Inbetween: Chapter Fifty Nine


“You’re supposed to keep your hood up,” Willow said in a quick, sharp whisper as she pulled his hood back up, hiding his hair and throwing shadows onto his face.

She tried to understand how he could willfully put himself in such danger but found the idea impossible to fathom. When she and Asa discussed his plan with him, he acknowledged that he should refrain from revealing his identity until the time was right, but he did nothing to hide himself away. She knew he was stubborn but now she had to wonder if he also had a death wish.

Walking down the hall with his red hair and well-known face on display for everyone to see had been enough to keep her on edge. Then near the kitchen, she saw something that caused her heart to leap to her throat.

She did not know what that songstress was doing here, but she knew it could not be good news for any of them. She stared the songstress down as they walked by, hoping that she could wordlessly convince the woman to leave them alone. Just looking at the songstress again made the power to push back against the magic of this world rush to the surface. Whether her message came across in the look she gave, she could not begin to guess, but she knew they were not followed after they passed her by.

Knowing that there could be enemies around any corner spurred her to force Yuri to hide his identity. He might not care about the risk, but she was not going to allow him to be in danger.

That was the entire reason she was staying right by his side. Asa knew the palace inside and out so it made sense for him to go off on his own. Willow needed a guide and Yuri needed to be supervised. Having them stick together made the most sense.

At first, watching over Yuri seemed silly and possibly even pointless since he was more than capable of taking care of himself. Now that they were out and about, Willow could not deny that Yuri needed to be watched. He might just be reckless or this might be a sign of a self-destructive streak that she could not understand.

The reason for his behavior might not be easy for her to unravel, but she knew she could make sure he was safe. So far he was letting the hood stay up, but she could feel the frustration radiating off of him.

She watched him while also trying to keep an eye out for any other threats. The appearance of the songstress made the possibility of real danger lurking just around the corner feel more than likely. Staying alert to danger in this place was a bit more complicated than she would have liked. Her understanding of what should be considered a threat was without nuance. She knew was almost guaranteed miss some things so she wanted to be extra cautious and hope she caught the serious threats.

Yuri remained silent as they passed the kitchen. There were people rushing to and fro and a cacophony of raised voices erupted from inside the kitchen. Willow did not expect him to want to stay here longer than strictly necessary. She was not sure where Yuri wanted to go or what he was looking for, but she was certain now that it was not here. They kept walking until the only sound in the hallway came from their own footfalls. This part of the hallway had an empty, unused feeling to it and from the slipshod attempt to clear the walls and ceiling of cobwebs, Willow guessed this area was only reopened to accommodate guests and extra servants for the wedding.

Once they were alone, Yuri yanked the hood back with a frustrated sigh. “What good is this hood going to do if I can’t see what’s to either side of me?”

“It’ll protect your identity,” Willow explained with patience she knew she did not normally possess. “You’ll be able to see everything once we know you’re safe here.”

Imagining what Yuri must be going through right now had been in the back of her mind for the last few hours. If she was back home but people want to arrest or kill her, she was not certain she would be willing to hide away just to stay safe. She knew she would try just about anything to find a way to be allowed to live in her home again. Yuri wanted to save his home and make it safe for him to live here once more. She did not feel right standing in his way when she knew she would want to do the same thing.

He shook his head, dismissing her logic without a word. “I want to see it all. I need to know what has remained the same as well as what has been changed. I need to see it the way it is now after being gone for so long. I didn’t always give my responsibilities or the people of this country the attention they deserved before all of this happened. Now that everything has gone so wrong, I have to figure out how to make up for everything I failed to do before.”

He looked over at her with a glistening of tears in his eyes. Words of consolation caught in her throat. There was still a lot she did not know about Yuri’s life in this place. He shared details sparingly. She pieced together a bit more information from Asa and tried her best to fill in the blanks, but that somehow made it harder for her to accept what he now told her.

Yuri always spoke of his home here in Detreya fondly and with pride. Willow never considered that his life here might be less than perfect. As soon as she knew he was the heir to the duke, she just assumed that his life he was great and that he must have been happy and never paid attention to anything that might indicate otherwise.

She realized she should have listened more carefully and read between the lines. Everyone has regrets and unhappiness in their lives and Yuri’s life of privilege would not change that fact. He was fairly open about how much work had to go into preparing for the responsibility of ruling Detreya one day. Now that he had time to step back and look at his life he saw the things he took for granted and he found his past behavior to not match up with the idealized world he had created in his mind, he must be devastated.

Willow sighed. She had a feeling she understood how he felt all too well, but it did not make much of a difference. She and Asa planned well ahead of time to make sure that Yuri did not put himself at risk. Now he was putting himself at risk and Willow was the only one around who could stop him from acting in a self-destructive way.

“Yuri,” she began carefully. She wanted to avoid a fight and it felt like anything she said to him while he was in such a fragile state had the potential to set him off. With him refusing to hide his identity, it was too much of a risk to draw attention to themselves with raised voices. No matter what she might think or feel, she needed to balance her response to keep the peace.

“I think it is normal to have regrets about the past. I know I regret some of the things I said and did back home. If I ever get to go back, I’ll probably want to make up for my past behavior.”

She was trying to console him and reassure him that he was not alone in his feelings. From the way his expression hardened, she realized her sympathy only reinforced his resolve. As much as she wanted to explain to him just how much she shared his feelings, she really would prefer to convince him to be safe.

She grabbed his hand and gave it a light squeeze. “I just want you to be safe. You’ll be able to accomplish so much more if you just don’t take any unnecessary risks.”

Her heart raced and for a second she thought that he was going to pull his hand away. Then, to her surprise, he gave her hand a slight squeeze in return.

“I suppose you’re right,” he admitted finally. “I want to make things better for everyone here, not cause more problems.”

Willow nodded and hoped that his resolve would carry over to finding a safe and peaceful way to regain his rightful place in his home. All of the angry voices in the kitchen left her wondering if they were really safe staying in the servants quarters. Before they arrived, the greatest danger seemed to be having someone recognize Yuri. Now Willow found herself worrying that they might get caught in the middle of a fight between different groups of servants.

She breathed a sigh of relief when Yuri pulled his hood back up on his own. She was no longer sure of what good it would do. The plan to hide Yuri’s identity had been put in place before they had any idea about the current conditions in the palace. She might want to protect Yuri, but she could see for herself why he would be concerned about the state of things here. The fact that he was trying to make accommodations for her gave her hope that he wouldn’t do something foolish as soon as her back was turned.

Yuri held out his hand for her to hold before they continued on their way. Willow could not hide her smile as she reached out and took his hand. As bad as things were for them lately, knowing that they could rely on each other gave her hope that everything could still turn out okay in the end.

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