Heart of Starlight, Soul of Moonlight
Citlally lost track of how many surgeries it took to keep Jalingan alive. His internal bleeding was out of control, and he needed several transfusions of Leomian blood to keep from going over the brink. Mannarius had refused to offer up any at all, so the medical team on board Space Station Eta Scorpii had to make do with what they could pull from Dhruv until they could get more transferred in from another station.
Xingfei refused to leave the waiting room. He would only sleep when he could no longer force his eyes to stay open. Citlally and Endan took turns sitting with him, waiting hopefully to hear how Jalingan was doing. His three broken ribs had been easy enough to set. One arm had been broken in several places, and it was placed in a cast. Both of his legs had been damaged; his right femur had a closed fracture that was not at all difficult to repair. His left tibia, though, was shattered, its fibula cracked in half. The doctors spent hours in surgery working to piece it back together, Doctor Linnaeus refusing to give up on it.
Kellimarythe, meanwhile, spent time with Allanah. The Loratannh elf had been excited to meet the black-winged woman, claiming that she knew about her kind. They talked together for hours, though Allanah was kind enough to let her check in on Jalingan now and again.
In between surgeries, Jalingan rested in a hospital room all his own. The amount of pain medicine that he needed kept him asleep most of the time, but that stopped nobody from bringing by gifts and wishes for his wellness. The table in his room was soon crowded with cards, flowers, and trinkets from all number of worlds.
“They’re treating him like a hero,” Citlally commented one evening as she looked everything over.
“He pretty much is one,” Dhruv replied. He was sitting in an armchair beside Jalingan’s bed, looking very weary. “Without him, how would we have been able to get onto the planet? He even managed to draw out the Dark Apostates.”
“Does Mannarius know about this?” she asked him.
Dhruv shrugged. “I told him, of course, but he won’t listen to reason. He won’t even talk to me about it.”
“Well…” Citlally sighed, “at least he’s not interfering.”
In the days that followed, Jalingan began to stabilize. The sutures in several of his damaged organs held strong, and his medications seemed to be doing their jobs. There was an influx of Leomians interested in donating blood at the station, and according to Kellimarythe, even Mannarius was among them. It took Dhruv a few hours of flirting with the nurses, but he was able to confirm it.
Weeks went by, Jalingan eventually spending more time awake than asleep. Xingfei stayed with him all the while, and the nurses were forced to place a second bed in the room so that the A’untoren did not curl up against their patient and jeopardize his injuries. Mannarius refused to visit, although according to Dhruv, he stopped speaking insultingly about him; he had no praise to offer, but he seemed to be done criticizing him.
Jalingan was assigned a physical therapist to help him prevent losing more mobility than he had to. He seemed more motivated by Xingfei’s presence than by the therapist herself, so she let the A’untoren stay while she worked. Eventually, she and the other doctors decided that he was well enough to continue healing in a room of his own. He was given a room along the outer wall of the station, and a nurse was scheduled to come by and check on him a few times a day.
“Are you sure you don’t want the full dose?” Xingfei asked him one day as he set down a bottle of pills. “You don’t need to feel bad about keeping the pain at bay.”
“I’ll be fine,” Jalingan assured him as he took the blue pill from him.
Jalingan was lounging in the window seat of his room, admiring the view outside. There was something about being able to see the nebulae and starlight that brought him comfort. He had several large pillows for his back, and a long one to rest his shattered leg on. It still hurt to move, but the doctors said that the metal pins were holding, the bone regrowing round them.
Xingfei handed Jalingan a glass. He drank the entire thing down with the pill, then lounged back on the pillows as he gave the glass back. The A’untoren hopped up onto the window seat with him, curling up alongside his chest not unlike an over-sized house cat.
“What am I to do with you?” Jalingan asked him as he laid an arm around his shoulders. “You’ve been doting on me all this time, and I can’t do anything to take care of you. The doctors were very specific in making sure I understood that resting meant sleep, not rolling around in the sheets with anyone.”
“You know that’s not all that I come to you for,” Xingfei told him. Anyone else might have sounded offended, but the A’untoren was calm and reassuring. “I just want to be with you.”
“Are you sure?” Jalingan asked him. “A vagabond like me couldn’t offer you much.”
“You’re no vagabond,” Xingfei told him. He was enjoying the rise and fall of the other man’s chest. In between them speaking, he even listened to his heartbeats. “You’ve spent years risking everything to stop the K’zzyrch. You did whatever it took to help all those people.”
“There are quite a few who don’t see it that way,” Jalingan said. His free hand – the other one was still in a sling – massaged Xingfei’s shoulder as he spoke.
“They just don’t understand. You’ve changed yourself just so you could gain the K’zzyrch’s trust and prevent them from hurting anyone else. You’re the kindest man I know.”
Jalingan scoffed. “You have a funny definition for kindness.”
“You don’t understand,” Xingfei said, sitting up so that he could look into Jalingan’s eyes. His expression had turned worried, almost sorrowful. “You’ve shown how dutiful you are to all the people of the galaxy. You treasure life so much that you would risk your own to protect it. Kellimarythe is right about you being a prince; you’re as noble as they come. Besides… I’m in love with you, Jalingan.”
The half-lion stared at Xingfei. He was speechless. He knew that the A’untoren enjoyed spending time in his bed, and he was well aware of how he was always at his side, and how affectionate he was, but love? That he had not expected. Or if he had, he had denied that it was at all possible.
“I’m nothing but trouble,” Jalingan reminded him, shaking his head. “You know why my cousin hates me so much. Love isn’t something that I should be getting into.”
“And I also know that you nearly died trying to make amends!” Xingfei told him, trying not to raise his voice too much. “I was terrified of losing you back on Vaharrish, Jalingan. Mannarius has no idea how callous he was in thinking that I would be anything less than heartbroken if that fallen tower had killed you! You think that you have to avoid love, but that’s the opposite of what.. of…”
“Hey, now,” Jalingan said, seeing Xingfei’s eyes start to glisten. “I’m okay, I’m right here. Don’t worry so much.”
“I can’t imagine not being close to you,” the A’untoren whispered. “I mean, unless you don’t want me…”
“Stop right there,” Jalingan insisted. “I never said that I was pushing you away. I just…”
Jalingan sighed. “After Mannarius lost the love of his life, I never imagined loving someone of my own. Besides, I’ve spent time in so many beds out there…” He gazed out the window, remembering that he could not even count all of his exploits.
“I love you anyway,” Xingfei said. His words were simple, unconditional. “I can only hope that you’ll take the chance to love me, too.”
After a few moments of thought, Jalingan turned back to Xingfei. His hand went under the other man’s chin, and he leaned in close. “You want to stay with me?”
Xingfei nodded, staring into Jalingan’s eyes. “For the rest of my days,” he whispered, hardly able to keep his words steady.
“That’s very lofty,” Jalingan told him. He smiled all the same.”You can love me for as long as your heart desires. I’ll be here for you; I’m not going to push you away.”
Xingfei smiled back. “That’s good. Maybe you’ll even fall in love with me, too.”
Jalingan’s smile became a smirk, and he leaned in closer. His hand went behind Xingfei’s head, his fingers entangling with his hair, and he let their lips meet. Xingfei gave a happy sigh and fell into a long kiss with him. His arms wrapped around Jalingan’s neck, and he took the kiss even deeper. They sat like that for a long time, simply kissing, until finally Jalingan moved to whisper into his ear.
“I think I already have… just a little.”
* ** *** ** *
Jalingan had an open invitation to go to Earth with Citlally and Endan once they felt ready to head home. He had to decline, though; although Xingfei was welcome to come with him, he had no intention on leaving Space Station Scorpii Eta. His father was on that station, working with the medical crew to make sure that he was healing properly.
“He could come, too,” Citlally told him one afternoon. It was close to the day that she’d planned to depart, and she, Endan, and Xingfei had managed to get the half-lion out of his room so that they could sit in the café together. “And you two could come back here together. I bet your dad would love to see Sweden again.”
Jalingan grinned at her and took a long drink from his mug before leaning over to set it down. He had an over-sized wheelchair to keep him comfortable, with a long panel installed to help prop his leg up. “I can understand how badly you want me to come,” he told her, “but I can’t. My father isn’t interested in seeing the place where he was born right now; he has a lot of work to do here, and I don’t want to go without him. Besides, once I’m doing better, I’m heading for 83-Leonis.”
Citlally’s eyes went wide, and she looked to Endan suddenly. “I can’t believe I didn’t think of it sooner!” she said. “Jalingan, does your mother know that you were hurt?”
He chuckled and shook his head. “You mean did anyone send my mother a message that I was almost killed on a mission? I wouldn’t dare alarm her like that, and neither would my father.”
“Really?” Citlally asked, looking almost disappointed. “It just occurred to me that she hasn’t visited you. But doesn’t she deserve to know how you’re doing?”
Her words made Jalingan smirk. “She would rush here with my sister if anyone told her what happened. The last time anyone told her that I’d been hurt on a mission, she thought that she’d been contacted because I was dying.”
“Ye were pretty touch and go for a while, laddie,” Endan reminded him.
“And my father is great at what he does,” Jalingan replied. “She’ll find out how things went went she sees me again.”
“Speaking of the both of them,” Citlally said, “are you worried about the two of them being in the same room together?”
Jalingan blinked. “I hadn’t really thought of that.”
“Have they even seen each other since you were born?” Endan asked.
“Not in person…” Jalingan replied. “But it’s pretty complicated.”
“Would them meeting be a bad thing, though?” Citlally wanted to know.
Jalingan shrugged. “Neither of them says much about the other one. I don’t know what they’d do if they were in the same room together.”
“I think you should find out,” Xingfei told him, a wide grin on his face.
“Are you kidding me?” Jalingan asked him. “He couldn’t be present in my childhood, and once I grew up and sought him out, I was hurt multiple times.”
“But he saved your life every time,” Xingfei said. “Kind of like he’d rescued me.”
Jalingan shook his head. “Your kind always thinks the best of people, don’t they? All of that love and sentimentality. Fine, I’ll tell you what: we can ask my dad if he wants to see Linlen again when he takes me back to 83-Leonis.”
That seemed to be enough to satisfy Xingfei. They went on talking for a while, commiserating about this and that. Now that it was clear that they would soon be separated by countless stars, they wanted to talk about everything that they could. It felt nice, Citlally thought as she listened to the others, but without Mannarius and Dhruv there, it was a little bit lonely. She understood, of course, but she wished that the two cousins would set aside their differences just once before she left.
* ** *** ** *
In the last few days before Citlally left for Earth, she and Endan heard that T’krost was being assigned as head of security at Space Station Regulus III, the construction of which was just beginning. Now that the peace treaty with the K’zzyrch had proven to hold, the agents involved in approving new space station and their security felt that it was safe to re-build.
Rashard and Dhanae would be joining him on the new space station. Although none of them had joined in the battle on Vaharrish, they had helped the resistance group move supplies and communications. In between consulting on matters related to the new station, they helped people get to their home-worlds or find a new place to settle down. Rashard had been the most adamant about not fighting, but he still congratulated everyone for how their efforts had paid off.
The peace treaty was a matter that surprised Citlally and Endan when they’d read the details of it. The K’zzyrch were under orders to cease all galactic travel for the first year – reckoned by their own planet’s revolution – and after that, all travel beyond their star system had to be approved by the Galactic Council. They would be watched very closely to ensure that they had no weaponry under construction, no plans for attack or conquest. They had agreed to it so easily that Citlally could hardly believe it.
Besides that, the K’zzyrch were given information on retro-terraforming, which would allow them to replenish their soil and begin to heal the damage done to their planet. They could petition for supplies and aid, but they had to be meeting very specific requirements. Their people had to be treated appropriately, their resources thoughtfully allocated, and peace maintained all across the planet.
And they were doing just that. A race that had a reputation for being vile and aggressive for decades had transformed so suddenly that they surprised everyone. They were so aware that the galactic forces that could take them down that they dared not go against any of the terms of their treaty.
Rumor had it that it was also because the Dark Apostates were no more. Their keeping of a life-form such as Kellimarythe and forcing her to suffer had darkened the hearts of everybody on Vaharrish the Glorious. Her pain had even poisoned their dreams. Freeing her meant freeing all of the K’zzyrch. Citlally could hardly understand what Kellimarythe was that she could affect an entire species like that, but she knew that she was a mystical being, someone with the power of the æther within her.
On the day of their departure, Jalingan and Xingfei went to the docking bays to say their farewells to Endan and Citlally. Kellimarythe was there as well, ready to wish the humans well. Mannarius sat on the bay door of the Lionstar, refusing to talk to his cousin, but willing enough to let him see their mutual friends. Dhruv tried only once to get him to give a proper goodbye to the half-lion before joining the others in a share-around of hugs.
“Citlally,” Jalingan said after she’d clung to him for more than a minute, “You have to let go eventually.”
“I know… but I’m going to miss you so much, she whispered into his ear.
“I’ll miss you, too,” he replied, patting her back, “but Xingfei and Endan are starting to look jealous.”
Citlally chuckled and let him go. Just as quickly, she had Xingfei in her arms. “I’m so happy for you two.”
“Thanks you,” he said, his voice smooth and calm. “I wish I could get to know you better before you left.”
“So do I,” she agreed, stepping back to admire him. “You’re going to be so good for each other. If I’ve learned anything in my time out here, it’s that love is one of the more powerful forces in the galaxy.”
Xingfei nodded, giving Jalingan a sidelong glance.
“He’s really something else, isn’t he?” she added.
“He really is,” Xingfei agreed. “I’m glad that he was able to help you. And I’m glad that you helped inspire him.”
Citlally gave him a warm smile. “Listen, I want us to meet again. Once I’m ready to leave Earth again, I want us to spend more time together.”
“And it doesnae have tae be the kind of adventure that we had this time ’round,” Endan added with a wink.
His remark made Xingfei chuckle. “Have a safe journey home, you two,” he told them with a nod. “Relax, settle in together, make some babies. In a few years, we’ll see each other again. We can let our children play together; that will be adventure enough.”
Citlally grinned and went on talking with him, clearly excited about his willingness to make future plans with her. Meanwhile, Jalingan looked at him with one brow raised. Endan interrupted his train of thought by giving him a pat on the back.
“Ye’re welcome on Earth any time,” he told the half-lion. “I’ve left ye my address in Ireland, and hers in ol’ Aztlán. Ye could come tae the pub with us and knock back a few pints.”
“I might have to,” Jalingan agreed. “A’untorens don’t like alcohol, but I could drink a few for him.”
“Well then,” Endan said with a grin, “May the road always rise up tae meet ye, may the four winds be always at yer back, may the stars shine warm upon yer face, the rains fall soft upon yer hull, and until we meet again, may the galaxy hold you in the blanket of the æther.”
Citlally chuckled a bit when she overheard the way he’d changed the old Irish blessing.
Then Kellimarythe stepped towards them, her expression bittersweet. “Safe journey Citlally, Endan. I may not be able to travel with you, but I shall always remember how you saved me.”
“Ye saved an angel,” Endan told her, “How about that?”
Citlally gave him a look that meant he ought to behave, and she shook her head before turning back to listen to Kellimarythe.
“I will look after our prince for a little bit longer,” she assured Citlally, “so you do not have to worry too much about him. Remember, dear queen, that the distance between us is nothing but the distance between the stars, and we share their light.”
“There is no distance greater than the stars,” Citlally whispered, remembering the words that she’d heard on planet Mekse.
Kellimarythe nodded. “And that is all it is.” Her voice was calm, reassuring. “Starlight and the songs it sings.”
“The song of the galaxy?” Citlally asked, trying to grasp what she meant.
She nodded again. “Listen to it, and you shall find that I am always at your side.”
Citlally rushed to embrace the black-winged angel, clinging to her in hopes that she would be able to hold back her tears. “I’ll always think of you when I look up at the stars.”
“Think of me when you see your baby’s first smile, and when one day you hear its laughter,” Kellimarythe added. “I shall look after your dreams, dear queen. Until next time…”
She looked over at Endan, who nodded. “We’ll look after each other,” he assured her.
They spent a few more minutes talking together before Citlally and Endan boarded the Lionstar. As Dhruv walked with them to the ship’s bridge, Mannarius paused and gave one last look to his cousin.
“Take care of yourselves,” he told the half-lion, his voice solemn and bittersweet, as though he regretted in that last moment having not given a fonder farewell. He raised his paw-like palm to his cousin and Xingfei, and took a deep breath. “…and take care of each other.”
“We will,” Xingfei assured him when he saw that Jalingan was at a loss for words.
“Goodbye,” Mannarius said after a long moment of silence, and he pressed the button to close the Lionstar’s bay door.