Harry woke feeling absurdly well.
He also felt a small, cool hand over his side, where the bullet had entered.
Automatically, he flexed the fingers of his right hand, now free of the surgical splints. Opening his eyes, he met the blank stare of Viel Invera, which explained the sense of general good health he suddenly enjoyed.
“You didn’t have to do that,” he told her as she withdrew her hand from the bullet wound, now healed, he sensed, both inside and out.
“In fact, I did,” she said, her voice low and soft. As she spoke, she shook her head, sending the cloud of ringlets about her head waving, as if a breeze had caught at it. “I can no more share a room with one in pain and not help than you could witness a wrong being done and walk away from it.”
“How would you—”
“Every injury is its own story; every trauma leaves a path,” she told him. “To heal the trauma completely, I must walk that path. Your trails are quite . . . telling.” Here her fingers brushed over a remnant from Kelmno, raising a chill over his flesh and sending a shadow over her features before her hand slid up to where a scar crossed over his right collarbone.
Before that scar could start talking, he caught her hand and gently held it away. “Not every story should be told,” he said softly and was relieved to see her nod her understanding.
“I only wish I could do more for the spinal injury,” she said as he released her hand. “The nerve damage is considerable. Repairing it would require more time than we have at present.”
“Better to not make it too easy, or I’ll start to skip out on my PT.” He sat up, meaning to rise from the bed before realizing he was, yet again, naked under Fayla’s sheets.
Even knowing Viel to be blind, he opted to remain under the covers, and it wasn’t until he lay back that his thoughts caught up with her words. “Hold on,” he said. “Time? Are you going somewhere?”
“As a matter of fact, we all are.” Fayla’s voice pulled his attention to the right to see she’d been there all the while, seated in that little nook in her bedroom wall. “The new leader of the Black Rose requires my presence off-world,” she continued, uncurling herself from the plush Lady cave with a whisper of her white silk robe. “Meanwhile, Domina Viel has agreed to accompany Quaila when she consults on Seth’s case.”
“Wait,” Harry said.
“The Lady told me what you learned from Neishi, about his physical pain and her use of it to control him,” Viel said, looking in Harry’s general direction. “It may be she did more, that she contributed to his suffering, enhancing his dependency on her. Even if the pain proves natural, I should be able to ease his suffering while Quaila helps him find himself.”
Harry’s jaw tightened. “Listen,” he said, “I appreciate that, but what you just said about old injuries—their stories? Mine were no walk in the park, but his? You shouldn’t have to put yourself through that.”
Here Viel’s brows rose. “And if I were to tell you that you should not have stepped between the one who did this,” she gestured to a slash of white over his ribs, “and his victims, what would you say?”
“I’d tell you there wasn’t a choice,” he admitted, pulling the sheet higher to cover the scar—a remnant of his encounter with the real Victor Raz.
“There is always a choice,” Fayla pointed out.
“Fine,” he huffed. “There was a choice. And in the moment, I chose to go after Raz because someone had to do it, and no one else would.”
Which was the same thing he’d said back in the day, during the ISM internal review of his actions on the case.
“Well, then . . .” Viel patted his arm with the aim of any sighted person and rose, her tunic whispering as she did. “As soon as Quaila and I have any information, we will contact you. Until then, be well, Mr. Finn.” She crossed one arm over her heart in respect. “I would tell you to be careful,” she added, “but I suspect that would be a waste of my voice.” Her head dipped to the scars she’d touched, and then she turned, again unerringly, toward Fayla and crossed her other arm over the first before Fayla took her arm and escorted her to the door, where Maynard waited.
Harry remained where he was while Fayla padded back across the multitude of carpets.
“Question,” he said as she came to a halt beside the bed. “If everyone is leaving, where are my pants?”
Her gaze met his and, with a casual tug, freed the sash of her robe. “I didn’t say when everyone was leaving.”
He thought about that and glanced at the robe, now puddled at Fayla’s feet.
“No,” he said, making room for her under the sheets, “I guess you didn’t.”
* * *
Later—much later—over a tray containing what remained of the meal necessary to support Viel’s healing, Harry watched Fayla sipping a cup of fragrant tea. “There’s something you’re not telling me,” he said, sipping his own blessed, blessed coffee.
“I believe there is a Galactic Encyclopedia of somethings I am not telling you.” She set her cup on the tray as she threw his own words from two days ago back at him.
“Touché,” he replied, setting his own cup down and snagging a berry, which he offered to her. She bit into it, and he had to grit his teeth over the stab of lust because he didn’t want to be distracted. “But seriously.” He gestured toward the rumpled bedding in which they sat. “All this? It felt like you were saying goodbye.”
He waited until she swallowed and brushed her fingers delicately on a napkin. “That last was not goodbye,” she told him, looking up.
He met that dark gaze . . . those eyes so deep a man could drown in them.
As one, they shoved the tray off the bed to fall clattering to the rugs before coming together in a tangle of limbs and sheets, his fist in her hair, her teeth grazing the scar over his collarbone, and in the moment, nothing existed but each other and the long, long climb.
* * *
Later still, after the fall.
Her head nestled in the crook of his shoulder, her hand over his heart. “This,” she said, waiting for his eyes, the shocking blue of them, to meet hers, “this was goodbye.”
She caught the flicker of regret, underscored by the ashen taste of guilt.
Since she felt the same, she could not find it in herself to judge him.
“Because of my job,” he asked aloud, “or yours?”
“Because,” she said, “I cannot in conscience continue seeking pleasure with my best friend’s man.” And now she regarded him with great care as she added, “At least, not without her permission.”
She felt his body tense—as if flesh had become iron—and then he blinked.
And then he said, “Say again?”