Good King Lyr: Alive
Anais woke to a cool hand on his face. He shifted and opened his eyes.
Barenin leaned over him, Aezthena face impassive. No, it would be the ship-Barenin.
He pushed himself up. "What time is it? And—where am I?"
He wasn't on the bridge anymore. This was another shades-of-white egg-shaped room, and he lay on a bed in the center of it. The air had a sterile scent about it that was apparently universal everywhere. "Sickbay," he said, answering his own question, and lay back down. His head ached horribly, but the rest of him felt...lighter. More refreshed. His thoughts were clearer.
Had the hologram carried him from the couch to sickbay? Blinked him here like had happened when he'd boarded the ship? "Still no doors," he muttered, scanning the near-empty chamber. "These Aezthena need to work on their design skills."
The ship-Barenin made a small sound. Nearly a snort. They came around the bed, an almost-smile tugging at their lips.
Anais blinked at them. That was an uncannily Barenin-like smile. The soul beneath the mask.
His breaths came faster. He checked his internal clock. And sat up fast again when he saw it was several hours past what it should have been.
"Barenin!" He gripped Barenin's wrist as they sat down beside him. Emotion flowed to him, tentative and Aezthena cool.
Relief flooded Anais as everything that had happened before he'd passed out rushed back to him. But he couldn't handle everything. He could handle Barenin.
They were here. They weren't in that gaping maw anymore. They were safe.
He rested his head on Barenin's shoulder, waiting for the ringing in his ears to stop. For the pounding of his blood to slow.
Sickbay. Oh gods, he was in sickbay.
Anais jerked back and looked down at his hands. They were brown. Human brown, not the pale of Aezthena hands. A quick, scattered inventory of his mind found only the memory implant. He sagged back against Barenin. Their body was cool beneath their soft gray shirt. He glanced up into gold eyes shifting with fractal flecks, then quickly away again.
How much did they know? What had the ship told them?
Barenin brushed back a lock of his hair, lightly kissing his cheek. The touch brought different emotions with it. Guilt, and a deep sense of something he couldn't identify. And he knew, from thoughts shared between them that he couldn't place, that Barenin knew about his decision at the last. That he really would have gone through with it, too. If he'd had to.
And that he was so glad he hadn't had to. So glad it hurt that his hands were still his own. Maybe the first time in his life he'd been genuinely happy to see his own, non-altered self.
They would have to talk about this later. And they would have to talk about what Barenin had done to him later, their betrayal, no matter how noble the cause. But not now. Not now.
"The planet," he whispered. "Denz Dayar. Is it still there?"
"The Dayarans are safe," Barenin said, wrapping an arm around his back to pull him closer. Their voice was inflection-less. But their emotions were not. Relief flooded Anais for a second time, and more than a share of it wasn't his own. "Thank you."
That thanks was coming dangerously close to things Anais didn't want to talk about right now.
Anais shifted, noticing for the first time that this room, unlike the bridge, wasn't silent. There was the faintest background hum. Was it medical machinery? Or was it the engines?
"Where are we? Are we still at Denz Dayar?"
"We're traveling through Kaireyeh," Barenin said. And at his sharp intake of breath, "Don't worry. Aezthena Kaireyeh travel isn't like human Kaireyeh travel. We have perfected it. We are safe."
Anais hissed. "Yeah. I know that. I know that. I just—haven't been in it before. All right. We made it out. And..." Barenin had said the Dayarans were safe. But the memories of watching that world disappear in blackness were too raw, too vivid in his mind.
"Here." Barenin held out a hand and a holo appeared above it, showing a world shrouded by folds of rippling black space. Shrouded, but still there. "This was from right before we left. It will take a few hours for the Kaireyeh space around the world to settle. After that, to anyone observing, it will only look like fractured spacetime. Any Aezthena who sees it in the meantime will stay clear, and should suspect that the planet is an after-image or a time mirage, an effect of a Kaireyeh explosion. That does happen sometimes."
Anais nodded. And nodded again. "All right. All right, we did good, then."
"Yes, we did good."
There was little satisfaction in either their voice or their emotions. Anais thought, after all he'd learned in the last few days, and after his chat with Sela—gods, and he was not ready to analyze that right now—he understood why. This was one battle won in a war Barenin had been fighting for millennia. And that war was still close to coming to a head. Delayed, maybe. But a sense of dread hung over Barenin like dark matter.
Sela now had the means to build Yfeni generators. And Anais knew Barenin well enough now to know they trusted Sela to be Sela, and no more than that. Sela would be on their side for a time...until she wasn't.
Anais shivered. Sickbay was cold, and he only wore his loose, borrowed Dayaran under-robes. Either Barenin or the hologram had removed the outer layers. To better scan him? Anais saw a few odd-shaped bits of equipment around the room, nothing he could identify, but nothing that would have clued him in to this being a medical facility without the smell and the bed.
"Am I—" he touched his head. He didn't want to ask about the brain damage, which twisted at his gut.
"Your brain function has returned to normal," Barenin said.
Anais also didn't want to ask how that had been accomplished. So he didn't.
He reached and brushed his fingertips over Barenin's cheek, pushing back a single, silver curl that had escaped the knot at the back of their neck.
"I'll be fully Aezthena for some days," they said. "Maybe a few weeks. Being around the Yfeni generators that long made me lose my ability—temporarily—to focus human. Things like that have happened before with high concentrations of Kaireyeh. I am not concerned, except as it applies to you."
Anais shrugged. "As long as there's air and heat in the ship, I'm fine."
He bit his lip.
Barenin didn't respond, their emotions starting to dam.
"Barenin. Let's not talk about it. Not now. I just—we're alive, okay? We're alive. The Dayarans are alive. I don't care if you're human or Aezthena, just be who you need to be—but can we just...just..."
He licked his lips then turned Barenin's head and kissed them. When he'd kissed them before, they'd been partially Aezthena. But this was something new. This was warm lips on ice, that hesitated the barest moment before responding with a hunger that surged through their touch, threatening to overwhelm him.
Anais pulled back. Felt Barenin's instant regret, their starting to cycle into self-recrimination.
"No," he said. "Don't do that. We'll learn, all right? We will learn."
He was fairly certain Aezthena couldn't cry. But the way they looked at him, the lingering rawness of emotion, made him think that if they could have, their eyes would be glistening just now.
He was going to stay with Barenin. He'd just then made up his mind—except, he'd known he would stay with them since the first few days. And maybe, truly, since they'd danced around him as Por.
They had a lot to work through. A lot. But yes, Barenin was worth it. Worth everything he'd ever had or worked for. Even the identity implant that he'd thought was the one thing worth having in his life. The only thing that might make the pain inside a little more bearable.
He didn't ask about it now, whether it was still in tact, or if it had been destroyed. Or if Barenin could make him a new one.
Later. Another conversation for later.
He leaned back into them and Barenin wrapped their arms around him.
Support my work!
By supporting my work, you're helping me create and illustrate new works for everyone to freely read, share, adapt, and remix.