Title: Mutable: Interlude: Rone
Rone saw but didn’t comprehend, heard but understood nothing, felt but was also completely numb. Every one of his senses were working perfectly, but none of it seemed to matter, because his brain was dismissing every other source of input to focus on the one that was all-consuming right now—the infection of the phage. It burns.... It did burn, but the fire of it was cold, sending flares coursing along his nerve endings as it sought to overtake every aspect of his body.
Rone had never imagined possession like this before. An alien coursed through his blood and bones, an alien bent on dominating him. What had Cas said? That he had to fight it. Fight, or let the phage control and eventually kill him.
No, no. He felt more than heard the sentiment, a thrum of gentle disapproval. Strong. Stronger. Love. Love. Was this…the phage? Speaking to him? Managing to communicate, at least. Cas had never mentioned it could do that. It was a bacterium, an infection, nothing more.
No. No. The disapproval was more intense now. Live. Alive. A ripple of fire spread down his limbs, making him convulse. Here. You, me. Us.
Could it have a consciousness? It definitely had a will—Rone had gathered that from how Cas occasionally spoke of it, something to fight and master, something to direct. But was it actually its own sentient organism?
Mmmm. It projected contentedness at him even as it held him down and coated his veins with a layer of acid. Yes. Yes.
The pain was becoming noticeable now, breaking through the barriers Rone had erected in his mind—or had the phage erected them? Mental focus and control were things he practiced as a part of his daily life, things he needed in order to keep himself on an even keel. It was too easy to intrude into the lives of others if he didn’t fight it, to learn about things that he had no business knowing. He had been made into the ultimate warrior, but most of the time he felt like the ultimate spy instead.
That was before he’d met Beren, of course. Or Cas, really, and Christala. Whatever skill he had, he knew now that it was nothing compared to what they could do.
Unsame. Strong. Mmmmm. The phage purred inside of his mind and body, a vibration that made him rattle against the floor. Us. Us.
No. He didn’t want to carry the phage—the little he knew about it was more than enough to convince him that the price wasn’t worth it.
Yes. Power. Fire flooded his mind, and with it came—
Rone saw himself standing in the bridge of a battle cruiser, one of the new Imperion-class monstrosities, not his simple little mercy-ship. A map of the entire Tiresias System lay spread out before him, holograms whirling in and out of focus as his commander moved the map, describing various plans of attack.
“It almost doesn’t matter,” she said gleefully. “Even if several of them could manage to coordinate enough to form a decent defense, a few well-placed saboteurs could shatter the trust between them in a matter of weeks. Shall I call up the Phage Corps, Your Majesty?”
Rone looked at Private Fillie—no, Commander Fillie now, because he had lost Darven, hadn’t he—and he barely recognized her. He shuddered away from the hologram, away from her, and the vision changed to—
“Daddy, watch!” Shar tugged on his sleeve, getting him to turn before holding up the sapphire-encrusted spoon. “Watch!” He lifted it, waved his hand once, twice, then turned his palm over and the spoon was gone. “See? I can do it now! Beren taught me how.”
“Did he,” Rone said, distracted and not entirely sure why. Where was Lilah? Where was—
He turned back to his son with a gasp. “You’re talking.”
Shar rolled his eyes with a grin. “Daddy, that’s what the gift was for! To make me talk, to make me better. And now I am.”
He was…speaking. And his voice was nothing like Rone had ever imagined. He stumbled for another topic of conversation, anything to distract him. “Did you say Beren?”
“Yes, Daddy. Papa Beren.”
“But he’s—” Dead. Only he wasn’t, not exactly, but—
The vision changed again, becoming a hand on his shoulder, turning him around to look at…Beren. Yes, this was his husband, the one he’d married at any rate. The smooth oval face was the same, the bright eyes, the thick dark eyebrows and gentle smile. “What happened?” Rone asked helplessly.
“I just want to be what you want,” Beren replied sweetly, stepping up into his space. Rone’s arms opened automatically. “Don’t you love me like this?”
“I—” It hardly seemed right to love him no matter what face he wore—one was a dead man, the other a desperate one. “Right” had pretty well ceased to matter to Rone where his husband was concerned, though. “I do. But I love you the other way too.”
“You love me more like this.” Beren, no, Cas sounded confident. “I know you do. That’s why I took another phage, so I could be this for you. All I want is to make you happy.”
It felt like lightning flashed across his eyes, and the vision fractured and melted as a headache the size of a volcano suddenly erupted in his head. He felt his neck twist as he thrashed from side to side, felt Cas’s phage go from steady blaze to crackling thunderbolt all at once. A shadow in the corner of his eye, so faint he hadn’t even noticed it, vanished.
Eat. Eater. Eaten. The voice reverberated like a sonic hammer in his skull. Mine. You, me, us. Us!
All of a sudden Rone felt his movements slow. His body calmed, and so did his mind. He felt the phage like the warmth of a distant sun, shining down on him. We? it asked sweetly. Us? Ours?
Other people were speaking above him, faces looking down on him, but Rone couldn’t focus on them. All he could feel was the phage, trembling inside of him, ready to swallow him whole and smother him with its love. And the worst of it was, he wasn’t even sure whether or not that was a bad thing.