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Heaven is Bloodless, Part Eight



Masterpost

“Are you well, my foster-brother?” Spock asked. The seer’s eyes were dark in his very pale face. Though fostered to Gentian House, with his coloring and inner steel, Jim suspected the boy had to have been born to Cereus House.

Someone gave him up. Just like me. The thought made Jim angry and relieved all at once—that his parents could have sold Spock as a child, as Jim himself had been, and that both of them had had the fortune to fall into the Duke Pike’s keeping.

“Foster-brother?” Spock repeated, and Jim blinked.

“Sorry,” he said, “I was just—thinking.” He looked away; the sun was setting in the distance, turning the verdant land various shades of green and gold. “What happened to Mattheu, Spock?”

The other boy shrugged. “I know not. Between one moment and the next he was—changed. There is no other way to describe it.” He paused. “I have read of some soldiers who, under extreme stress, find themselves removed in memory to other times, other fights. Logic would imply just such an occurrence happened with Mattheu but for his—emphatic belief that he was fighting for Adonai.”

“You know D’Angeline history better than I,” Jim said. “I thought the Cassiline Brotherhood were priests first and warriors second.”

“That’s like saying a Servant of Naamah is an adept first and a Servant second. It is all one. Taken away for training at such a young age as the Brotherhood requires—that leaves its own scars, too. Different than the ones some of us bear—” He raised his eyebrow significantly. “—And yet there all the same.”


“Scars,” Jim mutters under his breath. “Scars.”

Bones looks up from his notes; he’s been carefully reconstructing all the work he had done with Selash prior to the Aragonian attack a month ago. His work gives him a measure of peace that Jim currently finds unattainable. “’Smatter, Jim?”

“Something’s missing, Bones.” The answer feels like it’s just beyond him, like trying to grasp lightning during the fury of an evening storm. “If I could just figure it out—”

The fact that he’s been saying as much for weeks now hardly helps.

They have heard of multiple skirmishes between colonists and Algonquin in the past weeks. There has been sickness in New Londinium as well, though as luck would have it has been quarantined: Gill had taken Bones’s recommendations to heart, and Bones himself had met with those physicians in the city proper to discuss his work with Selash. Bones is better at diplomacy than Jim himself, he thinks ruefully.

“I know you don’t like me sayin’ this, darlin’,” Bones says hesitantly, “but maybe we should leave. We could go back home and you—”

“No,” Jim says more roughly than he meant to, and Bones flinches. He can’t, he won’t give up that easily.

“Not again.” Miramanee emerges from the kitchen, her arms white with flour to the elbow. She and Rand have taken an immediate liking to one another, which means that Miramanee is not only allowed into her domestic sphere but works there as well. (Kyle is more than a bit in awe of her as well, for this reason, and possibly just a little bit in love.) “Would you like to know how many times I’ve heard you two have this conversation in the past week alone? Eight times,” she says without waiting for an answer. “You’re worse than an old married couple, you’re a newly married couple that is already old!”

They regard her with bemusement. “I’m not sure, Bones, but I think we’ve just been insulted,” Jim says lightly.

“Well, I’m sure,” Bones says darkly.

All things considered, theirs is a remarkably domestic existence: Scotty helps Kyle with the animals and physical chores, Hikaru and Pavel venture around town intermittently collecting scraps of information. Yes, remarkably domestic, but for the tasks sent them by Komack and the Unseen Guild.

And then there’s the riot.

~

They are riding in the city when it happens. Traffic in the narrow streets becomes increasingly thick, not to mention precarious as most people walk on foot, with only the odd carriage or other person riding a’horseback. The vast majority of those in the street are clearly Yeshuite, garbed in their sober dark clothing, and there is a loud cacophony of Yeshuite mixed with Alban and Aragonian.

“What’s going on?” Bones asks, brow furrowed.

“Good question,” Jim says. They proceed slowly, holding onto the reins of their animals carefully. However, Rand had made an excellent choice in purchasing George and Gracie: the two animals remain calm despite the noise and the press of the crowd. “Let’s find out!”

They follow the multitude to one of the larger squares of the city. A man in faded black clothing and a flat black hat is declaiming in Yeshuite, and Jim focuses on trying to catch his words over the hub-bub of the swarming throng around him.

Whatever he’s saying, though, it seems to divide the crowd fiercely.

“No! No! No!” one group chants regularly to each of his statements.

“Praise to Adonai!” choruses another. “Yeshua’s glory be ours! Adonai be praised!”

“I think we might be in the middle of a riot, Bones,” Jim says carefully. He eyes the space around them: the full square, the narrow alley-ways and roads that bisect it. If something does happen, it will get very ugly very fast with this press of people.

Bones says nothing, but his lips compress into a thin line of disapproval as he continues to watch the man preaching.

“Now is the time, my brothers!” the man exhorts the crowd. “We know what we have come for! Will we be now denied? Will the glory of the Here-after be ours, or no?” His voice cuts over the crowd, rough and dark and mesmerizing for all that.

“Melakon! Melakon! Melakon!” shout the Yeshuites. “Matthiah and Adonai! Adonai for Matthiah!”
The man raises both fists in the air. As if that had been a signal all its own, the dissent in the crowd erupts, the warring cries exploding into physical action.

“Shit!” Jim swears, pulling his mount up short. He nods his head to a nearby alleyway. “There!”

They hastily move as the swirl of people is caught up around them. It’s like being caught in a maelstrom as they struggle from being caught in the swirling sea of humanity.

“Shut up, you fools!” An angry man’s voice nearby, yelling in Tiberian. “Idiots!”

“Shit,” Jim says again, more quietly this time. “Sam!”

For it is Sam. He had disappeared after their return weeks ago—he and his ship with him. Jim had assumed he had left altogether—indeed, had hoped for it, but it appears that Sam, at least, is back. He’s fighting three other men, and not doing too badly all things considered, with odds like those.

Kirks have a gift, Jim thinks ruefully.

But then one of the other men produces a bottle, breaking it over his head, and Jim is already moving towards them as he watches his brother fall.

“Sam!”

“Dammit, Jim, don’t you dare get down, not in this!” Bones’s fierce growl, and Jim knows that quite likely he’s right, their horses are the only thing that will keep them from being trampled in this morass, but it’s Sam, and—

“Bones!” His consort is ahead of him, so he can’t even be surprised that the man is not taking his own advice. But his movements are swift and then the other man is on Bones’s horse, slung in an ungraceful heap over the saddle, and they are riding swiftly away.

They ride like one of the old Yeshuite devils themselves are after them, and Jim can only thank Elua that their townhouse is in a completely different quarter of the city. The streets there are quiet, a striking contrast to the madness barely a mile distant.

“What’s going on? What’s happened?” Kyle greets them in the yard, taking the reins of the animals as they dismount.

“The Yeshuites are rioting,” Jim explains, moving to help Bones with Sam. He ducks, pulling one of the man’s arms around the back of his neck as Bones does the same.

“He might have a concussion,” Bones says. “I need to get a look at that bump on his head.”

They carry him inside to the receiving room. Sam smells thickly of spirit—from the contents of whatever had been in that bottle, most likely. He had at least sounded sober from what little they had heard earlier.

“Keep him upright,” Bones orders. “Sit him down, here.”

“What on earth?” Rand appears in the doorway, staring. “Who is this?”

“Sam?!” Miramanee is right behind her, face blanched.

Bones doesn’t even look up; he’s carefully parting Sam’s eyelids, the whites of his eyes gleaming. “Please fetch my trunk from upstairs,” he says. “The little one, the medicine chest.”
Rand doesn’t say another word, just does as he bids. Miramanee remains where she is, staring.

“Is he going to be okay, Bones?” Jim asks.

“Most likely,” Bones says. “Miramanee, I’m going to need you to help with the medicines.” He probes carefully over the man’s skull. As his fingers brush over one spot, Sam moans, eyes open to blink at them sleepily.

“Wha’ happened?” he wants to know.

“You got an ugly head wound,” Bones answers. “Do you feel nauseous at all?” He moves just in time as Sam throws up bile. “That would be a yes.”

Rand returns with the medicine chest, placing it on the low table nearby. Miramanee opens it up as Rand frowns at the mess. “I’ll get a mop,” she says shortly, and disappears again.

“I kinda love that woman,” Jim says as he holds Sam upright.

“Mmhmm,” Bones murmurs distractedly. Miramanee’s pulling items out of the chest; Jim notes the large bottle of alcohol that Bones uses as a general disinfectant, the catgut sutures and the long steel needle. Rand returns, pressing a short length of clean linen into his hand even as she begins to clean up the mess on the floor. “He needs to keep awake, Jim. See to that for me, will ya? He’s not gonna like it, though.”

“Sam, you there?” Jim asks the other man obediently. He pats Sam’s cheeks lightly, and dark blue eyes gaze unsteadily into his own. “Sam, you gotta stay awake for me, okay? It’s important.”

“’Kay,” Sam says thickly. “I know you, don’ I?”

“Yeah, you do,” Jim says. He licks his lips nervously. He could give the man a lot of answers here, but— “I’m kinda your little brother.”

“Huh.” Sam seems nonplussed at that, and Jim wishes he knew whether that was simply his personality or whether it had to do with his head injury. “That ‘splains a lot. You shoulda said, before.” He grins, then, and Jim feels himself smile back, because the expression is so damn familiar. He knows then that, for the moment at least, Sam knows who he is. “It’ s been a long time, Jimmy.”

“Yeah,” Jim says, “tell me about it.”

“Jim, you’re going to have to hold him down for me,” Bones interrupts implacably. “Sorry.” He has the linen in his hand, smelling strongly of the alcohol, and needle ready.

Jim moves, but keeps his hands on Sam’s shoulders, pressing him into place on the couch as Bones works. His brother protests as Bones cleans the wound, but grits his teeth in silence as he sews it up.

“I know you’re tired,” Bones says afterwards as he puts his things away, “but I can’t risk you going to sleep.”

“Jimmy’s gonna keep me awake,” Sam says.

“Yeah,” Bones agrees, giving Jim a small smile. “He’s good at that.”

“I ‘member,” Sam says. Jim sits next to him, arm still around his shoulders.

“Yeah,” Jim says softly. “Me too.”

~

They stay up until dawn, plied with Rand’s best coffee, until Bones tells them that the danger period has passed. Miramanee is unusually silent, leaving with him when he retreats to their room to rest. Jim can’t quite bring himself to follow. Part of it is the rush of the caffeine and the rest of it is, well, Sam.

It’s better when Bones is with them; for all his taciturnity and his stern air of—sternness, Jim thinks, and Blessed Elua! he’s tired if that’s the best he can come up with, even at this hour of day, or night—Well. Anyway. Things are just better when Bones is around. With his consort gone, it’s just him and Sam, and he’s not quite certain what to do with himself.
It doesn’t help that he’s only dreamed of this moment for eighteen years now.

“Oh yeah, this is weird,” Sam says, and Jim stares at him before laughing.

“You, too, huh,” he says.

They look at each other for a long moment. Part of it is trying to reconcile the boys from their memories, as well as examining the newfound adults, Jim thinks. He remembers Sam as being very tall and skinny, with dirty blonde hair and freckles and a tense look at the eyes, like a small creature constantly hunted. This man, though, is at ease with himself and the world around him: he’s the same height as Jim, a breath wider in the shoulders, skin darkened and hair bleached by the sun. His face has the rough, weathered look to it that belongs to all who spend most of their time in the elements.

“Yeah,” Sam says. “Me too.” He pauses, taking another swallow of coffee that has by now turned cool. “So. You and Leonard seem—happy. You’re lucky.”

“Yeah.” Jim feels his expression relax at the thought of Bones. “We suit each other. What?” he adds as an odd look flickers over Sam’s face.

“Sorry,” Sam says. “It’s nothing.”

“No,” Jim says, worried now. “Tell me. What is it?”

“Well. It’s only—” Sam shrugs apologetically. “—it’s only I never thought you would be a lover of men.”

Jim blinks, staring; for a moment, his brother’s words don’t even make sense. And he had somehow been expecting him to say something about the Tiradores or even the Algonquin, not this.

He starts laughing despite himself.

Sam makes a face at him, but his lips quirk upwards in response. “Oh come on,” he says, “I said I was sorry. Is it because you spent so much time in Terre d’Ange?” he asks curiously, and that sets Jim off all over again. “What?!”

“Sorry,” Jim says. “And no, it doesn’t have anything to do with being D’Angeline. Well, much,” he amends thoughtfully. “I do tend to prefer men more than women, but I like them both. That wouldn’t stop me in most places, I think, it’s just that in Terre d’Ange, no one really cares.
So.” And he shrugs too.

“I—see.” Sam looks thoughtful. “I’ve never really spent all that much time in any one place to find out.” He pauses. “If I’d had any sense, I would have stayed with Miramanee. Before.”

“Before?” Jim asks blankly.

“She—I—we—” Sam gestures vaguely with his hands. “We had a—a thing. Once upon a time. I fucked it up royally.” He sighs. “Is she—how is she?”

“About like you’d expect. Not entirely miserable, but not—not, either.” Jim wants to tell Sam how his gut clenches at the knowledge of the child in her belly, how he wants to welcome it and is terrified for it all at the same time. “She misses her family. Bones and I aren’t much of a substitute, though we—do.”

Sam nods like that all makes perfect sense. “Do you know who the babe’s father is?” he asks abruptly. “I’ve been tryin’ to figure it out—I wondered if it might be some man Goro had picked out, but she never said—but then that’s not their way—” He scowls. ”Maybe it’s best I don’t know. I might punch the man outta pure jealousy.”

Jim pauses. “Oh this isn’t going to end well, is it,” he says to himself as he scrubs at his eyes. “Shit. Okay.” He takes a breath and faces Sam, who looks at him oddly. “See, the thing is, well—it could be me. Or Bones. We’re not quite sure.”

Sam’s punch is very fast for a man getting over a concussion.

“Ow!”

“You an’ Miramanee?” Sam asks, rather more loudly than strictly necessary. “You an’ yer man an’ Miramanee?”

“Iss libe dere’s ‘n eboe ‘n ‘ere,” Jim murmurs through his fingers where they are holding onto his nose. “’F you brobe it, Bones ib gonna be pissed.”

“Augh, ye big baby, I didn’t break it. Here, look.” Sam moves Jim’s hands with surprising gentleness. “See, not broken, I just bloodied ye up properly is all. What? I even warned ye.”

“You didn’t warn me!” Jim is incensed at this bald-faced lie.

“I did so!”

“Did not!”

“Could you both please be quiet,” Rand says. She sounds exhausted, and Jim doesn’t blame her. “This is how it’s going to be,” and she’s already dragging them upstairs. “You,” and she has Sam by the elbow, “are going to talk to Miramanee and not be an idiot about it,” and she pushes him into their guest room, “and you are going to be a good husband and let Doctor McCoy sleep,” and she pushes Jim into their room. “And!” she proclaims, voice only slightly muffled by the walls, “if I have to lock you all up until everything is straightened out, I will! Make no mistake!”

It’s a testimony to the power of Janice Rand that no one argues.

~

Jim sleeps only a few hours, and then he’s ready to go into the city to find out what the hell happened. Bones, characteristically, refuses to let him go alone. (Sam and Miramanee have not emerged, which Jim hopes is a good thing.)

They ride through the city, taking in the damage from the previous day’s riot. The streets are quiet, the people subdued. They quickly grow used to the sight of people sweeping broken glass and wood splinters from the front of their buildings. At one such edifice an older man reassures a pair of sober-faced children. He looks up when he sees the sound of their horses, and Jim somehow isn’t surprised to see the Rebbe David.

“Peace be with you, honored Father,” he says in Yeshuite as he draws his horse up nearby. One of the children, a boy of around five, stiffens and runs inside. The other child, a girl a few years older, remains steadfastly by the Rebbe.

“We’re not scared of you!” she says in Tiberian, her chin set stubbornly.

“Well that’s good to know,” Bones says in that joking, soothing way he has with small children. “I might be a little scared of you, though.” He looks between Jim and the Rebbe, as if seeking reassurance, gaze landing on the older man at last. “What do you think?”

Rebbe David laughs. “My Esther here is indeed fierce, my friends,” he says as they dismount. The girl frowns at them, still uncertain but rapidly relaxing as it becomes clear that the old man trusts them. “I am pleased to see you well.”

Jim gives the man a short bow of respect. “Likewise,” he says. “I trust your folk are well after—yesterday?” He pauses, uncertain of how to address the riot in front of the little girl.

“Go find your brother, little daughter,” the Rebbe tells Esther in Yeshuite. She looks at him uncertainly. “Go on, it’ll be fine.” She frowns, bobs a brief curtsey to Jim and Bones, and then runs inside. The Rebbe shakes his head as he watches her go. “She is still very afraid,” he tells the men, “not that I blame her. Her father, Joshua, was caught in the riot yesterday and we have not heard from him since.”

“I see.” Jim frowns, empathizing with the children.

“What was all that about, anyway?” Bones asks. “We saw some of it, but—” He breaks off, shrugging. Jim catches his eye, and his consort gives the tiniest nods of acknowledgement in return: he will follow Jim’s lead on this.

“Matthiah, of course,” the Rebbe says in disgust. “More of the same.” He looks about carefully. “Perhaps this is a conversation we should have elsewhere?” he suggests. “One moment.”
He steps inside. “Esther! Daniel!” he calls. There’s the rapid sound of small feet running, and the two children return. “Would you like to help the gentlemen with their horses?”

The little boy’s wide eyes grow wider still as he looks at George and Gracie. An animal-lover, then. Bones kneels down to look into the child’s eyes. “Do you like horses?” he asks, though of course he already knows the answer. Daniel nods, not even taking his eyes off of George. “Yeah? Me too.”

“Take them to the courtyard in the back, my Daniel,” the Rebbe says. “You too, my Esther.” The two children lead Bones and the animals away, the healer talking to them in a low, reassuring voice. Jim and he watch them go, and then the old man gestures for Jim to follow him inside. “This way, my son.”

It’s dark and quiet inside the home. It has the half-abandoned feel to it when most of the people who live there are gone. “My Ibrahim and Rebekah are—out,” Rebbe David says shortly.

“What’s happened?” Jim pitches his voice low, uncertain of who might be around. They seem to be alone, but the Rebbe had been so hesitant before—and he still seems ill at ease, Jim notices, even in the half light from the shuttered windows. All the little tics of someone who is nervous: rapid blinking, a slight tremor of the body. “Rebbe, explain what Matthiah is doing?”

“That man!” The Rebbe’s voice is surprisingly loud, and they both flinch. “That man,” he continues more quietly, “is a plague! I am sure of it! He wants his Tiradores to chase out the Algonquins—on their own land, as if such a thing were possible, let alone just!”

There’s the sound of a door opening in the back, and the eager voices of Daniel and Esther. Jim and the Rebbe both jump in surprise, then relax when they realize the source.

“Rebbe David, Rebbe David,” Esther says, running up to him eagerly, “Healer Leonard took us for a ride around the courtyard!”

“He wouldn’t let us go fast,” Daniel adds with a pout, “but he showed us how to check a horse’s shoes for stones!”

“That was very kind of him,” the Rebbe says. He beams at Bones, who joins them, slightly out of breath.

Jim chuckles. “Did they wear you out, Bones?”

Bones snorts. “Hardly,” he says. “They’re just very—high-spirited.”

The Rebbe laughs loudly. “You are a diplomatic man, M’sieur,” he says.

They linger at the Rebbe’s for a while longer, chatting pleasantly. They are saying their farewells outside when several men arrive, bearing a cart. It holds a body, covered in a cloak.

The men stop when they see Jim and Bones.

“Is all well here, Rebbe?” one of the men asks the old man in Yeshuite, eyes flicking over them carefully.

“These are friends of mine,” the Rebbe says in the same tongue. “They are good men both, and they speak our language, Aaron.”

Aaron flushes at that. “My apologies,” he says, nodding his head at them. “I hadn’t thought.”

“No offense was taken,” Jim says carefully. “And I see—I doubt you bear good news.”

“No,” Aaron says, shaking his head sorrowfully. “No, I do not.” He takes a deep breath. “Is Sarah here, Rebbe?”

The old man shakes his head. “No, it’s just me and the children right now.” He looks inside, where Esther and Daniel were still quietly playing.

Bones frowns. “Do you want us to stay?” he asks. “We could help—somehow,” he concludes lamely, because there isn’t anything they can really do, not now. His brow furrows in frustration, and

Jim feels a familiar wave of affection for his consort: a true adept of Balm house, he was always so eager to ease the pain of others.

The Rebbe shakes his head, patting the man’s shoulder. “No, my son,” he says. “You are a good boy, but no.” Bones nods in understanding, and takes the reins of his horse.

“You’ll let us know if there’s something we can do—later?” Jim asks. He hopes his words imply that he isn’t just talking about the man in the cart.

Rebbe David nods. “Yes, my son. I will.”

~

When they get back home, matters are not better—in fact, they are worse.

“What’s happened?” Leonard leaps from his mount with surprising grace, already at a run; Jim follows in a heartbeat. Kyle is lying on the ground of the courtyard, and the healer pauses to see to him. The man’s eyelids flutter as he peers at them.

“Villagers,” he says, “Miramanee—” He doesn’t finish.

“He’s dead, Jim,” Leonard says numbly.

Jim has his daggers drawn, but then Sam emerges from the house, pistol at the ready. He lowers his arm when he sees it’s the pair of them.

“Jim,” Sam says, voice colored with relief. “We were worried that maybe they’d gone after you two as well.”

“They got more of a fight than they were expectin’, sir,” Scotty says behind him, looking proud.

“Is everyone—who else is hurt?” Jim is pale, and Leonard knows that all his consort can be thinking--has to be remembering—is the attack on Pike’s house, just a few short years ago.

“Miramanee and Kyle were in the courtyard when they came. Is he—?” Sam breaks off, when he sees Leonard’s grim expression. “Miramanee’s got some bruises, and she’s mostly scared, I think. We got her inside before—before they could do worse.”

“Who was it, Sam?” Jim’s voice is like ice, but Leonard is focused on getting to Miramanee. Making sure she is well, she and the babe, both.

Sam spits on the ground. “Some mix of Albans and Aragonians, fools all. They hadn’t reckoned on us being as prepared as we were. I’ll give you credit, Jimmy—your people are gold.”

“Doctor McCoy!” Pavel is pale with twin circles of hectic flush on his cheeks. “You are here—come quickly!” He leads Leonard to Miramanee’s room, where she sits upright on the bed, gasping heavily as she holds onto Rand’s hand for dear life.

“The—the baby—” Rand’s gaze flicks between Miramanee and Leonard himself. “Is it coming?”

~

Rand takes the attack on their home and its aftermath with more equanimity than anyone Jim has ever known. She emerges from the cloister of Miramanee’s room with her expression drawn but her shoulders set. “Tea,” she says immediately. “How many of us are there?”

“Kyle’s dead,” Jim says, and she blanches, lips drawing together in a thin line.

“Well then, I’ll—I’ll see to him, then.” She moves to go downstairs, but Jim halts her with a hand on her elbow.

“Look, I know talking is probably one of the last things you want to do right now,” he says softly, “but you need to tell us what happened. At least tell us if you’ve been hurt, or—or anything else. Bones needs to know to help you, at least.”

“I am beyond help, sir,” she says frankly, and to Jim’s horror, she looks like she’s going to cry.

“Rand?” he asks, but she shakes her head.

“Janice,” she says. “I have some things to tell you.”

It’s more than some—it’s a lot of things. Some of them Jim had intuited, others he had not.
“I have been under the employ of John Gill for some time. I knew it had somewhat to do with the D’Angeline interests against those of Alba—and I am Alban,” she explains. “I hadn’t expected that it would be so much more convoluted than that.”

She had thought John Gill had been using Melakon, manipulating him into the Yeshuite General he was fast becoming. Instead, it was quite the opposite: Melakon had been using Gill’s own theories of politics, his own fears of plague and religious extremism, into fomenting the Governor of New Londinium into outright war against the Algonquin.

“And you never said—” For a moment, Jim literally sees red, a wash like blood over his vision, his heartbeat loud and furious in his ears. When he can see again, his hands are gripping her shoulders, and her face is turned up to his. Theirs is a parody of an embrace: he could kiss her right now, or kill her. It’s clear she expects, and even hopes for, the latter.

“I’m saying it now.” They both flinch at Miramanee’s cry in the other room.

“The baby?”

“I don’t know.” Jim lets go of her, his fury evaporating. He turns to go, but she stops him.

“I’m picking my side, right now,” she says. “Just so you know.”

He knows, he just doesn’t care.

~

The baby isn’t coming, not now, at least. Eventually Bones emerges from her bedroom, letting an anxious Sam in to see Miramanee. “They’re both fine,” the healer says, but his expression is dark. “The shock nearly precipitated labor—it’s close enough to her time, but still dangerous—” He shakes his head. “This has all got to end, one way or another, Jim.”

So of course, that’s when there’s another knock on the door. Scotty opens it after peering through the peephole, and Jim isn’t sure whether he’s relieved or distressed that it is the Rebbe.

“I came as soon as I heard!” The Rebbe’s face is white, and he’s out of breath. Jim is appalled at the idea of the man having another attack, but Bones checks him over briefly and he really is just out of breath from his journey.

“News travels fast.” Jim wonders if he’s as bitter as he sounds.

The Rebbe nods in sorrow. “As does ill news.” He takes a deep breath. “We must get to Pamouic before Melakon does. It’s outright war, now, my son.”

“War. Of course.” Jim hears his own voice, thinks of the last time he had spoken those words: in a Tiberian galley, his body broken and bleeding, Nero smug and pleased. Convinced he was unstoppable.

Rebbe David rubs his hands together, murmuring in Yeshuite; Jim vaguely recognizes the words as a prayer, but he’s too distracted.

Listen! Watch! Pike’s words in his memory, but the reality of a trembling, crying woman, his consort shaking with fury and pain, and a babbling Rebbe supersede them.

Rand returns with a tray; it holds a pot of tea, a bottle of whiskey, a saucer of sugar, and a plate of sandwiches. “For the shock,” she says immediately, to the room at large—and there’s a palpable sigh of relief at something like, like normalcy.

“Janice Rand, I love you more than you’ll ever know,” Jim says fervently, and in that moment, he knows it’s true.

The woman flushes at that. “None of that now,” she says sternly, pretending that neither of them have just made their peace. “Tell me what else I need to do to be of help?”

Jim exhales roughly; Bones is still murmuring calming nonsense to their guest. “Send Kyle—” He corrects himself hastily. “Send Hikaru and Pavel out—get Sam to go with them, if you can, we’ll need his ship. We’ve a trip to make.”

Rand seems to understand. “Yes, Jim. Sir,” she amends hastily, and then she’s gone.
Now that it’s time for action—real action, after what an eternity of waiting. A rare fury is building inside him, as hot and thick as molten iron.

“I’m so, so sorry, my son,” Rebbe David says miserably. “I had no idea—“

Jim is gone before the man can finish. Instead, he’s stalking through the house, out into the back. The sun is as bright as it was earlier, it’s still a beautiful day: only now it is tainted and dark. He feels wild, wants to scream, wants to—he doesn’t even know.

Unable to do any of these things, he slumps to his knees, pressing his forehead to the warm dirt of the ground. “Adonai, have mercy,” he murmurs. “Elua, show us love. Naamah, give us grace.” He can feel wetness on his own face. “Okee Sun-Father, show me a way. Please.”
Jim isn’t sure what he expects to happen. If he expects anything to happen.

He sits there and waits.

~

When he walks back into the house, he finds Miramanee upstairs, sitting up in bed. She is calmer, holding a cup of tea, and though her hands shake, there’s some color in her face.

“Miramanee?” he asks.

“Jim,” she says. She gives him a watery smile, and something in him breaks. The next thing he
knows he’s sitting next to her, arms around her, face buried in her neck. She smells like dried sweat and fear, but beneath that is her familiar scent, like cinnamon.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” he murmurs. “By all the gods, Miramanee, I’m so fucking sorry!

She says nothing, just leans into him. Bones’s arms come around him, holding them both. He’s not sure how long they sit like that. It’s a timeless moment. In the back of his mind he can hear wings, as with Naamah’s Grace, but that’s not what he feels now. Instead, he feels something hardening inside himself, a feeling like steel.

Jim hears a ringing sound, like a sword unsheathed, and that’s when he knows.

He keeps the knowledge to himself, though, it can wait.

At last, Miramanee looks up. “I’ll be well,” she says. “The baby, too.”

“Alive and kicking.” Bones’s voice trembles—relief and pride all mixed up together. “He’s going to be a handful, Miramanee, you know that right?”

She chuckles, low and rich. “I would expect nothing less,” she says. Her voice wobbles. “What’s going to happen now?”

Jim exhales. “I’m working on it,” he says. “In the meantime, I want you to stay here, where it’s safe.” He gives his consort a significant look. “You too, Bones.”

The healer growls. “The hell you say, Jim—” he starts, but Jim interrupts.

“No arguing. Miramanee needs you more than I do right now. Stay here, the both of you. I’m going to go talk to the Rebbe.”

They do what he says, Bones still scowling, but Miramanee won’t let go of his hand, so he watches Jim leave without a word. Scrubbing his hands over his face, feeling sick to his soul,
Jim goes to the kitchen, where the Rebbe David sits with Janice Rand.

The two are both quiet, cups of tea in front of them. The contents are cool, and if they’ve actually drunk any, it doesn’t look like it.

“Sir?” Rand starts to get up, but Jim gestures for her to stay where she is, and she sits back down. Her eyes are wide and watchful.

“Rebbe.” He sits down next to the man. “You know what I have to ask you.”

“I do,” the old man assents. For the first time, Jim thinks, Rebbe David looks his age: that youthful spark in him dissipated. He looks worn and—beaten.

The gods are cruel to all their chosen.

“Tell me. Was Ibrahim a part of this?”

“I do not know,” the Rebbe says, not able to meet his eyes, “but—but I would not be surprised. So likely—aye. He was.”

“And Matthiah?”

“Undoubtedly.”

“Don Diego de Escabarres?”

“Where there is the one—there is the other.” The Rebbe shrugs. “And now you know as much as I.”
Jim nods. He sits back in his chair. “Alright then.” He runs his fingers through his hair.

“May I ask, my son—what mean you to do?” The Rebbe looks sick and unhappy.

Jim shakes his head. “I’m sorry, my honored Father,” he answers in Yeshuite, “but I dare not tell you. I’m sorry,” he repeats in D’Angeline.

The old man makes a broken sound. “I do not blame you,” he says, reaching out to touch Jim’s hand. He holds it like a father would, and Jim’s heart aches for him. “I do not blame you at all.”

“Thank you, Rebbe,” he says in a low voice, “but that kind of makes it harder than ever.” The man puts his arm around him, and they sit like that for a long, long time.

~

“Yes, yes, what—Madre a Dios!” Escabarres is astonished into Aragonian when Jim presses the tips of his daggers to his throat. “Kirk?!”

“Matthiah and Ibrahim,” Jim says through clenched teeth, his voice little more than a strangled growl, “where are they?”

Escabarres blinks rapidly. “I don’t understand,” he says, “what’s going on? What do you want?”

“I want to know where Matthiah and Ibrahim are,” Jim says patiently. Alejandro, Escabarres’ assistant, belatedly arrives then and immediately flattens himself against the wall in shock. “I also can’t emphasize enough how much you do not want me to have to repeat myself right now.”

Sì, sì,” Escabarres says quickly. “Alejandro, vaya y no digas a nadie!” His
assistant nods and leaves the room hastily, leaving them alone. “It’s just us now, Monsieur Kirk,” he continues in D’Angeline, regaining confidence. “Now would you be so kind as to explain why exactly you are intent on giving me a very close shave indeed?”

Jim doesn’t pull his daggers back. “Matthiah was behind the attack on Goro’s people. Where Matthiah goes, you follow.”

“My dear boy,” Escabarres says, “exactly who do you think I work for?” He puts his hands up and twists the ring on his finger—the only one he wears. At first Jim assumes it’s an odd nervous gesture, but then he realizes it’s intentional: the movement reveals the characters engraved on the metal, worn and shiny.

The Tiberian numeral “One” is etched clearly—over and over.

Pike says she is the only one for him.

Spock’s voice in his memory is very clear, and Jim almost draws back in surprise. “Who is she?”
Escabarres gives him a small smile. “She is the mistress of the Guild,” he says, “as brilliant as she is beautiful. You have probably seen her a dozen times, but never known her.”

Jim finally draws back at that, and the printer exhales in relief. “I don’t understand,” Jim says. “The Lady—you know her?”

Escabarres laughs at that. “Of course I know her! She taught Christopher Pike and I everything we know! Oh yes,” he continues as Jim stares at him, “I knew Pike well. He was a good man, your Duke. I miss him dearly, yet, though we hadn’t seen one another in years.”

“Was—is—Matthiah one of—us—as well?” Jim feels sick at the thought of Mattheu being a Guildsman.

“Hardly!” Escabarres snorts, almost to his relief. “Thank all your gods for that, my boy—had he been neither of us could touch him without the Lady’s say-so. No, he’s naught but a wayward Cassiline, with too much charisma and too little sense.”

“He’s brought the better part of Terra Nova to war,” Jim answers dryly. “I don’t know that I’d call that ‘naught.’”

“Eh.” Escabarres shrugs apologetically. “An ill turn of phrase. Be that as it may,” he continues, “I was ever Pike’s man as well as the Lady’s. I’ve been keeping tabs on Matthiah in case the Guild needed to intervene.”

“You’ve been doing a great job so far.” Jim sheathes his daggers at last, reluctantly trusting that the man is who he says he is—all the evidence points to it, as confusing as it is to believe. “Exactly how many lives does he have to destroy before it’s time for the Guild to do something?”

Patron!” Alejandro returns in the company of an older man, his face pale and anxious: one John Gill, Governor of New Londinium.

Jim unsheathes his daggers once more, and Escabarres glares. “What did I tell you?” he demands furiously in Aragonian.

No me dije, voto a dios!” Alejandro answers immediately. His gaze shifts to Jim and he shifts to D’Angeline awkwardly. “But—Monsieur Gill insisted, you see—“

“Diego! Kirk!” Gill looks between Escabarres and Jim in confusion. “What is going on here?”
Escabarres shakes his head, looking rueful. “I was about to explain the great plan, my old
friend,” he says. “And how it all fell to pieces around our heads.”

~

In retrospect, Jim supposes their plan must have made sense at one time. Unite the monotheist outsiders, the Yeshuites, with the Algonquins: make the outsiders extensions of those the already knew, could already understand. One Son or One Sun: whether Yeshua or Mithras or Okee. But religion is never so simple, politics are never so simple, people are never simple.

Matthiah Melakon had taken Gill’s encouragements, and blended with his own madness, his own determination, created something altogether new and different—something horrible.

War wasn’t coming, it was there.

It takes work, and Sam’s ships, and all the persuasive powers of Jim and Miramanee working together with Pamouic and Escabbares and Gill and the Rebbe to unite the Algonquins with the colonists and those Yeshuites who believe that freedom from fear is more important than arguing whose God is better.

Jim had always said he didn’t believe in no-win scenarios, and he was facing one. Everyone was going to fight, when it was so unnecessary. It’s the last night before all they had worked for is about to fall down around their ears, and he watches them trickle away after the meeting is over: one by one, and only Jim is left in the end.

Like always.

You are ever foolish. Spock’s voice is clear in his memory, fondness laced with exasperation.

“Jim?” Bones lifts the door-flap, peering in; the fire has died down, and he almost misses Jim in the darkness. He frowns, entering. “What are you doing in here?”

See? Nyota, smug and affectionate at once.

“Hey, Bones,” Jim says quietly.

Bones frowns, clearly disliking whatever he hears in Jim’s voice. “Jim?” The questioning tone is almost querulous. When he doesn’t answer, Bones continues. “The field infirmary is ready for tomorrow. Well.” He pauses, brow furrowed with annoyance as well as exhaustion. “As ready as I can make it anyway.”

“Look, Bones.” Jim licks his lips. This part isn’t going to be easy—hell, it’s gonna suck. “This—thing. Tomorrow. Look, you’ve never been in a serious battle before, you don’t know what it’s like. Whatever you think it’s going to be, it’s not, okay? Because it’s going to be so much worse. Believe me.” He takes a deep breath. “I think you should stay out of it. Leave even. Go some place safe and—just go. For me. Please?”

Bones stares at him, his expression unreadable. His dark eyes are vivid, blazing even, and whatever is in them sends shivers down Jim’s spine. He says nothing, though, and that might be the worst thing of all.

“Bones?” Jim prompts after a long moment of silence. “Say something?” Another long pause. “Please?”

Bones shakes his head. “You damn fool,” he growls, “you pig-headed, egotistical, idiotic—” His tirade breaks off when he pulls Jim to him in a rough, burning kiss. The familiar sound of wings beats in the back of Jim’s mind, strangely metallic, as if they were made of iron and steel. But Bones’s hands are warm on his shoulders, their grip firm to the point of bruising, his kiss affectionate and furious at once. When he pulls back from Jim, his teeth score Jim’s bottom lip lightly. “You damn fool,” he repeats huskily, “the hell you say.”

Jim laughs: choking slightly. Adonai, I love you, Bones! “It was worth a shot,” he says. “I just—“ He inhales sharply, thinking of Spock and Nyota. “If something happens to you, I don’t think I could make it. I don’t.”

“Shut up, Jim,” Bones says gruffly, and he kisses him again.

The healer’s mouth is hot on his, sucking on his lower lip and pulling at it with his teeth slightly. Jim exhales into Bones’s warmth, arms going around him and pulling him close as a vise. His hands roam over the other man’s clothes, tugging at his tunic and breeches, needing to feel skin, needing to touch and taste. Needing to feel—something.

Bones yields to him, lets him move him towards what passes for their bed, lets him pull at his clothing with a haste and lust that should be alarming. Jim struggles with his tunic lacings until he’s ready to rend the damn things, but it’s loose enough for Bones to pull it over his head, and then he’s pulling at the opening to Bones’s breeches, freeing his cock, flushed and growing hard with interest. Jim takes it into his mouth, vaguely aware of Bones’s gasp, hands slipping under his buttocks to keep him in place.

“Ack! Teeth, Jim, teeth!” Bones mutters, jerking a little at his rough onslaught, but when he looks up briefly through his eyelashes, whatever Bones sees makes him grow quiet, his fingers carding through Jim’s hair with unaccustomed gentleness. Obscurely, this infuriates Jim more, and he pulls back and abandons Bones’s cock in favor of sucking at the pale skin of his thighs roughly, leaving red marks like bruises. They are ugly, and Bones, damn him, lets him do it.
Maybe this is what it’s like to be a creature of Mandrake, demanding one’s adepts to yield all until a signale is given.

At that thought, he is abruptly aware of his own straining need. He tugs open his breeches. “Roll over, Bones. Now.”

Bones does so, getting on his hands and knees, ass in the air. Jim retrieves a bottle of oil, preparing himself and his lover briefly, and then presses the head of his cock to Bones’s entrance. “Bones,” he murmurs shortly, sheathing himself in a single fluid motion that makes his consort grunt in surprise. “Bones!”

Bones pushes back against him in answer, submitting to Jim with a strangely vulnerable curve of his body, letting him do as he will.

“God, you’re beautiful like this,” Jim mutters, running a hand down Bones’s back, tracing the line of his marque from nape to the base of his spine: lemon balm, fresh and green, unfurled leaves and dangling roots. Hidden in the topmost frond of leaf is the suggestion of a star, meant to echo the one in Jim’s own marque.

Jim had, after all, given him his freedom.

All the wrong reasons.

He is not gentle, after he remembers that.

Bones does not fight him. Somehow, that makes it better and worse, all at the same time.
Jim loves being in Bones more than almost anything: the heat, the delight he takes in Jim’s own pleasure—and Bones is usually pretty vocal in that, hell, he’s all but keening now, under him—but tonight it’s not enough. So he grips Bones by the thighs hard, pulling him closer still, and snaps his hips in a fast, staccato rhythm that leaves himself all but breathless in effort.

“Arrrrgh!” Bones rears back, and at first a part of Jim worries it’s in pain, but then when his arms go around him automatically and Bones just pushes closer, like he can’t get enough, Jim knows that’s not it.

Bones craves this just as much as he does. This rough claiming, or whatever it is—Jim bends down, biting him in the place where neck meets shoulder, thrusting even harder. His cock feels like it’s burning, and as he looks over Bones’s shoulder he can see the healer working his own cock, fucking his hands vigorously.

“Don’t come, Bones, don’t come,” Jim demands, digging his fingers into Bones’s thighs. Bones makes a rough grunt of frustration, but he lets Jim’s hands replace his own, leaning forward again to brace them both.

Jim slows down, wanting to take it easy, to taunt them both, to have something like the languorous lovemaking he used to pride himself in—but he can’t. Instead, after a moment he just gives in, hips pumping against Bones’s ass jaggedly. “I’m gonna come,” he warns, all but whimpering in Bones’s ear, and the other man makes an unholy growl that makes him lose it completely. Warm wetness spurts over his hand, and then he loses it too.

~

Jim wakes up sometime in the night: Bones’s arms are tight around him, his breathing steady and even in Jim’s ear. He feels warm and calm.

Don’t worry, son.

The memory of Pike flashes at the same time he recognizes the sound that woke him: the sound of rain, and beyond that, the report of cannons.

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