Harry dreamed he was floating, sitting in a rudderless boat on a gentle river.
For a time, he drifted aimlessly, all quiet.
Then his boat slid up next to another vessel, and he caught bits of conversation.
. . . GSW to the abdomen . . .
. . . lost over . . . broken fingers . . . other damage, partially healed . . .
. . . someone doesn’t like this guy . . .
Eventually, Harry’s boat drifted on, taking his mind away from the fast-paced medical chatter.
“You’re not missing much.” As she spoke, Siane dropped onto the bench next to Harry, causing the boat to rock. She brought up her knees and crossed her arms over them before turning her head to study him. “How many times have you ended up on an operating table since the cabin burned down?”
“You mean since the day you made me believe you died.” He shifted so he mirrored her posture.
“We made you believe I died,” she countered. “I could never have built that illusion without your help.”
“I know,” he said, and looked out over the river to see a funeral barge carrying Neishi’s remains upstream. “I’m sorry.”
“I only meant,” she said, “you’ve been burying yourself in the job for twenty-five years, hiding from the grief we created, and it’s come close to killing you . . . with disturbing frequency.”
He turned back to her, to the cognac-colored eyes he’d tried so hard to forget.
“You can’t keep this sort of thing up,” she told him as the boat rippled in the wake of the barge’s passing. “You’re not an idealistic young marshal anymore.”
“You’re right. I’m a bitter, old ex-marshal.”
“Hardly old.” She nudged his shoulder with hers. “Bitter?” Her head wove in a figure eight maybe jig. “But you’re also a father, and your daughter needs you.”
“Our daughter,” he corrected absently. “And she needs you too.”
Siane’s breath huffed out in something like a sigh. “We can’t have everything we want.”
Having no answer to that, Harry reached across his knees to take her right hand.
“I really did love you,” she said, twining her fingers with his.
“I never stopped loving you.”
Her lips turned up in a smile—a sad smile, but a smile nonetheless. “I know.”
“Do you?” he asked, staring at their tangled fingers. “Can you?”
Siane’s head tilted. “You think I don’t feel because I’m a delusion? Or was it a hallucination? I can never keep them straight.”
“Maybe you’re a dream,” he said. “Or—” He paused as, for the first time, he noticed that the Siane at his side wasn’t the Siane he remembered.
“Wait.” He released her hand and brushed her hair away from her face—the same terracotta he recalled, but honed to sharper angles, and there were lines—of care, and laughter—he’d never seen.
This was Siane not as she’d been in their youth, but as she would have been, had she lived.
“I hope you’re not about to dump me because I’m not some sweet young thing,” she said, tuned, as always, to his every emotion.
“No.” He shook his head. “No, it’s just—you are one hell of a delusion,” he managed. “Or hallucination.”
“Or dream,” she reminded him. Then she leaned in and kissed him, the touch of her lips on his wiping away all the years between.
And then the kiss ended, and without opening his eyes, Harry knew she’d gone.
Instead of the slap of water against the hull, he heard a series of soft murmurs pressing in from all sides. The rough bench of the boat was gone, replaced by smooth, cool sheets, and the damp night air displaced by a soft companionable warmth.
His eyes opened to a room with taupe walls, jewel-toned rugs, and Fayla perched at his side while a handful of relieved faces hovered around her lake of a bed.
“He’s awake,” Mollin announced.
“We can see that,” Ray commented.
“Hey,” Harry said. Then he made a face because his voice sounded like Victor Raz.
“Here.” Jessyn folded herself next to his pillow, helping him sit up so he could sip some water out of the glass Fayla was holding to his lips.
“Thanks,” he said, lying back down, bandaged fingers resting over the dermal seal the surgeon had used to close the gunshot wound.
He looked over the hovering faces—besides Mollin, Jessyn, and Fayla, he found Ray leaning against the wall at the head of the bed, arms crossed over his chest.
“I had a dream,” Harry said. “There was this crazy club got hit by a literal shitstorm. And you were there,” he looked at Ray, “and you,” he said to Fayla, “and you, and you . . .”
“Is he suffering from some kind of delirium?” Mollin asked.
“He’s misquoting a vid,” Ray said, straightening. “A really old vid.”
“Another one?” Mollin asked. “Why don’t you ever do anything recent? Like Polaris Abbey?”
Harry smiled and squeezed the hand Jessyn had left at his side. “I’m a classicist.”
From there, what Harry thought of as the wake-up party expanded, beginning with Fayla sending up the telepathic call for room service.
Food and coffee appeared, both of which Fayla denied to Harry on medical grounds (but made up for by supplying some of that awesome juice and a soothing, herb-filled soup of some stripe).
The dinner service arrived in the company of Tahna, Caris, and Maynard, who assisted a wan-looking Arrion Degas to one of Fayla’s deep chairs, where he raised his own glass of awesome juice in a toast to Harry.
Harry, well propped by pillows, toasted him back, noting Eineen Marifanne hadn’t made the party, but she didn’t strike him as the partying type anyway.
He also noted Viel’s absence. Then again, if Degas had required the healer’s aid, she might be recuperating herself, which made him wonder much time the young woman spent recovering from other people’s wounds.
“Not as much as you fear,” Fayla said from where she perched next to Harry. “The past few days have been unusually eventful.”
“Guess I should practice guarding my thoughts,” he said.
“Surface thoughts only,” she told him. “That last, about Viel, was particularly vibrant. It also speaks well of you. As does your care for your partner.” Here she gestured to her left, and another woman joined her at the bedside.
“I am Quaila,” the newcomer said, her deep brown features placid. “I understand you have a patient for me.”
“I hope so,” he said, sending Fayla a grateful thought. And while his expression remained light, every ’path in the room felt the surge of remorse from his direction as he explained what had happened to a young man named Seth inside a Judon POW station, seven years ago.