In the silence only excellent soundproofing could create, the quiet rustle of reeds was stunningly loud.
Trevor watched as Wu passed the dried stalks from hand to hand. Zi placed them on the floor in from of zir, a few at a time. Then set a handful aside before picking up the rest to start again.
Stillness had never come naturally to Trevor, but he held himself as still as possible. Only his fingers moved, tapping out a soothing rhythm on the seam of his skirt.
Finally, zir placed the last handful aside and closed zir eyes.
He’d watched Wu cast zir reeds dozens of times over the years. He’d never completely shaken the edge of fear it brought him. And tonight, the night of their first great victory, the fear was worse than ever. He had good people behind him. But he couldn’t do this without Wu beside him.
Wu opened zir eyes and smiled. “We have danger, but also opportunity.”
Trevor sighed, tension running out of him. But he couldn’t stop himself from asking, “We?”
Wu bowed, zir shoulders drawing inward. “Forgive this presumptuous one. Your servant only meant— your servant would not lay claim to what is rightly yours.”
“What?” Shocked, Trevor knelt beside the dragon. “Oh, damnit, Wu, I didn’t mean…”
Wu looked at him, and Trevor could see the confusion and hurt in zir gaze.
“I’m afraid of losing you.” Trevor reached out and took Wu’s hand, rubbing a finger across the braided ring zi hadn’t removed in over 10 years. “When you gave yourself to me, you said…”
“Your servant said many things. Do you doubt them now?”
“No! No,” He took a deep breath. “But… I guess I just didn’t believe that I wouldn’t need to pay a price for winning today.”
“Trevor.” Wu’s hand cupped his cheek. “Talk sense or I’m going to put you to bed and call a healer.”
“Your first loyalty, you said, would always be to your ’path of heaven’ or whatever it is.”
“And you thought… what? That I would leave? Now?”
“If your Heavens called you, yes. Of course you would.”
Wu sat back and covered zir mouth. Zir eyes sparkled. And every once in a while a strangled laugh slipped through their fingers.
Trevor didn’t see the joke.
“That… That’s not how it works.” Wu said finally.
Trevor leaned forward and tapped Wu’s knee. “What’s not how it works?”
“The Heavens…” Wu took a deep breath and fought down zir laughter. “They aren’t like Deborah’s God, Trevor. They don’t issue commands or expect people to serve them. They… they are. Their path is the path of righteousness. Of right conduct. Not… whatever you have been thinking.”
For a moment, Trevor was completely still.“…you mean I’ve spent over a decade worrying that one day you’d up and leave on some kind of divine marching orders for nothing?”
“Apparently.” Zir lips quirked.
“Are you smirking at me?”
Zi was most definitely smirking at him.
“Where in the world did you get that idea anyway?”
Trevor glared. “Wu, I conquered the world on the basis of a prophecy and a vision quest. Over half the magic workers and soothsayers in the world support me, a good majority of them because they got some kind of divine marching orders from whatever it is they follow. You have not once in over a decade talked about your beliefs or faith or whatever it is you follow except to say, on the day I took your oath, that your first loyalty was to this path of heaven… thing. What did you expect me to think?”
“Oh.” The humor drained from zir face.
“It was pretty obvious you didn’t want to talk about your culture or past, and I respected that. I didn’t go researching Chinese belief systems behind your back or digging into your family and background. I figured you’d tell me if you wanted to. But… damnit, Wu…”
This time Wu gave him a full bow, face pressed to the floor, hands clasped behind zir back. “Your servant most humbly begs forgiveness for zir foolishness. Your servant has… reasons for not speaking of things past. But your servant owes you the knowledge you need to make full use of your servant. And… your servant regrets, bitterly, the pain zir foolishness caused.”
Trevor grabbed a fistful of Wu’s hair and pulled zir head up. A frisson of energy danced along his nerves, stronger because of the fear and frustration which had come before. He knew why he took such pleasure in control. Knew also how dangerous it was for a man who had set himself up as a dictator and tyrant. But he and Wu had shared this bond almost since the day they met. He wasn’t giving it up unless he had to.
“Let me be sure that this time I understand.
“Your path of heaven is a guide for your actions. A code of ethics or moral strictures.
“You have given yourself to me, and there is no person, entity, being or god that can make you leave me. But your path of heaven comes before your loyalty to me, and if I tell you to do something that violates your code, you will disobey.”
He gave Wu’s head a little shake. The dragon winced but remained passive under his hand.
“Do I have that right?”
“Yes, you are correct.” Wu swallowed. When zi spoke, zir voice shook. “Only at your word will your servant leave.” Wu met his eyes for a moment, then looked down again.
“Wu…” he released the dragon’s hair and cupped zir chin. “Do you really think I would cast you off over this?”
“No.” Zi swallowed again. “No. But one day you will learn of your servant’s past. And I fear that day.”
Trevor’s fingers tapped on his thigh, but this time the rhythm didn’t sooth. “We will deal with that day when it comes. But I can’t imagine anything from the past that would change how I feel.” He’d killed a man today because Winehurst was no longer useful to him and couldn’t be trusted not to interfere. What in Wu’s past could be so horrible zi feared to tell Trevor?
Trevor pushed the question away. It was for the future, and this was now. He pulled Wu up and into a hug. “It’s okay. We’ll be okay.” They held each other for several minutes until Trevor said. “Now, tell me about your divination.”