Jay took his plate to the sink and Maelin followed him.
She rubbed his back. “Don’t worry about Isellta.”
He arched an eyebrow. “Am I being that obvious?”
“No. But I know you’re worrying about him. Don’t. I will protect him.”
“Then, I have nothing to worry about.” He looked down at their combined dishes in the sink.
She ran her fingers along the back of his neck.
“Mae. I’m sorry.”
“For calling you back here. It was selfish of me, but—”
“It wasn’t selfish. Isellta needed help. I was able to help him.”
“Are you disappointed that I interrupted your artistic—”
“Jay. Stop. If I didn’t want to come home, I would not have come home. I wanted to come home. I was ready. I was ready to come back to you.”
He bowed his head. “I missed you so much. Every day. Every hour. Every minute. I wish I could tell you to never leave me again, but I can’t do that to you. I know the dragon part of you wants to wander. Needs to wander. I know I can’t tie you down. If I could…”
“One day you will.”
He turned to face her. “When?”
“I don’t know, but that day will come. When it does, we’ll know. We’ll both know.” She hugged him. “But I am here now. I am not leaving you right now.”
“But you will. You can’t help it.”
“But I will always come home to you, Jay.”
He closed his eyes and enjoyed the feeling of her arms around him, of her body snugged in his embrace. “When that day comes, I will propose to you again.”
“This time, I will say yes.”
He held her a little closer. “I love you, Mae.”
“I’ll always love you. No matter where I am.”
Jay put on his guard’s robe.
Maelin fastened it up for him. “Have a good day at work.”
“I’m not really sure what counts as a good day anymore. A day where nothing happens? Or a day where something happens?”
She kissed him. “Whatever makes you happy.”
“Isellta makes me happy.” He kissed her again and again. “You make me very happy. Love you.”
“Love you too.”
He put his mask on.
Isellta came over to Jay and hugged him.
Even though the fey couldn’t see it, Jay smiled. “I’ll see you at lunch.” He fluffed Isellta’s hair. “Be good. Be safe. Stay away from MarkCaten. Stay away from Preyuna. Okay?”
Isellta released him and nodded.
“Stay with Maelin. She’ll protect you.”
He looked at Maelin. “I’ll see you at lunch.”
Isellta’s wings flattened against his back as Jay left the room.
“I have a question for you.” said Maelin.
He turned his attention to her. “What is it?”
“You don’t have to answer it if doing so makes you uncomfortable, but I’m curious. You never put your wings away. You always have them out. Why?”
“Don’t you know how to do it?”
“I know how, but I can’t. I just…my body doesn’t work right.”
“Can I see your back?”
He shook his head and backed away from her.
“I will not hurt you.”
His wings flittered.
“You can trust me. If I want to hrrash ka kae with someone, I will do it with Jay. And only Jay. I will never do it with anyone else.”
His breathing calmed down. “Not even me?”
“Not even you. I am part dragon. Dragons, whether they’re from America or Asia, are always faithful to their partners. So, yes. You can trust me.”
Isellta unbuttoned the buttons above and below his wings and took his shirt off.
He turned his back to her.
He closed his eyes.
Her hands moved across the bare skin under his wings.
His back muscles spasmed as her hands slid upwards. His wings flittered.
“Okay. It’s okay, Isellta. You’re okay. I’m not hurting you. Raise your wings so I can get under them.”
He reluctantly obeyed.
“Good boy. It’s okay.”
Her hands moved to the kri kyah joint that connected his wings to the inside of his body.
He broke into a cold sweat as her fingers explored it.
“Shh. It’s okay. You’re okay, sweetheart. I’m just touching your back. I will not touch anything else. You’re safe. Shhh. You’re safe. Try to put your wings away.”
He flared out his wings, flapped them a couple of times, and folded them against his back. He tried to pull his wings into his back, but nothing happened. “Are you done?”
“Almost. I want to check one more thing. I’m going to need your help with this one. Turn into Jay without a shirt on. And don’t worry. I’m not going to do anything. I just want to see what happens to your wings when you change form.”
“It will fool you. You’ll think I’m Jay. You’ll be hurt when I turn back into myself.”
“I’m not so easily fooled. It’s okay, Isellta. Trust me. It’s okay.”
He swallowed hard and transformed into Jay.
She didn’t react.
Her hands moved over his back, following the same pattern as before. “Hm. That’s interesting. Okay. I’m done. You can change back and get dressed.”
Isellta very quickly did both.
“You are an interesting creature, Isellta Mal Hoven. You have a set of rae daes sacs inside your back. I can feel them. So, your wings have a physical place to go into. But your skin back there is all wrong. It’s just normal skin. So, you can’t pull your wings inside. But when you transform, your wings somehow wind up inside the rae daes sacs. I’m not sure how that’s possible.”
He sighed. “Just add it to my How I Am Not A Normal Fey list.”
“You have one?”
The other servants filed into the kitchen for breakfast.
Isellta tugged on her sleeve. “Can we go somewhere else? Please. I don’t want to run into Queen Preyuna.”
She smiled. “Okay. Follow me.”