Title: Mutable: Chapter Fourteen, Part One
Chapter Fourteen, Part One
Cas never did get a chance to collect the blood he’d left to gather information for him. After the attack, which had gotten around the ship in the most gossipy way possible, he’d been given an escort at all times. Fillie wasn’t removed from his rota, thankfully, but she was joined by at least one other person to help look after him. An armed guard was posted outside their quarters whenever he was inside, and Rone spent every free hour he had for the rest of the trip either going over his soldiers’ personnel files, looking for signs that someone might be trouble, or preparing Beren for another violent eventuality. “You got lucky against the Lieutenant,” he said somberly. It was clear that the loss, and the reason for it, had hurt him. “We can’t count on that again. If I could be with you more I would be, but—”
“You’re too important to babysit me,” Cas offered, small Beren-like smile on his face. “I understand. I’ll be fine.” And it was interesting, being taught the basics of evasion from his husband. Evasion, as opposed to fighting, because it was simply understood that there was no way Cas would be able to stand against an Imperian toe-to-toe and expect to do more than simply survive. They were better trained, better fed, and in a power suit far better armed. Escaping the last attack with his life was viewed as miraculous.
There was a part of Cas, a small but vocal part of him that desperately wanted to show Rone what he was actually capable of. It didn’t help that his phage basically curled up against the surface of his skin and purred whenever his husband spent time with him. We’re better than your people, better than men in power suits, better than words wielded like blades and doctors who scratch for secrets they don’t deserve. We’re stronger and smarter, and you’re the only one that’s worthy of us.
It was infantile, and Cas did his best to control it. He was supposed to be meek and sweet and unprepared—that was how he was supposed to draw his husband in, with the promise of someone to protect and cherish, not someone to challenge him head-on. But it was hard, not giving in sometimes. Not doing what he was good at. Not celebrating the kill.
The night before they were due to arrive on Imperia, Rone spent the whole evening with him. “Darven needs the practice hours bringing the ship into the capitol’s port anyway,” he said easily, pouring them a glass of wine with their dinner. Cas had had wine before, but Beren hadn’t. He made sure to go wide-eyed at the first taste, then sip slowly. “The last time he tried to set her down he almost got us into a midair collision.”
“Maybe you really ought to be up there then,” Cas joked, but Rone shook his head.
“I’d rather be with you tonight. Tomorrow is going to be hectic, and I want you to know what to expect.”
Now this was useful information. Cas leaned forward a little. “Tell me.”
“Normally, military ships land in the naval port at the edge of Obsidian and I take a royal shuttle to the palace to debrief with my brother. Because you’re here now, and due to the nature of our mission and the unfortunate events we’ve had to deal with, protocol is being changed.” And from the frown on his face, Rone didn’t care for that change one bit.
Cas risked reaching out and taking his hand, giving it a little squeeze. “What will I need to do?”
That got a smile. “All you have to do is be yourself, but look very prim and proper while you’re at it. I let Nurse Galway have at one of my formal civilian uniforms—she’s the only person on board with decent sewing skills—to refit to you. The fabric is smart enough to do most of the work, but regalia had to be moved around, it was a whole…ordeal, apparently.”
“Nurse Galway?” The one who didn’t like refugees and didn’t seem to like him in particular?
“Yes. She’ll be here in the morning to test it on you and make any final adjustments. And I’ll be with you the whole time,” Rone assured him before taking another sip of his wine. He hadn’t let go of Cas’s hand yet. “I know you don’t particularly like the medical staff.”
Cas decided a little oblique honesty was due here. “I feel like they keep expecting to find something strange about me and are disappointed when they don’t.”
“It’s not really about you. Doctor Weiss is just paranoid. Lieutenant Zane’s autopsy turned up some slightly disturbing results. It looks like he was afflicted with some sort of infection in his blood that spread to his brain.”
As sweet as it was to listen to his husband dissemble about motivation on his behalf, Cas was far too interested in what he was saying to get distracted by it. “An infection? Something he picked up on Leelinge?”
“It has to be.” Rone frowned. “It’s strange, though. He was screened by medical multiple times while we were on the planet and they never noticed anything. Given how dramatically it altered his behavior, I would have expected it to make a bigger difference on his bloodwork earlier on. Are you aware of any diseases or viruses on Leelinge that behave like this?”
No, but I know a parasite that apparently can. “We dealt with a lot of diseases underground, and some of them caused delirium, but I don’t know of anything that specifically matches this.” Feeling like it was a good time to change the subject, he asked, “Will I get to meet your children tomorrow?”
That brought a smile back to Rone’s face. “No, probably not. I doubt we’ll make it out of the palace until late, so they’ll be asleep by the time we get back to our home. The day after that, though, absolutely. They’re great kids, you’ll love them. They’ll love you too…eventually. It takes them a while to warm up to new people, but they’ll come around.”
Cas highly doubted that. He wasn’t planning on sticking around long enough to win the hearts and minds of children who couldn’t help his mission. “What should I do when we’re at the palace?”
“Stand around a lot, unfortunately. There will be a formal meal with the court after our audience with my brother the king, and then there’s likely to be a lot of people who want to gab at us and waste our time. I’ll get us out of there as soon as I can without causing offense, though.”
“I’m nervous about meeting your family,” Cas confessed. It wasn’t even a lie. “I don’t know how to act in front of a king.”
Rone raised Cas’s hand to his lips and pressed a kiss to his knuckles. The phage leapt in his blood, pushing against vessels like an overeager pet scrounging for a treat. “Just bow the way Fillie taught you and reply when he asks you a direct question. You’ll be all right. I promise.”
Cas would be holding him to that.