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Heaven is Bloodless, Part One



Masterpost

The summons comes from the King one chill morning towards the end of February. Pavel is clearing the dishes from the table after breakfast, and underneath the sound of light rain can be heard the steady sound of a horse’s hooves on soft ground. The boy nods his head at them as he puts the empty bowls back on the table and goes to answer the door.
Bones frowns, his spine going taut as a drawn bow. “That better not be what I think it is.”

Jim keeps his voice even, his posture at ease. “Relax, Bones,” he says with forced nonchalance. “Don’t worry about it.”

His consort shoots him a dark glance, fear warring with fondness. “Dammit, Jim! I told you not to start anything with the Nipponese ambassador, and—”

“—and Mesire Kobayashi was a perfect gentleman about the whole thing.” Jim keeps his eyes very wide and innocent, repressing the urge to laugh. “You worry too much!”

Pavel returns, a man in Komack’s livery following behind him.

I worry—” Bones’s voice is low and gravelly. Jim’s gut lurches with affection, because he knows by now it’s the healer’s way of covering up genuine fear for him. He makes a silencing gesture, closing himself off.

He is Jim Kirk nó Pike, and if the King wants something of him—of all people—then that means he can’t afford to show anything but easy, resolute calm. So instead he beams at the messenger and takes the letter handed to him: a heavy vellum document, twice folded, with a thick wax seal imprinted with Komack’s own seal.

“With apologies,” the man says with a bob of the head, “I was told to await your reply.”

Jim feels his smile freezing on his face; knows that Bones’s eyes are flicking anxiously between him and the King’s messenger. “Of course. Pavel, show him to the kitchen and have Keenser find something warm for him to eat.”

“Aye, sir.” Pavel turns to the man. “Come vith me, please.”

When they are gone, Jim holds the letter to a candle’s flame carefully to loosen the seal, then unfolds it.

“What is it?” Bones wants to know, impatient. “What’s happened?”

Jim reads it twice before answering. “I’m being summoned to the City.” He licks his lips. “Komack wants to see me. Alone.”

~

Jim sends the messenger back with a short reply stating that his household will travel on the morrow and that he will present himself at the palace in two days’ time, if it pleases His Majesty.

“It won’t, of course,” Jim says that night as they get ready for bed, “but nothing much does.”

Bones is unimpressed. He lies flat on his back, staring at the ceiling. “You don’t think you’re treading dangerously?”

Jim shrugs. “I was adopted by the Duke Pike, and they call me his whore. I saved the kingdom, and they call me Komack’s favorite. I’m flattered and ignored in turns. Now the King snaps his fingers, and I’m expected to jump and run?” He swallows, unable to rid himself of the incredible revulsion he feels. “Elua help me, I’ll do it, but damned if I have to like it!”

His consort is uncharacteristically silent. The healer was fostered in Balm House since childhood; he is the only other Servant of Naamah Jim has ever known who has balked at his indenture, though not his Service, as much as he himself.

“Bones?”

The man says nothing, then gets up again and goes to his medicine trunk. Jim watches him as he tallies once more every herb and bottle, each roll of gauze and measuring spoon. When nothing else can be done, this is the thing that calms Bones the most. He is shirtless, too, the lines of his Marque flexing over muscle and bone in the low light: the sign of his House, the sign of his freedom. Balm’s sigil is lemon balm, and the graceful, artistic whorls of root and front contrast with a stylized morning star at the apex of his spine—an additional adornment Bones had requested himself, though he has never told Jim its meaning. It’s odd, he thinks, how that one little bit of ink symbolizes independence far more than any of the other trappings of their lives.

But we’re never free. Not really. The thought is as sudden as it is unbidden. They both freeze, and Jim feels the brush of something in the back of his mind, like wings.

“Bones?” he repeats, words barely above a whisper.

His consort closes the trunk, standing up slowly. His hazel eyes burn in his skull, and if Jim had had any doubt before, he has none now: whatever it was, that odd sensation, he had felt it too.

They had felt it before, two years ago, when they first had an inkling of what they could be, each to the other.

“What do you think?” Bones had asked, thrusting his hips forward. Jim already ached with need as their bodies pressed hard together; he could feel Naamah’s blessing around them, making him dizzy. “In some other world, would we have met like we did here? I don’t know. But I do know, Jim Kirk nó Pike, that wherever we would find ourselves, I think I’d be with you if I could.” Their lips met, hot and hungry, and Jim felt something he hadn’t even known that was frozen inside him melting as Bones murmured, “I’m with you.”

Jim snaps back to the present abruptly as Bones speaks. “I’m with you, Jim,” the healer says, as if he was sharing the same memory. “Whatever happens, I’m with you. Remember that.”

We’re with you, Jim. It’s okay. The warmth of Bones’s comfort evaporates with the ghost of Nyota’s voice, a half-forgotten memory from his youth suddenly as vivid as this morning’s events.

Jim forces a smile. “Yeah. Yeah, I know.”

Bones’s eyes narrow the way they do when he’s worried, but he says nothing. Jim isn’t sure if he’s relieved or disappointed.

~

The City of Elua is a half day’s ride from Pike’s country estate. Hikaru and Pavel pack the carriage as Scotty fetches the horses from the stables. The rain doesn’t cease, streaming off their cloaks. Jim turns to look back at the house, the place closest to a home he has known since he was ten years old—the place where those closest to him were murdered. This feels like goodbye, somehow, and he’s not certain if he’s sorry or relieved.

“Jim.” Bones’s voice is unusually soft and soothing. “We’re ready to go.”

“Right.” Jim shakes himself slightly, and gives his consort a ghost of a smile. The healer shakes his head and puts his hand on Jim’s back, guiding him to the carriage. Pavel is riding in the front with Scotty, and Hikaru balances on the back, gripping the hand-holds firmly. “Sure you don’t want to ride inside with us, Mister Sulu?”

“No, thanks!” The man’s voice is light and cheerful as they step inside. “It’s too nice a day to be indoors, don’t you think?”

“Damn fool’s going to get pneumonia,” Bones mutters darkly. “Then he’ll give it to the kid and then Scotty will get it and you’ll all be abed in a day, sniffling and complaining—”

“Try not to sound so excited, Bones. It’s scary.” Jim grins with real humor for the first time since Komack’s messenger arrived. Bones glares and says nothing.

The rain lifts mid-morning, and though the air is still cool, the sky turns a soft blue. Scotty’s horses make good time; they arrive at their City townhouse just past noon. Their place is kept for just such a purpose as this, though it is seldom used. Well, it’s Bones’s place really; purchased with Jim’s own patron gift after his marque had been made. Neither of them have much patience for the games at Court, or the Houses. In fact, Jim has had little patience for anything of late, though he can’t say why. When he says as much to Bones as they start to unpack their belongings, the healer’s lips quirk upwards slightly.

“Miss your diadh-anam, do ya?”

Jim blinks, lost. “Huh?” Then his mind cottons onto the Alban term, remembers the histories he’s read of Moirin mac Fainche’s adventures abroad, and he gives the man a ghost of a smirk. “Oh. Yeah. A destiny-compass would have been handy, what, oh, fifteen years ago?”

“Fifteen years ago, Hell.” Bones snorts. “You’re restless, Jim. You need something and I don’t know what it is.” He shrugs, looking away. “Pike trained you to be more than a Servant of Naamah, and you’ve—well, you’ve been going through the motions. You’re here, but you’re not.” He looks at Jim, then, hazel eyes boring into his own. “You’re better than you were two years ago, but you’re not—not altogether yourself, either.” When Jim opens his mouth to protest, Bones glares him into silence. “You forget, I saw how you were before Nero’s attack.”

Jim’s mouth is dry; he licks his lips. “You may have seen me, Bones. But you didn’t know me.” He doesn’t mean the words to cut, but they do anyway. The healer doesn’t flinch.

“Maybe not,” Bones accedes with that damnable calm he only bears when he’s practicing his art. “But I know you now. So believe me when I say this.” He steps close to Jim, their bodies inches apart. Jim’s heart beats rapidly, uncertain. “You may think you’re whole. Might think you’re right as rain. That you’re at your ease. But you’re not.” He takes a step back, as if looking Jim over from a distance. “I used to think I knew what you needed. How to heal you. I think I might have been wrong ‘bout that.”

Jim’s breath hitches. Strangles. “What’s that mean?”

He is suddenly, terribly sure then that Bones is going to leave him. He’s almost relieved. He’ll be safe.

But Bones just frowns, and furrows his brow, and sighs like he’s giving up. He kisses Jim, his mouth warm. “Nothin’, darlin’. Just—nothin’.”

And then they go back to what they were doing, while Scotty and Hikaru busy themselves in the outer rooms, pulling protective coverings off unused furniture, and Pavel presents them with clothing suitable to see the King.

~

Jim dreams that night. For many months after Nero’s attack, he saw little behind his closed eyelids beyond the deaths of those he loved best.

Now that time has passed, when he’s worried or stressed, he dreams of happier memories.

He’s not sure which is worse.

The carriage stopped. His back itched abominably, and he blinked in the late afternoon light. as Duke Pike held open the door. “This is your new home, son.” His face softened when Jim remained where he was. “C’mon, there’s nothing to be afraid of.”

A girl’s voice, high and sweet as a flute. “The Duke is back! The Duke is back!”

Pike turned at the sound of it, a grin breaking over his features, and then he was almost knocked off his feet as a dark blur threw itself into his arms.

“Nyota!” He responded, laughing. Jim stepped out of the carriage at last, watching as Pike picked the girl up and swung her about in delight before setting her down heavily. “My you’ve grown! I was only gone a few months and you’ve started to turn into a young woman on me!”

The girl was Jim’s age, roughly, maybe a year younger. She was as dark-skinned as a Nubian, but she had that clear D’Angeline symmetry of feature that Jim was coming to recognize: that keen beauty, sharp and cutting as a blade. She turned to look at him, and he felt his breath catch.

“Who’s this?” she asked curiously, bending her body into the shelter of the Duke’s. He moved his body so that she stood before him, his arms about her.
“My Nyota, this is your new foster-brother,” the Duke said. “His name is Jim Kirk. He is from Tiberium.”

“Fascinating.” A tall boy a few years older than Jim joined them. His hands were clasped behind his back, and his expression was very stern for one so young. He was among the most beautiful creatures Jim had ever seen: skin pale as the moon, black hair shining like an empty night sky. He peered closely at Jim, his eyes dark and unreadable. Then there was the smallest lift of his lips and he bowed. “I am very glad to meet you, my foster-brother,” he said formally.
Jim struggled to speak through a suddenly dry throat. “H-hello,” he said, “my—my—foster-brother.”

“This is Spock,” the Duke said, clapping the boy on the back. Spock looked up at him, small smile growing wider. “He will help you with your lessons.”
Nyota detached herself from Pike at last, taking Jim’s hands in her own. “Will you help me talk Spock into teaching us to play the lyre?” she asked. “He keeps saying I’m too young, but if there’s two of us now…”

“If there are two of you then your age does not magically increase, Nyota,” Spock said, “merely the number of you trying my patience.” But Jim could tell from the way he spoke that he didn’t really mean it, and he found himself grinning at them both.

“Well, Jim,” Pike said. “Welcome to our family.”

Life at the Duke’s estate was pleasant. A Yeshuite healer visited every few days to check the healing marks on Jim’s back. “Zey ver wery deep,” the man said to Pike in his thick Muscovite accent, shaking his head. Jim listened from where he lay on his stomach on his bed, not yet used to the fresh bandages. The men spoke just outside the door of his room.

“Zhey vill leave faint marks. Vell,” he added carefully, “faint on zhe outside. On zhe inside—” He shrugged. “Zhat is somezhing else again. He vill need wery careful tending. You understand zhis, yes?”

Pike’s voice was soft and deep. “Yes. I understand.”

After the healer had gone, Pike came into his room. The man moved very quietly, and Jim felt himself tense with uncertainty despite himself. The man had promised he wouldn’t hurt Jim, and Jim believed him, but the other sailors often spoke laughingly of the D’Angeline predilection for young boys…

He shut his eyes, feigning sleep. There was the sound of weight on a cushion. Somehow he was relieved but not surprised when Pike took a seat in a chair near the bed.

“I know you’re awake, son.” Pike’s voice was warm, reassuring. “You don’t have to pretend here, with me. What’s the matter?”

Jim opened his eyes, taking the man in. Pike’s dark hair was only just turning to silver, and in his brown and bronze colored clothing he reminded Jim of a fox, eyes bright and alert. He said nothing.

Didn’t know how to articulate it.

There was a knock at the door. “Is our brother well? Oh!” Spock’s voice, curious, then apologetic.

Pike gazed on Jim’s face another heartbeat before speaking. “It’s alright, Spock,” he said. “Come on in, and bring Nyota, too. I think Jim needs all three of us right now.”

His foster-siblings’ steps were light. Nyota sat on the bed next to Jim, stroking his hair curiously. “Is he sick?” she asked.

“Not exactly,” Pike said, “though his wounds are healing.”

Spock moved a chair so that he too sat near Jim. “Tell us what bothers you, my brother,” he said in that very serious way of his. “Tell us that we might remedy it.”

Jim flicked his gaze from one to the other of them: Spock like a sapling tree with the promise of wisdom marked on his youthful features even then, Nyota swift and graceful as a bird, Pike large and protecting and—what he supposed he had always wanted a father to be.

“I just—I don’t—” He stopped, paused, then started again. “I don’t remember my mother or father. I used to have a brother,” he said slowly, “but—he had to leave me.”

He remembered that day well, too: how the Captain of the ship had looked between he and Sam, gauging which of them to trade to another ship for a gambling debt owed.

“I’ll go,” Sam had said immediately. He had turned to Jim, speaking to the younger boy in an undertone. “It’ll be safer here for you. Don’t worry.”
The Captain had grunted, then shoved Sam to the other man. The two boys, eyes wide and mouths wordless, had not even had time for a goodbye. That had been four years before, and Jim had not seen him since.

“I—worry you will leave me too,” Jim mumbled into his pillow.

Spock’s expression didn’t waver. “We will never leave you, little brother,” he said firmly. “Not on purpose.”

Nyota got up, and firmly pressed Jim’s hands between her own. “We’re here, Jim. We’re with you, and we promise we won’t leave.


Jim wakes, Bones’s arms around him securely. “Jim?” Bones whispers, like he’s half-hoping Jim might still be asleep.

“Hey, Bones,” Jim whispers back.

“You were dreamin’.” The healer’s voice is muzzy and sleepy, but his fingers skim lightly along Jim’s cheeks, searching—and finding—the tear tracks. “Nightmare?”

“No.” Jim swallows, keeping his voice even in the dark. “Just—just thoughts.”

“Mmph.” Bones doesn’t sound impressed. “I can make you a tea—” He starts to shift to get up, but Jim holds onto him firmly.

“You make me something and I’ll sound like an idiot tomorrow. Nah, I’ll pass,” Jim says lightly. When Bones makes an irritated grunt, Jim continues, “I need all my wits about me. I’ll be fine. Promise.” And he nestles back into the bedclothes firmly, sheets still damp with his own sweat, and focuses on making his breaths deep and even like he’s already gone back to sleep. Bones subsides, holding him carefully, and then he dozes off again.

Jim remains awake.

~

King Komack is much as Jim remembers him from the last time he was at Court—a year ago now, maybe. The king’s hair is still dark, his eyes sharp, but nonetheless he seems older than he did before Nero’s attack. He is a King who has known pain and loss, who has watched his own men die. Jim thinks he should feel something like sympathy for him, but doesn’t.

A dog may love his master, but he can’t know him, he thinks as he kneels before the throne. He takes the Servant’s position: abeyante, his head bent down modestly.

“Jim Kirk nó Pike. You may rise.” The King’s voice is warm and welcoming, but Jim remains in his formal stance. He knows that if Komack wants him at his ease, then he has every reason to be be far from it.

“My King.” He does not look up as he stands, slowly. “You asked me to attend.”

“I did indeed. Come here, Duke.”

Jim finally raises his head to look at the man. It had taken many months, but Pike had indeed left him the title as well as the estates. Jim was a peer of the realm, and he hated it. More than anything, he wishes he was back at his country home, only hours away yet seeming much, much farther here in the luxurious confines of the palace… “Your majesty?”

Komack smiles. “You have done us a great service in the past,” he says slowly. “I know about the various—skills”—and he pauses on the word delicately—“that the Duke Pike imparted to you.” Jim keeps his expression carefully neutral. “I would ask for one more such favor.”

“One more favor,” Jim echoes. He wishes he could keep the bitterness out of his voice, but he—can’t. He looks directly into Komack’s brown eyes. “My Duke Pike died for the last favor Your Majesty asked of him. So did my—my foster family.”

The King does not flinch; indeed, if he hears any accusation in Jim’s words, he gives no sign of it. “You are a member of the Unseen Guild, are you not?” he asks instead.

Jim blinks at the seeming non sequitor, then laughs. “Seriously?! Those are legends,” he starts to say, but the King cuts him off quickly.

“None of your dissembling, courtesan.” Komack’s voice is firm, and Jim focuses on keeping his features carefully neutral and innocent even as his mind leaps ahead, planning his next word and move.

The Guild is very firm about all matters pertaining to information spread about those Unseen, and Jim will be damned if he makes a slip before the King. Not even Bones knows about them.

Komack, seemingly oblivious, unrolls an elaborate sheet of parchment and hands it to him. “Tell me what you think of this.”

Jim peers at it. “It’s a map.” It seems straightforward enough, too. Town names are written in a clear hand denoting a series of settlements; the words ‘New Londinium’ are larger than the rest, with a mark nearby signaling a port. There are lines for rivers and boundaries, and various other demarcations signifying both manmade and natural landmarks. A series of crosshatchings overlay some of these, with unfamiliar words in a different, messier scrawl. “Cayuga. Haudenosaunee. Algonquin?” He looks up at the King, puzzled but interested despite himself. “What do these mean?”

“Indigenous tribes, some friendlier than others.” Komack presses one finger to the parchment illustratively. “You know the Aragonians first started trade with the Nahuatl Empire to the South a generation gone. The Albans have begun exploring the Northern part of the continent more recently.” He frowns, looking past the map and Jim both meditatively. “What’s more, the Yeshuites are immigrating to Terra Nova in droves—looking for their ‘promised land’ no doubt. Apparently Skaldia was a bit of a disappointment in the end.”

Bits of information connect in Jim’s mind at that: The Yeshuites had gone North hundreds of years before, following a visionary prophet who spoke of the world’s ending and a new world reborn. Like so many charismatic men with revelatory auguries, it had ultimately come to nothing, and many of them had dispersed over the years to parts of Vralia and Muscovy. In the Old World, they were one of dozens of religions, but through the whispers of the Unseen Guild, Jim had heard reports of a new prophet promising redemption to the faithful and punishment to the wicked.

This much, at least, Komack knows as well.

“Yeah,” Jim says lightly, stalling for time as the King looks at him expectantly. “I knew a guy once who was into all that. And it’s great. Really,” Jim says as he hands the map back to the King. “Awesome. Now what does this have to do with me?”

Komack gives him a small smile that almost—almost—covers up his impatience. “I want you to go to Terra Nova, Duke Pike. I want you to be my—Ambassador.”

Jim stares at him. “What? You can’t be serious!” He starts to laugh, but it falls flat. “Sire, I can’t! I’m flattered, but—”

But you and your fosterlings know more of the languages and customs of both worlds than anyone else I know of who is yet outside the pockets of the Tiberians. The previous Duke Pike saw to that.”

“Sire,” Jim says slowly, “I am no Chris Pike, Duke of Secrets and Spies.” He uses the old appellation the Court had been so fond of bandying about. “I am Jim Kirk. No more. No less.”

The King makes a dismissive gesture, turning his back to Jim as he himself looks at the map again thoughtfully. “And you, Jim Kirk nó Pike no-more no-less, have nonetheless saved this kingdom once before with nothing but your words and a dagger. I’m not asking you for a favor,” he says in a completely different tone, “I am giving you an order. I’ll pay, and I’ll pay you well. I have also heard that you have left Naamah’s Service,” he says, changing subjects so quickly

Jim is briefly astonished. “Is it true?”

“Yes.” Jim’s jaw snaps shut. “Your majesty,” he adds pro forma.

Komack turns back to him, a small smile overtaking his previously taciturn expression. “I see,” he says. “Would you perhaps be willing to rededicate yourself to Her to further our ends?”

Jim feels a rush of cold, then heat: he is seldom given to real anger, but this—! “No, sir,” he says steadily, “I would not.”

This seems to surprise the King. “Interesting,” he says after a beat. “I had heard many things of you while you were in Pike’s service. I would never have expected such a—change—in character.”

“I follow the Blessed Elua’s precept. As do we all.” In case that isn’t clear enough, Jim adds pointedly, “I will commit neither heresy nor blasphemy, not even for you, my King.”

“So be it,” Komack says with something that might have been regret. “You’ll take ship in two weeks’ time. I give you the use of my purse but not my seal. Understood?”

So the mission was funded by the King but not officially sanctioned: This makes Jim more uneasy than ever. “I never said I was going. What if there’s trouble?”

“Ah, I forgot to mention.” Komack takes out another pair of papers from his coat. He hands them to Jim. “There is this small matter as well. I believe it will be of interest to you from what certain of my other—friends—have told me. And if there’s trouble, I believe you can handle it. You always do.”

Jim takes the proffered documents and opens them up. For a moment, the words—and the sketch that accompany them—don’t even make sense. Not really.

It is a very long moment before he can say anything.

“That’s—” His voice is trembling—it’s fucking trembling—and he breaks off. “I haven’t seen him since—” He looks up at the King, clenching the paper so tightly his knuckles are white. He knows he’s giving himself away—can see that Komack knows it and this is not good, not good at all—but he’s too far gone to care. “Where did you get this?”

“I have friends in low places as well as high,” Komack says with smug implacability. “You’ll find that dossier I just handed you also has information on his ship, which typically harbors in New Londinium towards the end of the season. However, this year he’s in Marsilikos. He’s changed his name slightly,” he continues as Jim’s gaze returns to the sketch, heart hammering and eyes hungry. “Something to do with his adoptive family, I believe. But you should be able to find him, nonetheless. I suspect you’ll have a great deal to talk about after all these years, no?” Smiling as if he knows already that he has won, Komack sits down in his chair lazily. “Looking forward to this trip a bit more now, eh?”

~

“Are ye alright, sir?” Scotty says, concern lacing his thick Alban brogue.

Jim blinks; he’s somehow managed, he realizes, to have navigated the labyrinthine confines of the palace all the way to the carriage house. “Um,” he says brilliantly.

Scotty frowns, light eyes wide. “I wasna called to pick ye up. Is all well?”

“I’m not sure,” Jim says after a moment. He looks down at the papers, still held tightly in his hand. He unfolds them again, looking at the sketch one more time. The paper is crumpled, but the portrait is still clear. He folds it again and slips it inside his jerkin. “The town house now, please, Mister Scott.”

Scotty nods, closing the carriage door behind him securely.

The ride home seems to take twice as long as it should. Jim taps his foot anxiously against the floor of the carriage, staring out the window as he tries to think of how he’s going to explain all this to Bones.

Not that that goes according to plan, either.

“The King wants you to dowhat?!” Bones asks in disbelief when Jim has told him everything.

“You heard me.” Jim can’t even look at the man. Instead, he focuses on pouring a small glass of brandy from the crystal decanter in their study. “He’s sending me to Terra Nova.” He tips it back, draining the glass sharply. “Don’t worry, I won’t ask you to accompany me.” He slams the glass down on the lacquered table. “Not you, or any of the others. Only I am beholden to Komack.”

“The hell you say!” Bones is furious. He runs his fingers through his short hair until it stands on end like a fretful hedgehog. “Jim, you don’t have to do this! He owes you already!”

Jim winces. “He is the King,” he says shortly. He focuses on pouring himself another drink, keeping his features carefully arranged in carefree nonchalance. “Pike gave him his allegiance, and I gave mine to Pike.” He feels sick at the thought of leaving Bones behind, as well as all the others—Scotty and Keenser, Pavel and Hikaru.

“Which means you’re going to move your life on his say so?” Bones is outraged. “Jim, you’re a free man now; you can come and go as you like.”

“None of us is ever truly free, Bones,” Jim murmurs. He salutes his consort, downing the drink in a single gulp before turning to face him. “I’ll free you of your vow, if you—if you want me to. But this—this I gotta do. Okay?”

Bones stares at him. He’s gone pale, which means he’s more furious than ever. “Release me from my—? Oh the hell you say!” He takes Jim by the shoulders, pulling him close, covering his mouth for a bruising kiss. When he pulls back, his voice is a throaty growl. “No more of this talk. Where you go, I go. Now when are we leaving, dammit?”

Jim stares at him, unconvinced that he’s even heard him right. “What? What did you say?” But something lightens in his chest, even as he says the words.

Bones holds Jim’s face in his hands, full mouth quirked slightly as if he can’t decide whether he wants to kiss him or yell some more. “You heard me, idiot. When are we leaving?”

Jim takes a deep breath. “That’s not all of it, Bones. Not by a long shot. There’s—there’s more to it than that.”

“Tell me,” Bones says, and Jim does.

All of it.

~

A sevenday later, they are in the harbors of Marilikos.

The docks smell familiar, like sea and fish and timber, and Jim marvels at the lift he feels inside as his senses take them in: it’s not quite like the fluttering of Naamah’s grace, but something that feels similar and right all at once.

You could be a scion of Azza, with eyes like that…

Pike’s voice in memory, and Bones’s too. Azza, patron of sea and travelers. Jim had prayed to him even as a boy on the Tiberian galleys…

Bones is less enthused, but keeps pace with him. “I don’t understand the secrecy, Jim,” he mutters quietly. “Hell, if Komack set it all up himself—“

“It’s Guild business, nonetheless. Now try to blend in.” Jim represses a rueful smile as Bones clenches his jaw in annoyance, but tries to comply. They both carry their daggers, the hilts barely visible under their coats. If they get in trouble, or worse, separated, at least they’ll be able to protect themselves somewhat. Jim isn’t worried for himself so much as Bones, but knowing Bones can protect himself makes this whole ordeal easier to bear.

All knowledge is worth having, son.

Pike’s words, and Jim pushes the memory back as Bones speaks once more. “The Strutting Cockerel,” he reads the sign of the tavern, then shoots an amused look at Jim. “Really?”

“That’s where they said he’d be,” Jim says with a shrug. He looks deep into Bones’s hazel eyes, trying to impress the importance of his words on the man. “Remember what I told you. Follow my lead, watch—and say little.”

“Oh, right,” Bones says with the ghost of a snort. “Put it like that, it’ll be a cakewalk, of course. Why not just wait until we’re aboardship?”

“Because if Komack lied to me I’d rather know about it now,” Jim all but hisses in frustration. “Look, if you don’t want to do this, that’s fine. Go home. I can do this by myself!”

Bones glares at him, but gives him a short nod of compliance. Jim slaps his shoulder companionably—something like an apology.

And in they go.

Inside the air is thick with smoke from the pipes the men are so fond of here, and the place reeks of cheap beer and ale. The men inside are ill-washed and loud, and Jim is glad he and Bones are both dressed in drab homespun. As much as he likes—and sometimes misses—the brightly colored plumage of the Night Court, such luxe would draw unwelcome attention, particularly on an errand like this.

“Ho, barkeep,” he greets the man behind the counter. The man grunts at them. “Ale.” He puts two coins on the counter and they are given a pair of mugs. Bones peers into his dubiously, then drinks; Jim pretends to. He waits a moment, then continues. “I’m looking for a friend of mine,” he says conversationally. “Sam Kirok.”

The man grunts again. “You a friend of his, you know where he be. Yonder,” he finishes with a nod of his head to a room behind him. Jim gives him a short smile and another coin, then gestures for Bones to follow him.

The room is quiet after the din beyond, partitioned off with a half-hearted curtain of stained canvas; it had probably been a bit of sail in a previous life.

The space here is smaller, and there are several round tables with men playing at cards.

“Great,” Bones says dryly. “How will we find our man?”

“Damn and blast ye, Sam Kirok!” one man growls at another.

“I think that’s a hint,” Jim says.

“And damn you for a liar, Finnegan,” says the man who must be Kirok, and the table they sit at is abruptly upended as they stand up, facing one another.

“Do you now?” Bones returns as they back up to make space for the fight; the other patrons scatter in a wake of cards and spilt bottles.

“I warned you before!” Kirok’s voice is low and threaded with danger. He’s a tall man, with a wiry build and a formerly white sailor’s bandanna around his head, keeping his dirty blonde hair out of the way. He’s clean-shaven, though, unlike the other men around them.

“Aye, and so ye did, Sammy me boy,” says ‘Finnegan’, who is a head shorter and thickset, with the red hair and lilt of Eire. He pulls an Aragonian pistola from his belt, and cocks it at the other man; the snap of the triggering mechanism seems much louder than it is. “And did I not warn ye o’ my thoughts on the matter?”

“Jim!” Bones’s voice is a hiss in his ear.

“I know. Stay back,” he murmurs back. More loudly, and feigning ease, he says, “Is all this really necessary, gentlemen?”

The other men’s gazes flick to him for a heartbeat, but they remain in their dangerous tableau.

“What’s it to ye, laddy?” Finnegan asks Jim.

“I’ve business with Mister Kirok myself.”

Kirok licks his lips, chuckling darkly. “Get in line, friend,” he says with cocky bravado. To Finnegan he continues, “As for you, either shoot me or not, I haven’t got all bloody day here!”

That strikes Finnegan with surprise, Jim notes; he had expected his weapon to give him—something more. Fear, mayhap? But it hadn’t. And Aragonian pistolas were no easy things to come by, either.

“This is madness! Put the thing down before one of you damn fools gets killed!” Bones’s voice is rough with anger.

Jim feels a familiar surge of affection for the man—so concerned for others—mixed with annoyance: He’d all but told him to keep him out of this. “My friend is right,” he says lightly. “There’s no need for blood here.”

Finnegan spares him a wild, irritated look. “Speak for yourself—”

The pistola fires.

Finnegan jerks backwards from the kickback of the weapon; there’s blood on Kirok’s shirt, and then the Eirean man is running out of the all but abandoned room.

“Dammit!” says Bones, rushing to Kirok’s side where the sailor has fallen back in shock. “Jim, I need your help!”

“Tell me what to do,” he says immediately, joining his consort. No point in trying to catch Finnegan himself, he decides; whatever caused this, his real quarry is right here, bleeding out before his very eyes.

“Press down here.” Bones’s hands guide him to the spots over the wound; it’s in Kirok’s shoulder, and the man makes only a token protest of pain. “Harder!”

“What the blazes?” The barkeep sticks his head in now that the real commotion is over.

“I’m a healer,” Bones barks back. “I need alcohol for disinfectant and any clean linen you have!”

The barkeep starts to retort in uncomplimentary Tiberian, but Jim forestalls him. “Just do it,” he says shortly, “I’ll pay for the inconvenience.” Mollified at the promise of further coin, the man shuffles off quickly. Now that the violence is over, others creep back inside to gawk as the healer starts to work.

“When I told you to get in line, I hardly thought you were serious,” Kirok says. Beads of sweat stand out on his forehead, and he gives them a slight grin. “To whom do I have the honor?”

“Honor my ass,” Bones says darkly. “Shut up, I’m working.” He’s got his healer’s bag open, rummaging for the tools he needs. He ignores the audience around them, who stand to the side.

“Is he always like this?” Kirok asks Jim.

“Sometimes he’s angry,” Jim answers. Kirok makes a chuckle that becomes a groan of pain.

“I’d hate tae see that!” Another sailor says, and there’s rough laughter.

“I said shut up!” Bones doesn’t turn to the men, but his manner is fierce enough that they stay quiet as he pulls out a small pair of forceps. “I need to get that ball out. Here, hold him like—yes. There.”

Jim does as he is bid, and the barkeep returns with a brown bottle of spirit that burns Jim’s nostrils and a length of cloth that is at the least cleaner than anything else in this place. Bones takes the bottle without a word, splashing some of its contents on the forceps and then on Kirok’s bloody shoulder. Kirok
howls.

“Don’t be such an infant,” Bones says to Kirok, adding to Jim, “Hold him tightly, I found the ball.”

Another patron makes a rude joke in Aragonian, but his fellows shush him. They watch the spectacle avidly. Jim is disgusted at their morbid interest, but he supposes that this will have its own benefits later: the men now know there’s a first rate surgeon in town tonight, they’ll be able to pick up more information this way…

Jim holds Kirok firmly as the man makes another harsh sound of pain. Bones pulls out a bloodied sphere.

“Thank the gods for some favors,” the healer mutters, placing it and the tool to one side.

“You call this a favor?” Kirok mutters.

“Yeah, you owe me one,” Bones growls back.

“The ball’s in one piece,” Jim explains. “Look on the bright side: he’s only going to stitch you up once, and he won’t have to go back in later looking for bits.” He keeps his voice bright, but in his mind’s eye he can see all too clearly the memories of Komack’s men after the Camaeline battles with Nero…

“Jim?” Bones prompts him, and he returns firmly to the present, holding Kirok securely as Bones begins stitching the wound. Afterwards he binds Kirok’s arm tightly to the man’s chest with the length of linen.

There’s some scattered applause from the men. After Jim gives the barkeep another pair of coins for his trouble, he and Kirok retreat to a table in the back with another bottle of spirit and a bowl of stew for the sailor—for the shock, Bones says—while the healer sets up an impromptu shop to the side.

“I can’t believe Smitty’s letting him get away with this,” Kirok says in bemused admiration as Bones yells at another man while pulling a tooth. The sailor is still sweating heavily, but his face has some color in it.

“Dinner and a show,” Jim says. “Look, I’ve some questions for you.”

“Aye?” Kirok gazes at him cannily. “And what did you say your name is, again?”

“Jim,” he answers immediately, before continuing hastily, “I hear you have a ship—a ship called the Enterprize.”

“Aye, and what of it?” Kirok looks him over appraisingly, brow furrowed. “You look familiar, ‘Jim.’” He says the name oddly, and Jim’s gut clenches in anxiety.
“I get that a lot.” He forces an easy smile and tries not to feel the beads of sweat along his back. “My—friend—and I, we want to book passage on your ship. To Terra Nova.”

“Aye, and easily done.” Kirok’s expression eases, though he still looks uncertain. “We leave in nine days’ time. Meet us at seven bells.” His expression clears, blue eyes suddenly bright. Jim swallows, because they are a mirror of his own. “I owe ye one, as your friend said. If’n yon healer is willing to act as ship’s doctor, I’ll take ye both free of charge.”

“Deal!” Jim beams sunnily, as if a weight has been lifted from his shoulders.

Kirok grins back, spits in his hand, and holds it out to him. Jim spits in his own, shaking it firmly. “Deal!”

That’s when Bones comes back. “That is beyond unsanitary,” he mutters, and empties Jim’s mug of ale for him.

Kirok raises an eyebrow at the healer in amusement. “Right then,” he says conversationally to Jim. “I best be goin’ then. I thank ye for your help.” He doffs an imaginary hat at Bones. “I’ll see you both again, shall I?”

“Nine days,” Jim assents with a nod.

“Nine days,” Kirok agrees, and then he’s gone.

“So,” Bones says after he’s left. “You think it’s him?”

Jim takes another deep swallow of ale. “Yeah,” he says. “That’s my big brother, alright.”

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