The first week passed by so slowly that Solan felt like it had been a month of long days spent wandering the house, reading, worrying over Lokan, and arguing with Kyr over small, petty things. It was almost a relief when Roisin asked him to help her do some repairs to the paddock outside, where he discovered the fuzzy balls of hair were actually two hardy-looking cows and a bull with a dangerously thoughtful expression in its red-brown eye. None of them seemed very impressed when Solan walked up to the fence.
“The connection between you and Kyrianos,” Roisin said as he held up a length of wood for her to nail into place. Their breath steamed in the cold air, though the sun was high and bright. “There’s magic there.”
“That’s not a metaphor, is it?” Solan braced himself in the snow, tucking his chin into his collar and trying to ignore the fact that his toes had already gone numb.
She laughed, the sound clear and carrying in the still air. “Yes and no. There is a quite literal magic between you. Lokan tells me you have wild magic tattooed on your shoulder.”
“Yeah.” Solan thought of the storm Lokan had called using him as a power source and shivered a little. “Lokan’s used it.”
“You should be careful, Solan. Wild magic can be very unpredictable and much as I love my son, I am not blind to his faults. Sometimes he needs to be reminded of the cost of war to people other than himself.” She drove the final nail in and stood back to check her handiwork, nodding in satisfaction. The beads braided into her blue-black curls clacked together with the movement. “Next.”
Solan heaved another length into place before asking, “You think he’ll hurt me to win?”
“Not consciously and on purpose. He isn’t an evil man, though I suppose I can’t fault Kyrianos for thinking he is, or the humans who have lost loved ones.”
“Doesn’t he have reason to be?” The look she gave him made him blush. “You follow my son like a lost puppy, Solan.”
“I’m worried about him, he’s still sick.” Solan gladly let the second length of wood settle into its bindings, rubbing his gloved hands together to try and bring some feeling back into his fingers. “If he was anyone else, he’d be dead.”
“Fortunate, then, that he is Lokan, son of Roisin and Llyr.” Her voice took on the cadence of invocation even as she helped him move their supplies down to the next section of fence, but there was self-mockery in her tone as well. “War king, the antlered, rightful leader of the wild Fae, the blood of the old ones runs in his veins. My son, my only child, the last I have of his father.” She smiled a strange smile that Solan didn’t understand, and though she hadn’t raised her voice, snow and ice broke loose from the mountain above them and tumbled down the steep slopes almost to the edge of the valley.
The tattoo on Solan’s shoulder crawled suddenly as though in response and a chill went through him despite all his layers. He met Roisin’s eyes—the same shade of violet as Lokan’s, thickly lashed—and swallowed hard, glad that she had chosen not to bring her power to bear on the war, even if she would be on the side of the Fae. He licked dry lips and before he could stop himself asked, “Is that why you and my mother stay in your own little territories? Because if you fought outside them, there wouldn’t be much left after?”
The look she gave him this time was frankly appraising and her smile was warm. “I should give you more credit, little Fae.” The nickname Ceridwen and Lokan had given him made him smile back. “You are more astute than I first thought.”
“So you thought I was dumb when we first met?”
“Not quite. I wonder now if I still need to be so worried about the power you and my son wield over each other. Although...” She looked towards the house, frowning slightly. “I must admit that your Sergeant Torin Espenson is... hard to read. Tell me about him.”
“Torin?” Solan shrugged. “I don’t know a lot, except that he’s Kyr’s friend and he doesn’t really like me. He helped us rescue Lokan after he’d helped Kyr rescue me. I don’t even know why he bothered either time. Kyr said he was never a Fae sympathizer, but I think... He tries his best to do what’s fair, I think, and I guess sometimes that means switching sides.”
“A good man to have on your side.” She put her hands against her lower back and stretched. “Time for lunch.”
Solan followed her back to the house, feeling a little like he had been interrogated without realizing it. Only Kyr joined them for lunch; Ceridwen and Torin had already eaten, and Lokan was asleep. Solan tried not to worry about that too much, forcing himself to eat thick stew and freshly-baked bread, washing it down with some sort of hot spiced tea. When they’d finished eating, Roisin left him and Kyr to clean up the dishes and disappeared into the depths of the house.
“Why am I always on dishwashing duty?” Kyr grumbled, carrying a stack of dirty dishes into the kitchen.
“You’d rather go out in the snow and repair fences?” Solan rubbed at his nose. “I’m still cold.”
“And it will only get colder,” Kyr said in eerie imitation of Roisin. It startled Solan into a burst of laughter and he grinned at the look Kyr gave him.
“Feels like forever since I saw you mimic someone.” Solan hesitated. “I didn’t even ask about your dad and Marigold.”
“They’re okay. Magdalin too.” Kyr ran hot water into the sink and added a liberal squirt of soap. “In a refugee camp somewhere, probably bitching about the living conditions.”
“You miss them?”
“I miss your parents more.”
“Yeah, me too.” Solan leaned in to kiss his cheek and picked up a dish towel to start drying the dishes.
Another week passed slowly by and they entered the third week just ahead of a snowstorm that dumped another half a foot of snow on the valley. Solan sat by the library window and watched it fall until it grew too dark to see clearly, then made his way upstairs to check on Lokan. The bedroom door was open and he could see Lokan standing at the window, his bare chest still wrapped tight in clean white bandages. Torin lay sprawled out in the armchair by the bed, fast asleep, an open book resting on his stomach.
“Should you be up?” Solan asked quietly, stepping into the room. He glanced at Torin but Torin didn’t stir, the book rising and falling to the gentle rhythm of his breathing.
“I can’t lie down forever.” Lokan turned away from the window, crossing his arms carefully over his chest. In the light of the bedside lamp Solan could see that he had noticeably lost weight, the shadows deep and purple beneath his eyes.
“You are not well, Lokan.” Solan sighed at the complete lack of expression on Lokan’s face. “Sit, at least. You mind him being in here?” He nodded at Torin.
“No, he often comes up here.” Lokan rolled his good shoulder and sank down onto the bed, which creaked under his weight.
“To do what?”
“Talk. Read.” Lokan shrugged. “Sometimes he sleeps, like now.”
“That’s what he’s got a bed for,” Solan muttered. “Do you want a drink or anything?” He waited until Lokan shook his head, chewing on his bottom lip. “Are you mad at me or something?”
“Why would I be mad at you, little Fae?
“Because you basically ignore me. Because... if I hadn’t been captured, you wouldn’t be hurt like this.”
“That’s true.” Lokan caught his gaze and held it. “I would do it again, little Fae. I do not regret for one minute that you’re safe, no matter what it cost me.”
“Even...” Solan waved at the air above his own head.
“Thank you.” Solan laughed a bit. “This is my week for telling people stuff I should’ve told them already.” He glanced at Torin again, watching him for a moment so he wouldn’t have to meet Lokan’s steady eyes. “Your mom’s been asking about him.”
“I know.” Lokan stretched out on the bed and closed his eyes, and taking the hint Solan left the room, pulling the door almost closed behind him. He went back to his own room feeling tired and unhappy despite what Lokan had said and changed for bed, climbing under the blankets to curl up in their warmth. He was asleep when Kyr came to bed and woke only briefly at the slight chill of Kyr joining him under the covers, enough to mumble a sleepy question.
“What?” Kyr laughed a bit and Solan felt long fingers run gently through his hair. “Go back to sleep. Though before you do, any idea where Torin is? Haven’t seen him since dinner.”
Solan shrugged, muttered something about Lokan, and snuggled in, quickly sliding back down into sleep. He dreamed when he did, of hanging high above a battlefield and watching Kyr walk through the piled bodies and burned-out hulks of trucks. Kyr was in uniform, tattered and bloody, his rifle held ready and his eyes scanning his surroundings. The sunlight overhead sparked a tiny flash off something in his ear when he turned his head and Solan drifted close enough to see it was the ear cuff he’d once worn, pulsing in red and white and green and blue.
He jerked awake to cold darkness and shoved at Kyr until he got a growled ‘what?’ in response. “The ear cuff.” He pushed at Kyr’s shoulder again. “Where is it?”
“The wha’?” Kyr pulled away from him. “Would you fuck off? S’way too late for this.”
“I need that ear cuff, Kyr, where the hell is it?”
Something in his voice must have gotten through to Kyr, because he grunted and swung himself out of bed, stumbling through the darkness to his pack, sitting in the corner by Torin’s bed. Squinting, Solan could just make out his progress, absently noting that Torin’s bed was still empty, the covers neatly drawn up. A moment later Kyr dug a flashlight out of the pack and used it to look through the pack’s smaller pockets until he triumphantly held up the ear cuff.
“You seriously fuckin’ owe me,” he said, coming back to the bed and holding the cuff out on his palm. In the slightly unsteady light of the flashlight, the cuff gleamed silver, threaded through with tiny bits of colour.
Solan reached out to take it and immediately jerked his hand back when it shocked him, a visible flash of white light that stung his fingertips and numbed his hand halfway past his knuckles. He shook his hand out, wincing, and eyed the cuff like it had suddenly turned into a live snake.
“Guess it doesn’t like you anymore.” Kyr covered a huge yawn. “What’s this all about?”
“I don’t...” Solan thought of his dream and the wide white ring of Kyr’s eyes as he scanned for trouble. “Can you wear it?”
“I guess. I’d fuckin’ forgot I had it.” Kyr reached up and fiddled it into his ear, wincing a bit and showing Solan the drop of blood on his finger. “Had to shove it through.”
“That’s okay. I think.” Solan lay back and let his breath out slowly, absently massaging the feeling back into his hand. “Thanks.”
“Can I come back to bed now? It’s fucking freezing out here.” Kyr glanced towards the other bed. “And where the fuck is Torin?”
“Lokan’s room,” Solan said without thinking, and practically felt the glare Kyr turned on him.
“Uh-uh, he’s somewhere else. No fuckin’ reason for him to be in Lokan’s room at any time, let alone whatever the hell hour it is now.”
“Okay, fine, he’s somewhere else. Stop yelling.”
Kyr growled but after a moment joined Solan in bed again, lying stiff and tense, his arms crossed. Sighing, Solan rolled over and kissed along his neck and jaw until he felt Kyr start to relax and turn in towards him. Solan slid a hand into Kyr’s hair, careful to avoid even brushing against the cuff in his ear, and kissed his mouth, suddenly glad that Torin had gone somewhere else to sleep, wherever it was. For a little while he forgot bad dreams and worry, concentrating only on the feel of Kyr in his arms, and when he slept again, it was a deep and dreamless sleep straight through until morning.