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Heaven is Bloodless, Part Five



Masterpost

They are in the Duke’s courtyard. Spock is tall beside him, lanky in his adolescence and topping Jim easily by over a handspan. They both hold onto their wooden dummy arms, leather guards strapped onto their arms firmly.

The old Cassiline brother circles them thoughtfully while Pike looks on from the porch, sitting at his ease with his arms crossed. Nyota sits at his feet, a book open on her lap, but she’s given up even the pretext of reading.

“Not bad, not bad,” Mattheu says thoughtfully. “You’re both in better shape than some of the boys sent to the Brothers these days. I’ll say that much for you, at least.”

He walks around them once more, and he reminds Jim of nothing so much as the rangy seagulls that used to perch by the docks of the ships as he was growing up: sleek feathers of gray and white, bright eyes ever intent on all activity around them. They would think nothing of stealing a crust of bread from your hands if you didn’t eat it fast enough.

“Not bad,” he says again. “Alright, then, boys. Do your worst.” Jim and Spock exchange a look of astonishment. Mattheu smiles at them encouragingly, and while it’s not a nice expression, it’s not cruel, either. “I mean it. Come on, now.”

Even as young boys, Jim and Spock have a rapport. Without a word, they move as one, Spock using his height to his advantage to strike at the older man, Jim using his speed and wiry build to dart behind the Cassiline. Mattheu is canny though, dodging them easily; he strikes Spock heavily on the back before landing a cuff on Jim’s ear. The blow to the other boy is hard enough that he loses his balance and falls into the dust. The Cassiline spins expertly, hitting Spock once more.

“Hey!” Jim is outraged at what he perceives as dirty fighting. He leaps onto the Cassiline from behind, wrapping his arms around the man’s chest to pull him back before he can hurt his friend again. Mattheu spins again, dislodging him and pulling his arm sharply behind his back. Jim cries out in pain.

“None of that now, young master,” the older man says with a laugh. “Ah!” He breaks off as Spock is up again, tackling him to the ground in a rare display of anger.

“Don’t—hurt—him!” The older boy grates out, pressing the man down, hands at his throat. “He—is—my—brother!”

“Spock!” Pike’s voice is harsh, echoing loudly in the sudden silence of the courtyard. Jim breathes raggedly; his arm still hurts. Nyota has her hands over her mouth; her eyes are wide.

Spock doesn’t look up, but his expression is shaken, and then Mattheu starts to laugh.

They all stare, even Pike looking puzzled before relaxing his guard. Spock moves to get up, offering the Cassiline his hand. Mattheu takes it, standing up and dusting himself off, still chuckling. His laughter is like the cawing of a bird, too, Jim thinks, but he beams at them.

“I don’t think I would have credited it, my Duke,” he says to Pike. “Your little hothouse flowers have spirits of steel!”

Pike’s lips twitch in amusement. Nyota’s eyes are still huge and alarmed, and he puts a calming hand on her shoulder. “They have much more than that,” he says. “You’ll train them, then? Though less alarmingly to an audience, mayhap.” He pulls Nyota close to him in affection, and the girl giggles in relief.

“Aye,” Mattheu says, looking at Jim and Spock. “Aye, I’ll train them.”


Jim wakes up abruptly, eyes snapping open.

“You were dreaming of them again,” Bones says. Early morning light forms a halo behind his head, emphasizing his dark hair and skin. He rests his head on one fist; he’s been watching Jim sleep, clearly. His dark eyes are affectionate and worried at once.

“Yeah,” Jim says slowly, voice still fuzzy with sleep. His mouth feels thick and slow, like it’s full of cotton. I didn’t drink that much, did ? “I was.”

“Mmm.” Bones leans forward and kisses his forehead. “I wish—” He breaks off, pausing. “I wish I knew what more I could do to help you, Jim.”

Jim cups his hand at the back of Bones’s neck, pulling him close once more. “You help me more than you’ll ever know, Bones,” he says softly, and the healer gives him a long, lingering kiss as Naamah’s Grace starts to settle around them in its own comfort.

~

The rain remains. After the drought, the rain is welcomed by most of the inhabitants of New Londinium; freshly arrived from Terre d’Ange, the Kirk household is less enthused. Scotty and Hikaru entertain themselves at cards while Jim reads. Bones at least entertains himself in his dispensary, inventorying his various herbs and medicines and making a list of what he desires of the apothecary. Pavel sits awkwardly, mind clearly not on the game.

“Go ahead and say something, Pav,” Hikaru says at last. “You’ve got something on your mind and it’s exhausting.”

“’Ere, ‘ere,” mutters Scotty.

“What he said,” Jim adds, not looking up from his book.

Pavel glares at them all, flushing darkly when Jim does look up at him with a wide, shit-eating grin.

“Go ahead, Mister Chekov,” Jim says gently, relenting.

Pavel sighs in relief, then takes a big breath. “If you’d not mind, my Duke, I vould wery much like to attend zhe Yeshuite serwices this ewening.” He turns darker still. “Please, my Duke?”

Jim blinks in surprise, then nods. “Of course. I’d prefer you not go alone, though.” He turns to the others. “Sulu? Scotty?”

“I’ll go with him,” Hikaru volunteers, not even looking up from his cards.

Scotty sighs in relief, then makes a brief cry of frustration as Hikaru shows his cards—clearly a winning hand. Hikaru just beams at him, and the game starts over.

~

“Where’re Pavel and Hikaru?” Bones wants to know that evening at dinner.

“They went tae the Yeshuite services,” Scotty says, not looking up as Rand dishes him a hearty portion of stew. “Lad said he was a mite curious.”

“And you let them go?” Bones stares at Jim in disbelief.

“Yeah, and why not?” Jim meets his gaze evenly, watching Rand out of the corner of his eye. She is going about her business, but he notices her hand is shaking as she holds the ladle.

Because it’s not safe! Bones’s thoughts may as well be emblazoned on his face, though surely only Jim could read him so clearly? He understands Jim’s own silent message and drops his gaze, grunting in answer. “I just worry is all,” he mutters, sitting down and glowering into the bowl Rand has placed before him.

“And you say I’m the paterfamilias!” Jim says without heat. “Thank you,” he says to Rand as she fills his own dish. Her hands are steady now.

“My pleasure,” she murmurs, and if there’s anything hidden in her words, he can’t detect it.

The other men return after the meal has been concluded; Scotty has disappeared, presumably to play cards or some such with Mister Kyle, but Jim and Bones remain at the table, maps and books spread before them.

“Welcome back, gentlemen,” Jim greets Pavel and Hikaru as they enter. The pair of them are rather damp, Chekov’s curls pasted to his skull while droplets gleam on Sulu’s hair. “How was your evening?”

“Odd, sir,” Hikaru answers as Pavel pauses; the man is frank as ever. “There was a man calling himself a preacher who wished to speak. The Rebbe—not Rebbe David, the Rebbe of this church—let Matthiah speak for quite a while.” From his tone, whatever the man had said had clearly disturbed him.

“Go on,” Bones prompts helpfully.

“It vas wery ugly,” Pavel blurts. “Matthiah is not a kind man, nor a good Yeshuite. But so many people agreed vith him!”

It takes rather more time than Jim would like to get the whole of the tale out of them. The Alban and Aragonian contingents of Yeshuites, typically embattled over their various orthodoxies in the old world, had found themselves bound more tightly together in the new—not least because of several journeymen preachers bent on converting the local natives to the worship of their One God.

“I’m not as well-versed in Yeshuite theology as you, Duke,” Hikaru says with a frown, “but it seems to me these men are beyond the pale! At least, I hope they are.”

“Why do you say that?” Bones wants to know. He’s frowning, and Jim notices Rand peeking at them through the small space between the partially closed door between this room and the kitchen. It’s only for a moment, though, and then she’s gone.

A not insignificant proportion of the Yeshuites wanted to convert the natives—not to mention the non-believers from the old world. They further viewed the recent droughts and plagues on the “godlessness” of both the Aragonian Mithraists and the pantheists of Alba and Tiberium.

Jim frowns. “What about us?”

“Whores and sinners all.” Hikaru makes a face. “That was right about the time I wanted to leave. Your Rebbe David spoke up, though.”

“I bet that was a sight to see!” Bones chuckles in admiration, but it was uneasy humor. “What did he say?”

“He gave speech about how all paths are as one,” Pavel answers, “and he talked about sheep.”

“We’re all one flock in the eyes of the shepherd?” Jim raises an eyebrow, and Pavel nods. “It’s one of their holy poems. I kind of like the sentiment, if not the comparison. All sheep go to slaughter soon or later,” he explains to the boy, whose confusion is mixed with disgust.

“Relax, no metaphor’s perfect, kid,” Bones says in an unexpectedly soothing voice.

“I vas just—disappointed, sir,” Pavel says. Sulu squeezes his arm consolingly. “I had thought better of people, before this.” He gives his partner a small smile of thanks, and Hikaru’s lips curve upwards reassuringly.

“People can be disappointing, Pavel,” Jim says. He resists the urge to look at Bones, remembering how they had once had a similar conversation, years ago. “They can also be our redemption. You can’t forget that part, either.”

“As you say, my Duke,” Pavel concludes. His misery has not left him, however. “ I still do not understand it. Not at all.”

~

“This is an unholy mess,” Jim says in the quiet of their rooms as they prepare for bed. “Plagues, drought, murders, religious tensions—explain to me how this is the New World again?”

Leonard washes his face from the water in the basin as he listens to Jim, scrubbing it dry with a towel. “Easy,” he says shortly. “Inferior plumbing.” That makes Jim laugh, so he allows himself a small measure of peace for a moment. “Aside from the fact that there’s no running hot water here, what exactly were you expecting when the King sent us here?”

Jim exhales, long and loud. “Something—something I guess I could fix, I suppose,” he says honestly. He stretches out on their bed, staring at the ceiling. “I guess I thought he wanted me to be a hero again, not a—y’know—”

“Ambassador?” Leonard raises a mocking eyebrow.

Jim chuckles ruefully. “I’m a fool sometimes. I should have said no.”

Leonard steps into bed, sliding his body against Jim’s, twining their legs together. “Saying no to the King has its own set of difficulties.”

Jim’s small smile turns sickly. “I did say him nay to one thing.”

Leonard raises his other eyebrow questioningly. This doesn’t sound good.

“He wanted to know if I’d rededicate myself to Naamah,” Jim explains. Leonard stares at him for a solid moment, first in blank incomprehension, then in bafflement. “I obviously said no.”

“That doesn’t make him asking you that any better!” Leonard holds him more tightly as fury floods through him. “Dammit, Jim! That’s almost Blasphemy!”

“Tell me about it,” Jim mutters into his neck.

Leonard pulls back to look at him, giving his consort more space. Jim’s body has grown tense—likely starting with his admission and then with Leonard’s angry reaction. Leonard forces himself to relax. “I hate him for asking you and I hate him for using you. I don’t care if he’s the king, I don’t care if House Courcel is Elua’s own bloodline, it’s not right!”

“Very little is right in this world, Bones,” Jim says with unexpected gentleness. “That’s why—that’s why we have to be here. To fight it.” As he says these words, that now familiar sensation of fluttering like wings is settling in his stomach.

Leonard feels sick.

“Oh, no,” he says.

“Oh, yeah,” Jim says. “It looks like we are where we need to be.” He laughs, ruefully. “I think we have a shared diadh-anam after all, Bones.”

“Great,” Leonard mutters. “Just great.” He pauses. “If you ever think of calling me ‘Bao’ even as a joke, I will smack you.”

Jim laughs, pulling him close, and all serious conversation stops for the night.

~

They are having breakfast the next day when Rand announces a visitor. “It’s the Rebbe David,” she says. Her lips are pursed, the way they are (Jim is starting to learn) when she’s hesitant, surprised, or disapproving. He’s not quite sure which emotion she is feeling right now, but he suspects it is some combination of all three.

“Please, bring him in,” he says, noticing that Pavel looks uncertain at the mention of the Rebbe’s name. He smiles at the boy, trying to look encouraging. He has the feeling that he and Hikaru had left more than a bit out of their tale of their adventure last night, and this is an excellent way to get to the truth of the matter. “There’s more than enough for one more.”

“Aye, sir,” Rand says shortly, disappearing and returning a moment later with the Rebbe. The old man looks rather the worse for wear, face pale and dark circles under his eyes like he hasn’t slept in days. He’s panting as if he’s run miles in minutes.

“Rebbe?” Jim gets to his feet, alarmed—more so when Bones takes one look at the man and hurries to his side.

“Your heart—how does it feel? Do you have any pain in your left arm?” Bones asks, peering into the man’s eyes and pressing his fingers to the pulse point at his neck. The healer impersonally feels at other vital areas assessingly. “You have to let me know—if you’re having a heart attack I can give you a drug, but if it’s something else it will do more harm than good!”

“No pain,” the Rebbe says, sitting down gratefully in the chair Scotty has hastily drawn out for him. “Merely very tired. I am an old man and my strength isn’t what it once was. Oh, do stop, dear boy, I am not your grandfather!” he adds in querulous Yeshuite, slapping Bones’s hands away impatiently.

“No, but you may as well be,” Bones responds with surprising gentleness, but he lets him be. He explains to the others in D’Angeline, “His vitals are sound alright, but he gave me a right scare.” He turns back to the Rebbe. “I’m going to keep an eye on you. If your heartrate doesn’t slow in the next few minutes I will have to give you something, however, otherwise the strain will be its own source of trouble!”

“Ha!” The Rebbe snorts, and Jim has to appreciate for the first time that the kindly man is old, even if he’s not gray and doddering. The years have been kind to him—until now at least. He peers at Hikaru and Pavel, who had stood with the others and are now sitting back down slowly as well. “I wished to know how you fared as well, my boys,” he said to them. “I’m afraid the—debates—last night could hardly have won a place for Yeshua ben Yosef in your hearts if that was all you knew of his followers!”

Pavel swallows and says nothing, but after glancing at Jim for permission, Hikaru answers, “We’ve never seen anything like that before. Back home—in Terre d’Ange—it’s just different. Worship is a private thing, and priests and priestesses don’t—don’t fight like that in front of an audience.”

“Zhey don’t fight at all,” Pavel says very quietly into his bowl of porridge. When they glance at him, he frowns—pouts, almost—and looks defensive. “I alvays vorshipped at Shemhazai’s temple, ewen as a boy. You know his temple in Siovale has mechanical statue of him, yes?”

“We know, Pav,” Hikaru says gently.

Jim knew the statue as well; seeing the Rebbe’s frown, he explained. “Elua’s companion was the angel of knowledge. The statue is built to move around the temple itself at various times of day, and it always carries a placard with his motto on it.”

“All knowledge is worth havin’,” Scotty says, his Siovalese brogue enunciating the vowels of the old saying. “He’s me own patron angel, y’see, mine an’ the boy’s.” He nods at Pavel.

“Ah,” the Rebbe says, looking apologetic. “I truly know so little of your land—I’ve never really spent time there. I regret this now.” He strokes his beard thoughtfully, eyes cast down. “Of course, Naamah is the only companion the Priesthood brings up when discussion turns to the apostate Elua.”

“Elua was no apostate, Rebbe,” Jim says firmly. “He was the child of the earth, bred by the blood of God’s son Yeshua. He was as divine and as mortal as that son, too.” Jim takes in Bones, Hikaru, and Scotty: the stamp of the angels, however diluted by generations of mortal years, nonetheless set them apart. The line of figures and the grace of forms most of all, but the host of subtler things too, like Hikaru’s way with plants and Scotty’s gift of working things, not to mention Bones’s abilities with healing. These very real gifts are their tangible tie they share to something greater beyond them all.

Jim was Tiberian and Pavel Muscovite by birth; their gifts were those of mortal men. Growing up in Terre d’Ange, they had each, in their own way, been keenly aware of the differences that lay between them and the others.

“I apologize, I meant no offense,” Rebbe David says after a heartbeat, bowing his head in apology. “’Apostate’ is the word commonly used among my brethren; I will do my best to use it no more.”

“No ‘ffense taken,” Bones drawls, and the atmosphere that had been tense abruptly relaxes. “Now then, after you’ve scared us half to death and we’ve appalled each other’s gods, d’you want to have breakfast with us?”

~

“I’m planning a venture upriver to visit my friends among the Algonquin,” the Rebbe explains after all the dishes have been cleared away and only Jim and Leonard linger over their mugs of coffee.

The others have excused themselves to take care of their various duties; Pavel Chekov, Leonard is relieved to see, seems to have gotten over his initial horror over the previous evening’s animosity. He doesn’t know all that much about the boy, despite having shared a roof with him for over two years now. He knows that he has intense pride in his native Muscovy, but that he also—like Jim, for that matter—has a deep love for his adopted homeland and its gods.

Love as thou wilt, is the first and only commandment of the Blessed Elua. Born and bred in Naamah’s Service, Leonard himself had always taken the words as a platitude. When Jim’s patron gift had paid for his Marque and thus his freedom—the ideal made tangible in the lines of ink on his skin—he had finally understood the difference between thought and practice. Love as practiced in the thirteen Houses of the Court of the Night-Blooming Flowers was most often the physical act, the bringing together of bodies. The bringing together of souls was something else again.

Looking at Jim, deep in conversation with Rebbe David, Leonard knows that he’s only just begun to touch the surface of what it is to be bound to someone. It’s one thing, after all, to share a house and a life together, and another thing altogether to cross seas and continents, to leave behind all that is known and loved and familiar for a life of uncertainty, danger, and, it seems, destiny.

He suspects that, in the end, he may have to move Heaven and Earth before all’s said and done.

Leonard has to push these musings to the side, however, when Jim looks over at him with his blue gaze and rakish grin. “Hey, Bones. What do you think about a boat trip?”

They make their plans for the venture, but first, they have business with one Don Diego de Escabarres.

They dress for the Don’s dinner in D’Angeline style. To be D’Angeline is to appreciate beauty in all its forms, and it is true, they say, that clothes make the man. Jim and Leonard may no longer be flowers of the court, but they do mean to make an impression. Jim wears a tunic of a yellow so deep in color it may as well be gold, with real cloth-of-gold braids along his sleeves, and black trousers of simple cut, and black boots polished ‘til they shine. Leonard is as ever his darker counterpart: his tunic is dark blue, though with similar gold braids on his sleeves, and his trousers and boots are much like Jim’s.

If any of Escabarres’s other guests had had any doubts as to the relationship between the newly arrived D’Angeline lords, there was none when they made their entrance, side-by-side: mirrors of one another.

To Leonard’s relief, the dinner party isn’t as great an affair as some of the more ridiculous affectations they have suffered at court before. John Gill, the Alban ambassador, is there with his assistant, a man with dark hair and burning eyes that looks like a right piece of work to Leonard. He is introduced as Matthiah Melakon. Gill wears sober clothing of drab olive, but Melakon is clad head to toe in brilliant black with slashes of red in his sleeves.

“James Kirk,” Melakon says to Jim with rather more familiarity than Leonard would like. “All grown up. I would never have expected it!”

Jim’s smile is as bright as ever as he takes this comment in stride. “Have we met before? I’m sorry, I don’t recall—”

“We’ve met.” Melakon’s expression reminds Leonard of a snake. “I’m a bit of an expatriate myself, you know. But you called me Mattheu once. You and your brother, Spock.”

“Oh, splendid,” Gill says, whether willfully or truthfully oblivious, Leonard isn’t sure. “It’s always better when everyone knows one another.”

“Really,” Leonard can’t help but say darkly. This is starting to feel increasingly like an ambush, though it’s unclear for what purpose. He and Jim exchange a glance; clearly, they are in complete agreement.

That’s why it’s only fuel on the fire when another man enters the conversation.

“Mister Kirk, I didn’t know you had a brother.” Captain Samuel Kirok smiles politely at all of them. “Is he still in Terre d’Ange?”

“He is in the true Terre d’Ange,” Mattheu, or Matthiah, or Melakon, or whatever the hell his name says. “The one that lies beyond.”

Jim is pale but his voice is even when he answers. “My foster-brother died a hero, fighting to save our lives,” he explains to Kirok. “Much of what I am, I am because of him.” Turning to Leonard, he says, “Messire Mattheu—or what you will—taught Spock and I Cassiline arms in our youth. Because of him”—and the emphasis is very clear—“Spock knew to commit the terminus that ended his life, and that of Nyota’s.”

“I see,” Kirok says, though it’s clear that he doesn’t. The story of Lord Nero’s attack on the House of Pike is well known throughout Terre d’Ange; likewise, how Jim Kirk was its sole survivor and how he escaped Nero’s clutches to warn the King of impending attack from the Tiberians.

In Terre d’Ange, Jim Kirk is a hero. Here, he is just another politician. It makes Leonard sick.

“Ah, I see we are all acquainted, then.” And there’s Escabarres. “Shall we?”

The dinner is, needless to say, tense after that.

Leonard fights the urge to partake of more than the single glass of Rhenish wine served at the table. Instead, he nods and listens and mouths pretty words, fighting every bit of his essential nature for Jim’s sake. That’s how it takes him so long to notice the oddest part of the whole thing.

All of Escabarres’s guests are men of the Old World. There are no women, no Terra Novans.

He’s a heck of an Ambassador, isn’t he? Leonard thinks, but then reminds himself of the messages the man had given Jim. If they are being watched, maybe it’s just such a gathering as this is what the man wants them to see.

Intrigue and politics. These are Jim’s games, not mine. I’m a simple healer. But he has to admit, as he watches and speaks carefully, that’s not true, not anymore. Not that it had ever been.

~

This is why it‘s a relief when, two days later, he finds himself on a skiff with Jim, Scotty, Pavel, Hikaru, the Rebbe David, and a pair of his fellow Yeshuite missionaries, Johann and Ruth. Their vessel is little more than a tub with a sail in it, traveling along the lines of a river that Leonard can barely pronounce.

“Rappahannock,” the Rebbe says patiently. “I can see how closely you attended my gift, Friend Leonard!”

Leonard scowls, frowning at the muddy water lapping at their craft. The waves were as nothing compared to those of the open sea, but all the same he felt the familiar pangs of nausea. “I don’t have a gift for languages, Rebbe,” he says shortly. “I try to keep out of trouble, that’s all.”

“Keep telling yourself that, Bones,” Jim says at the prow where his eyes never leave the shores just beyond their reach. “One day, it might even be true!”

Scotty, Pavel, and Hikaru keep themselves busy about the boat, conducting those chores they had learned on Kirok’s ship. Johann and Ruth are reserved on the first day, but they eventually thaw out somewhat by that nightfall—particularly when they discover that both Leonard and Jim have some Yeshuite and Pavel is Muscovite by birth.

“And you?” Ruth asks Hikaruu curiously. “I’ve never seen someone from Chin before!”

Hikaru regards her with bemusement. “I’m from Terre d’Ange. What makes you think I’m from Chin?”

Ruth flushes deeply, her cheeks turning the colors of roses, and she stumbles on her words before retreating to the far end of the vessel with Johann.

Jim says nothing, merely regards Hikaru with crossed arms and an upraised eyebrow. “Mister Sulu?”

Hikaru meets his gaze evenly “Sir?”

“Play nice. That’s an order.”

Hikaru’s expression is unreadable, then he gives Jim a small smile as he mimics an Alban sailor’s salute, pressing two fingers to his forehead. “Aye, sir.”

“Dare I ask?” Leonard watches him join Pavel, who sits cross-legged amidst a stack of hempen rope; the pair of them appear to be making fishing nets.

“Hmm?” Jim is staring into the distance, eyes thoughtful and unfocused. They catch the reflection of the river, coloring them very dark. Lost in introspection, his mobile face is still and stern, all but closed off from the world. It makes Leonard uneasy. Then Jim blinks, visibly transforming into a picture of concentration and attentiveness as he regards Leonard. “What is it, Bones?”

“I—nothing.” Idle curiosity seems foolish and secondary to what’s going on with Jim. He coughs, clearing his throat. “Just—nothing.”

“Nothing,” Jim echoes. “Right.” He slaps Leonard on the shoulder with some of his old energy. “Hang in there, Bones, we’ll be there before you know it.”

There of course being miles into the wilderness, surrounded by dangerous natives who had possibly killed at least one Alban.

“Great,” Leonard mutters to himself. “I can’t hardly wait.”

~

It takes four days to make the journey upriver properly. Jim has no idea what landmarks the Rebbe might be referencing, but about midmorning the old man beams more brightly than ever and announces, “Ah! Here we are!”

“Here’s at the corner of rock and sand, is it?” Bones says softly, and Jim looks at him out of the corner of his eye. Bones is looking away from him, though, towards shore. His bronze skin is flushed with the sun of the last few days, and his lips are in a thin line of dubious disapproval as they steer closer to the dark expanse of mud that leads to silt and then thick, tall grass. When the water is knee-deep everyone with the exception of Ruth leaps out, hauling the vessel to ground.

“What next, my Father?” Johann asks the Rebbe in Yeshuite, then starts guiltily, repeating the question in D’Angeline for the rest of the group’s benefit. He looks around them with interest; they are on the verge of a track of forest, it seems like: tall trees fill the air with the scents of sap and bark, cut only by the smell of water all around them. “How will we find our friends?”

“Because, my dear boy,” the Rebbe says with a voice rich with unshed laughter, “they are already here.”

Everyone exchanges looks of bewilderment, and then Ruth gives a choked cry as she stares into the darkness just beyond. That’s when they all see the half dozen men, naked to the waist, and each one with an arrow poised and trained on their own little band.

As if by unspoken agreement, they all hold their empty palms upward to show their own lack of arms in return. Jim is very aware of the pair of daggers at his side, as well as the ones Bones wields, but right now they are firmly sheathed in their scabbards: useless.

“Ah,” Scotty says uncertainly to Jim in an undertone, “this is rather a bit more excitement than I was countin’ on the first day, if’n ye don’t mind me sayin’ so, sir.”

“Not at all, Mister Scott,” Jim murmurs back. “Be patient.” He beams at the nearest tribesman. “Smile at the nice man, Scotty.”

Scotty makes something that could be a smile, if it was less sick and anxious-looking.. The man in the forest is impassive. Scotty swallows audibly

“Vhat do ve do, sir?” Pavel wants to know as well. The younger man looks surprisingly stubborn, jaw clenched tight, though his eyes are very wide.

Before Jim can answer, the Rebbe lets loose a long string of fluid Algonquin, and one of the larger men laughs. The others put their bows and arrows down and the man comes out to embrace the Rebbe, picking the man up clean off his feet.

“Pamouic! You get so big! Where is the little string bean I left behind me two winters gone, eh?” Rebbe David is laughing, gripping the man by the elbows, grinning widely in delight. Turning to the others, he continues, “My friends, this is my student Pamouic, youngest son of Goro. Pamouic, I have brought many friends to the People, if you would have us?”

Pamouic takes them all in; his eyes are dark brown and keen, reminding Jim of a bird of prey. His nose is large and slightly crooked, as if it broke once and never healed quite right—which only enhances the comparison. But when he smiles his teeth are white and even, and the expression is genuine if strained, Jim can tell that much. “Times have been difficult since you have left us last, Good Father,” he says in Alban, “and we will have many things to speak of. But yes, I will take you to my blood Father, and he will explain.”

Some of the Rebbe’s delight evaporates, and he nods seriously. “It grieves me to hear the People have shared the troubles of New Londinium as well, my friend.”

Looking closer, Jim can see that Pamouic, though massive and topping them all by several inches, is a young man of perhaps eighteen or nineteen. Like the others with him, half his head is shaved bare, the other half covered with long dark hair worn loose over his shoulders. Dark tattoos encircle each arm, and his legs are covered by loose pants of doeskin, his loins and buttocks clothed by a loose garment of the same. His feet are covered by shoes that remind Jim of slippers.

It is, Jim thinks ruefully, much more sensible clothing than the layers of wool they are dressed in—partially sodden wool now, as well. “Well, gentlemen—and lady,” he adds for the benefit of the still gaping Ruth, “time to gather our things.” They had brought supplies with them: trail rations for the journey, some western items for gifts and trade, and some of their own personal effects, of course, which left each of them with a tidy bundle to carry on their back.

“What do we do with the boat?” Hikaru asks curiously. “Just—leave it here?”

“We hide it—like this.” One of the men—perhaps a year or two older than Pamouic—guides the others in moving their boat under some of the thick brush, artfully arranging greenery over it. When they are done, Jim has to admit, it is skillfully enough that he wouldn’t look twice had he not known the thing was already there.

“Wow,” Jim says in genuine admiration when he’s done, “that’s—that’s awesome!”

“No one will bother your canoe, this I promise.” The man grins at Jim with shy pleasure. He looks a lot like Pamouic, though not quite as broad in the shoulder, his forehead higher, and a different band of tattoos on his arms.

“My half-brother, Nantaquas.” Pamouic slaps the man on the back, pulling him close in affection. He gestures at the others with him; they are all young men, none more than twenty-five at a guess, the youngest perhaps fifteen. “These are also Parahunt, Ponchis, Tatacoope, and Taux. Brothers also mine.”

“’My brothers also,’” the Rebbe corrects, as if out of habit. “Have I been gone so long?”

Pamouic repeats the words, nodding as if committing them to memory. “My brothers also. Yes, you have been gone long, my Good Father. Too long, I think,” he says in a different tone, and the Rebbe frowns unhappily. “Come. We leave now, maybe my wife not kill me, no? You neither,” he adds with a sudden bright grin, and he suddenly looks much younger.

The Rebbe laughs, flooding Pamouic with a rain of questions about his marriage—which took place back in the fall, it seems, and queries about other shared acquaintances.

“I’m glad it’s old home week,” Bones says as he falls into step next to Jim. “Otherwise I get the feelin’ we might’ve been in some trouble.”

“They would not have harmed us!” The quiet Ruth seems shocked at the thought. “They are God’s children, too! We are all sisters and brothers here!”

Jim and Bones exchange a look. “Well,” Bones drawls quietly, “I’m glad you have as much faith as all that, but I seem to recall a tale out of your own holy book. It involved two brothers in the wilderness, too—and it didn’t have a happy ending!”

“Bones!” Jim says in annoyed reproof, before turning to Ruth. “Sorry, but—” He breaks off because he honestly can’t think of anything to say as Bones had after all spoken the truth. “—That wasn’t very diplomatic,” he concludes far more lamely than he would like.

Ruth flushes darkly and opens her mouth to argue, but that’s when a harsh cry splits the air around them. They all look at one another in alarm, and the Algonquin men quicken their pace, the westerners following hard on their heels. They run through the trees on uneven ground that slips and slides with its ground covering of last year’s leaves, and it’s almost a shock when they emerge into uninterrupted light once more.

There’s a sharp, uneven drop-off, two feet in one spot and four feet further along. The brothers leap gracefully without pause, burdened only by their slim bows and quivers. The Europeans come to a stop, but when Jim sees what they do, he drops his pack without a thought and jumps down as well, as does Bones. There’s a stream ahead of them and a circle of people crowded around a small body. A young woman is running with an older man from the opposite direction, her long hair flying behind her like a brilliant pennant.

“I have brought Selash!” she calls out, her voice filled with expectant authority. The people part obligingly as the man drops to his knees near a small boy, wet to the skin with his face pale.

The brothers pause, Pamouic stretching his arm to stop Jim and Bones from approaching further. “Our healer,” he explains shortly. “That is little Sasawpen. He has but five summers to him.”

The healer runs his hands over the boy’s body, checking his vitals. His expression is grim, and Jim recognizes that look: it’s the one Bones wears when he knows it’s a lost cause. “Oh, no,” he mutters.

Selash shakes his head. “His breath is gone. I am sorry,” he says to a woman in the crowd, who starts to cry.

“Wait!” They all turn to stare at Bones; some in astonishment, others—who presumably have less Alban—blankly. “Let me help!” Bones rushes forward, but Pamouic grabs a hold of his shoulder.

“What can you do, ghost man?” the Algonquin demands, curiosity mixed with something like anger in his voice.

“I can help him!” Bones bites back furiously, shrugging him off and hurrying to the child’s side.

“Can he do this thing?” Nantaquas asks Jim in a low voice. He sounds dubious but cautiously hopeful. “Sesawpen is our chief’s grandson.”

“He thinks he can; that’s good enough for me,” Jim says in an equally low voice, with all the conviction he can muster.

Pamouic frowns at him, then calls out something in Algonquin, and the people stand back curiously, except for the young woman who had brought Selash. She remains in place, body language tense and waiting. “Miramanee,” Pamouic says, and with a frown she comes to stand by him, taking his hand and watching anxiously.

“Jim!” Bones’s voice is imperative, and he’s moving without a thought. “Here, straighten out his limbs for me.” Jim obediently takes Sesawpen’s legs and arms, arranging them in a straight line. Bones pinches the boy’s nose with two fingers, takes a deep breath, then blows it to the boy’s mouth. He presses two hands in a fist, pumping them rhythmically over the boy’s chest, then repeats the process. He does this once more, then prompts Jim. “Now!”

Jim picks up the boy’s feet, picking them up and pushing his legs back to his chest, then back to the ground and to the chest once more. Then Bones repeats his breathing exercise.

They do this again—once, twice, thrice—and when Jim is convinced it’s a lost cause, Sesawpen coughs, water flooding out of his mouth. The boy’s eyes open, blinking groggily as if from sleep. Bones chokes off a rough laugh, and Jim finds himself grinning back at his consort in relief. “You did it, Bones!”

Bones takes a few more deep breaths, still grinning and giddy with relief. “You’re damn right I did! Um?” He sobers abruptly as the people around him reach for him, patting him gingerly with the fingers of one hand.

“They are thanking you, ghost man,” Pamouic says with a smile in his voice. “They want to see if you are real.”

“Why wouldn’t he be real? Ack!” Jim breaks off because they are touching him now, too. He forces himself to stay still and smile politely, though the sensation of being touched by many hands at once like this is—strange, to say the least. There’s nothing sexual about it, or even affectionate; in fact, it’s not unlike fear, and that’s what makes it worse, Jim realizes. He’s never had a problem with being in a fight or holding his own, but he has never truly desired for someone to be frightened of him.

These people? Grateful as they are, or may be, they are scared now, too.

He meets Bones’s eyes; his consort has come to the same conclusion, and neither of them are happy about it.

The Algonquin healer is staring at them, his expression unreadable. He is an older man, forty years of age or more, though there is no silver in his dark hair: perhaps the lines in his face are drawn from sun and sorrow rather than age. Finally he makes a coughing sound as the crowd, apparently content now, stand back. “You did what I could not,” he says in slow Alban. “You will teach me this—thing. Yes?”

“Yes, of course,” Bones says immediately.

Selash looks mollified at that, though still curious. His gaze flickers between Bones and Jim. “There is magic between you two. Is that how this thing was done?”

“No magic,” Jim says firmly, just as Bones says, “It’s an—old method. It’s not commonly used outside of centers of learning.” He makes a face. “More fool us all.”

Selash frowns, clearly not understanding all that Bones has said, but content enough for the moment.

The three of them stand up, Bones helping little Sesawpen to his feet, where a grateful woman a few years older than they picks him up in her arms, muffling her sobs in his shirt. The little boy says nothing, just staring at them with shy, dark eyes. On impulse, Jim sticks his tongue out at him, crossing his eyes. Sesawpen stares, then giggles, revealing a gap-toothed smile.

Pamouic makes a long whistle, putting his arms around Bones and Jim, kissing them each on a cheek. “You are my brothers for this thing you have done,” he says.

He steers them around so they face the rest of their group: Pavel, Hikaru, and Scotty are grinning in relief; Johann and Ruth look shocked, while the Rebbe gives them a soft smile of pride; the expressions on Pamouic’s five brothers range from outright joy (Nantaquas) to nonplussed astonishment (Taux).

The woman, Miramanee, has her head tilted to the side, one full bottom lip held between her teeth. In Terre D’Ange such an expression would be reckoned flirtation, though in the light of recent events, Jim doubts it could be such here. But then, fleet as a young deer, she launches herself at them, drawing Bones and Jim into a hug as well.

Be welcome here. The words are quiet, and it is only afterwards that Jim realizes that while he may have heard them in Miramanee’s voice, they did not come from her lips.

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