Inbetween: Chapter Twenty Eight


Figuring out what Yuri wanted them to do about the Alenna situation was a nightmare. At first, he asked Asa to go and he balked at the idea. It seemed too risky. In Asa’s opinion, no one should be going into the palace right now.

He had been in the palace when it was just Nyura and Erramun to contend with. That was a tense situation. He did know how to deal with Nyura and for the most part, it did work. Erramun’s influence grew on her, though. He lived through the changing atmosphere within the palace walls as Erramun’s power over Nyura increased. Asa had a feeling Erramun’s sway over the duchess was even greater than before.

There was no way Erramun would allow his power to wane at this point in the game. Surely Nyura was little more than a figurehead at this point.

Getting through to her if she lacked any real influence of her own might be futile. Asa understood that and he suspected that Yuri did not want to believe that to be the case. Usually, Yuri was the one who knew more about the political machinery within the palace and Asa preferred situations where he could defer to his judgment, but he did not think this was one of those cases.

When Yuri suggested he go back to the palace instead, Asa had to put his foot down. He was relieved to have Willow on his side. It was just preposterous for Yuri to go into the lion’s den when they had just put so much time and effort into getting him out of the city and keeping his return a secret. Asa would not stand for it. Willow would not abide by it. After all their hard work, surely no one would blame them for wanting to keep him safe for as long as possible.

During that argument, Asa knew he would have to be the one to do it. He might not think he could succeed, but he could not allow Yuri to go out in the open and put himself in danger. Asa resigned himself to a difficult trip and started contemplating what he could do to make it all work.

Alenna would be the wild card and Yuri insisted they had no time to waste. Asa would be leaving as soon as the sun would allow him to cross the desert safely again. He would have to make a plan while he was on the move. In the meantime, he tried to glean as much wisdom as he could from Yuri.

“What can you tell me about Alenna?”

Yuri shrugged. “I’m not sure there’s much more I can tell you.”

“Do you think she’s likely to be able to get through to Nyura?”

Yuri stretched and yawned as he contemplated the question. “It might be possible. It will depend on how much Alenna knows about Nyura going into this. If she knows how Nyura thinks, what she wants to hear, she will be able to get some power over her.”

“Do you think that’s likely?”

Yuri shrugged. “It could happen. I don’t think Alenna would be visiting if she did not know Erramun was already here doing his own number on Nyura. If she knows Erramun is here, she’s going to be prepared. It would be too much of a risk to arrive without a plan.”

Asa groaned. This was not going to be easy but he knew he had to do this. He was the only one who could do this job without guaranteed disastrous repercussions. There would still be risks, of course, but there was a chance of things still turning out right for them if he did it. He just needed to be as prepared as possible to increase his odds.

None of these recent developments lined up with what Asa had planned. He wanted to find Yuri more than anything, but he had not in his worst nightmares imagined this would be the end result of Yuri coming back to Detreya. He thought once he found Yuri Nyura would have to step down and defer to his rule. He thought that everything would continue in a similar vein to how things had operated under Durya. It was what Durya had hoped to have happen, certainly, when he adopted Yuri and decided to raise him as his successor. The duke probably did not count on being murdered in his sleep and it was not likely he imagined Nyura would end up ruling before Yuri.

Nyura was not made for ruling. She would crumble under the pressure and until she fell apart completely, she would lean on whoever offered her even the least bit of support. She could not stand up for herself against a strong personality for long.

Asa needed to get her on his side, but he had no idea how he would do that now. Before he left, she was already so reliant on Erramun that he could not fathom how he could draw her attention to anything else now. His abilities to split her attention were most likely being overestimated by Yuri. He could not imagine that he had much of chance of usurping Erramun’s power over Nyura.

Even as he prepared to set out, he did not have a proper plan in place. His stomach twisted up in knots as his anxiety over the mission at hand mounted. He needed to know how he would go about this or else he would enter into the palace and immediately be set adrift.

Yuri followed him to the mouth of the cave. Asa found a bit of relief in knowing that he would have at least a moment alone with him. He tried his best not to show the full extent of his weakness and uncertainty in front of Willow. Even just a moment alone with Yuri was enough. He just needed a chance to look at him without putting on a brave front. Just letting his guard down for a moment was enough to lighten the burden.

“Remember,” Yuri said in a hushed tone as though he feared he would be overheard, “reentering Nyura’s good graces is just the first step. What we really need is to know what Alenna’s motivation for visiting the city really is.”

Asa nodded. “I’ll be sure to find out and I’ll do whatever I can to pave the way for you to make a safe return.”

“Just be sure you stay safe yourself,” he insisted.

“I will,” Asa promised gravely.

He turned to go. He might not have a solid plan in place, but time was running short and he needed to be on his way. Before he could leave the cave entirely, Yuri covered the ground between them and placed his hand on Asa’s shoulder. Surprised, Asa turned to face him once again. Before he knew what expect, Yuri kissed him.

It had been a long time since they last kissed. Stress, worry and staying in close quarters with Willow made any sort of intimacy difficult. He closed his eyes and savored the moment, knowing that he could not guess when he might get another like this.

Yuri stroked his cheek. “Be careful. And be sure to come back to us as soon as possible.”

“I won’t be gone long,” he promised with solemnity he hoped he could uphold.

Tearing himself away from Yuri now was harder than ever, but he knew it needed to be done. If he tarried any longer, he did not know if he would have the nerve to leave at all.

Being alone with Yuri in the cave was a strange experience. Somehow, with one less person in the cavern, the place seemed to grow smaller. With Asa gone she was alone with Yuri for the first time in days. They had spent quite a lot of time alone in the past, but somehow this was different from before.

Being in her element gave Willow confidence that she sorely lacked now. As outdated as she knew it sounded, something about being alone with Yuri now struck her as improper. Before it never felt as though anything could be unseemly about it, but now it was like they were being left alone together instead of it just being the natural state of things.

She shifted her weight from one foot to the other while standing in place, fumbling desperately through their supplies to find something to do with her hands. Busyness seemed like the only possible salvation for her at this point. As long as she had something to do nothing could go wrong. The busier she was, the less time she would have to think and worry.

Worrying at all seemed silly if she thought about it. It was just Yuri. They spent hours upon hours together and she never felt nervous. She could not fathom why she felt like this now until she happened to glance up and caught Yuri staring at her.

She glowered at him while she tried to discern the reason behind his stare. Even her glare was not enough to get him to avert his gaze. Before she knew it, he was coming over to sit down near her.

After he sat down, she found herself settling down and waiting patiently for him to speak. She knew some serious conversation had to be coming. He would not have been looking at her with such intensity or have come over to so pointedly sit near her unless there was something he meant to say to her.

Finally, after a great deal of deliberation, he did speak up. Willow found herself listening with bated breath against her own will. She could not imagine what he had to say and her curiosity got the better of her. More than anything else, she found herself both trying to guess what he might say and trying to quiet her own mind so she could simply hear him speak.

“Well, you had a chance to get to know Asa,” he said with a delicacy that did not seem to match his usual manner of speaking.

“Yeah,” Willow agreed although she was not sure what she was agreeing to at this point.

“So,” Yuri urged impatiently. “What do you think?”

“What do I think?” she found the question to be more than a little ridiculous. She certainly did not know how to go about answering such an inquiry.

“Well, you’ve gotten to know him a bit. What do you think of him?”

“He’s nice enough,” she admitted. “Honestly these haven’t been the best conditions for getting to know anyone so I feel like I haven’t gotten to know him all that well just yet.”

Yuri fidgeted impatiently. Willow could tell something else was on his mind, but she did not know how to get him to stop beating around the bush. “I was hoping now that you’d met him, you might tell me if you’d given any more thought to certain things we’d discussed a while ago.”

Willow cringed. She could not believe he was still caught up on that idea. He had gone silent for so long on the subject, that she almost thought he gave up on it. Now he brought it up again and she had no way to get away from it once more.

Even without looking over at him, she could feel him watching her, hoping that she would say what he wanted her to say. She knew she was not going to be able to ignore this. Giving herself a moment to think was just about all she could afford to do to avoid giving an answer at this point. Yuri obviously expected a response.

“I don’t know what to say,” she admitted. She knew she could not extend the silence any longer than it already had stretched on. She could feel Yuri’s patience wearing down as it was.

“You don’t have to make a decision right now,” he assured her. “I was just hoping you’d have some thoughts about it now that you’ve met Asa.”

She shook her head. She found herself at a loss for words again. It was as though the very concept that Yuri was presenting to her short-circuited part of her brain and prevented her from doing any critical thinking about the matter.

The arrangement he proposed was a strange concept for her. No one she knew before ever had a relationship with more than one person that was not cheating. Her mind kept skipping back to the thoughts of cheating. She understood on a completely intellectual level that three consenting parties did not qualify as cheating, but she could not shake her mind free of that notion.

“I keep thinking about what you’re proposing and all I can think about is how it is almost like cheating—I know it isn’t cheating, but it makes me nervous. I don’t want to be a third wheel, or make anyone else feel like a third wheel.”

Yuri sighed and moved to sit down next to her. “I’m trying to understand how you feel. It’s just not the way I’ve ever thought about it.”

“Is it really that hard to understand? A third person adds so many more variables. Someone will end up feeling left out. Someone will end up being the favorite. I—I don’t think I can live with that.” She spoke honestly enough when she said these words, but she felt incredibly guilty once she spoke them.

It was not fair for him to ask this of her. Her life was so different from his. She had so many hang-ups about relationships in general. No one she knew ever had more than one partner at a time without it being called immoral. Having more than one partner brought cheating to her mind. She knew that was not what Yuri was proposing, but she could not get past that word in her thoughts. Part of her wished he would drop the idea entirely. Another part wanted him to make her understand so she could at least move past her preconceptions and make a decision from a fair perspective.

Yuri was quiet again. She did not know if he was thinking or waiting for her say more. She now found herself trying to be patient while she waited for him to be ready to speak himself.

“Are you able to trust one person not to cheat?” he asked quietly.

“I’d like to think I can,” she answered, her voice lowering in volume to match his.

“Would it be that much more difficult to trust two people at the same time?”

She shook her head. The conversation was making her feel more and more uncomfortable. Something about it made her feel completely and utterly ashamed of herself. She was being paranoid and not open minded enough. She could imagine Yuri’s disappointment in her and it discouraged her thoroughly.

“Do you trust me?”

She nodded. A lump formed in her throat and she did not think she was capable of further speech. She knew where this was going and the way she felt, the answers she knew she would give would not match up or make much sense with the convictions she had been expressing. Her issues did not come from not being able to trust either Yuri or Asa. She knew she was the problem. She was the one who could not trust.

Yuri looked confused. The moment of silence between them stretched on for an awkwardly long period of time. When he spoke again he approached the subject from a completely different angle.

“This isn’t about me or Asa, is it? Are you afraid to trust yourself?”

Willow swallowed hard. She did not think that she was in any way, shape, or form ready to analyze her own personal hang-ups with Yuri guiding her down that path.

She shook her head. It was too much to talk about this right now. She could feel herself moving closer to tears.

“I’m just not ready for any of this, Yuri,” she insisted with a frustrated sigh. She knew she projecting anger to protect herself from any further pain. She did not want to lash out, but she sensed that she was inching toward starting a fight.

“That’s okay,” he told her soothingly.

“No. It’s not. You want me to do something and I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to do it. I shouldn’t be keeping you waiting like this. Stringing you along is just cruel.”

“Willow, I’ve waited a long time to meet someone as amazing as you. Now that I know you I can continue to be patient.”

She felt incredibly small and her voice matched her feelings. “What about Asa?”

“He doesn’t know you as well as I do, but he likes you.”

She laughed nervously. “We don’t know each other well enough to make any sort of commitment yet.”

Yuri nodded. Whether he was thinking of another way to approach the issue or merely agreeing with her statement she could not guess.

Willow did not know how it happened, but somehow, talking about this seemed to be making her feel a bit better. Usually, she just avoided uncomfortable topics until they went away. She was not completely thrilled about it, but she started to feel a bit more comfortable talking about it now that she had been pushed beyond her limits.

“We shouldn’t rush into anything,” she insisted.

“You’re right,” he agreed. “Do you think there’s a chance it might work out?”

Willow shrugged. “I like you, Yuri. I’m getting to know Asa and so far he seems nice enough. It might work out, or we could get to know each other better and everything will fizzle out between us.”

“We aren’t going to fizzle out.”

“You can’t be sure.”

“Like I said, I’ve been hoping to meet someone like you for a long time. You’re even more than I could have hoped for. I’m not going to lose interest or move on.”

He was staring at her now with an intensity that made the little hairs on the back of her neck stand up. She felt heat rush to her face. No one ever looked at her like that before. She did not know how to respond to it.

When Asa left earlier, she had no way of guessing that this was where her day would be going. She had not prepared for this. After all the emotionally draining changes her life had gone through lately, she had hoped for a bit of a restful day with the only person she knew well enough in this world to relax around. Now she felt more tired than ever and overwhelmed by her own emotions.

Finally, she got her nerves back under control and spoke again. “I’m not saying yes, but I’m not saying no either. I want to know more about you guys and how your relationship works. I want to understand so I can feel more comfortable with it all. Right now I can’t imagine how it would work. Help me to imagine it so I can see if I like it.”

Yuri was quiet for a moment. He looked down at his hands and Willow was afraid she had disappointed him. Then she saw the small smile on his lips and knew she had, in fact, pleased him.

She might not be able to give him instant gratification of his plans, but he seemed to find hope in the way she did not dash all his dreams and deny any possibility of their fulfillment in the future. Her own nerves were still shaky from the conversation. She just hoped that she would be able to come to some sort of assured, definitive answer sooner rather than later. With everything going so poorly these days, she did not like to think that she would cause more discord in their small party.

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