Eitan’s palm pressed flat against the cold wet brick.
He felt the rain pattering against his coat, sliding cold down his face, weighing down the tail he’d pulled his hair into.
Nearby, Rory’s curses were spitting with the same vehemence as the clouds above, underscored by deeper rumbles, likely from the man with the red beard.
A tightness in his chest reminded him he needed to breathe, so he did, and with that first lungful of damp air noted also the lingering odor of rotted vegetables inherent to alleys everywhere.
And none of it—not the chill nor the wet nor the voices nor the rot—none of it could compete with the warmth of Leo’s skin, the lyrical music of his voice, or the autumn wood scent he remembered from over a decade past.
Morning, nine years past, and Eitan’s eyes opened to a room not his own.
This was not unusual.
That they’d opened in a room not his own, and it coming on morning, was very unusual.
With care he untangled his legs from his bedmate’s and rolled onto one elbow, and there he remained for a time, taking in the view.
He had to admit, Galileo Kane was a view worth taking in. With his tousled hair, face shadowed by the night’s beard, and long limbs splayed over the university-issue bedding, he might have been rendered by an artist.
Reflexively, Eitan’s fingers brushed over the stubbled cheek, the brief contact enough to tell him Galileo was even now falling out of a dream.
“If you’re after waking me before dawn, I may have to kill you,” the other student’s deep voice was deeper still with sleep.
Eitan’s brow arched, but he glanced back over his shoulder to the loft’s half-shuttered window, where Tyche’s first rays showed in a hint of rose behind the university’s gilded dome. “Just past.” He turned back to see the brown eyes open and studying him.
They’d studied him just so the previous day, during an Ethics debate in which Eitan had drawn the pro-technocrist stance. His passionate arguments in favor of technocratic developments on Fortune left the lecture hall breathless, and more than a few students in need of a chill bath.
But it had been Galileo Kane, the visiting scholar from Lovelace College, with his depthless brown eyes and velvet voice, who’d won the star pupil’s attentions that night.
“I dreamed of you.” Galileo reached up to toy with the braid falling over Eitan’s shoulder. “Of us.”
“So did I.” Eitan took the hand in his, pressing his lips to the calloused palm.
“We were walking through the souk,” Galileo said, his lips turning up in a smile. “We stopped under a stall with a blue…”
“…canopy.” Eitan dropped Galileo’s hand and picked up the thread of the dream. “It sold clockworks, arithmometers and… other things…” Things Eitan did not recognize, but which left his dreaming self chilled. “There was a girl at your side,” he continued as the dream blossomed into waking. “Young, with gray eyes and hair like the sunsset—”
Galileo rolled up to rest on his left arm, facing Eitan, who was leaning on his right. “You were in my dream,” he said it with a lazy sort of wonder.
“Or you were in mine.” Shamed, Eitan looked away. “I try not to project, but when I am sleeping—”
“I usually have greater control,” Galileo said at the same time.
“Wait,” Eitan said, realization dawning with the suns.
“I should have known you were also a sensitive.” Galileo sat up. “After last night, I should at least have guessed.”
“We were rather drunk,” Eitan pointed out, his own smile twitching at his lips.
“We were,” Galileo said as Tyche’s rays speared through the window, limning his body with gold as he added, “we’re not drunk now.”
“Can someone tell me what just happened?”
Eitan blinked away the past as, for the second time in only minutes, Jinna’s voice dragged him back to the present.
“Leo happened,” he heard Rory reply. “Assuming ‘Leo’ is his real name?”
“Galileo.” Eitan let his head rest against the hard reality of the cold brick in front of him. “Galileo Kane. ‘Leo’ was what I called him…in private.”
“Aye, well,” Rory continued after a beat, “it seems yon Galileo’s a sensitive, and likes to muck with a body’s mind, stopping smogging time…”
“He did not stop it.” Eitan shoved himself off the wall and turned towards Rory, Jinna, and, looking oddly relaxed in their company, the man with the red beard. “He blanked our perception of its passing.”
“Could you do such a thing?”
He looked at Rory. “Leo tried to teach me, as he taught me to use the Off switch. But I could never learn the way of it.”
“So that’s why I didn’t see you lot tailing me,” the red-bearded man pointed at Eitan as the crystal sparked. “You’re both swarming sensitives! And may I add,” he continued, “it’s a sad statement of our times when you can’t even trust the ex-boyfriend not to make off with your score.”
From under the umbrella Jinna looked at the ebullient stranger. “Who are you?”
“This here is the scunner that tried to rob me before Galileo took over the job,” Rory explained.
“Oh?” Jinna’s eyes and Jacques’s gun, still in her hand, aimed at the failed thief.
“Jacques,” the bear of a man introduced himself. “Jacques O’Malley. And in my defense, I was only stealing back what his boss stole from my boss, first.”
To which Rory and Eitan could only share a glance and a shrug.
“I could shoot him,” Jinna offered, giving her umbrella a playful twirl.
O’Malley, for the first time, looked nervous. “Now then—”
“I suggest you leave,” Eitan told him, his left arm crossing into a block of light, so the dagger flashed silver.
“Good idea,” O’Malley agreed, but first looked at Jinna. “I’d be grateful to have my gun back,” he told her. “She’s a favorite of mine, been with me since the Corps.”
She stared, long enough that O’Malley’s shoulders slumped and he began to turn away again.
But to his surprise—and Rory’s naked admiration—she spun the weapon over her finger, three times forward, three times back. Then she tucked the umbrella between her chin and shoulder to free her left hand, so when she sprang the power casing, the crystal cell dropped into her open palm. She pocketed the cell and tossed the powerless shooter to O’Malley.
“Thank you kindly.” He gave a salute to the heart before turning to Rory. “No hard feelings, friend?”
“I might harbor one or two.”
“Was it your idea to sabotage the Al-Jinn?”
“You know, you’re right,” Rory said. “No hard feelings at all.”
The grin returned. “That’s what I thought.”
“Go,” Jinna said.
“And I should go as well,” Eitan said, putting a thumb to the pressure plate on the dagger’s sheath, causing the blade to retract back under his sleeve.
“Go?” Jinna asked from under the umbrella. “Go where?”
“Back to the Errant.”
“I should come with you,” Rory said, brushing uselessly at the rain on his jacket and straightening his shoulders.
Eitan looked at the younger man, his face so pale that, under the wan light from upstairs, the blood still streaming from his temple seemed black against it. “There is no need.”
“If you’re meaning to go without me because you think I’d be useless in a rammy, I’ll remind you I was supposed to let myself be robbed.”
Both men looked at Jinna.
“’Tis a long story—” Rory began.
“It is complicated,” Eitan said at the same time.
“Uh huh,” she said, but at least she did not press for more.
Relieved, Eitan turned to the bristling Rory. “I have no doubts of your skill, I only doubt there will be any further…rammies… tonight,” he said, laying his hand on the younger man’s shoulder.
It was a gesture of reassurance, but also a way to make physical contact, as the curve of his thumb brushed against the chill skin of Rory’s throat. He met Rory’s questioning brown eyes, seeking permission before sharing the silent I am worried for Jinna.
Eitan’s psionically voiced concern touched off Rory’s instinctive protectiveness—to the point his solicitude for Jinna drowned out all other cares—as Eitan hoped it would.
“Right, well.” Rory shrugged as Eitan broke the contact. “If you’re certain.”
“Quite certain,” Eitan said to Rory, and turned to where Jinna waited. “And my thanks,” he said, taking her hand and bowing over it in formal farewell, “for all your assistance.”
“All for one,” she quoted the first part of the Infantry motto before continuing. “It was Leo, wasn’t it? He’s the one who sent you back to that cage.”
“Cage?” Rory all but jumped on that.
”Nothing of importance,” Eitan told him.
Jinna looked as if she might challenge that statement, so with her hand still in his, Eitan looked into her gray eyes and sought the same permission he’d just received from Rory before adding a silent, I am more concerned for Rory.
Those eyes flicked over Eitan’s shoulder, to where the gangly young man stood dripping rain and blood.
“Anyway,” she said, withdrawing her hand, “as much fun as this has been, I’ve got to get to work. I was on my way to Kit’s when I ran into you,” she told Eitan before looking at Rory. “I could buy you dinner.”
“I could do with a cuppa,” Rory slid easily into the opening, sending a brief wink Eitan’s way, “but I’ll do the buying, and thanks.”
“Try to be back before midnight,” Eitan said, careful not to smile as he removed himself from the cramped triangle and headed for the street. “And be sure to watch your seven.”
“And you,” Rory called after.
Eitan’s response was a backward wave over his shoulder, but just before he turned onto Tempest Park he looked back to see Rory had taken hold of the umbrella (likely to avoid being poked in the eye with it—Jinna was a head shorter than he) and was holding it over them both.
She, meanwhile, was brushing Rory’s hair from the wound at his temple with a brusque efficiency that belied the tenderness Eitan had experienced in their psionic contact.
It was a tenderness he’d no right to know, and less to share, so he turned his back on the complications of the human heart and continued onto the street.
Luck was with him, for a tram arrived as he reached the Tempest Park stop.
Luckier still, he found an open seat, despite the crowd of young people (students, if their bulging book satchels and vigorous opinions meant anything).
Luckiest of all, when the migraine (the backlash for using the veil he’d hoped to avoid) struck like a white-hot awl between the eyes, he dropped flat at the feet of a fourth-year medical student.
Not that he knew this at the time. All he knew, all he could take in, was a nauseating explosion of colors splashing across his vision while a cacophony of voices scraped at his hearing, occasionally receding enough to make out actual words.
“—miss your appointment—”
“Come on, Tiago—”
And then, to his everlasting relief, a wave of darkness rose, and he heard and saw nothing else.