Chapter Two

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A/N -- Finally here! Life's been shit, guys, I'm not gonna lie. But I'm glad to finally get more out there.

Also, the dedication for this chapter goes to Miss kassidy___, who made the most rad Iris Halloween costume.

Unedited because I've got a busy day ahead!

It had been a long day. No, it was more than a long day –it was a long week on top of a long year. Zayn Rothstead was fucking tired –he seemed to always be tired these days. There was so much to do and not enough time to do it... not and sleep anyhow. There had been the Cricket thing earlier in the year. When that had ceased, tensions had finally risen with his job. Geh'lien Rus's conquest for more territory had finally boiled to a head. Erutha banded with Sidonia, and gods only knew what else that they didn't know about.

Right in the middle of all of it... was him. If Sidonia, Erutha, Garhemia and the Northern Isles decided Eldia was a done deal, then what could he do?

Thank the Mother for the peace talks coming up. The general hoped they'd pan out. Else he might be taking a vacation... forever. He'd find a nice spot somewhere away from all of it, maybe a nice beach a ship ride off the southern coast. He'd get himself a nice ale and not give a good gods damn what else happened.

Iris was right to quit when she did.

There it was –the stray thought that brought Zayn back to her. He blinked it away, quite accustomed to doing so by now. The first months without her... for lack of better words, they were hard. He'd always held face in the day –he was so good at keeping face, but it seemed like the nights were still Iris's. The heartache would plague him until his chest was empty and cold.

Now, she was still there sometimes, lingering like a ghost –but it wasn't as often. It was easier to send her away. Zayn had to wonder if part of it was because he'd been keeping busy with the rising hostilities.

With a deep breath, he opened the door to his home. After everything went downhill with his previous betrothed, he'd left Eda and started an entirely new life in the nation's capital. He wasn't a man to spend a lot of money, but he'd decided not to spare expense on a house. It was a nice place, located in the High town of Oraborn.

He moved across his foyer and to his common room.

Then, there was perhaps the other reason he'd lived through the loss of Iris's companionship. The hearth was already aglow, warming the insides of the home. In front of it, he could see a storm of curls –black as night and glazed in soft firelight. At his coming, the figure turned.

It was a quick motion, as if she'd been startled. It was very easy to startle Elizabeth Or'vail –Zayn had learned that. They were still in the long process of finding her travelling family. In that time, Elizabeth had lived in his spare room, going so far as to even decorate it herself. He'd then installed a lock on her door for her health of mind.

Despite how strong she'd been through the transition from the estate back to her actual life, Zayn had now known her long enough to see the small tales of trauma. The flash of fear in her eyes, the sudden pallor of her skin. Her body would rescind into a more defensive position. Zayn had learned to be careful around her for the most part. He did his best to not move too fast or speak too loud. Also, he'd learned to make enough noise so he wouldn't sneak up on her. It was also noticeable that she needed her alone time. If they spent too long together, she'd get anxious.

Sometimes he messed up though. Once at the beginning, he'd turned a corner too fast and accidentally knocked into her –which was fine. But when he'd grabbed her to keep her from falling... oh, she'd gone into hysterics. She'd apologized afterward, but he'd still felt terrible regardless.

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