Luke flew back slower than he’d flown out. Gwen paced him again, but flew quietly, save for a brief conversation she had with her radio.
Luke resisted the urge to show off, to engage in aerial horseplay with her, to race. She was on a mission, and he —
well, he was probably in a lot of trouble, which he had to admit was a strange feeling. He had answered to Regine, sure, for decades, but he’d been answering to her as an equal.
Or, at least, the treacherous voice in his head suggested, you thought you were equals.
She clearly had other impressions.
That was going to sting for a very long time, he knew. Regine had been pulling and pushing at his mind, at his memories, all this time. She’d been making him into what she needed.
It occurred to him that Red Doomsday, his captor, his Keeper, whose lover he had beaten half to death, had treated him with more respect and, as far as he knew – and that’s the problem, isn’t it? You wouldn’t KNOW – left him more of his mind and his volition than the woman he’d considered crew and a friend had. That stung nearly more than what Regine had done.
“Hey,” he called, as they neared the camp. She tilted her head, indicating she was listening. “Fly again sometime? For fun.”
“If we can,” she allowed. “If you can,” she added, which made Luke suppress a growl. “Not pissing off the Mayor just for shits and giggles.”
Luke huffed. “Can’t get used to that.”
“I’d suggest you do. She’s the Mayor, he’s the General. Whoever they were when you taught them… might be time to leave that behind… sa’Hunting Hawk.”
He let that sink in. They were nearly back to the camp. He could see the pennants near Leo’s tent. “I thank you for your wisdom, Captain.” He said it with as little stiffness as he could manage. She was being helpful, even if she was being pushy.
Hell, Mike would probably say being pushy was the only way TO help him.
Luke landed, picking a spot where he wouldn’t upset too many people. There was a figure sitting in a stone chair nearby, a brown cloak covering her. Brown cloaks weren’t part of Leo’s army’s uniform. He hadn’t seen anyone hooded like that…
He had enough time to process that before she pushed the hood back and hopped out of the chair. Cya, of course it was Cya, and she was looking particularly blank as she strode towards him.
“Luca.” Her backhand rocked him backwards. He fought against the urge to lift a hand to protect himself, to hit her back. He missed her first words because he was too busy not reacting. “…sent you here to be an aide and an asset to General Lightning Blade, not to hare off without warning or permission and cause trouble, wasting his time and mine.”
“I-” he started.
“This isn’t where you get to talk,” she cut him off. “You have embarrassed me and done a disservice to General Lightning-Blade’s army. You persist in thinking about yourself as an individual, when you haven’t been that in centuries. You were Addergoole’s. You still represent Addergoole in the eyes of thousands of people. And you are mine and you represent my will and my choices.”
She was dressing him down in the middle of an army. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Leo’s blond hair. He glowered.
“No. You talk when I say you can talk.”
Luke bowed his head, cheeks burning in humiliation and breath catching in fury. How dare she? What the hell did she think he was?
“General Lightning-Blade, I’m afraid I’m going to have to deprive you of Luca’s service for a couple days while I remind him of his position.”
His position? Who the fuck did she think she was?
He missed Leo’s answer, almost missed Cya snapping “come” at him, and nearly missed the part where she was having them teleported back into the city, back to her house.
“The-” he began, when the teleporter was gone.
“No.” She cut him off one more time. “No, Luke. Dead gods be fucked, I am not going to juggle a neverending cycle of you and Leo being jealous for the entire fucking time I’m Keeping you.”
“Luke, shut up until I tell you that you can speak. Look. If you were honestly not flying away because you were jealous, shake your head no now.”
Luke started to and stopped. His wings twitched and he made a very reluctant so-so gesture with his hand.
“Yeah. So. We’ve got to fix this, and we have to fix it fast, before I go bonkers and lock you both in a box somewhere.”
Luke was pretty sure she didn’t mean literally lock them in a box, but he wasn’t certain. He bowed, silently, and waited.
“First. You’re in trouble. I’m pretty sure you got that, but I wanted to hammer it home, since you have a hard time remembering that you’re not in charge here.”
He hadn’t been in charge in decades. He flapped… but nodded.
“Second…” She sighed. “We’re going to have to come up with something, if the thought of Leo and I being rough gets you angry. ‘Cause it’s gonna get a lot worse when autumn gets here.”
In autumn, he’d be teaching most of the time. He twitched his wings.
“Third.” She shook her head, slowly, thinking. “Third, you’re going to have to remember that what you do reflects on me and thus on Leo as well.”
“–” He shut his mouth as the order poked at him, reminding him he wasn’t allowed to speak.
She shook her head. “You know it, but you’re not internalizing it. You know the words, but the Keepings you’ve dealt around haven’t been in volatile political situations. Screw up in school, your Keeper looks bad, maybe gets punished, and it sucks for you for a few days – or a few weeks, if you really screwed up or your Keeper’s a real bitch. Screw up here, and we’re looking at what used to be a single nation and now is a bunch of fragmented nation-states, all of them held together, right now, by my paperwork and Leo’s charisma.”
He had a feeling there was a lot more to it than either papers or charisma, but it wasn’t the time for that. Luke let his wing-tips twitch and kept his eyes on his Keeper.
“So I can’t afford to have you going all cowboy on me, even if you’re going cowboy sulking over Leo’s love bites. When you are in public, I need you to be a good advisor, a good aide, a good —”
slave, Luke’s mind filled in.
“Kept. Do you understand?”
Luke nodded slowly. He got the broad idea, even if it tasted sour in his mouth.
“You can talk now.”
Luke wetted his lips. He wanted to say stupid things, to yell at her. He pulled his wings close and growled softly.
“I’m not…” he started, stopped, started again. “I’m not… I shouldn’t be. I’m not in love with you.”
“I know. I’m not your type.” She tilted her head and studied him. “You’re Kept, Luke, and I’m treating you like a person and not a commodity. Well, correction: you’re Kept, and I’m paying attention to you. If I was treating you like a pet, a toy, it might hit you, too, because I’d be paying enough attention to reinforce the bond.”
Luke didn’t really know what she meant by a pet or a toy, and he really didn’t want to know, either. He nodded slowly. “You’re not my type,” he agreed carefully.
“You’re Kept, it’s making you jealous of attention I give other people, notably, my lover. You see how this is going to be a problem?”
“Then what do you want me to do?!” He hadn’t meant it to be a bellow but it came out loud and thunderous, shaking him, shaking her. “I don’t know what I’m feeling, much less how to deal with it!”
She looked, he thought, startled, and then a little abashed. She put her hand on his knee. “Tell me, how do you normally deal with emotions you don’t like?”
“Either I use abatu hugr or I do something physical,” he muttered. “I was trying to — I was trying to just fly it out.” rather than destroy his emotions in the middle of the field, which could get… problematic.
“And that’s fine. If you tell me or Leo where you’re going first. You’re not… pretending to be your own man right now, Luca. You need to remember that.”
“So it’s fine if I fight it out or fly it out, as long as I tell the person that’s covered in bruises from his night with you, first?” What the hell was he saying? Luke flapped, irritated at himself.
And she just smiled. “Yes. If it helps — and I doubt it will — if he’s covered in bruises it means I’m happy, and in a month or two it’s going to be me covered in bruises and that, Hunting Hawk, will mean I had a phenomenal night no, let me finish.”
He shut his mouth.
“We’re lovers. It took us a damn long time and I will not let the fact that you tried to kill him get in the way of me having sex. With my lover. Understand?
“What do you want me for, then?”
What the hell was wrong with his mouth?
“You?” She laced her fingers together and rested her chin on her fingers to look at him. “Luke. You’re a tactical genius, a combat demon — in a good way — and you’ve seen more American History than most classes even brush on. Also, you’re great with kids…. And you’re very warm in bed. Like a furnace.”
“So… you want me as … what I’m doing for Leo… and… teaching? With a side order of, uh, literal bed warming?” The praise was making him giddy. He really needed to get hold of himself.
“That’s what I want you to do, yes.” She leaned forward to run her hand through his hair. “You’re valuable, Luke. To me, as well as to the army and Cloverleaf. You’re just going to have to remember that you’re valuable to me in a different manner than Leo is.”
He sighed and lowered his shoulders, nodding. “I can try. I can do that,” he corrected.
“Good.” She patted his shoulder. “I’m still going to punish you… but that’ll be short-term. The rest is long-term.”
Twelve years had seemed like nothing a few weeks ago. Now it was starting to feel like an eon.
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