AN: Thank you to forsweatervests for an extremely thorough beta, and for making this story something I could post, which it was NOT in its first draft. Thanks to egelantier for a final read-through. Being used for my "forced marriage" square on hc_bingo.
Jessica summoned Harvey formally, which was his first indication that something was wrong. Certainly, Harvey was her First, at her beck and call, but they’d known each other long before her Ascension, when she was a gangly teenager sporting unruly hair and a fire in her eyes that outburned the Central Flame. He’d been at her side as she scrabbled to her position, fierce and brave and somehow compassionate. Which was to say, when Jessica needed him, she sent a Whisper and he came; she didn’t draft a Call.
Only, this time, she had.
The Call was run from the Central Hall, upon the highest terrace, down to the midlands, where Harvey lived. He’d already left the Hall for the day, intent upon finishing up at home.
Harvey, in response, dressed himself in full court dress and made his way to her quickly, but not rushing. It was not far from his midland terrace home back up to the Hall, and there was more than one bridge connecting the two. Once he was in the Hall, noting the presence of others, he gave a half-bow and formally addressed Jessica. “You Called, my Liege.”
The Hall was still full of late-day light. At this point in the season, despite the planet’s distance from all three Light Bearers, the light would still last until well after the close of the working day. It was only slightly past that time. Chaisse was not a planet of darkness, not even in the darkest of cycles.
The Hall was circular, as were the terraces, and almost everything of import upon Chaisse. Jessica’s seated dome had pride of place in the middle. The smooth lines of the dome rippled blue-gray, serene and austere. She was wearing full regal apparel, which, unlike the natural, breezy lines of every-day wear, molded to her, falling to the floor rather than cutting off at the knee. She had ceremonial stones in her hair, polished but dull, woven in amongst a complicated up-do of carefully placed swirls.
Jessica stood from the dome and pressed her hands to her chest in formal recognition. “Your Response is noted and appreciated, First.”
“I extend my services,” Harvey intoned. Formalities bored him, but he’d be roasted alive over giving a hint of impropriety between them. Her skin tone marked her as not purely of Chaisse, a half-child of Ebran, three moons over. Because of this, despite her matrilineal line of right to rule, she had fought to maintain control more than once. While Harvey had no trouble allowing others to know he was a favorite if it suited him, he would do nothing to suggest she was not wise and fair, everything a leader in her role should be.
“I accept them,” she responded, and then waved her scepter. “Leave us.”
When her command had been obeyed, Harvey made his way to the Center Dias, where she still stood, one hand on the Seat of Rule, as though she held it up, or perhaps, now that they were in private, the other way around. “Jess?”
Her mouth twisted, not very Queen-like, but very Jessica-like. “The Rhodrinne have come to the table. You have succeeded.”
Harvey liked to preen and all, but Jessica did not generally feel the need to help him with that. There was something more happening. “Why are we here, then? Like this?”
“They added a provision.”
Harvey stilled. He’d been point on the peace talks since day one, so he knew what an addition meant. He’d known in his gut it would come down to this. The Rhodrinne were too traditional for anything else. “Contractual Binding.”
She pressed her lips together. “They’re insisting that it be you. I believe it is an issue of the known light-swallower,” she said, using an old Chaisse saying about trusting known quantities, even if they were not, at heart, very trustworthy. “They seem to believe you see them as equals, something they do not believe of all Chaissen.” They shared a look, because, in truth, the Rhodrinne could not be blamed. Chaissens held their prejudices dear in this instance. After a second she continued, pursing her lips, “I should order you to do so. I find myself unwilling, however, even for the sake of peace.”
Desperately needed peace; the knowledge settled unspoken between them. “Is she at least pretty?”
Jessica looked torn between amusement and annoyance. “She is a Valkyrn by the name of Mik’ael.”
“The Valkyrns are all-- Oh.” Harvey spent a couple of minutes reordering his thoughts. He knew Jessica would give him the time. Finally, when he could manage nonchalance, he shrugged. “Is he pretty?”
The Valkyrn—winged warriors—were the last of a dying breed that had protected the planet and the people of Rhodrinne since time immemorial. The belief was that they had originally been one of the Rhodrinneian tribes, and something—conditions, sorcery, nobody knew—had caused the wing mutation. In any case, they were the physically superior species, named by the Rhodrinne after they repelled the first threat, a long-dead empire with the intention of enslaving the Rhodrinne. The two species had grown less fond of each other at some point, perhaps during the long conflict with Chaisse, the Valkyrn predominantly warriors, and the Rhodrinne almost entirely trades and craft people, as well as educators and, occasionally, diplomats.
Then, recently, the women of the Valkyrn species had begun succumbing to a virus nobody had been able to stop, causing the wheels for peace between Harvey’s people, the Chaissen, and the Rhodrinne to start turning after well over a century of war. Nobody living could remember how the war had started; any presumed reason was little more than myth.
“I have not seen him,” Jessica admitted, her expression tight, drawn, almost. “We can arrange—“
“No,” Harvey immediately shook his head, keeping his focus on the details of the situation, of what needed to be done to garner the peace they’d both put everything into.. “They’ll take it as an insult.”
“I am not agreeing blindly.”
“Correct. You are not. I am.”
“It’s my choice, Jess. You said so.” Harvey took a deep breath. The loss of his family, his father when Harvey was just seven, his younger brother in the conflict three years earlier still filled him with purpose, the need to protect Jessica, and that which he considered to be his. “And I choose to accept.”
After a long moment, Jessica nodded. “I accept your service, My First.” And then, softer, friend- to-friend she whispered: “Thank you, my friend.”
Donna raised one eyebrow, silent, when Harvey stood from his favorite chair in his personal study, the room being one of the spots the villa had been built around. The chair was covered in an ever-regenerating rise of moss and earth which molded itself to Harvey’s position even as it strained up to the light coming through the glass-dome ceiling. He ignored her and headed toward the closet, intent on changing his outfit again. Harvey sat back down. He gathered his thoughts and told her, “It’s only polite to meet one’s intended wearing something that denotes effort and respect.”
Donna was undeterred in her opinion, clearly. “The outfit you’re wearing—the second you’ve put on today, incidentally—costs more than the average Chaissen makes in a quarter’s period. Presuming it doesn’t come off as grossly materialistic, I think it will suffice.”
After that, Harvey forced himself to sit still and concentrate on the marriage contract. It was forty-seven pages long with cramped, miniscule writing. He’d received it the day before but was still making his way through the second half, and getting that far had involved not sleeping most of the previous night. Granted, he doubted he would have anyway. He was too anxious to make sure this worked: for Jessica, yes, but for all of them.
Donna had lost an arm in the war, years earlier, and been sidelined in her career as fighter pilot while she learned to use the cybernetic replacement it had taken three surgeries to fully integrate into her nervous system. By the time she’d been ready to return to the front lines a new generation of jets had been introduced and the training necessary for her to re-up was enough that the military requested she take honorable discharge. Harvey well knew she enjoyed running his life easily as much as she had being a fighter pilot, but all he had to do to remind himself just how much was at stake was look at where the replacement joint met living flesh. Without even looking up from the scheduling task she’d been at for the last hour she said, “Stop making me into some kind of living monument. You’re good-looking and still have part of a soul; he’ll consider himself lucky.”
Harvey knew for a fact that Donna had no interest in the male half of their species, but she had a more-than-adequate sense of aesthetics and Harvey had enough experience to know she was right, in the sense that his intended probably wouldn’t have an issue with Harvey’s physical appearance. He reminded himself that he didn’t care whether this Mik’ael had any interest in him, nor if he had any interest in Mik’ael. It was simply that it would make everything easier. But then, Harvey had dealt with complicated on more than one occasion and come out victorious.
Donna stood straight and looked up a bit so that they were eye-to-eye. Softly, she said, “This will work.”
Harvey took a deep breath. “It has to.”
For all the times Harvey had sat at the table with Rhodrinnes, for all the people Harvey had lost to the war, for all of himself he had lost to it, he had never seen a Valkyrn up close before. Swooping down, raining terror, flying away, those motions he had glimpsed. But Harvey had been a foot soldier in his short career in the armed force of Chaisse, and the damage to his right shoulder had kept him from advancing far enough that he would have been a proper target for the elite Rhodrinne warriors.
Today, Harvey met his treaty-husband in one of the central Meeting Halls, rounded like all other rooms of significance on Chaisse. When Harvey entered, the one Valkyrn in the room was directly across from the entrance, a hand tracing along the organic surface of the room’s wall. Harvey’s first thought was that Mik’ael was a little small.
As soon as the Rhodrinne delegation realized Harvey was in the room, though, the wings that had been tucked tight to Mik’ael’s back rose up into what Harvey suspected was a formal stance. They were not spread, simply rising out from Mik’ael’s back, nearly half again his height and comprised of what must have been millions of feathers, all of them shades of burnished, coppery brown that complimented the sandy-blond of his hair nicely. Harvey wondered idly if all the Valkyrn’s had wings that matched their complexions.
It was hard to look away, or even to notice what Harvey normally would have—the toned quality of his upper body, displayed by the fitting top and empty weapons harness criss-crossing his chest. The emptiness of the harness was a sign that the delegation came to deal in peace. Mik’ael’s pants flowed, showing nothing of his legs, but Harvey had a feeling they were no less fit.
Harvey forced himself to concentrate. He gave a formal bow and intoned, “We welcome you with hands open and empty.”
It was an ancient greeting, back from when a hand with something in it usually meant someone was armed. The head Rhodrinne diplomat, Rach’el, met his gaze and responded, “We grasp your hands with ours.”
The fact that both cultures had similar greetings and it had taken very little time to fall into regular formalized greetings between them suggested to Harvey that whatever had happened between their peoples, it had probably come from being too similar, and having mutually exclusive desires, rather than serious differences in viewpoint. Harvey suspected, from all the history he had read, that one of the Clans had stumbled into some type of trading dispute with Chaissen merchants and things had devolved from there into a war that had become more about the fact that all people could remember was war, rather than any particular reason.
When the formalities had been squared away, Mik’ael stepped in closer and held out his hands. Harvey had told himself a million times over not to hesitate in this moment. All the same, he felt the slowness in his movements, even if nobody else in the room would see it. Jessica, had she been present for this first meeting, would have. But someone, perhaps Mik’ael himself, had insisted there be no leadership present, just those involved: the two diplomats, and Mik’ael.
At the touch of their hands, Harvey felt a jolt of something, maybe interest, or excitement, or perhaps just intense relief that this might work. Mik’ael was beautiful in his own right; even without the majesty of the wings there was the soft symmetry of his face, the sharp shine of his eyes. And Harvey liked beautiful, liked fierce. Harvey wasn’t worried about Mik’ael’s fierceness. It was starkly evident in the scar that cut through the left side of his jaw. There was further evidence of it in the slightly odd way Mik’ael closed his hand around Harvey’s, suggesting incomplete healing of a severe break.
Then Mik’ael grinned and said, “Well, at least you’re not old enough to have nested me.”
Harvey blinked. Then he noticed the relief hinted at in the tired lines pulling just a bit at Mik’ael’s eyes. Harvey knew the signs of diplomats willing to come to the table, and those who had no intention of dealing. Mik’ael wasn’t a diplomat, and warriors gave off different signals, but all the same, Harvey could see where Mik’ael was trying, the way he wanted this to work, same as Harvey. Harvey smiled slightly. “And you’re not young enough that I’ll be forced to sing you lullabies at night.”
They take a walk, leaving Rach’el in the sumptuously appointed meeting room to walk along the Painted Ridge, one of Harvey’s peoples' natural wonders. The terraced hills that hosted the palace showcased silt of hundreds of hues. When viewed from afar it was as if looking at the universe’s largest and most exquisite jewel.
Mik’ael, though, said, “All this space to fly and nobody to appreciate it.”
Harvey noticed how Mik'ael's wings seemed to almost ripple, as if in anticipation. He looked at the expanse of sky and wondered, not for the first time, what it would be like to soar over these hills, see the picture not from afar, but from above. “Our mechanisms of flight aren’t quite so intuitive as yours.”
“Would you like to try it?” The question was pitched so casually, Harvey had to look over to see if he was seriously being offered a chance to fly. Mik’ael had his eyebrow cocked in gentle challenge, his wings somehow riled, the feathers at odd angles.
Harvey asked, “They support that much weight?”
It was then that Mik’ael snapped them open, away from his back and wide, as though to catch a draft. Harvey couldn’t help the look of awe that he knew he wore. The wings spanned almost double a man’s height in each direction from Mik’ael’s body. Underneath the gold-brown feathers that gave them their beauty, Harvey could see the tensile strength in the musculature, the ever-so-fine bones that gave them their shape.
Mik’ael did not repeat his offer, nor his challenge, just held out a hand. Harvey looked at the drop, even from where they were, to the valley. Then he looked back to Mik’ael and asked, “How will this work best for you?”
Mik’ael asked softly, “Are you willing to turn your back to me?”
It went against years of training. It went against the instincts of six-year-old Harvey, threatened, like every Chaissen child, by tales of Valkyrn monsters, made ever scarier to get him to behave. It went against everything his people believed. He turned his back.
Mik’ael’s breath was warm against the line of Harvey’s jaw, his arms incomprehensibly strong in their grip over Harvey’s chest. He said, “Fear takes the fun out of it.”
Harvey managed, “Easy for you to say.”
Mik’ael counted, “One, two, three,” and pushed both of them right off the edge of the terrace.
They fell first, fast and harsh against the air rising up to meet them, and Harvey, who had previously been telling himself not to be paranoid, allowed his panic over the thought that this had been a plot all along to swell up in the second before Mik’ael snapped his wings open and the current pulled them up, almost as quickly and sickeningly as they had plunged. It took a second, but they leveled out, the air cold, sharp and so, so loud in Harvey’s ear.
Mik’ael shouted, “Sorry. If I tell people, they aren’t willing to try.”
Harvey could see the logic in that, and now that his heart wasn’t about to spontaneously stop, he could appreciate Mik’ael skipping the details so he could be here, weaving above the palace, seeing things he’d seen his whole life in a way that made them look entirely different. Mik’ael’s arms were sturdy, holding Harvey perfectly in place, and Harvey realized then just how physically powerful Mik’ael must be, far stronger than his looks suggested.
Mik’ael canted downward, but Harvey felt the restraint with which he managed it. Harvey would have to thank him later. As it was, the rush of wind across his face was intense and Harvey closed his eyes against it, just feeling the movement. There was something pure in it, something he’d surely never associated with a people he’d been taught to think of as nothing more than “the enemy” since before he could remember.
Mik’ael took them higher, and Harvey began to feel the chill of their elevation. Mik’ael was warm at his back, everywhere he was holding Harvey. To his surprise, Harvey felt the stirrings of arousal. The last time he’d considered another man in that way Harvey had been little more than a child, and the man in question would be dead within a year, just another casualty in an endless string of them.
Harvey looked down at the castle, a feat of engineering and architecture, a jewel among his people’s accomplishments. It reminded him what he was doing here, that maybe it was not such a bad thing for him to feel something physical for this man. He doubted the two of them would ever find comfort in each other emotionally.
Mik’ael took the descent slowly, but even so, touching down was intense, the impact reverberating through Harvey’s body. Back on the ground, Mik’ael seemed to lose much of the confidence that Harvey had felt in him while they were flying. He ran a hand through his hair and tucked his wings against his back once more. “It’s, ah, it’s been a while, since I’ve taken anyone up. I forgot to mention that landing takes some getting used to.”
Harvey tilted his head, remembering they’d sent a warrior, not a diplomat. Harvey understood that in some ways, doing so was a display of strength. But warriors very rarely thought about what they said before they said it. Harvey went with his instincts and asked, “Why did you take me up?”
Mik’ael blinked at Harvey. “I wanted to see your home. It probably would have screwed up the negotiations to leave you on the ground.”
“You could have just asked permission,” Harvey said, testing.
“Because I’m sure that wouldn’t have made me seem like a spy, or anything.” Mik’ael paled, his wings coming around his body before he forced them back.
Harvey wondered what the kid thought they did to suspected spies. He asked, “Are you?”
Mik’ael’s expression burned through Harvey. “Nearly everyone I have ever loved has died on or over your soil. I’m tired of the war.”
Harvey made himself set aside Mik’ael’s words, his emotions and press, “So why did you take me up? The enemy. Why give me that?”
“To see if you’d trust me,” Mik’ael snapped, and then stiffened. After a second, he asked sullenly, “Why did you agree?”
Harvey smiled. “Because you offered.”
Mik'ael held out, his suspicion a living thing for a moment, then he nodded, sharp and decisive, and turned to walk back to the palace.
Harvey had always assumed that if he ever settled down, he would hire someone who handled joining ceremonies professionally and let that person take care of it. However, since he was both part of the wedding ceremony and an architect of the peace process it finalized, he ended up having to do things like make sure nobody ended up at a table wherein they were likely to begin a food fight.
The ceremony was to take place on neutral ground, the neighboring district of Durienne, which had managed to keep its peace with both the Chaissen and Rhodrinne throughout history. The spot was nothing more than an open plain, but between Harvey and Rach’el, it would be dressed appropriately for an event that was both celebratory and, at heart, a crucial step toward a finalized treaty. Harvey had the feeling that even the blades of grass would be adorned with ceremonial garb by the time the day of the wedding rolled around.
Jessica mostly reserved her last word privileges for things that truly mattered and stayed out of the planning as best possible. Harvey worked with her to make sure the security was airtight, since they both were aware of factions that opposed the marriage. Some were old-fashioned national purists, other war opportunists, but either way, they were not taking any chances.
The Rhodrinne leadership body—a ruling clan of sort—told Rach’el she had full leave to do as she saw fit. Rach’el confided one day, “This latest group, they are brilliantly practical, but they’re ocean-borns.” She’d hesitated. “Of all the clans, those that are ocean-born are the least comfortable with modern Rhodrinne customs. They are asking, as a conceit, that Mik'ael attend to the most long-lived of the Valkyrn joining customs.”
Ocean-born was a Rhodrinne term for the clans on the furthest edges of their territory, those edged with nothing but endless ocean. Ocean-borns were often incredible fighters, but very rarely fully integrated into centralized Rhodrinne society. The fact that one had been elevated to leadership status spoke to how very ready the Rhodrinne were for a change. In that, Harvey could hardly blame them. He asked, "Is there anything I should be prepared for? Words I need to know?"
Rach'el shook her head. "Mik'ael will know what to do. In that aspect, all you need is to show up."
Occasionally Mik’ael would accompany Rach’el and was asked to weigh in on certain decorative or functional concerns. By the fourth time, he pulled Harvey to the side and asked, “Do you really want this joining to work?”
Harvey couldn’t help the fury that rolled through him, but he had not been a diplomat nearly his entire adult life for nothing. He replied tersely, “You aren’t the only one who lost people.”
Mik’ael drew a deep breath, and it was only then that Harvey saw what he should have noticed right away, would have if he’d been paying proper attention: Mik’ael was shaking with pent-up tension, his wings folded back and still managing to quiver. Harvey frowned. Without being entirely sure it was proper—Valkyrn culture had just enough differences from lowland Rhodrinne to make things tricky—Harvey placed his hand lightly on Mik’s shoulder. “Have we made some sort of insult to your people?”
“I’m useless at this, Ambassador. You want someone to scout from three sky-lengths away? I’m your Valkyrn. Want someone to memorize and decode messages? Me again. Someone to be your weapon in the heat of battle? Yes. Plan a joining? I—“ Mik’ael’s words seem to visibly tangle, twist inside his chest, causing his breath to catch. Harvey noticed, however, that he did not pull away.
“All right,” Harvey said, and swallowed back the feeling of terror that came back to him occasionally, the echoes of the sounds, smells, sights and sensations of his last battle.
Mik’ael looked doubtful. “Really?”
“Can you be trusted to choose something appropriate to wear?”
Mik’ael smiled sharply, something Harvey couldn't understand hidden in the expression. “Not in the least, but our ambassador already assigned a team to me. They’re terrifying,” he confided.
“Be on time,” Harvey warned, letting whatever Mik'ael was hiding go. He was fairly certain the other man would tell him if it was something important. "And use your telwrap if you need to get hold of me before then."
“Thank you,” Mik’ael said, quiet and sincere, tapping his finger against the Chaissen communication device wound over his neck and under his jaw. Harvey felt a surge of empathy for the other man, younger than him, forced into proceedings he’d never been trained to handle, let alone play a significant role in.
Harvey said, “Go, spy on us from so high all I can see is the line of your wings.”
Mik’ael snapped his wings out. “Higher, if I have anything to say about it.”
Harvey was nothing if not thorough, so it shook him to his very core to realize upon meeting Mik’ael in the Joining Circle, that he’d never even thought to look into of what a traditional Valkryn joining outfit consisted. Mik’ael wore a loose pair of pants, tied at his waist. That was all.
His chest, arms and face were painted in multiple hues of gold and blue, clan-based patterns that Harvey recognized from his earlier anthropological studies, but he could not have said what they meant or to which clan they belonged. Adorned in them, though, his wings loose enough to fall over his shoulders, if not spread wide, Mik’ael looked like something out of the Great ‘Venture stories Jessica’s mother had always told Jessica and Harvey at bedtime.
Harvey swallowed and reminded himself where he was and what he was about to do. He held out his hand in ceremonial fashion. Mik’ael responded likewise, and the two met in the middle of the Circle. Harvey’s muscle memory took over at that point. He was glad he had trained himself in the Rites of Binding because they were complicated and it was easier to do if he could drown out the eerily silent gathering of long enemies surrounding them. He purposely buried his confusing response to the embodiment of that enemy in front of him, paying attention only to the choice he was making, following through on, in that moment.
Jessica and a member of the Rhodrinne’s ruling clan, chosen for this duty, approached and finished the Binding to cement the peace accords. Harvey met Mik’ael’s eyes for a moment, the two leaders circling them, and felt the insane urge to laugh. He saw an echoing sentiment in Mik’ael’s gaze. Bound against Mik’ael too close for breathing to come easily, Harvey caught his breath.
Mik’ael was either a cheap drunk or just not used to the kind of spirits being served, because it took less than an hour for him to turn to Harvey and inform him solemnly, “You should call me Myk. People who like me do. And we’re Joined.”
All the syllables were a little more drawn out than necessary, and Mik’ael—Myk?—was making a motion with his hands that was probably meant to intimate their new civil status, but Harvey could not imagine in what way. Rhodrinne separated their clan-origination from their personal identification by apostrophe. Myk would be personal, the ‘ael a marker of his clan affiliation. What Myk was offering was significant. Mollifyingly, Harvey said, “Myk, then.”
Myk blinked at him and told him earnestly, “Valkyrns don’t drink. Well, we-- We have our own drinks. And even then, we’re-- It’s rare.”
Harvey knew that there was a cultural preference among the warriors to keep their bodies free of what they saw as poisons, but he hadn’t realized it probably extended, at least a little, to alcohol. “Maybe you should slow down.”
Harvey and Myk looked at each other. Myk lifted an eyebrow, the other eyebrow following it up in his somewhat sodden state. Harvey said, “I’ll go get the next round.”
When he returned, having taken his time, stopped to attend to diplomatic formalities with more than a few of the Rhodrinne Counsel, Myk was speaking to someone, another Valkyrn, broader and darker than he was. Harvey handed Myk the full glass when he was close enough and Myk said, “Harvey, my oldest friend T’mas. He hates you and all you stand for and highly suspects I will have to kill you to keep from being violated by you.”
“Pleasure,” Harvey told him.
T’mas’s smile was all teeth. “Same.”
Harvey wandered off and gave them some space, returning when T’mas had left. Myk’s expression was unapologetic. “His childhood sweetheart and mom died in the plague. His dad died fighting.”
“We didn’t cause the plague,” Harvey said. It was a weak defense, but true.
“No,” was all Myk said, seeming infinitely exhausted by the simple admission.
“Fair’s fair, come meet my closest friends.”
“I only got one,” Myk pointed out.
“You can have more later,” Harvey reassured him. Myk must have accepted that, since he followed Harvey over to where Donna and Jessica were conversing.
Harvey showed formal obeisance to Jessica, murmuring, “My Liege.”
She smiled indulgently. “The ceremony was well done, First.”
“I’d like you to meet the newest member of your Advisory.” That had been part of the Treaty, that Harvey’s partner be allowed a say in Chaissen policy. Of course, Harvey gained a reciprocal right.
“We met briefly,” Jessica said, but extended both her hands in traditional Chaissen fashion. Myk looked unsure of what to do, so Harvey lightly guided his hands to their proper spot. Jessica said, “Welcome, Myk’ael.”
When Jessica disengaged, Donna held out her hand, the biotech one, and gave Myk a once over. Despite the chill in her glance, Myk seemed more at home with her greeting. Harvey understood. He said, “Donna, Myk, Myk, Donna.”
After a moment of uncomfortable silence, when Harvey was about to start up the small talk that was a life skill in diplomacy, Donna said, “I could use another drink.”
Myk laughed, a burst of surprised mirth, but then real laughter underneath, even if it was strained. Before he knew it, Harvey found himself laughing as well, meeting Donna’s eyes as she bit back her own laughter. Jessica didn’t bother. Harvey could practically hear her saying, my royal fucking prerogative.
Because the Rhodrinne delegation had insisted on the Joining, Jessica had made it clear Harvey and Myk would be spending their first seven cycles—one half a turning—on Chaisse. She had granted a new property to Harvey as an official Joint residence, and it was there that he and Myk went when the celebration wound down enough for them to slip out.
It was not particularly cold on Chaisse, not yet, but Rhodrin boasted a much more mild climate, and Harvey could see Myk was more than a little chilled. Harvey lit a fire and asked, “You pack any shirts?”
Myk’s belongings, or at least those he wanted with him on Chaisse, had been delivered to the residence earlier, but Harvey had left it all sealed in its containers. Myk scanned the writing on each chest and opened the correct one to pull out a shirt. Harvey brushed off his tinge of disappointment with annoyance. “I could make some molu.”
Myk looked confused. It occurred to Harvey that while Rach’el generally asked for some, he wasn’t certain it was all that common on Rhodrin. Heated drink. It’s somewhat bitter, somewhat spiced.”
Myk shrugged. “Worth a try.”
Harvey took comfort in the motions of making the drink, something he did nearly every morning, and most evenings. He poured it equally into two mugs and brought one to Myk, who was sitting in the chair nearest to the fire. Myk murmured, “Thanks.”
Harvey sat in the chair across from Myk and took a sip. After a moment, Myk said, “This is good. Can you teach me to make it?”
“It’s not hard,” Harvey said, by way of agreement.
There was a silence that was neither comfortable nor awkward, just a state of being. Then Myk asked, “You fought, right?”
Harvey’s shoulder twinged and he nodded, looking at Myk. Myk continued at the affirmation: “You know how, before a battle, sometimes even for days, the anticipation of the unknown can put you on edge, make you want to run even though you know you need to conserve energy?”
“Yes,” Harvey said simply. It was weird to think just how universal that experience might be.
“I haven’t slept for days,” Myk told him.
Harvey considered the analogy. Then he admitted, “I haven’t been my most restful.”
“After the battle, you always want to lie down, right there on the field or the hill or whatever and just sleep until you wake up, like maybe things will be different, then.”
Harvey looked at the fire. Finally he said, “Things are different.”
“I’m tired,” was all Myk said in response. Harvey couldn’t blame him; he was too.
Before they separated to change out of their ceremonial garb into something more sleep-appropriate, Myk got a strangely sheepish look on his face. Harvey arched an eyebrow. “Something on your mind?”
“Can you put on that weirdly blank look you get when you’re negotiating terms?”
“I prefer to think of that look as mild and non-judgmental,” Harvey told him, but did as requested.
“I know this isn’t a real Joining, at least not in the sense of either of us having chosen each other.”
Harvey caught the hesitation at the end of the sentence. “But?”
“It’s…” Myk looked away for a second and then forced his gaze back. “Valkyrns have a tradition of their new mate washing them free of the Joining Design.”
Harvey looked at the swirls and patterns spread broadly over Myk’s chest, back, bridging his shoulders and down his arms, gracing his face. “Oh.”
Myk's wings were folded as tightly as they could be against his back, almost as though he was trying to draw them into himself. “You don’t have—“
“I’d be honored,” Harvey interrupted.
Myk didn’t relax at the acceptance. After a second he said, “There’s not much left of us. Soon there probably won’t be anything.”
Even having knowing Valkyrn traditions were at best nearly impossible to discover, Harvey wished he’d tried a little harder. He’d mostly been worrying about mainstream Rhodrinne culture, not really understanding the type of lateral position the Valkyrn shared with the ruling clan. The little things mattered to Myk, though, that was certain, and for all the complicated feelings being in the same room with Myk stirred in Harvey, he was well aware they were in this together. It would make things immeasurably easier if they could respect each other, if nothing else.
Harvey asked, “How much do you know about the Accord?”
Myk blinked. “The one we just sealed with a kiss?”
Harvey quirked a smile. “The very one.”
Then Myk shrugged and, for the next few minutes, spewed forth a word-for-word rendition of the first draft of the Accord. When Myk had reached, “…parties shall see appendices for precise units of trade in agricultural and mechanical goods,” Harvey managed to recover from what could only be called shock and say, “That was the first draft.”
“Huh?” Myk asked.
“What you’re reciting, it was the first draft.” Then, “How many times did you read that drivel?”
“Once,” Myk said, waving a hand, like seventy-three sheaf Accords were the kind of thing everyone memorized on sight. “What were the changes?”
“Perfect recall,” Harvey said.
“Audial and visual,” Myk confirmed. “The changes?”
“Our scientists. They’re more advanced in biotech. We’re looking for a solution to the plague and the Valkyrn reproductivity issue.”
“Who—“ Myk stopped. “You made that change.”
“Rach’el was the one who gave me the idea, of sorts. She had a friend—“
“T’resa.” Myk’s eyes were dark, shielded, his wings having come up high, well over his shoulders. “She was one of the last. We all thought, maybe, but.” He swallowed.
“I can’t promise we’ll find the answer,” Harvey said softly. “But I can introduce you to our lead scientist on the project. She’ll probably want to talk to you anyway.”
Myk nodded tightly, his lips pressed together so hard they practically disappeared. Harvey said softly, “C’mon. Let’s get you cleaned up.”
Harvey had never been one to hesitate with a partner. There had been a short period of time, while he was recovering from the worst of his war wounds, when he’d been wary of baring himself to others, but never when he was uncertain of his touch, of what he could do with his hands. Now, at the most inconvenient of times, with his War Joint standing in front of him, all muscle and color, Harvey felt the stirrings of concern that he might do this wrong.
Myk said, “We don’t have—“
Harvey pulled the water spring and directed it through the heater, so that warm water spilled onto the hand towel he’d picked up. He turned to Myk. “If I do something wrong, you have to tell me.”
Harvey was glad for the separation the towel provided, however scant, as he made circles with it over the mass of Myk’s shoulder. Myk was too close as it was, tempting in a way that should have been normal for two person who had just Joined, tempting in a way that confused Harvey, even frightened him to some extent. Myk was still Rhodrinne, still Valkyrn.
But Myk was also flesh and blood, just like any Chaissen, and the scars that Harvey found as he carefully, fastidiously wiped away at the paint, did not detract from that. Rather, they seemed part of Myk, something of his personality, something that made the otherwise unblemished spaces more interesting.
Myk said, “You-- You don’t have to be so gentle.” He was breathing heavily, leaning back against the looking glass.
“No,” Harvey said, not entirely sure if he was agreeing or disagreeing, only sure that he would keep on just as he had. “No,” he said again, and re-wet the towel.
Lola scowled when Harvey walked into her lab, Myk at his side. She said, “I’m busy.”
“Nice to see you, too,” Harvey said mildly, and came near enough to kiss her cheek.
She wiped it right off, then turned to Myk, who was already watching her warily, but all she said was, “You’re Myk’ael.”
“You’re Dr. Jensen,” he told her.
She waved her hand broadly. “Lola. Unlike Harvey, I’m not stuck on titles.”
Myk blinked over at Harvey, who rolled his eyes. “The good doctor met me when I was much younger.”
“Ah,” Myk said, seemingly understanding. Then he turned back to Lola. “Can you do it? Can you fix the problem?”
She crossed her arms over her chest, her eyes dark with sympathy. Her voice, though, was even when she answered, “I don’t know. Your basic biology is not all that similar to either of the species I generally work on. I’ve been studying it for three years - since the talks began and I could get my hands on any information at all. The closest I’ve gotten to specimens that have physiology even close to you are the Treade. Their muscle mass and build is a good approximation for your race, but their metabolic rate is entirely different, and they simply don’t have the wings. I worked with a few Siszalians, because they do have the wings, but their build is completely different.” Lola’s breath of frustration blew the hair off her forehead. “But if it were simple someone would have already done it. And in this field of research, I’ve just gotten my feet wet.”
Myk nodded slowly. “Could I help?”
Lola considered the offer. “Yes. But it won’t be fun.”
“That’ll be a change from watching half my race die,” Myk said, somehow managing a trace of earnestness weaved into the rich irony of the response. Harvey felt the words like a surprise punch, his body not even tensed to protect itself.
Lola blinked, then. “You have a point.”
Myk just waited. After a second, Lola said, “Well. Okay. Mind if we get started?”
Myk looked at Harvey. “Did you need me?”
There were some final documents that needed witnessing, nothing that couldn’t wait. He would need to assign greater security and surveillance to the lab if Myk was going to be spending serious time there, but he could bring up those forms and handle them from the lab. “Would you prefer I stayed? Or got out of here?”
Myk seemed uncertain. Harvey couldn’t read what was underneath the lack of surety, but he was pretty sure that if he was new to a place that had been enemy territory his whole life, he’d want the one thing that was familiar to him around, even if it was a less-than-optimal thing. Harvey touched a finger to Myk’s wrist and gestured toward an alcove off the main lab. He said, “I’m just going to work over there, in those chairs.”
Myk smiled, quick but genuine. “Sounds good.”
Harvey knew he was used to taking care of himself and only himself in the larger scheme of things, but he actually thought he’d been doing somewhat all right at recognizing Myk’s presence and needs when Donna took Harvey aside after an unduly long conference with a trading nation and said, “This treaty you worked so hard for isn’t going to be worth the paper it is recorded on if your Joint wastes away.”
Harvey blinked, thinking of all the time he’d invested into making sure Myk was physically safe from any of the groups that had lodged formal complaints again the treaty, or those who had painted less formal ones on the palace gates. Obviously, she wasn’t talking about that, so he switched gears. “We had dinner—“ he calculated, “two nights ago. He was fine.”
“Mm. So that’s why Lola tells me he’s lost seven pounds in three weeks, she’s starting to fear taking blood samples or having him run stress tests, and as far as she can tell, he doesn’t know anyone other than you and her?”
Harvey thought back to the dinner a couple of nights previous. Myk had made it. It hadn’t been familiar to Harvey, but it had been good. They’d decided early on that they would trade off when either of them was cooking, introduce each other to their favorites, and order in the rest of the time, or go out, if time allowed. Harvey had been busy, time hadn’t been all that plentiful, so they had mostly stayed in, when Harvey managed to make it home at all.
Myk had seemed a little quiet, but Harvey had just assumed that working on trying to save his race day in and day out was taking a toll. Harvey had been reading the reports, kept on the common server for those with confidential knowledge of the Accords. He knew Myk had subjected himself to uncomfortable physical tests and regularly having to relive his grief. He hadn’t been quite sure of how to bring the topic up without making it worse, though, so he’d instead kept the conversation light, relatively impersonal.
Harvey rubbed the back of his neck. “Seven pounds?”
“Lola can be a bit of an academic renegade, but she’s not careless.”
Lola had been on the team of scientists who had replaced Donna’s arm. That was before she had gained her own lab, and been allowed her own field of study. The two had remained friendly ever since. Harvey nodded. “Any chance there’s someone who could cover the wrap-up paperwork for me?”
“I convinced Jessica to hire you a team.”
“You what?” Harvey tried not to let Donna get the best of him, he really did, but there were moments when she blindsided him, all the same.
“We’re both overworked. It was that, or I was quitting.”
Harvey made sure none of the panic he felt showed on his face. “Just who is on this team?”
Donna smiled sharply, “I ‘promoted’ one of Louis’ trainees.”
“Stole, you mean?” But Harvey couldn’t help smiling. He knew Donna was talking about the veteran, Brighton, who’d changed to diplomacy after losing his sight in the war. He’d seen Brighton in action, and the man was brilliant, too good to be playing lackey to Louis.
Donna’s look told him to shut up and sit still or she’d find people he’d hate to work with. “And I wooed Laurien from Jessica’s service.”
“Oh good, because Jessica’s not going to have our ass over that at all.”
Donna rolled her eyes and said in a tone that heavily suggested she'd get much more done if he would disappear altogether, “I asked permission. Women speak to each other. Kind of like what you get paid to do? But with less financial incentive and more common sense involved.”
“When are they starting?”
“Tomorrow. Be here early so we can figure out a plan of action. For now, though, go home and feed up that little kid you took home a while ago.”
“He’s neither little nor a kid.”
“Clearly, you haven’t noticed a thing this past week,” Donna said, and walked off. Harvey bit off any response he could make. She would have the last word whether he willed it or not.
Harvey came in the door and followed the, “Hello,” that emanated from the kitchen to find Myk. He was sitting on the kitchen table, wings spread, looking out the window. When Harvey came around to Myk’s side, he saw the cup of molu Myk was cradling with both hands. He looked exhausted, even his wings sagging to some extent.
Harvey said, “Can I take you out to dinner?”
Myk blinked and looked over at him. “I-- Maybe a raincheck?”
“For tomorrow night?” Harvey pressed. Myk was tired and worn down and Harvey knew his talents didn’t always make him nice, but they did get him what he needed most of the time, and right now, Harvey needed to know what was going on with Myk.
Myk hedged again, his wings curling around his body. “Maybe.”
“Lola treating you badly?”
“What? No. No, she’s quirky. I like her." His wings folded back, but Harvey could tell it was a struggle.
“That why you never go anywhere but here and the labs?”
Myk sighed and turned back to the window. “Maybe I just don’t want to.”
Harvey took a seat on the table next to him. “Maybe. Maybe Chaisse isn’t that welcoming.”
“Did you know,” Myk said conversationally, “that Valkyrns star in many tales Chaissen parents tell to scare their children into behaving?”
“I was told a few in my time,” Harvey said softly. He scooted slightly forward so that their knees were touching.
Myk stayed where he was, with the touch. “Aren’t you afraid I’ll spoon-feed myself your innards? Abscond with and ravish the nearest Chaissen child?”
Harvey was silent, thinking of how to respond. “I cannot make my people forget years of war, of terror and loss. Nor will you be able to make yours. But that night, when we Joined, and I washed you, I felt like we were agreeing that we would do our best to be better than that with each other, do our best to find a way to make things better for each other.”
Myk shrugged, neither agreeing nor disagreeing. Harvey asked, “What do you want, Myk? Big or little, what do you want right now?”
Myk took a sip. “To be home. To be flying. To walk into a shop and not see fear and hatred in everyone’s eyes. My family to still be alive. To feel connected to something.”
Harvey nodded. “Come on.”
“Trust me. You don’t have to love me or want me or even like me for this Joining to work, although the last would be of use. But you do have to trust me.”
Myk still hesitated for a second, his expression unreadable. Then he set the cup down and hopped off the table. Harvey gave Myk his most sincere smile and started down toward his Skips bay.
Skipstones were small transports, made for flying a few hundred miles or so at need. Shaped like a disk, they held three people at most, but only needed one for the controls. Chaisse wasn’t very large, so a Skips was the most transport a person needed unless he wanted to get off-world. For daily transport there were the 'bridges and 'ways, but those were internal to cities.
Skips were small enough that it was impossible for the two of them not to brush up against each other, particularly with Myk’s wings. Harvey worked not to enjoy it too much. At some point, maybe, the two of them would feel comfortable with a marriage in deed as well as in name, but Harvey was well aware they were on his turf, and he wasn’t going to make advances he was not sure Myk would know he could rebuff.
Harvey took them out to the far side of Chaisse, which was relatively unpopulated due to storms that happened when the cold months transitioned into warmth, making it uninhabitable. The long stretches of land that slipped into vast bodies of water were generally quiet around this time, since the storms were just abating and the water hadn’t yet warmed to an entirely mild temperature.
It was Harvey’s favorite time to come. He landed the Skips far enough out for them to have a bit of a walk to the water. On their way, Myk said, “I can’t swim.”
“Wouldn’t have thought so,” Harvey told him. “But I’m pretty sure we can get you to float.”
It took a couple tries, Myk’s wings catching the waves wrong, or him being unable to trust the water, but when he managed, he lay there, looking up at nothing but sky and said, “Thank you.”
Harvey said, “I’ll be back,” and swam out as far as he could take himself, maybe further than he should have. The effort made his shoulder burn dangerously, but the cold of the water was somehow just right, and he felt like he could actually think for the first time in a long time.
When he made it back, Myk was on land, fanned out on his back, still, drying. Harvey followed suit, closing his eyes to say. “You wanna fly back? I don’t know how far you’re good for, but I can slow the Skips and you can tail.”
“I can probably make it.”
Harvey was surprised that he could hear the smile in Myk’s tone. He hadn’t thought he knew those sorts of things just yet. It made him feel a little better about the situation that he did. “Probably?”
Myk looked sideways at Harvey, then back at the waves. “I’ve been flying a little, at night, to help keep my mind clear. There’ve been some-- I don’t think it’s safe, in the city, during the day—“
“People have threatened you?” Harvey interrupted. “Chaissen Supremacists? Veterans?”
“Not in so many words.” Myk just shook his head, not really answering. “I’m smarter than I look.”
“It’s nothing. At least, nothing you won’t experience on Rhodrinne, I’m sure. Our people have been at war. I’m not the most welcome presence, I get it. Flying at night doesn’t bother me. I don’t have the range I would have on Rhodrinne, but it keeps my muscle mass from deteriorating. Still, it’s been awhile since I’ve flown the distance we’re talking about, so I’ll just have to be careful. If I’m having a problem, I’ll latch on to the Skips’ tail.”
Harvey filed the conversation in the back of his mind to bring up later with Jessica, and possibly Donna. He needed someone to bounce ideas off of, and Myk, understandably, didn’t seem to want to think about it. In any case, it had been a good evening, and Harvey would feel like a jerk taking that away from Myk, when he so clearly needed it.
“Or you could give use your telwrap, and just let me know when you need inside.”
“Or that,” Myk agreed easily.
Harvey said, “Let me take you to dinner.”
Myk laughed. “I’ll have you know, I’m not usually this easy.”
Harvey grinned. “I suppose that remains to be seen.”
Harvey organized a dinner party as quickly as he could put a list of appropriate guests together. Well, Harvey invited people, Donna found a chef and a serving company and decided on décor. But Harvey came up with the idea.
Brighton, Laurien, Jessica, Donna and Lola were the obvious choices. Myk already knew most of them, though, and it wasn’t getting him out of the house, so Harvey called upon one of the men who’d served under him, Elan, one of his colleagues in the Diplomacy Corps, Dana, as well as her spouse, and a scholar from the main higher institute of learning on Chaisse who specialized in the cultural factors leading to the war and had long advocated for its cessation. Harvey had only met the man, Bennett Plack, once, but his impression had been positive and the man struck him as someone who might be a good ally for Myk.
He chose to bring it up over breakfast, asking Myk, “Mind if we have a little get together?”
Myk said, “Depends. Do I have to dress up?”
“Only if you want my attention focused on you all night,” Harvey quipped, and left it at that, heading off to work. He’d felt Myk’s stare but ignored it. They were Joined, and Myk was gorgeous; Harvey was damn well allowed to flirt.
Harvey wasn’t entirely sure how to take it when Myk made an effort for the event, emerging from their sleeping cove in what Harvey had since learned was customary Valkyrn dress-ware. It was simple, the shirt sleeveless and fitted to the torso, the arms left to be covered lightly in bronze-gold swirls, a few of which also curled around Myk’s eyes. The pants were much like Myke’s wedding pants in shape, but darker, a brown so deep it almost fell into being black.
Harvey missed a beat, but then made himself recover, ask, “Is it traditional for me to wipe those markings off as well?”
Harvey’s heart beat a little faster than he preferred remembering the feel of Myk’s skin beneath his hands, the smooth planes of chest interrupted by scars left, marks of Myk’s role in the conflict. Myk had shied away a bit at first, but when Harvey hadn’t pushed, he’d come back. Harvey had his own scars. He knew how he’d feel if someone were to take advantage.
“Depends on what you mean by tradition,” Myk said guilelessly, and then somehow turned the conversation to proper Chaissen dinner etiquette. Harvey felt played by Myk’s coyness in a way he hadn’t in a long time. He couldn’t tell if he perversely enjoyed it, or not.
As Harvey had expected, Lola and Myk ended up engaging Bennett for most of the night. Harvey noticed, at points, that Myk would brush casually past him so that they came into contact, soft, quick touches that seemed to ground him in some way. Harvey pretended like they weren’t electric for him, anything but grounding.
Elan flirted with Laurien, and the two made easy conversation with Myk at one point or another. Donna cornered him later in the evening, but Myk seemed to be holding his own, so Harvey left well enough alone.
Lola did take Harvey aside at one point to say, “I think you should reinforce your security measures.”
Harvey considered her tone and her stance. “What’s going on?”
“Not sure, but-- His patterns of coming into the lab and leaving it have been strange. He goes different ways, at different times, watches for certain things before going out. I think he’s been threatened in some way or another.”
Harvey thought back to his conversation with Myk near the water, when Myk had told him pretty much the same thing. Not in so many words, Myk had said. Harvey nodded. “I’ll see to it.”
Brighton asked Harvey, with a refreshing lack of deference and surprising amount of forthrightness, “Is it hard, coming home to the enemy every evening?”
Harvey thought about the question and told Brighton, “What’s becoming hard is remembering that he was supposed to be the enemy.”
Brighton smiled a bit. “I suppose there’s hope, then.”
Harvey took a breath. “So we’re meant to believe.”
After the last guest left, Myk helped Harvey clean the place up, and the two of them made their way back to the sleeping cove. Harvey sat on their bed, the one they had shared essentially without touching since their Joining. He asked, “Was that all right?”
Myk was undoing the sash that crisscrossed over his chest. “They were all very nice.”
Harvey’s smile was ironic. “Damning with faint praise.”
Myk looked up, over at where Harvey was sitting. “No, I-- It was really, I mean. I felt like part of something, sort of, again. I just, it doesn’t really feel like something I should get used to.”
“No?” Harvey asked, even though he could understand.
Myk shrugged, his wings finally settling from the upright formation they'd been in most of the time they'd had company. “This is home now, too. I get it, I do. But it’s also been enemy territory my whole life, and where I’ve been threatened and spit on more than once over the time I’ve lived here. Just because I want to feel comfortable doesn’t mean it’s going to happen immediately. I’m sorry if—“
Harvey shook his head, holding a hand up. “No, I didn’t mean for that. I don’t want you feeling as if this is your fault. I should have started trying to acclimate you earlier. It’s going to take longer, now, I realize. I just don’t enjoy feeling guilty.”
“Well, that sets you apart,” Myk deadpanned.
Harvey acknowledged the sentiment with a tip of his head. Then, because Myk was his Joined, because he wanted to, because it made no sense to let the formality of their situation get in the way of the two of them enjoying it, Harvey said, “I could, you know? Clean you up. Again.”
Myk’s breath stuttered, which reassured Harvey, as reactions went. There was no fear in Myk’s expression, just a darkening of his eyes. He told Harvey, “It really is a Joining Night tradition. Not, not for every day, but—“
“Would it ruin it? Take something from it, were I to…help you, tonight?”
Myk swallowed, then slowly shook his head. Harvey held out a hand, and when Myk reached out, grasped it, he led Myk into the washing cove, and began heating the water. He fished out the moss-press used to clean skin, and wet it. His free hand hovered in the air for a moment before he gave into his desire to touch, swiping his fingers over Myk's cheekbone, settling his palm against his neck.
Myk leaned toward him, and Harvey went about removing the paint, line by curve by whorl. Myk's breathing was shallow, a little too quick and Harvey murmured, "All right?"
Myk turned his head to press a kiss into the palm of Harvey's hand. Harvey stopped for a second, and then continued in his ministrations. Slowly, the stretch of muscled, pinked skin of Myk's arms began to shine clear. Harvey pretended not to notice that they were both shaking by the time the deed was done. He sneaked in a quick, chaste kiss and said, "Thank you," before walking away to give them both time to recover.
To Harvey’s relief, Myk seemed to settle in a bit more after the party, or to at least go out occasionally when Harvey was not around. If nothing else, it made talking easier when they both had something to add to the conversation.
Myk started feeling able to fly within the city limits during the daytime, but nonetheless, they made their way out to open spaces at least every seven or eight waking cycles. Harvey started getting used to the feel of the quick uptake of wind, unsure how he had lived so long without feeling it, not wanting to think about how he’d feel if he had to give it up.
For a body with two very large appendages attached to his back, Myk moved with an eerie amount of silence. When Harvey pointed this out, Myk hesitated a second and then said, “Spy, remember?”
Harvey said, “How’d you get stuck with that? The memory?”
“A bit. I’m also small for a Valkyrn.”
Harvey had noticed, but it hadn’t seemed like the kind of thing you mentioned to another man. Aside from which, he liked the way that even if Myk’s wings dwarfed him, Myk himself fit to Harvey. Harvey pushed that thought aside. Softly he asked, “Did you like it?”
Myk tapped his finger again his thigh. “Do you like trying to calm squabbling bureaucrats and bring them to an agreement?”
“More than I liked killing,” Harvey told him, not even thinking about it.
Myk’s smile was unsure, thoughtful. “My information got people killed.”
“But saved your people.”
Myk shrugged. “Maybe the plague was just retribution from a higher source.”
Harvey felt a sort of sharp coldness at Myk’s sincerity. “Myk—“
Myk shook his head. “No, I know, Chaissen don’t Believe. But we do. Sometimes I think maybe that was how this all began. That maybe we were fanatic in our Belief, or you in your lack thereof, or both, I don’t know. It doesn’t matter, I suppose, anymore. In any case, Belief requires a certain amount of awareness that there are consequences to your actions, patterns that are larger than you, that the combination is often out of your control.”
Harvey made himself slow down, the way he did in negotiations. Unlike regular negotiations, he allowed himself to reach out, brush his fingers along Myk’s knuckles. “It’s true, I can’t comprehend a system of Belief. But not having one does not mean a lack of recognizing overarching patterns or cause and effect chains. I fully see that my actions feed into a larger picture; I just don’t see a higher presence having a hand in that picture. If I were to, though, I would need that higher presence to be one of mercy, or at least judgment tempered by such. If that is not—if yours lacks that component, I do not envy you.”
Myk ran a hand over his face. “It isn’t always to know where judgment ends and mercy begins, or even where mercy ends and judgment begins.”
Myk sounded young in a way Harvey had never heard, young and tired and alone. Harvey took a small step toward him, feeling better when Myk closed the gap between them. Somehow, without him planning it or even consciously thinking about it, Harvey’s hand found its way to Myk’s cheek, the only point of contact between them.
Harvey asked, “Is it easier to have a default setting of seeing judgment? I would understand, if it were.”
Myk tilted his head, pressing ever so slightly into Harvey’s open palm. “It's less terrifying, I think. But also less…comforting.”
“Lola believes the plague is the result of our Deltum-based weapons building up in a body not meant to process those chemicals over the years.” Harvey knew Myk knew that, but it seemed worth repeating. Deltum, which had no actual word in Valkyrn or even Rhodrinne, simply had to be said in Chaissen, was a metal-ore with a highly changeable internal consistency related to temperature. It melted when exposed to the body temperature of the Valkyrn for ten to thirty seconds, which made it a very deadly material for projectiles.
At Myk’s look of surprise, Harvey rubbed a hand over his face. “I’ve been reading the lab reports the two of you have been working on. They’re on a secure knowledge-space that I have access to because of my position as ambassador to your people. I should have mentioned.”
Myk nodded, seeming not to mind. “Everything is part of Belief, Harvey. A rational explanation does not exclude the possibility that all those elements were brought together to bring this upon us.”
“Of course not, no.” Harvey caressed the line of Myk’s cheek with his thumb. “But we’ve been using Deltum-based technologies since long before either of us were born. Did your deity know you were coming, create the technology premised on your, ah, sins? You’re hardly the first Valkyrn spy. It’s something of a self-centered belief, isn’t it?”
The laugh that passed over Myk’s lips was more sob than anything. Harvey stiffened in order to keep himself where he was, keep himself from trying to take Myk in his arms. If he were in Myk’s position, he would want the right of choosing whether or not to be held. Of course, that presumed Myk was confident that Harvey would give into the embrace, but Harvey wasn’t sure how to signal that without simply grabbing onto Myk. For his part, Myk had his wings partially out, not completely wrapped around him or extended, just as though he wasn't entirely sure what to do with them, all of a sudden.
After a second, Myk choked out, “The prerogative of the young, or so I’m told.”
And then Myk's wings folded back and he crumpled, just a bit, just enough so Harvey had to catch him or watch him fall. It was awkward, until Harvey wrapped his arms below where the wings sprouted. Myk buried his face in Harvey’s shoulder. Harvey said, “Fair enough, duckling.”
As he’d hoped, it caused Myk to laugh, the sound still wet and muffled by his shoulder, but a laugh all the same. Harvey smiled softly. “You look enough like them, soft fluff and wings.”
Another laugh, and Myk’s hand pressed flat against the center of Harvey’s stomach, as if to shove him away, only there was no force to it. Harvey didn’t move.
The date upon which Myk and Harvey were to change residences and stay upon the Rhodrinne homeworld was rapidly approaching. Harvey had been interrogating Myk about all the things he hadn’t been able to learn from his studies or Rach’el. Myk seemed ready, but not anxious, not dying to get back, which Harvey took as a good sign.
Harvey had been increasingly busy with the move impending, since Jessica wanted him to take care of a number of ongoing minor but nonetheless necessary tasks before he was removed from her beck and call for a time. She was having him sit in on meetings regarding movement of mercenary cultures in the area, as well as those about the possible threats he faced on Rhodrinne. She was careful not to discount their own people. Harvey had always appreciated her thoroughness.
There were three or so cycles that he never even made it home. Sometimes Myk showed up, with food or Lola or both, and made Harvey stop for a bit. Harvey grumbled when it happened, but it was nice, actually, that Myk bothered. He wasn't entirely sure what Myk did during those cycles, but if he wanted to stay, Harvey didn't so much as indicate he needed to go. Most times, Myk left saying something about Lola, or one of the other friends he'd made. Harvey hoped he was actually spending time with them, instead of just name-dropping to make Harvey feel better.
Harvey was generally awake and out of bed, out of the house, before Myk. It didn’t worry him too much when Myk wasn’t there, though, as sometimes he stayed at the lab with Lola, or flew too far and found himself a place to stay until there was good light and he could make his way back. As such, the morning of the attack, it didn’t strike Harvey as odd that Myk wasn’t still in bed, or reading, or anywhere to be found.
Harvey’s home was surrounded by a wall, threaded with the best security available. His place was nearly as hard to break into as the Palace. So they left Myk at the front gate. They left Myk pinned to the front gate.
Harvey never took the Skips to the Palace, it was a waste of effort. On days when the skies threatened terror, Harvey would take the Skipbridges, easily hopping from his home to his office. Most days, though, when possible, he took the Skipways, which meant leaving his home by the front gate. In a daze, Harvey wondered if they’d known, the people who’d done this, or if they had left Myk there figuring someone would find him, someone would relay the message.
The message, written out next to where Myk was trapped to the gate by way of four javelin-type projectiles driven through his wings, read, “The only true peace is through victory.”
Harvey recognized the slogan; it was his job to recognize these things. It was the motto of a rogue branch in the parliament, a fanatical minority. Harvey had a hard time believing they’d be stupid enough to leave their motto next to a crime that rose to the level of treason, but he didn’t care. What he cared about was the fact that Myk was making small, weak noises. Harvey rushed to him, doing his best to take some of the weight off of his wings. Myk choked at first and Harvey had to make himself not pull back from instinct. After a moment, Myk began breathing again, high-pitched and fast, but it sounded slightly better than it had before.
Remembering the voice of his commanding officer when Harvey had been hit, was lying on the ground, uncertain if he’d ever be able to use his arm again, Harvey made himself sound as calm as possible while saying, “I’m here. I’m here. I’m going to comm Lola, get her here.”
Lola wasn’t a doctor, but Harvey preferred to have someone who was knowledgeable of Myk’s physiognomy—the makeup of his wings—than someone who knew how to fix a Chaissen. He found himself talking into his telwrap without even realizing he’d activated it, his voice terrifyingly flat, even to his own ears. When he’d gotten hold of everyone he could think of who might be able to help get Myk down, might be able to put him back together properly, Harvey found himself talking to Rach’el, saying, “I need a delegation.”
The wind blew, pushing Myk’s wings forward and he bit off a cry of agony. Then, as if he couldn’t help himself, he started struggling, and Harvey wondered how many times he’d done this already, how long he’d been out here in the dark, the very wind he trusted to keep him aloft torturing him. Harvey tightened his hold and barked, “Stop.”
It got Myk to stop, which had been the point, even if it hurt to talk to him in anything that wasn’t a soothing tone. Myk coughed out, “Harvey?”
“Stay with me,” Harvey ordered. “Lola’s coming.”
“Harvey,” Myk repeated, panting with the effort it was taking to breathe through the pain, clearly struggling to say cogent. “K-killed one. Maybe two. Hurt m-more.”
Harvey smiled tightly. He just bet Myk had made a mess. Good boy. “How many do you think there were?”
“S-seven." The word was little more than an agonized whine.
“Spy. Warrior.” Myk’s words were starting to slur, his eyes rolling into the back of his head.
“Stay awake, Myk,” Harvey urged, attempting to make it sound like an order, but he knew he was pleading. Myk probably did too.
Myk’s breaths were more whimpers than anything else. Harvey, in the pursuit of keeping him engaged, asked, “They say anything?”
“Insults. N-not important.”
Harvey trusted Myk’s instincts on that, but he’d ask again later. Myk's inability to move his wings was robbing Harvey of important clues into how he was feeling, what he might not be saying. In any case, the kid would remember every damn word, Harvey knew. So long as they could get him down safely, so long as they could save his wings, Myk would be fine. Harvey repeated the last part of the sentiment to himself a few times. On the fourth, Lola showed up, her face porcelain-pale, her eyes burning.
She took one look at the situation and said, “Okay. I need four strong people, two platforms and two jumping rigs, and a high-powered saw." She set her jaw. "To begin with.”
Myk coughed again, this one ending in a sob. “Harvey.”
“Not going anywhere. I’m gonna be one of the four, you just stay with us.”
Harvey got on the commplant again and repeated everything to Donna. Donna told him firmly everything was going to be fine. It was the first time Harvey could remember not completely believing her.
“Can’t you give him something?” Harvey asked Lola when she explained the plan to get Myk down. It was clear to Harvey that it was going to be agonizing. Holding Myk’s weight had long since started to be challenging, but he wasn’t letting go, not until Myk was off the gate.
After a moment she admitted. “I’m afraid to. I’m scared of what happens if he relaxes. I’m just hoping he doesn’t pass out, despite the fact that it might be better for him.”
Privately, Harvey was a little amazed Myk hadn’t passed out already. It told Harvey something about Myk’s pain tolerance and sheer survival ability. He took a breath. “All right. But get someone in my position and get me up there so he can at least break my hand, or something, if he needs. I’ll talk with him.”
Lola nodded tightly. “He’s going to need that. The talking.”
“Good thing he’s Joint to a man who does that professionally,” Harvey said tiredly. Lola went to talk to Donna and the next thing Harvey knew he was standing in front of Myk, his hand to Myk’s face, the other grabbing at one of Myk’s hands.
Myk gasped, “D-don’t. Stronger. Break it.”
“If you have to,” Harvey said calmly, mostly sure that Myk would stop himself before he reached that point, willing to take the chance.
“Listen,” Harvey said softly, making Myk focus on him. “They’re going to stabilize you by your hips, shoulders and neck, then cut the javelins at the entry point. Then we’re going to have to slide you off.” Harvey paused to let Myk process. “Lola says you need to stay awake. She’s worried about what will happen if you don’t.”
Myk took a shaky breath. “You’ll stay?”
“I’m right here.”
“Harvey,” Myk said again.
“Right here,” Harvey repeated.
“D-don’t let them t-take them. Wings. My wings.”
The thought made Harvey lightheaded. He couldn’t even imagine that being possible. He’d never heard of a Valkyrn without wings. He touched his free hand to Myk’s cheek, waited until Myk was looking at him, concentrating as best he could. Harvey promised, “I won’t. I won’t, Myk. You’ll be fine. You’ll be flying before you know it, and all this will be a hitch in the fact that we ended a war.”
Myk jerked and Harvey glanced down to see that they had begun to brace him. Harvey said, “You can scream. I won’t flinch.”
Myk’s breathing was heavy. “Just. Tell me. Tell me stories.”
Frantically, Harvey thought about what he could say. After a second, he asked, “I ever tell you about the first time Donna got me drunk?”
Myk panted, “Start there.”
Myk managed to hold on just long enough that he was off the gate when he went limp. Harvey didn’t have it in himself to feel anything other than relieved. Myk had spent the last several sunmarks doing his best not to scream, sometimes failing. It had felt like forever from the time they’d begun cutting the spikes to now, when they’d finally freed him from the gate. And Harvey knew it was far from over: the spikes were still in Myk’s wings.
There was not room for Harvey in the Skips they used to transport, so he used a Bridge to get to the facility. Rach’el was there when he arrived looking as calm as she always did. Luckily, Harvey’s job was to read people, so he could see the urgency and concern just below the surface, which was the only thing that saved her from Harvey tearing into her.
The first thing she said was, “We brought the foremost specialist we have. Nat’n has dealt with numerous wounded Valkyrn.”
“I have to talk to him. Myk made me promise not to let them take his wings.”
Rach’el looked sick. “You needn’t talk to him. It was tried, over the years. The theory was that it was much like any other amputation. Physically, it was harder, but it stabilized the Valkyrn. Emotionally, though…they couldn’t survive. Not any of them. Eventually it was seen as a form of torture. It’s culturally taboo. Nat’n won’t do it, nor will he allow anyone else to.”
Harvey processed the words. “What you’re telling me, is that if Myk’s wings don’t heal—“
“You have lost whatever he has become to you and the fate of the treaty is suspect, at best,” she said softly.
“It is already suspect,” he said, because he wasn’t one to believe that not saying something made it any less real.
“Yes,” she acknowledged.
Harvey closed his eyes for a moment, beating back the exhaustion sweeping over him. He wished he could say the feeling of desolation was just about everything he had worked so hard for, this peace that meant so much to so many, but he knew it was also about the man on an operating table in the other room; Myk, who had so quickly and easily slipped under Harvey’s skin. It was a strange and utterly uncomfortable feeling.
He opened his eyes. “I have to go talk to Jessica.”
He didn’t move. He felt as though he couldn’t. Rach’el told him, “I will comm when they have finished the work. He won’t wake up for a while.”
“I know,” Harvey said. He did, but it didn’t make it any easier to leave.
“He Joined you to save two nations, not just you and him, Harvey. Go,” she said. Harvey went.
As was only right, Jessica was under lock, key, and about two hundred guards, so it took Harvey a while to actually work his way inside, despite having permission. She took one look at him and said, “Sit, Harvey. Before I have to pick you up off the floor.”
Harvey made his way to a chair, and it was only upon sinking into it that he realized how very unsteady he felt. She sent for food. Harvey told her, “I’m not hungry.”
“As your ruler, I really don’t care. You’ll eat.”
Harvey blinked. She rarely pulled rank. He made the effort to square his shoulders and said, “I’m fine, you know?”
“I know you,” she said dryly, and Harvey gave up, because fine or no, he was tired, and he couldn’t win a true fight with Jessica at full steam.
Quietly he asked, “Have you spoken with anyone aside from Rach’el?”
She nodded. “Shortly. I have been more interested in hunting down the perpetrators.”
“He says he killed one, and possibly injured another.”
“So Donna relayed. Do you have a theory?”
“I suppose it could be the Chaissen Supremists,” Harvey said, referencing the group that used the motto which had accompanied Myk.
“We’re looking into it, but I suspect you find that as unlikely as I do.”
Harvey did. “The real question is: who stands to gain from continued hostilities?”
“War industries, tech, weapons.”
“Medical,” Harvey added.
“There’s always good old-fashioned revenge,” Jessica said.
The comment made Harvey feel like there was something he was forgetting, but he couldn’t quite get at what it might be.
“Harvey?” Jessica asked.
“He said there were seven of them. But he killed one and injured another, thereby taking out two. Jessica, he can pick me up like a plaything. Whoever the five were, they had to be enormously strong to keep him down, get him subdued.”
“Who has that kind of strength?”
“Valkyrn, but he would have recognized his own kind. I think we might be looking at mercenaries. Maybe the Treade?” Harvey tilted his head.
Jessica looked thoughtful, then, after a beat, nodded. The Treade had lost their homeworld so long ago nobody could even remember what had happened, but had managed to survive in small bands. They had been largely reviled by most societies as thieves and vagrants, but Rhodrinne had welcomed them, one clan structure speaking to another. It was not unusual for the Treade to hire themselves out for all kinds of jobs, including hired soldiering, and they were the only race Harvey knew of that had strength which could even compare to Myk’s.
The food came, and Jessica looked pointedly at Harvey, so he made himself take a bite. Once he had started, she said, with an undercurrent of command, “I’ll put Brighton and Laurien on that theory. In the meantime, you stay with him. I don’t want you leaving his side. The last thing we need is publicity saying you don’t care.”
Harvey stiffened at the order to drop everything, leave it to others and concentrate on taking care of Myk, even if it was what he wanted. He took a second to stop fighting against the excuse she was giving him. “Let me go, then.”
Jessica raised a brow and said, “The faster you finish, the sooner you get back.”
Harvey put all of his concentration into choking the food down.
Donna came to the hospital about a cycle later to try and make Harvey go home and change his clothes, but Harvey felt panicky if he went any further than the room he had been put in and told to wait, so that plan failed. Lola came out long after Harvey could have even imagined her still being conscious, let alone continuing to work on Myk and said, “I-- We-- Maybe.”
Harvey stood to support her. He knew she’d stand there as long as it took to give him the information, but she looked like a light wind could knock her over. She glared half-heartedly at him. “We just have to wait.”
She pulled herself away and tumbled into a chair. “I’m going to sleep here.”
Harvey carried her to the first cot he could find and even managed to locate a blanket to tuck over her. It took a while to find the Rhodrinne surgeon, and when he did, the man was equally dead to the world. Harvey figured it couldn’t hurt to try and check on Myk, so he looked into rooms until he found the one they’d settled Myk in. It was being guarded by one of the lab staff who said, quite implacably, “He is not to be disturbed.”
“I’m Joined to him,” Harvey said with the last bit of patience he had stored up.
The lackey looked uncertain. Joint status generally surpassed these types of orders. Finally he said, “Lola said nobody.”
“Lola was passing out on her feet,” Harvey pointed out.
The lackey considered this and then stood aside. “You retard his progress and I’m not protecting you from her.”
Harvey nodded. “I assure you, I can fight my own wars.”
Inside, the room was dimly lit in color spectrums Harvey remembered all too well from his months of recovery. Myk was suspended by way of anti-gravitational pull so that his wings could be entirely submerged in the sticky gel substance Harvey had spent weeks in while the medical specialists worked to save his shoulder. Harvey could just barely see details of the wings through the shells containing the gel, but they at least seemed relatively intact.
Myk was restless, twitching even under the control of the sedatives and painkillers, the exhaustion his body must be feeling in its need to heal. Harvey made his way around the shell on Myk’s right side and traced his hand along Myk’s arm until he could cover Myk’s hand with his own. Myk murmured a bit, but didn’t awaken.
There were bandages on Myk’s hands. Harvey could only imagine how hard he’d fought. He’d have to talk to Laurien. Harvey vaguely remembered someone having been at the scene at her directions, they’ve had looked at the hands, taken any evidence necessary. He needed to read up, figure out which races might have the strength to take on a full-grown, fully-trained Valkyrn, teach himself what their characteristics were.
Harvey said softly, “We’re gonna take you home as soon as you’re ready to go.”
In truth, Harvey had no idea when that would be, and doubted anyone else did either. He suspected it might be far longer than Myk was supposed to have even been on Chaisse, but it was the best Harvey could come up with. For that matter, there was no real indication that either he or Myk was safer on Rhodrinne, but Harvey was pretty sure that was beside the point. He could well remember the pull to be home after his wound, despite having nobody there waiting for him.
“I’m gonna sit, Myk.” Harvey took his hand back and set up shop in the chair nearest to where Myk was seated, propped up at his spine, his wings were extended, supported and encased by various medical implements Harvey ran a hand over his face. “Yeah, I’m just gonna sit here for a while.”
Harvey was asleep when Myk awoke. The sleep must not have been all that deep, though, because he startled awake to the sound of Myk’s breathing picking up, frantic where it had been regular and decently calm. Harvey was immediately on his feet, getting to where he could place his hand on Myk’s shoulder, and where Myk would be able to see him. Harvey said, “Take it easy.”
Myk’s eyes were dilated both by the drugs and the fear underneath. Harvey reached out and caressed along Myk’s neck. “You’re safe.”
Myk was still straining, so Harvey moved one hand to Myk’s chest and pressed down. “You’re partially-suspended. Your wings are being immersed to help them heal more quickly. Don’t struggle.”
Myk took several gulping breaths and then seemed to get the immediate panic under control. Harvey found the cup of water that had been left with the sponge and pressed some onto Myke’s lips. After a few soakings, Myke managed a, “Thanks.”
“Lola’s still sleeping. She was working on you for a long time.”
Harvey hesitated, having had a while to come up with something to say and still not managed to find anything he thought appropriate. “She and the Rhodrinne specialist did their absolute best work.”
“Did they find-- I killed—“ Myk's wings were immobilized to allow them to heal as much as possible, but Harvey could tell it was distressing him even further to be unable to move them, match them to his mood.
“I told Jessica. Donna and the rest of my staff are working on it. We’ll figure this out, Myk. And then, if you want, I’ll sneak us off planet with them and let you kill them however you so choose.”
Myk made a sound Harvey couldn’t interpret. “Quite the romantic, you are.”
Harvey had always had a casual romantic streak, the kind that extended to charm and politeness and good timing. He had never promised to break the law and meant it for someone. The realization made him swallow. “Mm.”
“You’ve been here a long time.” It wasn’t a question, but Myk seemed uncertain all the same.
“Couldn’t seem to go home.”
“You want me to?” Harvey asked.
After a second, Myk said, “No,” his face unreadable.
“All right. Then I’m just going to wait till you fall asleep again and sit back down,” Harvey said quietly.
Myk drew a shaky breath, the unsteadiness of it all too apparent under Harvey’s palm. Unsurprisingly, it wasn’t a long wait.
Lola came back bearing food. Harvey felt nauseated for a second before his survival instinct kicked in and he was ravenous. She handed over a container and sat with one herself. When she had taken her first bite she said, “Now that I can talk in full sentences, I presume you have questions.”
“Does the Rhodrinne surgeon think he’ll heal?” Harvey asked immediately.
“They said it’s not impossible.” She said it slowly, carefully, like she wasn't sure if she was lying or not. She had her arms wrapped over her chest, which he didn't think he'd ever seen. She was usually so stalwart in her stance.
Harvey looked at her, reading her posture. “And you?”
“You know how, a couple of times, he stayed at the lab while I was working through the night?”
“One time, I got him drunk. Surprisingly easy. For someone with that much pure muscle mass, he’s a lightweight.”
“Don’t Valkyrn have a different—“
Lola waved her hand. “If anyone gets to bore anyone with physiological details here, it’s me.”
Harvey conceded the point. “You got him drunk.”
“I was fighting with my dad at the time—“
“Oh, so different than every other day of your life.”
She ignored him. “And complaining and he said, ‘I wish I’d gotten to do that.’” She took a breath. “His parents were dead by the time he was five. The Valkyrn system of training isn’t cruel, per se, but it isn’t precisely heartwarming either. They expect family to provide warmth. He had his grandmother, who was too old to fight, for a while, but she died of natural causes.”
Harvey knew most of this. Myk had never really spoken of Valkryn training, perhaps feeling that was too close to giving secrets to the enemy, but he knew of his family situation. He arched an eyebrow. “I do actually speak to my Joint, you realize?”
Lola rolled her eyes. “Could have fooled me. My point is, part of why they chose him as your Treaty Joint is because despite everything he had going against him, he grew up to be one of their best warriors, mostly, if I’m reading between the lines correctly, by sheer willpower and a fair amount of genius.”
Harvey turned the words over in his mind a few times. “You think he can overcome the odds.”
“I think I’m not going to be the person to bet against him.” Her look was challenging.
He found a smile for her. “Relax. I’m not either.”
“I think-- I think he might need you to bet on him.”
Harvey had a hard time placing his faith in much of anything beside himself. He looked at Myk’s profile and took a breath. “Then that’s what I’ll do.”
When Myk’s wings came out of the healing solution, they were bare of the rich, soft feathers in the places where the stakes had been driven, and the physical evidence of destruction was all too evident. Somehow it was more reassuring than if it hadn’t been there. Harvey’s shoulder had looked perfect from the outside, which had made it all that much harder to accept that it didn’t work the way it had before, and never would. Harvey said, “I’m taking you home.”
Myk tensed for all of a second and then Harvey realized he hadn’t told Myk. “No, Rhodrinne, home. Home home. As for here; we can get a different place. That one was too small for us, anyway.”
“No, it wasn’t,” Myk said.
“Don’t argue with your elders,” Harvey told him.
Myk looked as though he was about to argue for another few seconds, then he shrugged. “Home sounds…”
Harvey waited. Then he tried, “Comforting?”
Myk thought about it, then nodded. “Yeah, comforting. Familiar, I guess, in a safe way. Which is…I mean, home was never really safe. But still."
Harvey swallowed, “Myk. Before we go, about the attack--“
“You know Donna already interrogated me in my drugged state for everything I could recall, right?” Myk looked exhausted, despite the fact that all he had been doing was sitting in his bed.
Harvey nodded. “That wasn’t where I was going.”
“Donna mentioned that you didn’t find the corpse,” Myk responded.
So Harvey just went ahead and laid out, “We’re not certain it wasn’t a collusive effort. Or at least, not entirely Chaissen.”
Myk looked less surprised than Harvey would have preferred. “I thought they were stronger. I’m not-- Haven’t been actively training, but. They were stronger.”.”
Harvey hesitated for a second and then admitted, “I’m not wholly sure you are any safer on Rhodrinne than you are here.”
Myk blinked slowly. “I’m not the only one at risk.”
Harvey tilted his head slightly in acknowledgment. “Diplomacy is never half so much about words as all the emotions behind them. It is a dangerous job.”
After a second Myk smiled, a mildly amused smile. Harvey found himself smiling back. Myk said, “You know, all my Joint friends always told me Joining was a sure way to find yourself dead within a year’s time.”
“You should’ve listened.”
“Maybe,” Myk said, but the corners of his mouth were still turned up.
Travel time to Rhodrinne took a little over a cycle and a half. The majority of it was made by way of Tideships, four or five times the size of a Skip, but not half so large as the war ships, known as Caureans. The Tideships were large enough that they couldn't negotiate in between the two stars nearest to Chaisse, and had to go around, which accounted for the extra half-cycle. Skips couldn't make the distance though, their light-based energy source running out about three-fourths of the way to the planet.
Rhodrinne boasted a landscape dominated by rocks that had curved and settled into gentle spire-like formations over the generations. The first time Harvey had actually paid attention, after he had begun his diplomatic career, he’d been captivated by the sheer difference of it, and had tried desperately not to seem awestruck. He murmured about this to Myk, sitting next to him in the transport, exhausted simply from having had to sit up for the length of the trip to Rhodrinne, which could be accomplished twice between the rising and setting of Chaisse’s primary sun.
Myk opened his eyes to ask, “So there was a time when you were young and naive?”
Harvey scoffed. “I wouldn’t go that far.”
Myk just smiled, though, eyes slipping shut again. Harvey let him sleep until they landed. There was a team of medical specialists to greet them when they got there, and behind them was Myk's best friend, T’mas, looking ready to kill whatever stepped into his reach first. A Rhodrinne male was standing beside T’mas. Harvey remembered seeing him at the wedding but wasn't sure they had been introduced. His pale blond hair marked him as part of the Clan that was ancillary to the currently ruling Clan, but for all that, he looked ill at ease in his own skin. On T’mas’ other side was a Valkyrn, smaller than both Myk and T’mas, and twitching and jumpy like he’d forgone sleep permanently.
Off to the side a bit stood a woman. Her overall features didn’t call up any Clans immediately to Harvey’s mind, but there were smaller Clans, as well as ones that liked to keep off the radar. In any case, she was Rhodrinne, not Valkyrn.
Harvey walked slowly with Myk. He knew he wouldn’t want his help, but if Myk started to falter, Harvey wasn’t going to just let him fall. If he’d ever had it in himself, he didn’t any longer. The medical team scolded him about exerting himself, but Myk wasn’t paying attention, looking past them to his friends. He was slowly regaining movement in his wings, and Harvey did not miss the way they seemed to reach in that direction. Harvey made an executive decision and interfered with the medics so that Myk could go enjoy the welcome.
He listened carefully to the team’s instructions and let them talk until they had exhausted themselves. When he’d finally managed to usher them off, he looked to where Myk was now sitting on the ground of the docking bay, surrounded by the others. Harvey decided it was time to make some new friends.
The twitchy Valkyrn introduced himself as Wy, and Myk explained that he was their foremost radar and technology expert. The awkward blond was How’rd, and Myk had evidently been something of a protector to him when they were younger. The woman was Gab’ril, who had worked as an encryption specialist, but was now teaching reading to the new generation of Rhodrinne. She smiled a bit as she said, “They won’t even remember the war.”
Myk said, “Let’s hope not.”
He sounded ready to fall over. Harvey asked, “How do we get to your place?”
Myk shook his head. “Valkyrn don’t—“
“We’re communal dwellers until Joining,” T’mas explained. Then he told Myk, “Rach’el set up a place for you.”
Myk blinked. “I’d remember if she had told me.”
Gab’ril said, “It was last minute. You weren’t supposed to be back for another four full cycles. She was going to consult you, but then this happened. She said we can find another place if need be.”
“Does it have a bed?” Myk asked.
T’mas winced and said, “C’mon, big guy, let’s get you settled.”
Harvey supported Myk from one side, T’mas from the other. Wy, How’rd and Gab’ril went on ahead to open the place up and make it so they could get Myk immediately into a bed. T’mas said softly, “I thought I told you to come back in one piece.”
Myk twisted his facial features in an expression of sardonic amusement. “You didn’t specify what condition that piece had to be in.”
Myk fell asleep less than a second after they had gotten him in bed. Harvey went out to the main area, a space that was all natural stone, carved into mountain-side, opening up to pure sky. The sky was darker than it ever got on Chaisse, and Harvey already missed the ever-present light of home. He couldn't see nearly as well as he was used to, and he would have to read the notes Lola had sent about how to retain the necessary nutrients that the light sources on Chaisse provided.
He noticed the looks on Myk’s friends’ faces were largely hostile, but they hadn’t sat down in his absence. Harvey said, “Sit, please.”
They all settled on the floor, into the natural contours of the walls. There were not, so far as Harvey could tell, any actual chairs in the house. Harvey took a seat with them. He was surprised when it was Gab’ril who spoke first. She sounded puzzled. “He’s fond of you.”
Harvey’s instinct was to say something glib. He made himself take a breath. “A mutual sentiment.”
He could tell they were evaluating the sentiment. He stayed silent, giving them time. Finally, Wy said, “This place looks traditionally Valkyrn, but I’ve got it wired to the wing tips with security measures. Nothing and nobody is getting in here without you guys knowing it.”
Harvey's mind took a moment wrapping itself around this information. If the move had gone as planned, he would have thought about the threat to himself in advance, made arrangements to handle it. Instead, this was the first time he'd even really thought about it, too wrapped up in Myk, in getting him better, keeping him as whole as possible, to even consider the issue.
“Thank you,” Harvey said sincerely.
“The Ruling Clan wants to put a Valkyrn guard on you at all times.” There was something in T’mas’ statement that Harvey was trying to parse, but couldn’t quite manage.
Harvey asked, “One of you?”
“I volunteered,” T’mas said.
“Why?” Harvey asked, because sometimes subtlety only got a person so far.
T’mas glared but then his body language softened a bit and he said, “Because Myk hasn’t been miserable.”
That seemed like a low bar, but it was one Harvey understood, nonetheless. He asked Wy, “Did you cover sound-proofing and signal jamming in those security measures?”
Wy just rolled his eyes. Harvey nodded. “I will promise to tell you everything I know about our investigation if you’re willing to reciprocate.”
Gab’ril stood. He looked at her. She said, “I brought kein juice, it'll help take the edge off. Of everything.”
Harvey gave her an appreciative look. “Excellent planning.”
Harvey was slightly plastered by the time T’mas dragged him to bed. Harvey blinked up at T’mas in surprise and said, “I didn’t drink that much.”
T’mas grinned. “Chaissens can’t hold their liquor.”
Harvey frowned at that, because it wasn’t true, and what was more, he’d trained himself to do so, to not get drunk, especially around people he didn’t know. Also, Myk was an easy drunk. Harvey remembered their Joining and Lola’s mention of the night at the lab.
T’mas clarified, “Keinder, which is what we just had, is made for my kind. The alcohol processes differently. That’s why Gab’ril only had about half a cup.”
“You could’ve mentioned.”
“Yeah,” T’mas said. “We could have.” He pulled the covers over Harvey. “Get some sleep.”
Harvey couldn’t have stayed awake if his life had depended on it, but he awoke while it was still dark to Myk’s agitated movement. Harvey forced himself fully aware through a haze of seriously-still-drunk. He said, “Hey, hey Myk.”
When that didn’t work, Harvey took his life in his hands, knowing if Myk came awake fighting he was probably screwed, and reached out to squeeze Myk’s hand. Myk woke at that, squeezing hard enough that Harvey worried a bit about broken bones, but he didn’t try to shake himself free. Instead he said, “You’re home,” over and over until Myk seemed to start to register the fact.
Myk dropped Harvey’s hand with a curse when he realized how tightly he was holding it. Harvey flexed it a little behind his back. Then he brought it up and slipped it beneath the hem of Myk’s night shirt. It was the first time he’d actively touched Myk barring washing off his paint the two times Myk had adorned himself. They’d rolled into each other in bed more than a few times, but that was mostly awkward and fumbling and nothing that indicated interest or tenderness.
Myk tensed for a second and then breathed out, melting. Harvey caressed the skin of Myk’s stomach slowly. Softly, he asked, “You want anything? Water? Food?”
After a moment, Harvey prompted, “Myk?”
“If I said ‘stay here,’ or, ‘stay here, and don’t stop touching me,’ could you do that and pretend I hadn’t in the morning?”
Harvey’s hand stilled of its own accord. Myk said, “I didn’t—“
“No,” Harvey said.
Harvey made his thought process slow. Donna had more than once informed him that his parents' virtual neglect had left him more than a little stupid when it came to relationships. Harvey had always discounted this. His parents had just been busy. There’d been a war. He was starting to acknowledge, however, that Donna might, as per usual, be right. “Because if you let me do it this once, I won’t want to go back to not being allowed, and if I did what you asked, it would mean having to do that.”
It was Myk who stopped breathing then, his wings fanning out slightly, a gentle motion. Harvey thought it would have been starker if he could have managed it. Myk only began breathing again when Harvey used the hand still on his stomach to shake him a little. Harvey asked, “Did you really think you could show up to our Joining half-naked and not lead me around by my dick for the rest of all time?”
Myk turned to look at him for the first time since he’d woken. “Most non-Valkyrn are discomfited and repelled either by the appendages growing from our backs, our strength, or both. So, in answer to your question: yes. I did not imagine that you would find me appealing in that way at all, even aside from our preconceived animosities.”
Harvey asked, “Do Valkyrn usually find non-Valkyrn attractive? Or are they discomfited and repelled by our lack of strength and terrifyingly naked backs?”
Myk smiled, teeth white in the dark of the room. “A little.”
Harvey laughed. “You got over it, huh?”
Myk just said, “Don’t stop touching me.”
Harvey let his hand creep up a little higher.
Wings, just like shoulders, when injured required the slow retraining of physical therapy. Harvey would never forget all the time he’d spent cursing out his therapists, and the endless stretches where he’d been certain he would never again use his shoulder. The memories made it easier to accept Myk’s frustrated silences, the unusual bite of his sarcasm in the aftermath of sessions.
Harvey came back to their place after a meeting with Rach’el and ‘Nessa, the ruling clan’s assigned investigator into what had happened to Myk, while Myk should have still been in therapy. ‘Nessa wanted to do a little more information-gathering on Chaissen, so Harvey had given her communiqués that would open Jessica’s services to her in whatever way would be most helpful.
Rather than the house being silent, Harvey could hear the distinct sound of all-too-familiar bitten-back whimpers when he walked inside. Doing his best to be calm, Harvey walked the house until he found Myk on the upper balcony, his wings stuck in a position Harvey had never seen before, but that did not look right, pale and not moving, except for tortured little breaths.
It wasn’t the first time Myk had tried something stupid, but it was the first time he’d tried it without Harvey around to get someone or something for him if necessary in the aftermath. Harvey swore in three different Chaissen dialects while rushing to him. “Did you incur brain damage with your other injuries?”
He felt tactless a moment after the question left his lips, but it was already out there, between them. Myk didn’t even bother to respond, just lay there. Harvey said, “Sorry.”
In the silence that followed, while Harvey was trying to figure out the most painless way to disentangle Myk and get him inside, Myk said softly, “One of the first of the girls to die, Jen’ai, the first thing that happened was that her wings weakened. First, just enough that flight was hard. Then, enough that it was impossible. We thought it was a nutrition issue, or maybe poison, until it started happening to others. Most of the time, the disease didn’t even have to finish its work. The girls would just…go for a flight they knew they couldn’t actually manage.”
Harvey carded his fingers through Myk’s hair. Then, gently, he started maneuvering the wings so that they could be fully extended. Once Myk had spread his wings, Harvey gave into the urge to stroke at the feathers. Myk gasped.
Harvey looked up. “Did you hurt them? Worse?”
Myk shook his head. “You’ve never touched them.”
Harvey had, a million times, an accidental, or even intentional, brush here and there. Not like this, he hadn’t, though, Myk was right about that. “Oh.”
Harvey took his time exploring, then, thinking that it was the first time Myk had recognized something good in his wings since the attack. He lost track of time, light turning to dark, the warmth of day chilling. It was Myk who ended up dragging them inside, making them dinner. Harvey had no idea how long it had been since either of them had last said anything he said, “Don’t try and fly again until the doctors say you're ready. Please.”
Myk didn’t look at him, but after a beat he nodded. Harvey forced himself to the trust the silent nature of the promise.
After a particularly frustrating communication with Jessica, three notes from his team that told him absolutely nothing, and ‘Nessa’s admission that there were certain legal necessities that would have to be tended to before any further investigative work could be done, Harvey locked himself in an unused negotiations room and allowed himself to feel as frustrated and homesick as he possibly could. Then he let as much of it go as was manageable and went to find T’mas, who would very likely consider the loss of peace an unfortunate side effect if he had to kill Harvey for disappearing on him.
On the way back, T’mas told him, “Myk’s probably not there. Wy was going to try and take him for a flight.”
Something harsher than panic rose up in Harvey. “Myk can’t—“
“Wy’s doing the flying. Myk just has to stay tight between his wings and hold on. We developed different ways of carrying each other back as far as when Valkyrn first started fighting and we needed to get our wounded out.” T’mas gave Harvey a strange look, but didn’t pursue it.
Harvey gave him something anyway, perhaps because the other man had the sense not to ask. “Everything is a dead end. No sooner does something seem viable than it turns out to be another cover.”
T’mas paused, then asked, “Have you talked to Myk about it?”
Harvey’s chest tightened. “He’s got enough to handle.”
“He’s going quietly crazy and you know it. Without getting into a discussion of how I know this, the sounds I hear you guys making every time I drop by unannounced are a fuck of a lot more desperate than Myk usually is, as a rule.”
That took Harvey aback, but less because it seemed unlikely that Myk would have experimented with childhood friends or war buddies than because, “The only person I’ve ever seen you look at is Gab’ril.”
T’mas stiffened. “She’s distracting.”
“Why don’t you just—“
“She’s clan,” T’mas cut him off.
“So? I’ve never seen a hint of taboo around—“
“You would not have. It’s very unspoken. We are their warriors, and they treat us with all due accord, but we are also their beasts. Like a cherished pet with extremely useful features.”
The tired acceptance in T’mas reminded Harvey of Myk and suddenly, certain things clicked into place. It made Harvey want to tear down castles with his bare hands. Instead, he made himself focus. “She doesn’t think of you that way.”
“No,” T’mas agreed. “But that doesn’t mean I have the right to take her away from everything, to subject her to quiet scorn the rest of her life.”
“You haven’t even given her the chance to tell you she might not mind.”
“Harvey,” T’mas said.
“Fuck off?” Harvey guessed.
T’mas shook his head, once, sharply. “You care about Myk, right? A little.”
Disingenuously, Harvey agreed, “A little.”
“Enough that if you could spare him having to be the freak that he is on Chaisse, spare him the lack of communal contacts and the shying away of his people, you would, yeah?”
Harvey made himself think about the question, slowing his thoughts down the way he did in a negotiation, or any conversation where there was something at stake. He balanced the need to consider with not wanting T’mas to back off into the silence. “Maybe, but only if he was someone I thought I could live without.”
T’mas answering laugh was unamused. “You’re better at words than I am.”
“Better at interaction, too,” Harvey told him dryly, his expression even.
“Fuck you very much,” T’mas responded easily, with a wry smile.
“You’re being unfair. To the both of you,” Harvey told him.
“Now you can fuck off.”
Harvey smiled. “We’re almost there anyway.”
Harvey woke to Myk’s demand for him to, “Make it stop,” and realized after a second that Myk was talking about the comm chime. Seeing as how it was the middle of the sleep cycle, Harvey figured that request was only reasonable. He also figured that whoever was comming probably had something worthwhile to say.
That assumption was only reinforced by the fact that Donna and Lola were sitting on the other side of the screen when he keyed it up in the living space. Chaisse, being one planet over in the system, was slightly ahead of Rhodrinne in the time cycle, but not by much. He said, “You should both consider learning to sleep. It’s unexpectedly delightful.”
Lola rubbed at her eyes and Harvey suspected he had just been unwittingly mean. She looked wrecked. Donna had her real hand on Lola’s shoulder, squeezing supportively. She glared at Harvey. Harvey gave her as much of an apologetic look as he could manage. Lola said, “I figured it out.”
Harvey had just woken, so it took him a second. “It, the plague, it?”
She nodded. He’d never seen her look so close to crying in his life. “Lola.”
“Know anything about what would happen if you had kids with your sister?” she asked.
“My hypothetical sister?” Harvey frowned.
Lola waived a hand. “A close blood relative, any close blood relative.”
“Not exactly, but nothing good.” There’d been rules against such things since long before Harvey had been born. Nobody had done it in remembered history, but there were indicia that it used to wreak all kinds of genetic havoc on Chaissens who did it long enough.
“The same theory applies. They weren’t procreating with their immediate families, but Valkyrns were a small society that got smaller as the war went on and casualties were accrued. All the inbreeding, it caused a genetic disorder in a chromosome only the female Valkyrn possess. That’s why none of the males have died. Several of them that I’ve managed to get panels on have all kinds of genetic variations that shouldn’t be there, but it was the chromosomal attachment that caused the problem.”
A chill worked its way through Harvey as he realized what this meant. “The Clans have a taboo against Joining or even being involved with the Valkyrn.”
“Believe me, I know,” Lola said. “It’s been so long since a child was born of one Valkryn and one non-Valkyrn parent that nobody even knows what would happen.”
Harvey rubbed the back of his neck. He looked at Donna. “We should have Joined Myk to you.”
“As much as being someone’s science experiment sounds like my life’s ambition, I probably would have accidentally killed him before we ever managed intercourse,” Donna said calmly, leaning back into her chair and crossing her legs.
“He’s stronger than he looks,” Harvey murmured.
“Harvey,” Donna said, once again leaning forward, as though she would touch him if she could. “If we could make them believe Lola—“
“Chaissens don’t have the same taboo the Rhodrinne have. I know,” he told her. “It’s that first part, especially right now.”
“How would you feel about a houseguest?” Lola asked, pausing in the middle to yawn.
Harvey quirked an eyebrow. She shrugged. “You work on the politics, I’ll work on presenting the proof.”
Harvey sighed. “Either this is going to save our asses, or plunge us back into war until we’re all extinct.”
“That’s the spirit,” Donna said evenly.
Harvey smirked at her. “Let me talk to Myk in the morning. This is his house. He invites you, Lola, we’ll figure things out from there.”
“Don’t call until after the sun has risen. Well after.” Lola’s eyes were closed.
Harvey’s smile was probably more tender than he would have preferred. He cut off the comm.
Harvey couldn’t get back to sleep afterward. Myk stumbled into the living area sometime after dawn and said, “Someone once mentioned something about sleep being a healthy exercise.”
“That person must have had a lot of time on his hands,” Harvey said, but looked up and met Myk’s eyes.
Myk didn’t even skip a beat. “What happened?”
“Lola solved her puzzle.”
“By your count, is it too early for alcohol?”
“Make me a molu while you’re grabbing yourself some, you big profligate.”
“’Big’ doesn’t precisely fill your usual standard of descriptive terms.”
Harvey went back to pretending to pay attention to government documents. Myk laughed, high and a little strained, and wandered off to the kitchen. He came back moments later, the requested molu, a mug of whatever he was having, and leftovers from dinner a couple of nights before. Harvey realized he was actually hungry.
He recounted the conversation to Myk while eating, watching Myk’s reactions carefully, but without any of the detachment he was so used to being able to feel with others. When he was finished, Myk brought his knees up to his chest and wrapped his arms around them. Harvey wondered if maybe he should leave Myk alone for a while, but something told him not to.
After a long silence, Myk said, “I suppose, in some ways, it’s good news. I mean, at least it’s not inevitable that we all die, right?”
Harvey understood, though, that in some ways, it didn’t change the outcome. Maybe the Valkyrn genetics would be strong enough to pass onto mixed children, maybe not, but something in the way of life, of culture, would be lost. Harvey said, “And yet, I suspect there’s a reason Valkyrn can’t live without their wings.”
Myk grimaced. “We are not creatures of half-measures, no.”
“I suppose,” Harvey said softly, “the real question becomes if you can be creatures of change?”
Myk looked over at Harvey. With something that was almost a smile he said, “It just might be possible.”
Harvey had Rach’el over for dinner and let Lola do all of the talking. He had already primed Rach’el, it was simply up to whether she was willing to listen and help. Rach’el picked at her food as she listened. When Lola sat back and waited, Rach’el looked over at Myk and said, “What an epic clusterfuck.”
“Mm,” Lola agreed and poured herself another glass of Keinder. Harvey considered warning her, but figured she could probably use a night’s worth of unconsciousness.
Myk said, “I feel like only so much of the blame can be lain at our door.”
“Myk,” Rach’el said, soft and just a bit apologetic.
Because a fight over prejudice was in nobody’s best interest, Harvey said, “We have to find the people who hurt Myk. Until we do that, there can be no prayer of either Valkyrns or Chaissens feeling safe on the others' planets. And for this to work at all, for there to be survival and peace, that has to happen.”
There was a pause in which Harvey knew Rach’el was weighing whether to tell him something. He offered, “It won’t leave this room.”
“It cannot,” she admitted.
“You have my word.”
“’Nessa was cleared to attempt to hire a group of Treade for an attack. For a while it seemed as if we had presumed wrong, but then an Exile considered the job.”
Exiles were Treades who had been disowned by their clan. They would not be taken in by another, and it was nearly impossible for them to meld into larger society. It was a miserable existence. That said, the disownment was only applied in extreme cases, such as rape or assault, so it was considered fair amongst the Treade. Harvey said, “This couldn’t have been an Exile. Maybe a band of them, but since when—“
Rach’el rolled her eyes. “We arrested the Exile and brought him in for questioning, Harvey.”
Myk made a sound that was suspiciously like a laugh. Harvey made a rude gesture at him without looking over. Myk snickered. Rach’el said, “According to the Exile, one of the clans was bought by a landed weapons corporation.”
Myk looked up at that. Harvey asked, “Mean something?”
“In Rhodrinne terms ‘landed’ denotes they refuse to hire Valkyrn in any capacity. It’s rare in the war industry. I only know of one, actually.”
“There is only one, so far as anyone is aware,” Rach’el confirmed.
“You are telling me that a Rhodrinne war firm is using the history of war to carry out a racial vendetta?” It was crazy, but Harvey had worked in peace negotiations long enough to know that people’s actions rarely made sense when guided by emotion or base prejudice.
Rach’el sighed. “And that the result is that a rogue faction of Rhodrinne have used the Treade to stir up more animosity from the Valkyrn perspective toward Chaisse at a time when we most need them to begin considering Joining with either the Chaisse or Rhodrinne if the race is to survive. The entire situation is a disaster, with no particularly good way to solve the issue without having the races feel threatened by each other in one way or another, all of them as destructive as the next.”
“’Nessa?” Harvey asked, leaving that problem for the moment to learn more about what was being done to solve the underlying issue.
Rach’el nodded. “She went undercover two days ago. It’s confidential until we have something.”
“You guys should take a vacation until then,” Lola spoke up, sounding nicely lubricated. Harvey suppressed the urge to laugh.
Myk looked over at her. “Want the house to yourself?”
“She wants us somewhere where one of us is less likely to end up dead,” Harvey said dryly.
“Really?” Myk asked, with his most blatant ‘you’re stupid’ expression.
Harvey ignored him, looking at Lola. “Didn’t your father own a place on Qildur?”
“This isn’t precisely tourist season.”
“I’ve never been anywhere that wasn’t Chaisse,” Myk said, sounding unbothered by the less-than-ideal conditions.
Lola looked at him. “I’ll get you guys the access codes.”
Qildur was cold, but there was a sharp pleasure to it. From the first moment they’d landed, Myk had been prowling around, dragging his feet through the snow and then looking back at the tracks it left. Neither Chaisse nor Rhodrinne got snow with any sort of regularity and never very much. Even with the coat Lola had managed to find for him, Harvey knew Myk had to be chilled to his core.
Harvey made molu and poured it into a travel cup, taking it out to Myk. Myk grinned at him and took the cup in mittened hands. Harvey watched him drinking, his face flushed from the weather and asked, “Want me to show you how to make a snow-Valkyrn?”
Myk laughed. “Really? Chaissens are weird.”
Harvey was unbothered by this assessment. He went down on his back in the snow and brought his arms up and down, creating the winged illusion. As a child, it had seemed so near to the terrifying illustrations of the Valkyrn perpetrated upon Chaissen children. Just add some black eyes and you had your monster. Now it looked strangely innocent and wholly incongruous all at once.
Myk handed him the cup and laid down as well, extending and retracting his wings. The shape left was magnificent and settling, in a way, to Harvey. He said, “You should come get warmed up.”
“I’ve been colder,” Myk sad easily. “Rhodrinne’s temperature drops steeply with altitude. We’re built to handle it.”
“I don’t doubt,” Harvey told him, “but I want to warm you up now.”
“Oh,” Myk said. He blinked. “I haven’t done that before.”
“This trip is just full of new experiences, then,” Harvey commented dryly.
Harvey had begun a fire before going out. He stripped Myk of his clothes in the doorway, leaving them in a pile. He was barely done when Myk leaned in to do the same to Harvey. Harvey pulled him through to the back, where there was a tub large enough for at least four people; or, alternately, one Valkyrn and one Chaissen. Harvey ran the water, sitting Myk on the edge and massaging warmth back into his hands and feet.
The exhaustion of what had been an unusually busy day for Myk was clearly catching up. His eyes were drooping as he told Harvey, “You’re good at that.”
“I’m good at everything I choose to work at,” Harvey told him, smirking a bit.
“Mm,” Myk responded, and let Harvey guide him down into the filled tub. The fit sitting opposite each other, and Myk could even spread his wings. Once they were wide, his shoulders unwound a little. Harvey reached out and ran a toe along a line of feathers, over the ridges where feathers would never grow back, silken and pink and yet harder to the touch than the non-scarred portions.
Myk’s gaze slid to Harvey’s foot. “Does it bother you? That they’re mangled.”
Harvey froze for all of a second before regaining his equilibrium. “It bothers me that someone else touched you on my territory.”
Myk blinked. “You haven’t struck me as possessive until now. Competitive, yes, when the situation calls for it, but not—“
“Only with the assets I most value,” Harvey was well aware the anger hadn’t left his voice. He could have made it, but he thought Myk deserved to hear it. He’d left it to Myk to be angry or scared or hurt during the healing process, but it seemed as though Myk might need to know he hadn’t been alone in any of that.
“Assets,” Myk said, like he was turning the idea over in his mind.
“You’re important to my people,” Harvey said.
Myk told him, “You’re a coward.”
Harvey bristled, but Myk just continued, “You looked at my wings that first day we met. And maybe you hated me for being your sacrifice, or simply for being your enemy, but you didn’t hate them, not the way other people do. You wanted them, even from the first. Maybe you wanted me.”
“Yes,” Harvey agreed, possibly to everything. He wasn’t entirely sure.
“I ask again: does it bother you that they’re mangled?”
“Does the mass of scars on my shoulder bother you?” Harvey asked.
“I’m a soldier,” Myk said. “I would be fucked if they did.”
“You were a soldier. And so was I. I don’t see destruction, or, if I do, only the part where you survived it.”
Myk took a breath. “What are you going to do if we go back to war?”
“We won’t,” Harvey told him.
“What if we do?” Myk asked again, this time with an edge.
Harvey slithered to his knees, leaning in toward Myk. “I suppose, then, you’ll just have to fly somewhere far, far away with me.”
Myk nodded. Harvey said, “I promised to warm you up.”
Myk shivered. “You did.”
Jessica called after two sleep cycles and greeted Harvey with, “I want Myk’ael to hear this as well.”
“Nice to hear from you, too.”
“I’m not the one who’s been frolicking in the snow with her trophy husband.”
Harvey had just gone into the bedroom, where Myk was doing some of his wing therapy. He smirked at Harvey and said, loud enough for Jessica to hear, “I see how it is, Your Highness.”
“We are glad to hear you sounding well, Laiden,” she said, using the ancient Chaissen term for ‘peacebringer.’
Myk made a face. Harvey said, “Jessica,” with just enough emphasis to get his point across.
In a less formal tone, she told them, “I was contacted by Rach’el’s Clan superior this morning. ‘Nessa’s operation worked. They have sixteen persons in custody, and we are rounding up another eleven. We suspect that is largely just the tip of the organization, but it should allow us to learn more. We need Myk to identify enough of them to have leverage, and keep as many of them for as long as we can.”
“Of course,” Myk said, looking regretful, but not reluctant.
“Rhodrinne or Chaisse first?” Harvey asked her.
“Rhodrinne. To all evidences, the ringleaders are there. Also, I think it will help soothe nerves.”
Harvey agreed, but he hadn’t been willing to make that call absent her permission. “Any word on how Lola fairs?”
“Evidently some kid named Wy introduced her around and they’ve at least allowed her in the proverbial door.”
Myk laughed. “Yeah, they all think Wy’s kind of touched, but it just means he gets away with a lot more than the rest of us.”
“Ah,” Jessica said. Harvey was glad she couldn’t see his face. He’d mentioned her bowel-liquefying effects on people more than once. Of course, with Jessica, it was a strategy, rather than a protective mechanism, but even so, he couldn’t help the sharp smile he shared with Myk.
He spoke up, “We’ll be on Rhodrinne as soon as possible.”
“Your service is appreciated,” she said, and her voice was formal once more, but there was a depth behind it, something intimate, an echo of their childhood together, of the way she had taught him pleasure, and their platonic, if deep, love for each other over the years.
He said, “It is yours, my liege,” in precisely the same manner.
Myk did a voice identification on two of the perpetrators, and a visual one on another three, his wings tense and rising above his head-level the whole time. They were given over to the tender mercies of the Clan’s enforcement branch. Harvey asked, “You want to stay?”
Myk was still for a second before shaking his head. “I should stretch.”
They went back to the house, and Myk stretched until he was crying from the pain, until he collapsed down onto his knees. Normally Harvey would have bullied him into stopping, but not right then. Instead he helped him off the ground and gently browbeat him into the shower, massaging at the places on the wings that T’mas had shown him to be safe and helpful. He made Myk take a bit of pain medication and stayed with him until he fell asleep. Harvey went into the main room and read over Jessica’s agents’ reports on how they thought an interspecies relational campaign might be best affected.
He was deep in a cultural history breakdown when he heard the rustle of Myk getting up and shuffling into the main room. Harvey looked up and asked, “Feel better?”
“I feel like someone beat me half to death,” Myk told him, but without much heat.
“Only half? Better, then.”
Myk snorted and puttered around, grabbing himself a snack. He pointed to the papers. “Anything interesting?”
Harvey shook his head. “Mostly a lot of ‘people who have been taught to hate and fear each other do not generally want to procreate with each other’ in fancier terms.”
“I do love optimism.”
“If nothing else, I’m sure we can convince T’mas and Gab’ril to propagate the species. And I could always pimp you out to Donna.”
“When I think mandated reproduction working smoothly, I think Donna.”
“Good point. Any suggestions?”
Myk rolled his eyes. “Alternately, we could see if Lola could cook up some way for you to carry my child.”
“What, there’s something wrong with your child-carrying organ?”
Myk leaned back in his chair. “I got permanently maimed for this relationship. What have you done?”
“I’m telling our kid you thought of him in the same league as permanent maiming.”
“'A generation of peace and mentally damaged children.' As a slogan, I’m liking it.”
Harvey looked down to hide his smile. He was pretty sure Myk knew it was there anyway. “It could use some work.”
Harvey returned to the house one evening after a day of strategizing with Rach’el and other Clan liaisons, as well as two explicitly Chaissen representatives to find T’mas having a drink with Myk who looked like he’d run into a wall while flying at top speed. Harvey considered being diplomatic for a second before asking, “What happened to your face? And the rest of you?”
Myk muttered something in the direction of his drink and then took a gulp. Harvey frowned, looking at T’mas, who was conspicuously looking anywhere BUT at Harvey. Harvey noticed the way Myk had his wings folded in close to him, the way he did when something was bothering him, a sure sign of tension.
“No,” Myk said without looking at Harvey. “If they had, T’mas would have helped me kill them.”
Which was true, so Harvey abandoned that line of thought. After a second, T’mas’ reticence to get involved in the conversation made sense. “You tried to fly.”
“I managed the first few wing lengths,” Myk told him, now looking up, a challenging glint in his eye, his wings half-spread.
Harvey bit back a sigh. At least he’d had the foresight to do it around someone who could catch him. “I take it you hit a few things before T’mas managed to get to you.”
“The wind went in an unexpected direction,” T’mas told him, sounding pissed. “He blackmailed me.”
Harvey couldn’t help his smile. “I don’t doubt that for a second.” Then, after a beat, “A few wing lengths, huh?”
Myk’s smile was both uncontrollable and infectious. “I knew I could. I knew it; I wouldn’t have done it otherwise.”
“Well before the doctors predicted,” Harvey said, feeding off Myk’s excitement, wishing T’mas weren’t in the way of him getting to his knees and celebrating with Myk.
T’mas laughed. “You two deserve each other.”
Myk rolled his eyes. “Like you wouldn’t be doing exactly the same thing.”
T’mas shrugged. “Us foot soldiers were always a tamer bunch than you intelligence kids.”
Myk gave T’mas a Look that Harvey couldn’t precisely decode, but he knew it at least meant, “foot soldier my ass.” Whatever T’mas had done during the war, Harvey would put good money on it having been every bit as specialized as Myk and Wy.
T’mas stood. “I’m going.” To Harvey, “You can patch him up, or whatever it is that the two of you get up to when left to your own devices.”
“Thanks,” Harvey said, and he didn’t mean about T’mas leaving.
T’mas shook his head. “He’s right. I would have done the same thing. And he would have caught me sooner.”
Harvey locked in the security code after T’mas walked out and turned back to Myk. “Anything broken?”
Myk shook his head. “Just bruises. All worth it.”
“Maybe I should check again, just in case,” Harvey said, the closest he ever got to a leer crossing his face.
Myk’s wings sprawled out in welcome. “Maybe you should.”
Harvey and the Chaissen delegates were able to argue for a dual judicial panel of a Clan member and one of Jessica’s High Courts. The issue of punishment was going to involve a lot of work on the part of Harvey and the Rhodrinne ambassador, since the crime against the Rhodrinne was treason, whereas it was an act of war against the Chaissen. Both planets had extremely different approaches to justice, and a compromise would be slow going. Still, as a first step at handling the situation together, rather than as separate entities, Harvey was pleased with the results.
Myk was, of course, the star witness. The closer they got to the trial, the more Harvey would find him going through his exercises to the point of agony, well past when the therapists had told him he needed to stop, or wake beside him struggling in his sleep. Sometimes, at its worst, Harvey poured relaxants down Myk’s throat, and kept him safe in the house. Sometimes he called T’mas, and had the two of them go and work on flying. Sometimes he held Myk down with a hand between the apex of the wings and had rough, unforgiving sex until Myk was either limp and asleep, or taking control himself.
On the morning of the trial, Harvey awakened to Myk’s teeth sinking into his shoulder, frantic hands reaching around to grab his cock, a little too tight, the first jerk a little too hard. Harvey said, “Take, Myk,” and Myk pushed in, and Harvey appreciated the fact that he’d at least lubed himself. The rough simplicity of it helped balance Harvey, helped ground him enough that when Myk had finished and pulled out, he was able to lead Myk through the motions of getting himself cleaned and dressed. He even managed to get a cup of molu into Myk. He didn’t bother trying food.
On the way over, Myk said, “This is stupid,” his tone somewhere between laughter and exhaustion.
“No,” Harvey said, because whatever Myk was feeling, none of it was stupid. “I would tell you if it were.”
Myk did laugh then. “I believe that.” After a pause he picked up, “It’s just, well. I started spying at sixteen. Not even, really, I turned sixteen a little after my first mission. And I’ve been near to being caught at least three times, once I only escaped because I was able to find a spot to fall off of, since I had broken my ankle—compound fracture—and I couldn’t get up the speed needed to take off. I’ve survived being shot twice. And fuck knows they can’t do anything to me in that courtroom that they haven’t already done, so—“
“So what?” Harvey finished for him. “After my shoulder, the thought of even seeing someone who looked like the soldier who’d done it made me break out in a cold sweat for years.”
Myk looked over at him. “That soldier was Valkyrn.”
Softly, Harvey told him, “That’s why I know you can do this. That’s also why, if you spend the next few cycles getting drunk and having sloppy sex with me, I’ll still respect you in the morning.”
Myk made a choked sound. “Okay.”
“I’ll be sitting right there, Myk’ael.”
Myk took a deep breath. “Sure. Right there.”
Harvey began to walk into the Justice Administration Building. Myk reached out and grabbed his hand, squeezing close to hard enough to break it. Harvey didn’t pull him forward, though. He waited for Myk to lead the way.
The prosecution spent its time with Myk establishing his memory as evidence. Harvey made himself listen as Myk necessarily recounted events of the war, used to show the sharpness of his recall. It was only at the end that Myk actually made an identification. By that time, Harvey was exhausted, and he could see the toll it was taking on Myk, his wings sitting low on his back, but there was still the defense.
They had a recess before, though, and Harvey went out to the sloping rock terrace on which the building stood, standing by Myk. Myk said, “I’d probably just have to come back if I decided to fly and crashed a few leagues out, huh?”
“Or we could tell them the brain damage was permanent.”
It got Myk to laugh, a little, more a release of air and tension than actual laughter, but something. “Might not exactly be lying.”
Harvey put a hand to Myk’s lower back, then trailed it along the edge of the feathers on his closest wing. “Almost done.”
“With this part.”
Harvey could feel the building behind him, a living presence of sorts. He asked, “How far would you make it, if you flew?”
Myk snorted. “A lap around the building, maybe.”
“Then make it that far.”
Myk looked over at him. “You realize that I rely on you to be the voice of reason in our relationship?”
“Which is why, when I tell you to do things that are not strictly reasonable, I probably have a reason.”
Myk chuckled. “There’s a flaw somewhere in that logic.”
“You have time either to figure out the flaw or to take a lap around the building. You’re really going to choose the first?” Harvey's tone implied that he seriously doubted that.
Myk blinked at Harvey for a second before running down the slope of the terrace, letting the winds buffet him up high enough to take the lap. He landed easily, with the grace Harvey remembered from their first meeting. He was flushed, and breathing heavily.
Harvey asked, “Better?”
Myk rolled his shoulders and waited for his breath to settle. Harvey knew flying still hurt, the strain on his wings too much to do anything else. When Myk answered, though, he said, “Yes.”
“Promise me something.”
“I know you too well, tell me before I make any promises.” Harvey made sure the teasing edge of his statement was obvious. Myk was usually good at reading him, but this wasn’t the optimum moment for a misunderstanding.
“Promise me you’ll get me drunk and take advantage of me tonight.” Myk said it with a straight face, wholly serious.
Harvey grinned. “Like nobody has ever taken advantage before.”
Myk took a deep breath and resettled his wings. “Okay then. Let’s do this.”
The defense’s representation was good, but Myk’s quiet anguish, his clear struggle not to wrap his wings around himself, was compelling, as was the way his story didn’t change. He knew when he had been disoriented and when he had not been. He knew who he had seen and who he had not. He knew, despite everything, what had happened, and it was all too evident.
When ‘Nessa added her testimony, along with the evidence she had carefully preserved from her time undercover, the case went from “fairly damning” to “there’s only one way for this to go,” and everyone in the room seemed to know it. When they went home at the end of the day, Myk’s posture was familiar in a strangely forgotten way, and Harvey realized he’d never seen Myk unwind, not completely. It made him feel a little awkward in a way he wasn’t used to.
Myk took some pain meds and passed on the drinking, but not on being taken advantage of, and when Harvey finally rolled away and came back with a washcloth, he found it in him to say, “I’ve never seen you relaxed before, not really.”
Myk rolled over onto his side, wincing a little at the movement of his wings. Harvey knew he had overdone it earlier, but he also knew Myk had needed it, so he trailed a finger along Myk’s face and stayed quiet. Myk said, “You think I’ve just never been able to let go around you?”
“Evidence would suggest,” Harvey told him quietly.
“Well, for the record, the first time I saw you relaxed was when T’mas got you drunk. And you probably couldn’t help it, then.”
Harvey considered this. “I’m not, in general, a particularly relaxed person.”
“Funny, I’m not either,” Myk said.
“Not just me?” Harvey asked, catching on.
“When did you train as a soldier? First, I mean. How old were you?”
Myk nodded. “I was thirteen.”
Harvey made a startled noise in the back of his throat. Myk shook his head. “That’s when we, Valkryn, start. I was smaller than most Valkyrn, and considered a liability for that reason. I had no family to speak for me. Relaxing was very likely to end with me beaten or killed, so I just didn’t.”
Harvey, unsure if he was doing it to calm himself or comfort Myk, caressed along the line of Myk’s hip.
“And then, even after I had T’mas to watch my back, well, he had Wy to look after as well, and Wy was even more of a target, so half the time I helped out with that. After a while it was just habit, to the point where I didn’t even realize I wasn’t relaxing.”
“It would be a lie to tell you I won’t let anything happen to you, I haven’t that power.”
“Yes,” Myk agreed.
“But you have family to speak for you,” Harvey said, very softly.
“Yes,” Myk repeated.
Harvey kissed him, slow and sweet, a giving more than a taking. He said, “Sleep.”
For the first time in a while, Myk did, heavy and easy, nothing coming between him and rest.
Myk and Harvey moved back to Chaisse as the trees began to thaw, tiny, hardy buds peeking out from their protective shells. The verdict had been passed down and disagreements over sentencing had been argued over and compromised upon. There had been some executions agreed upon by both sides, but the combined Rhodrinne-Chaissen jurisdictional authorities had passed down lesser sentences where they felt it possible. Everyone was tired of death and destruction, even in the case of those who attempted to foment more of it.
The ability of the two nations to carry out a trial and come to a reasonable conclusion of it seemed to have cemented the peace far more than the original Joining. It had paved the way for Lola’s educational campaign about the Valkyrn’s needs, and Myk and Harvey’s campaign appealing to the more emotional side of the problem.
One night when they were both exhausted—Myk from having flown for too long, as was his habit these days, and Harvey from working with Lola to organize the equivalent of a cross-national singles events—Myk asked, “Do you really think this’ll work? Because I’ve been thinking that if it’s not going to, I should maybe prepare myself to see my entire race die within my lifetime, is all.”
It was said quietly, without any of the melodrama it could have carried. Mostly, Harvey thought it sounded contemplative, as though preparing himself for that was something Myk could do, given enough warning and willpower.
Harvey said, “Look at me.”
Myk did, smiling a little in the way he did when he was all too ready to mock himself. Harvey asked, “How do you feel about keeping a secret?”
Myk shrugged. “Something juicy?”
“Lola’s pretty certain she can carry Wy’s kid to term. She wasn’t certain at first, so she didn’t even tell him, but she went and saw the doc she worked on you with, and both of them agree that it’s doable.”
Myk blinked at him. “Wy knocked Lola up?”
“Hard for it to have been the other way around,” Harvey said.
Myk glared at him. Harvey smirked. “I’m sure she was telling him what to do the whole way.”
“I didn’t even realize they were serious.” Myk looked a little bit like someone had punched him in the face and then walked off without any explanation.
“She made him take a vow of silence. She didn’t want people saying she was spearheading the campaign because of a crush.”
“Sure,” Myk said, then paused. “But Wy has been one of my best friends since we were seven.”
“She threatened to cut off his wings, and reminded him that she knew how to make it stick.”
“And he didn’t figure out that she wouldn’t? Ever?” Myk was clearly going to have a talk with Wy as soon as the opportunity presented itself; the intention was written all over his face.
“Would you really want to find out? I mean, she is mildly terrifying when she puts her mind to it.”
Myk considered this. “I know Wy doesn’t present this way, but we are actually a warrior race.”
Harvey didn’t opine on that statement. There were some times when silence was the way to make a Joining functional. Normally he totally ignored that fact, but Myk was already feeling betrayed enough, and Harvey could be a decent person when he felt like it. Besides, Myk’s expression suggested he knew what Harvey would have said.
Quietly, Myk asked, “You think, if she carries to term, if it’s healthy, you think Gab’ril or T’mas might re-consider how stupid it is not to be together just because of outdated Rhodrinne and Valkyrn prejudices? Maybe actually finally make a move?”
Harvey hesitated. “I think those two might still need an extra push.” He gave Myk a meaningful look.
Myk sighed. “There was a time when I was the least emotionally functional of all my friends. I remember it fondly.”
“Sorry to have ruined that for you,” Harvey told him, completely unapologetic.
“You should make it up to me,” Myk replied, the beginnings of a smile on his face.
Harvey raised an eyebrow. “I should, huh?”
Myk nodded. “You really should.”
“Have any ideas on how that would be possible?” Harvey asked.
Myk grinned. “I have a few,” he said, and began describing them, in detail. Harvey listened.