This bonus scene is told from Saiyana’s perspective, set immediately following Chapter 18 of Tea Set and Match.
A knock on my office door startles me out of—staring at the wall, apparently.
My fist clenches around my pen. I can’t even focus on theoretical magecraft diagramming. What good am I?
When I don’t answer, Ostario lets himself in.
My temper flares. There was a lock on that door.
It doesn’t matter that we’ve been tacitly doing this for years, casually setting each other spell obstacles just to keep us challenged. Tonight, the fact that it hasn’t even taken him a minute to break through my barriers—
“I don’t recall inviting you,” I say as coldly as I can. “I have work to do, and you clearly can’t help.”
Maybe if I keep him at arm’s length, distract him, maybe he won’t have noticed what Miyara said, what it means.
This isn’t just wishful thinking; it’s downright preposterous, and I’m irritated with myself for indulging in it for even an instant. No one gets to be a mage of our caliber without noticing everything.
And that’s even if I hadn’t left him alone with Miyara, which I did. Who knows what she told him? She knows me better than anyone—
Except maybe him.
Spirits, this is a mess.
Ostario finally answers. “If your work is doing everything in your power to alienate the most important person in the world to you, indeed I can’t help.”
He can never be my most important person. Ostario defies all possibilities, and I don’t have space in my life for anyone so outside my power even to understand to become that valuable to me, that able to hurt me.
“You were supposed to have my back,” I say, but my protest is half-hearted. In retrospect it’s clear I handled that entire dinner badly.
It’s not that I didn’t know I could get Miyara to react, and that she’d be unpredictable. She always has been—except in that I could count on her. I could count on her to be the one person in the world who saw me and didn’t resent me for always doing what’s necessary, for being as ruthless as needed.
Except apparently she did. And not only did I never know, it turns out she was right. Which is also just like her.
I always thought I had her back, but it’s the opposite: it’s Miyara who had mine.
And now I have no one, and she has immediately replaced me with a superior model of support in Deniel.
“I did have your back,” Ostario says, kicking the door shut behind him, “as I always will. But having your back doesn’t mean blindly following you into an avoidably mistaken course. You can trust that I will always tell you when I think you have mis-stepped. And I think by now you know perfectly well to expect that from me. Incidentally, the line you just accidentally drew in that diagram is several degrees crooked.”
I twitch, glancing down at my spell, and go cold.
He’d be right, except that what I have unconsciously switched to is a dark twist on the spell I thought I was sketching.
“No,” I say. “Not wrong. Just natural rather than intentional.” An indictment, for a mage at our level.
Ostario eyes me for a minute, then drops into the chair across from my desk without invitation.
“I didn’t say you could stay,” I say.
“You didn’t tell me to go, either.” He raises a hand to forestall me. “And before you do—”
No, not to forestall me—to distract me, because his hand is full of a Gaellani-wrapped package. He lowers it down abruptly in front of me, in front of my careful diagramming.
“What’s this?” I ask.
“A gift from your sister,” Ostario says, “who was too nervous to tell you about it. I, naturally, am above such mortal concerns, so it falls to me.”
My heart clenches that she thought she couldn’t tell me about a gift, but he’s succeeded in arousing my curiosity. Miyara was nervous about meeting me tonight, but she hadn’t let that stop her. So what could this possibly be?
Ah, and there’s the panic again, because if Miyara sent Ostario after me, and given that Miyara is too spirits-cursed perceptive, even angry—maybe especially angry—she probably knew exactly what state I’d be in right now.
“It must be useful to not have genuine feelings,” I return.
“Indeed, as I’m sure you know,” Ostario says. “I have as few as you.”
I glance up at him reflexively, which is a mistake. His eyes are boring into mine, and as preoccupied as I am about my sister I can’t forget she as good as told Ostario not an hour past that I’ve been harboring feelings for him for years.
They’re a dream. A fantasy. People like me don’t get to have happiness. We don’t get to put anyone else before our duty, and I know better than anyone what that means.
After all, I’m the one who drove Miyara, the purest person in the world, away.
And if I can’t be happy, at least I can be competent. I can do my duty, and that means maintaining distance from everyone. I can’t let him think this changes anything.
“If you think—” I start.
“I think,” Ostario says, “that you should open it.”
Gladly, to not have that conversation with him. I will seize this reprieve with both hands.
I untie the package: it’s wrapped in Gaellani cloth, worn but an extremely fine weave, because Deniel—and it must be his choice, because Miyara had intended earlier to just give me whatever’s inside tonight, so the packaging must be a late addition—is poor but evidently believes I deserve something of value, which is a punch to the gut given how I behaved toward him tonight. Maybe he’s just grateful that I offered to do what I should have offered on my own if I hadn’t been so dead set on separating him from Miyara by discrediting him, but after everything I learned about him tonight, I think that’s an unlikely explanation for his behavior.
This is because he thinks I matter to Miyara, which, after tonight, is also a gut-punch.
The package is full of dessert bars. I sniff. I’m no tea master, but Miyara and I did have all the same training, once upon a time.
Until she refused to pursue magecraft. That was my first sign, and I took it exactly the wrong way.
“Almond apricot?” I ask, surprised. “Like the festival kind? Who wants to eat these this time of year?”
Is that why she was nervous? They’re not burnt, but they definitely don’t look like professional quality. Who is managing to sell these?
“People,” Ostario says, “who want to have relationships with their sister who baked almond apricot bars specifically for them.”
My stomach drops.
“You,” Ostario says, picking up a bar, “can be willfully dense when you really put your mind to it.”
He holds the bar up to my face, like he’s going to feed it to me.
I open my mouth to say—I don’t even know what I can say, but I don’t have the chance, because to my surprise Ostario does stuff the bar in my mouth.
My eyes widen, and I slam my lips closed before I can get myself into more trouble.
Except his fingertips are still there, and I taste him.
My heart thunders in my chest as I hold shock-still, staring at him.
Ostario meets my gaze as he slowly withdraws his fingers, then swipes them across my lip.
Okay, that was definitely on purpose.
“How does it taste?” Ostario asks, gaze intent on mine.
Like the sting of sunshine on a cold day. Like a hug that traps you and never lets you go. Like being part of something, instead of the reality that I’m alone.
It tastes like dreams specifically designed to hurt me.
“It tastes like I’ve lost my sister.”
My words hang in the air.
It’s more honest than I’ve ever meant to be with him about anything other than magework, but with all this inside me it erupts out.
Ostario just looks at me for a moment. I brace myself for criticism—deserved, and isn’t that galling—or even worse, his usual aloof deflection when for once I’ve said something true.
Instead he picks up a bar of his own and leans back, taking a bite.
“People are allowed to be happy, Saiyana,” Ostario says. “Even princesses.”
“And Miyara wasn’t happy in Miteran. Don’t you think I know that?”
“No, I don’t,” he says seriously. “Because you’re also a princess.”
As if I could ever forget.
But I take his meaning, and a laugh bursts out of me. I’m not even bitter—the very idea is just ridiculous.
And I stop, because Ostario should know that not everyone gets to be happy, and the very gall of this coming from him, right now, is enough to make me angry.
Spirits be thanked. Anger I can use.
“Your sister has blossomed here, and you know it,” Ostario continues. “She takes initiative. She’s decisive. She’s accomplished an incredible amount in a shockingly short time. She’s the sister you always knew she could be if she would ever decide to practice ambition, and she has. So if you want to have a relationship with the person you’ve always wanted, then yes, attacking what drives that person is the fastest way to lose them. But that’s not on Miyara, princess.”
Princess. He only rarely uses my title rarely in private, and the way he says it makes me shiver; an impulse I crush ruthlessly.
Because I also know Ostario is detail-oriented. He doesn’t make mistakes. And I, like him, notice everything. So I don’t miss that he switched in the middle there from Miyara-specific grammar to a broader statement.
If you want to have a relationship with the person you’ve always wanted, then yes, attacking what drives that person is the fastest way to lose them.
I grab another spirits-cursed bar to shove in my mouth to give me cover before I respond. Maybe I’m over-thinking this.
Maybe now would be a good time to get more serious about prayer, because if there was ever a conversation I could use a divine intervention from, it’s this one.
“I got that driving a wedge between her and Deniel is a losing proposition, thanks,” I say. “But you really think he’s what’s driving her?”
“No,” Ostario says. “I think she wants to be able to take care of people. She wants to feel like she, and her specific talents and gifts, matter in doing so.” He nods at the almond apricot bars.
Of course. Of course Miyara was nervous I would reject this manifestation of her new happiness. Spirits, why wouldn’t she be? It’s common and cozy and domestic and I hate it, because it is completely apart from everything I want for her.
Everything to do with me.
I am the actual worst person, and it’s no wonder she left me.
“And you?” I ask, because it’s not like I can have any worse revelations about myself tonight. “What drives you?”
He raises his eyebrows. “Being the very best, obviously. Showing up everyone who’s stood against me is a nontrivial side benefit, I admit.”
I snort. “Thanks.”
Ostario sighs. “Saiyana. I am going to throw these bars at you.”
I’m too surprised to be affronted by the casual threat. I persuaded him to discard a degree of formality with me in private years ago, before my feelings became—problematic. Now I have to reap the consequences of less distance between us.
Then my brain catches up, and I stuff another dessert in my mouth whole, momentarily disabling my ability to say anything stupid and motioning for him to go on with whatever he thinks I’ve missed.
The dratted bars really are good. Not as good as they were with Ostario’s flavor, which is going to haunt me—
“Do you think I deserve to be happy?” he asks me, knowing full well my mouth is full.
But this answer is simple, obvious, and I nod without an instant’s pause. Ostario deserves to be happy, and that’s why, even if I did believe he could ever want me, I can never have him.
Ostario sees something in my face that evidently makes him angry—good—and the lines of his face grow sharper somehow. He plucks the pen out of my hand and begins sketching over my diagram.
“You have never stood against me,” he says deliberately. “You have raised the bar higher for me. You have beaten down barriers before me even if you’ve maintained for years you’ve done nothing of the kind—yes, I do know about what you did to that professor, and also what you did after that bullshit ruling, no, don’t open your mouth, you can believe you’re a bad person but I will never. Never, princess. You have spelled by my side. You have challenged me from across distances and walls, but never because you were trying to keep me down. You know that difference, and that it matters. If you are going to hold yourself accountable for past mistakes, make sure it is for true ones, not convenient ones.”
I have managed to swallow by this point, but for once in my life, I find I am utterly speechless.
Ostario isn’t done. “You have always believed I deserved to be happy, even when I didn’t. And I do deserve to be happy, and you have helped make it possible. So I will not rest until I have beaten down barriers for you, too. You want to know what else drives me, princess? This is my commitment: that you will never raise the bar so high that I can’t reach it. You will never fly so far away that I can’t soar by your side.”
He sets the pen down purposefully, and I dare to glance at the diagram, at least in part so I don’t have to meet his eyes. He’s changed it into something new—not erasing my dark lines, but out of them creating something I wouldn’t have imagined on my own. In fact I’m not immediately even sure what this is.
I already have my work cut out for me to be able to challenge him, and how will I matter to him if he can reach me?
“Miyara spent years learning from you,” Ostario tells me. “Take a lesson from her for once.”
“On happiness?” I ask, my tone falsely light. I can’t remember ever feeling more raw.
He lifts another almond apricot bar up to my mouth.
It is a challenge, and I have never backed down from a challenge in my life.
I open my mouth.
And there it is again, the taste of this gift mingled with his skin.
It’s the warmth of sunshine thawing you on a cold day, a tender hug I can only imagine because I’ve never known it but want to, like being together—
I can’t contain my shudder this time. “I can’t do this. I can’t.”
Ostario leans back, snagging another bar, like nothing has just happened.
Maybe for him, nothing has.
“Of course you can. You’re going to handle the situation with your sister the same way you do everything,” Ostario says, and I almost shudder again in relief—that we’ve returned to the specific, that this is about Miyara, someone I ostensibly have any idea how to deal with, unlike Ostario, whom I never have—and just barely manage to keep it together this time. “You’re going to take what you know and break it down into pieces you can manage, and you’re going to accomplish them systematically. You know your sister. Come on.”
Despite everything, I do.
The way to Miyara’s heart is through caring for people.
That’s somehow become Sayorsen in general, if not all Istalam, which means resolving the Breach will materially improve our relationship, too.
It’s the Te Muraka, who in theory are the reason I came at all, which is not at odds with her, either.
It’s Deniel, my sister’s choice and champion, who I will do my spirits-cursed best by tomorrow if it kills me.
Nothing is permitted to kill me. That’s part of what it means to be a princess, too.
“I have work to do,” I say. Figuring out what in the world his diagram is now included.
“Of course, princess,” Ostario says, standing. “Your wish is my command.”
I snort. “I wish.”
I wish I could take the words back, but Ostario takes them at face value—I hope—grinning and bowing with a flourish, taking his leave at my request after talking about work and challenging me with a spell, the same as always, like nothing is different between us after all tonight’s revelations.
And is it? He’s always challenged me. He’s always had my back. It’s maybe been less personal, but he hasn’t said anything about his feelings for me or mine for him.
His words float back to me. You can be willfully dense when you really put your mind to it.
I shake my head. One problem of magnitude at a time, and I have never known what to do with Ostario and my feelings for him other than ignore them.
So we’ll both act as if nothing has happened, and it will be fine, and I’ll gather information, and of course Miyara is my best source of information for this, because nothing is ever easy.
But, maybe, I can find a way to work, and be, with Miyara. Maybe.
Ostario’s spell diagram is like an itch in my brain, but I set it aside, compartmentalizing, and draw up a blank sheet for a new plan of attack.
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