Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Mutable: Chapter Thirty-One, Part One

Notes: The wrap-up begins! Let's visit a distantly-mentioned Delacoeurian now, living a safe, boring life on another planet. What did he do? What's he been doing? What does he get now? *hint--he gets more than he can handle*

Title: Mutable: Chapter Thirty-One, Part One


Chapter Thirty-One, Part One

Jasen Pendry/Holden Kaske

The arrival of the Imperian vessel in the city of Jannisah was all anyone had talked about for the past three days. They had bypassed the larger cities, including the continental capitol, for talks in Jannisah! How peculiar, how daring, how flattering! The prime minister was meeting with the Imperians here—word was that the prince himself was on board the ship!

“I heard he’s been exiled from his own planet,” Sumi Shaw told her psychologist, Holden Kaske, during her court-mandated half-hour appointment. Thirty minutes, every week, to make sure she was still following the corrective measures she’d been given after her last episode. Dr. Kaske was the only psychologist in the entire town who would work with her—it was because he was a foreigner, people whispered. He couldn’t be expected to know how awful the things she’d done were—how could he? He came from a place where people lived in caves! It was hard to offend the sun when you never saw it.

“I heard he tried to kill his brother after the king fell in love with the prince’s new husband,” Sumi Shaw went on, fingers excitedly twisting the silk trim on the pillow she clutched in her lap. “Can you imagine such a forbidden love? What could a husband do, stand idly by while he watched his heart be stolen away by his own brother? Of course not, but how could he act against his king? It would make a very puzzling story.”

Doctor Kaske smiled narrowly. “I’m more interested in your own story, Sumi. Have you been trying the visualization exercises I talked with you about last time?”

“Oh, some,” she said airily, waving a hand in a vague circle. “They’re quite hard for me to understand, honestly. I like things to be simple. If I were in charge of the story of the prince and his husband, I would have had the prince killed for his disloyalty and the husband sent into exile. We must always show our proper deference to our rulers, even when they steal our hearts.”

“Sumi…” Doctor Kaske was saved from having to keep himself from strangling his patient by the gentle chime that signaled the end of their session. “Keep working on those visualization exercises, please. Try to put this Imperian visit out of your mind. They’ll be gone soon enough.”

“Perhaps,” she said as she pushed to her feet. “Perhaps not. The prince’s children are from Shiva, did you know? New Kolkata, I believe. He’ll probably be heading there next. It’s very exciting!”

“It certainly is. Goodbye, Sumi.” Doctor Kaske waited for her to close the door before tugging off his spectacles, setting them on his knee, and rubbing the bridge of his nose in pure irritation.

How many years was he supposed to spend wasting his time in this backwater town? He’d try to appeal to his probation officer again—five years in the sticks was far too long to need to prove himself an able citizen. He was barely through a single year of it, and he already wanted to strangle half of his insipid patients. He was meant for more, and in a bigger city he could become more again—meet the right people, extend his influence, double down on his status as an exotic refugee to improve his lifestyle.

Perhaps he would marry again…or maybe not. Trina had died in Shyne, too slow to get to the transport out in time, too slow to meet the terms of their bargain with the Leelingers. Jasen hadn’t been able to convince their transport to wait, although in truth he hadn’t tried too hard. Trina had been a simple woman, content to rule over a hole in the ground. Jasen had always been meant for greater things.

Holden, damn it. Remember, it’s always Holden here. It was an elementary precaution, and one he was determined to stick with, even though it was impossible that anyone from his past life would ever find him here. He’d come to Shiva to start over. He had to give up everything he’d ever been before, in order to make that happen.

Holden tapped in his final notes, turned his secretarial office bot off, and left the tower that housed his third-floor, two-room office. It was raining outside—again, why did Shiva have to have a monsoon season that lasted half the damn year—so instead of walking the kilometer back to his apartment, Holden stepped onto a bus, flashing his ID to verify that it was taking him in the direction he needed to go. Shiva was very inflexible when it came to the movements of its citizens—control was more important to the people in charge than personal freedom, and any deviation from your normal schedule had to be petitioned and scheduled at least a week in advance to be approved, or no public transport would take you. Very few personal transportation vehicles were allowed, and walking would only get you so far before you tired out or the cameras caught you and patrollers were dispatched to put you back in line—literally. If there had been anything good at all about Shyne, it was the fact that there was no surveillance.

Holden departed the bus in front of his apartment building, another multi-level monstrosity, but at least one where he was lucky enough to get an apartment on the ground floor. He shook his raincoat off at the front entrance, walked down the hall to his place and glanced over at the freshly-painted door across from his, where a new tenant was supposed to take residence within the next day or so. They better not cook laas every evening like the last one. It was laas season, and Holden had had it up to here with the stench of the fermented vegetable drink that was so popular.

He wearily waved his ID in front of his door and walked in, shutting it behind himself with another sigh. It took nearly three seconds for him to realize that he wasn’t alone, and by the time he did it was too late to scream.

Not that he didn’t try.

“So slow,” a voice whispered in his ear as a thick piece of cloth descended over his face, obscuring his breathing and his vision while it pulled him into an arch. Holden tried to lash out with his hands, to strike back at his attacker, but he grasped nothing but air as he was pulled backward into an arch—until his head impacted the floor with a thud, leaving him dazed. He rolled over onto his stomach to try and push up onto his hands and knees, but the cloth moved with him, wrapping him up even tighter as he shifted, and a heavy weight settled into the small of his back, pinning him. Holden’s shoulders were off the ground, his neck twisted back almost too far to breathe, and the cloth was so thick he couldn’t see through it. He tried to scream, but a hand clapped down over his mouth before he could get out more than a whimper.

“There’s no one to hear you,” his attacker said calmly. “Even if you did scream. Your apartment is at the end of the hall, your next-door-neighbor is at work, and as for the new arrival across the hall…well, that’s me. And I think it’s quite clear that I don’t care about the noises you make.”

“Please,” Holden tried to say, clear enough even though it was garbled against the man’s palm. “Please, please, please…”

“You want to try begging?” There was a brief pause, and then a sigh. “All right. I guess it’s fair to let you have your say.” He moved his hand, and the words poured out of Holden like a waterfall.

“Please, I’m—I’m not trouble, I’m not any trouble for anyone here, I’m just a—a refugee, I swear! Not a member of any of the gangs, I just do my job and come home and do my job and come home again!”

“So you do,” his attacker agreed. “You live a very monotonous life here on Shiva. Is it what you thought you’d get, Jasen? When you betrayed your people? When you sold your leadership over an entire city of Delacoeurians for a chance at another existence? Is this what you thought you’d get?” The voice moved closer, until it was right next to his ear. “Because I have to say, Mister Mayor, all things considered I think you got more out of Shyne.”

Mayor…Jasen… “Are you Delacoeurian?” he choked out. “Oh, I—I’m glad, I am, I’ve missed my people so much, I can’t even tell…and I didn’t betray us! It was all Marigo, she’s the one who practically invited the Leelingers in!”

“And she’s going to pay too,” the voice said agreeably. “But I know you, Jasen, and I know what happened in Shyne, and I know that you’re the one who told them how to strike, and where. Marigo might have cleared the way, but she couldn’t have done that without your help. So I suggest you relax now, and think of something that makes you happy.”

“What?” Holden—Jasen—god, what was his own name again? The weight on his back increased, arching him harder. “No! Listen to me, there’s money to be made here, I can help you, I can—”

Crack! Jasen Pendry’s neck broke without fanfare, and his attacker conscientiously sat on top of him and help his broken position a while longer, just to make sure there was no chance of the man reviving. Then he got to his feet, removed the soft cloth from around Jasen’s neck, and checked for bruises. Nothing obvious. He moved the desk chair closer, then tipped it on its side. It would look like Jasen had fallen while adjusting one of the vents on the ceiling. Lovely.

He adjusted his disguise, then walked out the door and down the hall, back outside. The cameras caught him moving, and briefly tried to follow him, but between one block and the next, he vanished into the press of vehicles and was gone.

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.”