Maelin sat on the bed and watched Isellta sleep. She smiled fondly at him.
He slept like a baby — flat on his chest, head turned to the side, hands curled on either side of his head. His mouth was slightly open. His soft blond hair all messed up. His black wings flat on his back. With his face still a little pale and too thin from his near death experience, he looked so delicate. So vulnerable. So breakable.
She readjusted his blanket, pulling it up to the back of his neck. “What more can I do for you?”
He made a small, quiet sound. It was too peaceful to be a moan and too short to be a coo.
“I wish I could have found Robin for you. I’m sorry I didn’t.” She sighed. “But who knows? Maybe Jay will have better luck.”
He repeated the sound.
“I hope he does. I hope he figures out a way to sneak Robin inside.”
He repeated the sound again, but it had an anxious wobble.
“I hope he’ll be able to lead Robin over to you without any Preyuna or Mark Caten interference.”
His visible eyebrow quilted up.
“Jay will do it. I know he will. Just you wait and see. You’ll wake up, Isellta, and he’ll be here. Your Robin will be here in this room.”
His mouth trembled.
“And he’ll run to you. He’ll run to you and pull you into his arms.”
The small sound turned into a whimper.
“Shh. It’s okay.”
His whimpering increased.
I promised Isellta that I would never touch him without his permission. For the most part, I have kept that promise. I want him to trust me. Maybe he’ll never trust me the same way he trusts Jay, but if I could just have a fraction of that trust. If only I could make him feel like I’ve earned that much.
Isellta broke down into restrained crying that broke Maelin’s resistance down.
“You poor boy.” She stroked his hair. “You poor, dear boy.”
Isellta laid all curled up in Robin’s arms, bare skin touching bare skin. But Robin didn’t demand anything from him and Robin didn’t insist on hrrash ka kaeing with him.
And it felt good to just be in his arms. To feel his body heat and to smell his tangerine scent.
To be held like he was something good and precious.
And Robin didn’t care that Isellta’s wings were still out. He didn’t yell at him to put them away. He stroked them as if they were made out of beautiful fur.
Isellta smiled and burrowed his face against Robin’s chest.
He closed his eyes.
And Robin was gone.
He opened his eyes and Robin was gone.
A whole fleet of nae bi shas circled him. Their eyes glowed and glinted and sparked.
Isellta hugged himself and whimpered. “Robin. Robin.”
They all rushed in for the attack.
Isellta woke up, screaming. Tears wet his face and dampened his eyelashes. In his mind, he saw the nae bi shas with their glowing eyes and sharp teeth come at him, ready to bite him, ready to tear him and shred him and pull him apart.
His screaming grew louder and more frantic.
A voice, soothing and gentle, told him, “Angel, it’s okay. You’re safe.”
She stroked his hair. “You’re safe.” Her magic calmed him down.
Isellta stopped screaming. He shivered as he looked up at her.
She’s sitting next to me.
Why is she sitting next to me?
Isellta glanced around, finally becoming aware of the blanket, the pillow, the mattress.
Where am I? Why?
His hands trembled as he patted his chest.
Shirt. Shirt’s still on.
His trembling hands moved down to his lower half.
Slacks. Slacks still on. Still zipped up.
Why is she here?
“Where? Jay…Where’s Jay? Wh…why isn’t he here? Why are you here and he isn’t? Where’s Jay?”
“Shh. It’s okay.”
He reeled his arms against his body and pulled his shoulders inward. “Don’t hurt me. Please don’t hurt me. I can’t. I don’t want to. Where’s Jay? Why isn’t he here? Where is he?”
“Angel, I will not hurt you. I swear I won’t. I will never hurt you. You know I won’t. I care about you.”
“You will never matter to me, Isellta.” His mother’s expression turned hard and cold. “How could you? You are my shame.”
His shoulders shook as he cried.
“Isellta, you matter to me.”
He looked up at her.
“Jay is in the monitor room watching for Robin.”
He sniffled. “He left me?”
“He left you with me because he trusts me to protect you. And I will protect you.”
Isellta wiped away his tears and pressed the back of his hand to his runny nose. “Is it okay if I hug you?”
Her expression turned soft and warm. “Absolutely, angel.” She guided him up into a sit.
He hugged her and held her as tight as he could.
“Can I hug you, Isellta?”
So, she did and he relaxed in her embrace.