The words have ripped their way past Tristan’s lips before he can stop them and everything is silent. Briyanna stares up at him, her sparkling eyes swimming in tears heavy with betrayal and disbelief. Her once noble Vigilant clamps his jaw shut, the force of it tweaking a muscle in his jaw but he makes no more noise. Anything else can only worsen the situation. At the bottom of his stomach, a lone voice of reason afloat in a tide of poisonous regret calls in vain for rescue. But what has been said cannot be taken back and cannot be forgotten.
Briyanna breaks eye contact first, the motion of her turning head shaking the tears loose. She does not sob. She is too proud for that, just as Tristan is too proud to apologize. He turns away from her, making for the door. His eyes flick to Socks, too big to fit under the table but doing his best to fit underneath it. The Mikulfr hound’s ears prick up when the door slides open, but Tristan waves him down. He is the only one leaving. He thinks he may hear the beginnings of weeping as the door slides shut. He tells himself it’s the dog whining.
He goes to Nathan’s apartment, explaining simply that he and Briyanna “aren’t speaking”. His half-brother acts the gracious host, offering Tristan a cup of tea and assuring him that their fight is a temporary one, for certain. After it’s gotten dark, and Tristan has lain down to sleep, the younger Storvum quietly leaves. The lone Daon knows Briyanna will not want for warmth in her bed tonight and a great rage takes hold of him. He tells himself that he is not sorry for what he said, that she started it all, that he hopes they both catch a rot ‘twixt their legs and Socks eats the leftovers. Later, when he’s quieted down, he tells himself that he does not care what Briyanna does with Nathan. He says he will not think on it. But the poison in his stomach remains. It is a long, long time before he gets to sleep.
Every second of his wakefulness is centered on her.
He awakens when he hears Nathan return as the sky lightened, quietly tiptoeing to his room. Tristan imagines his half-brother, his hair tousled from a night of passion, his body heavy dried sweat, his own musk and her scent thick in his nose. Nathaniel’s muscles surely ache from the intensity of their coupling and long scratches line his back, but it is a good pain. Confident Nathaniel, smugly imagining that his half-brother does not know his semi-limp cock is still slick with darling Briyanna’s juices. Tristan imagines his brother like this in the next room and the drowning man in his gut sinks deep under the cancerous flood of his rage.
He is versed enough in his limits that he knows that he has to leave now. Otherwise there will be property damage at best, hospitalization at worst. Nathan emerges from his room as Tristan leaves the apartment. The older brother does not care to hear what excuse the younger has conjured up.
His gait is rigid enough that every part of him is sore by the time he reaches the terrace. The cool, moist morning air works its slimy fingers over his burning flesh, mocking him, and Tristan grips the railing so hard that two of his knuckles split open. He stands there, shaking, for what could pass for a moment as easily as a millennium. Then there is a hand on his shoulder. The Vigilant’s first inclination is to break every finger on that hand, his second to consider the chances of it being someone who could reprimand him. Then Alfonse is coaxing him off the rail, promising good food and an open ear.
The rail is bent when Tristan finally lets go.
Al leads them back to his apartment rather than the cafeteria, every step jostling the drowning man sickly. A cup of hot tea is offered, which Tristan takes and sips at absentmindedly.
“Now then,” Al begins, “Tell me what happened.”
The senior Vigilant relays the events of the previous night.
“A selfish act on Nathaniel’s part, but a foolish thing for you to carry. The longer you two play this game, the worse the loser will hurt when it is done.”
Tristan has no kind words for Briyanna.
“Come now, my friend. You do not mean that.”
Tristan has no kind words for Alfonse.
“Sticks and stones, Tristan. You are free to use my apartment as long as you need and we will speak when you are of a more rational mind.”
The Serashenien’s kindness humbles his senior but Tristan’s pride prevents him from being grateful, in spite of the accusing screams of the drowning man. The shower worsens his guilt, it calming the tempest of his anger. When he emerges, clean, his apology is timid.
“There is no need,” Alfonse shrugs, “I have already forgotten what you said. Now let us speak of darling Briyanna, yes?”
Tristan is reluctant.
“Please. Allow me to say this. Her behavior is questionable at times, even degenerating at times, and is a product of her childhood, a subject you are very well versed in, I think. She craves attention, regardless of whether it’s negative or positive. It’s a want that is less than admirable.
“That said, you are deeply invested in this girl and often you have often let your emotions temper your rationale. Do not deny this, you know it as true. In this case, was what she did truly reprehensible? It is, after all, barely different than her usual behavior.”
Tristan tries to defend himself.
“All I wish is for you to ask yourself, ‘Is this truly worth my anger?’.”
Tristan cannot find an answer to that. They speak a little more, and his stomach settles somewhat more, but eventually, Alfonse must get to his duties.
Tristan spends the day in Al’s apartment, sometimes watching a program and sometimes fixing something to eat, but he is just putting his hands to work. In truth, he is listening for the chime of his fleetpad wondering if she will call, wondering if he should call. He runs through what she could possibly say to him, at best hoping she would welcome him back open armed and unclothed, at worst dreading that this was a wound their friendship would not survive. He wonders what he would say, some of it timid and apologetic, other times thunderous and judgemental. It was his entire fault. It was all her fault. He wants her to stay with him. He wants her to move out. Back and forth he swings like a pendulum, until the exhaustion of all his contemplation has him aching from the top of his head down to his toes.
And then she calls.
They make tentative conversation at first, feeling to see how the other is doing. Briyanna tries to explain what she had been thinking when it happened. Tristan tries to explain why he blew up. She starts to cry and defend herself. He snaps at her. Silence. Apologies. He tells her he can’t do this right now. He needs a few days to heal. She agrees. Then they hang up. There are no good-byes.
Not much gets done over the week. He’ll sometimes leave Al’s apartment, but all he can think about is her. People visit. Aimee. Ben. Ohen. Joulie. He and Joulie have sex. They don’t enjoy it.
A couple times, he passes Briyanna in the hall. When it happens, they make momentary eye contact and everything comes welling up from within. She flees the first time, he the second time. He vomits upon getting back to Al’s. He tells himself he’s being childish after that.
Every day he stares at his fleetpad, wishing she’d call. He wonders if she wishes he’d call. Neither of them do, so it ends up not mattering. Every day that passes leaves him a little more numb. He does not try to fight the feeling; the alternative is pain.
Then one day he returns to Alfonse’s to find Nathan there red faced and shouting at the Serashenien. He is livid. Al himself does not look pleased, but is clearly the defendant, standing tall against Nathan’s aggression. The door slides shut and they both catch sight of Tristan. His half-brother looks murderous.
“I will not have this,” Al growls at him, “Go. Say nothing of today ever again.”
Nathan’s hands twitch. As a teiaform, he could kill them by solidifying the air in their lungs, by melting the ceiling over their heads, or any number of changes. But Alfonse is a strong man for all his eccentricities and as good a warrior as either Tristan or Nathan. The latter backs off, shoving his half-brother on his way out.
Tristan asks what just happened.
“He pushed too hard,” Al answers, “Briyanna asked him for a moment to think. He reacted poorly. Nothing you need concern yourself with.”
Tristan is unconvinced.
“I have it on good authority that dearest Bri hates being alone. Perhaps you should see to that?”
In spite of the drowning man’s cries of elation, Tristan is still afraid.
“No more stalling. You have overstayed your welcome. Go. Return to your angel, offer your comfort, and get her fat with child. That is how you Northmen handle apologies, yes?”
Tristan calls Alfonse a pervert. He is pushed out the door, but not denied.
The walk back to their apartment is longer than he remembers. The door is more ominous. He raises a hand to knock, but hesitates. Fear is stirring up the oceans in his gut again. The drowning man is losing the strength to tread water.
“Is this truly worth my anger?” Alfonse asked him.
He does not knock. He just goes in.
She looks up from the couch as soon as he enters, her eyes red rimmed and wide with pain and sadness. He walks slowly over to her and sits down at her side. Unbidden, her fingers find his and they intertwine.