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Chapter 10

The morning was sunny and perfect, but Kyle felt like there was a heavy, grey fog invading the palace grounds. It was more than just the looming escape of Noirah. Something felt wrong. The world was spinning and changing so quickly, he could hardly adapt fast enough. Without Noirah he’d be totally lost. Hm, maybe it was just Noirah. He had trouble imagining a day without her. The desire to go home began to grow strong for the first time in some time, but oddly so did the desire to stay. Why couldn’t he want one simple thing? He did before. And now everything he felt was a paradox and he ended up giving himself a headache. Everything was so confusing. Why couldn’t life just mirror the ideal state that he had in his head. It would make living a much clearer task.

In the blink of an eye, he found that not only had he left his bed, but he was out in the hall. Every morning began in that hallway and he never quite knew where he should go; he was always waiting for someone to point out the way to him, someone to follow. He scanned all the faces and realized quickly how few people here he actually knew. He didn’t even know where he might find Noirah.

“Kyle?” Anna walked up to him, carrying a few folders. “You’re up early.”

“Am I?” he asked, “Don’t even know what time it is.”

“I’d say about 8. But that’s simply a conjecture based on my allotment of time per task.” He was clearly uninterested, almost rudely so. As an intern Anna was immune to rudeness. “What’s wrong?”

Was he that transparent? “Nothing really. I just wanted to find Noirah. She’s leaving.”

“I heard,” Anna answered sympathetically.

“News does spread fast.”

“Not in this case. I saw her. She told me. I couldn’t convince her otherwise, and I guess neither could you.”

Kyle shook his head. “She still here? I want to say a proper goodbye, although I haven’t even gotten her a card or a present or a cake or anything. Not very proper without all those things.”

Anna hugged the files closer to her and frowned. “I don’t think she’ll mind very much. Come on. I last saw her in the main den, she might still be there. She would probably like to say a proper goodbye to you as well.” She fiddled with the edge of a folder. “I wouldn’t expect a gift from her either.”

The two walked in a comfortable silence. Anna wondered what life would be like with Noirah gone again, after she had begun to reconfigure her life with her; while Kyle wondered what life would be like without Noirah, since he only knew life here with her. Goodbyes are never easy, especially when they feel like the final one. What does goodbye mean at that point, as a person begins slowly to fade from your life and memory, a dust-bunny under your bed swept away when you finally clean?

Kyle and Anna stood at the corner where the opened double-doors of the den were visible. When Kyle went forward, Anna grabbed his arm. Her eyes stared intently into his.

“I know about you. I heard things. About your father,” she stated simply, no accusations latent in the words. She continued when Kyle’s silence confirmed the hints of her words. “I understand why you and Noirah would want to keep it a secret -- I assume that she knows. I only heard people whispering about it. As the days have passed, the whispers have grown louder and more frequent. Your father is Christopher Leonard.”

Kyle nodded, not all surprised that Anna would know. “That probably means more to you than me.” He paused and watched two official looking people walking into the den. He started to realize that breakfast wasn’t going to be as cozy as the night before had been. “How many people know?”

Anna put a hand on his forearm, “Enough. No one will say anything until they get the okay from whatever party leader they follow. It depends on when the information leak will be worth the most.”

“Felicity?”

“No, I don’t think so. Her father probably, but, again, I don’t think he would want people to know who you are, not just yet, not until he can make sure that you won’t get hurt.”

Kyle shook his head. “A little too late for that.”

Anna lifted her eyes to the ceiling. “Boy I really do know how to bring down an already down day. Sorry. I only thought this would be good information to have when you enter that room.” Anna watched the flow in and out. Those people could seduce others into believing that they were safe and comfortable, but in a moment they could turn, all it took was word. Anna wasn’t cynical, but after working here for a year, she began to see that politics wasn’t the lofty profession she thought that it was. Not everyone was terrible, but enough were there for themselves to make things terrible. It struck her how to make a few men happier the world grew worse for so many more. The best way Anna could think of keeping Kyle safe was arming him with information. A little knowledge never hurt anyone, unless someone else learned that you knew something that you shouldn’t. Then who knew what might happen.

“Thanks. It’s rare that I know as much about myself as everyone else here does,” Kyle laughed back in reply. Anna wished him luck and then she smiled.

“It’s been nice here, with the two of you. You make a nice pair, a good balance. But also, be careful in there. It’s a tough place in there.” Anna lightly brushed his hand. After a quick goodbye and another well wishes, Anna left him alone to continue on with her work.

Kyle entered the room, feeling queasy at the thought that he might be left alone in there without Noirah. The room was different than before. Instead of a small tray of coffee, a large table had been set up with a modest breakfast buffet of warm and cold wares and options of tea and coffee. The staff busied themselves so that no one saw the bottom of any service tray, silent shadows weaving in and out of the forests of people without touching a single tree. The furniture had been rearranged to accommodate the crowd of people shoved in there. There were clumps standing and talking with great animation. Some were sitting with papers in front of them. All had coffee in hand and none took obvious notice of Kyle’s entrance. He luckily found the one person amidst the crowd he was the happiest to see.

“Noirah,” he called as he neared her. She gave him a sharp look since he had obviously disrupted a conversation that she was having. But with some clipped remark, which seemed to affront the other, she headed over to Kyle who was already making a plate for himself.

“I’ve been sitting in here for nearly two hours waiting for you. You have thoroughly delayed the proceedings of my exciting day,” she snapped.

Kyle piled on two biscuits with one already half-chewed in his mouth. “So you’re not leaving?”

“The way you speak so as to show the world those masticated bits is truly the height of propriety. Were you raised in the woods?” she huffed, leading Kyle to an empty couch. Well, it was occupied until she shooed away the tiny man sitting there. He looked a mix of dismay, annoyance and fear. Kyle would have protested in his defense but he had to admit it was nice having a place to eat in the overpopulated room.

“I told you when we first met, I wasn’t raised in the woods, I just find myself lost there sometimes,” he answered with an empty mouth. “Now it’s your turn to answer my question. Exciting day, that mean you’re staying?”

“No, that was sarcasm, my dear,” she replied, crossing her legs with her arms across her chest. “I’m still leaving.”

“And you stayed all this time just to say goodbye. I’m all choked up,” Kyle answered, trying to keep things light, the way Noirah would want it.

“You confuse me. You obviously understand sarcasm and yet you still can’t catch when I’m using it. Is it willful ignorance?”

“I don’t think that my ignorance is ever willful,” Kyle joked.

Noirah merely shrugged, then snatched up a paper left discarded on the end table near her. Kyle, on the other hand, watched the goings-on of the room. The frenetic energy of the crowd thrust out the peaceful coziness of the night prior to create a mad house of what Kyle assumed to be the power houses of the kingdom’s politicos. Driven by their perpetual business, they could afford no time for Kyle. He didn’t mind, but couldn’t help wondering if they might yet be talking about him, no about his dad. The room had the loud rumbling of his cafeteria back at school. No one was being particularly loud, but all the chattering together produced a massive buzzing. It made it hard to eavesdrop on anyone’s conversation. He wondered how Anna managed to do it. All he saw were moving mouths with no idea about the words.

Then the room stilled. Kyle craned his neck to see what had brought such a hush. Everyone had turned their eyes to the door. Then Kyle caught the massive frame of Felicity’s father at the entrance. When Kyle noticed Noirah wasn’t looking, he elbowed her. At first she looked annoyed and then she too noticed the change in the room.

“What happened? Did someone die?” she asked, her voice the only one heard in the room. Kyle guided her to the king with his eyes. When she saw at what, or rather whom, everyone was looking, she gave a snort and announced in a derisive tone, “It’s not like any of you haven’t seen the king before; save the reverence for god.” Some people finally glanced at her, just as derisively as she spoke.

“There you are, Noirah.” The king nodded at her, while Noirah awkwardly waved. “I had heard I might find you in here.”

Noirah shot Kyle a sidelong look, and then muttered, “I haven’t done anything heinous recently, have I?”

“I have no idea. You’ve been awake longer than I have,” Kyle whispered back.

“Don’t remember setting anything on fire or terrorizing anyone.”

“Really, no one? Seems like an unproductive morning for you.”

She chuckled. She really enjoyed Kyle, certainly more than she thought she would when they first met.

“Noirah. I need you to come with me. I have,” the king took stock of the room. Everyone leaned forward with greedy eye and ear to hear what he had to say. “Just please come with me.” Then he reassured her, “You’ve done nothing wrong. I simply need a word, alone.” He added when he noticed her grip Kyle’s arm. Kyle patted the clawing hand in encouragement.

She stood up and that moment two years ago played in her head, everyone watching as she left. She followed the man in silence, still unsure of what she was to him; an enemy, a stranger, the little girl who hid under his desk when her mother realized that Noirah had broken her pearl necklace and thrown the little beads out the window. Moreover, whatever the king had to say, she couldn’t imagine that she’d want to hear it. In the brief walk from the den to the king’s office, a thousand worries plagued her. If only she had left sooner, then she’d never know.

Once Noirah and Mr. Sterne left, the room returned to its normal pace for everyone, but Kyle who sat back and ate his breakfast alone. No one he knew was here. One man, however, across the room stared right at him with a smile. He gave Kyle a wave and Kyle mirrored him with a perplexed face. The man excused himself from his conversation and headed over to Kyle’s couch. Kyle slammed himself back against the seat. The aggressive stride of this man made Kyle feel uneasy. This feeling didn’t abate when the man finally stood in front of Kyle, looking at him like they were old friends.

The man held out a large, fleshy hand. “Kyle Walters, am I right?”

Kyle nodded, staring at the still extended hand and wondering how rude it might appear not to shake it. Too rude, he decided and reciprocated the gesture. Kyle’s hand was swallowed by the other’s and became further ensnared when the man pressed his other hand on Kyle’s fist.

“I’ve been looking forward to meeting you. I’m Shelby Silver, Princeps of the Senate.”

Kyle sucked in a breath, snatching back his hand once it was released. How had he not recognized that voice? No, he couldn’t have. It was so different from the one that he heard arguing with Edward. This voice danced from the man’s lips and disarmed his listener’s ears. Silver was middle-aged with heavy wrinkles on his forehead and around his eyes. His well-groomed brown hair had wisps of gray around the edges. He was firm without looking stocky, a man who attempted to maintain the frame of a young man, but whose age didn’t allow any perfection of form. There was something manly about him from his broad forehead to his broader shoulders. Yet he hid his tools of intimidation beneath a cloud of affability. His smile exuded charm, the sincerity of which was hard to judge. If Noirah hadn’t told Kyle about Silver before, he would have assumed he was a normal, nice kind of guy.

“You’ve heard of me too?”

Kyle nodded again, but still couldn’t find any words of response. He wasn’t positive that he was meant to. Shelby seemed capable of maintaining a conversation by himself.

“Mind if I join you?”

Kyle shook his head.

Silver sat himself next to Kyle and folded his hands lightly on his knees, a nice practiced move of casualness. “I’d have come over earlier, but I saw Miss Tillard keeping you company and I thought best not to intrude. You must know, by now, that her family and I have a sordid past. I assumed that my presence would not have done much good. But I didn’t want to let this opportunity to introduce myself pass.”

Silver paused, and Kyle assumed that he was supposed to speak now. He grunted out something, but it was no more intelligible in his head than it was from his lips. He took a bite of food, and watched people watching them. Silver didn’t seem to notice, but no actor liked to break the fourth wall during a performance.

“Food here is good, isn’t it? I didn’t have much myself growing up, but now I feel glutted on the constant trough that the palace provides. It’s one of the things that Christopher hated about the place: the utter dispensation of luxury that you find everywhere. The food we waste in a day here could feed a small family for a week. The money spent on decor could buy new schools. Such squandering ate away at him.”

Kyle stopped chewing, and the eggs that he had placed in his mouth sat there, growing cold. Shelby Silver had just dropped his father’s name into the conversation like it meant nothing, but knowing how heavily it landed in the boy’s chest. What other Christopher could he possibly mean?

“Oh, well, Christopher seems like an upstanding fellow. Waste is a terrible thing to waste,” Kyle replied, hoping that the tremor coursing through his body didn’t infect his voice.

“Yes, Chris was. But, please, let’s not play games: I am referring to Christopher, your father. It’s difficult to figure out how one brings up the topic in conversation.”

“Other people have felt comfortable talking about it,” Kyle answered. He began to shuffle what remained of breakfast around on his plate.

Silver leaned back on the couch, and smoothed out the top of his head. “Of course others have and I understand your reservations about me. I heard about your associations here and I don’t begrudge you those friendships, but I do hope that what they might have said about me doesn’t affect your judgment of me. You can’t learn about a man from other people without having met him yourself. I mean, imagine that you had never met Noirah and only knew her from what others said. You may never have become so close. ” He paused, allowing his words to sink in, and nodded his head warmly at a passing comrade. “I’m in politics, Kyle; I’ve made my fair share of enemies and some of them justly dislike me, but they don’t define me and neither do actions of my past. I only ask that you look beyond those tales, and give me the chance that your father had. I have your best interests at heart. Your mother’s last name might make you more inconspicuous, but secrets don’t stay hidden here for very long. Your true last name means something to people here.”

“My true last name is Walters,” Kyle replied piqued.

“Of course. Of course. Your name is Walters, but if you aren’t your father’s son.” Silver reached behind Kyle and cupped the back of his head avuncularly. Kyle grimaced. Silver didn’t notice. “You would have liked him. He was extraordinarily rare trait for a politician. For a man of old money and a noble name, your father had very liberal ideas that were much in line with my own. He certainly had a reason to go against the loyalist parties, considering the history of the Leonard family.”

“Yes, of course, the history,” Kyle fumbled in the pause that Silver had left for comments. He took a sip of coffee with a trying to keep his face from looking so squeamish. He didn’t know why, but he had this feeling the history wasn’t going to be great. Oh he knew why, it was because god hated him and thought it was funny to lull him into a state of happiness and then smack him in the face with a stick. At least his skin was clear now.

“It’s not oft recalled these days, but the history between the Leonards and the new royal line is a complicated, black affair. Struggles for power bring out the worst in people and spread like a plague throughout the plebs. Christopher, I think, couldn’t help but walk through these halls and recall what had happened to his family. A bloody, awful affair that this new regime did well to cover up, but one learns the truth when one looks.” Silver would have continued, but the constraints of his official life interrupted.

“Senator Silver!” A young woman in a black suit rushed up, holding a clipboard as though on cue.

“Yes, Sarah, what is it?”

“You’re needed. Senator Samuels is waiting in your office. If you’re done.” She snuck a peek at Kyle, but her face gave no trace of emotion. With a nod from Silver, she turned and left.

Silver looked at Kyle apologetically; he seemed disgruntled at the interruption, but Kyle imagined that he was good at seeming a lot of things. “You must excuse me, official business. But please, come and visit my office and we can discuss things. I believe you know where it is. I’d like to share with you some of my fonder memories of Chris. Perhaps this particular place,” his arm swept across the room and its many occupants, “isn’t the best to have that discussion. Ears here are obnoxiously attentive.” Shelby stood up, and reached out his hand once more, “I am very glad to have met you at last.”

Kyle accepted the hand more willingly than upon first meeting, but still felt unsure about Silver. He thought it was probably good that he never contemplated a career in politics: he imagined how much effort it took each day to perform without break. He had trouble enough just being himself. God, he remembered those first couple minutes of his senior year when he stood around in the hall, lounging casually with his friends in his pockets, trying to smile at those passing by. By the end of the day, he gave up and went back to being himself. Silver never would have quit. Most of these people wouldn’t have. He just watched all the people working so hard to behave like personable humans, just like his dad had been.

Kyle stood. He didn’t want to be in that room anymore. He left it as unnoticed as he had entered; although part of him felt like everyone stared as he left, but if he turned around, they would begin to play the roles of busy, indifferent professionals. He had no destination in mind, but he walked. His feet shuffled down the hall. This was not how he planned his day going. Noirah was leaving; he hadn’t seen Felicity with whom it seemed his dad’s family had some history; he felt homesick; and he woke up way before noon. Kyle leaned against the wall, not feeling capable of standing on his own two legs. He kicked at a dust bunny on the ground. He didn’t even know where to find Noirah. Why did this palace have so many halls and not a single kiosk with a map? ‘You are here.’

“Kyle?”

Who was it now? Kyle’s tired eyes looked for the owner of the voice and there was Sam. What in the world did Sam want him for?

“Yeah?” Kyle asked, making no attempt to veil his annoyance. Wait, why was he irritated with Sam? Sam knew everything. He could lead Kyle to the king’s office. “I mean, hey Sam, what’s up, pal?”

Sam didn’t seem to notice anything odd in Kyle’s behavior. “Yes, yes, King Jacob.” The name made Kyle shudder, Sam continued, “well, he wanted, um, he and Noirah were meeting and the thing is...”

“They’re done? Where’s Noirah? Is she okay? Take me there.”

Sam sighed, glad to be relieved of his message. “Of course, please just –”

“I’ll follow.” Kyle was far too impatient at this point to waste another minute listening to the boy’s stammering. You could kind of guess where he would end, if you listened to the beginning.

Sam moved quickly through the halls, nearly bumping into several people who, at the sight of him, swerved to keep out of his clumsy way. Physical movement was helping Kyle. The thought that Noirah needed him was another aid. If he worried about her, then he didn’t worry about himself.

Then he spotted her. The door to the office was shut and Noirah was seated on the floor to one side. She looked terrible. She may have been crying. Kyle dropped to his knees and lifted her chin so she was looking at him.

“Hey, you okay?”

Noirah shook her head, “It’s Sal.”

*

“Are you sure you’re doing okay?” Kyle asked for the millionth time as they made their way down a long, too bright hospital corridor. Whether in Earth or Panchaea, hospitals never felt inviting.

Noirah stopped, letting out an exasperated breath. “Yes, Kyle, I am doing okay. I am stressed, I am scared and I am seeing red, but I’m doing okay. If you ask once more, see this fist?” She raised her little clenched fist, which only looked harmless if you didn’t know her. Kyle nodded as she raised her eyebrows at his silence. “Yeah, I’ll put it through your face.”

“You would, wouldn’t you?” Kyle proposed thoughtfully.

“I have a lot of repressed anger that’s reaching its tipping point.” She grabbed his arm so as to restart their fast-paced tear through the halls.

When they made their way around a corner, Noirah slowed. At the end of the hall, sitting on what looked to be the most uncomfortable, ill-formed chair in the world, sat a man whose head seemed to be losing a battle with gravity. Even from a distance Kyle could see that he was broken.

“That’s Lawrence,” Noirah whispered in his ear. The man didn’t appear to have heard their approach, as noisy as they were, but nonetheless Noirah insisted on whispering, as though the man could hear anything outside of his universe.

“Oh,” Kyle nodded dumbly.

“Oh? That’s what you have to say? Sometimes I feel like you go out of your way to sound imbecilic.”

“I don’t, not really, no.” Kyle answered, grinning at her like a Chesire cat. Noirah reached over and gave his cheek a pinch, with more force than was required from Kyle’s perspective.

“Darling boy.” She indicated to Lawrence, and with a hushed voice continued, “That is Sal’s companion.”

Kyle looked at her quizzically and sought clarification, “Companion? Like boyfriend? Or like someone to hang with? Like we’re companions.”

“Like both. Got a problem with it?” Noirah challenged. Kyle shook his head. “I didn’t think you would. Between you and Anna, I feel like I need to double my hatefulness. You’re both far too accepting of all people.”

“I don’t like mean people,” Kyle retorted.

“You don’t like mean people?” Noirah parried. “Curious.”

Kyle chuckled in response.

When they were a few feet from the chairs, the man wearily looked up. He smiled slowly but warmly at the girl and rose to envelop her in a big bear hug. He was a formidable sight. He could have been a Hercules by the size of him, but his massive body was tempered with the same hunger which plagued Sal. There was still a sturdiness to the frame and a healthy glow to the gaunt cheeks, but it was as though the last remains of a robust man were clinging to the superficial levels of his frame before they fell away forever. His skin was dark brown, and his eyes were an iridescent hazel. Currently a redness, brought on by stress and fatigue, tinged those eyes. Bits of his hair had come out of his ponytails and stuck up around his face. The night had frayed his edges and he had no one there to keep him from falling apart further.

“Are you doing okay?” he asked softly in her ear, but loud enough for Kyle to hear it. Noirah turned her head to catch Kyle’s eyes. There was an evil gleam in those green orbs.

“Hey,” Kyle said raising his hands defensively, “I didn’t say it.”

“Say what?” Lawrence asked, releasing Noirah from the hug and saw Kyle for the first time. “Who are you?” He turned a cheeky grin to Noirah, “Got yourself a boyfriend, huh?”

“I have standards, you know.”

“Lawrences. Lars to friends,” he introduced himself and clapped Kyle on the shoulder. Despite his half-starved state, the impact was enough to send Kyle into Noirah.

“Kyle. Kyle Walters,” he answered, straightening himself out.

“What are you doing out here? Shouldn’t you be in there?” Noirah asked, gesturing to Sal’s room, her own desire to see him apparent.

“Can’t get in and for some reason they don’t believe I’m related.” Lars gave a wry look.

“Nobody can get anything done without me, now can they?” Noirah puffed out her chest and made her way with purposeful strides down the hall.

“Where are you going?”

Noirah stopped, and gave a slight pivot with her hands on her hips. “Your problem is you asked. I’ll demand. Who would argue with me? I’m little but scary and have a personal note from King Jacob himself.” She stomped off and if she had on heels, Kyle didn’t think there would be a scarier sound in the world: the approaching storm of Noirah. She would take out anything in her path.

Lawrence sank back down; Kyle did so as well.

“So they won’t let you in even though you guys are together?” Kyle questioned curiously. Lars laughed humorlessly.

“No, no.” He glanced at Kyle bemused. “You must not be from around these parts.”

“You could say that,” Kyle answered ambiguously.

Lars lifted his eyebrows sardonically. “Well here it’s not exactly a socially approved union. So I sit outside while Sal’s in there.” With his elbows on his knees, he dropped his head into his hands. “Besides there are special orders, it seems as though Sal is under watch, which isn’t surprising. I didn’t have it in me to tell Noirah, but she’ll find out soon enough.” Lawrence looked disheartened at the door which blocked him from Sal. “You see, he was found with certain documents which he shouldn’t have had. That’s what I heard. But really, who knows if they just made that up or if he was planted with them. Or hell, maybe he had them and didn’t even know what they were, or maybe he did. Maybe they’re innocuous. I don’t know. The crowd he was running with wasn’t good. He trusts them, always wants to believe the best of people. He met them through his paper. Thinks they’re just like him, peaceful dissenters. But I don’t think so. And I just kept telling him, be careful Sal.” He looked up and caught Kyle’s gaze with an earnest pleading eye. “You know, they tried to get him out of his teaching post once before because of his relationship with me. Parents were up in arms about having someone like him teaching their children. But the kids, God bless them, said no. They made a petition, protested, supported him. So he stayed. But then those goddamn eyes kept watching him. They caught him chatting with certain individuals who were known as revolutionaries. They read some of his articles calling for change. Suddenly they had him on charges of treason. They fell through but not before he lost his job for good,” Lawrence stared at the door as though he were talking to his partner, “And it’s not that I don’t support the cause, I do. I think what he believes and his passion for those beliefs is noble. But I support him, the man, more. I’d rather have him more than the ideals that he’ll leave behind.” His head fell into his hands again, “I just want to see him. He’s been alone in there for a whole night. A whole night. I don’t know how he is, or what’s wrong. I just want to hold his hand and tell him everything will be okay. I just want to tell him I’m here. I just...”

Kyle sat awkwardly, not sure what to do. He wasn’t even sure Lars was really talking to him. He could have been anyone, he thought, but Lars needed to talk so Kyle let him, lightly placing a comforting hand on his back. Soon Noirah announced her approach with a beaming smile on her face.

“Success, as if there was any doubt,” she cheered, casting a worried eyed at the huddled mass seated beside Kyle. She made her way before Lars and knelt down. “You can see him now.”

“No, we can go in together,” Lars insisted.

Noirah took the man’s face in her little hands. “You two probably need a moment alone before the children come in. You know how disgusting I find it when two adults do slobbering, romantic things together. Thankfully my parents had a passionless marriage.” She kissed him on the forehead. “Tell him I’m out here. And if he’s well enough, slap him for me for being such stupid birdbrain so as to have ended up here. I know you’ll be gentler than I ever could.”

“I love you, Rah Rah,” he said, covering her own hands with his own much larger ones. Lawrence reciprocated her earlier gesture and gave her a quick kiss on the top of her head, then made his way into the hospital room. Noirah took the vacated seat.

“You okay with –”

She showed him her fist. “What did I say?”

“I was going to ask a different question!” Kyle protested in a high whiny voice, which made Noirah laugh.

“I’m fine with waiting, thank you. I got information on his condition and he’ll be fine.” She leaned her head against the wall. “Lucky that old Jacob gave the official stamp to allow visitors. Don’t think I could have swayed them. Tough women up there at the desk. I respect that.” She let out a breath, “But he’s going to be fine.”

“Yeah?”

Noirah nodded. She was biting her lip and Kyle finally noticed that she was holding back tears. He reached over and took her hand which broke the flood gates. Suddenly he found his arms full of Noirah as she leaned across her chair and buried herself in his chest. He put his arms around her, resting his chin on the top of her head. They sat there for minutes, for hours, Kyle didn’t know. He just held on to her until she pulled away. Her eyes were red and puffy, her pale face showed signs of the tears which had ceased to fall. She wiped at the remnants like a small child while her tiny nose sniffled.

“I’m sorry I don’t have a tissue,” Kyle stated.

Noirah offered him a lopsided smile in return which showed her vague amusement. Then she reached over, grabbed his sleeve and wiped her nose. “Don’t worry, necessity’s a mother, pal.” He rolled his eyes, but didn’t complain. It made her happy. She stood up and straightened her skirt and with her eyes focused on the door she added, “I never cried.”

“Never,” Kyle smiled impishly, “Rah Rah.”

“Don’t you dare. Only Lawrence calls me that.”

“Calls you what, Rah Rah?” Kyle insisted, happy to see the game had cheered her.

She smacked him on the chest with her fist; it hurt, but was worth it. “It’s not funny, Kyle.”

“But Rah Rah, I don’t know what you’re talking about? What’s not funny?” Kyle answered, darting from his chair as Noirah readied to hit him again. She bounded after him, chasing him down the hall.

“Stop, Rah Rah!” Kyle yelled, between gasps of laughter, finding it hard to dodge her attacks. They stood deadlocked, but then Kyle made a dash to the left and evaded her leaping attack. As Kyle zipped past Sal’s room, the door swung open, nearly hitting Kyle. Lars came out and faced them. The two stood panting with amused faces.

“We couldn’t decide if you two were having fun or killing each other. Thought I’d check.”

“Why can’t it be both?” Noirah proposed, sneaking punch against Kyle’s arm when she passed him to enter the room.

“How is a man supposed to get any rest with the racket you two are conjuring up?” Sal asked with a gravelly voice from his bed. Half of Sal’s face was swollen with a dark purple bruise. His left arm was nearly entirely bandaged and the same leg was elevated and in a cast. Though he sounded bad and looked worse, something of his spirit alleviated all the worries that the two had.

“You look awful,” Noirah observed, sitting on the edge of the bed and taking his right hand in hers.

“Noirah, ever vigilant to focus on the positive,” Sal ribbed, squeezing her hand in return.

“I’m a crusader.” She looked over at Kyle who stood in the doorway, not sure if he should fully enter the family’s moment. His hesitance perplexed her. Noirah had no trouble strutting into any room, even if she knew she wasn’t wanted, especially if she knew she wasn’t wanted. There he lingered, however, outside of a room of friends. A memory flashed before her: Noirah had run away to Sal’s place after a particularly bitter fight she had with her mother. Eventually Felicity had found out. Without any compunction, Felicity had burst into Sal’s room, sat down on the sofa next to Noirah and began to speak as though she had been with them the whole afternoon. She really liked Kyle, but missed that complete ease and familiarity she had with Felicity. She missed the challenging spirit of the girl. Why couldn’t she just forget all of it? Why did happy memories remain when the bad memories made her feel right?

“You coming in or have you found your new calling as a door?” Noirah snarked.

“Be nice,” Sal admonished.

Kyle shrugged and walked in. “Eh, I’m used to it now. I’d feel weirder if she was nice to me.” On second thought, Noirah mused, he wasn’t so bad.

“See? I’m charming.” Noirah jabbed a finger in her uncle’s shoulder, but drew it back when he grunted.

“That’s not what I said,” Kyle disagreed coming up behind her.

“I hear the sentiment behind the words.” She grinned up at him, but her attention fell back to Sal. “What happened?”

Sal cleared his throat and shared a look with Lars. The room waited expectantly for him to begin. Realizing that he had nowhere to hide and that waiting for visiting hours to be over might take a while, Sal tentatively began. “I was heading back to my apartment –”

“From where?” Lawrence demanded.

“Does it matter?”

“Yeah, it does,” Lars insisted.

Sal traced the edges of a bandage wrapped over his arm. “Okay, I was heading back from a meeting with some associates.”

“With those guys I asked you not to see.”

“What guys?” Noirah shot in.

“Let’s not talk about this now!” Sal replied sharply. The effort to yell caused him to cough several times. It was fortunate for him, as the action garnered him looks of concern and a tacit agreement that this string of interrogation would be dropped, for now.

“So you were walking home?” Noirah prodded.

“Yeah, and I hear footsteps, more than one set, behind me. I knew that it wasn’t good. It wasn’t just some guys in the neighborhood about to jump me, those guys are usually more direct. Besides most of the people in our neighborhood like me; they know I got nothing to steal. No, those people behind me were something else. Then they just stopped. And of course, I stop, which is the opposite of what I should have done. I turned around and no one was there. And would you believe it? I turn back around and suddenly a fist connects with my face. It felt rather cliché. That continued for a while, don’t much desire to go into details, painful memories and all, pun intended. Then I woke up here and some men were questioning me about papers or something and I have no idea what they were talking about and well, that’s that.”

“Papers?” Noirah asked. “What did these men say about papers?”

“Honestly Noirah, I have no idea. I was found with some papers, so they tell me, papers I shouldn’t have had. I don’t know what the papers said and no one told me.” Sal leaned his head back in the pillow. Sal knew what had happened; Sal knew that he was in some trouble, more than he ever thought he would find himself in. He had been set up and, like his brother, he had stuck the target on his own back.

“I’m staying at the palace,” Noirah said. Sal looked up, not at all surprised. “I can talk to the king about this or Felicity. I can get this cleared up for you. He was helpful when he told me about you being here. Didn’t mention any sort of charges or suspicions or papers, however.”

“You’d talk to Lis for me?” Sal asked genuinely touched, but unable to hide a playful grin. Noirah, without a thought to the man’s physical state, smacked him on the arm. Even though he grunted in pain, she showed no sign of apology.

“I swear, if I find out this was some ploy of yours to get us to be friends again, I’ll beat the life out of you myself.”

Sal chuckled, wrapping his arm around his midsection. “Trust me, I would never do this to myself just to bring you two together. Be nice if something good did come from it.”

Noirah brushed his hair back. “I’ll be glad when you’re better.”

“Me too.” Sal agreed, taking hold of her hand.

*

“Home sweet home,” Noirah muttered as they entered the palace. It was already late and hours past dinner. Time had proverbially flown. At some moments, Kyle had forgotten that he was in a hospital room. It felt a bit like a party. The two had left so that Sal and Lawrence could have some private time. That was only after Noirah had threatened the nurse, who had arrived to shoo them all away, that as a personal friend of the king, Noirah would have the woman imprisoned if she found out that she had removed Lawrence from the room. Kyle felt bad for the poor woman who had earlier been kindly enough to bring in an extra tray of food for them, and who had blanched at Noirah’s threats, but he was delighted when he saw the relief in Lars’ eyes. He was further relieved because Noirah was no longer leaving the palace: she had Sal to worry about.

“It’s nice when no one’s here,” Kyle stated, glad to see that the halls were basically empty. There were a few attendants here and there and a few stragglers working into the late hours, but overall it was peaceful, a nice calming lull.

“Seems a little emptier than normal. Wonder what we missed.”

“What do you mean?” Kyle asked.

Noirah ran her hand along the wall as they walked. “Don’t know. Even at this hour, there’s usually more people. Maybe it’s because Wes and his boys are gone. Wes alone generally seems like twenty.” Noirah sighed, bringing her hand to the bridge of her nose.

Kyle thought that she looked tired. She had reason to be. He had reason to be. His conversation with Silver played over in his head and Kyle was tempted to ask Noirah about it. She knew everything about history: she must know what Silver was hinting at. But with everything that had happened with Sal, was it appropriate to turn the whole conversation back to himself? ‘I know that your favorite person in the world was attacked and is now in trouble with the law, but I’m wondering if Silver was my dad’s friend and if my future girlfriend and I should be feuding? Thoughts?’

“What’s on your mind, Kyle?” Noirah intruded on his thoughts and then answered his unspoken question. “You get this little crease in your forehead when your delicate, tiny brain tries to process troubling thoughts.”

He opened his mouth ready to share, but in the next moment he closed it. His mouth opened once more, and closed again.

“I hope that you don’t think that words are coming out,” she commented, eyeing him warily. She stopped in front of a door. It took him several of his own steps to realize this. He stopped, turned around and asked why she had stopped. “This is your door.”

Kyle nodded and walked back. He put his hand on the door knob. He looked around and then in a stealthy movement, grabbed her by her upper arm and dragged her in, quickly opening and shutting the door. The room was nearly pitch black except for the moonlight stealing in. Kyle dropped his hand and sat on his bed. Noirah remained near the doorway and flicked on the lights.

“That was sudden,” she commented dully, rubbing her arm. “Reason?”

“I need to tell you something,” Kyle informed her.

She lifted an eyebrow. “And that required you to throw me into a room?”

“Silver talked to me after you left this morning. He told me some things about my dad and mentioned my family,” he started miserably. “He was friends with my dad.”

Noirah slapped her hand against the door in her excitement. She rushed over to the bed and sat next to him “No way. No way! Your dad was friends with that filth?”

Kyle nearly said that he didn’t think Silver seemed so bad, but he couldn’t quite believe that Noirah would take that well. “Yeah, he was. I’m thinking that I might talk to him. He told me to stop by his office. I thought I could ask him some questions. But I also wanted to talk to you about it.”

“That’s actually a good idea. I’ll write you a list of things that I think you should ask.” From her seat on the bed, she watched her foot as it traced half-moons in the air. “I was also thinking you might come to the hospital with me again. It’s nice not being alone.”

“Oh yeah, sure. I like Sal and Larry.”

“Lars, but thanks, pal.” She lingered a second longer, but decided that there was no real reason to remain. She gave Kyle a tentative hug (she knew it’d make him happy. Ugh, how hard it was to be considerate), which he warmly reciprocated, then got up to leave.

Kyle hedged: he wanted to ask her about the Leonard’s family history, but honestly wasn’t quite ready to know. Then he saw that Noirah’s hand was on the doorknob, so he blurted out quietly, “What happened between my dad’s family and Felicity’s?”

Noirah paused at the door and pursed her lips in thought. He had gotten used to that face that she made when she had to think about what she wanted to say because the words weren’t sitting ready at the tip of her tongue. Kyle smiled over the memory of the first night in her house when he had first seen her make it as she thought over his situation.

“Some generations back,” she started slowly, uncharacteristically tentative with her answer, “someone might have murdered someone else.”

“What? Might have murdered?” Kyle exclaimed, jumping off the bed to come face to face with Noirah. “You don’t think you could have told me this before? Shouldn’t this be like a big deal in books and stuff? Murder is a like a thing, a major thing.”

“Yes, it’s a major thing and no, it’s not in books. History’s open to revisions depending on who’s writing it.” She took another moment and weighed out her words, “In the beginning the political situation was volatile. I guess it still is and always will be, but then the constitution was still being forged. Along with the Senate we had the King and despite initial resistance to the role, it seemed that the hereditary nature of the kingship was tacitly agreed upon, as well as the unfortunate designation that it be held by a male. We’re backwards in some ways. Well, the third man to hold the title, he had a son and a daughter; his son was a relative of yours and his daughter’s husband was from Felicity’s mother’s line. Their father died rather prematurely and your great, great grandfather inherited his father’s position.” She paused. There was a reason she hadn’t wanted to share this with Kyle, and it was because of the face he was making now. She liked that he was sweet and naive in way she couldn’t be anymore. “Well, he also happened to die prematurely. Officially he got ill. He had just returned from a militaristic campaign and they said that he had been infected by something out in the field which the doctors didn’t catch in time. He died three days after he took to the bed. His own son was only a boy; even our kingdom doesn’t believe in child-kings. Some people, including those of your family, believe that he had been poisoned, especially when one considers that he was seemingly healthy when he first returned and only became sick after a banquet that his sister and her husband held for him, as well as how quickly her husband took up the title of king. That’s the history. The two families had an understandable rift since.”

Kyle slid down the wall to the ground and let his head fall between his knees. That certainly was a history. The most sordid part of his mother’s history was a great aunt who had a child out of wedlock and then ran off to California to marry another man, taking the child with her. No one had heard from any of them again, except for a letter of condolence sent to his mother when Kyle’s grandmother died. It was a scandal, but not a suspected murder. But then something popped into his head. Something that would be considered not only scandalous in his world, but gross. He raised his head looking sick.

“Are Felicity and I related?”

Noirah doubled over with laughter. She tried to catch her breath, but instead collapsed on the ground next to Kyle. Her head fell onto his shoulder as she slapped him on the knee. “By Jove, I want to say yes. I really do. That would be priceless. You two related and well,” she stopped laughing, growing still on the floor, “well having done whatever it is you’ve done as of now. I don’t really want to know.” She glanced up at him curiously, but couldn’t read his face. “You’re very, very, very distant cousins. Far from incestuous.”

“But are we mortal enemies?”

“The gods, Kyle, you’re melodramatic.” She stretched out and rested her head on his knees. “No, not mortal enemies. Just some bad blood. The families have avoided political marriages and the such. Maybe you two are just what they need.” She reached up and bopped him on the nose and laughed at the disgruntled little frown burgeoning on his face. “You two can be a Romeo and Juliet.”

“They died at the end,” Kyle informed her.

“Did they?” Noirah bit her nail, feigning ignorance. “Hm, that wouldn’t be the most terrible thing.”

“You know in my head you said something similar when I thought about it.”

Noirah stood up and brushed off her skirt. “I like that. I like that you can hear my scorning judgments even when I’m not around.” She leaned over and ruffled his hair. “Sweet dreams, pal. And though I didn’t think I’d say it this morning; I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Noirah left and Kyle’s eyelids began to fall heavily. He trudged over to his bed, took off his shoes, and without even changing crawled under the sheets. He fell asleep to the sweet images of him and Felicity. She was standing on a balcony and he was calling out to her. But somewhere in the distance he heard the clanging of swords. Noirah’s voice screamed out. A sandy-haired man came to meet him in the garden below the balcony. The king was there. He raised his hands up to Felicity. But she was crying into Wes’ shoulder. Noirah screamed again. A crab said something about life under the sea, but then he watched Mogran drop from the sky...Time to wake up.

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