Some Things Transcend (Fiction)

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The second book of the 6-book Princes' Game series covering the Chatcaavan War.

Publication Data[edit]

  • Series: Princes' Game
  • Book: 2
  • Publication Date: July 2014
  • Editions: Ebook, Paperback, Audio
  • Revisions: several

Blurb[edit]

Given a choice, Lisinthir Nase Galare would have stayed in the Chatcaavan Empire to help its reformed Emperor and Queen remake the worlds in their image. But when his presence proved a threat to the Emperor’s attempts, he bowed to necessity and accepted an exile that he thought would kill him… for what was left, without duty and the company of the beloved? Adding insult to injury, his escort home included two psychiatrists, as if he were something broken and in need of therapy… and one of them was another Eldritch. Did they expect him to spill his soul to anyone without the courage to make his sacrifices, and to a member of a species he now considered completely craven? And would he even have the chance, when the Emperor’s enemies had a vested interest in never letting him see the other side of the border?

Xenotherapists Jahir and Vasiht’h of the novels _Mindtouch_ and _Mindline_ make a guest appearance in this second book of the Princes’ Game, and the game is as large as the fate of three nations and millions of worlds. Perhaps there’s a role for an additional prince on the playing field….

Tags and Content Notes[edit]

  • Tags: psychology, high stakes politics, asexual, kink, furries, elves (space)
  • Rating: R for violence, sexual situations

Buy Links[edit]

Synopsis[edit]

In a Nutshell[edit]

Having been sent away due to his very presence being a threat to the Emperor's power, Lisinthir bows to the necessity of leaving, but he isn't happy about it. What's worse, he's being pursued by factions hostile to the Emperor, and his ride contains two xenotherapists, the very last kind of people he wants to see.

Chapter One[edit]

Vasiht'h and Jahir are awoken in the middle of the night by a comm request. It's the Eldritch Queen. She brushes off concerns about them being ill-attired and submits a request: go to meet the former Alliance Ambassador ad'Chatcaavan Empire at the border. He's carrying critical information that may help the Alliance win the inevitable confrontation with the Chatcaava. Vasiht'h guesses he needs therapy as well, and the Queen elaborates that he's been in the Empire for almost a year. They are shocked, since their last communication with said Ambassador was right before he freed the slaves, refusing to leave. Then, the Queen names him: Lisinthir Nase Galare. She implores them to go with all speed and will count it as a personal favor if they do. Jahir accepts, and the Queen signs off with an invocation to the Goddess and Lord. It takes them a moment to recover from the shock, but Jahir moves to pack and Vasiht'h moves with him. The Glaseah makes a joke that Jahir doesn't laugh at, reflecting the seriousness of the situation.

The ship taking them to the border runs at top speed Well's Deep, and Jahir senses the strain the ship is under, getting them to the station in under a day. They disembark and are met nearly immediately by Admiral Alon Levy, who guides them to the Quicklance while speculating on why the Chatcaava sent the Ambassador back. When they get on, they are met by Healer-assist Borden, the senior and only medical officer on board, who guides them to their cabin and leaves. They settle in, and, after briefly inquiring about Levy, Vasiht'h asks if Jahir ever knew Lisinthir. Both had assumed that the Ambassador left after freeing the slaves, but now they wonder why he stayed and how he survived. Vasiht'h decides to see about tea, and Jahir gets started on the information on data tablets left for them, which calms them. The information is from the Ambassadorial Service, detailing that not only did Lisinthir stay and not be punished, but he also freed another, larger group of slaves several months later and negotiated several treaty amendments, but was either silent or bland as to his methods. Appended to the end was a curt statement from a Fleet Intelligence agent trapped in the court harem: that he had befriended the Chatcaavan Slave Queen, and through her learned a lot of how politics operated. She warns that he won't come back the same, and to prepare for that. Noting a lot of talking around subjects, Vasiht'h observes that the appropriate security clearances will become meaningless once they lay a hand on Lisinthir.

The next day, they try to do what research they could, with Vasiht'h trying to find Chatcaavan culture information on the u-banks while Jahir re-reads correspondence with the Ambassador. Jahir laments that they didn't say much to each other, and can't get much of Lisinthir's personality. They pore over the words and phrases used. Jahir reflects on the idea of sending a Glaseah to the Chatcaava, but Vasiht'h accidentally provokes a defensive posture from Jahir when he remarks offhand that he wouldn't want to go. When pressed, Jahir first remarks that Vasiht'h was afraid to go, and Vasiht'h expounds on the possibilities of the Ambassador's state as to why. When Vasiht'h asks again, Jahir remarks simply that he's an Eldritch, only explaining (under further questioning) that the "bad business" with the Imthereli lands would make Lisinthir have something to prove or be resentful, plus he's a touch-telepath among violent people. Further, he emphasizes that Lisinthir's observation about the Chatcaava may have been through touching and therefore taking something of the Chatcaava into himself. Finally, in contrast to Jahir himself, Lisinthir went into the Empire alone, and is therefore most likely to have significant psychic trauma. Jahir then reveals that he has a touch of the Galare pattern-sense, so he can say that his own pattern-sense had kicked in the moment when Vasiht'h involved them in a Fleet case long ago. It's possible that the Queen offered Lisinthir to the Alliance as the best opportunity to effect a positive outcome in a conflict to come. It's also possible that they may be sacrificed to effect this outcome.

The two meet Captain Raynor, and Vasiht'h asks him if he knows anything about the politics among Chatcaava and the past ambassadors. Jahir asks who sent the Ambassador back and why, and Raynor guesses he got too good. Both Jahir and Vasiht'h wonder how, but before they can speculate too much, there is an alarm: They are in range of the escort, and it's under attack.

Chapter Two[edit]

Lisinthir wants to be alone, since he's exiled from the one thing he'd unexpectedly found, and that may aid his recuperation from alcohol and hekkret addiction and not eating enough to keep himself healthy. He's having withdrawal symptoms and generally feels horrible, when the floor drops out from under him, and he eventually deduces the ship is under attack. After grabbing some weapons, he heads to the bridge. Entering unnoticed, he's able to discern some information before being directly addressed by the ship's captain, who admonishes him for not being below. Lisinthir, however, asks why the vessel is under attack: presumably to kill him, but to what end? Especially since the people who he knows would, Second and Third, are both dead. After an officer reports that they're aiming to breach, Lisinthir offers to find someone to question and is dismissed. With a purpose, Lisinthir draws his sword and goes hunting.

Judging by how their ship is now involved in the battle, Jahir figures that the Ambassador is still in play to the Chatcaava. He is called to go with a boarding party to fetch the Ambassador; Vasiht'h goes with him. Jahir is given a weapon. the two go over the Pad to the cramped Chatcaavan vessel, with the fight in progress. They don't attract much attention, but they do take some wounds as they run into Chatcaava. In the cargo hold they find Lisinthir, savagely fighting Chatcaava. During the fight, Jahir notices that Lisinthir is talking to his enemies, and possibly torturing them by cutting off wings and hands. Jahir calls for him, and Lisinthir grabs him by the shirt, and makes as if to kiss him, but stops, refocuses, and asks who Jahir is with an accent. Vasiht'h implores them to go, before the Chatcaava take an interest in the Fleet ship they came on.

Disoriented, Lisinthir tries to figure out who this strange Eldritch was, since he hadn't extracted the information he needs. Seeing a Glaseah pulls him from his narrow focus, and he sees all the Alliance citizens. Duty bids him go with the uniforms, though he finds himself chafing at using Universal again. Taking the rear, he notices this strange Eldritch and the Glaseah moving together as if tied together. When they finally reach the Pad, Lisinthir hesitates, since that would mean he is exiled for good. He crosses over into the impersonally clean and "wrong" Fleet vessel, demandin to be taken to the bridge, though he has to say it twice, since the first time he defaulted to Chatcaavan. Once there, he asks who they're fighting, then how many fighters there are, noting briefly that the other Eldritch and his Glaseahn companion followed him. When he figures out the ship configuration, he orders the Captain to flee, since there are too many fighters for that vessel, so there must be another hidden one. The ship rocks, and, as he tries to warn them of the coming danger, he loses consciousness.

Jahir ignores Vasiht'h's panic as he helps the Seersa load the Ambassador onto a pallet, following her out of the bridge. He notes that Lisinthir is borderline emaciated, skin an unhealthy grey, and his hair growing brittle near the roots. Getting to the clinic, he helps the Seersa load Lisinthir into a halo-arch. The readings indicate multiple drugs coursing through the Ambassador's body, something the Healer-assist was not trained for. Jahir flips through the medical test results as he, Jahir, and Borden discuss Lisinthir's horrid condition and Jahir asks for some additional tests, requesting the others to expose the Ambassador's wounds. He notes the alcohol abuse and some strange lung damage, along with his digestion being damaged. Suddenly, the lights fail, then switch to emergency lighting. Borden exits, and Vasiht'h implores Jahir to sit. When he does, they try to make sense of Lisinthir's condition, then Vasiht'h asks for and receives a hug.

Chapter Three[edit]

Lisinthir flashes back to a time when he and the Emperor idly talk about Chatcaavan fighters. The Emperor learned trust in the Navy, and also tells Lisinthir of the micro-cultures within Chatcaavan society and the difference between Throneworld culture and Navy culture. Unlike himself and Lisinthir, the Empire "exists... between the winners of the last battle and the losers preparing for the next match." As such, he constantly sets them against one another to distract them from destroying greater targets. Setting the Navy versus the system defense forces won the Emperor the throne. However, the Emperor elaborates that while he could unify the Chatcaava against the Alliance, the plunder distribution would splinter the Chatcaava and leave them prey to an Alliance victory. Back to the original point, the Emperor tells Lisinthir that the fighters exist not to destroy ships, but to deliver pilots to board the ships.

Lisinthir wakes, immobilized under the halo-arch. He notices someone else in the room (the Seersa, who is obviously injured) and that the room is lit only by emergency lighting. When the Seersa checks the readings on the halo-arch, she is surprised as she notices him being awake. Lisinthir attempts to get information from her on the attack, though when he asks about how many boarders got on board, he instead gets how many Fleet personnel died (four). Still, this tells him some useful information: they aren't after prisoners, so they were after some political aim, and were probably trying to reduce the amount of personnel that could work on repairs, which meant that reinforcements weren't numerous. Attempting to get more information from Borden causes her to ask why he isn't curious about his own health, and from her he gets the names of the people who are in primary care of him: Jahir and Vasiht'h. Lisinthir briefly speculates as to who summoned them on his behalf before learning they're xenotherapists. He doesn't want fixing, nor does he need it. So, to appease Borden, he asks her to tell him about his health and prognosis.

Vasiht'h and Jahir are in their quarters, getting a rundown on the situation from the Captain: the engines are down, and the chief engineer was one of the fatalities. Raynor also informs them they ran not toward the border, but further into border space, though within patrol routes for Dusted Fleet ships. With a suggestion that the two of them get some sleep, he leaves. Vasiht'h, via the mindline, asks Jahir's opinion, who agrees that they would be best served by attempting sleep. They do, but have uncomfortable dreams, then rise to spell Borden.

However, the patient was not in the clinic. He'd apparently been released roughly two hours ago, and the two wake Borden to figure out why. It seems the Ambassador talked the healer-assist into letting him leave the clinic, which seems initially absurd to Vasiht'h before he's reminded that said Ambassador has been living by his wits in the Chatcaavan Empire for nearly a year. They go to track him down.

Unsure of what to expect from his House cousin, finding him lounging in a chair with his feet on the coffee table wasn't it, particularly with something smelling sweet and acrid in the air and alcohol in a tumbler by his elbow. Vasiht'h assumes drinking, but Jahir also remembers the lung damage and suggests smoking. They are invited inside, and Jahir has to suppress his first powerful instinct to dress down Lisinthir, since he is acting as a therapist, not as one Eldritch noble to another. Lisinthir asks for his name, and when given it, throws out a comment about possibly seducing Jahir's mother, tangentially mentioning Imthereli's fiscal/familial troubles. Resisting the attempt to make the conversation about himself, Jahir tells the Ambassador that he should be in the clinic, and takes Lisinthir's tumbler before he can drink again. When the Ambassador asks about Jahir's next move, Vasiht'h interjects that they were sent to see to Lisinthir's mental health, and Jahir emphasizes that the Ambassador is in dire health straits. Lisinthir continues to resist, and Jahir finally gives up and fights Lisinthir on the ground of Eldritch peer to Eldritch peer. Finally, Lisinthir gives a little, and suggests portable medical equipment. Jahir emphasizes that he submit to treatment, and Vasiht'h clarifies physical treatment when they both feel the Ambassador's mood shift from relaxed to violent. Lisinthir relaxes, though notes that Jahir is taking the brandy with him, and kicks them out.

The two take a breather from the battle, Jahir unsettled that the shared background of Galare noble heirs was used against him. Vasiht'h tells Jahir that Lisinthir will probably just disable the genie in his room, but Jahir suggests disabling it entirely, citing the Ambassador's evident issue with food, his body, and alcohol. The two agree that he needs help.

Chapter Four[edit]

Lisinthir finds himself surprised that Jahir had actually carried off his tumbler. Having finally felt comfortable, he reflects that he had not respected fellow Eldritch, and the last Eldritch he'd met that wasn't a dragon in an Eldritch seeming was Bethsaida, who was a captive and at a really low point. He assesses his experiences with this new Eldritch, counting in his favor his spine and fire of spirit, also reflecting on the deeply hidden yearning and desire in this other Eldritch. Curious, since the Seni Galare scion would be quite the prize, he wonders if he has a wife, why he's in the Alliance, and also about this Glaseah who is permanently yoked to him. Idly, he wonders further why Jahir left the homeworld and what would have possessed a Glaseah to accept any Eldritch, much less this one, into his life and mind.

The door chimes, and in walks Captain Raynor, moving Lisinthir to a more respectful pose than his feet up on the table. Taking the seat vacated by Jahir, Raynor introduces himself and asks why the Chatcaava want him, considering he was just sent away. Lisinthir opines that there are now factions within the Chatcaava, and the faction after him has some use for him, also that the ship was disabled specifically so they could buy time to search for it. Agreeing with Lisinthir that repairs are going to take time, Raynor asks if the Chatcaava are going to realize they fled toward them instead of away, and Lisinthir remarks that it would be a surprise, though also that the other ship is probably destroyed and two ships are now in pursuit of him. At Raynor's request, Lisinthir gives the Captain an education in the capabilities of the ships they left behind.

Borden informs Vasiht'h and Jahir that the Ambassador won't be able to use the genie anyway, since the ship is going dark. Borden offers them some food via protein bars (Vasiht'h declines) and asks them how their patient is doing, saying further that she doesn't have the experience necessary to handle him, since the Ambassador hasn't internalized that he's post-traumatic yet (and Jahir agrees via mindline). Borden happily volunteers to help with physical stuff, but also notes that the Captain is going to want reports on how the Chatcaava work, since they might all die, and the Captain can get off a high-speed buoy to Fleet repeaters. Jahir brings up the portable medical equipment, and, as he gets it, Vasiht'h notes that he can sense thoughts Jahir has that he doesn't want to share, wondering what category these particular thoughts fell under, since he knew some of that fell under his feelings regarding Sediryl. He also figures that Jahir is attracted to Lisinthir, and can't imagine what kind of scandal this would be back home.

Jahir checks the equipment, and Borden emphasizes that even though the clinic will get priority, the equipment should be used sparingly. Jahir assents, but expects that the Ambassador will crash significantly when his body finishes metabolizing whatever he's taking (and Vasiht'h sends that he might still have some with him). Borden logs them out and sends the on their way with the equipment and a sack of protein bars. Vasiht'h feels the unspoken thoughts like a clogged drain, but counsels himself to patience while they get to their own room. He looks at the protein bars, again lamenting the lack of kitchen to make food in. Jahir agrees, but elaborates that he'd also like to be away from here, specifically because he might be the wrong person for this particular case since he and Lisinthir are too similar in rank and family. When reminded that the Queen suggested it might do Lisinthir good to be connected with the person he was speaking to initially, Jahir says that the Queen doesn't personally know him and thusly doesn't know his issues and how they might interfere. Vasiht'h hugs Jahir, then volunteers to take the Ambassador case solo, but Jahir declines, saying they can do it until they get back to Alliance space. Vasiht'h then pushes a protein bar onto Jahir, and finishes the one he started earlier.

Chapter Five[edit]

Flashback: The Emperor, Lisinthir, and the Slave Queen are lying on the balcony after a session, the former in between the other two and the fall. The Emperor reveals to Lisinthir that the Throneworld is not the Homeworld, and they came here to conquer, especially since spaceborne industry is a huge undertaking. However, the Slave Queen tells other stories, specifically religious ones, which leads to a conversation about the Chatcaavan religion: The Living Air. The Emperor says that the Chatcaava worship themselves now. Lisinthir wonders how the Empire is kept unified, and the Emperor tells him that while he holds everything together with the Navy, previous Emperors have not. He offers that separating into different political entities is a possibility. He foresees it not changing, and on that note, Lisinthir wakes.

He is experiencing pain in his gut, something that's happened before and would inevitably pass, and idly wonders when he will be checked up on. Some time later, enough that the sweat has cooled on his skin, his door opens and Borden dives for him. She admonishes him and openly regrets not keeping him in the clinic, though Lisinthir charms her some with a joke. Studying the results of a diagnostic, Borden moves to call "his specialists" and he excuses himself to the bathroom. By the time Borden's finished her call, he's back in the room and affecting ease. Borden is glad that he's not her patient, and he laughs as the therapists enter. Vasiht'h is skeptical, when Borden reports that she found him collapsed. Lisinthir again attempts to be charmingly obtuse, when Jahir finally comes into the frame. He's silent, but does give a very subtle tell in the form of a stiff finger across the back of the tablet. Borden excuses herself and leaves.

Vasiht'h comments on Lisinthir's ability to divert attention from things he doesn't want to discuss, guessing it helped him among the Chatcaava. Since they haven't earned him sharing anything, he gives a non-answer that draws on the Glaseah living with an Eldritch. Vasiht'h calls him out, since he's doing it again, telling him they can't help him if he doesn't let them (which assumes he wants the help). Vasiht'h continues that he is free to seek other counseling (or not) when they get back to Alliance space. In the meantime, Vasiht'h offers to separate medical and mental treatments. Lisinthir frames this as them letting him go, which strikes Vasiht'h as suggestive, but Jahir breaks in, noting that therapy requires consent of the participants. Going back to the physical ailments, Jahir administers some fluids and vitamins, and after Vasiht'h inquires as to Lisinthir's condition and if he has anything to share, Jahir wonders aloud if the Chatcaava will find them. Lisinthir tells them that the longer they drift, the worse their odds are, and they leave after saying they'll check back in a few hours. Lisinthir is put off by what seemed like an easy concession, but then goes for his luggage.

Outside the room, Vasiht'h asks Jahir for the next move, since Jahir was feeding the Glaseah lines throughout the encounter. Jahir talks over his plan: to reenter the room in about 15 minutes since the equipment has detected Lisinthir's headache, and he figures that whatever Lisinthir has, he's going to use it. Jahir's objective is to get a sample of whatever it is that Lisinthir is using to medicate himself, as they're currently fighting symptoms only. This is worth damaging their tenuous relationship since, whatever the substance is, is currently destroying his alimentary canal, and is preventing him from retaining fluids. Vasiht'h is horrified and agrees to reenter the room. After some offhand comments and laments that there aren't enough cookies in the world for their current situation, they reenter via medical override.

Jahir immediately spots the brown cigarette, telling Lisinthir he's come for it. Lisinthir attempts to bait Jahir (and Vasiht'h cautions Jahir about it), then takes another drag. Jahir grabs the cigarette, and Lisinthir grabs him and pulls his arm behind his back with a speed "honed by...violence". Jahir waves off Vasiht'h via mindline, since he can feel Lisinthir's utter calm through their skins. Lisinthir reclaims the cigarette, then eases up, apologizing that the response was out of proportion to the insult. Jahir, however, asks for the drug back, but Lisinthir refuses. Channeling the anger from fought addiction before and seen its effects, he hooks Lisinthir's foot to cause him to fall. He loses a moment, and finds himself on the ground with the Ambassador on top of him, pinning his forearm to the floor with his knee, and that there are suddenly knives. Jahir finds himself disturbed by how peaceful he feels when Vasiht'h intervenes, and the Ambassador releases Jahir's throat and pushes his palm against the ground very deliberately, shivering. After Lisinthir makes sure to differentiate his fear from Jahir's in Eldren, he rolls off the other Eldritch and apologizes to Vasiht'h in Universal. The Glaseah objects to the Ambassador wearing claw-knives, of all things, in the Alliance, but Lisinthir objects that he's only been in the Alliance for a few days, and Jahir chimes in that he sent the claw knives to the Ambassador.

Briefly, Jahir loses the difference between the mindline and reality, and mentions to Vasiht'h's concern that Lisinthir pulled the blow. Lisinthir mentions that he almost didn't, but also is standing considerably far away from either of them, as Jahir attempts to get up and apologize for his role in the encounter. However, Vasiht'h is looking at him like a stranger, and Lisinthir approaches him like he's some wounded animal. He reaches out to touch Jahir, then stops, completing the motion when he sees something in Jahir's eyes. Jahir asks him what he sees, and he replies, "A man who doesn't know himself... and wants to" in Eldren. Vasiht'h, tense, suggests they both go to the clinic, Jahir for his wrist and Lisinthir to be fed by a halo-arch, and Lisinthir not only acquiesces, but gives Vasiht'h the cigarette he and Jahir had fought over.

Lisinthir watches Vasiht'h help Jahir up, noting that Jahir seems like he's a masochist. He isn't sure how Jahir is going to deal with that when faced with Eldritch noble culture, plus is aware that Vasiht'h, the asexual Glaseah, won't be able to help Jahir with these particular needs. At the clinic, he allows himself to be put onto the second halo-arch and notes Jahir and Vasiht'h talking without words before it finally spills into audible words. Jahir asks if the head or gut is bothering him, and Lisinthir answers that it's both. Jahir starts to get into a further examination, but is prodded by Vasiht'h to let the halo-arch finish its examination. The two talk more without words, then focus on him, with Jahir emphasizing that he isn't absorbing nutrition. Lisinthir brushes this off since it isn't immediately killing him. Jahir asks what the cigarette is, and Lisinthir tells him that it's hekkret, with this preparation being theraputic. Jahir guesses that some preparation of the same drug is poisoning him, guessing that the smoking is forming a limited immunity. Thanking Lisinthir for giving the drug to them, he gets an AAP and administers a painkiller to Lisinthir. Stating that his liver can't handle much more, and that he needs some way to manage the pain, Lisinthir suggests a lover, but there is no one available. He is asked if he has any STDs, and deflects, saying he'd be surprised to have one. Jahir agrees, and Lisinthir lies down as bid, wondering both what he would do about Jahir's problem and why he was considering doing anything about it. He admits to himself a fascination with Jahir's dichotomous nature of being both a healer and fighter, Eldritch and xenophile. Further, he finds himself very much wanting to dig under Jahir's surface and pry out whatever he finds.

Chapter Six[edit]

Vasiht'h is extremely grateful that Jahir was too busy with his own thoughts to have an inkling into his, as they are thrashing about all over the place. He knows Lisinthir pulled something out of Jahir that, had they seen it in one of their clients, they would have referred to a specialist for sexual dysfunction. Vasiht'h is inclined toward referring Jahir himself to one of those specialists, but they are very far away from any of them and tied to the man who had fomented this crisis. To Vasiht'h, it feels like the Goddess is holding Her breath.

Jahir suggests they return to their room to rest, mentioning that he feels tired. Vasiht'h agrees, thankful that the distance he's feeling from Jahir is a result of Jahir pushing himself away and not him specifically. They're almost at their room when Borden shows up and makes a request: since they're xenotherapists and the crew has been under a lot of stress lately, could they see the crew to help alleviate some of the strain? Jahir agrees for them both and asks for details; in the listening, Vasiht'h feels the mindline socket back into place, at the cost of hearing exactly how bad the ship and crew are right now. He offers to start now, and Jahir asks to see someone sleeping, though in the mindline he wonders at the ethics, since none of the crew has granted consent to this treatment. When Vasiht'h brings it up, Borden solves this by getting permission from the Captain to act as a blanket consent, and the two join hands and begin.

A few hours later, they've made it through four total crew members, and they both feel healed by the experience. Borden says she'll return if it has an effect, and heads out. They prepare for bed, but Jahir surprises Vasiht'h by hugging him and seeking comfort. Even after Jahir is asleep, Vasiht'h remains awake, the anxieties echoing in his mind. Aware that he himself is not able to help Jahir, he goes to seek someone who can.

Flashback: Lisinthir is between the Emperor and the Slave Queen, with the Slave Queen on top. Lisinthir gasps that he's being slain by the Emperor's attentions, but the Emperor credits that to the Slave Queen. She demurs, but when Lisinthir gently chides her, he senses her regret: it's sometimes difficult for her to hear such words of personhood when they've been denied her all her life. The Emperor suggests they move to their sides to continue the discussion, and they do. The Slave Queen tells Lisinthir that females do not give pleasure, males take it. The Emperor chimes in that there are no words in Chatcaavan for sexual organs or what one does with them, no language to describe, explain, or request what they do with each other. When asked by Lisinthir if she still wants this, the Slave Queen quickly reassures him that she does, but explains that this lack of words subjugates even the thoughts. Lisinthir, incredulous, then offers to teach her how to request what she might like in bed, and the Slave Queen mulls this over while the Emperor and Lisinthir banter a bit. The Queen decides she wants to learn, and asks the Emperor for permission, but he turns it back on her. Delighted, she opts to do so, but to focus first on the male parts so that Lisinthir can teach her what she'd like them to do with her. They spend several hours learning (from Lisinthir's otherwise neglected tablet) the Universal words for their body parts, the Emperor encouraging the Queen to reveal her specific preferences and details about them, with the Queen shifting to her Eldritch form, so that Lisinthir can better map terms to anatomy. After, the Queen asks whether the Eldritch have terms for parts such as that, and Lisinthir realizes suddenly that they don't, since the Eldritch speak of such things only in metaphor. The Emperor: "It seems we all shared this thing in common, then. We learned the language of pleasing one another--" Said in deliberate Universal, "--together."

Lisinthir wakes, feeling painfully lonely but hale, and knowing exactly why his subconscious dragged up that memory. He is, however, unsurprised when his door chimed, and the Glaseah is there alone. Vasiht'h says he needs Lisinthir's help but is unsure if he can trust the Eldritch, and, when pressed, asks if he needs to elaborate. Lisinthir expresses a desire to drink, and Vasiht'h briefly therapizes at him before apologizing. Instead, Lisinthir offers Vasiht'h the drink, who accepts and tells him that Lisinthir knows why he's here and the problem at hand. The two talk around the specifics of the issue (Lisinthir out of a mild intrigue), before Lisinthir states that Jahir is a virgin. However, Lisinthir doesn't see the problem as a problem. Vasiht'h says that Lisinthir broke Jahir's self-conception and calls him out on deflecting. Lisinthir replies that he's doing it because Vasiht'h is accusing him alone of emotional destruction. At Vasiht'h's horror, Lisinthir goes for his flask, which he offers to the Glaseah, then asks him what Vasiht'h wants him to do about Jahir. Vasiht'h offers that he could talk to Jahir about sex, but reacts poorly to a gentle verbal parry, and so Lisinthir hugs him, offering the flask again. After checking his assumptions that Eldritch do not like to be touched (but Lisinthir, in particular, does), Vasiht'h drinks and leans into the hug. Lisinthir notes to himself that to protect is also within him, and he embraces the Glaseah as a stand-in for everything he'd sacrificed to save. Noting Lisinthir's sadness, Vasiht'h asks why protecting and comforting seems to make him sad. Lisinthir deflects, saying no one on the ship has earned that level of intimacy. He encourages Vasiht'h to send Jahir, and that he'll make an effort. Vasiht'h thanks him and leaves. Lisinthir considers drinking before going for the hekkret.

Chapter Seven[edit]

Jahir wakes before his alarm and wonders why. Seeing Vasiht'h sleeping next to him reminds him of Mercy, in addition to everything else going on. Though he's still tired, he gets up and decides to analyze the hekkret. That reminds him of interactions with Lisinthir, and Lisinthir's aggression, which makes him miss a step, but he keeps moving, ignoring whatever it was that made him falter. After about a half-hour of examining the drug by itself, he feels a bit better balanced and goes to check on Lisinthir.

Lisinthir, however, surprises him by smoking the hekkret openly. He looks not only relaxed, but decadent, and Jahir asks him about drinking, but he says he isn't. Instead of responding to Lisinthir's bait, he starts running the tests he came there to run, being dismayed at the results, before realizing that Lisinthir was under the influence of hekkret at that moment and running more tests. Lisinthir keeps looking at him, however. Jahir is a bit put off, but asks Lisinthir to place the wand by his head, noting that, unlike other Eldritch, Lisinthir doesn't touch him, but is very careless about doing so. Then, Lisinthir goads him into conversation about himself and Eldritch catechism, turning it into a conversation about healing that isn't Lisinthir's own. When Jahir asks for clarification, Lisinthir mentions that this wasn't going to work and tries to push off the conversation. Jahir presses, and Lisinthir tells him he was asked to talk to Jahir about sex. Baffled, Jahir asks what prompted him to that subject, and Lisinthir tells him, "Say 'whoever' and ask again." The fact that Vasiht'h, of all people, asked Lisinthir blows Jahir's mind, and his thoughts race as to what could compel his brother beloved to ask a stranger to intervene when Lisinthir touches him, commanding him (gently) to stop. Lisinthir goes on to say the Glaseah was only worried he couldn't help Jahir himself, and in wondering why Vasiht'h chose Lisinthir, Jahir realizes Lisinthir is still touching him. Lisinthir says that he likes touching, but also that Jahir doesn't want Lisinthir to ask permission to do so, and wants him to take it. This resonates in Jahir, and when Lisinthir says that he doesn't rape the innocent, Jahir asks if he rapes the guilty. Before he can go more than a step down that path, Jahir pulls himself away, retrieves the wand, and leaves, his mind reeling with whatever made Vasiht'h ask Lisinthir, of all people. Feeling a headache coming on, he buries himself in work.

Feeling this situation with Jahir entirely ridiculous, Lisinthir goes to find something to do and seeks out the captain in the engine room. Once there, he sees the Captain at work attempting to fix the ship's massive Well drive, and the Captain detaches himself from the work, so that Lisinthir can ask if there's anything he (Lisinthir) can do to help. Enthusiastically, the Captain tells him that he can get his experiences and information on the political and military situation within the Chatcaavan Empire onto a form that can be sent out as soon as they're safe or about to be captured, since that is the most valuable asset he has aside, from his own self. After receiving a reassurance that they'll get out of the situation, Lisinthir departs to do just that, reflecting on how very little the Alliance knew about the Empire before he left, and how much he was told was also wrong. When he reaches his quarters, he wakes up a data tablet and begins with a broad political analysis.

Jahir is disturbed from his work by a protein bar being brought by Vasiht'h, also discovering that he's cold. The Glaseah had talked to Hea Borden about their clients and suggested they might see more. When Jahir wonders why they wouldn't, Vasiht'h tells him he's been up for a long time, ribbing him with a cute story of him falling asleep during a client's dreams. When asked if he was closer to finished, Jahir wishes he was, since the Ambassador's health could fuel academic papers. Vasiht'h wonders at his use of Lisinthir's title, and Jahir uses that to ask why Vasiht'h asked Lisinthir to help him. Vasiht'h says he'll say later, and encourages Jahir to eat. He begins to, then realizes that he had left Lisinthir's room without administering a solution. Vasiht'h picks up on his alarm, and they rush off to find the Ambassador slumped on the table. Thinking there's no time, Jahir takes Vasiht'h's hand and reaches for Lisinthir, using their mind healing technique to calm Lisinthir's seizure. When he wakes, so does Lisinthir, who asks them (initially in Chatcaavan) what they're doing here. Vasiht'h supplies that they were assisting his seizure, and Jahir asks him if he has any more hekkret so that he can use it, supervised. Lisinthir does, and the Glaseah goes to get it. Jahir takes responsibility, since he didn't realize that Lisinthir was taking three sedating drugs, and his body has grown used to being on all three. When he's now on less, it could kill him. Jahir briefly laments a lack of sample, then tells Lisinthir about the supervision, which Lisinthir moves into if they administered some medicine to him. Vasiht'h explains that they have a technique to help with seizures, but misses Lisinthir's sudden menace, which only grows as Vasiht'h tells him it's a mental touch. Lisinthir balks at this, since they hadn't asked his permission, and Jahir doesn't say what he saw while inside the Ambassador's mind. Lisinthir kicks them out with mere words, sending them fleeing for the safety of their own room.

Jahir takes this moment to reveal that he's turned on by violence, which is why Vasiht'h had asked Lisinthir to talk to Jahir about carnal matters. Jahir tries to wave off Vasiht'h's concern, saying he can simply discipline himself against his desires, but Vasiht'h counters that said discipline often gets to the realm of repression, and they share a smile about the gentle reproach. However, Vasiht'h maintains that Jahir doesn't need to be fixed, though the Eldritch doesn't say anything to that. Vasiht'h moves the conversation on to what they will do, since they need to still take care of Lisinthir, and Jahir admits he isn't sure how to regulate the dosings, before saying that he needs to apologize for the mental invasion. Vasiht'h reiterates that this was the fastest way to treat the seizure, though. Jahir speculates that, while Lisinthir may not be suicidal, he isn't necessarily trying to stay alive. Jahir goes for a nap, and Vasiht'h goes for a walk. As Jahir lies down, though, Lisinthir's memories -- of blood, violence, and unexpected and abundant love -- come back to him, and he wonders aloud what happened to Lisinthir in the Empire.

Lisinthir doesn't chase down the two, which he counts as a victory, because he dearly wants to hurt something. Jahir, who should have known better given Eldritch mores, seems like a good target, but then he laments that the only thing he could hurt was himself. He changes out of Eldritch clothes and into Chatcaavan ones and lights up a roll before falling into a memory of scratching the Emperor's cornea while the Emperor was on top of him. After a brief discussion about not knowing the Chatcaavan word for cornea (and, thanks to the Slave Queen, guessing there is no direct Eldritch word for it), he hisses and calls the Emperor a bastard, though playfully. The Emperor looks at the wound he caused, and shrugs off the Slave Queen's call for the Surgeon but does ask her to run a bath for them. When she leaves, Lisinthir checks one last time on the Emperor, who tells him he's fine and that he'll check with the Surgeon tomorrow, if it hasn't resolved itself by then. Lisinthir laughs, noting they're both unwilling to admit to pain. The Emperor, once he hears the water going, asks if the Alliance can heal old wounds, elaborating that if possible, he'd restore the Queen's wings and womb, the former he took himself but claims responsibility for both. Lisinthir says that it's possible, but it would take a true hospital, and the closest thing to a mobile facility would arrive on an Alliance warship. The Emperor muses on what a day that would be, and the two share a kiss. The Emperor then asks what a bastard is, and upon having the concept explained to him, dismisses it as useless. The thing that clings to Lisinthir, however, is a moment he finds purpose: in order for the Slave Queen to venture into the Alliance to have her womb and wings restored, both Alliance and Empire must work toward that goal.

After cleaning himself with a Pad bath, Lisinthir looks in the mirror with the Eldritch eyes Jahir left him from his invasion, and sees how badly off he is. With new resolve to survive in order to create a future for his beloveds, he resigns himself to treatment, then opts to finish smoking the hekkret and dictating more observations.

Vasiht'h really, really wants to channel his nervous energy into something productive like cooking, but he has no idea where a cafeteria even is on the ship. He wanders the ship and his thoughts, knowing that Jahir's easy dismissal of his sexuality being a problem was probably massively underestimating the issue. He saw Jahir's revulsion, shock, and fascination, so it was going to come up again. Finally, he finds the mess hall, and in it are Borden and two other crew members, people he could possibly heal. The Asanii female tells him that the galley's offline, but he could share a protein bar with them, and they have a brief conversation that segues into the current situation: The Well drive looks inoperable with their current tools and expertise. There's a plan to maneuver into known patrol routes of Dusted Fleet ships, though calling for Fleet will probably also draw the dragons to them as well.

Borden mentions the therapy Jahir and Vasiht'h have been conducting, and Vasiht'h mentions that they'll get to everybody, particularly since the results have been very positive from those who have had it already. Vasiht'h compares them to a Fleet patrol for their subconscious, and they have a laugh at that. Reflecting that they were far from home, the Glaseah excuses himself and finds himself running to Jahir, telling him about the situation with the Well drive. However, Jahir seems sure that they won't die here. Vasiht'h lets Jahir lead the sessions of crew members, and gradually feels whole as they complete their work. Securing a promise that Jahir will eat, he goes to take a nap.

Jahir reads for a bit to help ease his partner's transition to sleep, but then leaves in search of the Ambassador. Lisinthir lets him in, and Jahir finds himself slightly dismayed by his carriage and his dress. Lisinthir asks if Jahir's finally going to feed him. Saying that there's another reason he came here, Jahir opts to do that first, noting that something was different and possibly suspicious with the Ambassador. By his own admission, however, he hadn't been drinking, mostly because Jahir hadn't scheduled any for him. After injecting Lisinthir with the solution, Jahir apologizes. Lisinthir, however, does not accept, and instead demands restitution, emphasizing that by saying it again in Eldren and shading it black. When asked what he wants, Lisinthir says he wants a vulnerability from Jahir, since he took one. Jahir instantly offers his hands, but Lisinthir stops him, telling him his weakness is his flesh. Since Lisinthir won't rape him (he doesn't rape the innocent), Lisinthir wants his willingness, and asks for a kiss. Jahir balks at this, because Lisinthir has only been gone from the Empire a few days, but to Lisinthir that's the point. Lisinthir presses Jahir to consult the stolen memories, but the impressions Jahir gets are moments of violence, pain... and love, great love, love intertwined with passion, and through it all no shame. Lisinthir is silent for a few moments, then pulls Jahir to him and kisses his brow. Jahir, overcome with the face of strength made from love, finds himself intensely envious of what Lisinthir found.

While he'd intended to keep Jahir on the defensive, Jahir crumpling had ignited his guardian instincts, and Lisinthir concedes the battle, guessing that Jahir had no idea he'd won. Instead, he holds Jahir until his tumult wanes, and asks for who Jahir would love if he could. Naming his cousin, Lisinthir guesses the relation and that this is the first and only person Jahir had loved and wanted. With simply that, Lisinthir builds a pretty accurate psychological profile of Jahir, chalking it up to instincts honed among the dragons. He also credits it to having walked a similiar road, and tells Jahir that he'll answer questions about his time in the Empire. When asked if he still needed to pay with a kiss, Lisinthir reads that Jahir wants some acceptance so badly, and supplies the kiss, finding Jahir yielding to him. They kiss again, and Lisinthir introduces some pain by way of pressing his thumb near Jahir's ear. They separate, and Jahir (after regaining his breath because, hoo boy, that kiss was HOT) notes that he seems to have gone from adversary to victim. Lisinthir says that this vulnerability will more than pay the restitution demanded, and chides Jahir for dismissing it as just lust: it's how Jahir's needs are being expressed, and that is enticing both to those that would honor them and prey on them. Jahir correctly notes that Lisinthir will not prey on him, and Lisinthir elaborates that he is not a sadist, but is by conquest and dominance contests. Jahir, however, knows he doesn't want these things from Sediryl, and Lisinthir notes that's because he wants her with an innocent's love, and encourages Jahir to court her. When Jahir starts to say something, Lisinthir tells him not to make promises that will restrict him, and if he wants pain, Lisinthir will supply it. This confuses Jahir, and when he asks why Lisinthir would give him an outlet for these needs, Lisinthir comes back to Jahir taking his tumbler at their first real meeting. Jahir tries to dismiss it, but Lisinthir reminds him that he did it to send a message. Further, Jahir has refused to back down except in certain cases.

The two idly converse about how Jahir can pay for hearing Lisinthir's story about the Empire, which prods Jahir to ask if there are any partisans within the Empire that could provide help. After hearing the current plan from Jahir, Lisinthir basically rolls his eyes at the prey-like thinking and comes up with another plan, kissing Jahir a third time, due to his continued assertions.

The two of them find Raynor on the bridge and ask to speak with him. Going to a room off the bridge, Lisinthir advances his proposal: The Chatcaava are predators, and will pounce when they hear of any transmission. So, what if they send an enticing enough distress call to lure the enemy over, then take their ship, and use it to tow the derelict to the Alliance? Intrigued, Raynor presses for details: get some female volunteers to record the distress call, emphasizing how dire their situation is, which might spur the boarding Chatcaava to capture, not kill, and they'll probably bring their own Pads, if the ship is already crippled. Lisinthir implies that he wants to lead the raid, but demurs from actually saying so, though he does need to go, since he'll know the layout. Raynor dismisses him with a promise to consider the idea. In the hall, Jahir stops Lisinthir, picking up on his physical symptoms. After telling him how attractive he is in his area of authority, Lisinthir gives a useful report, and Jahir opts to direct them to the clinic for a painkiller.

Jahir stops by his room, trying to figure out what to leave in a note to Vasiht'h. He writes a short one, then grabs the kit and returns to Lisinthir's room, finding him sitting cross-legged in bed and smoking another hekkret roll. Lisinthir makes a crack about getting to a position of relative safety to now be dying, and elaborates that his only safety was in the Emperor's bed. Jahir takes this opportunity to ask him how the h*ck he ended up in the bed of a head of state, saying he's too confused to be revolted and that, despite being in Lisinthir's mind, he doesn't know much of his experiences. Lisinthir takes another verbal swing at Jahir, then immediately apologizes because being aggressive was the only way he survived in the court. He explains the basics of Chatcaavan society, and explains that fights are the only way to get anywhere. Since death is wasteful, they humiliate and abuse each other instead. Jahir picks up that Lisinthir got raped by the Emperor, and for shock value, Lisinthir goes on to say that Chatcaava have barbs, and also he raped the Emperor back. When Jahir guesses that the intense love he felt from Lisinthir's memories was the Slave Queen, Lisinthir challenges him that it wasn't just the Slave Queen, it was the Emperor also. After a moment of rebooting, Jahir demands more information, brushing off another nascent apology from Lisinthir, when the Ambassador kisses him again, undoing him. Lisinthir laughs and calls Jahir irresistible, but Jahir tells him in response that Lisinthir doesn't seem very broken to him.

In this vein, Lisinthir asks him how likely it is that "a person rises above their society's teachings," and Jahir puts together that Lisinthir taught the Emperor empathy. Lisinthir also pours cold water on the notion that it was easy, saying that most of his time was suffering, and he learned he didn't enjoy torture or submission at the Emperor's hands. After teaching the Emperor his shape, he was able to fully instruct the Emperor only after being tortured while the Emperor used the Eldritch ability to feel emotions through the skin. Jahir then deduces that, thanks to that transformation, the Chatcaava are pursuing him because he changed the Emperor, who will attempt to remake the Empire in a new image. After getting over shock at Jahir's leaps of intuition, Lisinthir states that he was sent away because he was the Emperor's weakness, because there isn't yet a place for him in the Empire. The war is not only coming, it has begun, and this is "one of its opening skirmishes."

Jahir has to take a moment to process this revelation, marveling that the Queen had enough Sight to send Lisinthir into the Empire to effect this change, and that he and Vasiht'h must have some role to play as well. But also, he may have been too credulous of this, granted, implausible story. Lisinthir picks up on this, and proposes that he share a memory with Jahir, which would require that Jahir trust him. Jahir does, and Lisinthir shares.

Lisinthir stands on a balcony alongside the Emperor in his Eldritch shape, conscious of his failing body. The Emperor notes his lack of fear of the fall, saying that if he fell, he'd hope he'd be able to Change before he hit the ground. The Queen beckons them both inside, wearing her Eldritch shape, and the two oblige her. The Emperor asks if Lisinthir still considers himself a subject of the Eldritch Queen, and, after considering the society tried to crush him, had humiliated his father, had created the dysfunctional relationship between his parents, but also that Liolesa had seen his need to leave, he gives a bit of a non-answer: "Can one stop being what one is?" The Emperor laughs, and they kiss, and he pulls in the Queen, and in that space he says that he is what they made him, and that he's transformed them too. The Queen brings up his ring, which shows the sigil of his father's House, and he comments that he was never quite suited to his mother's. From there, they discuss his dueling past, and the fact that the Eldritch are too few to wantonly kill others for mere insult, yet dueling risked death, and he dueled often. However, it wasn't his intention to become a dueler, he simply answered the first veiled insult to Imthereli with steel, and kept answering until the insults stopped coming. It was skill to shame without killing, so that those who live can bear testament, like what the Emperor did to Lisinthir himself. When asked if he regretted leaving Lisinthir alive, the Emperor answers that he did not, and is asked to show them. Again. They see to the Queen first, and then reach for each other for a more violent kind of pleasure, though the Emperor is handicapped by fighting as an Eldritch.

Jahir is brought back from that memory by Lisinthir pushing him back into his body, and sees the moment that his skin is broken by a fingertip. Lisinthir stares at the blood, licks it up, and kisses him, and Jahir's world breaks. When he next comes aware of himself, he's blissed out hard and is leaning on Lisinthir with weak knees. Though it takes him a while, Jahir speaks... to lecture Lisinthir about hygiene and not ingesting body fluids. Lisinthir laughs at this, then kisses Jahir on his nose. Jahir, however, feels the resonance of another meaning in their touch and wonders what he did to deserve it. Lisinthir replies that he's everything Vasiht'h says of him, and quite a lot more. He then apologizes, because Lisinthir only kissed Jahir, and Jahir had himself an orgasm from just the kiss. Before Jahir can be embarrassed, Lisinthir nips that in the bud, surrounding Jahir with warmth and affection and telling him that his sensitivity is a treasure, not a liability, and for the creative to fully exploit. Continuing, he says that the situation that they're in is coercive, and if Jahir still wants the full experience, once they get out of this situation, he need only come to Lisinthir. Having said that, he directs Jahir to clean up in the bathroom, then says that he'll consent to the interventions and that he needs to live through this, thanking Jahir for trusting him. Jahir no longer feels ashamed of what he wants, and his mind drifts toward going to Sediryl as a man. He even contemplates rejection, but finds himself energized by simply considering himself able to ask. Leaving the bathroom, he suggests they both get some sleep and leads the way to his room, even trying some of the easy touch Lisinthir has. They find Vasiht'h still sleeping, and Jahir sets Lisinthir on the bunk while he grabs some cushions and sleeps in between Vasiht'h and Lisinthir, with Lisinthir extending a hand so he can keep track of any seizures the other man might have.

Chapter Eight[edit]

Vasiht'h wakes up, thinking he's in a cuddle pile with his siblings, but is disoriented when he encounters a furless arm, and realizes that he's very much not. Also, the arm is Jahir's, and he's on the floor with him? Jahir seems to wake as well, and though he looks exhausted, he's also at peace. Jahir relays via mindline that the Ambassador agreed to the observation, which is why he's in the room at all, then says that Vasiht'h was right, and they have a lot to talk about. Since Jahir still hasn't gotten enough sleep, Vasiht'h volunteers to go check with Hea Borden about their next move, and receives in turn a promise that Jahir will call him if Lisinthir experiences another seizure. Before he leaves, he tests Jahir's serenity and finds no darkness. After observing the sleeping Lisinthir for a time, he wonders how the Ambassador got talked into this, and exactly what transpired between him and Jahir before shrugging, hoping that Jahir would tell him. He eats, has a Pad bath, and goes off to find Hea Triona.

Borden's in the mess, sorting rations and looking super tired. Vasiht'h settles down to help, and the conversation moves to Borden not sleeping well, in part due to nightmares. This is her first deployment, and any prior visits to the border were for humanitarian reasons. After a brief tangent on the word "humanitarian", she relays her past, then says that she's okay with dying in the line of duty, but not being enslaved, as that might drive her insane. Vasiht'h says she still needs sleep, and she agrees, particularly since they might go through with the Ambassador's crazy scheme. As this is the first Vasiht'h's heard of it, he asks for details and is very surprised at the audacity of it, especially since he'd rather they crept around the borders, hoping not to be found. After saying that he'll leave military matters to experts, he cajoles Borden into being a patient for his and Jahir's next round of dream therapy, then helps her sort the protein bars.

The sorting doesn't really help Vasiht'h's feeling of impotence, though he is relieved that Jahir seems to be truly better and not just hiding things away as usual. He's nursing his ambivalence about attacking the Chatcaava, when he enters his room, and finds Lisinthir awake but Jahir asleep. Vasiht'h's concern rounds on him, though he tries to deflect it, but Vasiht'h has been living with an Eldritch for over a decade and can spot the tiny details. Lisinthir attempts once again to distract Vasiht'h, but the Glaseah isn't having it, and finally he gives a real report of his body while Vasiht'h notes he hasn't eaten a protein bar that's been unwrapped. Lisinthir mentions that he hasn't felt as easy in his skin, or aware of how much he did, until Jahir pushed into his mind. Vasiht'h apologizes for his role in that. Lisinthir tells Vasiht'h that he wasn't angry at him, and points out that the medallion the Glaseah wore meant he knew something of the Eldritch. Vasiht'h, while not pretending to know everything, knows that the Eldritch are dying and that he intends to be alongside Jahir to help. Lisinthir asks for the story of how Jahir and Vasiht'h met, and while Vasiht'h hesitates, Jahir wakes.

The first thing that Vasiht'h notices is that Jahir is mimicking Lisinthir's bodyspeech. He checks in with Jahir via mindline, and Lisinthir comments aloud that he finds the two of them talking fascinating, but also that he can hear them doing it, but not specifically what they say. Jahir offers that he had to go back into Lisinthir's head to get a true memory of Lisinthir's time in the Empire, since "he was a victim of serial rape, and then fell for his abuser and coerced his rapist into falling in love with him, and through that love forced him to see the errors in his culture, oh, and the abuser was the Chatcaavan Emperor" is like some kind of story or something. Vasiht'h demands to know if this is true from Lisinthir, who can't say because he still can't hear the other two speak in the mindline. Vasiht'h asks if he's always unflappable, and Lisinthir returns that he spent a good month falling apart in the lap of the Slave Queen, but it takes a bit more than an irate Glaseah to faze him. Jahir says he believes Lisinthir, and Lisinthir offers a memory to the Glaseah directly to convince him, citing that his opinion matters to Jahir.

Unwilling to actually experience one of Lisinthir's memories if it was indeed torture, Vasiht'h presses Jahir on Lisinthir's veracity, and Jahir invites him to evaluate the Ambassador on his own judgement. Vasiht'h brings up nearly breaking Jahir's arm over a cigarette. Jahir takes Vasiht'h's hand and reminds the Glaseah that they had been evaluating Lisinthir by their own cultural contexts, and that Lisinthir is now also Chatcaavan a bit. To that Vasiht'h says aloud to Lisinthir that he needs a Harat-Shariin therapist. Lisinthir asks if one is available, and Jahir has to stifle his mirth. Abruptly, however, Lisinthir switches to abject gravity, but also waits for Vasiht'h to process the abrupt change in demeanor before offering his hands. Eldritch family do touch, and Lisinthir considers Vasiht'h family of sorts. Vasiht'h takes the offer, and can feel Lisinthir's sense of purpose. He asks what changed, and Lisinthir tells him that he needs to do work to support the Emperor's aims, that they changed each other, and that the Emperor's change could get him and the Queen killed, so he still has a duty to discharge. When this confuses the Glaseah, Jahir helps out by telling him that Eldritch men are committed to duties to family, tenants, House, and Queen, but barred from helping them when they die from waste and hunger because of Eldritch pride. Lisinthir chimes in that noble heirs can be even more impotent, if they have titles without wealth or people, and that his father flung him at court to attempt to rekindle his dying House and left him there, making him angry, ambitious, and feeling a dire need to be useful. Jahir makes a tiny crack at himself for the disparate natures of leaving the Eldritch homeworld, and Lisinthir gently chides him for it, and Jahir accepts this to Vasiht'h's surprise. Finally, Vasiht'h gets a good look at Lisinthir and sees him coming together, and also that Lisinthir was so angry because he *had* purpose, and this vessel was bearing him away from it.

"What a mess," says Vasiht'h, master of the understatement.

Everyone agrees, and the Glaseah notes that Lisinthir is touching Jahir, but Jahir counters that Lisinthir probably needs it. Lisinthir calls Vasiht'h 'alet' but Vasiht'h suggests they call each other 'arii' instead. Jahir suggests the Alliance is Lisinthir's ward, and, when Lisinthir says "for now," Vasiht'h asks him what happens after the revolution is realized. Lisinthir says that he'll live among the dragons for whatever time they have left.

Jahir offers to feed Lisinthir and give him an analgesic, and Vasiht'h contemplates what to do with Lisinthir while they're making their rounds. Lisinthir says he's fine on the couch, which prompts Jahir to tell Vasiht'h via mindline that Lisinthir is hiding his weaknesses, and that if Eldritch are stubborn on this point, Chatcaava are even more so. Vasiht'h wonders how the h*ck they get involved in these things, and Jahir tells him that they volunteer, which makes the Glaseah chuckle.

Chapter Nine[edit]

Now that he and Vasiht'h are feeling more connected, Jahir finds the work he's doing with the dream therapy going extremely well. Better, because he knew these folks were going to help the Ambassador and the Captain carry out the plan that was so preposterous and brazen, that it had to succeed. Briefly, Jahir muses as to whether this is trust in Lisinthir's ability, or his own hope for the future, or even the pattern sense, but dismisses those as all wishful thinking. He chalks it up to maybe just the physical release, and wonders about Lisinthir's offer. On the way to their third client, Vasiht'h comments that everyone seems better, to which the Seersa comments that, since a decision is going to be made soon, and they're going to do something active about their problems, it helps. It'll be at most two days, and they might use some of the remaining power to for assaulting the enemy. In addition, two (the Ambassador aside) crew members can speak Chatcaavan, and one is an expert in their tech systems. Failing that, they could take a prisoner. Vasiht'h, however, isn't very jazzed about all this violence, and is further dismayed when the question of what will happen with himself and Jahir is answered that they might join the boarding party, since it may be safer than staying behind. They stop in front of Patient Three, and Vasiht'h observes Jahir's calm in the mindline, and receives some assurance to let tomorrow take care of itself.

The two take care of Borden herself, with Vasiht'h blowing the Breath of the Goddess through her sleeping mind. In so doing, he raises the hair on Jahir's neck, though it also brings him peace. Outside the room, they talk about Jahir's new "sensual reality," which Jahir is enjoying though also hoping goes away soon. Vasiht'h comments that this is his norm, and Jahir replies that it's strange that he's been surrounded by excess luxury and never noticed. They come back to an empty room and a note: Lisinthir has gone to the "salle" and invited them to come by. Vasiht'h comments on Lisinthir's speech patterns, and they depart to get him.

In said "salle," (though more a physical training room), Lisinthir is sparring with an Asanii feline hand-to-hand, and she is working hard, but giving him no trouble. She begs off the spar when Jahir and Vasiht'h arrive, and, after answering some brief questions as to Lisinthir's state, she leaves to go back on duty. Her parting remark makes Vasiht'h inquire, which is how they found out that the two started in Jahir and Vasiht'h's cabin, and since the couch was too small, he put his head in her lap while she sat. He asked politely, too. Vasiht'h wonders if they have to worry about Lisinthir sleeping through the crew, but Lisinthir puts those worries to rest, since he doesn't quite miss sex enough to sleep through the Alliance, particularly since it cuts close to what the Chatcaava did to Alliance slaves. He tosses Jahir a staff with an invitation to spar, and Jahir hesitates. Lisinthir supplies that Jahir might be mistaken for himself, and, while sparring for an hour wouldn't enable him to falsify his fighting style, he might be fighting for his and Vasiht'h's lives very soon. And that this is therapy for him, as he's used to fighting or having sex (or doing drugs, as Vasiht'h points out). Jahir objects that he doesn't like fighting, but Lisinthir counters that he fights Lisinthir all the time, so what if the weapon is words? Further, he was bred to fight, to defend the helpless and his own honor. In addition, therapy starts with a fight for the patient's very soul, though he would call it healing. Jahir, however, refuses, throwing the staff to the side. He is calm and proud of himself for not giving in, and is soon on his knees with Lisinthir's arm locked around his throat and his own arms trapped behind him. Through their skins, he feels Lisinthir's grief and frustration.

Lisinthir again tries to get Jahir to fight, but Jahir instead gives in completely. Lisinthir feels his protective instincts take over, with Jahir saying that, if he's captured by the dragons, he might find some other way to win free than fight, but that is not always productive. It's enough that he feels proud as he wins the argument, but then Lisinthir destroys that win by suggesting what if Vasiht'h is captured, and condemned to rape and slavery? When he reflexively answers "Never," Lisinthir points out that it's just him he's willing to sacrifice, and Vasiht'h picks up the staff. Jahir is struck by the Glaseah picking up a weapon, and accepts the weapon when Vasiht'h offers it, the Glaseah telling Lisinthir to "Make him practice." To Jahir, in the mindline, he demands that Jahir be more wiling to take care of himself: he has six hundredish more years, but Vasih't does not. Lisinthir, however, gently takes Vasiht'h to task, to which the Glaseah counters that he's taking Jahir down for being too passive and yet wants to stop Vasiht'h from doing the same. Lisinthir explains that the relationship between Eldritch of similar stations does sometimes involve testing, and that yielding is not always a coward's way. Perhaps Jahir errs too much on that side, but he himself errs too much towards aggression. Then, he pulls Jahir up, and bids him to hug Vasiht'h, who tells him that he always has a home with him. They have a conversation in the mindline reaffirming their bond towards one another, with Vasiht'h encouraging Jahir to attempt to defend himself as he would Vasiht'h. Finally, Jahir agrees to practice, though he bids Vasiht'h to stay.

For Lisinthir, the session was fascinating and dismaying. It was very obvious that Jahir didn't enjoy the exercise, though he had trained enough to be deft with the staff, and even unarmed, Lisinthir could repeatedly beat Jahir, drilling him on how to guard his various attacks, until he could defend himself at least. However, Jahir could endure almost anything, and privately Lisinthir wonders if Jahir could have lived through tortures that nearly broke him. When they were both sweating profusely, Lisinthir ends the practice and sends Jahir to go be with Vasiht'h, saying that he'll be along, and Vasiht'h whisks Jahir away. Lisinthir goes to take a Pad bath, reflecting that the Alliance was efficient, brilliant, wondrous, yet empty of the inconveniences and challenges that allowed the honing of one's own edges. And yet, the same backwards, dangerous place had created both him and Jahir. Unable to chase down whatever revelation that entailed, he goes to find Jahir and Vasiht'h, who are asleep on the floor of their cabin. Lisinthir takes the bed and immediately falls asleep, despite his misgivings to the contrary.

Flashback: post some kind of sexy interruption, the Emperor shows Lisinthir the true borders and size of the Empire, which staggers Lisinthir for its size. When he brings up the discrepancy between what the Empire told the Alliance about how big it is and its true size, the Emperor says that, "Lying would have required us to believe you worthy of the truth," but yes, they did, and also have been expanding. Continuously. The Emperor adjusts the map so that it splits into four quadrants, pointing out the homeworld where they used to rule from, until they happened upon the Alliance and a fight, and thereby relocated the Throneworld so far forward and closer to the Alliance, closer to the perceived front. Lisinthir asks where the Emperor was born, and he says that he lived somewhere near the homeworld, his sire in the Navy, but died with no title, unremarkable, and having had no ambition. Lisinthir contrasts his own father, who was nothing but ambition and resentment and fury. The Emperor, by contrast, earned a title in the Navy within weeks and quickly ascended, dethroning a venal, incompetent, and incurious Emperor. They speak more of the map: the two larger areas are that way because they are richer in worlds, metal, and people, and each quarter is overseen by an arm of the Navy and a bureaucracy. The Navy arms used to be overseen by Chatcaava from those areas, but the Emperor switched it up, constantly shifting territory and personnel into and out of challenging, rewarding, and punishing situations. Remarking that some diversion is needful now and then, Lisinthir goads the Emperor into more violent sex before he wakes up suddenly, feeling his loneliness quite acutely.

Jahir doses him with an analgesic, but Lisinthir entreats him to "be what I need" and then drags his cousin into the bed with him, strips off his shirt, and pulls him close with his own back to the wall. When Jahir's anxiety from this positioning goes away, Lisinthir's desperation finally abates. Jahir, still fresh from sleeping, comments on Lisinthir's surprising nature, and also that his needs are complex. Lisinthir, feeling for the epiphany he was chasing in the gym's locker room, asks which need Jahir is feeding, to which Jahir answers, the need for someone to protect. Lisinthir then apologizes, since Jahir didn't enjoy the sparring, but Jahir waves it off, saying he gives in for fear of going too far. Lisinthir doesn't think that's it, not entirely, and decides to move the conversation to Jahir's braided hair. Jahir mentions he scandalized his servant with the habit of sleeping with it like this, but not his father, because he didn't live to see it. Sensing his quarry, Lisinthir asks if he was presented at court at the usual time, and Jahir says that he was, but left the world after a few years because he perceived himself as not accomplishing much for the Seni. His father took his duties very seriously and was much admired. Then Lisinthir looses his arrow: he speculates that Jahir thinks himself a disappointment to his mother, and a failure for not fulfilling his father's legacy. The eldest son who would be expected to marry, couldn't find someone to replace the cousin he couldn't wed. Then, the kill: "How long have you been punishing yourself for not being your father?"

Jahir is utterly floored, but can't dispute the question: his father, taken too soon, was put on a pedestal. When Lisinthir turns him so he's lying on his back, Jahir accuses him of being nothing like an Eldritch while resting in his arms. Lisinthir counters that he's everything like an Eldritch, only unconstrained by things strangling their culture, particularly those of male, noble, expendable heirs. Jahir tells him that not everything is stupid about their culture, but Lisinthir counters that Jahir would say that because his parents loved him (otherwise it wouldn't matter so much what they thought of him), he was wealthy, had the Queen's favor, and even had a brother, and is thusly in every way born under a favorable sun, as he (Lisinthir) was not. Jahir states his desire to go back and bring home what he's learned one day to help the Eldritch thrive, and Lisinthir assures him that he will, and with his near-cousin (Sediryl?) at his side. Jahir brushes that off and posits to accept this hypothesis of his self-destructive tendencies. It still won't change that his first instinct is not confrontation. Lisinthir reiterates that yielding is sometimes strength, with trust being the ultimate strength. Lisinthir then sets Jahir a task: having seen the source of his grief and the weakness (and strengths) it's made in him, it is his duty to cultivate his strength and lists off a bunch. What Jahir pulls from this is that other Eldritch doesn't think less of him for not being better at fighting. Lisinthir gives Jahir a little shake, wondering how he keeps looking for reasons to find himself unworthy of love, citing that nobody is perfect, so why does Jahir need to hold himself to a perfect standard? He may have had longer to work on himself, but also to twist himself into strange shapes.

Jahir asks why Lisinthir loves the fight. In short, he loves the moment when life and death is in his hands, and he has triumphed, though he fights to defend the innocent. In answer to Jahir questioning whether he's taking a power the divine hold, he counters that, had the God and Lady not wanted them to exercise it, they wouldn't have made them capable of it, plus that to guard a life is as heady as to spend it. Jahir, to his surprise, knows this, citing that even though he's not a physician (yet), his abilities with Vasiht'h were used to rescue victims of Wet. At Lisinthir's insistence, he shares a memory: Heliocentrus's weight dragging on his limbs, stealing his breath, but also seeing the rows of unresponsive victims... yet he manages to buy victims a few hours for families to arrive and make farewells, and the knowledge that he did and would do it all again...

Lisinthir kisses him back from the memory, and Jahir is stunned by the other Eldritch's ferocious and possessive admiration. They only separate when Jahir is gasping for air, and he feels Lisinthir's respect for him settle within him. He's perplexed by the other's resignation, though Lisinthir quickly answers that it's due to how quickly Jahir became dear to Lisinthir. This leads into a conversation about the nature of their affection, and Jahir receives uncompromising answers that even though they love one another, they aren't about to leave their beloveds for one another, either. Neither, also, does Lisinthir think Jahir is some convenience, because Lisinthir is not capable of that. With the truth they could feel through their skin, they are able to navigate the complexities of relationships, though Jahir reflects that this is what Eldritch deny themselves, by denying themselves skin and touch. Which both is and isn't the reason Lisinthir wanted Jahir's shirt off.

They laugh and continue cuddling, though Lisinthir reveals that he's never had a milk name: no one's ever felt enough affection for him to give him one. However, Lisinthir also staves off Jahir's sympathy, because he has found love. Jahir notes that Lisinthir no longer signals intimacy by Eldritch means, and Lisinthir explains that names are contemptible in Chatcaavan culture, because titles define one's relationships to others. Then, Lisinthir clarifies his names for Jahir: "Heir" when he's being too intransigent, "Healer" in his strength, and "Cousin" because it titillates Jahir. Jahir chooses for Lisinthir "Scion" when he's being intransigent, "Ambassador" in his duty, and "Cousin" to accept Lisinthir's right to titillate him, and Lisinthir suggests they might find other titles for one another. There's more back and forth, before Lisinthir says they should sleep, ordering Jahir off the bunk and to put his shirt back on.

Chapter Ten[edit]

Vasiht'h wakes up finding the pillows next to him empty, and briefly freaks out, because he thought he might have pushed Jahir away. When he brought Jahir back to their room, he was so exhausted that the mindline was filled with it, and he fell asleep immediately. He didn't have a chance to apologize for pushing Jahir into practicing with Lisinthir. But he checks the mindline and finds it filled with numbers and frustration, and goes into the other room. Jahir is there, sitting in front of the table with paper, a data tablet, and the leather case that had Lisinthir's hekkret rolls in there. When Vasiht'h makes his presence known, Jahir smiles warmly at him and inquires about his sleep. Vasiht'h sinks into the normalcy, intimacy, warmth, and openness he feels through the mindline and asks what Jahir is doing, to which the Eldritch replies that he's trying to figure out how long this supply of hekkret will last. Vasiht'h also observes that this looseness of posture in Jahir is rare while they were out, but apparently he felt safe in here. He suggests that they could synthesize more, but Jahir doesn't think, so as the genie is power-intensive and also offline. Plus, they would need to analyze it first in order for the genie to replicate it. Risking a few seizures is also not the best idea, since there are too many unknowns, as Jahir further points out. They don't know what the hekkret does to him, so they can't really plan for what it will do to him when he doesn't have it, and the taper might kill him quickly. However, Jahir is puzzled at the way Vasiht'h is quiet about not wanting Lisinthir to die, then finally picks up Vasiht'h's hidden expression and reassures his partner that he isn't angry at him or Lisinthir, that forcing him to fight was "a needful thing." Leaning into Jahir's certitude, Vasiht'h asks if Jahir has forgiven the other Eldritch, and Jahir isn't sure he needed to and also that they're fond of each other.

They speak a bit of the dimension of this fondness, and Jahir makes mention of Lisinthir's aggressive admiration, which Vasiht'h questions until Jahir shares a memory of Lisinthir kissing the corner of Jahir's brow, with rue and sweetness. Vasiht'h compares it to his own experiences and memories of Lisinthir (where the Ambassador hugged him), and guesses that Lisinthir needs someone to protect. Jahir frames it as an outgrowth of Eldritch culture: "A sword set in defiance against all that would cut down the family and the House." Jahir returns to fretting about biology, and Vasiht'h offers some optimism that Lisinthir didn't have a seizure yesterday. Jahir corrects him that they think he didn't have one yesterday, as some seizures don't produce obvious symptoms. He suggests recruiting Hea Borden for further watches as she'll have the training to recognize any other seizures. Though Jahir also thinks they should talk with Captain Raynor, and suggests they call Hea Borden now.

Raynor is in the mess with -- IS THAT COFFEE? Thankfully, he invites the two to partake, and Jahir revels in the taste of something more complex than water, and a reminder of civilization. Raynor guesses, correctly, that they aren't here just to eat, and Vasiht'h nudges Jahir to take the lead. Jahir suggests that they don't wait before attempting their own rescue because the Ambassador probably needs a Medplex really badly. That, and Jahir can't quite say what is wrong with him entirely, and he's of too great a value to the Alliance to just leave him at risk. However, Raynor has already decided to implement the plan, which is why there is coffee at all; the power is either going to matter or not really soon. Raynor figures that they were going to have to call for help at some point, so it would be best that any Chatcaava that come down on them will be primed to underestimate them, and worst case scenario, the Chatcaava get ambushed. At this point, they're going to start preparing as soon as the Ambassador wakes, so Raynor asks them to tell the Ambassador that they're ready to go. Jahir thanks him for his time, and confirms that he will be among the crew members in the next session, then Raynor gets up to leave. However, Raynor stops at the door and tells them that there's no guarantee that they won't get involved if they are attacked, so they may want to consider their own roles in the operation. Jahir says they'll talk it over with the Ambassador, and Raynor exits the mess.

Alone in the mess, Vasiht'h laments that they don't have tea, and Jahir reassures him that they'll have tea sooner rather than later, also suggesting that the Glaseah take self-defense classes as well. His reaction mirrors Jahir's when it was suggested that Jahir take these classes, and feeling that, Vasiht'h backs off a bit. However, Jahir still feels the Glaseah's obstinacy, so notes aloud that it's strange that Vasiht'h would recommend a course of action that he's unwilling to make himself. When Vasiht'h objects that they aren't going into a warzone again, Jahir challenges that assumption; he is a vassal of his Queen and Vasiht'h has pledged himself to the Eldritch's side. After Vasiht'h confirms his pledge, Jahir asks if the Glaseah thinks he is better suited to combat, but Vasiht'h sees the opposite, and that he should be protecting Jahir half the time... but that he thinks Jahir also believes things may inevitably come to violence, whereas he thinks violence is an aberration. The conversation cools down a bit as Vasiht'h apologizes. Jahir waves it down, but Vasiht'h tries to bring up that violence in a hospital is different. Eventually, Jahir says that all violence is cruel and ugly and can kill, and they can't afford to be ignorant of physical violence anymore. When asked if he thinks this won't be over when they get back, all Jahir can say is that, while he might hope so, he'd rather they be prepared. Ultimately, Vasiht'h in the mindline wishes that they lived in a world without Chatcaava, but Jahir thinks about how the Chatcaava changed Lisinthir, giving him life and purpose. Eventually, they decide to bring Borden back a cup of coffee.

Back in the room, Borden is staring at Lisinthir, who is draped artfully over the couch. Apparently Lisinthir had pain that culminated in vomiting, but hid it so well that she didn't know until he told her after he'd already done it. Borden also has no idea how the vial feeding would have triggered the vomiting, as they're bypassing the digestion entirely. They can't find out for sure short of putting him under a halo-arch, and Vasiht'h mutters that he doubts the Captain will authorize that as they're about to go up against the dragons. Jahir gives Borden the coffee cup, and she enjoys just the smell, while he makes sure that Lisinthir hasn't seized. Jahir turns on Lisinthir in Eldritch, who teases back in the same, though giving away with his raspy voice that he was very much in pain. Lisinthir also doesn't say what came up, and Jahir asks him if he kisses Lisinthir, will he taste blood? Lisinthir dares him to, and Jahir asks the others to leave the room, telling Vasiht'h in the mindline that Lisinthir needs disciplining, otherwise he'll be fighting them the whole time over his own health. With them two alone, Lisinthir begins to make a crack before he stops, and Jahir finds that he'd grabbed the front of Lisinthir's shirt. Lisinthir complains that this is his last shirt, and Jahir tells him not to struggle before he does kiss them, collecting data first, then concentrating on the kiss as demonstration. Lisinthir goes along with it, quite content, and when Jahir comes up for air, Lisinthir tells his cousin that he has made his point beautifully.

After a little more light teasing, Lisinthir gives a report that he didn't vomit blood, but also that he loves to see Jahir fight him with grace, as he's graceless otherwise. To answer Jahir's shock, he continues: he loves the sight of Jahir in his power, and that he's hiding his pain with a great deal of effort and a lot of practice. Jahir starts to think of other ways to dispel the pain, and calls back the other two. Jahir sends Borden off to report that the Ambassador will be there shortly, and when she leaves, he proposes to Vasiht'h that they improvise a nerve block. Lisinthir, who can't hear their mindspeech, asks them if he gets to know what they've been talking about, and Jahir sidesteps that while just telling him to endure, since he's distracting. Lisinthir turns to Vasiht'h, and Vasiht'h tells him it could be worse, he could be annoying. "Oh no. I am never annoying. I skip directly from distracting to infuriating. Saves time," Lisinthir says in response. Vasiht'h shakes his head in the mindline, then joins hands with Jahir as he touches Lisinthir to apply the nerve block.

Jahir leads the way and starts soothing Lisinthir's irritated pain. When he comes back, he wonders if it worked but forgets to speak aloud. Lisinthir answers that it did work, and compliments him wonderfully in Eldren. Lisinthir then flusters the both of them by thanking Vasiht'h as well with a hug, kissing the top of his head. Finally, Jahir relays the Captain's request to see him, and Lisinthir stands, saying he's glad Jahir didn't rip his shirt since it's his last one. He turns down Jahir's suggestion to borrow one of his, since Jahir is taller. Jahir wonders if Lisinthir is an Eldritch again, and Lisinthir says he never stopped being one, just that the Captain is expecting an Eldritch ambassador, and he's got to dress the part. When Jahir brings up what he'll wear when fighting Chatcaava, Lisinthir says he'll wear Eldritch clothes: One, so Jahir might be mistaken for him, and he's going to use that to their advantage, and two, if they get their talons caught on his clothing, he can use that to his advantage. He then makes sure that Jahir will attend him after his meeting with the Captain, since they have practice to observe.

Chapter Eleven[edit]

Watching Lisinthir coach the Fleet officers both horrifies and fascinates Vasiht'h. He wonders via mindline if the Chatcaava are going to notice all the small details that he's suggesting, and Jahir replies that even if they may not know consciously, they will know. They're sitting at the back of the bridge, monitoring the Ambassador's health, conscious that his knowledge was worth more to the Alliance than any of their lives. Vasiht'h honors that conviction, and knew he should be feeling it, but he doesn't. Worst yet, he can sense that core in Jahir, had sensed it since their very first meeting. He might not have a fighter's instincts, but Jahir valued some abstract ideals above his own life. Vasiht'h himself could imagine doing anything to protect people he loved, but wasn't as sure about throwing himself into a war because a queen said so.

He'd imagined promising himself to Jahir's side meant something like returning to the Eldritch homeworld and having kids, not looking for trouble. While it wasn't something the Glaseah thought he could do, he had to worry about what she'd think Jahir could do, and Vasiht'h had to follow Jahir. Of course, Lisinthir's masterful manipulation makes Vasiht'h relieved that this killer is on their side. He had a strong command of this particular psychology, all of it intuitive, and the results of recording shocked Vasiht'h with how even he, as a very poor predator, could read fear and defeat from these three women. And then, Lisinthir went for more takes, with the officers getting into it and adding their own suggestions.

Vasiht'h is so rattled at this point that he doesn't want to ask Jahir if he thought less of Vasiht'h for not wanting to give up his life for any of this, for fear of the answer. He knew that eventually Jahir would find out, and would still love him, but he couldn't stand it if Jahir lost respect for him over this.

Three hours later, Lisinthir had a transmission that he would bet his life would lull any Chatcaava. He hoped that they would have time to send out a few more, to develop the narrative of this damaged cruiser, making a note to discuss it with the Captain later. He then goes to his therapists and suggests now is a good time to practice. However, when Jahir rises, Vasiht'h rises a beat later, and this asynchronicity sticks out to Lisinthir since they usually move in tandem. He guessed that this time it had been a result of Vasiht'h's reticence instead of Jahir's, and hoped he hadn't caused this one like the last few, not wanting to distress them.

Jahir compliments him on his orchestration, and Lisinthir passes that off to the women he coached. Vasiht'h asks if it's time to feed Lisinthir, and then volunteers to go get it, moving ahead of them as the three exit the bridge. For extra privacy, Lisinthir switches to Eldren, when he asks if there's a problem between Jahir and Vasiht'h, since usually that kind of conversation takes place without words. Jahir comments, in shadowed mode, that there are new strains on them as people as a result of the situation. As more evidence of how dear Jahir and his Vasiht'h had become to him, Lisinthir discovers he doesn't want to prod at this pain he sees.

In the gym, Lisinthir gets Jahir's staff and brings it to him, brushing off the other Eldritch's concerns about eating and the cold and teases him instead. He insists, however, on starting the sparring session before Vasiht'h returns with his meal, and they're at it a good ten minutes before the Glaseah shows up. While unable to hear the apology, he could read it in their bodies, though it doesn't dissolve the tension between them. As Jahir prepares the AAP and uses it on him, he keeps a surreptitious watch on Vasiht'h, wondering why the Glaseah was so uncomfortable.

But then Jahir takes up the staff after putting away the medical supplies and asks Lisinthir to teach Vasiht'h as well, which freezes the Glaseah in place. Noting that hesitance, he says in deliberate Universal "Teaching requires the consent of the taught." Vasiht'h says he's willing, but instead of starting the lesson, Lisinthir deliberately goes to get some water.

As soon as he leaves, Vasiht'h hissed in the mindline that he didn't mean now to start this, and Jahir counters that if not now, when? Further, now is when he needs it, and it is a necessity. Vasiht'h ends up saying -- even though he desperately doesn't want Jahir to hear it -- that he doesn't want to, and Jahir tells him that they do what they must, or they may not make it home. Jahir also tells him that he is perfectly capable of sacrifice, seeing as he nearly bled out attempting to hide a dagger that would start a war. Vasiht'h protests that it wasn't a real scenario, but Jahir counters that it was plenty real to the Glaseah, confused at this new side to his partner but unable to love him any less. Again, the Glaseah protests that it was for Jahir, because it meant so much to Jahir, and so Jahir tells him to do this for him, if Vasiht'h loves him.

This... hurts Vasiht'h, enough so that Lisinthir's reemergence was a welcome distraction, doubly so when he asks a very strange question of Vasiht'h: "Can you dance?" The Glaseah says that he can, and Lisinthir asks to see, saying that they can probably order music from the ceiling or walls. When he goes to do so, the Glaseah pipes up that there's a pronk station out of Alpha that he likes, and also says that Jahir can dance, which Lisinthir dismisses because he was probably taught out of the nursery. He finds something likely, then plays it. Jahir still has no idea what Lisinthir is up to, but guesses that he's trying to cut through all their existing channels to find a new equilibrium.

After commenting on the music, Lisinthir then asks Vasiht'h to teach him to dance to pronk. While still disoriented, the Glaseah takes Lisinthir's hand and begins, and Jahir retreats off the mat to allow them the space. The combination of Vasiht'h's innocent happiness and Lisinthir's sensual understandings made for a stark and nearly unforgettable image in his mind, plus as they went on, the mindline cleared of grief, fear, and revulsion. As Vasiht'h proclaims Lisinthir sufficient, Lisinthir waves the volume down and reveals his true motive: to see if Vasiht'h has the same precision of awareness of his lower body as his upper. Since more than half of him is over the shoulder, if Lisinthir attacks him from a blind spot, he could be disabled or killed. Vasiht'h begins to object to the use of dancing to see his body movements, but Lisinthir lightly brushes that off as he beckons Jahir back onto the mat, saying he wants to test something else. When Jahir is ready, Lisinthir calls on Vasiht'h to defend as he attacks Jahir. The Glaseah pushes him out of the way, then leaps backward as Lisinthir goes after him, drawing Jahir into the fray.

They practice for uncountable hours, with Lisinthir not letting them rest or regather their wind, until Jahir was just cognizant of where Vasiht'h was in space, where he was in relation, and what hurt on their bodies. Abruptly, Lisinthir calls a halt, tells them to drink something, and proclaims that proper exercise. The point, to Vasiht'h's annoyed question, was training them to fight, by giving them something worth fighting for, and to demonstrate that they can't be trained alone as their greatest asset is each other. Vasiht'h reflexively rejects becoming a formidable pairing, though Jahir detects a trickle of interest. Finally, Lisinthir apologizes for the methods before saying "Cousin, I believe I am about to faint," and doing so.

Jahir manages to catch him, and wraps an arm around Vasiht'h before jumping into Lisinthir's mind to fight off the seizure. The fight is overwhelming at first, but with the Glaseah's support and keeping him grounded, Jahir finds himself with a sword, cutting away the demons that lurked, until there was a cool wind. He's back in his body after, trembling, with Vasiht'h holding him up. Jahir suspects, and Vasiht'h confirms, that it was a close call, almost deadly. Lisinthir wakes and compliments Jahir, and Jahir bids him say it again in Eldren to confirm that he's okay, and he does, spangling the words with gold and white. Jahir mentions in Universal that they're going to get Borden to watch him while they do their thing with the rest of the crew, Lisinthir asks -- still in Eldren, and with shades of white, gold, silver, and red, if Jahir will be what he needs. Amazed and delighted, Jahir says "As if you could be denied." Finally, Lisinthir gets up, gently entreating them to come more willingly to their practices for as many as they have left.

Chapter Twelve[edit]

The therapists leave Lisinthir with Triona, but also Cory and Sharil, or the three ladies he'd been coaching on the bridge earlier, because the latter two had asked to come along. Vasiht'h speculates that, if he wanted to, Lisinthir could probably have a different person in his bed every night for all ten centuries he had left. Not that he'd want to. This brings Vasiht'h to the thought that Lisinthir actually wants his dragons... and also Jahir. As much as he might want this to bother him more, the upcoming war and Lisinthir's involvement in it (and Jahir's plan to be involved) kind of overruled that. Additionally, the Glaseah was still feeling a bit guilty from almost breaking his promise to Jahir, and he feels less confident of his ability to follow through on that promise as well. And yet... seeing Jahir begin to unfurl meant Vasiht'h couldn't regret coming to this situation. More than anything, he wants Jahir to see this transformation to its end, and still hates what this situation is doing to him.

Jahir continued leading the sessions, since he didn't have the focus, with Borden giving them names and trusting them to find the rooms. However, tonight was less anxiousness and more nervousness born of anticipation. When they get to the Captain's quarters, he wakes up briefly before going back to sleep, and his dreams weren't helpful to Vasiht'h, either: he was a man of action and wanted to do something, being held back by the Pelted again and again. He didn't need them.

For once, Vasiht'h feels colder than Jahir, wondering at the sanity of anyone, at how much he belongs here among all these aggressive people. All he wants to do is be safe and home! Worst yet, he can't speak to the person he'd usually speak to about these thoughts, Jahir. Jahir, who checked up on him on their way back to their rooms, with him revealing the tiniest bit of his anxieties by telling Jahir he was afraid, leaving out that it was fear of this situation being over soon.

When they re-enter their room, the women were still there with the Ambassador asleep, though he'd only gotten to sleep an hour prior. Jahir answers an indirect question about whether Eldritch have wild parties with more Eldritch truth wrapped in misdirection, though Vasiht'h picks up that Jahir only answers like that if it has to do with the Veil or client confidentiality. The ladies excuse themselves and leave him and Jahir alone, when Jahir finally confronts the Glaseah on feeling out of sorts. Vasiht'h says he needs sleep, then further says (after Jahir looks at him for a while) that he's doing miserably and not holding it together too well. Jahir gives him a shoulder touch reminiscent of their time together before this incident, which gives Vasiht'h hope that the old Jahir is still in this new Jahir, and maybe a love not poisoned by contempt or condescension would be in there, too. After a brief conversation where Jahir gives Vasiht'h a little pep talk, Jahir tells the Glaseah to use the bathroom first as they get ready for bed, though Vasiht'h is still plagued by anxieties.

Flashback: A kind memory of Lisinthir untangling the Slave Queen's hair while the Emperor is away on some flight, with Lisinthir grateful for the respite because the Emperor was too intense, and time smears in his presence. Now, he can slow down, fingers soft with the cream he had just smoothed into her hide. While admiring her hair, he abruptly notices that there are no ornaments in it, and tries to remember if she had any beads in it when he first arrived, and she was presented. The Queen replies that they decorate horns, fingers, arms, ankles, and in her case wings, but not the hair. She notes that he used to, and he expands that it's customary as a sign of wealth and power for males and females both. The Queen reflects that Chatcaava only decorate females but leave themselves unadorned, though Lisinthir points out that the males grow their own adornments, further that if others take horns from you, then you are craven and unfit for titles. Unfortunately, Lisinthir brings up the last remaining bit of jewelry which came with the wings, and she despairs because her wings were taken from her, and now that she's with the Emperor so often, she's constantly reminded of what she cannot have.

To distract her, Lisinthir asks her, "Do you know how I admire you?" He tells her that she's the strongest Chatcaavan he's ever met; Even the Emperor wouldn't have weathered her imprisonment with her grace. The Queen calls it apathy, but the Ambassador tells her that she could have pushed him away, did not have to aid strangers and aliens. He reminds her that someone defeated couldn't have helped him free the Heir and the rest of the slaves. Besides, she could have thrown herself from the window, particularly when living was the harder course.

As she laughs it off, he tells her, "Courage often goes unrecognized in those who show no obvious fear," and calls her actions bravery in the face of such circumstances. Besides, her patience and strength have paid off, because now she's here, in a place where she is fulfilled. The Queen laughs, confirms she's happy, and hugs him, saying that she's interested in the story of the Slave Queen with courage. When asked how she might end this story, she grabs him, telling him that she won't write one because she doesn't want it to end, and they spend some time together, delighting in each other.

Lisinthir wakes up to find Jahir just settling down for bed. It was far too late for him to be up. Lisinthir says that he woke up because of a headache and his dreams when asked, but Jahir tells him that the latest test results perplex him and he needs the care of a dedicated healer-specalist. But when asked what the real reason is, Jahir admits that he's worried about his partner. Lisinthir brushes it off as nerves, but Jahir speaks of what comes after, since this war is only beginning. He knows that Vasiht'h doesn't want anything to do with this war, and that he will be involved in it, especially since he lives in the Alliance. Lisinthir lets him get it all out, and then directs Jahir to come with him, bringing him to the gym.

The gym was, as expected, deserted, but instead of fighting, Lisinthir tells Jahir that he didn't dance earlier, and suspects that the lessons all Eldritch nobles were taught took better in Jahir than they did himself. Also, that Jahir sings when he heals. True as it was, it was delivered to help Jahir loosen up, and with the other Eldritch distracted, he goes to the wall and builds up music so that it starts stately and ends wild. Moving back to Jahir, he bows. Jahir hears the music and says it reminds him of summer court, but when Lisinthir moves to dance, he objects that one usually dances with the opposite sex. Lisinthir, enjoying bringing Jahir out of himself, mimes a curtsey as he says he'll take the women's role. When Jahir reaches out, he stops, because Eldritch dance requires props, and Jahir has none. Lisinthir takes hold of Jahir's hand, pointing out that this is what they're refusing each other. They begin to dance, and Jahir figures out that Lisinthir wants to demonstrate something. Lisinthir plays coy, but Jahir detects the other man's positioning as if for battle. Lisinthir goes on to say that the Eldritch overcorrected and gave themselves too much distance, because the danger was in the moments before intimacy. However, Lisinthir posits that intimacy was not the greatest peril, but when people are vulnerable together is when they are safest. "When we hold ourselves apart to keep from being hurt, we accomplish nothing but the denial of nourishment."

Jahir, his breath a bit shivery, objects that close means you are close enough to be hurt, but Lisinthir counters that hurting requires separation. Finally, Jahir says that he's afraid he and Vasiht'h will be torn apart, but Lisinthir tells him that if Vasiht'h is truly with Jahir, then that is safety, no matter what happens or where they are. They continue dancing at Lisinthir's behest, the music accelerating and loosening something in Jahir until Jahir noticed what was playing, making the connection between the two genres Lisinthir had had the computer stitch together. Lisinthir then runs through the next few steps of the argument, making Jahir laugh. But in their closeness, Jahir guesses that Lisinthir is about to kiss him, and Lisinthir tells him, "It wouldn't do to be predictable."

At this point, Jahir is curious of his own power, bombarded with new concepts. He asks, without asking, placing his body just so, which makes Lisinthir stop and touch the lips Jahir hadn't realized he parted. Jahir kisses those fingers, and Lisinthir gives in to kiss him, with Jahir experimenting with being active and willing. Enough that Lisinthir stops the kissing before he has him on the mat, and directs them both to sit and rest. Sitting shoulder to shoulder next to Lisinthir, Jahir reflects on the contextual nature of shame aloud while internally reflecting on how his body feels after these new sensations flow through him. Lisinthir instead tells him that it's not logical, and that there's only one question: will Jahir love and cherish Sediryl, will she him, and will the children they bring into the world be healthy? Jahir, after initially objecting to that being three questions ("They have the same root," Lisinthir replies), says he doesn't know, and that they have separate loves at the moment. But then, they have the time, Lisinthir tells him, since they are Eldritch. Jahir asks Lisinthir if he will go home one day, about his future, and Lisinthir doesn't know, can't imagine himself having children with an Eldritch woman. At the moment, he is planning on having a life with his Chatcaavan partners, and can't think past that. They speak of what Lisinthir's name would be, when he is endowed with his family lands again, and Jahir tries to parse through Lisinthir's regrets that he feels. Eventually, they kiss again, and Lisinthir adds a touch of pain after recieving Jahir's unspoken but not unvoiced request. It's enough that Jahir loses a bit of time, and Lisinthir makes him promise to visit him when they get out of this scrape.

Jahir, however, thinks this revelation of pain and how it awakened his pleasure might ruin him for what he longs for, that he cannot be fixed. In response, Lisinthir asks him if Jahir trusts him, and when he gets the answer, goes into Jahir's mind, pulls the image of Sediryl, and animates it with his knowledge of an Eldritch woman's body... and finds Jahir quite willing to that mental knowledge. After recovering from that scenario, Jahir the therapist has to try and put a name or label on the complex feelings between himself and Lisinthir, noting that he'd refer this out to a specalist. And yet, he may not have gotten this far unless he was speaking to another Eldritch, a Galare, a peer. Agreeing with that, Lisinthir again asks him to come to him. Jahir agrees, and Lisinthir says that a few weeks after they get out of this situation should be enough time for the physicians to heal him properly, and find someone to teach him how to hurt Jahir safely. In that way, Jahir will help Lisinthir heal, using those instruments that almost drove him insane bringing someone else to a more sublime place.

After, they mutually admit that they're tired ("I've more practice at ignoring it, is all."), they go back to the room. Jahir mentions that they walk alongside their deaths, and Lisinthir replies that Death is always there, but only when it is close do they acknowledge it.

Chapter Thirteen[edit]

Waking up brings Vasiht'h right back to his dread, especially since near his eye is the Galare unicorn from his pendant. He resumes beating himself up, telling himself that he didn't mean his vow. He pulls on the mindline to bring Jahir, whose warm greeting surprises him. Also that Jahir -- though he looks exhausted -- is also glowing, and bringing that light and warmth to the Glaseah. Jahir gently reminds Vasiht'h that he's hungry, which startled a laugh out of the Glaseah. Jahir brings Vasiht'h to the other room, telling him that they have work to do. It's not clients, unfortunately; they need to be present for the planning, since they need to know where they have to go if there's trouble. Vasiht'h shows his obvious reluctance, wanting to just be told, but Jahir guesses it won't be as simple as "hide in a closet somewhere" and makes a small joke.

Marveling at the fact that Jahir can make jokes, Vasiht'h finds himself disbelieving the mindline at Jahir's love. Jahir, seeing this, specifically calls out that it doesn't matter to him that Vasiht'h doesn't want to fight, but Vasiht'h hesitates when asked to explain his feelings. After some gentle prodding, Vasiht'h finally says that he doesn't believe Jahir's war is his, and he doesn't know what he will do, starting to cry and asking for guidance. Jahir hugs him, and Vasiht'h shocks himself by wishing he couldn't feel Jahir's pain answering his anguish. The Eldritch builds a mental wall between the Glaseah and his terror, then tells him that he'll go to the fight and come back when it's over. Vasiht'h isn't too keen on the idea, and when Jahir says that maybe the Queen won't send him, Vasiht'h knows that Jahir will get involved regardless and starts to resign himself to going with Jahir. However, Jahir says that he'd rather the Glaseah remain at home than be dragged into this conflict. Vasiht'h says that he can't be worthy of anyone if he breaks his vow, especially this one. Jahir attempts to comfort him, but thanks to the emotional blocks, Vasiht'h just feels numb.

Again, Jahir tells him that they need to go to sessions, and rejects Vasiht'h's notion that he go by himself, saying that the Glaseah shouldn't be alone. Vasiht'h eats and cleans up, then attends the meeting, unable to pay anything but the barest attention, conscious of Jahir's fear for him.

Triona stops Lisinthir before he leaves the meeting, asking to tag along to the gym with some others. Lisinthir accepts, telling her that they should be thanking the crew for letting them use the gym at all. She then asks about his pupils, and Lisinthir wonders why she's keeping him while telling her that Jahir isn't a soldier, but he should keep himself and his partner in one piece. Borden, the healer-assist who works along the border, casts doubt on that, revealing the reason why she's keeping him: she thinks Vasiht'h could be a liability or a corpse if someone doesn't shake him out of his funk. Lisinthir privately agrees, though adding that if the Glaseah isn't brought around, Jahir would be hampered and would probably die alongside Vasiht'h.

For himself, he feels a driving need for the Chatcaava to arrive already, so that he can extract information from either the vessel or a prisoner, but is also aware that Jahir and Vasiht'h might not survive that encounter. The notion wouldn't stop him, but it did disturb him. He reassures Borden that he'll see what he can do, and lets her leave before he goes straight to the gym. Briefly, he reflects that the nerve block is holding adequately, but it's absurd that his condition was not improving now that he was in a better situation than when he was at court.

Raynor stops him in the hall and asks for a moment, saying that he is going to be running drills for the traps and since the Ambassador is acting as bait, he'll need to be a part of it. Raynor also asks him to bring along the therapists, and when told that they might have prior engagements, that this takes priority and that he's planning to send out the first message tomorrow evening at the latest. As his case for why, the captain points out that Lisinthir is going to need a medplex and the ship's reserves are dwindling. His only stopping point is that he needs energy siphoned from a second generator to the main array. Lisinthir expresses a desire to be done with this, and Raynor echoes him.

Stepping into the gym, Lisinthir observes two of the Pelted crew sparring at close quarters, and his students. Jahir was wearing a court mask, and Vasiht'h was apathetic. Lisinthir begins the session anyway, and the session isn't a disaster, if only because the students weren't emotionally invested enough for that word to be accurate. Halfway through, Lisinthir sends Vasiht'h away to get some water, then demands Jahir tell him what's going on. Jahir relays Vasiht'h's concerns about being forsworn for not following Jahir into the fight, and Lisinthir mulls that over for the rest of the session, while tiring them all out. He dismisses the two therapists, staying a bit longer to give some advice to the Pelted that had gathered to spar, finding himself fond of them and finding them worthy of his protection.

When he arrives in the cabin, Lisinthir finds Jahir and Vasiht'h dressed for bed but not in it or talking to one another. Or, for that matter, eating or drinking. So, he sits down between them, addressing himself to Vasiht'h, and telling him that one act changed the heart of the Chatcaavan Emperor: having been gifted with the Eldritch shape and its associated emotional permeability, the Emperor asserted that he was stronger than Lisinthir, but Lisinthir says he is wrong and it is due to his ability to bear the suffering of others. To test this, Lisinthir agreed to have himself tortured with the Emperor as witness, and with the Surgeon administering the torture.

Lisinthir guesses Vasiht'h is wondering why he's saying this, knowing that he loves the Emperor, though the Glaseah probably thinks this unbelievable. Lisinthir brings up the Slave Queen and his love for her, that she was his first ally in the Empire, that she gave him safe haven in the initial days, and that she showed the Emperor the path to what he should become. Lisinthir also brings up what the Emperor called the Slave Queen, and a brief digression into what him calling her his Treasure meant. Finally, Lisinthir tells the Glaseah that the Slave Queen had the idea of the Surgeon performing the torture, and that the Emperor asked to grant her a request. What she asked was to leave so she wouldn't have to watch.

After emphasizing that he still held her in high esteem, Lisinthir tells Vasiht'h that the Slave Queen knew her limits, and that staying would have hurt her. Vasiht'h objects that she abandoned him, that she should have supported him and that he needed her, Lisinthir responds that he needed her whole; he couldn't have put her back together when it was done, because he would be coming apart himself. Vasiht'h calls her weak, but Lisinthir tells him "No person is so strong as to have no weaknesses at all. But one flaw does not make you weak, and one flaw does not make you unlovable." To drive the point home, Lisinthir emphasizes that he would have failed, had the Slave Queen not helped him, had she not chosen to help and go against all her acculturation. Further, he tells the Glaseah that he's trying to make him stop wasting his Goddess' gifts, because She didn't give him his personality because it was "flawed clay."

Now that he's cut through Vasiht'h's ennui, Lisinthir tells him that he's not supposed to become a duplicate of his partner, that their differences are supposed to complement one another. Vasiht'h doesn't know how to begin, and Lisinthir says that he won't until he's in it, asking if he will destroy his relationship with self-hatred. Finally, he suggests that the two therapists talk, or cuddle, as he goes off to bed. Vasiht'h stops him to confirm that he loved the Slave Queen, and he emphasizes that he will always love her.

Vasiht'h is ringing like a bell after that, and grabs Jahir's knee, having it soon covered by the Eldritch's hand. Vasiht'h asks if Lisinthir meant all of it, if it was true, and Jahir professes an unshakable belief. Then, the Glaseah asks what the Slave Queen looked like, because he feels he needs to know. Jahir gifts an image of her through the mindline, and in that sending Vasiht'h finds a kind of kinship with the Slave Queen's form. The Glaseah wonders at the image's smile, and Jahir tells him that in Lisinthir's memories, he and the Slave Queen are happy and in one another's arms. After Vasiht'h professes that he doesn't know what to think, Jahir suggests he go to the ship's chapel. Vasiht'h, after being reassured that Jahir will be there when he returns, leaves for the chapel.

In the corridor, Vasiht'h covers his face with his hands, desperately wanting to believe Lisinthir, but also wondering what it would change, and knowing that it wouldn't alter his choices of following Jahir into war or not. He finds the chapel, and is surprised by its size. After briefly wondering how religious festivals of different kinds worked on a Fleet vessel, he sits in front of the unadorned altar and prays. He is surprised that he doesn't pray for answers, but does pray for the strength to not fail those he loves for what's to come, then lets the quiet of the chapel in.

Jahir finds he can't quite move from the couch after Vasiht'h leaves. He knows that the situation isn't over yet, but there isn't anything else that he can do. He finds he's wondering if his own desire to embrace his duty would cause Vasiht'h to repudiate him.

Finally, he gets too cold to remain in one place, and goes to the bed before being surprised that Lisinthir addresses him, saying he's surprised Vasiht'h hadn't come to bed with him. The Ambassador then drags him into bed, putting an arm around his waist and tucking him close. They converse briefly about Vasiht'h, while Jahir starts to feel disoriented, but is brought back by Lisinthir sliding his hand under his nightshirt. After reminding Jahir that at least one of himself and Vasiht'h needs to be present, he brings up a moment where Jahir felt uneasy when Lisinthir said that he preferred fighting to powerlessness. Jahir dismisses the concern: he didn't think Lisinthir would think less of him for what he is, and compares himself to the Slave Queen.

Lisinthir extends the comparison by saying that as long as they exercise that courage particular to them, they can't be craven. It is a courage in choosing whom to yield to, in trust, and in withdrawal if there is no longer safety or honor in it. Lisinthir also says that he thinks he has the easier path. Jahir notes the risk of those evaluations, but Lisinthir returns that it's a good thing Jahir's a trained psychologist. Jahir, in looking behind himself to see Lisinthir's mischief, also sees the other Eldritch's concern, since they are in his area of expertise.

Jahir tells his cousin that he's chosen Lisinthir with his yielding, and that he has faith in his evaluation of Lisinthir's worth and quality of his heart. Lisinthir tells him that Jahir needs to value his soul to give himself safely, and remarks that he'll be just fine, and he'll bring Vasiht'h along the path with him. Jahir aches to believe him, and allows himself to be comforted when Lisinthir tells Jahir to trust his prediction. Then, Jahir is entreated to rest because there's lots to do tomorrow. Lisinthir bites him, which sends him directly to subspace, after which Lisinthir makes a horse analogy for how hard he's going to ride Jahir before Jahir falls asleep. Vasiht'h's arrival wakes him later, but the Glaseah, after his visit to the chapel, only says that he'll always be here for Jahir, with the mindline conveying the Glaseah's conviction. They fall asleep holding hands.

All three of them are woken up by a shiver in the deck and bulkheads. Lisinthir tells the other two that it's the reconnaissance platform being deployed, and suggests they sleep because the opportunities for more won't be as plentiful, and Jahir and Vasiht'h share their mutual fear with each other, before they fall asleep again.

Chapter Fourteen[edit]

Again, Vasiht'h wakes up with a sense of dread, but this time he knows it's not because of friction between himself and Jahir. Lisinthir, however, has gone missing. There's evidence of his passing with a partially smoked (though no longer lit) cigarette in the front room, and the room itself still smells of the drug. But then he hears a noise from the bathroom, instantly recognizing it as someone throwing up. He offers helps to Lisinthir, who doesn't open the door for a very long time. Vasiht'h notes that he looks slightly better and has filled out a little, and Lisinthir says as much himself. Also, Lisinthir says that he's no longer throwing up blood, as he had been in the Empire.

Vasiht'h wonders if Lisinthir is hiding his throwing-up from Jahir, though, when Lisinthir counters that there's nothing Jahir can do about it, Vasiht'h concedes the point. Lisinthir asks for water, then starts taking care of his swords, if only for the practical reasons of being prepared for when the moment comes, whenever it does. Reflecting that this is sensible, Vasiht'h gets the water, then watches Lisinthir sharpen his swords, attempting to evaluate the Ambassador. Abruptly, he thanks Lisinthir for what he's been doing with Jahir. Lisinthir responds that if he hadn't, there would be no Seni heirs. Lisinthir turns the conversation as to whether or not Vasiht'h will have kids, which surprises Vasiht'h with how domestic the image is. Eventually, he says that he's always planned to, though mentions the war as the reason for not doing so now. Lisinthir takes this as the Glaseah going with Jahir when Jahir goes to war, then mentions that he's glad that Vasiht'h has accepted that, and to put more of his heart into his actions to ensure both their safeties. Vasiht'h uses the conversation involving the Slave Queen to bolster himself, then asks who bolsters Lisinthir. The Ambassador, of course, lives for when he can see his lovers again, and when asked, essentially, "even the guy that abused you?" he tells the Glaseah of the Emperor's remorse, and his behavior afterward. Lisinthir then teases Vasiht'h about loving an alien his own self and moves to dress, though the wall chirps.

The Chatcaava have arrived.

The last set of clothes Lisinthir has is in Imthereli's colors, black on a white field, which Lisinthir doesn't like because the colors are horrid and they were his father's, but he dons them because he doesn't think he'll have time to later. Swords on his hips, claw-knives onto his hands, all the way to the bridge. Nobody gave him a second glance, partially because they were busy doing very finicky work quickly, also in anticipation of the fight.

Raynor greets him as he gets to the bridge, but Lisinthir can detect quickly that something has gone wrong. He's invited to look at the sensor data, and comments merely that things should be interesting. The measurements are also fluctuating because they're being read off passive sensors, since active ones will warn the Chatcaavan ship that they're not derelict. Finally, Lisinthir tells them that they're right, that vessel approaching them is larger than the last and holds about sixty. Since it's only an hour away, there won't be an opportunity for drills. Raynor, however, has an idea: lure as many Chatcaava over as possible, then blow the Alliance ship after the crew has crossed to the Chatcaavan ship. Cory confirms that Raynor wants to scuttle the ship, with the Captain responding that if he can get half the enemy ship over, then absolutely. The crew plus Lisinthir begin to discuss battle strategy, and Lisinthir pitches that in order to get as many Chatcaava over as possible, they need to enrage them. Lisinthir explains his plan, which Raynor sums up as "play matador to a ship full of bulls," and asks the crew to come up with a route until it's time to cross over. Lisinthir, surprised by the Pelted's fervor for the fight, finds himself heartened that these people wanted to fight alongside him, and he joins them in crafting their plan.

Jahir wakes up quickly from Vasiht'h's insistence, and picks up that it's time. Feeling the Glaseah's insistence, he takes off his night clothes and heads to the bathroom to change, reflecting that the adrenaline was much better than misery. Lisinthir was right: dithering with too much time was worse than going through it. Jahir also tries to buckle on a sword belt that isn't there, and the lack of it disorients him briefly before he collects Vasiht'h and heads out.

In the corridor, Jahir notes the industry of the crew and heads to the clinic, to Vasiht'h's surprise. Jahir responds to the Glaseah's question that they aren't fighters, and there will be healers needed as he grabs a kit from under a bio-bed. He affixing it to the Glaseah while explaining that even if they can't help directly, it's good to have extra supplies. Vasiht'h suggests tying it tighter, and then they head to the gym to pick up some weapons.

One of the crew is heading into the gym carrying weapons, and inside is Borden. She informs them that directions will be forthcoming, and for now to head to their quarters and stay out of the way, as they're expecting boarders in a half hour. When asked for a weapon for the uninitiated, Borden tosses Vasiht'h a palmer as Jahir grabs a staff. She shoos them off, and Jahir sets a pace to stretch Glaseahn legs as they head back to their quarters. Vasiht'h briefly freaks out but is calmed by Jahir's insistence that they'll be fine, enough that he notes how the Fleet crew seem like different people now. Jahir tells them it's their training, and Vasiht'h throws him a look and tells him "Yes, I get it, stop beating me over the head with the book."

Lisinthir glides in right after them, almost literally. He tells them to head to the gym, and when Vasiht'h asks, he tells them that there are 60 Chatcaava on the enemy vessel. Jahir asks about the plan, which Lisinthir recaps for them both, though Jahir intuits that 'rest of them' means, primarily, Lisinthir. Vasiht'h asks about this because the Fleet people are professionals, but Lisinthir tells the Glaseah that the Chatcaava aren't soldiers, they're hunters, as is he. Plus, he's one of the few that knows the language and the only one that understands the culture, which mollifies the Glaseah somewhat. Then, Lisinthir makes his ask: to remove the nerve block. Reason being is that he needs to be able to tell when he's hurting. Vasiht'h tries to argue the point, but Jahir, who sees something in Lisinthir's bodyspeech, switches to Eldren and demands Lisinthir tell him what he's hiding. After some resistence, Lisinthir admits that he wants to kill them, enjoys killing them, and the pain from injuries might push him into rapture and he won't need the nerve block.

The therapist in Jahir cries out to sink into this admission and the implicit belief that Lisinthir fears he has become unfit for any normal life. He laments the lack of time, but knows that Lisinthir responds better to actions than words, and asks Vasiht'h to hold him as he undoes the nerve block, consciously singing as he works. Withdrawing, he tells Lisinthir that the wolf shall not be admonished when it hungers to slay monsters, and Lisinthir thanks him, calling him Healer. Jahir begins to address him as "Ambassador," then stops himself and says "Imthereli" as he says they should head out. Lisinthir agrees and finally switches back to Universal to include Vasiht'h, while telling them all they're wanted in the gym.

In the mindline, Vasiht'h asks for a rundown of the Eldren conversation, and Jahir relays that and concludes that Lisinthir fears that he's broken. Vasiht'h responds after a while: "Broken by whose standards?" which makes Jahir laugh, though he has to hide it in the mindline.

Lisinthir is super ready to bust some heads and takes a moment of sensual focus when Cory hands him a telegem along with a brief touch of her own focus. After being gently nudged from the reverie, he hooks the telegem onto his ear, gets some last-minute instructions, and departs with Triona and Reya. There are five in the engine room, and he flashes three fingers for the women to spring a trap; they go to do so. He draws his sword and goes hunting, reflecting on his training, and his past, hunting and supplying meat for the Nase Galare. He finds the Chatcaava, who are laughing to themselves, reveals himself, then stabs one in the neck and cuts the wrist off a second before insulting them and fleeing. They chase him and insult him, as he leads them to the mess hall and into the trap.

Reya comments on how quick it was, and Triona asks what the Ambassador wants to do with the bodies. Lisinthir tells them to use the palmers to cut off the horns and claws. Triona confirms that he wants to mutilate the bodies, which Lisinthir does and also to desecrate them as well. After receiving assurance that this will enrage the Chatcaava, she gets to work as Lisinthir brings Reya along to get the other body from where Lisinthir left it. Back in the mess hall, Triona shows him all the horns and claws and that she skinned the wings as well. The Seersa tells him that she's reported to the captain, and so far things are going well. Lisinthir grabs the pants off one of the corpses to use it as a sack for all the horns, then records a very provocative message in Chatcaavan that Triona understands and is shocked by. Reya asks for a translation, but Triona says that what the Ambassador said may not be anatomically possible without killing someone. Lisinthir asks them to send the message and warn the captain that the next wave is going to be coming shortly.

Ma'et, an Aera, reports to the captain that they are down to six enemies, with Triona reporting they've taken a few hits. Cory says that the scrambler is holding. Vasiht'h is surprised they've taken so little damage, when Lisinthir has lured 15 Chatcaava over already, with nine dead. The Glaseah is trying not to imagine his worst fears coming to life, though Jahir distantly reassures him that Lisinthir is capable of this job.

Cory echos Vasiht'h's thought that maybe the Ambassador could lure the entire Chatcaavan complement over, but Raynor dismisses that thought, then decides to wait out one more wave before going to the Chatcaavan ship. Cory relays that the Ambassador has taken care of those last six, and Raynor okays the sending of the next message, but warns them that they may pull back during this set. Cory relays the message, and Jahir attempts to reassure Vasiht'h that it won't be long now.

Ma'et on the sensors reports the Chatcaava beginning to come over through Engineering, though in a much larger party than expected. She's still counting them up when Raynor orders the Ambassador's party to pull back and for Cory to put up the block the moment they arrive. Cory relays that the enemy will head straight for them if they do that, while Ma'et comes up with a final tally: 35. Cory relays that the Ambassador is heading to the engine room and to meet us there. Raynor, after commenting at how mouthy Lisinthir is, asks for any more crossovers. Then, he gathers them up and follows Lisinthir's plan, with Jahir and Vasiht'h going after Kordreigh and his group. They Pad over to the engine room, finding it empty but for what looks like the Chatcaavan equivalent of Pads.

The rest of the crew appears, and Raynor does a headcount right before the doors open. Triona calls out that it's them, and the eighteen palmers that had been aimed in their direction go down. Vasiht'h can see that the bait party had taken injuries: Reya had a gash over her brow that bled into her eye and was limping, and Triona has an arm injury, probably a bad one. Lisinthir's coat was white earlier, but it very much no longer is. Lisinthir tells them that he left some provocations and they'd better scoot. Cory brings up a scan of the enemy ship, and Lisinthir picks out an unexpected place for them to Pad to: a mess hall. Vasiht'h starts to freak out again, but is startled out of it when Lisinthir pops up behind him, telling him that he'll protect both him and Jahir. Cory says it's go time, and after Kordreigh's team crosses over, Lisinthir crosses and draws them along with him. The room Vasiht'h is now in feels small and crowded and the ceiling is too high.

Kordreigh calls an all clear to the room, then Reya asks where the captain is. Someone calls for a headcount and another person reports that they're missing five, which prompts Cory to call for Raynor over the telegem, though what she hears causes her to pale.

Raynor tells Cory that the Chatcaavan shields are up, that Cory has the helm, and orders her to get the Ambassador home. The ship buckles under their feet, and the telegem chiming that there are only four hours left of power confirms that the Captain blew the ship with some of the crew still on it. Triona was the first to recover, and asks if Cory can hack into the ship, even yelling at her to spur her to movement. Triona gives a rousing speech that, to Lisinthir's eyes, at least loosened them up some, though Lisinthir himself can feel only rage at the Chatcaava that had killed people under his protection.

Cory, however, interrupts by saying that there are twenty five Chatcaava on the ship, or fifteen more than the ship can carry without compromising something. Lisinthir asks for, and receives, confirmation, and that five are on the bridge with the rest spread out. The Ambassador comes to Cory's side to look at the ship's layout while Triona confirms that the plan is still to take the bridge. Lisinthir announces that he has an errand to run and for the rest to go without him. Cory objects with bared teeth, but Jahir says that he'll go to help protect the Ambassador, as Lisinthir expected. Lisinthir continues that they'll need what he's going to get, and what he's going to get is intelligence. Lisinthir and Triona (Team Dog, mind) have a cat fight, but Cory catches on to what the Ambassador is planning but not saying, pushing Kordreigh to push toward the bridge, and telling Lisinthir to not be long. Triona follows, angry but also puzzled, which leaves Lisinthir with Jahir and Vasiht'h. The latter asks what they're doing, but Lisinthir doesn't answer, trusting Jahir to answer for him and silently.

Lisinthir moves, wondering why there were fifteen extra people on the ship, and who they were as he gains the corridor, sensing Jahir and Vasiht'h slotting in behind him. He notes the damage the ship sustained by the destruction of the Alliance vessel, leading the other two down a level and finds a lone Chatcaavan perched on an open drawer. After a very brief fight, he wrestles the Chatcaavan down to his stomach and pins him. Telling the Chatcaavan that he'll let him keep his wings if he tells Lisinthir what he wants to know, he gets obstinance in response and begins... negotiating.

Even though he said he'd be back quickly, Lisinthir loses track of time as he utterly gives in to his desires, thankful the victim didn't give in immediately. When the information came with only parting the wing vane halfway up, he finds himself wanting to destroy the enemy beneath him, to humiliate him completely, but cuts the male's throat before he does so, turning to find Vasiht'h watching the corridor, but Jahir watching him. Jahir holds out an arm, and Lisinthir falls into it, sick and horrified and aroused and raptured, shaking just for a moment.

Jahir holds Lisinthir, taking in the conflicting emotions coming from him, expecting all of it. He tells Lisinthir he still loves him, and that he knew this about him already, before asking Lisinthir if they have what they needed. Before Lisinthir can answer, Chatcaava attack them from above. Lisinthir shoves him out of the room, and by the time Jahir is gaining his feet, Lisinthir is fighting all three Chatcaava. Jahir manages to trip one and gets a wing to the face for his trouble, and by the time he recovers, all three are dead. Vasiht'h cries out, but Jahir dismisses his concern, as all he has is a nosebleed and checks on Lisinthir. Lisinthir tries to dismiss his injuries, but Jahir forcibly examines them for himself while commenting on a new scar that may develop. Vasiht'h tells them they need to get out, and they begin to move when Lisinthir feels himself starting to have a seizure. Vasiht'h objects that he'll be the only one conscious, but Jahir dives for Lisinthir's mind anyway.

It's the big one, the big seizure they'd been anticipating. Feeling Vasiht'h catch him, Jahir dives further in, to the center. He brings up anthems to string behind him and calls order to the chaos, feeling them start to coalesce around him when he's yanked out. The Chatcaavan had hit him on his ribs, with Vasiht'h struggling toward him, though beset by at least four others. Remembering Lisinthir's words about no safety in distance, he lunges forward and punches one of the Chatcaavan's eyes. However, Lisinthir shoves him down and lunges past him, cutting off that Chatcaavan's head before going into the group surrounding Vasiht'h, killing three with sword before two closed within the sword's range. One goes for Vasiht'h but is stopped, and the three of them are left gasping. Jahir checks on Vasiht'h, who is only scraped and directs his attention to Lisinthir, who had been taking a lot of wounds. Nothing vital, yet, but he'd lost a lot of blood, and sealing them would take a lot of time. Lisinthir tells him to check on the other group, and Vasiht'h calls them up while Jahir gets to stabilizing Lisinthir, telling him he needs a halo-arch.

Lisinthir pledges not to die until he's seen his lovers, but Jahir adds that Lisinthir won't die until he's one of them, to which the Ambassador readily agrees. Vasiht'h reports that the crew has the bridge, though they took three losses, and urges them to group up again since only 14 of the 25 are accounted for. After getting Lisinthir up again, Vasiht'h tells Jahir that he was right about everything, which Jahir resolves to get specifics about later. Assuming there is a later. At this point, Jahir realizes they have no idea where they're going, and asks Lisinthir to direct them. Lisinthir takes it as a reason to keep him conscious and focused, but Jahir dismisses that because they really have no idea. Jahir also responds to Vasiht'h's nudge in the mindline that Lisinthir is in bad shape, though Vasiht'h also notices that the ship is humming.

With Lisinthir's direction, they make it closer to the bridge, though Jahir is distracted by the colors of the lights around him and that all he can smell is blood. Lisinthir tells him that they're almost there, and after a moment of incredulity, Lisinthir tells them they're at the final stretch. Vasiht'h objects to having to climb that final stretch, but starts to reach up the ladder... but Jahir sees talons on one of the rungs. Startled by the mental scream, Vasiht'h backpedals off the ladder, the dragon falling out of the tube and coming after him. With a brief vision of the Bad End, Jahir remembers that Imthereli has two swords, and draws the spare. He knew Vasiht'h would break right, so he dodges left, and impales the dragon on Imthereli's sword when the Glaseah rammed into him from behind.

Lisinthir compliments him on a job well done, and Vasiht'h snaps him out of it by telling him they gotta go. Lisinthir tells Jahir to keep the sword before he goes up the ladder, and Jahir sends Vasiht'h up first before he goes up himself. The final stretch is... a third of the ship's length, but it is a straight shot. Jahir orders Lisinthir to stay awake, and they start moving, expecting another attack but not running into any, right before the ship lurches again. As they reach the door, they are thrown to a side, and Vasiht'h calls for the rest of the crew to open the door.

Triona guides them to a spare bit of floor and presses Jahir into stripping off Lisinthir's blood-soaked clothes. Jahir has a moment reflecting on him stripping another Eldritch's clothes off as he does so, with Borden starting to patch Lisinthir up. However, Jahir also finds himself very, very tired, and when Triona complains about the lack of blankets on Chatcaavan vessels, Jahir suggests that he'll suffice as a blanket before conking out next to Lisinthir.

Vasiht'h is only restrained from catching Jahir by Triona, who tersely says that Jahir will be fine. Moved by her frank confidence, he asks about the Ambassador, who the trauma-care healer-assist says won't survive if he bleeds out and is pressed into service staunching some of Lisinthir's wounds as she continues sealing them. The Glaseah continues to inquire about Jahi; after telling him that his cuts will keep for the time being, Triona keeps Vasiht'h focused on not letting Lisinthir bleed out.

Borden finishes, complains that there's no sickbay and grimly speculates on what the dragons do with their injured, then gets to work on Jahir, starting with some gallows humor that further horrifies Vasiht'h. She sighs and apologizes, talks about their losses and the Ambassador possibly becoming one of them, telling the Glaseah also that the dragons have jumped into their fighter craft in an attempt to lame the ship, so their distress calls can be answered. Borden suggests Vasiht'h pray, then he suffers her inspection for injuries, before further complaining that they don't know how to connect to Chatcaavan power grids. Vasiht'h takes a moment to notice exactly how composed Triona is and her ability to ignore the constant shaking of the deck, while he asks her to recap how they took the bridge.

The Seersa reflects on how vicious the Chatcaava are as fighters and their speed, and how Cory figured out that they sent away a distress call, then finally her voice quivers on having to leave the Quicklance behind. Vasiht'h starts to speak words of comfort before something occurs to him: The Quicklance is gone, and on the courier was the drug that the Ambassador needs to abate his seizures. Triona greets this knowledge with more swearing, counts their current speed getting them to the border in a day and a half, and the possibilities behind putting the Ambassador into slowsleep and the possible drug interactions. Vasiht'h brings up that he and Jahir can stop the seizures, with a non-chemical method. Triona hopes that maybe they could also extract the information the Ambassador has but all the conversations were in Chatcaavan so couldn't be relayed, but does suggest that perhaps Vasiht'h could get a citation for keeping the Ambassador alive.

Vasiht'h, after reflecting on the ridiculousness of another medal to go along with his unicorn pendant, states that he needs Jahir to do it. The healer-assist then goes to talk with the others, and Vasiht'h allows himself to drift. He did just come through a fight, and he didn't fall apart. He hated it, but he didn't freeze up, too afraid that his hesitation might get Jahir or Lisinthir killed. Then, the Glaseah says that Lisinthir could be a family's "wild and dangerous uncle" and resolves that Lisinthir has to live. Borden returns and suggests he sleep, but he objects because she won't since someone needs to watch the Ambassador, and she accepts his company to keep vigil.

Jahir is thrust into wakefulness, entwined with two separate minds, both clamoring for his attention. One tells him that there's a seizure, and adrenaline clears his mind before he dives back into Lisinthir's, bringing cooling, soothing lullabies with him. The ease with which he does so makes Jahir amused, since Lisinthir's mind must have acclimated to his intrusion. After calming the event, he rises into wakefulness, finding Lisinthir as he was and Vasiht'h close. Triona, holding a diagnostic wand and tablet, openly wonders how he did that. Brushing it off with everything being connected, Jahir assesses all his own hurts and pains, but guessing that they have survived.

Barely, in Vasiht'h's estimation, but Borden says they did well, and Vasiht'h continues that it'll take them five days to reach the border. Borden supplies that they will not be undetected, nor will Jahir be getting much sleep because he has to help with Lisinthir's seizures. Triona suggests that keeping watch will be the limit of their responsibilities, but Cory says there's another task. Jahir finds that, though she is injured, the Asanii is calm because she had been tested and rose to it. Cory elaborates that the Ambassador is holding very recent information. He went off alone, and they need it in case he dies.

While assessing the ethics of breaching Lisinthir's mind to get such information, Jahir reflects that Lisinthir would consent if asked, and consents that he'll try. He also suggests that the Fleet folks could help keep Lisinthir company, though Vasiht'h figures it'll also give the Fleet folks something to do that is useful. Cory thanks them and goes to find a volunteer, and Triona asks if Jahir needs anything, though Jahir waves that off with a fond look at Vasiht'h. Then, he sinks into Lisinthir's consciousness... and finds all the damage living in the Empire had inflicted.

Vasiht'h passes along Triona's suggestion of slowsleep, and while Jahir finds merit in the idea, he sees why she didn't, but also figures that Vasiht'h thinks they can duplicate it. The Glaseah also says that he can buffer Jahir with energy, and that Triona can pull him back since he's more connected to reality and it won't jar him so much to return to it. Jahir says that Vasiht'h is stronger than he is, but Vasiht'h -- firm in his power -- tells him that he's stronger in a different way.

Accepting that with a smile, Jahir weaves a lullaby into Lisinthir's mind that his mother sang to him, a song of melacholy and mystery.

First, there was anger, since it drove so much of his life. At his parents, at the useless court, at Imthereli. Then, on behalf of the slaves, on behalf of the Slave Queen, at Second, and Third, at the Emperor himself. Finally, anger at being drawn from his duty, being separated from his lovers, at those unwanted therapists. But love drifted in, with her attendants Compassion and Empathy, and her lover and guard, Duty. Placing himself in the role of Duty, Lisinthir tries to breathe in but can't, and catching fragments of thoughts. They don't make sense to him, but more data told him that he was very close to dying, that death wanted to fight him, and he had no strength.

But when he leaps to attack, death falls away abruptly. Lisinthir finds himself on a gray plain of featureless earth, dressed in Imthereli white as a prince. He looks for and finds the Emperor, dressed in black, dark wings spread. Lisinthir makes a comparison to poetry and romance in his head, and the Emperor answers it aloud. The two converse about what kind of romance they are, and making their own standards, before the Emperor gets to his point: Lisinthir needs to not come for the Emperor before he is sent for, because if he does, they may lose the game entirely. As Lisinthir protests being left out, the Emperor suggests that he has plenty to do with the Alliance, but extracts a promise from the Eldritch against them possibly dying, himself, the Emperor, and the Slave Queen. Lisinthir then calls the Emperor by their title, Beloved, and he and the Emperor and the Slave Queen all embrace and begin to make love. The Emperor assures Lisinthir that he'll know by a message being sent that he'll understand, and the Queen suggests they live here, now.

In addition to the effort of keeping Lisinthir sedated, Jahir finds himself loose as well, though it cost him to abide among Lisinthir's mind and memories. And even though the Ambassador's nervous system tried to fall apart, he refused it and forced them back into obedience. And yet, he found himself slipping from time, from music, from language, and when he goes to grab it, finds himself thrust into the Divine Pattern. Once there, he finds himself safe, and brings Lisinthir alongside.

Vasiht'h is shaken awake by a worse-for-the-wear Triona, and directed to help transfer the Ambassador to the Starsight. After checking on Jahir, he inquires about Lisinthir and finds out that a day ago (a day ago?!) he'd taken a turn for the better, and finally Borden backtracks to let him know that two ships arrived about three days ago, and the Starsight won over the Chatcaavan vessel. The Starsight has an actual Medplex, and will guide them all to Sector Alpha. What sinks in is that they're safe, finally. Triona, however, will not be coming with them, so she needs him and Jahir awake and ambulatory, since they need to explain the situation to the C-Med on the Starsight. Triona and the rest of the remaining Quicklance crew are headed to the border station and want to see it through. Finally, he reaches for Jahir, though it takes a while, and gently draws him back from -- in the Glaseah's estimation -- his communion with the Goddess. Jahir wakes, is disoriented at how long he's been under, but is spurred to movement at the promise of a real meal and ice cream (!).

Lisinthir looks better to Jahir's eyes as well, and Triona agrees though unable to pinpoint why or how. Kordreigh says that the healers-assist have come with a stretcher, and Triona thanks Vasiht'h and Jahir for their work. When Vasiht'h tries to object, Cory vociferously shoots down that objection, highlighting that they put themselves in harm's way. At Jahir's nudging, Vasiht'h thanks them.

Chapter Fifteen[edit]

After lingering on the Chatcaavan vessel for so long, it's funny to Jahir how they were rushed into the new ship's Medplex. But then it could be that he himself felt the world's edges as diffuse, and the Starsight crew was still glancing at him. Vasiht'h supplies that he looks a bit more stereotypically Eldritch than usual, which Jahir gently dismisses, since he has way too many aches and pains for that kind of fey. The interaction makes Jahir miss previous interactions with his partner, before this mess, because things are different. Still, they've learned a lot about themselves and how they relate to one another, with Vasiht'h admitting that he didn't think there was anything left to know.

A healer-assist directs Jahir to lie down on a halo-arch to assess him, and the Chief of Medical declares that his own injuries are minor before asking about his care of the Ambassador and his background with chemistry. The C-Med then asks about what Jahir knows about the case, and after the recitation, is confident that, despite all the samples of the drug being atomized that they can at least get the Ambassador to Fleet Central, which can handle anything. Moving on, the C-Med informs Jahir that he is the Ambassador's next of kin and is empowered to make medical decisions for him, and as such, will be asked to remain with the Ambassador until he can make his own decisions. Jahir, startled, gently inquires as to who gave the notice, and the C-Med replies that was the "head of household" who refused to divulge further details.

Telling Jahir that they'll be docking in two days, and that Vasiht'h is being checked on himself, the C-Med entreats Jahir to rest. Jahir composes himself to do so, while looking to where Lisinthir was resting, the halo-arch at work on his injuries. So, he rests.

Lisinthir's unconscious but stable, Jahir is asleep, leaving Vasiht'h free after some minor sealer work. He goes straight to the rooms assigned to himself and Jahir and takes a shower. The drier fluffs out his fur but his brush was on the Quicklance and the complementary ones Fleet gave him weren't going to do the trick, but it was gratifying to have so little to worry about. The Glaseah genies himself a cup of tea and some fruit and sits in silence.

The Glaseah finds the silence odd after being in such enforced intimacy with Jahir these past few days. He's aware that things would change, that he'd confronted mortality and found out how much more he wants to do with his life, that he wants to have kids, and it's time to work out the practicalities of doing so. Such as, will he move in with family to help him take care of his kids, or get some family to move in with him on Veta? Also, Jahir: If he marries, where will Vasiht'h sleep, since he can't really sleep in the same room as Jahir at that point. Also, how would raising an Eldritch child in the Alliance work out? Which is assuming that Sediryl would marry Jahir, assuming he asks.

Vasiht'h checks the time in Anseahla, then places a call home. However, his brother Bret'hesk answers instead of his mother or father, who immediately asks what happened and if he's in trouble. Vasiht'h takes a moment to reflect on his relationship with his eldest brother, and that he himself had lacked a focus for so long. His mother believed he would eventually, but Bret never did, especially since he was the self-appointed disciplinarian of the children. Abruptly, Vasiht'h is tired of it and offended, since Bret'hesk hadn't been attacked by Chatcaava, possibly earned personal thanks from Fleet, washed someone else's arterial blood off his fur, or helped keep a man vital to Alliance security from dying?

"I'm not in any trouble," Vasiht'h said. "And I don't see why you have any cause to talk to me this way."

Bret'hesk is confused, and Vasiht'h wonders if it was due to defending himself, or that he spoke like Jahir. Finally, his brother tells him that Mother and Father aren't in, and Vasiht'h says to tell them he called and that he'd like to talk to them. When Bret asks if he can tell them what it's about, Vasiht'h suddenly gets Lisinthir snarling, "You haven't earned that right" and says "No." Bret'hesk tries for some empathy to get more information, but Vasiht'h shuts him down and ends the conversation.

The therapist in him suggests a few reasons Bret would be the way he is, since Bret had been pressed into service wrangling the rest of the large Glaseahn family without any role models to do so gracefully. It didn't make him less irritating, but Vasiht'h feels it novel that he no longer feels he deserves any more of Bret's opprobrium.

Refreshing his tea, he settles down to check his mail and do some normal things, feeding that feeling down to the sleeping Jahir.

Lisinthir wakes, smelling Fleet Central hospital and expecting himself there, but also finds himself under an unfamiliar ceiling. He feels a lot better than he had before. A door opening brings a Tam-illee, who asks him how he feels. He answers that he's great, and guesses he'd been here a while. Agreeing, the Tam introduces herself as Healer-Surgeon TrustBody, and asks him to sit up. There was a brief moment of lightheadedness, and he thinks he feels hungry.

TrustBody says that there are people waiting to debrief him. When Lisinthir wonders why he couldn't receive them, the healer states that he was not well enough before. Under her care, he will not strain himself into a relapse until he can be discharged. After confirming that a relapse isn't likely, she says that she can release him in a few days and asks if he's been in this hospital before, and finally if he's up to having visitors. As he is, she nods and leaves; Lisinthir isn't unhappy to see her go.

Jahir enters soon after, and Lisinthir notes his cousin's dress and how it would probably pass for unremarkable in the Alliance. Lisinthir, however, wonders what Jahir would look like as a Galare heir and what his desire might mean for his reconciliation with Eldritch culture. Jahir had arrived without Vasiht'h, but with a silk bag and, without preamble, loosens the drawstrings ritualistically. From the bag come the Imthereli swords, set on a stool. Jahir lifts one and presents it on open palms, his head lowered. Seeing that they'd been cleaned, he wonders how long Jahir had worked to clean them. He slides a hand along the scabbard and then to Jahir's palm, finding his cousin's conviction and peace.

With that, Lisinthir's fears washed away, because, if he could not trust himself, he could trust Jahir. Lisinthir takes the sword and bows his head. The silence of the moment gives way to something that makes him feel more alive and eager for the fight to come. Taking the other sword with one hand, he takes Jahir's wrist, basks in his obedience, then cups his cousin's jaw to bring him in for a kiss. After that kiss, that tasted of mint and honey, that was fire, softness, yielding, Lisinthir separates (but not too far) and thanks Jahir in the white mode for cleaning and keeping them.

Jahir -- in the gray -- informs Lisinthir that the swords are all that was left of his time in the Empire. He had a new coat made to his measure so he has something to wear. Lisinthir asks about Vasiht'h, and Jahir says that he gave them time alone, at which point Lisinthir asks for what had happened to him. The summary was more complete than Lisinthir expected, and he suspects Jahir did some interviews, particularly with the news of the Chatcaavan vessel's successful return to Alliance space. However, he's startled by news that he almost died. Jahir, smiling faintly, informs him the Head of Surgery had to get involved, his liver failed, and blood cloned from a drawn sample was violently rejected, so Jahir had to donate blood to keep him alive. Lisinthir can't reconcile his near death with how good he feels right now, and Jahir details that most of his digestive tract and liver and blood volume needed replacing. The hekkret was making him starve to death.

Left unspoken was Jahir's inability to do anything about it, but Lisinthir reassures him that he helped, due to how quickly he noticed the issue on the ship. Jahir, managing a smile, tells him that he should commission a few dozen more secret rampants, with the way that Lisinthir gets into trouble. Lisinthir tugs Jahir in for another kiss and calls him his amulet rampant.

Composing himself, Jahir asks what happened to the rampant he sent Lisinthir, apologizing for the sending. Lisinthir brushes off the apology, saying he went into a fight wearing it and guessing it was cut off, but whimsically saying it evanesced, keeping him alive. Jahir wonders if he seriously should commission another rampant for Lisinthir and guesses he'll go back into the fray. Lisinthir responds coyly, but assures Jahir that he won't go off without cause, since he needs to train the Pelted and gather his own intelligence, no doubt aided by pragmatic Pelted co-conspirators. Then Lisinthir asks Jahir to call Vasiht'h, so Lisinthir can thank him.

Vasiht'h peeks in. As he joins Jahir, he greets Lisinthir, saying that Lisinthir looks near ready to be released. Lisinthir sees the lack of strain in the Glaseah's movements, and also that Jahir and Vasiht'h were once again the unbroken whole. He gives his thanks for the Glaseah's role in getting him to the bridge, but Vasiht'h tries to brush it off, as the choice was either that or die. Reminded strongly of the Slave Queen and her penchant to be trapped in her own thinking, Lisinthir insists, since there was a choice, and that as a therapist, Vasiht'h has seen people choose death. Conceding the point, the Glaseah grumbles that he was expecting a different conversation with someone so soon from his death bed. Jahir nudges him that he is not accepting Lisinthir's compliment.

To Vasiht'h's unseen -- but felt -- blush, Lisinthir relates that people would rather be appreciated for what they think their strengths are. Vasiht'h finds Lisinthir's devastating observations quite scary, but Lisinthir apologizes and asks for forgiveness, saying he can't be Vasiht'h's children's wild uncle otherwise. Startled that Lisinthir heard that, though not surprised, Vasiht'h tells him that he's not upset, it's just... been a long few weeks. Eventually, the Glaseah thanks Lisinthir for thanking him and takes his leave.

Remarking that it went better than he thought it would, Lisinthir tells Jahir that it's possible Vasiht'h might have hated him because of an association with an uncomfortable experience. Jahir would like to believe that they are somewhat more self-aware than that, but concedes only somewhat. More to the point, Jahir tells Lisinthir that the healers do not anticipate needing him, but he'll be in the area anyway since he plans to stay a few days longer. Lisinthir thanks him in the gold, and Jahir replies that it was a joy to serve in the white. Then, Lisinthir sends Jahir off, fending off his many requests to stay if needed, to which Jahir kisses him goodbye.

Jahir is trying to write a letter, after putting it off for some time, but Vasiht'h entering disrupts his concentration, which he's fine with. Still, he has plans later and kinda needs to get the letter done. Vasiht'h asks if he's still writing, and he supplies that it's a letter to the Queen, with a recap of the events. A call could be easier, but it would be interrupting her, and he's not even guaranteed to speak to her if he does call, plus... he might embarrass himself. In the mindline, Jahir admits that a letter permits some distance. Aloud, Vasiht'h asks what he's stuck on, and Jahir is basically trying to sum up "the magnitude of what the Queen has wrought with Lisinthir." When asked what that is, Jahir's one word answer is "Change," and that gives Jahir the place to start the letter at.

With the letter written, he waffles a bit over some seeming insolence but suspects the Queen would forgive it. Vasiht'h re-enters the room and chivvies him along toward the Pad for their visit to Heliocentrus, as they're meeting everyone at the hospital. Vasiht'h gently teases Jahir about Paige bringing him hot buttered coffee, and as they leave their temporary quarters, Jahir feels war coming.

Chapter Sixteen[edit]

The first place Lisinthir visits when released from the hospital is the hospital chapel. It's the place he's visited before, and he's surprised how much it reminds him of the Eldritch ones he'd visited when he was younger. Getting a wooden taper from a tray of sand, he lights it, and then lights candles for all the fallen of the Quicklance, starting with Raynor. Then, he lights candles for all the wounded, using the remaining candles. Touching one and ignoring the hot wax sting, he finds himself glad that the Chatcaavan belief that the Pelted were meek and unworthy was wrong. Facing the altar, he goes to one knee and prays to the God and Lady, to the Living Air and Dying. "Be my company into battle, and my solace after."

Later, Lisinthir is in a conference room, surrounded by luminaries from Fleet and the human Navy. Among them are the White Admiral and the Night Admiral, the latter of whom didn't give Lisinthir his name nor touch his palm. Finally, everyone has arrived and is introduced, and they all sit and try to parse not only an Eldritch, but the only Ambassador ad'Chatcaavan Empire that accomplished anything productive for the Alliance. Lisinthir reflects that he also knows things they don't, and they need to, recalling the words from the dying Navy technician he'd ambushed. Said dragon had slipped, referring to other dragons as inferiors, which allowed Lisinthir to put everything together. He remembers the map of the massive Chatcaavan Empire and the Emperor's challenge in juggling it all, thinking angrily that his beloved had been betrayed by the Navy he lifted.

But then, they were introducing him and he came back to the moment at hand. Standing, he looked at all the faces, hoping they would see to his needs, his Emperor's needs, his Queen's needs. "Aletsen. There are signs that the Empire is poised to fragment, and therein lies our greatest peril... and our greatest opportunity."

Characters[edit]