I tell my symbiont to order the three Rykz nearby to stand by, swiping my left hand towards them. They take positions at the end of the hallway, on alert. I lay back against the wall and listen in on Leomi while Yvonne gathers herself to start talking. I can distinguish through the timing of her strikes that she’s training a combination of attacks, the same over and over.
She’s preparing for a fight, that much alone is enough to make me assemble a defensive construct for my Vuskyt mail shirt. It’s also to train what Celyz taught me about its use on different materials, something that Vikiana likely hadn’t had little knowledge about, while also pressuring Yvonne to spill out what she has to say.
“She hasn’t said anything about you, Elizabeth.” Yvonne speaks up. “I don’t know what she plans at all.”
“You wouldn’t be telling me if that didn’t worry you.” I note.
“I don’t know.” Yvonne whispers. “She can tell I’m keeping things from her.”
“Like the construct you hid in my hammer?” I ask.
“That was a kinetic strike, sorry.” Yvonne mutters. “You’ve changed so much that I wanted to have an insurance to disarm you.”
“I get it.” I sigh.
“You seem to have gotten better, though.” Yvonne smiles.
“Don’t know. It feels like my right hand is always shaking but it rarely is when I check.” I reply calmly.
“She’s a wreck, Elizabeth.” Yvonne says, intently looking at me. “She hasn’t combed her hair, or taken a bath, in days. I have to fight to get her to even eat a full meal.”
“What do you want me to do? I gave her a rigged choice like she gave me after she suffered as I have.” I murmur coldly, torn between my pull to go take care of Leomi and the one to let her suffer a little more. I close my right hand to steady my trembling fingers.
“You can’t keep using what happened against her, my friend, she’s paid enough.” Yvonne says, her eyebrows close together from deep sadness. “Please, let it go or…” The sword-sworn bites her tongue. “Or let it end between you two.”
“Wh, what?” I blink.
“I, neither of you can keep going like this, Elizabeth. I, I’ll deal with the consequences for Leomi, I, but you’re both hurting too much.” Yvonne tells me, looking away from my mask. “I won’t keep participating in this, not if neither of you are happy.”
“You don’t believe it yourself when you say you can deal with the consequences.” I accuse, trusting my instincts. I refuse to even consider abandoning us before trying.
“Leomi isn’t your responsibility, my friend.” Yvonne counters, forcing herself to look back up to my eyes. The fact that her head is still angled down annoys me to the highest point. “You, you deserve peace. Please, prioritize that. She’s not taking care of herself, but she’s focused on giving life to her and your ideals. Leomi will persevere. It won’t be too late to reconsider and seek her out in a few months, or even years. I’ll protect her, you know I will.”
“Actually, it might be too late.” I chuckle, thinking of the Little one slowly eating through my lifespan. “But I assume my L…” Be careful, my Lady may hear. “I assume my Leomi didn’t tell you that I had to stop her from hurting herself over what could have happened to Jessica since Leomi left her or you wouldn’t be suggesting this.”
“No, she can’t have!” Yvonne gasps, turning around to throw a look at the end of the corridor.
“She won’t be doing anything like it again, I got her word on it.” I quickly add. “Why didn’t you realize as much with her current behavior creating contingencies in the event of her death?”
Yvonne suddenly snaps back around with her right fist raised like she’s planning to hit me. Yet, she never launches it. Instead she brings her left palm over her face, taking long and deep breaths.
“I, I can’t, do this.” She mutters, her voice breaking. “Why have things gone so bad? I’m lost about where to go from here.”
“Hah.” I chuckle.
“What is it?” Yvonne asks in a dark tone. I perk up to whisper in her ear.
“Well, it’s funny because you could use a map, which is how it all began.” I giggle.
“It isn’t.” Yvonne shakes her head, lowering her left hand to look at me. “It began when she saw you straighten your back in dignity as you gave yourflow to Patrick. That’s when Leomi began thinking about being proactive in rising Nobility to the task of protecting peasantry. We acted condescendingly but…” Yvonne pauses. “No, I’m sorry for having failed to take you more seriously back then and hiding things from you when you had earned more.”
“We had barely met.” I shrug. “You still behaved better than most of Nobility would have.”
“That’s not a high bar.” Yvonne grunts. “But Jessica.” She says, murmuring. “You both changed from what happened, please consider that. Neither of you deserved this. I may be more at fault for failing to steer her back then when I realized her fears dictated much of her relationship with you.”
“You’re only sworn to keep her safe, not manage her life, Yvonne.” I shake my head.
“Then what should I do about you, my friend?” The sword-sworn asks me with an anguished voice. “You pushed her so far that she attempted suicide, how could I let you see her now?”
Even though she poses the question like she would stop me, Yvonne doesn’t make a single move towards her sword, she simply blocks the corridor by spreading her arms, her weapon apparently the last thing on her mind. She dares try to stop me from seeing my Lady?
“Much as I hurt her, you know I would never let her do anything to threaten her life.” I reply, doing my best to keep my worst impulses in check.
“That’s not enough Elizabeth, not for either of you. Not as long as you keep hiding behind that mask.” Yvonne whispers in a wobbly voice. Her concern for the two of us makes my heart pang.
“The mask will come off soon enough, but I’m going to go see her now.” I gently but firmly tell her.
“You gave her a choice, why not give her some peace, wait for her to make it?” She presses.
“Because I want to and I’m done putting myself on hold for others, Yvonne.” I firmly tell her. I stand on the tips of my toes to murmur in her ear. “She’s my Lady, I’ll spend my life with her if she allows me to, trust me.”
Yvonne resignedly lowers her arms and steps aside, looking defeated but hopeful nonetheless. I quickly walk past her and rush to the training room at the end of the corridor.
Leomi’s back is turned on me, she’s striking at a mannequin with a torso that rotates when she hits its shield or sword wooden arms. Her white and blue Hospitalier uniform’s shirt hangs outside of her pants, her boots are laced but hastily so, her messy black hair give her a satisfyingly disheveled look as they no longer hang straight on either side of her head.
She heavily slams the mannequin’s shield with her wooden sword, nimbly dodging the return strike from the sword. She suddenly angles her torso to the side, seemingly simulating a sudden change in her ‘opponent’s’ swing.
“Sexy.” I speak up.
“They’re done grilling you?” Leomi returns in a flat tone.
“That’s cold.” I complain. “You won’t even give me a kiss?”
“No.” Leomi replies without hesitating.
That a good sign. Lucky you. Don’t be jealous, you had her while I haven’t had a chance. I’m happy for you, me. I smile and bring my hand up to caress the mask, setting myself aside for Elizabeth to enjoy the time she has left.
“Does that mean you made your choice already?” I ask.
Leomi suddenly flips around and throws her wooden sword at me in the same movement. The Little one catches it and throws it back with Elizabeth’s blessing. It flies past Lance’s head without hitting as she started sidestepping the projectile before it was even returned. Crack. The training sword explodes against the stone wall.
“Smooth dodge.” I nod approvingly.
“For both our sake, you need to take the choice you gave me back.” Leomi says, her voice and expression just as stone-like.
“And let us end just like that? No, I don’t think so.” I shake my head. “I think I deserve more than that from you.”
“You do, much more.” Leomi replies ominously.
That tone is no good. I’m starting to think that our reasons for not giving her a true choice may be better founded than we thought. How you’ve learned, my clever Red Dwarf. Don’t you start as well.
“If you’re worried about the outcome, kitten. I can swear I’ll accept your decision with all that you owe me as collateral.” I chuckle.
“I don’t trust you about us or her.” Leomi responds coldly. “You’ve lied and manipulated me too much.”
“Do you dare hold that against me after everything you did?” I calmly question, mostly to soothe Jessica’s guilt.
“No, but that does not have an impact on my trust towards you as I approach this.” Leomi replies, her gaze furious.
“I’ve held our bargains, every single one of them.” I utter, growing angry as well but mostly concerned as my sense is detecting flickers of flow appearing and disappearing over her left shoulder.
“But you’ve never been tested on this.” Leomi counters, making a great point considering she doesn’t know about our relationship. “You could. Gh.” She bites her own tongue to stop herself.
“Ah, you can’t ask of me that I’ll never harm Jessica.” I nod, understanding her dilemma. “Too bad, but I can’t do that either because she’s far from as innocent as you think and we don’t agree on everything.”
A large ball of golden flow escapes her head, about an astonishing sixty portions. The energy swirls above her left shoulder but Leomi pulls it back inside her body when I turn my eyes to it. Yet, she doesn’t seem to realize what she just did since she’s walking backward closer to her weapons that she set on a rack behind the mannequin.
“Don’t get mad.” I hurriedly tell her. “I have no intention at all of harming Jessica right now, and none as a result of your choice, even if you unexpectedly choose the coward over me.” Thanks a lot for that. No worries. “Besides, you don’t trust me.”
“I…” Leomi takes a long moment to compose herself, her facade cracking. “I was partially lying to get a rise out of you but it seems like you’re past confidence and into arrogance about this. I do not doubt that you’re being honest in this very moment, what I don’t trust about you isn’t what you’re telling me right now but the consequences of what will happen if I choose neither of you.”
“Why, have you been courting someone else?” I ask, feeling a burning jealousy swell up.
“No. You lost the moment you tried to make me choose between breaking the oath I took and our understanding, there are always other options.” Leomi tells me, her light gray eyes gazing down at my heart with an expression that sends chills down my back.
The Little one surges up from its relative apathy, seemingly noticing that she’s looking at it. That makes it harder to resist my desire to go and violently kiss her. I’m impressed we’ve managed to remain this far apart without rushing each other to have sex, fight, or both. A sign of how much this means to us.
“I told you not to give me that choice, I swore I wouldn’t betray you and I have not, you betrayed me. And I will stick to the debt I owe you despite that.” Leomi tells me.
“How have I betrayed you?” I blink, taken by surprise. Isn’t it obvious? Shut up Jess, this is about me and her.
“Being with you excites me.” Leomi answers, uncomfortably shuffling on her feet. “I chose to give you a chance because you put your life on the line over it, but we remained together because I needed your strength in every sense of the term.”
“I, I’m sorry.” I stutter. “But, I can’t, no… I don’t want to be with someone who doesn’t love me back.” I explain with difficulty.
Treacherous tears threaten to pour out of my eyes. Calm down, look at my Lady. Leomi looks stricken, like a prey suddenly finding itself in the face of a predator.
“What is it?” I press urgently, taking a step forward.
“It’s, no, I…” Leomi stumbles on her words, her eyes turning away in guilt. “I, I do love toying with you, twisting you to my will and then watching your mind snap back to yourself at my beck and call.” The confession frightens both me and Jessica, me because I’ve ever been convinced I wasn’t good enough for her while she always feared that I would gain her heart.
“Keep, going.” I force the words out of my mouth, past Jessica’s jealous protests.
“Is, is that not enough?” Leomi asks, her right hand reaching out to me like light in the darkness. “Please, it has to be.”
“No.” I utter, crushing her hopes like she did the fleeting ones she just planted in me. “Why, why can‘t you understand I need more than that?”
My Lady wants the same but with me not you, I’m sorry Elizabeth. I knew, I always have, I’ll experience her love through you, me. I swear I’ll make it happen. We need to stop doing this. It’s giving us a headache.
“I do understand.” Leomi says, her posture crumbling from resignation. “We’re, selfish and possessive, we need our lover’s full heart to fulfill our obsession. Which is why neither of us should have that.” Her voice is tight from despair yet she winces as she finishes talking, bringing her left hand to the side of her head to press on it with her palm.
“What’s wrong?” I ask.
“Just, a bird, in my head.” Leomi mutters.
“Your Jay? What is it saying?” We question.
“To achieve a world I can both be proud of, for myself, no one else.” Leomi replies hazily. “She always pushed me higher, but…”
“What?” I press.
“But my Jessica will be able to do better than I could if she decides to pick up the foundations I’ll set.” Leomi murmurs. “It doesn’t break my oath, I’m doing this for the Empire, anyone worthy will be able to take my place.”
“Why don’t you listen to it?” I ask, confused.
“I swore to do nothing for her, delusions will not gainsay her!” Leomi roars. She buckles down to one knee, in obvious pain.
I take a step towards her but Lance throws me a hard and suspicious glance that stops me in my tracks. She carefully brings her other feet closer to her downed knee and pushes herself back up. I clearly witness flow burst out of her body and take the shape of a small bird on her left shoulder, it lasts a mere split second before shattering.
“What’s going on, kitten?” I ask, increasingly worried as the movement of unstructured energy did not seem to be voluntary at all.
“I’m, having a disagreement with my Jay.” Leomi says, her lips twisting in a sideways mad smile. “It isn’t happy that I’m not listening. It’s both good and bad news for you, really.” She chuckles.
“Your grin, is…” I bite my lower lip, feeling myself grow hot. “You sure I can’t get a kiss? I’d be willing to pay a lot for one right now.”
“No.” Lance denies firmly. “We broke up, you don’t get a thing until then… but I am glad to see you, I could use your help.”
“Anything.” Jessica automatically replies, overtaking Elizabeth who was busy thinking of a response. Hey, don’t sell me off for free! Oh, shush, you like it too. Not as much, you masoch… A sharp spike of pain cuts my insane exchange with myself short.
“Just one thing you just made me think of before that.” Leomi says, carefully closing the distance between us. “You did not masturbate, did you Liz?” She asks in a plain voice but I can clearly see that she’s embarrassed as she has no control over her blushing cheeks.
“No.” I hurriedly shake my head. I couldn’t do that to Celyz.
“Good, I meant to deprive you when I said no one could have you but I feared I failed to make it clear it also included you.” Leomi nods. She winces once more, telling me that the Jay in the head disapproves. You tell her, bird me.
“You’ll think of me even more, now. Every time you’re tempted as you go to sleep alone with your thoughts. It’s not much but its something for what you did to me.” Leomi explains with a corner smile.
“Or of Celyz.” I utter vengefully.
“If that’s true, then why can I tell that you haven’t done a thing with her?” Lance asks in a hard voice, straightening her back.
“I spent a wonderful week with her.” I counter, smirking behind my mask.
“But you couldn’t consume it because you’re different from me in this, you want to get off more than you want to give your partner what she wants.” Leomi comments. I don’t. I do. You’re too selfish. You’re too self-deprecating. “Don’t get me wrong, it’s one of the things I like in you that makes you very different from her if that brings you solace.” Leomi bites her lower lip as she says so, showing that she isn’t quite as certain as she seems and perhaps suppressing her jealousy.
“Which do you prefer?” Elizabeth asks in a hard voice.
“I… can’t you take the compliment?” Leomi groans. The fact that she doesn’t respond is itself enough to answer the question.
“Your every word seems to confirm that I was right to ask you to make a choice.” We both utter flatly, our jealousies piked.
“I only hope you don‘t live or die to regret it.” Leomi sighs, reaching out to brush a strand of my hair that fell over my mask aside. “I do know you can set yourself aside for others, as you have for Caeviel, so… thank you for holding back but you should run to that Rykz and leave with her. I’m, no good for you and this choice…” Leomi pauses. “Elizabeth, if you could handle me choosing her, then it would mean I’ve been so wrong about you this whole time that our romance would have been a fiction.”
“I chose you what feels like an eternity ago, you won’t escape the one I gave you.” I tell her. I throw a look up at down at her body in a critical gesture. Leomi shifts in discomfort and shame. “You need to take better care of yourself, kitten.” I add.
“If you sit at my door, I think I can convince myself to waste a little more time. That’s what I was going to ask you as well as attending a small meeting that might decide your fate before you get to when I give you my answer.” Leomi says, swallowing her saliva like the words were difficult to get out. “You already agreed so it’s free.” She adds with a small smile. See! Come on, it’s a minor req… argh, my head.
“Sure, lead the way.” I tell her.
Lance nods and leads the way. As I follow, I throw most of my flow into a healing construct to deal with my pounding headache from having split and stretched my mind so much for my two idiotic alter-egos. You’re one to talk.
Shut up, I’m us and in control, you’re the insane ones. I use the same force of will I have to placate the Little one but towards myself, using it to silence them before they make trouble for me, which is us.