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In twenty-four years of life, Willow had never taken much of an interest in politics. It was something that always seemed to be happening or about to happen back home. She voted once during her first year of college because it seemed like something she should do since she was over the age of eighteen. Since then she did not pay much attention to candidates or policies and showing up uninformed to the polls seemed wrong to her. She was probably fooling herself, but even back then her life felt almost entirely removed from the governing forces of her community.
Now she was more literally removed from the politics of her home-world, but she found herself pulled into the deep end of the politics of this world and she felt even more out of her depth than she felt at home. She found the whole situation unsettling, but as far as she could tell, there was no escape for her now. Trying to keep track of the various titles, where everyone was from, and what they wanted from Yuri made her head spin.
She tried to stay on the sidelines and give herself some time to adjust to the changes happening around her, but Yuri needed her. She suspected he just wanted her around rather than someone else that would bombard him with questions about his time away. She could not blame him for that, but she did not want to be caught in the middle of this political chaos.
An almost nonstop flow of courtiers and foreign dignitaries came to speak with him. Asa was doing his best to keep a crowd from forming and swamping Yuri. While that was certainly an important duty and Willow appreciated not being completely overwhelmed, she wished she was not the only one present to offer Yuri support.
She wanted to hide away in the corner of the room, but every time she tried to sidle away from the epicenter of political curiosity Yuri gave her a brief, pleading look that drew her right back in. Soon enough she resigned herself to being trapped right along with him. For the most part, she was overlooked. However, the moments where she somehow managed to draw some the attention away from Yuri, she felt as though her heart leapt to her throat and her tongue tied itself into knots.
The questions they asked her were simple enough and quite innocent considering the sort of things they might assume about her. She was glad to know she was not expected to reveal all of her secrets to a flurry of people she could not even keep straight in her head. She hoped Yuri was keeping track of who he was talking to because she was beyond lost.
On the surface, Yuri appeared to be holding up well. She was sure from the fleeting moments of interaction others had with him they could not detect anything out of the ordinary, but she knew. Behind the gracious smile and perfect posture, she felt nothing but tension.
She wanted to get him out of here until he had a chance to calm down, but she knew he would never entertain the idea of stopping for his own sake. She tried to stop the visitors from staying longer than was strictly necessary, but any hints or comments from her seemed to be unwanted when they were not outright ignored.
Since she knew he would not readily listen to reason, she waited until she felt he was about to reach his breaking point. Then she rushed to his side leaned in to whisper in his ear.
“Don’t you think that’s enough for now?” she asked as she placed a hand on his arm.
Yuri sighed heavily and pinched the bridge of his nose. “I think you’re right.”
She did not need more permission. Before anyone else could come through that door she rushed over and let Asa know Yuri was done for the day. He nodded and Willow breathed a sigh of relief.
Hurrying back to Yuri’s side, she tried not to look as thrilled as she felt now that she knew the parade of strangers had ended.
“Okay,” she said mid-sigh.
As soon as she spoke, Yuri dropped his stiff, upright posture and appeared to relax for the first time in hours. Willow wished she could relax as easily. She felt an unrelenting tension across her shoulders and her jaw was sore from clenching her teeth while she held her tongue and hid away all her worries and questions throughout all of this process.
She waited a moment, hoping that someone would take the lead and tell her what was supposed to happen next. Nothing changed. She realized she would not understand what was going on around here unless she started asking questions. The only problem was that she wanted to give Yuri a break, not give him another job to do.
She held her tongue and gave Yuri a chance to recuperate. The seconds ticked by and each one was a small eternity for her. Yuri was sitting down and finally starting to look relaxed. Willow squeezed in next to him and leaned into him without saying a word. He put his arm around her shoulders but did nothing else to acknowledge her close proximity. She rested her head against his shoulder and sighed.
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
She almost laughed. Of course, he noticed her stress and tension now. She tried to think of a diplomatic way to express her complaints. As the seconds ticked by she realized it was hardly worth worrying about.
“This is all happening so fast. I’m just not sure where I fit into the picture and what I’m supposed to be doing.”
“You’re right where you belong and you don’t have to worry about doing anything yet. We’ll find something for you to do eventually, but right now I just need to make sure a war isn’t going to break out.”
“Will I be able to go home eventually?”
She felt the muscles in Yuri’s arm tense as soon as she asked that question. She had not even intended to ask it. Somehow she just blurted it out. Going home had not even crossed her mind in the last few weeks. She always felt fairly certain she should go home eventually. Her family must be worried about her leaving without warning and she felt that she owed it to them to at least prove that she was still alive, even if she was not so sure she would ever feel like she could offer them an explanation. She was not even sure if she would want to stay in her own world. Her abrupt departure would have consequences, and living here would allow her to live without suffering those consequences. That had certainly made the prospect of staying here a tempting one, but she would like to at least let her family know she was okay before disappearing for good.
“It’s okay,” she assured him. “I know you have a lot on your mind and I can’t expect you to be thinking about me at a time like this. You have to think of your people first. That’s what this has all been about.”
“You’re right. That is what this has been about, but I shouldn’t have let you be ignored in the process.”
She shook her head. Yuri’s life was in flux right now and she knew better than to expect him to think about anyone else right now. She was selfish for even thinking about herself right now. She could have brought this up ages ago and the topic would have felt a lot less awkward. Now it felt like she was trying to steal attention away from Yuri, even though that could not be further away from the truth. She just found herself panicking now that she felt her place in Yuri and Asa’s lives shrinking. Part of her insisted that she had nothing to worry about, but there was a little voice in the back of her mind that warned that she was just doing this to get their attention.
“You need to be worrying about your people and yourself right now,” she insisted.
“What’s this about worrying?” Asa asked as he approached the two on the chair.
Willow was more than willing to brush the entire conversation under the table. If Asa knew, he would certainly try to help, but she knew Yuri needed him right now. She could wait. After being gone for so long, she doubted delaying for a week or two more would make much of a difference. Even with just a few seconds to think about it, she started to feel the need to deflect attention away from herself. Her mind worked quickly and came up with the perfect distraction.
“It’s nothing,” she said quickly before changing the subject. “Are you guys hungry? It feels like we spent half the day dealing with everyone trying to talk to Yuri at once.”
Asa grinned. His concern disappeared at the suggestion of food. That freed her from half her concerns. She just needed to get Yuri’s mind off of her problems and back to focusing on doing everything he had to do to help make things right in Detreya.
She jumped up and offered a hand to Yuri to help him to his feet. “Let’s go.”
He took her hand and she breathed a sigh of relief. Working on one problem at a time might not get her home any time soon, but it might mean the difference between getting the hang of the life she had now or cracking under the pressure. For reasons she did not entirely understand, Yuri wanted and needed her here. The least she could do was wait until he was settled back into his life to make a serious effort to disappear.
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