Friday, May 24, 2019

Mutable: Chapter Thirty, Part Two

Notes: More story! And this isn't quite the end, so never fear, I'm not leaving things with some half-assed HFN this time around.

Title: Mutable: Chapter Thirty, Part Two


Chapter Thirty, Part Two

Rone sat beside him in a dark red chair—royal red, but somewhat faded. His hand on Cas’s shoulder was firm enough to comfort without pain, while Rone’s other hand was cupped loosely over his own knee. He wore plain clothes, for a prince and commander—no insignia, nothing of rank showing at all, just a loose, dark shirt and pair of pants. He might be barefoot for all Cas knew—it was warm enough in here to warrant it. “Where are we?” His throat was surprisingly whole, not cracked and dry like it should have been after a long period of unconsciousness.
“We’re at my home.”
Cas frowned and looked around more carefully. The room they were in was lighter than Rone’s bedroom, or any of the other rooms in the living suite in his mansion. The furnishings were older, and seemed more worn-in than what Cas was used to seeing. “Are we?”
“Yes. It’s just not the one in Obsidian. This is the country home, over a thousand miles from the capitol.”
Cas squeezed his eyes shut for a second, feeling a headache coming on. He’d have to deal with it the old-fashioned way, how novel. “Why is Doctor Weiss here?”
“Because he’s got the most experience of any medical professional on the planet when it comes to the phage, not that that’s saying much. Amiru insisted he come along to keep an eye on me.”
“Mmhmm. Who else has he sent to keep an eye on you?” Cas asked sarcastically. “Or me, I guess.”
To his credit, Rone didn’t try to dissemble. “Both of us, and there’s also a detachment of the royal guard here. We’re the subject of a lot of speculation at the moment, after all. It wouldn’t do to let us wander around without supervision.”
“Oversight, you mean.”
Cas sighed. “I suppose I should count myself lucky that I’m not in prison.”
Rone shook his head. “I wasn’t going to let it come to that.”
God, he was so earnest. It was endearing and frustrating all at once. “You probably should have. You need to do everything you can to shore up your relationship with your brother in the public eye after what happened, don’t you?” Actually… “How much do people know about what happened in the palace?”
“The general public, very little. The military, a great deal more. They provide the personal guards my brother uses, on a rotating basis. It’s considered an honor post. The one that survived had a lot to tell them.”
“He did survive, then.” That was a relief. Fast on its heels was the deluge of remembering who hadn’t managed that much. “Rone, I’m so sorry about Darven.”
Rone frowned and pulled his hand back, folding them together in his lap and staring at them. Cas’s throat tightened. “Thank you,” Rone said after a moment. “I wish there was something that could have been done for him, but at least he wasn’t a slave like Freyne at the end. He died in control of his own mind.”
Cas wasn’t sure that really made it better for anyone who was dying, but if Rone thought so he wasn’t going to argue it. “Speaking of that…”
“Yeah. The phage.” Rone glanced at him. “How much did you hear with Doctor Weiss?”
“Enough of it, I think.” Cas looked up at the ceiling. It would hurt less to tell the next part if he didn’t have to face the man he’d lost his phage to. Gifted it to, really, and gladly, but it still hurt. “You won’t be able to get rid of the phage. Extracting it is impossible if it doesn’t want to leave. It can reform itself with as little as a hundredth of a percent of it left in your body, and it can hide in bones, in teeth, even in hair.”
Rone shifted in his chair. “You described it as a fight, between you and the phage. You talked about dominating it. Why haven’t I had the same issues that you did?”
“I think you probably have,” Cas said wryly. “You just got over them a lot faster. Did it try anything with you? Any visions, any promises?”
“It…” Rone paused. “Maybe? It said that we were an us, said it could give me all sorts of power. It let me see…well, it doesn’t matter what it let me see, but I knew better than to accept any of that.”
“What did you do?”
Rone shrugged. “I told it no. When it pushed, I held it down and didn’t let go until it promised to do what I said.”
Cas let himself look at Rone now, because honestly… “And that worked?”
“It seems to have. I haven’t had any trouble from it since then. No shapeshifting, no weird visions. My dreams are a little more intense than usual, but they’re still just dreams.”
Well, then. It had all worked out for the best. It was better to lose the phage than to lose Rone, especially to Christala. Which, actually… “Christala is dead, right? I didn’t misremember that?”
“She is very much dead,” Rone assured him.
“And Amiru and his family are all right?”
“He’s been given a clean bill of health, which is good because he’s got a lot of work to do, most of it reassuring the senior staff.”
Cas raised an eyebrow. “Because they think you’re an untrustworthy security risk now?”
Rone huffed. “That’s the least of it. At least two people on the general staff wanted me put to death, preferably by throwing me into a lava flow, but they were overruled.”
Cas’s neck was getting a crick in it from twisting to look at Rone. “Either help me sit up of get in here with me,” he grumbled, and was astonished when Rone slipped into bed with him a moment later, snuggling in close against his side. He was warm, and he smelled so familiar, and there was something about the way his skin seemed to shift that reminded Cas of…
“It misses you,” Rone said quietly.
Cas shook his head. “No, it wanted you. I’ve never heard of a phage being so opinionated in my entire life, but I know what I felt. It wanted you from the moment we met you. That’s why I knew it wouldn’t kill you.” He shut his eyes, but a few traitorous tears slipped out anyway. “That’s why I could live with giving it away to you—why it left me at all. I couldn’t have forced it out, it had to want to go. And it did.” And now I have nothing left of it. But I have you, at least for the moment.
“It might want to be in me, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t miss being in you. It’s more complicated than I thought.” He sighed. “This whole damn thing is complicated.”
“Yeah.” Cas sniffed, then exhaled shakily as Rone wiped the tears off his cheeks. “So. When’s the divorce?”
Rone’s hand stilled. “Do you want a divorce?”
The sound that came out of Cas’s mouth didn’t sound even close to the laugh he’d been trying for. “I don’t think what I want really comes into it now, does it? I’m a, a spy and a saboteur, and an assassin, and you’re a prince, and I put you and your entire family in danger. Staying married to me isn’t really an option.” Rone didn’t say anything, though, and finally Cas turned his head to look at him. “Is it?”
“That’s something we have to talk about,” Rone finally said. “It’s true that Amiru thinks the best thing would be for us to make a clean break, but he’s not going to force me into anything. And the kids…honestly, the thought of you not being around makes them kind of crazy. They adore you.”
His heart, it was going to burst and even if he had the phage, it wouldn’t have been enough to fix him. “I adore them too,” he whispered.
“I know you do.” Rone was silent for a long moment, then said, “How do you feel about me?”
Cas’s heart felt like it wanted to shrivel in his chest. Why, why did truthfulness have to feel like being flayed alive? “You can’t want me, not really.”
“Please don’t tell me what I want. I know what I want. I need to know how you feel about all this, Cas.”
“You don’t love me.” More tears leaked out, this time trickling down into his hairline. “If you loved anyone, it was Beren, not me. That’s understandable, that’s reasonable, and the fact that I love you shouldn’t enter into any decision you make about me. I knew what I was getting into when I lied to you. I used you, and I’ll be sorry about that for as long as I live, but I can’t regret it.”
“So you do love me,” Rone murmured. “I thought so, but you’re such a good actor I couldn’t be sure.”
Best to spell it out, then. Cas turned and looked Rone in the eyes. “I love you. But I don’t deserve you, or any part of your life.”
Rone touched his face again, smoothing a fingertip over the arch of his eyebrows, then down his nose. “When I married you, I knew exactly what I was getting into.”
“You couldn’t possibly have—”
“Complicated,” Rone interjected. “I knew I was getting complicated. We were always going to be complicated, whether you were Beren or Cas, phage-carrier or simple refugee. As far as I’m concerned, nothing has changed. We’re still complicated, and I still want you in my life more than I’ve ever wanted another person, apart from the kids.”
Cas felt light-headed, aching and empty and yet somehow, welling up with shivery, frightening hope. “How can it even be possible?” he asked. “Us, I mean? Now?”
“I’m not sure yet,” Rone said. “But I know I’m not going to give you up without a fight, not unless you’re done with me.”
Cas smiled. “You better get ready for the fight of your life, then.”
Rone leaned in and kissed him, soft and sweet, a promise more than anything else. “I’m ready.”

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