Title: Mutable: Chapter Seventeen, Part One
Chapter Seventeen, Part One
They used another hovercraft to get there—not as posh as the one they’d arrived in, but it was still done up in regal red and smelled like spiced fruit on the inside. Cas extended his senses just a bit and picked up on—
—sweat, drying tears on Lilah’s face, one of the guards grunting as he let out a little—
—the tang of pomegranates and alcohol, the cool whisper of ice jostling in a carafe held by the craft’s attendant, the cinnamony warmth of warmed, sliced—peaches, perhaps, he wasn’t sure, the—
— “will he last, do you think?”
“There’s no way to tell yet. We’ll know more soon, lay down some money.”
Cas shuddered at the sudden touch on his shoulder and abruptly pulled his senses back in. He glanced at Rone, who had lifted his hand away and was holding it up cautiously. “I’m—I’m sorry?”
“It’s fine.” And he really sounded like he was telling the truth, apart from the way Cas could see his heartrate increase in the crook of his neck. “I’m just checking in. You stopped by the door, and we can’t take off until everyone is seated.”
“Oh.” Well, hadn’t he done a great job of making himself look like an idiot? “I got distracted, I’m sorry.” Feeling a bit impulsive, he reached up and took Rone’s hand, pulling it down to a more comfortable height and squeezing it lightly. “I’m still feeling a little dazzled from all the lights.”
Rone nodded and led him gently over to one of the four luxurious seats in the center of the craft. Lilah and Shar were already sitting on one side, Shar playing with the little silver spoon Cas had passed him and Lilah glaring like she would burn him on the spot if she could just manage to strike sparks with her mind. Cas had no doubt she would have taken the spot next to her father if she could have, but the children’s seats were equipped with special inserts to make them fit better.
“I should have thought of having Dr. Weiss give you something to help for that before we landed. I never think of our planet as very bright, but you’re a special case.”
“Not bright?” Cas looked out the window at the sky. It was true that there were a lot of clouds up there, but they were never still—every one of them roiled and churned with lightning, and the rusty tinge reminded him of old blood, as though the conflicts taking place on the ground had migrated to the air. “With all that going on?”
“Ah, the lightning. It’s the season for it here. We get a lot more volcanic activity at certain times of year, and the lightning tends to increase when the eruptions do.” The hovercraft took off with barely a whisper, and a moment later the attendant was offering them all ice water in chilled glasses. Cas was the only one who accepted. “I almost don’t see it anymore,” Rone confessed, looking out the window with a pensive expression. “You see the same marvelous thing enough times and after a while, it doesn’t seem so marvelous.”
Cas pressed his lips together tight, lifting the water to his mouth but not quite able to drink. Was that how Rone operated? He saw something shiny, something or someone new and became infatuated with them and brought them into his life? And then…then did he tire of them, the same way he’d tired of rainbow lightning?
The eyes and the heart didn’t see things the same way, Cas had to remind himself. He’d seen entire crystal colonies rise up out of mineral pools, expand and grow, and then die back so many times that the lifecycle had become meaningless to him as anything other than a blunt metaphor—you’re not special. You can always be replaced. Except he was special, and now that he was here on Imperia he was going to prove it.
He needed to find Danie Yorque. That was Christala’s cover now, and so that was where he needed to go. Did she know about him? Had the man she’d infected on the ship been nothing but a lucky guess on her part, a chance offering in case someone came looking for her?
He’d have to find out. And he’d have to find her—back to the refugee registry? He could almost certainly get Rone to help him look her up, but then he’d know that Cas was interested and that might get back to Christala in an uncomfortable way. She was aggressive, and the last thing Cas wanted to do was invite trouble into Rone’s home. He wouldn’t stand for the man’s children being threatened, even if—
Even if one of them had just thrown a smuggled piece of bread into Cas’s water glass with rather astonishing accuracy. He handed the glass over to the worried-looking attendant and wiped his face down with the towel she proffered even as Rone turned his gaze onto his daughter.
No, not a gaze—this was more of a stare.
“Lilah.” There was still a layer of comfort in his voice, but it was hard to hear beneath the sternness. “What did we just talk about?”
She crossed her arms. “I was just—”
“What did we just talk about?”
The child huddled deeper into her plush chair. “Respect.”
“That’s right. Behaving in a respectful manner. I know you’re nervous about this change to our family, but you told me you’d treat Beren with respect. Was throwing food at him respectful?”
“He was ignoring you!”
“He acted like he didn’t even hear your question, Papa, and that’s not respectful either!”
“Beren just got off a spaceship after a leaving his home planet not one week ago,” Rone replied calmly. “He’s on a whole new planet for the first time. Do you remember how you felt after arriving here for the first time?”
“Not really,” Lilah grumped.
“Well, I do. I could barely keep you awake long enough to greet your Uncle Amiru before I had to put you to bed. You didn’t come out of your room for three whole days. It was a lot to take in.” He gestured gently at Cas. “Why would it be any different for Beren?”
Cas wanted to follow the conversation more closely, but he was reeling internally from the fact that apparently he’d just ignored his husband speaking to him while he mused on Christala. Either he was so comfortable with Rone that he’d just absorbed the reality of his presence as unthreatening, or he really was more tired than he felt.
“But he’s an adult!”
“He’s also human. Now. I think you owe him an apology.”
Lilah turned her frowning face on Cas. Arms still crossed over her chest so hard she might have resuscitated herself if she’d been choking, she spat, “I’m sorry.”
“For what?” Rone prompted.
“For throwing bread at you.”
And now it was time for Cas to respond. If he said no apology was necessary, he’d undermine Rone and make Lilah think she could walk all over him. If he accepted too warmly, he’d just make her uncomfortable. This was clearly a girl who liked to feel in control of her surroundings. It was best not to try and make too many inroads too soon.
He let himself smile slightly and nodded his head. “Apology accepted.”
It was a small victory to see Lilah looking nonplussed at that, like she’d expected something more. Shar hadn’t even bothered to look up, just stared at the spoon in his hands and grinned as he rubbed the silver surface over and over with his thumbs.
The hovercraft began to slow down, coming to a stop with a gentle motion that Cas barely felt. “That was fast.”
“My home here is close to the center of Obsidian,” Rone said. Cas thought he detected a hint of annoyance in his voice. “I needed to have a place close to both the palace and the military port. This was the compromise. There’s space around it, though, so hopefully you won’t worry about being too crowded.”
“I lived almost my entire life in an underground city that squeezed thousands of people into a cavern not much bigger than your ship,” Cas said, standing up when Rone did. “I won’t be bothered by people.” People would be good, actually—the more people he had to blend in with, the better. Not inside the house, necessarily, but outside of it? Yes, please.
Lilah’s frown became a little less intense. “You lived under the ground?”
Cas smiled at her again. “Yeah, I did.”
“Like a worm?”
Um. “Something like that.”
She rolled her eyes as they all walked off the craft. “Why would you want to live like a worm?”
“Lilah.” That was Rone’s warning tone again. She huffed and snatched up her father’s hand, then tugged him out of the covered hangar they’d parked in at full speed. Cas felt a little bit bereft watching them go, until Shar’s hand found his again. They followed Rone and Lilah, and ended up almost face to face with Darven and—the surge of relief that went through him when he saw Fillie was disconcerting.
She was back in her smart red uniform, only a few shades darker than her hair, and she beamed as soon as she saw them. Darven was occupied with Rone, gesturing at the house in front of them, but Fillie bounced right over, stopping and clasping her hands behind her back as she bowed.
“Hi again, sir.” She straightened up and grinned. “Welcome to Obsidian.”
And finally, funnily, Cas really felt welcomed.