Work Header

Facing Ahead

Work Text:

"But you said we'd be shipping out on the Hemera!"

Jeannemary hurled this accusation at the Cohort lieutenant like a javelin, fueled by the rage only accessible to those not yet accustomed to hypocrisy. To the lieutenant's credit, he bore the blow stolidly, and did not flinch or show pity. If he had done either, Jeannemary might have fallen on him like a small but extremely impassioned tiger. She only came up to about the point of his sternum, but her grip on her rapier showed that she had been in cavalier training probably since she could toddle, and the Fourth House was not generally known for teaching its children the fine art of emotional regulation.

So the lieutenant stared into the air over her head, precisely as he would while delivering an unfavorable report to a senior officer, and said stiffly, "My apologies, Sir Chatur, but the deployment of yourself and Baron Tettares has been delayed on medical grounds. The House medics sent their report to the Hemera' s captain --"

"Traitors!" Jeannemary cried. Her necromancer, who was still bundled up in a nest of navy blankets on the bed behind her, winced.

"-- and we don't have the facilities on board for a proper quarantine. The Atropos is scheduled for a refit at Tisis Port in eight months. If the forms are in order, they'll be honored to carry yourself and the Baron to Trentham."

Jeannemary glared at him. It would have been more intimidating if she hadn't still been wobbly and feverish, and dressed in navy pajamas adorned with tiny printed warships. It was still the most intimidating glare the lieutenant had ever seen from a thirteen-year-old.

"Fine. Dismissed," snapped the cavalier primary of the Fourth House. The lieutenant staged a calm but expeditious retreat.

Jeanne climbed back onto the bed beside Isaac, whose face was still miserably swollen and flushed in a way that looked absolutely disgusting under his orange hair-spikes. (Even nearly a week in bed hadn't flattened them. He could probably headbutt enemy necromancers with them if they ever made it to the front.) "Thanks for stabbing me in the leg," he complained, batting at her rapier, which she'd belted on over her pajamas at the lieutenant's knock and hadn't bothered to take off. "You didn't have to yell at him, it's not his fault we got mumps."

Jeanne shifted her rapier to her other hip so as not to disembowel her necro, but kept it on. Isaac still had Admiral Fido, the lumpy stuffed bear his mother gave him when he was a baby, tucked under the blankets; so she got to keep her rapier. "What if it was, though? What if it's a Cohort conspiracy?"

"Literally why would the Cohort give us mumps?"

"Um, to keep us stuck here so the Second can get all the glory, obviously?"

"That would be the stupidest conspiracy of all time."

"We could stow away," Jeanne said, ignoring him. "We can fit through the air ducts. They wouldn't catch us til we were three steles out. It'd be like in Pirates of the Pleiades."

"No it wouldn't, cause you're not a cursed revenant and I'm not a bastard princess of Ida," Isaac countered. 

For some reason it was this refusal that crushed her, even more than the actual deferment, which they’d known was coming. Jeanne let out a deep grieving sigh and rested her aching head on Isaac’s shoulder. Suddenly she very much wanted to cry.

He tugged at her tangled, unwashed curls and said in his soft voice, "Look, I want to go as bad as you do, but it might not be so terrible waiting til next year, you know? I can finally get that last regenerative flesh theorem down really perfect. Master Quattero says I'll have it in a month. And then I can pull swords out of you when you get stabbed a billion times."

"As if I would get stabbed even once," Jeanne protested, sniffling, but she wasn't stupid. She'd seen the wounds soldiers got on the front. Master Quattero had lost a leg and three of his fingers. Flesh adepts had grown him new ones, of course, but he still complained that the replacements didn't work quite right, and his stories of the acid bombs and revenant hordes had given her nightmares when she was a little kid.

Jeannemary would die by inches before she'd let an enemy gnat so much as touch Isaac, but she didn't like thinking about what might happen to him after she'd died by inches. She hated being apart from him so much that she'd snuck into his rooms when he first got sick, which was why she'd got sick. And separation by death would obviously be much worse than five days of quarantine.

She wasn't afraid of deployment. She wasn't afraid of anything. But he was right, it wasn't so bad to be where she was, especially because she still felt like warm, sweaty garbage. It would be a pretty embarrassing stain on the honor of the Fourth if the Cohort hauled her out across space and dropped her into her first battle and she passed out and died from mumps.

Isaac was absently braiding her hair back, which calmed her down a little. "Come on, let's watch the one with the dog revenant again. You like that one."

"No, I don't,” she scoffed, although she did. “How are you so stupid?"

"Excuse you, pretty sure necromancers are the smart ones?" 

The dim flicker of his tablet screen kept her attention through the thanergetic strike that turned the dog into a revenant in the first place, but she fell asleep before he made it out of the River. When she woke up the tablet had died, Isaac was snoring, and the Hemera was probably halfway across the system on its way to the fight that would be theirs someday.

Someday soon. Jeannemary the Fourth curled up between her necromancer and the door, and went back to sleep.