Work as an actor continued to be undemanding. Little was required of me; I had few, if any, lines to memorize (other than what humans decided passed for wildcat noises), and the work involved nothing more taxing than taking off my shirt and crouching, usually at an actress’s feet.
(The weasel’s–Lyanna’s–artwork was far more beautiful and was done by her own hand, whereas this scene relied on illusion and deception.)
It was tedious, yes, but I didn’t mind. Though I couldn’t understand why humans appeared to believe “chess” qualified as a game of wits; had they never encountered a fae?
One of the humans told me my sole purpose was to “crouch on the ground and look pretty for the camera, sweetheart,” and I had no difficulties doing so.
My only regret was that when filming was extensive and far from the city, I had little time alone with the weasel–Lyanna. To watch over her.
I was relieved to finally be home after another long week of shooting. Home. Strange, to think of this humble little rooftop abode as such a thing.
I could already think of a number of reasons to protect Lyanna throughout the week.
Protect her for whom? You don’t serve him any longer–only yourself.
“I thought it was you,” a familiar, husky voice said–hoarser than I remembered.
“That ridiculous Blood and Bishops. I saw you on it, and I knew.”
“You watch my show?”
“My children’s show.” Her voice held a touch of softness I didn’t expect, not from her. “Nothing suits a fae more perfectly than acting, does it?”
“…Why are you here, Isla? Surely not to speak of your children–or acting.”
Her voice was sharp. “You know why I’m here.”
“Darius.” His name dropped between us like a lightning bolt. “You’ve seen him, haven’t you? In your dreams?” The sharpness in her voice gave way to a tremor, cracking on dreams.
Isla was different from how I remembered, different from the rest of the fae. At first, I would’ve said her time among humans had hardened her, but that wasn’t the proper word. Deadened, more like, as though her roots had shriveled from lack of water and her leaves cried out for more sunlight–sunlight that would never come, not for her.
But I was still entirely fae, and fae could be cruel. “Darius is dead.”
For all I knew, he was. Dreams could be only that.
The cigarette (why would a fae ever touch such a noxious substance?) slipped from her fingers as she reached for me. “He’s your friend. Your only true friend. If there’s any way to help him–he needs you, Orlando. You. I don’t know how I know, but I do–”
The wind, perhaps. The damnable wind that he spoke of so long ago. The wind that had left his corpse rotting beneath a tree, alone and forgotten.
“Alliances–and friendships–are fleeting among our kind, if you’ve forgotten,” I said coldly. “Has it not always been every fae for himself? We aren’t meant to have families either–you would’ve been more fortunate without a twin.”
“I never would’ve made it this far without him–”
“You never would’ve been banished without him either. You never would’ve suffered like this.” I would never understand why he had abducted a human child and brought it along with him into our realm. Then again, I knew well how persistent and pesky human larvae could be…
She reached for me with both hands. “Please, Orlando. Please. He needs you.”
I didn’t answer.
“He…he said you loved me once. If–if that’s what you want–” Her gaze skittered away from me.
I drew away as though stung by a deadly scorpion. “It isn’t.”
Yes, once. Once, I had wanted her. For a very long time. I had delighted in tormenting her, as she had tormented me–rejected me. But I’d still wanted her all the while.
But not now. She was no less beautiful or magnetic, even in a human guise, but…she didn’t possess the joyous smile that Lyanna did, the heart overflowing with kindness, the adoring nature.
Would Lyanna even want to go anywhere with a man who coldly let his only friend die–a friend she was meant for? She was an inherently good creature who cared deeply for the fates of others…
And her wolf pup littermate cared for Darius’s fate as well, I suspected. If it was truly Darius she saw in her dreams now–and yet I had rebuffed her because of my own possessiveness.
“…I’ll help your brother,” I said with the smallest of smiles. “Or try. You’re right; he was my friend once…”
Her sigh of relief was audible, as though the night sky had parted just enough to permit the smallest sliver of sunlight to reach her. “Thank you, Orlando. I knew he could trust you, even now.”
A fae, having faith in another fae…ridiculous. I got what little sleep I could, but it was a restless night. I knew what I would have to do when I woke the next morning.
More than once, Lyanna had invited me inside her home. More than once, I had refused. She tried to convince me it was a very dangerous place, but…I knew it was. For me. I couldn’t be alone with her in such close quarters, not for long…
And yet I soon found myself there regardless, savoring her mildly appealing human beauty.
“I’m so glad you finally came over,” she said. “I almost broke my neck opening the door.”
Clumsy, clumsy creature.
“…I only came to tell you goodbye.”
“Goodbye?” She turned away from me, and I instinctively reached for her hand. I could already see her lower lip trembling. “I don’t understand, Mr. Duke…”
I heaved a sigh. “I’m leaving. I’m not certain as to how long…but I won’t be able to see you for some time.”
I turned away so I wouldn’t have to see her crying face. I didn’t want to lose resolve, not now.
“No,” she whispered, her arms wrapping around my back and holding me tightly. “You can’t.”
It was a struggle, to maintain an impassive expression. To keep the pain from claiming my words. “I have no choice.”
“I can come with you–”
“No,” I said coldly. “You can’t.” The realm of the fae held dangers even I couldn’t protect her from.
I could feel her eyes on me as I left, could count every one of her tears without looking back.
You’ll thank me, I thought as I walked away from the one place I longed to stay forever. When you meet the only man worthy of you.
Whether that man was Darius or myself had yet to be determined.
But first, I had to find him.