After retreating from the veranda to allow Alma and Ewá Nanã their privacy, Gwydion and Tuma-Sukai find themselves alone in a tastefully appointed room. Sky looks around, feeling a reluctance to speak first, but sensing an equal reluctance from Dion, who seems thoughtful. As always, little escapes Gwydion’s façade, but Sky can tell his sergeant is dealing with his own roiling internal confusion. He hardly notices Sky’s presence at all.
Lapis-lazuli floor tiles, cobalt carpet, cerulean trim. Sky begins to wonder about Math’s love of blue. Not that he minds. Ocean-aspected, Sky loves the color himself.
He knows he is merely avoiding conversation.
He opens his mouth to speak and suddenly finds a silent servant dressed all in pale cornflower blue handing him a coffee in a delicate porcelain cup that looks like it might shatter just from being looked at too closely. Sky accepts it with a murmured thanks, causing the servant, a pale young man with curly blonde hair, to hesitate ever so slightly in surprise. Oh right, First Ring faux pas. One doesn’t thank servers here. Sky remembers why he prefers to avoid this level of the City.
The coffee, however, is almost impossibly good. To adulterate it with sugar or cream would be a crime. He loses himself in the flavor and aroma for an all-too-brief time.
He wants to reassure Dion. The sight of his two sergeants in each other’s arms had been a shock in the moment, but only the moment. The signs had been there, their attraction for each other. They are both gods, both very much adult – younger than him, but not by so much, in divine terms – and he knows it is none of his business. So what if Dion is a rake, who has flirted with Constable Kaur and dallied with a mortal girl, or perhaps a dozen if the street gossip is to be believed? Alma is no child. She does not need protection.
Yet the protective feeling is still there. He remembers holding Alma, helpless, after she took Nekh’s soul. How she clung to him as to a rock in a pounding surf. She means…a great deal to him. Just what, exactly, he is still trying to understand. Despite the times she has lashed out at him, poured invective on him, stabbed and sliced and opened him to the bone with her sharp tongue – even lied to him – despite all that… No. Not despite. Because. Because of all that, and more: Reaching inside him with her power to heal him. Fighting beside him. Laughing with him. Laughing at him. Falling asleep in his office, her face like a child’s. Trusting him. Catching him when he was weak. Holding his hand. Touching his arm, his cheek. He who has so rarely been touched with kindness, with affection. Whose first years (centuries? aeons?) of life in timeless Hell were constant, unremitting, endlessly inventive torture – even her rage toward him is a balm.
Because she cares.
So what can he say to Gwydion? Oh, don’t worry. I’m not jealous! Hahaha! It’s fine! Perfectly fine. Only…if you discard her, if you break her heart, that heart which has been broken so many times, I will reduce you to a quivering pile of organs before you can blink. Hahaha. Just kidding. No, actually, I’m perfectly serious. You have no idea how serious I am.
Perhaps not. It might have a negative effect on their working relationship.
The strange thing is, Sky trusts Gwydion where it counts. He trusts him with his life. And with Alma’s life. With the Bunnies’ lives. When they have fought alongside each other, Sky has felt that sense of brotherhood that he has always felt for comrades-in-arms, the closest thing to family he has experienced for most of his life. Except for one decades-long period on Earth, when he had a true family, for the rest of his life that fighting fraternity has been the only place he felt he belonged. And yet he had learned over and over that the fierce love between warriors would so often turn out to be, away from the battles, an antipathy. Loyalty, yes. But battle-forged brotherhood does not inevitably result in affection away from the battleground. There are few he would rather have at his back than Gwydion. And he is grateful, deeply, eternally grateful, for the way Dion stepped up to save the Bunnies, when he had nothing to gain and a great deal to lose from it. But Sky can’t say that he is at ease with the pampered, reserved First Ringer. Not yet, anyway.
Blinking away this revery, Sky thinks, Goodness, we’ve been quiet a long time, haven’t we? If affection can be nurtured, this emotional ice age they are in is certainly not helping.
He starts to set down his cup and saucer, but it’s removed by another servant, an olive-skinned woman with a boyish haircut, before it touches the fireplace mantel. Nodding thanks at her, he asks Dion, “So…are you and Alma…comfortable here?” Demons, I sound like an idiot. Look at the place! Of course they’re comfortable here!
Dion turns from blankly studying a painting of some ancient god who bears a familial resemblance to him, his own revery interrupted. “My uncle’s estate is a rather comfortable place to be, Inspector. Nothing has been amiss.”
“Good, good.” Inspector? So formal. He fights the urge to sigh. “Oh, uh, Merri and Cherry send their regards. Well, I’m sure all the Bunnies do. Especially Tulip. She asks after you. Rather often. But…they all very much appreciate what you did. As do I.” He feels a genuine warmth toward Dion at this.
The Sergeant smiles as the first names are mentioned, and looks very slightly abashed at the last. “I have done nothing but my sworn duty. Although the outcome was unexpected.”
Encouraged, Sky replies, “Well, yes. Still, you did save their lives.”
Dion frowns and shakes his head. “Their lives are the Council’s to save, Inspector. I am afraid that what happened to Nekh has done little for their case. Because of them, two Guardia Dei took the life of an Archon. They may be still perceived as a threat.”
Fine, if he insists on ‘Inspector,’ I’ll Inspector him. Sky launches into a dry report of what has been happening in Three Rats since Dion and Alma were locked away in this alabaster prison. The shattering of the Dukaines, the sudden influx of violent Shard gangs, struggles for supremacy throughout the ward and indeed the entire Fourth Circle, rumors and reports of street kids being taken in the night, the lack of manpower among the Guardia, the loss of Popula to injury and exhaustion – Dion responds to this comforting retreat from attempted friendship into emotionless professionalism by asking well-considered questions and offering helpful advice. At some point, they are served more of that transcendent coffee.
After catching Gwydion up on events, they fall into silence once more. It is more of an easy silence now, though. Yet still Sky wishes he could say something. It really is all right. I know you’ve seen us together, seen the way she looks at me, touches my arm or cheek. But it is not what you think. Friendship is all it is. But that’s where language fails, for it makes ‘friendship’ sound like something lesser. Having a true friend is what I need, what I’ve needed so badly for so long. And I think it is what she needs from me.
Besides, something in the way I was made – and that is no metaphor, for I was made to serve a purpose – something is missing, or added, by design or some side effect, and I do not fall in love with those who are immortal. I never have. I am, like a cruel joke, somehow aimed at mortals. I can only love passionately those who will inevitably leave me for the cold embrace of Death.
Sky rolls his eyes at his own internal voice. Poor you. Bah. And of course he cannot tell Gwydion all that without revealing too much. Still, he wants Alma to find happiness, a sort of happiness that he cannot give her. And so he tries to speak again.
“Sergeant,” he begins, not really sure what he will say, feeling as if he is stepping off a cliff, “listen…earlier, when I opened the door–”
As if summoned by those words, the Commander opens the very same door. He is answering some question from Alma. “We’ve received permission to allow you and Gwydion the opportunity to leave the estate under escort, for no more than a day at a time. Contact my office if you need to do that.” Though his voice is gravelly as ever, there is a comforting edge to it. He glances at Sky, then fixes Dion with his stony gaze. “Your turn, Sergeant.”