Ardent set Miro down, flicked away the leash, and fell face-first into her pillow nest. She gave an incoherent groan.
Miro sat at the edge of the pit for the sunken sofa, dangling his feet down the back rest. “Are you all right, my lady?”
She thrust out an arm with one thumb up, then struggled to roll onto her back. “Sorry, honey. I’m fine, just glad that’s over.” She lay her head back, frowned, and flicked the elaborate coil of braids back to her normal fluffy mass of loose hair. A short soft chiton replaced the long formal dress. “Wish I knew what was up with treating the Sun Host like a cross between a week-old pustulent corpse and a locust plague. How about you? Want your usual shape back?” She fumbled his homunculus out of a pocket in her chiton and proffered it.
“Yes, thank you.” He took the doll and sighed in relief at losing the extra inches and musculature, then chuckled. “I imagine most of your people can’t even tell the difference between the two shapes.”
She giggled, and shifted to her knees on the couch before him, leaning forward on one arm. She hooked a finger of her free hand around a lock of his once-again deep purple-blue hair. “Color difference here’s a little striking.”
He smiled. “Fair enough. But that aside…”
“Yeah, you’re right. I mean, I’ve seen you swap between them so the whole farmhand vs dancer build is pretty obvious to me. And I talk to mortals a lot so I’m used to telling people apart by slight differences. No offense. But most Moon Host aren’t.”
“Farmhand!” Miro laughed. “I should share that with the Sun Etherium. Perhaps that would give them pause in perpetuating the trend.”
Ardent cocked her head. “What else would you use all that muscle for?”
“It is the build of a Great Warrior,” Miro pronounced, with a self-important bluster on the final words that made Ardent giggle again. He smiled down at her, enjoying the rare chance to see her from a higher vantage. She had looked magnificent at the party, but he liked her better in her everyday clothes, when she looked comfortable and natural. Or perhaps he was drawn to her wide, open smile, with no secrets behind it. Or her warm, radiant soul. So much to admire.
She released the lock of hair and leaned sideways against the couch’s backrest, her legs curled next to her. “Lotta calls for Great Warriors in Sun Etherium, are there?”
“Of course! Almost every immersion, it seems,” he said, making her giggle again. The Sundering had ended the actual martial ambitions of the fey. Fey evasion made it virtually impossible to subdue other fey by force, and having the Etheriums drifting from one world to the next in an uncontrolled and often random fashion made conquering mortals rather pointless. If, indeed, there’d ever been a point to it at all. His memories of being Wind Rider in the immersion rose to the forefront of his mind: his joy in battle, the thrill of using aether as an irresistible weapon, of seeing enemies fall by the dozens under his blades. He – Wind Rider – had been so sure of his own rightness. Of course mortals should bow to fey might, of course fey should rule, of course rebellion must be punished. Anything else was a contravention of the natural order. In the immersion, he could not question it. Now that he was himself again, it was difficult to comprehend a fey mindset that cared how mortals ordered their own affairs.
Ardent’s hand on his knee recalled him to himself. “You doing all right there, honey?”
He tried a reassuring smile. “Yes. I think so.” Miro hesitated. “I don’t know.”
“Want a hug?” She held one arm to her side in invitation.
More than anything. He slid down from his perch on the backrest and fell forward with unseemly haste into her embrace. She enclosed him in powerful arms, pulling him into her lap and holding his head against her shoulder. He took a deep breath and relaxed into her. The contrast between the pillowy softness of her breasts and the strength and solidity of her arms and shoulders was both striking and delightful.
Ardent carefully extricated his long hair so that it wouldn’t be trapped or pulled between them. “Anything you want to talk about? Is talking about your problems another thing Sun Host doesn’t do?”
He chuckled, eyes half-closed. “It depends on the problem. And whether you can discuss it without looking weak and dominated by emotion.”
“So, anything that’s an actual problem, basically.”
Miro smiled again. “Just so.”
“Mph.” She rested her face against his hair. “I’m surprised they don’t tell you touching folks is a sign of weakness.”
“Oh, it is. I just don’t care. Dad never cared either. ‘I’m going to hug my son if he’s sad and if you don’t like it you can be impersonal and judgemental elsewhere.’” Miro waved a hand vaguely. “All of us least-favorite offspring tended to rebel by being inappropriately affectionate.”
Another snort. “No wonder you don’t love Sun Etherium. I like your dad. Jinokimijin handled that immersion mess so well.”
Miro grinned. “That’s him all over. He’s always been good at taking a bad situation in stride.” He shuddered. “And dying must have hurt, too, in full immersion.” Another shiver. “I’ve never been so relieved to escape an immersion before.”
Ardent stroked his back. “How bad was it? I didn’t realize how it’d affect you until it was too late – I should’ve—”
“No, you shouldn’t have,” Miro said, sternly. “Although I do appreciate you taking Loreveroro’s role for me. Even I didn’t realize how the immersion would set in until it did. Still, Wind Rider’s part was disorienting, but enjoyable, up until almost the end. Not being able to save Loreveroro was shocking. As if I’d lived my whole life thinking everything was sure to work out as I wanted. The entire revelation of the betrayal came out of nowhere from my perspective.” A half-laugh. “Though obvious enough from my true one. Of course Moon Etherium would make one of the Sun prince victims of the Sundering into a villain.”
Ardent wrinkled her nose. “Oh. That’s right. You don’t actually know the whole of it.”
“Mm?” Miro lifted his head from her shoulder to look at her face.
“The idea wasn’t to blame the Sundering on one Sun Host prince. It was supposed to be a whole top-down Sun Host plot. Loreveroro knew the whole time. I was just waiting for the best time to muck it up.”
“Oh.” Miro’s long ears canted down. “Oh. And if I’d had Loreveroro’s part, I would have gone along with it. I’d not have had a choice. Fallen wanted my father and me in those roles.”
“Yeah. And sure, everyone would know ‘that’s not how it really went’, but…still. Not sure what she’s getting out of stirring up this old feud. Must be something.” Ardent stroked his hair, lost in thought.
Miro gave a slight nod, feeling dangerously comfortable. He tried to focus on the concerns at hand, but it was much more pleasant to focus on how good it felt to be cuddling Ardent. To be safe, with someone he trusted, and away from the uncertain and questionable desires of the Moon’s High Court. It’s too bad you couldn’t have made your deal with someone like Ardent, Dad. But if you had, then I wouldn’t’ve been able to get Ardent’s help to rescue you. None of this would’ve worked.
His eyes closed. After a minute, he opened them again. “Have I started to snore yet?” he asked.
“Not yet.” Ardent kissed the top of his head, and Miro wanted to purr. “Should I put you to bed?”
In your bed? Absolutely. Share it with me this time? Miro forced himself to sit upright. “I think I can manage. But I’d best go now, or I will be leaving you with that chore. These mysteries will still be there in the morning.” He took her hand and kissed it. “Good night, my lady.”
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