Fane trapsed out of the ship and through the dark machinists field into the middle section of the warehouse. He made his way down to the infirmary where he peeled off the electrodes speckling his skin and tossed them in the bin. He dug around in the first aid kit and found antiseptic spray, gauze, and a roll of wrap. He took his time washing off the cuts that striped his skin and muttering to himself at the familiar sting of fresh wounds. Minutes passed as his heartrate came back to it’s regular rhythm. He wanted to yell, he wanted to curse, but instead he collapsed back onto one of the chairs in the room and lifted up one leg and put gauze on a long thin gash and began wrapping it down. None of those desires would help him. He cut the strip carefully.
A knock at the door interrupted him. Cashia and Ishan stood in the door frame. Fane glanced up at them. Ishan looked away abashed and more timid than Fane could ever remember seeing him. Fane quirked an eyebrow as he turned back to another laceration. Cashia stepped into the room and Ishan followed him in. His prince sat down on the chair next to Fane while Cashia knelt down in front of Fane and took the wrap from his hand gently.
“I wanted to apologize for overstepping my boundaries, Shaman.” Cashia laid out gauze along a garish cut that was running the length of Fane’s shin.
“Same, Fane. I – I didn’t know that was a line, but I am sorry for causing you that kind of pain.” Ishan bowed over his hands.
Fane gently touched Ishan’s hair, brushing a strand behind his ear. Fane flinched as the gauze pulled at his skin uncomfortably. “I never told you there was one to begin with. I didn’t even think there was one.” Fane looked up at the drop ceiling tiles and fluorescent lights as Cashia turned to the other ankle. “I was terrified for you, not because of Cashia. He’s a good fighter. He knows better than to hurt someone outright with his knots,” Fane conceded. Cashia glanced up at him, furrowing his brows in suspicion.
“Talked to Nat and Yeller back in the void before pulling you in,” Fane explained. Cashia shrugged and nodded, continuing with the bandaging. “I can feel every action, every thought of every person in there. It was that moment of realizing that I had to push an extreme envelope to get to that emotion that Sophia needed, and it’s scary when I have to get there, and it seems when I get to those emotions that stupid creature comes out of the woodwork. That creature. I can’t predict it, not like you all. It comes up and chases me around like a cat and a mouse. For a minute there, I forgot I could just cast you all out of my void. My reality became keeping you safe. In that moment I knew there was a line that I…I got angry. I’m sorry that I scared you, Ishan,” Fane turned his wrist over to Cashia. Ishan brushed at his eyes, trying to hide the tears that were blotching his face.
“What was that back there?” nervously Cashia quietly asked.
Fane shrugged. “Supposedly, it’s the Grey Monster that wiped out the European and Asian continents two years ago. Scientists back on the base I ended up at put a chip in my brain to call it through some kind of interdimensional portal,” Fane leaned his head against the wall and closed his eyes.
Cashia took up the other wrist. “I meant the images.”
“Images?” Fane asked. He didn’t remember images. He was preoccupied with not getting acid slimed by an interstellar squid.
“You’re memories were leaking out into the void…and not the pleasant ones,” Ishan mumbled quietly. Fane furrowed a brow. “Saw your torture and your sister’s eyes. Saw the people I think you killed.” Ishan swallowed hard, fighting rising nausea again. Fane leaned back quietly in surprise. Cashia’s lips flattened at the statement. He was beginning to understand a bit more of the scarred Red Hare they reverently called Shaman.
“Might just call that my personal hell,” Fane sighed. With the one hand free, he reached over and took up Ishan’s hand, squeezing gently.
“Do you want to tell me who it is that hit you?” Fane’s voice was barely a thread on the wind. He didn’t want to push a topic that Ishan might still have as off-limits. Ishan stilled, horrified. He glanced up at his boyfriend. Fane straitened and opened his eyes to look at Ishan without judgement. Cashia glanced between the Shaman and his lover, not sure where that question had come from.
Ishan looked like a terrified fawn. “How did you…?”
“You flinched when I came to in the bridge. I didn’t mean to scare you, but I did, and I apologize,” he answered softly.
Ishan glanced away and shifted in his chair but didn’t let go of Fane’s hand. “Ajay got him put away on abuse and battery charges for a few years,” Ishan mumbled, hanging his head.
“He’s dead then, most likely if he is overseas from here?” Fane guessed. Ishan shrugged, unsure. “Prior boyfriend?” Fane pressed.
“Here, stand up. Let’s get your back. You’re bleeding all over the chair.” Cashia pulled Fane up. Fane turned for Cashia to start working on the stripes and sucker marks on his back. Cashia pulled a rolling stool out from under the little side desk near the medicine cabinet and forced Fane to sit down on it. Fane laid his hands on Ishan’s knees, taking up his hands gingerly. Ishan rubbed a thumb across his nails for a minute in thought.
Ishan looked up at Fane, his face pale and eyes too wide. He shifted his gaze uncomfortably. “First boyfriend. First year of college away from my folks. Ajay ran a background check, and it came up clean. He didn’t tell my parents. I had never been in a relationship before, and my parents were an arranged marriage. They never knew I was gay. They didn’t really interact with each other much other than at meal time. They weren’t the greatest example of how that was all supposed to work in reality.
“It was little things at first. Manipulation. Gas lighting when Ajay wasn’t around. I only learned that term during a class in psychology after the fact. It was when I came home from summer break about six months after we started dating. He got worse, more blatant. He had lost a lot of weight and was being evasive. He started getting really paranoid about every little move I made. Wanting to see my phone every time he was home. Checking contacts and text messages. I hadn’t told my parents – they still had me betrothed to some girl I’d never met, and they didn’t…” Ishan looked out the window, realizing that his parents were dead. He drew a steadying breath at the realization and tried to fight the tears that threatened to burst. “He didn’t know I was a prince. He thought Ajay was my brother and I was just some poor ass foreign kid there on a pity scholarship. Figured I’d be easy prey, and I was. He was a couple years older than me.
“I had hoped it was just me having been gone, that he had been worried or something, that it would get better. We were in a rough patch. I know I was beginning to figure out something wasn’t right, that I didn’t like where I was at in the relationship. I was coming out of my delusion. He came back to the flat one night. I was working through midterms, and Ajay had stepped out to the market to grab stuff for dinner.
“He was strung out on something and angry as hell. I don’t know what he was on. I don’t remember how it happened, but one minute he’s in the door yelling at me for flirting with some bartender I had never heard of while I’m fighting with a paper on Ellen Ochoa. The next, I’m on the ground with a horrendous stomach ache and nasty headache waking up to Ajay and a pair of EMTs and police and an interpreter clearing the flat and taking him into custody.” Tears dripped unnoticed. “Ended up at the ER for several hours checking for internal bleeding and a cracked cheekbone and almost failing my midterm because I didn’t get that paper finished. Doctor’s note let me get an extra few days to turn it in.” Ishan rubbed at his arm and shifted his feet uncomfortably. “I begged Ajay not to breathe a word to my parents.
“I’m amazed he didn’t. They would have brought me home, and I really didn’t want to get my degree there. I would have been married off before the month was out.”
Fane wrapped his arms around Ishan’s shoulders. Though he meant to pull the prince to him, the rolling stool pulled him to his prince instead. Ishan leaned into Fane’s shoulder and let that pent-up hurt flow. His shoulders trembled under Fane’s arms. Ishan held onto Fane’s sides, his fingers biting into muscle like he would never let him go.
“Did this happen with any of your other boyfriends?” Fane asked gently, not wanting to push on Ishan’s hurt more. Cashia pulled him away carefully to wrap another pass of gauze around his upper shoulder. Ishan straightened up, brushing at his cheeks. He hesitated before nodding his head slightly. “Something you want to talk about?” Fane wiped a missed tear from Ishan’s skin.
Ishan shrugged. “I have a bad habit of finding rough around the edges types.” his smile wobbled at the admission. He couldn’t quite keep his eyes on Fane as his face fell miserably.
“Rough around the edges doesn’t give someone permission to disrespect or hurt someone else.” Fane brought Ishan’s palm up to his lips and placed a gentle kiss into it before resting his cheek in the warmth.
“Think I found all the cuts,” Cashia grumbled as he headed for the door.
“Speaking of, Cashia?” Fane turned to the man who had seen to his cuts.
“Shaman?” the man asked respectfully.
“Sorry about the jaw.” Fane motioned along his face.
“Doesn’t hurt out here. Probably deserved it, but thank you. He’s yours again. Tell us if you need us.” Cashia waived as he closed the door behind him.
Ishan stared at the door quietly. He finally turned back to Fane, pleading in his amber eyes. “How do you do it, Fane?” he asked quietly, pulling Fane back to him so he could lay his head on his shoulder.
“Do what, Beithe?” Fane asked. Ishan pushed his hand from Fane’s cheek up to tunnel in his hair. Fane’s hand skimmed down to rest in the crook of his elbow. He felt hot liquid crawl across his shoulder to cool on his chest. They sat there quietly in the infirmary, only interrupted with Ishan’s sniffles.
Eventually, Ishan ran out of tears and sat up again. He gathered himself together, his eyes puffy and red. “I’ve needed to talk about that for a long time,” Ishan mumbled. Fane wasn’t sure if it was to him or just Ishan musing out loud. “How is it…”Ishan tried to formulate his question carefully. “How did…do…Ajay told me about the time you almost beat him down for disrespecting Shelly. How do you have such a hard moral backbone, and yet, you can go and take out an entire compound of people, like flipping a switch?” Ishan asked, trying to rationalize Fane’s existence in his head.
Fane smiled softly at the question. It wasn’t worded quite that well, but he understood the other questions wrapped up in it. “Melody drilled equality and sympathy into my head from the day my parents died until she died. I love her for that trait she gave me. ‘And it harm none, do as thy will’ she used to say to me. I prefer my own golden rule: ‘don’t be a jack-ass, but don’t let the jack-asses beat your ass either.’ Melody learned to quit washing my mouth out with soap at some point. My parents probably provided me with a decent moral foundation, but I still don’t have a lot of memories of them. I was, I think in my tweenage area when they passed, but I don’t really remember too much of that. I have to live with what I did to that mob over my sister. The baron’s men and your nieces will always be etched on my brain. I can’t say that I wish I had taken a different route.
“When the justice system fell apart, and the police were corrupt and taking bribes from the mob,” Fane shrugged. “I probably could have ditched town and started new somewhere else, but I had no money or car. I let those problems be an excuse. I didn’t really have a way out that I knew of back then. Should I have killed off the mob? No. Probably not. Do I feel guilty about it? Sometimes yes, now that I can access those memories again. Those people probably had family hurt from what I did. Ending up in Sanguis was probably what I deserved. Taking out the last of the mob when they switched out the regular guards for their own people, who proceeded to torture me…I honestly can tell you I don’t regret that. Not for one second. The Baron and his cronies? Never going to question it for what they did to Tam and your brother’s family, you.
“I would never hit you or purposefully hurt you. I may have come of age as an acrobatic gigolo for the mob, wiping it out and being trained by the military, but that doesn’t give me the excuse, motivation, or desire to lash out at you ever. Never hesitate to talk to me if I’ve stepped over a boundary. I expect that of you, and you should expect it of me,” Fane pushed that demand. Ishan nodded, relief settling finely over his heart like silk threads.
“Mind if we head back for our room? I’m exhausted.” Fane stood up and offered Ishan a hand.
“Need to grab anything to eat?” he asked, aware that though their time in Fane’s void had been short, Fane was left ravenous when handling too many people. Fane shrugged and shook his head. He was more tired than he was hungry, honestly enough.
They made their way back to their room. Fane flopped on the bed and was asleep before Ishan was even dressed in his night clothes. He pushed and pulled at Fane enough to get some of the blankets back for himself but figured it would be better to leave Fane on top of the sheets this time. He suspected that the monster in the void and being trapped in night clothes and sheets had something to do with each other when Fane was asleep.
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