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Written for 14 valentines challenge, theme "Gender"

The Commander does not have nightmares. He is not afraid of anything, so how could he? The night Yelena crosses the border, safely out of his jurisdiction, beyond the reach of his execution order, he wakes with no breath in his throat, the feel of claws over the skin of his heart. He opens his eyes, knowing, knowing that he has left the icy climes--and the cat--behind. The cat is dead. At her hand. He forces a deep breath, his chest heavier than it has been since she walked away from the cat, blood on her hands, her face. The breath catches in his lungs and he releases it. When it has gone, his chest is a familiar weight, once again.


At the time, out there on the climes, the wind so sharp Ambrosia fully expected her skin to be stripped from her in one easy gust, it had seemed as though the cat understood. It had given her the gift, had it not? The Commander does not think about whether it was the right choice. The people are free of their king. They eat and they work and if they have less freedoms than some claim to have, he cannot say that he does not consider their safety and health to have been an appropriate exchange.

Ambrosia, though, caught in the places where the Commander is safest, his guardian of mind, and perhaps even his inner killer--she thinks about it, from time to time. If there is such a difference between her and the Commander, then how is it that the Commander is served by women as faithfully and to the same extent that he is by men? These murmurs of thought would not matter--it is the Commander who controls things, who keeps them in a state of balance, except that Ambrosia saves him. (She saves Ixia, really, as who would have the strength to hold it once the Commander was gone, with no heir apparent? They would fight themselves to the death, leaving the people with nothing.)

It is hard for anyone, even the Commander, who is so very good at setting his mind to a task and never looking back, to ignore a hero of such magnitude.


It feels good to slip into Signe's skin, and that's a surprise. The Commander never expected to want to return to the things he had left behind, the person, but then, he hadn't precisely left her behind. He had simply...let her freeze, caught in the snow and time and the far reaches of his mind.

Signe hasn't the power of the Commander, but certainly she has a control of her own, a recognition and respect that can hardly go unnoticed.

Valek treats her differently, but that has nothing to do with her skin or her hair or her eyes. It has to do with Valek, and his own code. He would have killed Yelena. The thought causes Signe's chest to ache. The Commander made the right decision in that instance. Although he cannot say why, he needs Yelena nearly as much as Valek, if in a wholly different way. She provides balance that he has forgotten. She reveals the places inside him he should have never hidden.


"You don't need a spy," Yelena says, and the Commander is pretty sure she is wrong, but he listens, because like Valek, she doesn't speak if she hasn't anything to say. It is why they make sense together, regardless of the mess it makes of his life.

He needs a liaison, she says, someone who sympathizes with both North and South to tie the two together, make them communicate. He feels himself slide from Signe into his own being, the being he has come to be so familiar with, so comfortable with. Yelena sees the switch, but does not say anything. The Commander supposes there is not much to say. They both live with boundaries inside themselves, boundaries that need be crossed to get anything done.

Yelena, he sometimes thinks, handles the barriers with more ease, more understanding. But then, he cannot see inside Yelena's mind as she can see in his. It is possible his supposition is wrong. It is possible he does not understand her at all. He thinks Ambrosia does. Ambrosia was the one to stand on the ice with blood on her hands. Cat or human, Ambrosia knows what it is to kill or be killed.

He will let Yelena slip between the lines, define new spaces for Ixia and Sitia. She might be right--they might both need a liaison. The Commander, though, needs someone who knows where the lines are--and how to ignore them.

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Skin by egelantier, photo by microbophile