but he continued before she could say anything. “You weren’t waking up. You were having seizures.” He pulled her even closer, resting his head on hers.
Amadhay swallowed. Christein enjoyed having his cousin in his arms. She closed her eyes and he simply enjoyed the comfort he felt at knowing she was safe with him. “It’s nothing to worry about.”
Christein closed his eyes too, feeling sick again, but this time it wasn’t a physical feeling. “But does it happen often?” he whispered.
Amadhay shrugged before she pressed her cheek against his chest. “Depends on what you call often,” she admitted. “You okay?” she asked him softly, looking up at him.
Christein opened his eyes slowly and looked down at her for a long moment. He saw the way she was looking at him with those big eyes and couldn’t help but remember when they were blue and hopeful. Back before he had failed her the first time. He let go of her and pushed her off of him gently. He picked his belt up off of the floor and started putting it on and re-buttoning the few buttons left on his shirt, completely ignoring her latter question.
“Do you have any food here?” he asked, looking around her room.
“Aw, Monkey,” she pouted instead of pushing the subject. “Why’d you hafta get dressed? I was enjoying the view,” she teased him.
When he gave her a less than amused look, she gave a small sigh before smiling at him. She edged off of her bed and dropped to her feet, tugging down the same shorts she’d been wearing the previous day. Both of them were very much aware of how much skin she was showing in her tiny shorts and torn tank top. Hs eyes were locked on the curve of her waist, where her shirt was so torn that it hardly covered anything and her sandy skin was stained with blood that he hoped was his. He should have told her to change and shower, but Christein chose not to say anything when she grabbed his hand.
“It’s my place, Monkey. ‘course there’s food. There’ll always be food for you here,” she told him. He thought about asking her why she would put it that way.
“What do you have?” he asked instead, smiling as he followed her. He didn’t want to give her any reason to decide against giving him food all the time.
“Dunno,” she responded after a moment of thought, shrugging her shoulders. “I buy whatever and throw it out when it gets bad.” She let go of him and gestured at the fridge.
He laughed uneasily, wondering what she ate then. “Works for me. Chances are you’ll have something I’ll eat. You know how I’m a picky eater.”
She nodded and shoved him toward the fridge. “Take what you want,” she ordered, settling herself on the dining table rather than one of her seats. She watched him.
Christein frowned when he opened the fridge. “Not much,” he stated.
Looking over his shoulder, she sighed. “Tricksy fridgey,” she muttered before hopping off of the table. She pushed Christein to the side and closed the fridge. Then she reopened it to reveal it to be much fuller than before. “There. That’s better, wouldn’t you say?” she asked him with a grin.
He blinked at her. “How did you do that?’ he asked warily.
She grinned. “My little secret,” she answered before hopping back onto the tabletop.
Instead of wondering why Amadhay’s fridge had an illusion on it, he listened to his stomach when it growled. Christein took out pita bread, cheese, and ham before sitting in one of the seats opposite to her. He made a sandwich, well aware that she was watching him with more worry than he wanted from her.
He kissed her cheek. “Thank you,” he told her sweetly before starting to eat.
She sighed dramatically. “You only like me when you’re getting something from me,” she accused, turning her back on him so that he wouldn’t see the expression on her face. But even without seeing her expression, he could tell that she meant what was supposed to be a joke.
He supposed he deserved that, given the way he had treated her since she had told him about her time with the Palnoki. She’d had the chance to get way from all of this, two chances in fact, and she had just given them up. It pissed him off, especially since she kept blaming him for her decisions, kept saying that she couldn’t keep him safe if she were with the Palnoki or hidden and safe with Nolando. He didn’t need her to keep him safe. It should’ve been the other way around. He should have shielded her from his father’s ambition. If he had, she wouldn’t have been dealing with the horrible things she had to do to survive the life she was living.
“Not true,” he told her, leaning forward until he could hook her side and drag her back across the table, to him. She didn’t make it easy, giving him absolutely no help, but it didn’t stop him. He pressed his face against her side comfortingly, smirking when he felt her relax at his touch. “I like you all the time.”
“Liar,” she muttered, still trying her hardest not to look at him.
Christein stretched upwards and stood. Where they had been closer to the same height with them both seated at different levels, he now towered over her again. He pulled her to him so that he could hug her from behind and she all but melted. He thought about all the things he wanted to say to her, but didn’t.
“What about something to drink?” he asked, before adding jokingly. “Got any alcohol?”
She smiled, nodding her head. “Yup, cupboard next to the fridge,” she told him.
He raised an eyebrow at her. “What kind?” he asked, before finishing his sandwich.
“Dunno,” she answered evasively. She shrugged, tucking hair behind her ear in an action Christein knew meant that she wasn’t telling him something. “I just buy stuff. I dunno what I buy,” she lied to him.
He faked a laugh and let go of her, moving to the cabinet. Opening it, he was vaguely surprised by the sheer variety of alcoholic drinks the 15-year-old had stashed in her place. He wasn’t even aware that she drank outside of the court functions. Actually, he was almost positive that she didn’t drink, including at the court functions. Alcohol bothered her Gift, which he knew from the one time he’d convinced her to take a swig of rose wine with the celebratory meal he and Ben had made for her after her induction into the Phoegani three years ago. So why did she have so much?
Why did she have so much of everything?
“You’re so lucky,” he whispered, just coming to terms with the sheer magnitude of it all. Life seemed to be falling into place for her just as it was falling apart for him. “You get your own place, your own life…everything.” He clenched his fists, staring at her drinks. They were all unopened and most were either gingerbread or peppermint flavored. He couldn’t help but wonder why she was stockpiling alcohol. They weren’t even good for cleaning or burning, only drinking.
“Yeah, if you say so,” she muttered. She crossed her arms over her chest, looking younger than she had in quite some time.
He looked back at her for a long moment, frowning. Silently, he grabbed one of the unopened peppermint vodka bottles and closed the cabinets, moving to her side. He uneasily sat on the table beside her, watching as she gave him a weary smile. “What’s wrong?” he asked softly.
“What do you mean?” she asked with wide eyes, faking another smile. This one slipped off of her face quickly when he didn’t buy it.
Christein took a long swig of the alcohol, making a face at the burn. She was hiding something from him and he would admit that it bothered him. She had never bothered to hide anything from him before he had failed her and the Palnoki had taken her. He couldn’t help but worry that she had lost her faith in him.
He sighed, shaking his worries off and deciding that getting her to open up required regaining her trust. He had never thought that he could lose it. “If I tell you what’s wrong with me, will you tell me what’s wrong with you?”
He stared at her as she stared at him, a strangely calculating expression crossing her face. It disappeared and then she was sitting on his lap, looking much too young. “Go ahead,” she urged him.
He wondered if she knew what she did to him. Deciding that she couldn’t, that he was the only fucked up one, he took another long swig of the alcohol before handing the bottle to her. She gave it an experimental sniff before setting it away from them as he leaned back to sprawl on the table. She stayed on his lap.
“I’m sick,” he said softly.
“Sick how?” she immediately countered. She looked like she was considering lying down with him, but stayed sitting upright.
“Sick as in I don’t know how many more times my body will heal before just shutting down. Sick as in my body is fighting me every moment of the day. I can hardly eat anything without being sick. I’m barely sleeping anymore. Sick…just sick, Mayday.” He finished it with a self-mocking smile and a shrug.
He got a kind of sick pleasure from watching her eyes widen. If he didn’t know her better, hadn’t known that she hadn’t truly cried since she was eight, he would have thought the sheen to her eyes was her holding back tears. “Sick as in…death?” she asked falteringly.
He shrugged again as if it didn’t matter. “Don’t know. They won’t tell me.” Both of them knew that ‘they’ meant their superiors in the Phoegani such as his father. “I’m just sick. I’ve been thinking that maybe…” he trailed off and glanced at her and quickly closed his eyes. She looked so young, younger than she had in years, actually. Her looking that young is what kept him from continuing.
She didn’t understand that he was doing it for her. “No, maybe what?” she demanded, leaning forward so their faces were closer.
His eyes snapped open, willing her to move back even though he didn’t want her to. “None of your damn business,” he snapped. That made her sit up slowly. “Why should you care if I live or die?” he spat nastily, knowing that it was a low blow and completely unfair to her, but still needing to hear the answer.
Amadhay scoffed, dropping off the table. “I don’t know. Why should I care?” she responded sarcastically, turning her back on him. “Maybe because you’re the only one in our family who doesn’t either think I’m dead, want me dead, or try to run my life for me. Maybe because you’re one of the few people who at least pretends to care about me.” She abruptly turned back to him. He eyed her warily, though he didn’t sit up. “Maybe because you’re my best friend or because I don’t want you to die because I can’t imagine my life without you. Maybe because I—” she cut herself off abruptly, avoiding looking at him now. “Nevermind,” she said, turning away to leave the room.
Christein sat up, his arm reaching out fully to grip her arm. “Now hold up one damn clack!” he exclaimed, scrambling for purchase. “We made a deal,” he reminded her, knowing that she always tried to hold to her promises. Her word was her bond. “What’s wrong with you?”
She scoffed. “You couldn’t tell?” she sneered. “Something keeps attacking me in my sleep. Food is unappealing. I’m tired all the time because I have to keep using my gift to keep myself from being killed and none of the energy is coming back to me.” She paused and took a breath, still facing away from him. “And I don’t know if you noticed, but I was kidnapped right from my home, in broad daylight, by our worst enemy and held captive for six months. Since then, I’ve failed more missions than I have in my life. My Gift is getting harder to use the more exhausted I get and my magic is practically running on ebbs nowadays.” He chose not to mention that her ebbs was still more power than most people held in their entire bodies. She wasn’t finished yet.
She jerked herself from him. “And despite getting this nice little house all to myself as an apology for letting me get kidnapped right on base, I feel really alone. I feel like they shoved me here so that when Atlas decides he wants me again, he can just come. He sends me gifts, Monkey. He knows I’m here. I get notes from him in my bed.” She was shaking.
That made him jump off of her table and hold her close. “That bastard isn’t going to get you again, Mayday. I swear.”