Christein sat down on Amadhay’s couch, looking toward the stairs, where he assumed she was. Sleeping.
“It’s the middle of the night. Of course she’s asleep,” he muttered to himself, looking to the front door. Amadhay had to be exhausted. He knew that she’d been given mission after mission to keep her busy, and those missions had been anything but simple. Their superiors had been driving her hard to keep her physically away from the Palnokians who had been spotted. If she weren’t sleeping, he could talk to her, because he really needed to. No, he wanted to talk to her, to tell her what was happening.
But he wasn’t supposed to tell her, he wasn’t even supposed to be talking to her. He shouldn’t tell her because it would only make her do something stupid. He stood slowly, favoring his right leg for once, where his right had yet to completely heal itself, and moved toward the front door. Inexplicably, he ended up at the stairs, his feet moving against his common sense.
“I shouldn’t,” he whispered to himself. He still went up the stairs. He was fighting himself every step of the way down her hallway and to her bedroom. He shouldn’t be here. He shouldn’t tell her. He shouldn’t do that to her, shouldn’t bother her. He shouldn’t confuse her anymore than he already had.
He was outside of her bedroom before he knew it, staring into her room, staring at her. He knew that she knew he was there when he saw how tense she was, even though she lay flat on her back on the bed, eyes closed and breathing regular and even. For a moment, seeing that, seeing her, seeing the way she didn’t look like she’d slept in the two weeks since he’d been avoiding her, it all made him consider not going in, leaving and not saying a word.
He knocked on the doorframe, announcing his presence even though they both knew he that knew that she knew that he was there. Standing in the door uncertainly, he waited for her to respond. She slowly sat upright, eyeing him warily even though she gave him a smile. He felt like an asshole at seeing her eye him with more wary mistrust than he had ever seen from her.
“Can I come in?” he asked carefully, trying his hardest not to look away from her.
“I suppose,” she responded, throwing her legs over the side of the bed before patting the space beside her for him to join her.
Noting how tense her movements were, he sat down gingerly. Clearing his throat, he looked away from her. “I’m, uh, leaving tomorrow night. At eight. I just…I wanted to apologize. I shouldn’t have fucked you up like I did. It’s my fault that you think you’re in love with me, and I have to make up for that. So, I’m going to go, and this isn’t the best timing, obviously, but I’m going to try to fix this. Whatever this is with us. And just…you should try to figure yourself out because us? Whatever you think you can have between us? It can’t happen. It won’t happen. Ever. We can’t.”
She was silent for so long that Christein had to look at her. When he did, he moved without thinking, pulling her into his arms. She was shaking, eyes misty but not yet crying as she tried not to say anything. I can’t do this to her. “Mayday, c’mon. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to—”
“You’re just going to leave me? Just like that?” her voice was broken, so incredibly broken that he cursed himself, Riff, and Atlas all in the same thought. “I’m sorry, Monkey, I’m sorry and I’ll try. But please don’t leave, I’m sorry. I’ll stop, I’ll be better, don’t leave me. Please don’t leave me.”
“I’m just going on a mission,” he said quickly, immediately feeling even worse when he lied to try to make it better. “It’s offshore, but it’s just a mission and I’ll be right back. I’m coming back.”
“I want to go with you,” she whispered, pressing her face into his shirt. “I have to go with you. Don’t leave me here alone, please?”
Christein flinched, gently prying her off of him. “You know you can’t.” He swallowed, choosing to not explain it any better than that. She knew the rules. She knew just as well as he did that she was still limited to on-shore missions to keep her away from Palnoki. It was for her own protection.
She looked up at him with her eyebrows raised high, her eyes a startling sky blue like they used to be. “You’ll come back to me?”
With that one question, Christein lost the self-control he prided himself on having with her. He couldn’t bear lying to her again, so instead he gave her something better. He gave her a bit of his truth. He tilted her head back a little further and leaned down into a kiss. Despite how out of control he felt, despite how warm she was and how good she made him feel, he gave her the gentlest of kisses and then moved back to watch her. “We can’t be together,” he reminded her.
It took a click for her to respond, where her eyes were closed and lips parted just slightly, still pursed as if she were reliving the kiss. When it became obvious that he wasn’t going to kiss her again, her eyes slowly opened and the shock of blue eyes hit him again. She just stared at him for a few breaths before she crawled forward until there was no room left between them. She placed her hands on his chest to gently push him back onto her bed, gently enough that he could resist if he wanted, but by the Goddess, he didn’t want to. Once he was lying down, she crawled forward once more until they were face to face.
“I just want…” she placed a soft kiss to the corner of his mouth, so soft that it was barely a kiss, but it still sent a jolt through Christein’s entire body. “You to try,” she kissed the other corner of his mouth, this time with a bit more pressure. Christein groaned. “Please?” They were so close that he could feel her breath coming in rapidly.
He searched her eyes for a moment, and seeing that innocent blue, he weakly pushed at her. “I can’t,” he said breathlessly, staring at her lips instead, her soft, red-stained lips. They weren’t innocent, they didn’t remind him of her as a child. When he looked at her lips, all he could see was the knowing curve, the stain of red, succubus lipstick, red like the blood she shed.
“Please?” she asked again, her voice so soft that he felt the whisper more than heard it. This time her lips pressed against the corners of his left eye and then she started toward the right eye, his damaged one, when he froze.
“Amadhay, stop,” he ordered weakly, and surprisingly, she did. She sat back on her heels and stared at him with so much want that he couldn’t help himself this time. He reached up and cupped her cheek. Her eyes closing slowly, she pressed her cheek into his hand, letting out a soft purr. Christein couldn’t breathe, staring at her in amazement. She was beautiful, she was perfect and all she wanted was him. All he had to do was take what she was offering.
“Please?” she whispered, not opening her eyes.
“Don’t make me do something I’ll regret,” he warned her, pulling her back down to him. She gasped softly, but quickly rearranged herself so that she was atop him with her face nuzzling into his throat.
“Why regret?” she whispered.
“You know damn well why,” he snapped, but he didn’t pull away from her. He was powerless against her. Her, his little cousin, the little girl he had taught to climb a tree, to identify the different parts of the body, to kill. Except she wasn’t a little girl anymore, was she? She could make her own decisions, and if this was what she wanted, then who was he to go against her? He hated himself for even thinking that. She was too young to really understand, too dependent on him to realize what she really wanted.
“But I don’t,” she responded, pulling back to look at him dead on. “We are no worse than the Queen Ora and King du Kay binding. It’s going to happen, everyone already knows and accepts it. They’re cousins the same as us. So why are we wrong? We’re just as close as they are!”
Christein frowned. “It’s bad, Amadhay. We aren’t royalty. We are both First Family. It is closer to me trying to rut with Kellinan.”
“But it isn’t,” Amadhay argued, taking his hand, “Because I am not Kelly. I am First Family by default, not by blood. If my father had been there when I was born instead of Riff, if Riff hadn’t claimed me, then I wouldn’t be First Family and this would be fine. We aren’t doing anything wrong. Our blood isn’t that close.”
“But it’s close enough.” Christein shook his head and started to get up, but Amadhay didn’t move. “You know it’s close enough. We are practically siblings by law.”
“Court law, but not normal law. I’m cat, you’re lizard. It’s allowed,” she tried.
He shook his head, working hard to gather his wits. “It’s not allowed, Amadhay. I’m your cousin, almost your brother. I’m almost twice your age. And we are Court, so Court laws apply to us.”
“I’m technically dead, so they don’t apply to me.”
“You’re extremely alive right now. Enough people know that you’re alive that soon enough you’re probably going to be going to Court functions again. What then? Will the laws no longer apply?”
“We can get out of Ha’s Region. There aren’t stupid Court laws in Tierdom.”
“Even Nolando and Anne would purposely make laws against this. And considering if you moved to Tierdom, they’d never let you out of their sight, you wouldn’t be able to hide it—don’t try claiming otherwise. I’m pretty sure they’d apply to you even more there.”
“Tell me one bad thing that could happen if we were together,” she demanded, changing tact. Her eyes were red and blazing with enough emotion for him to know that she was serious. “One thing that doesn’t involve laws.”
He gave an aggrieved sigh and laid back down, looking up at the ceiling instead of her. He could fight her if he didn’t look at her, so long as he remembered everything that was wrong with their relationship becoming any more convoluted than it already was. Such as…
After almost three clacks of silence, Amadhay leaned down to him and pressed her head into the crook of his neck. “See? You can’t even think of a reason against us without the law. I mean for Escort’s sake, Monkey, we break the law all the time, for our job. Why can’t we break it for something that will make us happy for once?”
“What if you get pregnant?” he blurted out, cradling her to his chest. As improbable as it seemed it was a possibility. He didn’t know it Rea had ever implanted the blunderlust pregnancy inhibitor into her.
She scoffed and tapped the juncture between her neck and shoulder, where the chip was normally placed. “That’s hardly going to happen,” she stated, nipping at his neck. He gave a low groan before he turned her onto her back, looking down at her once he had her pinned.
“But what if it did?” he asked, needing to make this decision without any of her prompting kisses or bites. Fine, she had the inhibitor implanted into her, but sometimes they malfunctioned, especially when the other partner had a different versions of the inhibitor. Arne Riff had made sure he’d been implanted with an irremovable adult version of the easily removed chip embedded into children experimenting with blunderlust. What if their inhibitors malfunctioned because of that? No one had expected him to have any of the blunderlusting in his bed, so he hadn’t been given the full facts behind the chances there.
“Nothing bad will happen,” she replied reassuringly.
He stared at her, fighting the different parts of him. One part of him definitely wanted to take all of whatever of herself she would give to him. Another part of him wanted to leave right then and there before he could ruin her any more. Another part of him wanted to make her see what she did to him. Another part was disgusted with both of them and what they were thinking of doing.
In the end, he listened to the only voice that mattered,
Only after calling in to his information operative with the basic details about them having Skeletal Smile, Ben needing assistance, and that he was going out into the field to help Red Robin, did Christein allow her to pull him back with her to where she had left Ben.
She couldn’t be bothered to care that the vampire was gone, though Christein was vocal about it. He checked the area quickly before returning back to where she was sitting with Ben’s corpse.
“Did you even incapacitate him before leaving?” he wanted to know, but when he looked at her, he choked back more rebukes. She was just sitting there, holding the hand of a dead body, staring at empty eyes as if waiting for them to light up with life again.
He could just look at Ben and know that he was dead. He had seen paintings of Ben before he’d become a phantom and the dark green eyes and light brown hair fit the description. The only explanation for him to have returned to his original coloring, minus the still deathly pale skin, was that he was dead. Or rather, that he was truly dead. Still, for Amadhay, he kneeled on the other side of her and checked for a pulse. “Gone,” he sighed, pulling his hand back and looking at her. “He’s dead. I’m sorry.”
Amadhay simply shook her head as if it didn’t matter. “It’s a seal. It can be undone. I, we, have Skeletal Smile. He is at my mercy for at least twenty more clacks. He will undo it.”
Christein chose not to question what would happen in twenty clacks. He preferred plausible deniability when it came to his younger cousin. “He might not come back,” he whispered instead, taking her hand from the corpse and holding it between both of his.
She needed to know that. Once phantoms were sealed by a necromancer, it was rare that they came back. It either took an incredibly strong necromancer to force it or a strong desire from the phantom to continue with this existence. He wouldn’t lie that he doubted Ben had that draw. Ben wasn’t with anyone, his only friends (as far as Christein could tell) were him and Amadhay (and it was pushing it to call him Ben’s friend), he was in a job that was slowly eating at what was left of his soul, and Christein was hard-pressed to think of something that the phantom could want to come back to besides them or the job.
But he couldn’t seem to get Amadhay to understand that.
“No,” Amadhay shook her head decisively. “He will come back.”
“Amadhay, I’m serious. He might not come back.”
“So am I,” she responded, glaring just past his ear. He was actually glad to see that. Her going back to not glaring directly meant that she was better. “He. Will. Come. Back.” She enunciated each word intelligibly, as if he simply weren’t hearing her right.
When she made to touch the dead body again, Christein pulled her away, disgust and other things that he refused to think about prevalent in his mind. “Why are you so insistent?” he demanded, grabbing her by the shoulders. “He’s dead, Amadhay. He has always been dead!” he shouted, shaking her, trying to shake the sense into her and the infatuation out.
Other people she knew had died on missions with her, even other friends. He hated that she was so broken by Ben’s death. A small part of him recognized that it was a good thing that she was so obviously in love with Ben. But a larger part of him hated it. Would she be that broken if he were the one dead?
“Stop it,” she said shakily, shoving him back from her.
“Why?! He’s dead, Amadhay!” He yelled again. He cupped her cheeks to make her look at him and not the dead body. “If you love him so much, let him do the one thing he couldn’t in peace!”
Amadhay froze, her eyes glittering unhappily, but no tears marred her face. “I hate you,” she whispered.
Christein recoiled as if he had been slapped. “Amadhay…”
She didn’t look at him, instead moving back to Ben’s body and trying to lift him. The corpse outweighed her by about 100 lbs and was well over a foot taller than she was. It would have been funny if she weren’t so serious about it, if Ben weren’t dead. No, Christein corrected himself, It would be funny if it weren’t her.
“Here, let me help,” Christein muttered, but fell back when she lifted one hand to tell him not to come any closer. He watched as she fumbled, falling under the weight of the body of Benjym Base. She sat down on the ground and looked ready to cry.
“Mayday,” he said softly, moving closer to her. She didn’t stop him this time. “I’m going to help you.” She shook her head, pushing at his hands weakly. “Come on. We’re going back the base.”