“Cygnet.” The voice carried over the gentle breeze like a wayward gust of snow, just barely too light to grasp hold of. It wasn’t heard so much as felt, her own name thrumming through the heart of her like one lone chord reverberating through the cavernous curves of a cello. At once it filled her and left her empty. She couldn’t help it. She took a step.
“Cygnet.” His voice beat within her like another heartbeat, somehow burrowed deeper in her ribs than even her own pulse. Low and slow and rich as honey, he dripped through her until there was no room even for breath. Such was the way of Faer Speech, a language less of words alone than of life itself, that tingle of breath on skin or that electrifying rush of a fleeting touch. It called, pulling her deeper into the gardens nestled in the shadows of the Summer Palace. Above her, the eternal half-light winking through the shifting glass of the Palace walls threw dancing colors against the snow. They waltzed and twirled across her, over her, beyond her, guiding her between the glistening trees. Every shadow was him, and every shadow lied.
”Alyosha?” Her own Faer call rang hollow in return. Then again, it wasn’t for her. He would hear it like the perfume of a rose tucked between the petals, a command nestled within the layers of sound and color and even of movement. Faer was, in the end, a language spoken directly to soul, past what eyes could see, ears could hear, or even lips could speak. One could dance in Faer as easily as sing in it, and movement was the language Cygnet knew best. As she twirled between the rows of trees, hunting and hunted, her call hummed through the breeze left in her wake.
Morning clung to the rose-kissed world like a held breath as her unsure steps began to quicken. She could feel him, ever ahead. Expectation bubbled within her. Or was it desperation? Some small part of her bristled at how she darted between the trees with hungry abandon. Some unheeded part of her warned, he would catch her, and then he’d let her fall. But as she spun around one glistening trunk so wildly wisps of her curls snagged in the grasping branches, firm hands wound round her hips, pressing into the curve of her spine and lifting her in a weightless leap. That same wild part of her tensed like a rabbit in a snare. But as strong hands lifted her overhead and the tips of her toes brushed clear of the snow underfoot, the rest of her melted. Her back arched across an unseen shoulder, draping herself back against him so she could feel the cold kiss of his uniform’s insignias on her skin through her diaphanous gown.
”Alyosha.” His name came unbidden to her lips, ringing full of the thousand unsaid words her first hollow call had forgone. It was strange how she could fit a whole world in his name alone. Cygnet tried to twist in his arms to see him, to catch a glimpse of that glittering flint stare, that wicked little smirk which seemed so sharp it sliced pieces of her with every glance.
But as she turned, one hand snaked around her waist, pressing her deeper against his chest as the other trailed up her arm so she was pinned against him. The more she tried to glance behind her, the more he spun them across the snow. With the grasping silver branches overhead twirling into a blur, they became the still epicenter of a dancing world. Cygnet could feel the weight of him against her back, his hot breath along the curve of her neck, that looming pressure of Faer left unspoken between them which built like a thunderstorm. But she could also feel claws scrabbling through the thin fabric of her gown, the prick of feathers breaking through skin along his arm, the achingly gentle grasp of his hand about her outstretched wrist tightening like a vice. This wasn’t right.
”You’re desperate to be heard, aren’t you?” The voice jarred like a misplayed chord. His honeyed growl was there, and the thunderous rumbling weight of that unspoken hunger in the dwindling space between them. But there was another voice, caught in the undertones with a sharper rasp, like teeth gnawing bone. This wasn’t how it went. Her heartbeat fluttered in her throat like a frantic bird so loudly she could hardly hear him. Around her the overripe colors of eternal morning turned sickly bright as they spun, battering her with dripping peach and bruised plum shadow. Something was wrong.
”How long have you been screaming out in Faer without even knowing the words, hoping for an answer? How long have you been dancing like that, one lone swan singing half of a symphony waiting, not for applause, but for some call in return?” Cygnet fought to free herself from his dizzying grasp as the world melted around them. This wasn’t how it had been. Everything was wrong.