50- In Which Hayden Cries

Wood led her down a hallway with several doors on either side. He explained that it was the soldiers' quarters, and the room at the very end of the hall belonged to the Captain, which was Hayden. The doctors felt confident enough in his condition to release him, believing being in a familiar environment would help him recover.

Politely, Wood knocked softly on the door, and opened it up in the same motion.

The room was small and humble—much smaller than any of the rooms Elena had seen on board the various Kingdoms. It had a generously sized bed that took up most of the space, a closet, a dresser, and a table. In general, it was scarcely decorated and barely looked lived in. Elena figured Hayden probably didn't spend very much time in his room since he had all of his duties to tend to.

But he was in there now. He was lying down on the bed, propped up with pillows, with several tubes attached to his arm, dripping in various liquids situated over his head. The breathing tube was also still in place so he couldn't speak, and several machines were wedged into the corner on either side of him.

Hayden himself looked surprisingly well. He had gotten a lot of the color back to his face. And, although it was obvious he wasn't going to get up and start dancing around, he definitely looked livelier than the last time Elena saw him. Though, it certainly didn't take much for that considering how weak he had been last time, only a few hours out of surgery after getting shot.

Elena made all these observations, and then she came to realize the reason why Wood had immediately bowed upon entering the room, uttering a hasty apology. There was a man standing next to the bed—and this man was the King.

Elena realized she was standing there gawking like an idiot so she quickly fumbled her way into a terrible curtsy and hoped she hadn't offended anyone. Hayden made a muffled noise that sounded like enough syllables to be her name, so she quickly looked up at the King (who hadn't said anything or even moved) and hoped that it might be permission to go over to Hayden because she suddenly found she couldn't wait.

She hadn't realized how much she missed Hayden until that moment when he was only a few feet from her. Of all the people she knew, maybe he was her best friend, and the entire time he had been gone, her mind constantly drifted to wondering about him. She tried to think of what he would do in certain situations and emulate his perceived behavior. Ever since he left, she had spent her time wishing he was with them again.

He lifted a hand in her direction and gestured for her to come over. She glanced at the King and he didn't seem to object (or did he seem to approve), but Hayden's invitation was enough. She ran over to him and tried to assess if a hug was something he could endure right now. He raised both of his arms to her, so she figured that meant he was welcoming her to a hug, though she promised she would be gentle, and tried to avoid making any physical contact with this torso whatsoever. She essentially hugged his shoulders, clinging to his arms that he wrapped around her. The tears started to stream down her face even though she had hoped she would be able to contain them but she couldn't stop thinking about how he could have died too—like Steinorth had.

"Ms Elena, I expect a meeting with you fairly soon," came the soft voice of the King.

She looked up at him and felt Hayden's grip on her loosen. She let him go and stood up straight to face the King. "I have a message for you from Sir Steinorth," she told the King.

The King gave a sigh at this. Elena could imagine how he was struggling with this time right now since his personal bodyguard (someone he clearly considered a friend) had been killed and his Captain of the Guard was not in a good situation right now.

"See me when you're finished here," the King instructed. "Hayden, we will speak again."

Elena curtsied again to the King as he went to the door. Wood remained silent and stepped out of the way, maintaining his bow until the King had left the room.

Hayden leaned against the pillows and gestured to the tube in his mouth, and then down at the notepad he had in his lap. The first page was covered in illegible scribbles. If he wanted her to read his responses, that was going to be impossible.

"Excuse me," said Wood as he went to duck out of the room

"Wait," Elena called out to him, and he stopped in the doorway. She pointed at Hayden quickly and said, "I can't read what he writes. Could you help?"

"Hayden?" Wood inquired, waiting in the doorway for permission to do as Elena requested.

Hayden nodded faintly as he turned the page to a blank sheet. Wood approached the bed and stood on the opposite side as Elena.

Elena thought she would start by just explaining what happened to him, but he was already writing something. Wood peered at it, and then looked at Elena, asking, "Were you able to find a blessed weapon?"

Elena exhaled and pushed her hair behind her ear. She didn't know how much she should go into with Wood standing there, so she only shook her head and said, "No, we didn't."

He started writing again. "Lord Phinn's syncing?" Wood read, but Hayden kept writing, so Wood added, "Was it in Kalesir?"

'It' being the Kingdom Hunt was supposedly making, naturally. "Uh—he's still syncing," Elena said. "But they're getting less powerful. They should be finished in a day or two. We don't think Hunt knows. And the Kingdom wasn't in Kalesir."

Hayden actually didn't look surprised to hear this. The next thing he wrote was a simple word: "Siegler," Wood said.

"What?" Elena questioned.

Hayden looked frustrated as he leaned back on the pillows, making a soft noise.

"Siegler is a small city in the south near a mountain range in the south," Wood narrated, gauging Hayden's reaction. Hayden remained where he was and waved his hand for Wood to continue, perhaps hoping Wood would simply say the information he wished to convey. "Well, there's also a large lake nearby, and several other surrounding cities. One in particular is called Lorne, which was once considered to be used as the Imperial City…"

Wood trailed off when Hayden started shaking his head, indicating the direction he was going was not correct.

"The south…near a mountain range?" Elena repeated. "There was…I mean, Steinorth mentioned a mountain range and a bunch of cities nearby." Hayden nodded eagerly.

"Soldiers have been dispatched to Siegler over the past few weeks because of all of the various sightings of the Others," Wood said.

Hayden started hitting the pen against the paper while pointing at Wood. Then, furiously, he underlined some of his previous scribbles.

"Kingdom," Wood repeated.

"The Kingdom is…there?" Elena tried.

Hayden let go of the pen, nodding lucidly, quite relieved that he was finally able to relay that message.

"How did you figure that out?" Elena asked, amazed.

He pointed to the side of his head and merely looked disbelieving himself.

Elena leaned forward and gave him another shoulder-hug. She was floored that despite all his problems, he was still doing his best to help the Sons.

Wood was standing by, clearly completely unsure of what he was going to make of the conversation he was monitoring. He had very little context for what was happening, but he was still performing amazingly well, simply trying to help.

Hayden raised his hands to show that he was finished writing. Then, his excited expression dwindled and the calmness overtook him. Next, he knew they had to talk about Steinorth and what had happened in Kalesir, and he was bracing himself for what he perhaps already knew was true about the message he was going to receive.

"Excuse me," said Wood to Hayden. "I'll wait outside, if you'll need me."

Wood walked backwards to the door and bowed at the threshold. Elena thanked him as he closed it behind him. Then she stared at the door for a few seconds, reflecting on how cool Wood was. But, of course, she knew there were more important things right now. Hayden was still waiting to hear Steinorth's message.

"Hayden," Elena said, leaning back from him and resting her hands on the bed. "Sir Steinorth was stabbed by Hunt."

Hayden blinked, and the nodded reluctantly.

"Before he died, he did a curse on me, I guess it was. It was a curse that extends a second. He had a message for you."

He nodded again to show he understood the curse.

She took a deep breath and recited Steinorth's words over in her head again. Although she normally had a bad memory when it came to keeping track of what people told her, she had made sure to remember everything of what Steinorth said. "Sir Steinorth told me to tell you that you have to reveal that you're the King's brother," she began, "and that you should use that as your way to retire honorably."

Hayden didn't have a big reaction. His eyebrows merely shifted.

"He wanted you to get married and raise children," Elena added.

Hayden's eyes pointed down.

"He said that part really…professionally," said Elena. "But then he said another part and it felt much more…personal. And…I think it feels right to tell you."

Their eyes met again.

"He said he loved you," Elena said.

Almost immediately about hearing this, Hayden jumped forward a little bit, and there were tears in his eyes already. He moved his hand up to his face, embarrassed, trying to hide it from her.

Naturally, seeing him so vulnerable made Elena feel vulnerable as well. She forced herself to keep her own eyes dry as tears steadily streaked down his cheeks.

"He said…" Elena went on. "That…he considered you like a brother. And that… he didn't mean to ever get close to anyone, and he knows he was distant to you but, even though he didn't make it very obvious, he did have—well, he said he had a certain love for you. That's how he put it."

Hayden lowered his face into his hand, his shoulders shaking. Elena wasn't sure if she should go on, seeing him react like this.

She paused a long while as and rested her hand on his other arm, waiting for him to collect himself before she finished. "He…" she started, but that word alone seemed to make Hayden burst into tears again, so she lowered her head, unable to keep them inside herself anymore.

She felt Hayden's hand find hers, and he gripped her tightly.

"He said he hopes you marry well and that you have children. And that you see them grow."

And they both cried because they both knew Steinorth would not see his children grow. For a man who fiercely tried to separate his life with his family from his life with his soldiers, it was glaringly apparent to Elena that Steinorth's soldiers were his family.

Hayden cried because he lost a brother. And he nodded appreciatively because he knew Steinorth had used some of his last seconds to say these words for him. And he held Elena's hand so tightly because he intended to survive and do what Steinorth wished of him.

Elena returned the grip on his hand and bit her lip so hard she felt like she would bite a hole right through it. They would have to face Hunt again sometime and, when they did, they would have to have a blessed weapon. If Hunt's new Kingdom was in Siegler like Hayden predicted, then it had to be destroyed—absolutely.

Whatever Hunt's goal was, he had to be stopped. Whether it was revenge on the Sons and their mothers, or taking control of the Clouds, or something even grander than that, he had to be stopped.

/end book 5

A/N: Hi everyone! I just wanted to quickly say thanks to everyone who is reading and reviewing. It's inspiring to keep pressing forward when you know there are people supporting you. On that note, the next installment will come out very soon, and I think it will be a lot lighter than this one.

On the note of support, however, the first installment "Kingdom of Rain" has been nominated for an award on a website called "Some Kind of Wonderful". Apparently it's all about romance fiction, and there's a subsection called "Humorous" that I've been nominated under. If you have a minute, could you head over to and log in a vote? I'm not sure of the details of the site or how to vote or when voting ends, but I appreciate your time whether you head over there or not.

Thanks a lot, everyone! I'll see you in the next book!