They don't have a great love story.

They just have an affair.

&&&

"I lost the babies," Aly says. So far, bluntness is the best way to deal. "The healers don't know why."

Taybur places a large, comforting hand on her shoulder, a warm touch she almost flinches away from. "You don't need to tell me, you know."

"No, I do." She takes a deep breath. "You need to take over for me for a month or so. Nawat is demanding I rest, and the healers agree. We're going to Lombyn as soon as I'm able."

"Duani-" he uses her title, hoping to coax from her a pale smile or at least some acknowledgment, but Aly shakes her head.

"It's only for a month, maybe a week or so more. I'll be back before you know it."

&&&

She writes him a letter. They're at the island, and though she shouldn't be, she is restless. It's not quite spring, and there isn't enough in the scenery to warrant warmth.

Taybur, she writes, leaving out the honorific. It isn't necessary. Please keep me updated. Yours, Aly Homewood.

She doesn't know what she's trying to achieve with the signatory. It doesn't matter, anyways.

She sends her message to him on the wings of the kudarung.

&&&

He responds as soon as he receives the mail, grabs a piece of paper from his desk drawer, uncaps his ink bottle, and scrawls out the words.

Now, Aly. I thought you were supposed to be recuperating. He knows she must be chafing at the bit, and wanting a distraction from her sorrow. It surprises him that he can predict it, even more that he can picture it.

There's nothing of interest recently. Your Tortallans are trying to work out a new trade deal and the Tyrans are hinting that they are opposed to the terms. There's no one much of interest around Rajmuat either, not in the way there used to be.

It'll be nice when you come back. That could give her something to look forward too, he thinks, even though her husband might kill him.

Yours, and he thinks carefully before signing it that way, hoping his penmanship won't reveal anything, Taybur.

&&&

"You've been writing Taybur," Nawat says, holding up the letter between two long fingers. "You shouldn't."

Aly's sigh is rhetorical. "Why?"

"I don't want him to send you anything upsetting," he responds. "It isn't fair to you or your health."

"Keeping me here isn't fair," she retorts.

His eyes flash. "It is what the healers wanted."

"I don't-" Aly quiets. "Fine."

She keeps sending the letters.

&&&

One month stretches into two, and spring begins to bud.

Aly remembers herding goats, and Junai, and the loss catches in her throat.

There was too much death, she writes to Taybur.

He is silent, and she wonders, but the letter she gets a week later explains it. There are some red stains near the bottom; she supposes they are wine.

That's always the cost of winning, Taybur writes back, bitter melancholy words, and Aly finds herself drifting closer to him.

"We have to go back," Aly says, her final ultimatum. Nawat blinks, black eyes surprised.

"To Rajmuat? Now?"

"I can't stay here any longer."

"You couldn't stay there, either," he responds.

"No," she sighs, "it was the other way around."

Nawat holds her look a moment longer.

"Fine," he says.

&&

Rajmuat is color and noise and an assault of smells. Aly feels better the moment they dock.

She is almost returned to her full self when Taybur gets up out of her desk to give her a hug and give her a mound of paperwork.

"Take your job back, duani," he whispers into her hair.

She doesn't know how to respond. So she kisses him, instead.

"You have a husband."

"I don't care."

"Aly- I- you have a husband, I can't. It isn't honorable."

"I don't care. I know you love me, I know it, I want you to prove it. Show me."

"Aly-"

"Remember when I was Aly Homewood?"

"Remember I'm an honorable man?"

"Taybur-"

"We can't."

"My marriage isn't a real marriage anymore. There are some things you can't survive."

"You're strong enough, you can do whatever you put your mind to. You can fix it if you want."

"I'm going to kiss you again."

"I won't- fine."

&&&

She's always been the kind of person who hates doubting her decisions.

But maybe it wasn't the best idea to get married at seventeen.

&&&

Taybur is thirty-two. He's almost twice her age.

She doesn't know how old Nawat is in human years.

&&&

"You're different," Dove says to her one day.

"I know." Aly pushes her hair back behind her ears. It's getting long again and she doesn't particularly feel like cutting it.

"Is it a good change?" Dove glances at her sideways, and Aly pretends to take no notice of it.

"I think so," she says.

"You've always said that you're your father's daughter," Dove continues. "But I think that you're really your mother's."

Aly looks down at her lap. "I think you may be right."

&&&

She tells him her secret.

"Sometimes I wish I hadn't married Nawat."

Taybur's hand strokes up her bare back, bounces over the knobs of her spine. "He's a good man," he says blandly.

"He is still only three-fourths a man, I think." She confesses this also, concealed and bare in the dark. "I never know. But I can't go back on it now. Not after the trip, and the children."

"It wasn't your fault." Aly knows he is struggling to remain neutral, knows how unreciprocated his feelings for her are.

"I don't love you," she says, finally. "You know that, right?"

"I know."

"But somedays-" and this is the hard part- "I think I could."

Taybur doesn't say anything, and she listens to him breathe until she knows that he's fallen asleep.