Title: Mutable: Chapter Four, Part Two
Chapter Four, Part Two
To say Cas was dumbfounded would have been an understatement. For the first time in years, he was so surprised he almost lost control of his phage. He was sure his face wavered for a moment, but it didn’t matter, because Rone wasn’t looking at him anymore. He was looking at Darven, who…well, displeased would also have been an understatement for him.
“Are you fucking kidding me?” Darven moved away from the wall and got in Rone’s face almost immediately. “Rone, you can’t do this!”
“I can, actually,” Rone replied, his voice preternaturally calm. “There’s no law against marrying someone who isn’t Imperian.”
“No, but there are laws against committing fraud, which is what this marriage would be!” Darven looked like he wanted to pull out his own hair. “You do this and you’re giving the high command just the excuse they need to pull you from active duty. Rone, you should be at the head of the fleet, not sitting on your ass on Leelinge providing backup to an incompetent diplomatic corps! And the fact that you’re not means that—”
“I know what it means,” he interjected, which was too bad because Cas had no idea what it meant, and right now he really, really wanted to. “But that isn’t something I can affect right now. This, right here? This is a place where my power can reach, and I’m going to use it. If,” he added with a slight smile, “you’ll have me, Beren.”
Cas swallowed and found his voice. “I’m…incredibly grateful, Captain.” And he was, oh he was. Being taken into space as this man’s husband rather than a common laborer would open so many doors for him. The marriage was a complete sham, of course, but he would make it work. “I accept your proposal.”
“Then you better get used to calling me Rone and not Captain, or stars forbid, sir,” Rone teased. Cas smiled before he could stop himself. There was something about this man, something that could coerce an honest response from him without his brain noticing and stopping it. Cas would have to be careful about that.
“No, no, nope.” Darven shook his head. “Rone, think. Think. There’s no way this can end well. Everyone will know it’s a ploy, you’ve barely known this kid for half a day! There’s whirlwind romances and then there’s sheer idiocy, and that’s what people will think—either you’re being played for a fool, or you’re taking advantage of him in some way. Is that what you want?”
“When the alternative is leaving him here to die, then yes, I’ll take being seen as a fool.”
Darven looked desperate. “I can get a ship here to pick him up, on the down low. One of mine. We take him back out to the caves where the Delacoeurians were living, he doesn’t even have to interact with the Leelangers, he can hide there and—”
“The caves aren’t safe anymore.” Cas had to head this line of thought off before it sounded too plausible. “They were cleared by the Leelanger authority weeks ago, and they still have people stationed there the last I heard.” Looking for more phages. Good fucking luck. “There won’t be any place to hide.”
“It doesn’t matter. You aren’t going back.”
“Roooone.” Darven dropped his face into his hands. “You’re gonna drive me into an early grave, you know that, right?”
“I know.” Rone looked at his second in command compassionately. “I did offer to release your honor a year ago, you remember. You’re the one who insisted on staying affixed to me.”
“Because back then you actually had a good reason for doing what you did.” He held up a hand. “And yes, I know, stop it, this is also a good reason, it’s just…this might be a step too far. You stand to lose a lot, Captain.” The new formality in his address had Cas paying even closer attention. There were so many layers here to understand, so much that he didn’t know yet. He needed to observe, to collect information and analyze it to find the points he could exploit.
“I might lose, that’s true,” Rone allowed. “But I won’t die. That’s the difference that I care about. This young man,” he indicated Cas, “has done nothing except strive to survive in a situation beyond his control. Within his own society, under Leelanger dominion, and now, at Imperian discretion. To throw away that effort is nothing short of murder, and I won’t be a party to that.”
Oh, fool Founders. Cas’s heart beat extra fast in his chest, every word filling him with combatting senses of awe and shame. Awe because here, unexpectedly, impossibly, was a man of principle. Cas had never met anyone like him before, not even among the Delacoeurian commanders. It was incredible. It was humbling.
The shame surged ahead of the awe, and Cas bit his lip. He was going to use this man. He knew it—that was the whole point, using him to get into space and find the traitors to his people who had sold them out to the Leelangers. He might get Rone into serious trouble. He would certainly get him reprimanded once Cas escaped from oversight and struck out on his own. But that couldn’t matter right now. He had to keep his heart hard, and his eyes fixed on his goal. Remember Beren. Remember Siena and Gerry and Pip.
When Rone looked his way again, he was ready this time. “What, um…what do we have to do?” he asked tentatively. “To get married?”
“It’s pretty straightforward,” Rone replied. “There’s a form to sign, which must be witnessed by two people, and the ceremony itself must be carried out by someone with the authority to legalize the bond. I would do it myself if I wasn’t half of the marrying party. Fortunately,” he smiled at Darven, who grimaced back, “Commander Hije is also of a qualifying rank.”
“And qualified as a damn fool,” he muttered. “But there have to be two witnesses, and Jepson isn’t going to help you with this. In fact, she’ll do everything in her power to stonewall it the second she hears about it.”
“What about Fillie?” Cas suggested deferentially. Both men looked at him. “Um, the young woman who brought me my meal? She seemed nice,” he added quietly.
“Private Fillie it is,” Rone said after a moment. “Darven, if you’d go get her and sort out the paperwork…”
“Why don’t you have me write your damn obituary while I’m at it?” Darven muttered, but he obediently left the tent.
Cas stared at the man he was about to marry and tried not to blush. This was ridiculous, everything about this was ridiculous. Rone smiled. “I know it must seem crazy, but—”
“I’m grateful,” Cas interrupted him. “I am, really. I think this might cause you a lot of trouble, and I’m sorry about that, but—” he took a shuddering breath “—I’m so grateful. Thank you for this.”
“It won’t be as simple as saying ‘I do,’” Rone warned him. “You’re going to have to put on a show for my commanders.”
Oh, if only he knew. All of Cas’s world was a stage. He smiled sweetly. “I’ll do my best.”