Ardent watched Miro descend the stairs with a mixture of longing, regret, and relief. As pleasant as cuddling with him was, it stirred too many feelings she really, really should not act upon. She didn’t need to channel from him right now and had no excuse to want to, and the close contact had been an unwanted reminder of how easy it would be to just take. Whatever she wanted from him. Everything she wanted from him.
He is absurdly brave, to be here, helpless and vulnerable, among people who are encouraged to hate everything he represents. She tried to imagine walking into Sun Etherium under such circumstances, to be a channel for a stranger and with absolutely no defenses of her own. Yeah, no wonder I’m attracted to him. I always have liked the brave, noble types. Not to mention sweet and vulnerable. But while ‘hello, you’re helpless and completely in my power, wanna fuck?’ may not quite top the list of Terrible Things to Do to a Person, it’s definitely way up there.
All right, there are a lot of worse things I could do, starting with “everything Fallen is doing to poor Jinokimijin”. Notwithstanding that: still awful, still not going to do it.
Ardent squirmed on the couch, still fantasizing about Miro despite her resolve. She could go downstairs now, tell him she wanted to channel some power so she could make an amulet to protect him against mind-clouding glamours, like the immersion. He wouldn’t object to that. He’d encourage her; he always did. She wouldn’t take much; enough to relax him, intoxicate him. And afterwards, Miro would kiss her again, but this time when he apologized, she’d silence his protests with a kiss of her own. It wouldn’t be as if she were forcing him; he’d enjoy it too…
All right, Ardent, that’s enough of that. You’re two hundred and thirty-five years too old to be indulging in this kind of nonsense. Go to bed. Your own bed.
Too lazy to walk upstairs, Ardent teleported to her bed. Like her living room, the bedroom was round, with a glamour to make the ceiling look like a dome of glass. It showed the starry night sky above the Moon Etherium, streaked by clouds, crescent moon waxing on the horizon. Her bed was an enormous round thing that filled a third of the room, piled with silvery blue silk pillows and velvet blankets. The colors reminded her of Whispers Rain as she burrowed into the disorderly heap. Sure. Great. Let’s think about my former wife instead. At least I don’t have to worry about taking advantage of my power over her.
Love, but it’d been good to see her again, after all these years. I wish we’d had time to talk. I wonder if she still performs? She was aether dancing, but that’s not the same. I should’ve asked her to dance. Not that I could’ve and still kept an eye on Miro. I wish I could talk to her now. I wish I could fall asleep.
A twitch of aether stripped her chiton of its ornamental trim to make it a nightgown and removed her undergarments. She tried to turn her mind back to the problem she was actually here to solve. She retrieved Play’s tracer from her locket and checked the list of locations Ocean Discourse had been at since the tracer had started. None of them were of any interest, though it turned out she had been at the party earlier. The golem informed her, with a disdainful sniff of its cartoonishly large canine nose, that Ocean Discourse was now in a private area of the Moon Etherium. The tracer tapped its quill against its scroll. “I will record her location when she’s in public again.”
Ardent patted its canine head. “All right, great.” She set the golem down on the glass stand by her bed.
A blue hummingbird messenger winged into the room from the stairwell. Ardent froze, watching as it flew to her. Rain’s messenger.
The bird whispered its message into her ear. “Hi, Ardent. It was good to see you at the party. I’m sorry we didn’t get more time to talk.” When it finished, the messenger melted into a curl of mist.
Ardent hesitated, then conjured her farspeaker. “Me too. How have you been?” I already asked that at the party, didn’t I? Idiot.
“I’ve been…missing you. Are you busy? May I join you?”
“Sure, I’d love to see you.” Ardent told the apartment’s wards to let Whisper Rains in, then held her breath until aether curled in the air before her bed. It uncurled again like flower petals, revealing Whispers Rain at the center. She was still wearing her spangled body suit and ribbon-dress from the party. Ardent remembered belatedly to ornament her chiton into more of a day-wear garment. “Hello, Rain.”
Rain smiled, offering a little wave, and then turned a circle in the air, butterfly wings fluttering. Her curly, vibrant blue hair swung in a halo around her head. “Everything’s just the same.”
“Yeah. I don’t come by much. Kinda surprised the Queen never reclaimed the space. I suppose it’s just about as easy to make new space if you need any, nowadays.” Ardent lay on her stomach on the bed, torso propped by her elbows and a pillow. Rain wasn’t exactly as she remembered, but she was still tiny and delicate, the physical opposite of Ardent. Ardent patted the bed beside her. “Have a seat, if you want.”
Rain perched on the edge of the bed, curling one graceful leg beneath her as she twisted to watch the satyress. “I still can’t believe you re-affiliated.”
“Heh. Me either.” Ardent covered one side of her face with a hand. “The High Court’s worse than ever. I don’t know if I can make this stick, to be honest.”
Rain reached out with a slim brown hand to touch Ardent’s wrist. “You have to stay out of politics this time,” she chided, with a fond smile.
“Yeah, tell politics to stay away from me and we’ll see.” Ardent let Rain draw her hand down, then folded Rain’s small fingers between her own. “How’s that working out for you?”
Her former wife shook her head and waggled the fingers of her free hand. “Imperfectly,” she said, wistful. “But! I am the lead performer for the Winter Solstice Festival this year.”
A smile split Ardent’s face. “That’s fantastic! Do you have your dance choreographed yet?”
“Mostly choreographed. We’re still working out some issues. Vixen and Dagger are wing-painting with me. And of course we still have a lot of practice to go through before it’s ready.”
“Of course.” Ardent looked up into Rain’s oversized golden eyes. “Show me?”
Rain lowered blue lashes. “You know it’s still very rough, and I haven’t practiced nearly enough, and it won’t look right without the others—”
Ardent rolled onto her side, resting her head on one hand, bringing Rain’s hand close to kiss her fingers. “Show me anyway?”
“…all right.” Rain rose above the bed on beating wings. “Give me some room?” Ardent stirred the aether with one hand, and her bedroom’s interior expanded fivefold.
Rain flew straight up, then shifted her wings larger, and swooped out in a spiral of geometric precision. Her wings trailed white light behind her, describing the exact arc of her path. After several passes, she terminated the spiral in a large, perfect circle. The white light in her wake was slowly decaying through the color spectrum, now purple and blue where she’d begun. With the circle complete, Rain twisted through a flurry of organic motions, crafting a stylized dragon in light. Then she darted across the spiral, cutting a new white line to a spot 60 degrees offset from her dragon. By now most of the spiral had decayed to half of a rainbow. Rain drew a sphynx, and flew across to finish the triangle set into the spiral-circle and make a winged horse. Most of the work was now in rainbow colors, the center of the spiral gone to red and then vanished into black. The mythical animals twisted and struggled at their points, as if trapped. As Rain finished with the pegasus, she glanced to the dragon. With exaggerated surprise and concern at its plight, she flew to it, grasped the fading yellow-orange line of the spiral, and tried in vain to pull it off. The dragon’s green jaws parted, and it breathed fire onto the line.
The remains of the spiral and circle exploded in fire. The mythical animals broke loose and spun away. Rain, in a feigned daze, plummeted away from the scene. Ardent scooted into position on the bed beneath her, and caught the fey in outstretched arms. Rain opened her eyes and giggled at Ardent’s smile. “So Vixen and Dagger do three more mythical creatures each, so it’s a nine-pointed star, and theirs are water and ground creatures. We don’t really like the ending yet, though…”
“I love it,” Ardent said, sincerely. “It’s gorgeous. I am awed by how quickly you work. And that precision flying!”
Rain kicked her heels and looped her arms around Ardent’s neck as she squirmed upright in the satyress’s arms. “Did you really? Even the end?”
Ardent cradled her close to her chest. “Honey, especially the end.”
“You’re terrible,” Rain said with a giggle, then kissed her.
Ardent closed her eyes, savoring that shy, tentative touch, as if Rain feared she might be rebuffed or evaded. Ardent slipped a hand behind her head and kissed her in return, stroking her soft blue curls, delighted by the feel of her, the silk of wings folded beneath her arm, the litheness of that small, perfectly-formed body against hers.
After a moment, Rain drew back, watching her with huge, luminous eyes. “I really did miss you,” she whispered. “I wish I could have gone with you.” She shifted positions, to straddle Ardent’s lap.
“You couldn’t give up the sky.” Ardent touched her unfolding wings. “I’m sorry I made you choose.” I’m sorry you chose the sky. I’m sorry I chose Try Again. I’m sorry we didn’t make it work, somehow.
“But you’re not making me choose now.” Rain kissed her again, and Ardent fell backwards, pulling Rain down on top of her. When the smaller fey drew back next, it was to frown at a messenger wisp. Rain flicked it away in annoyance, then made the gesture to stop any more messages from interrupting her. She looked down at Ardent. “Do you want to…?”
Ardent smiled, mirroring the stop-messengers gesture. “Oh yes.” Rain kissed her again, and for a few moments they did not talk at all. Then Ardent drew back to speak. “Rain, honey…I wasn’t really joking when I said I don’t think I’m gonna make it last. Staying in the Etherium. I don’t want to mislead you about that.”
Her former wife smiled, though her golden eyes glittered with emotion. She traced a finger over Ardent’s lips. “Do you think you can manage to stay through the night?”
“Yeah.” Ardent kissed her fingertips. “I think I can do that.”
“Then let’s make the most of it,” Rain whispered, and then they were kissing again.
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