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By the time Leomi returns and pays the healer, I’ve already mostly figured out the modification to the healing construct’s core and the few segments the man taught me. The healer departs with a stunned look on his face.

Activating the construct causes a tingle to spread throughout my body. After a few minutes, of the half-hour I was advised to spend, I feel my heart stiffen which triggers an itch with each beat.

Rh.” I exhale roughly.

Leomi makes a thin smile and places a hand on my thigh to kneel by my side, making her a mere head shorter than me. I lean down and kiss her forehead before leaning back in the chair.

It feels like there are ants crawling in my veins.” I tell her.

Bear with it.” Leomi replies with an air of sadness as she runs the back of her slender fingers along my cheek. “You have to until I figure out a way to make you whole.”

Even Suxen and the Rykz didn’t know how to heal me, who else is there?” I tell her with a sigh while keeping under silence that the Little one may have caused the problem but it is also likely to be the solution. “If this could be fixed by brute force, it would have been.”

You can’t know that until you try.” Lance denies stubbornly. “I’ll conquer every land and dig leylines to bring every single sapient being’s flow to Trident Hill, the center of the world, in order to heal you if that’s the only way to heal you.”

Do you think you’ll live for centuries?” I ask with a laugh in spite of the frustrating pins and needles spreading in my chest because her ludicrous declaration makes me happy. “Your intentions mean plenty but it’s too dangerous to reach out to the University.”

…” Leomi exhales without a word and places her cheek on my lap. The jay leaps from my shoulder to hers with a clumsy flap of its wing to comfort her.

I can’t even enjoy her resting on my lap with this itch. My lap. We first reach out to run our fingers through her short hair before both making bodies inside our minds to start a spat to decide which lap is it she’s resting on.

I want to tie you up, keep you all to myself.” Leomi murmurs dreamily.

We frown because, while she hasn’t made a serious attempt at putting us in chains, she is bringing it up more and more often as if she’s trying to get us to agree or trying to sap our defenses.

Liz gives up our fight, surprising Jess whose priorities remained focused on Leomi and the coming conversation about Celyz. I feel a slight headache but ignore it because it’s normal when the amalgamation of us two sisters overrides one of them.

I reach out to her reserve, finding it half full but still containing a hundred portions. I seize a dozen portions and refill my reserve which rises up to eight whole portions, surprising me because I didn’t think so many people would be so quick to support Liz or Jess.

Leomi doesn’t react, showing complete trust in me. I use the rest of the energy to shape the unstructured kitten I made this morning in front of her eyes. I catch the corner of her lip rising and then feel her link up to the energy to make a few adjustments.

While she does, I pat her nose with the kitten’s paw, making her grin. I sigh because, once she’s done making the changes, she probably won’t like it as much anymore.

The jay starts glaring suspiciously at the kitten, out of wisdom or jealousy, but it soon holds its beak up in disdain. It is quite justified because the unstructured kitten is an ersatz compared to it.

Cute.” Leomi murmurs.

Just as she says so, Liz ruins the moment by making the kitten pounce at the jay who fails to react in time because of its sense of superiority towards it. The two unstructured constructs roll off Leomi’s shoulder in a bundle of golden feathers and fur to crash on my other lap.

The kitten obviously lands on top of the little jay and pins its wing down with one of its paws before using the other to toy with it. The bird chirps panically and Leomi rises with no less alarm. She reaches out to the kitten and easily breaks my link to it because it’s still her energy since I didn’t absorb it into my reserve.

What are you doing?!” Leomi exclaims, making a devastated expression at the jay’s ruffled feathers and its clear distress.

Making a point.” Liz utters with a cold voice.

Leomi obliterates the kitten with an angry swipe of her hand and carefully picks up the weak jay in her cupped hands to gently hug it against her chest. She then turns to throw me a resentful glare, her traits tightening in anger. Liz returns a scowl.

Sister.” I speak up with an urgent but appeasing tone. “Hmph.” She scoffs but hangs back.

“Why did you?” Lance asks with a harsh tone.

Who, me or Liz?” I question in return.

“Wasn’t it just Liz?” Leomi says, her traits softening for a moment in surprise before hardening again. “Jess, why?”

I agree with the point she’s making, if not the methods.” I reply with a sigh. “The kitten was merely emulating you and your fantasy.”

My answer stuns Leomi to the point where she freezes and her hands open up, letting go a jay with messy feathers and a vengeful look in its tiny eyes. It flickers up and pecks my nose a few times, causing a tickling sensation that makes me laugh. The jay twirls clumsily in the air and lands in her white hair.

Chirp!” It exclaims victoriously while pushing its small chest out, looking quite comical with its crazily ruffled feathers.

It’s, fine?” Lance murmurs, blinking in dismay at the chain of events.

“Of course, it’s based on me.” I tell her, rolling my eyes.

You little minx!” Leomi explodes in outrage.

The jay atop her head flicks its wing out towards me as a general ordering soldiers to attack. Almost immediately after, Leomi pounces up to sits astride of me but pauses as she was about to tickle me.

Is the healing construct working?” She asks.

“I think so.” I reply, not half as certain as I’m projecting because the strain the construct is putting on my body and my slight nausea are likely reactions to me needing to bring Celyz up soon so it’s difficult to tell. “How have you been? Did I screw with your plans to reform Nobility this morning?” I ask quickly and nervously.

You didn’t mess anything up, you made me proud and it’ll be easier to do what I have to tonight thanks to you.” She reassures me. “I’ve been fine, my faction is integrating better than I hoped with the Hospitaliers because there is a clear goal ahead. We’ve also trained a lot of people to dress wounds so my plans are coming together.”

Good.” I tell her.

Nobles are taught their role is to defend the Kingdom and the Empire when they grow up so it won’t be too difficult to show a way to do this that benefits their houses. If I had siblings it’s likely that I would have left to join a Phalanx considering my talents instead of becoming the heir.” She says.

Mhm.” I mutter, unconvinced as ever about Nobility. “We’re still okay then.”

We will be, don’t worry.” Leomi murmurs. “As long as you don’t trigger a civil war.” She belatedly adds.

No promises.” I reply with a smile.

She stares at me with a burning passion and grabs my hair to pull my head back. I grunt and part my lips but she quickly releases me. She firmly brings her fists against her chest before leaning in to peck my lips. She’s trying hard to restrain herself.

Tell me when the healing construct ran its course.” She demands.

How about you show me how you’ve been taking care of the Little one in the meantime?” I propose. It might make it easier to bring Celyz up.

Lance nods and gets off of me. I feel a certain lightheartedness as I rise to my feet and take a moment to catch my breath. She tries to help me with a worried expression but I stop her.

I pushed myself a little and the construct is taking a toll, that’s it.” I explain.

She extends her hand out in front of me. I smile I move by her side to place my palm on hers. We interlock our fingers and head for the first-floor hand in hand. As she leads me through a corridor, we hear sounds coming from another which include pounding and grunts.

Oddly, we both remain silent even though we smile. Her reason is likely the same as mine, I’m happy for them but we can’t cross that line yet so it’s difficult to even casually bring attention to what they’re doing.

We enter a bedroom that has a white and light blue rug with the Hospitaliers’ cross on it, I suspect it’s a gift because it’s well made but the material is a bit rough. Leomi gently brings me to sit on the bed’s red satin covers before going to open the Little one’s chest that rests in a corner with the liangi’s long case.

I startle as a half-dozen tendrils flicker out to grab her wrist and she slaps them away in a habitual manner. The tendrils fall on the lid and leverage the brown hand with root-like fingers out that Leomi catches by the wrist.

She lifts the parasite out and casually extends it out to show it to me while parrying the squirming tendrils trying to reach out to her. I stare blankly. I don’t know what I expected but it sure wasn’t to see them act so familiar with each other.

What did you do?” I ask, feeling dizzy. It never liked us half as much as this!

That Leomi isn’t disgusted by it anymore is amazing and makes me happy but it’s a bit too quick… I pause. Then again, Lance is the kind of woman who would fight her hangups head-on if she determines them beneath her so it might not be so surprising she would get over her aversion.

“I fed it.” She tells me, looking confused by my reaction.

Don’t lie.” I insist. “What did you tell it?”

I…” She blushes a little. “I may have spoken to it but it’s not like it can understand, right?” She asks, seeming a bit concerned as she slaps a tendril aside with a bit more strength.

“Maybe not the words but it knows you. What did you say?” I press.

I told it that it owes you a lot for tasting me before you did even if was given permission so it has to be nice to you or I’ll dissect it alive and salt its wounds, or use whatever works.” Lance replies with red cheeks.

You got jealous on my behalf?” I question, chortling. “It was part of me.”

Still, it isn’t you.” Leomi denies firmly.

I open my mouth but decide not to argue because she isn’t wrong, it’s complicated to define what exactly was my relationship with the symbiont. I wave my hand to tell her she can put it away, noticing that the jay’s tiny head is fixed on the symbiont.

Leomi nods and taps the center of the symbiont’s palm with her joined fingers, causing it to shiver from top to bottom and settle down a little. She pats its stringy biceps and runs the tips of her fingers along a few of its string-like muscles, making the Little one shiver in comfort as she puts it down into the chest.

I stare at her in amazement, finding it suspicious that she got so good at petting the parasite. I suddenly realize that I’m the one who told her to and grin at her. She frowns a little in confusion but returns the smile.

Come on, lie down.” She tells me as she approaches.

It feels like someone’s passing string inside my veins, kitten.” I reply with a grimace. “I’m in no mood.”

I bet you’d be all up in my arms if it was actually painful.” Leomi comments with a smirk, hitting right where it ‘hurts’.

She reaches out and pushes me down on the bed with so much strength she gives me little choice between pointlessly exhausting myself by fighting back or admitting I’m pretty drained right now and trusting her. I decide to spoil her, very much aware I’m yet again pushing the conversation back.

Leomi climbs atop of me and places her knees to either side of my chest before helping me turn over to rest flat on my stomach. I bury my face in the soft satin and relax as I feel her slender fingers press on my shoulders to rub them. Her touch is pleasurable but, sadly, it merely helps distract me from the aches in my chest.

We decided to cooperate.” Leomi mentions after a few minutes of massaging me.
“We did.” I acknowledge, wondering what she’s up to.

I have had to redraw my plans for a much shorter timetable, which I’ve succeeded to do but I need someone to go north to Hetlan to both help Edusa and tell her of these changes.” She says.

What’s that got to do with me?” I ask.

I want you to go and then join me in Kruzser.” She replies directly, surprising me. “Cenwalh’s latest moves prove you were right to push me not to waste time to act but it doesn’t change the fact that I’m not in a position to fight him head on at the moment, or even trap him because it would be foolish to attempt so in his Kingdom where he can simply send any number of his subordinates in his place.”

Leomi punctuates her explanation by forcefully pushing both her thumbs into my flesh on either side of my spine. I arc backward and exhale a moan of pleasure at the sensation. She leans down and kisses the side of my neck just before I fall back on my stomach, feeling blessed but even more lightheaded.

I’m saying this because I don’t trust you to remain impassible no matter what happens or what’s said.” She bluntly tells me. “I would rather you do this for me in the spirit of cooperation than convince the Council to order the Hospitaliers to ban you from leaving the Izla until Cenwalh leaves Caeviel with the expedition south.”

You, couldn’t keep me, if you tried.” I reply dismissively, panting for breath.

I could slow you down.” Leomi notes. “You don’t have to make a decision now, just keep in mind that you have a temper and that Cenwalh isn’t responding to my call to arms yet gathering his army as if he’ll join those who are. This battle will involve Court Politics, your presence would be a liability whereas your absence is an advantage.”

I’ll think about it.” I grunt, in no state to argue.

I feel Leomi lean down on my back and run her nose along my spine in an odd gesture that I take for an acknowledgment. She keeps massaging me as the healing construct runs its course, her hands never slipping under my clothes.

She even avoids my sensitive spots and keeps her movement slow and regular to keep things platonic. I experience more than a few twinges of guilt because I realize she’s spoiling me in my discomfort instead of the other way around.

Do you feel better now?” She asks once the half-hour has passed.

“Yes.” I lie.

I take it that my fatigue and aches will fade now that the healing session has ended but I can’t say the same for the rest. After all, the nausea, the stiffness in my chest, and the headache are all symptoms of my cowardice.

Good.” Leomi murmurs with relief.

She rises on her knees and grabs my torso to flip me around. I wince as it feels my brain just made a full turn inside my skull, making Leomi smirk as she no doubt takes my reaction as one of fright she can exploit to fulfill her sadistic tendencies.

I open my mouth to bring Celyz up before I lose the chance to have a serious talk but pause awkwardly as I realize I don’t know what to say. I grow nervous and make a self-mocking grimace.

Leomi suddenly falls atop of me to kiss me full on, her tongue forcing its way inside my mouth. It doesn’t take me long to realize she misunderstood my emotions to mean I’m in the mood to be toyed with.

I close my eyes and determine to give this to her before talking. Her left hand finds my nipple in mere moments to pinch it and she uses her right’s nails to scratch my sensible left flank.

I take a sharp inhalation through my nose and embrace the sensations to channel her teasing into shivers of twisted pleasure. As my chest rises to the apex, I feel a needle of pain stab into my lungs and freeze, causing Leomi’s hands to pause.

Jay?” She asks, breaking the kiss.

Harder.” I reply, knowing that I can manage the cramp while I please her by letting her torment me a bit, which is pleasing to me.

Leomi resumes caressing me with her nails where I’m less sensitive and the tips of her fingers where I am most, making me experience a soft bliss as I focus on breathing while never fully inhaling or exhaling.

I feel a cold sweat in my back and a pang of ghostly pain in my ghostly left arm, even as I squirm and twitch in satisfaction from the thrills she gives me. The fact I have to control myself so much because of the cramp in my lungs only makes her touch even more enthralling.

After a while, I realize that she’s still utterly focused on making me feel good and that infuriates me. I snap my eyes open to bark at her for being so unfair in not giving me a chance to spoil her but fail to say a word once I see her face.

Her light gray eyes are staring straight at my face and she bears an expression of wonder I’ve never seen her with before. I realize that she’s been loving the foreplay just as much as I have, if not more. If I’m being unfair, I would say that she read my body’s pain because she knows it that well.

She reaches out and wipes a trail of drool from the corner of my lips, making me blush in embarrassment and causing my heart to jump in my chest, causing an agony that makes me fear it broke my ribs.

I ignore the seizing sensation in my chest and the twitch of pain in my jaw to throw her off me. She lands with her back on the bed and an exuberant grin on her face. I seize both her wrist in my palm and secure them above her head as I straddle my panting lover.

I lean down and bite the erect nipple I can see poking through her stern uniform’s shirt, causing her to arc backward and moan in pleasure. Yet, I pause because I feel something is wrong.

I couldn’t hear her, not really, then how did I know she spoke? Wait, why couldn’t I hear… A hammer hits the left side of my chest and shatters my heart like glass. I drop face down on the bed-sheet, squirming in agony and barely aware of my thrashing limbs.

— — —

Leomi’s face is pale and full of tears, I wonder when she turned me over but experience another bout of crushing pain in my chest that shorts my brain. I jerk up but she pushes me back down with a right hand glowing from flow.

I notice that her left hand is holding my right wrist so I take hold of hers to complete the handhold we relied on early in our relationship to express the feelings we couldn’t voice.

— — —

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