Chapter Six: Quinn

Renata was as light on her feet when dancing as when swordfighting.  That’s not very surprising, really.  Most people don’t realize it, but a great deal of the true skill in a talented swordfighter is in how they move their feet.  I gave her the promised first dance, then another, then politely excused myself to bestow my charms upon other women.  It is the height of rudeness to monopolize one lovely woman at a ball, though exceptions are made for the young or the newly in love of course.

I was staunchly determined to do everything I could to keep people, especially myself, from thinking that the second applied to Renata and I.

After I asked her to dance, Brynja, another one of my fellow Daggers, looked incredulous.  “You want to dance with me?  What’s the matter?  Did Renata finally come to her senses and dump you?”

“What are you talking about?” I asked, confused.  I was sure none of the Daggers had reason to think there was more between Renata and I than a very deep friendship.  Sure, her family knew that there was . . . something . . . going on between us, but I couldn’t think of a single time in the past two korvare when on the Asylum or at Dagger HQ we’d given anyone reason to think anything had changed.

“Please.  You think it’s not obvious you two are dating?”

“But we aren’t!”

“I saw you two at her husband’s bar the other night.”

Oh, I thought, that explains that.  “Which other night?” I asked, hoping it wasn’t the one where she and I had both had a bit too much to imbibe and had begun behaving in not strictly appropriate ways.

“Last sulid, you two were bickering like an old married couple.”

So it hadn’t been that night.  It had been the one before, the one where Renata had had the audacity to insinuate that I was miscalculating the odds in a kista game.  Me, the man who’d made quite a nice living for a number of years gambling professionally!  “We were not ‘bickering like an old married couple’, thank you!  We were having a minor argument over odds.”

The large woman shrugged.  “Whatever.  So, if you two aren’t dating, why’d ya move in with her?”

“She had a spare room and I needed a place to sleep.  If I’d moved in with Darrien instead, would you think he and I were dating?”

She snorted inelegantly.  “Defensive, aren’t you?  Okay, okay, keep up your pretense, though I don’t know why you’re bothering.  Anyway, you actually know how to dance, right?”

“Madam!” I said in hurt shock.  “I am a gentleman!  Of course I know how to dance.  I was schooled in the art of dance by one of the finest dancemasters on Ruvellia, in fact.”  To suggest that a noble didn’t know how to dance was a terrible insult, as it implied that their family hadn’t cared about them enough to make sure they knew all the gentlemanly arts.

“So that fancy accent isn’t fake?”

“Of course not!  I’m a Tormestrel, son of Tristán, descendant of Saviero Tormestrel.  I have no reason to pretend to be someone else.  I’m, frankly, offended that you’d even suggest such a thing.”  I knew she hadn’t known me for long, but that was no excuse!

“Damn, you’re defensive about this sort of stuff.  Sorry.  Didn’t mean any insult.  Anyway, you can dance, so, sure, let’s do this.”

I have no idea why she was so worried about whether or not I could dance since she wasn’t particularly good herself.  I was happy — though of course I didn’t show it — when the song was over and I could seek a new partner.

I found one who definitely was more my calibre near one of the large arched windows lining one wall.  She was attempting to wheedle her husband into dancing.  “Anastasia!” I said brightly coming up to her.

We greeted each other with a fond kiss and hug, then I took her hand and said, “Fair lady, would you do me the honor of being my partner for the next dance?”

Martoz gave me a thankful look.  Silly man hates dancing.

“Well, I was hoping to have a dance with my husband, but since he’s being even stubborner than usual, yes, I will dance with you.”

She was an even better dancer than Renata, better, even, than me, I admit.  She’d danced professionally once upon a time and still performed sometimes in the theater she’d opened a few korvare before.

“Monopolizing the hot guys again, babe?” Lyndsey said as she passed us during our second dance, a complicated veristil.

“Hardly,” I said before Ana could respond to her wife.  “This is only our second dance.  If you wish to dance with me next, I’m sure I can work you in,” I said teasingly.

Her partner spun her just then, but when she was holding still again she said, equally teasingly, “I don’t know.  You did just mess up that turn.  I might want a better partner than that.”

I’d made the mistake because this particular dance was one I’d not quite perfected, having not seen it for the first time until two years ago, but, ever the gallant gentleman, I said, “I was too enraptured by the beauty of your wife to pay proper attention to my feet.”

Lyn rolled her eyes and laughed outright.  Anastasia reacted in a more restrained manner, limiting herself to a soft laugh before saying to Lyndsey, in tones that I would’ve believed expressed real hurt had I not known her so well.  She was, possibly, an even better actress than she was dancer.  “Are you saying I’m not beautiful enough to be distracting?”

Lyndsey laughed and rolled her eyes again.  “Babe, you’re the most gorgeous woman here, and I’ll fight anyone who says otherwise.  But Quinn wasn’t even looking at you when he fucked that turn up.”

Her partner, a man I didn’t know who, to judge from his attire, had apparently thought he was going to dance night at one of the local spacer bars instead of a ball, spoke for the first time.  “And why were you looking at him instead of me?  You make a guy feel damned good, geesh.”

Lyndsey drew herself up onto her tiptoes and pecked him on the lips.  “I wanted to make sure he didn’t hurt my wife, that’s all.  I swear I’m paying more attention to you than him.”

“Yeah, you didn’t say anything about me being a hot guy when you asked me to dance either, you know.”  He wasn’t as good an actor as Anastasia, very far from it.  It would’ve been obvious to all but the tiniest of children that he was faking being upset.

“I didn’t think I needed to after the other night,” Lyndsey replied with a wink.

He laughed and they moved away from us, deeper into the flow of dancers.  After that song, I made my apologies to Anastasia and sought another partner.  This one was a young woman I didn’t know, but she was graceful and charming, so I made sure we knew where to find each other in the future, should she wish to get to know me better.

I danced with a couple more people, a song or two each, and then needed a rest.  I made my way over to the refreshment tables and was pleased to see my employer and friend there, favoring one arm, but not looking bad at all for a man his age who insists on being on the front lines.

“Darrien, what an unexpected pleasure!” I said, bowing slightly when I was near him.

“Hi, Quinn,” he said.  “You look like the past few korvare have been kind to you.”

“They have,” I said.  He’d been on a mission for the better part of the past three korvare; I’d been on one of those periodic breaks from missions he insisted we take.  They, I must admit, did wonders for our mental health.  Few Daggers, despite the sort of situations we got into, ever suffered from severe mental trauma, and of those who did, it tended to be the ones like Viktor who’d suffered things too horrifying to think of.

“Good!  There’s something building over near Sustis that you’ll be perfect for if it turns out they need our aid.”

“I look forward to it,” I said, meaning it.  Spending my days charming lovely women, amusing Renata’s children, gambling, and dancing was undeniably fun, but actually doing my job, saving and protecting those who couldn’t save and protect themselves from tyrants and the like . . . there was a thrill to it that went far beyond the mere fun of the adventure itself.

“So, where’s Renata?  I understand you to have been spending quite a bit of time together.”

I shrugged.  “I’m living with her family right now, that’s all.  The last I saw her, she was dancing with Tera.”

He gave me a shrewd look, probably guessing at the conflict raging in my heart and mind about Ren.  He swears he’s not an empath or telepath, but I’d like to know how he knows and figures out half of what he does if that’s the truth.  He swears he’s just good at reading people, but I’m good at reading people.  What he is, is telepathic.  I don’t care how strongly he argues that he’s not.  It’s the only logical explanation.

I hurriedly changed the subject.  “So, will you be entering the Sword Tournament?”

“I was planning on it, but it depends on how my arm feels by next sulid when sign ups end.  I pulled something rather badly dodging a blast the other day.”  He paused for a moment and when I said nothing, said, “And you’re the first person to hear that and not make a crack about my age.  Thank you.”

I smiled slightly.  “After the way I got injured doing the same thing on my last mission?  What would that imply about me, hmm?”

“No one would ever think you were too old for something.  You don’t look your age at all, Quinn.”

“Thank you,” I said with slight bow.  When I looked in the mirror, I certainly saw a middle-aged man, so it was nice to know other people didn’t.  Renata, and many of my other lovers, had of course insisted I still looked quite young, but one cannot trust a lover to tell the truth about things like that.

He and I conversed a bit more as we ate, then Lady Salyrissa herself insisted Darrien dance with her.  I mingled some with other friends and acquaintances, flirted with beautiful women, helped Elizabeth reach some food she couldn’t so she wouldn’t climb on the table to get it — I swear, that child is entirely too much like Renata some times!, and then made my way back to the dance floor, dancing on my own at first, until my favorite short, tempermental, swordswoman put an arm around my waist.

“Care for another dance?” she asked, her eyes sparkling with merriment.  She was, very clearly, enjoying herself quite a bit.

I made a show of looking around, pretending to be seeing if I had any other prospects, before putting an arm around her and saying, “I suppose I can settle for you.”

I probably deserved the kick to the shin she gave me.


That night I got more smug, knowing grins from Tera and Lance as I helped Renata tuck the smaller children in to bed and read them stories and such.  I ignored them as well as I could, but at the back of my mind, I couldn’t deny that it probably was beginning to be obvious to everyone who saw us together at all that she and I were more than friends.  It bothered me.  I prided myself on being able to keep relationships casual.  I’m not a cad, far from it.  I have, truly, had feelings of a least friendship for every woman I’ve bedded.  But, always before . . . save one time in my impetuous youth . . . I’d managed to keep it friendly.  Both of us knew we were nothing more than, as Terrans crassly call it, “friends with benefits”, and both of us were fine with that.  Always.  I’d conducted my life that way for over thirty years.

Now though . . . this was something more, something less than she had with her spice to be sure, but something more than friendship nonetheless.  I wasn’t sure I liked it, but I wasn’t sure I didn’t like it either.  I was confused and conflicted, more than I’d been in years.

The conversation with Lance the other day hadn’t really helped matters any.

I resolved to talk to Renata about it soon as I pulled the ornate comforter up around my shoulders and drifted off to sleep.


Renata looked more lovely than ever, standing in a bower outside the local temple to Vestina, dressed, for once, in a dress; a light burgundy strapless thing that fit tightly across her ample breasts and at her waist, but had a skirt that looked like it was floating in the slight breeze.  I looked rather nice myself, in a new blue and gold brocade doublet with slightly darker blue pants with gold trim.  Our friends and family were all there, all watching.  I was a bit apprehensive as I took her hands in mine and said those sacred words, promising to love her for all of eternity, promising to both Vestina and Kilij to never betray or harm her in any way.  A part of my mind screamed, Stop!  This is not what you want! but I ignored it, thinking of nothing except the woman who was about to become my wife.  Renata said her oaths to me as well.  The priest was just starting to speak her blessing when the momentous mistake I’d made suddenly hit me.

“Stop!” I cried.  “This isn’t what I want!  I’m sorry, Renata.  I do love you, but this . . . no.  Marriage isn’t for me.  Fatherhood certainly isn’t.  I can’t go through with this, cartima.”

She nodded with a savage look, pulled a sword from somewhere inside her dress  — I was too shocked to notice the violation of physics happening right in front of me — and swung for my mid-section.


I woke up in a cold sweat.  I was rather relieved to find I was still alive.  I didn’t take the dream that seriously, certain that if I’d ever taken it into my head to marry Renata — an incredibly unlikely event! — I’d not have a sudden change of heart at the literal last moment.  I was equally certain that she could not hide a sword in a dress like that.  But just the fact that I’d had a dream like that bothered me.  What was my subconscious trying to tell me?  Did I want to hear whatever it was?

Bothered by these questions, I slept restlessly the remainder of the night.

Chapter Four: Quinn

“Lance, do you have a moment?” I asked, in Ruvellian, so hopefully he’d realize that what I wanted to talk about I’d like kept private.

“Sure, was just about to step out for a smoke.  Join me on the porch, if you want.”

He gestured for me to wait while he lit his vile cigarette — a variety that I didn’t know anyone who could afford better smoked until I met him — then leaned back against a porch post, the very picture of casualness, and asked, “So, what’s the deal with you and Ren that you wanna talk about?”

I glared at him.  I knew he was half-Magvinnian and that their brains aren’t equipped for privacy, but he’d lived among Humans his whole life.  He knew better.  “That was rude, and you well know it.”

“What?” he asked, sounding genuinely confused.  I still didn’t believe he was.

“Thoughts are private, as I’ve heard Viktor explain to you oft enough.”

“I didn’t read your mind.  Why else would you wanna talk to me?  You’re not much of a pilot, so it can’t be about ships.  You’re not lookin’ to quit the Daggers, so it can’t be about the Tezarin.  I suppose you could want some advice about sex, but from what I hear, you’re as talented a lover as me.  Though if you wanna help me do some hands-on research for my book . . .”  He trailed off with a wink.

“You’re writing another book?” I asked, surprised.

He nodded.  “Yep.  My other one’s a best-seller, you know.  Gotta keep my fanbase happy.”

“You do know what sort of person actually reads your book of pick-up lines, yes?  I can’t believe you want to cultivate that kind of fandom.”

“What’s wrong with my fans?” he asked, looking hurt.

I sighed.  “Lance, I’m the last person who could say anything about settling down romantically, but there’s a difference in . . . approach in my lifestyle and that of your fans.”  I was trying to be as delicate as I could.

He shrugged.  “We ain’t all as elegant as you.  Anyway, I just added that part because you make really interesting faces when I proposition you.”

Switching back to Ruvellian, and changing the subject, I said, “You were right.  I do want to talk about Renata and I.  You know she and I have been physically intimate for years, correct?”

“Assumed so.  She likes her guys dark haired, cocky, gorgeous, and handy in a fight.  Figure there ain’t many Dagger men meeting that description she hasn’t fucked.”

“Have you ever considered being less crass?  Even for just a moment?”

He shook his head.  “Why would I?  Anyway, what’s the problem?  I mean, I can guess, but I assume you’d rather I don’t.”

“Thank you.  I’ve always been fond of Renata.  She’s charmingly odd, a brilliant engineer and mechanic, beautiful, an incredible lover, and one of the best swordsmen I’ve ever seen.”  Lance nodded, thus far I hadn’t said anything most who knew and liked her would disagree with.

“I needed a place to stay for a while, and you all were headed off to Earth and needed a pet sitter, so she offered me the spare room.  I’d intended to move on when you got back, but plans fell through, and then I discovered I enjoyed spending so much time in her company.  Well, everyone’s, really, but especially hers.”  I paused as I tried to figure out the rest of what I was going to say.  For possibly the first time in his life, Lance was waiting patiently.  “I’ve known Renata well for years, but I knew Renata the Dagger, not Renata the Person.  I knew, intellectually, she had a couple of dozen children and several spice.  But . . . I guess I’d never realized just how much they meant to her.”  I studied a loose thread on my coat sleeve, unwilling to say the next part.  I cannot be in love!  Not with her, I scolded myself as I’d been doing for some time to no avail.

Lance lit another one of those horrible cigarettes then said, “You’ve fallen in love with her.”

I, reluctantly, nodded.  “Yes, I have.  And that’s the problem.  I can’t settle down.  It’s not for me.  I crave excitement, adventure, and new experiences too much to be tied down with a family, and I know that’s what Renata would want from me if we were to get seriously involved.”

Lance looked more serious than I’d ever seen him.  “I understand.  You wanna be someone who can disappear for half a year then come back and spoil those little guys for korvare, then disappear again.”  He pointed to Kaelee and Dejah as he talked.  I hadn’t noticed them.  I rather hoped they didn’t speak Ruvellian.  There was no telling with the children in that family.  Lance continued, “I really understand.  There are times I wish that’s what I still was.  I love my spice; I adore my kids and grandkids, but there are days when I miss the freedom of just going where I wanted without needing to say goodbye, without needing to worry about what I was missing.  But, it was that freedom or Vik’s heart, and that nitpicky fop was — is — more important to me than anything else.”  He paused thoughtfully for a piclano.  “Well, he’s got some equals now, but . . . gah, words are his business, not mine.  Am I making any sense?”

I couldn’t help but chuckle a bit at him.  He was usually so perfectly self-possessed; it was rare to see him anywhere near this flustered.  “More or less.  I think what you’re saying is I have to figure out which means more to me:  total freedom or having a place in the heart of short, temperamental swordswoman.”

“Pretty much, yeah.  I know which I’d choose, but I ain’t you.  Also, when I made that choice, I was choosing to become the husband of four people and the daddy of three.  You’d be choosing to be the husband — or potential husband, I guess — of eight, daddy of thirty, and grandpa of . . . a lot, I ain’t quite sure how many grandkids I got any more.”

“Exactly.”  I shook my head ruefully.  “Maybe this would be less of an issue for me if it wasn’t someone with such a large family that I was falling for.”

“Or if you were younger,” Lance suggested.

I nodded; fifty is rather old to suddenly consider becoming a family man.


I spent most of the day silently pondering what Lance had said.  My thoughts were interrupted by a hug from behind accompanied by Renata saying, “You’re goin’ to the ball tonight, right?”

“Of course, cartima.  When have I ever missed a chance to dance with beautiful women?”

“T’zort.  You skipped the ball the royals threw to thank us for restoring their throne,” she said after a moment’s thought.

“That was because of special circumstance,” I countered.  “Her Majesty was unhealthily enamored with me.  His Majesty was none too fond of me because of this.”

“And you’d done absolutely nothing to encourage her, of course,” Renata teased.

“Not after I found out she was the queen!  When I thought she was just one of the rebels, yes.  She was beautiful, charming, intelligent . . . you flirted with her too.”

Ren shrugged.  “Maybe.  Don’t recall.  Anyway, it was a chance to dance with beautiful women and you passed it up, so there has been a time you missed the chance to dance with beautiful women.”

“Fine.  I take it you’re going?”

She nodded.  “Yep.  Try not to miss many during Winter Fest season.  They somehow are more fun than most throughout the year.”

She was right.  Somehow the coldness of the season forcing them all to be indoors added a certain something to them, a touch of elegance usually missing from Sweytzians lives.  I was about to say that, then realized that the odds were that Renata wasn’t fond of them because of their elegance.  No, it had to be something different that appealed to the woman who frequently had to be begged to change out of pants with engine grease on them before going to classy restaurants.  “The faster paced dances?” I suggested, referring to the gavar and sevim especially, dances traditionally done to classic Winter Fest music.

She shrugged.  “Could be.  Could just be that I really like this time of year.  Winter Fest and Jül are both awesome holidays.” Jül, I’d learned, was a religious holiday from Earth.  It involved family, large meals, plants hanging from doorways — these, for no reason I could fathom, you were supposed to kiss people under — and presents under large trees in the living room.  I was also not clear on what the trees had to do with the presents.  Terran culture is very confusing to me.

“Anyway,” she said, “I was just curious.  Look forward to dancing with you tonight.”

“And I, you, cartima,” I said, smiling at the curvy woman before me.  Renata was not, it has to be said, traditionally attractive.  She was very short, a touch overweight, her long brown hair was almost perpetually tangled and unkempt, and her clothes tended to look like she’d just thrown on the first things she found on her floor that morning.  But there’d always been something about her . . . that mischievous twinkle in her eye, the way she carried herself like she knew damned well there was nothing out there that could stand in her way, the way the light danced off her hair when she was coerced to brush it, the curves that even her preferred baggy shirts and jeans didn’t disguise, yes, all of that . . . but something else too, something intangible that had made her stand out to me from the first day I’d arrived on the Asylum.

It turned out that the whole household was going to this ball, so soon all were caught up in the barely controlled chaos that that many people getting ready for something, especially when so many of them are so young, always is.  I, always willing to help with the children even if I didn’t want to be obligated to, had changed Rysia, the youngest of the children, into a precious lace covered petal pink dress and carried her to her parents’ room, in the hopes that she could stay out of anything that might get it messy with that many people around to watch her.  I heard good-natured fussing as soon as I came in the room.

“Oh, good,” Viktor said, half-turning when I came in.  “Someone who might actually be helpful.  Quinn, which of these earrings goes best with this doublet?”  He held up two pair that might as well have been identical from across the large room.

Carefully studying the gold embroidery on his black velvet doublet as I got closer, I said, “The larger ones.  The smaller ones don’t go with how very elaborate the design is.”

“Thank you,” he said.  “See?  That’s how to be helpful,” he added pointedly to Lance who was perched on the edge of Viktor’s vanity.

Lance stuck his tongue out at his husband then hopped down.  “I’m gonna go see if anybody needs any help.  Try to limit yourself to only redoing your hair once and maybe we can get out of here when we’re planning to for once.”  He quickly ran out of the room, a huge grin on his face as he knew Viktor would never catch him.  Everyone else in the room, except Rysia and Arianna who were trying to figure out where Zarilia — Viktor’s pet, an Earth animal called a cat — had gone, either stifled a laugh, or, in the case of Ren and Tera, laughed outright.

“I love you all, just so you know,” Viktor said sardonically, fighting a smile himself.

“Is there anything else I can do to be helpful?” I asked, sitting on the foot of one of the three beds in the room and watching Renata button a wine colored tunic with quite a bit of embroidery.

“I don’t think so,” Jasmine said in very thickly accented Galfarran.  I wished for her sake that I spoke more Allurian so she didn’t have to communicate in the language she still struggled some with after nearly twenty years.  “Lance and Rur are both checking on the kids; Tera’s already gotten Ren’s hair brushed somehow, amazingly,” Renata’s gesture in response to that was far from polite, “so I think we’re just waiting on us to be done.”

“I could help you get dressed, if you need it,” I said, giving the beautiful Allurian a suggestive look.

“You’re as bad as Lance,” she said, smiling as she adjusted the top of her dress while looking in the large mirror in one of the other vanities.

For the first time I realized how starkly the delicate white one contrasted with Viktor’s large, ornately carved wooden one.  This caused me to ponder the rest of the furniture in the house and it’s lack of perfect coordination.  The dining room matched perfectly, which made sense as they’d probably had to have a table that could seat forty specially made — even on Sweytz families don’t tend to be that large, but the library, the parlor, their bedroom . . . in all of those the furniture didn’t clash, exactly, but neither did it match.  Given how particular some of them, especially Viktor, were about appearances in other ways, it suddenly struck me as odd.  So, I decided I might as well ask.  “Pardon me if this seems rude, but I’m curious:  why have you never made more of an effort to have matching furniture?  I know you have the money to refurnish this whole house twice over, at least, even with the extravagant tastes some of you have.”  I smiled at Viktor as I finished speaking.  A sulid before he’d gotten in an argument with Renata over the cost of a new table he wanted for the library.  She had issues with spending such a hefty sum on something that was just going to be used for holding things like vases.  I’d stayed out of it, despite both their attempts to drag me in.

Tera smiled in amusement.  “Can you imagine trying to get all of us to agree on something like that?  Viktor wants ornate dark wood and velvet and brocade everywhere; Ren doesn’t care, but prefers it be something she can scuff up without the rest of us bitching at her; Lance follows the whim of the moment when he buys anything . . . you can see why it was easier for us to just let everyone keep whatever furniture even sort of worked together, right?”

“That makes an incredible amount of sense,” I said, after pondering it for a moment.  “I suppose it’s one of those little things that makes your relationship work when every other one I’ve ever known of with this many people in it has fallen apart over . . . well, I’m not privy to all the details, of course, but it seemed to be over just the day to day stuff, like decorating and what to have for dinner.”  I hadn’t really meant to say that part aloud, but I suppose no harm was done by it.  After all, Lance was the only one who knew why I was pondering things like how exactly their relationship worked, and he was being civilized enough not to blab about it.

“Exactly,” Viktor said, braiding his hair elaborately in a way that wove a ribbon matching the embroidered panels on his doublet through it.  “A big part of why this marriage works is because we long ago decided not to worry about petty stuff, like coordinating furniture.  We discuss things, of course, and all of us have some furniture we dearly loved from before we were together that’s been relegated to kid’s rooms, storage, or Ren and Tera’s old house . . . or Don’s now too, forgive me for forgetting you momentarily, dear . . . but for the most part we decided it’s not something worth worrying too much over.”

“Do you hear this?” Ren said to Tera in very disbelieving tones.  “Him making it sound like it’s not an idea we had to browbeat him with before he’d agree to it?”

“Excuse me, dear,” Viktor said, “but just because I thought something was a bad idea nearly thirty years ago doesn’t mean I think it is now.  Besides, I do still think we could’ve agreed on a more uniform look back when it was only the four of us.”

“Five,” Ren corrected.  “Me, you, Tera, Rur, Lance.  That’s five.”

“I wasn’t counting Lance.  When we moved in here, he and I had hardly started dating.”

Renata shrugged.  I admired the way her arm muscles looked under the diaphanous sleeves of her tunic.  “It was pretty much a foregone conclusion from the moment you two first admitted how you felt about each other that you’d end up together.  You ready to go yet, or do you need to change all of your jewelry again?”

“For that, you’re not getting the first dance,” Viktor said, standing.  It always amazed me how gracefully he still managed to move with one leg that was all but useless.

She shrugged again.  “Oh well.  I’m sure Rur’ll have the first dance with me,” she said, going to the large Kivanian and snaking an arm around his waist as he entered the room.

“I’m sorry,” he said, his accent not quite as thick as Jasmine’s but still very noticeable, “but I already told Tera I’d dance with her first.”

Time to be the charming gentleman, I thought.  I stood even more gracefully than Viktor, crossed to Renata, took her hand in mine and said, “I, on the other hand, would be delighted to be your first dance partner this evening, bellmarevé.”

She smiled at me very fondly.  I pretended not to notice the knowing look Tera and Vik exchanged.  There would be time enough later to worry about how this . . . thing . . . between Renata and I would work out.  For now, I was going to concentrate on enjoying the ball.

Previous chapter:


Chapter Two: Quinn

I’d missed dinner.  That was disappointing.  Sven had cooked it, so I knew it had to have been good.  Oh well, I thought as I walked across the parlor, attempting to sneak up on Renata.  Maybe there’s some left.  And even if there’s not, it’s not like there’s ever a shortage of food in this house.

Lyndsey saw me, but just smiled and went back to studying her cards.  No one else noticed me.  “Boo,” I said quietly, touching the shoulder of the wonderful woman who’d been kind enough to let me stay in her house for the past few korvare.

“Hi, Quinn,” Renata said, amused, as she tilted her head back to kiss me.

“Hello, cartima.  Lyndsey, good to see you again.  Nice bruise.  I take it the other person looks worse?”

“Oh, yeah, definitely,” the young woman said, tossing a handful of credits into the pot.

“How’s the game going?” I asked as I pulled up a chair.

Kris and Courtney grumbled, Lyndsey shrugged, and Renata said with a grin, “I think you can guess.”  I was rather amazed they were playing with Courtney.  Telepaths are banned from the majority of professional games for a reason, after all.

I whispered a suggestion in Renata’s ear.  “She doesn’t need your help, sivak,” Lyndsey said, calling me what I was sure was a very rude word in some language.

“Who said what he was saying had anything to do with this game, kid?” Ren said, lying smoothly.  “Maybe he was making a suggestion for after the game. Did you ever think of that?”

“Mom, Quinn’s never bothered to be subtle about propositioning you before, why would he start now?”

I chuckled.  Lyndsey did have a point, loath as I was to admit it.  Once upon a time I’d had too much class and decorum to have propositioned someone blatantly in front of their children, but that was before I spent many years as a Dagger.  Some of the less savory behaviors of my fellows had rubbed off on me.

“You know, he could have been suggesting something that had nothing to do with kista or sex, child,” Renata said, tossing another fifty into the pot.  Internally I smiled approvingly.  She was taking my advice.

Everyone else at the table looked incredulous.  “He coulda been!  Just because it’s not likely doesn’t mean it’s impossible!”  Ren argued.

“Suuuure, Momma,” said Kris, before shaking his head sadly at his cards, folding, and saying, “I need to get going, and I’m already out more money than I wanted to be so good luck convincing me otherwise.  Good night, everybody.”

I started to ask if I could join the game in his stead, but before I got the first word out, both Lyn and Ren gestured to the seat he’d abandoned.  It was an enjoyable game.  Courtney apparently couldn’t quite read our minds well enough to get much of an advantage . . . Lyndsey was probably doing that bizarre ninja thing where she keeps an annoying song in the forefront of her mind to help, I was thinking in Ruvellian as I almost always do when I play kista, so that left just Renata, and she was having such incredible luck that no amount of knowing what cards she had or what she was thinking would’ve helped anyone much.  Eventually Courtney left the game, deciding that helping Crystabel do someone’s hair was more fun.  Kista does not work well as a three person game — it twists the odds in weird ways — so I was about to propose looking for a fourth player when Martoz came over, Soshanna sleeping in his arms.

He kissed Lyndsey’s cheek and said, “I think we should get home.  She’s sound asleep, and Val’s not going to be awake much longer.”  Lyndsey looked so maternal right then, so unlike the woman I’d seen easily dispatching foes so many times, as she kissed her baby’s head with a soft, sweet smile.

“Okay,” she said. “I’m gonna go tell other people goodbye.”

“So I guess it’s getting late?” Ren asked.  The large Mugdaran nodded.  Renata smiled at me seductively.  “Maybe we should head up to bed too.”

I inclined my head in agreement, took her hand, and escorted her to my room.


We were woken up much too early by an enthusiastic small child clamboring onto the foot of the bed and crawling her way up between us.  “Morning, Mommy!” a tiny voice said.

It’s a testament to how much Renata loves her children that she forced a smile and said, “Good morning, Arcielle” instead of growling and spewing a torrent of epithets worse than most spacers of my acquaintance knew, which is what she’d done every time I’d woken her that early.

“Play?” the happy little girl asked, clearly already wide awake.

“After coffee.  Why don’t you go see if Daddy Vik is up?”

She frowned.  “Writing.”

I took pity on the beautiful woman next to me.  “I’ll go play with you, sweetheart.  I think your mommy might need some more sleep.”

“Oh,” the tiny girl said as she took my hand in a surprisingly strong grasp and pulled me towards the door of the large room.

Ren shot me a thankful look, tucked the duvet closer around herself, and looked like she was quite ready to stay in bed for another few nulaire.

Soon other children joined Arcielle in the playroom, so I drifted downstairs to help with breakfast.  Viktor’s husband, Donovan, was making a pot of coffee; Tera was pouring tea; and Lance was sitting on the counter talking.

“Don’t you ever do anything useful?” I teased as I started cooking some sausage.

“I am being useful.  I’m entertaining people,” the former space rat said.

“Oh?  That story was supposed to be entertaining, was it?” Donovan said, his accent still terribly thick despite having lived on Sweytz for years.  Poor man seemed to have no head for languages.

“Yep,” Lance said, smirking.  “You just didn’t appreciate it cuz you’re a prude.”

“Decorum keeps me from saying what you are,” the Terran countered.

“You know I can tell what you’re thinking so that does no good, right?”

“I can’t control what I think.  I can control what I say though.  You should try it some time.”

I tuned them out; I’d heard variants of this argument several times before.  Donovan was usually a very easy-going man, but Lance always managed to get under his skin.

They were still bickering several saenaed later when Viktor came in, ink stains on his fingers.  It always amused me how primitive his preferred writing tools were, but having seen the man struggle with the simplest computer, I could understand why he used something even Terrans considered old-fashioned.  He sighed and gave his husbands a significant look, a look that suggested they should shut up now or, at best, they’d be sentenced to one of his lectures about proper behavior and setting a good example for the children.

Lance hopped off the counter and embraced Viktor, saying, “Good morning, sexy.”

“You’re not getting out of trouble that easily, dear.  Why were you tormenting Don again?”  Viktor sounded more like a father scolding a child than a husband right then.

“I wasn’t!” Lance said indignantly.  “He was tormenting me!”

Viktor looked at Donovan pointedly.

“I wasn’t tormenting him any more than he was tormenting me, Viktor, so keep that damned glare to yourself.  Now, could you come here and tell me if I got the coffee right?  I’m thinking it might’ve come out a wee bit too strong.”

After sampling the coffee and declaring it perfect — which warned me to stay away from it, as Viktor’s taste in coffee is vile — he helped all of us finish making breakfast.  Right as we were about to serve the meal, Renata came in looking groggy.  Wordlessly, Viktor handed her a cup of coffee that he’d roughly half filled with sugar.  “Good morning, love,” he said.  She grunted inarticulately in reply and downed the coffee quickly enough that I’m surprised she didn’t hurt her tongue.

I stared at her in disbelief, despite having seen her do this countless times before.  Viktor noticed my experssion and said, “I suspect she’s immune to pain this, ahem, early in the morning.”

She stuck her tongue out at him and poured herself another cup of coffee.


I’d just stepped out onto the porch for some peace and quiet — or as close to it as can be had at Renata’s house — when Lyndsey arrived, alone.  “Martoz and Ana got tired of you so quickly?” I teased.

She smiled.  “Nah.  They apparently haven’t done all my Jül present shopping yet, so they went to do that today.  Ana’s folks wanted to show the kids off to some friends of theirs, so I had nothing better to do than come over and pester my siblings, parents, and assorted hangers-on.”

“Assorted hanger-on.  That’s a new one for me to be called.”

The younger, blonde Renata clone shrugged.  “It fits.  So, wanna help me gather up some of the small fry for an epic snowball fight?”

“Sounds fun,” I said.

I found myself volunteered to be the captain of one team while Lyndsey captained the other.  The game was fun, if a bit marred by Viktor storming outside at one point to lecture Lyndsey for climbing on the roof and encouraging her team, even the very young members of it, to join her up there.

I concentrated on trying to get my team to pay attention to me and the other team instead of Lyndsey’s punishment so I only heard bits and pieces of what was said, but I still got the very distinct feeling that Viktor’s reaction wasn’t solely about this incident.  Lyndsey’s behavior had been . . . erratic . . . for some time.  All Daggers are cocky.  It’s a survival trait in our line of work.  Lyndsey, for the past several korvare, had been pushing the boundaries of good sense more than normal even for a Dagger in her quest for adventure and fun.

I was, I must admit, a bit glad she was receiving this lecture.  I was beginning to worry about her.  I’d lost too many friends to heedless overconfidence over the years.


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