Bonded to the Rakian Berserker: Chapter Five

 Gavin

“You don’t have to stay.”

The flattened tone of Esme’s voice made Gavin want to bundle her back in the air sled, take her back to Ship with the others despite her protests.

But he wouldn’t.

“I can’t believe you got rid of Adena so easily,” he answered instead. “She’s not usually so easy going about the health of one of her patients.” He crossed his arms in front of his chest. “But you’re not going to get rid of me.”

The faintest hint of a smile lifted the corners of her lips. “I appreciate it,” she said. “Even if I don’t know what you can do to help.”

He didn’t either.

There was nothing he could do but wait, and watch, as she walked down the long row of the dead, calling their names.

Around each shrouded form she paced, singing in a low haunting voice.

All the way down the line, all the way back.

And when she finally stumbled, he caught her in his arms.

“They’re your family, your clan, right?” he asked gruffly.

She nodded, eyes shining in the dark with tears she still hadn’t shed.

“Then they’ll know you need to rest.”

She stiffened in his arms, then he felt her body slump with resignation. “You’re right,” she admitted. “Just, if I keep thinking about the next step and the next, then I’m not worrying about the children and Aunt Layla. Not worrying how we’ll get them back. What I can even do with them if we do get them back.” Her voice dropped to a horse whisper. “They must be so scared.”

He led her back a few short steps to where he’d spread blankets on the ground, built a low burning fire, hoping that its friendly warmth would give her some comfort.

“We’ll find them, but you need to be in good shape to help them when we do,” he nudged another one of the field rations at her. “Trust us. My brothers and I, we’re good at what we do.”

She picked up the bar, but instead of opening it, turned it over and over again in her hands.

“Speaking of the things you do,” she said, “What exactly happened when your friend turned into a cat? That’s not like any Gift I’ve ever seen.”

“My brother,” he answered automatically.

Not that the definition of family was the point of the question.

Or maybe it was.

He leaned back on his arms, eyes fixed on the cold stars above.

“The Alliance has been at war with the Empire for generations,’’ he said, searching the sky. Easier than watching her reaction. “Both sides are willing to do almost anything to win. Along the way, they made us. Made others like us. And they made us into weapons.” He took a long, slow breath, let it out. “That’s really all there is to it.”

“It seems a little more complicated than that to me,” she said, her hand resting on top of his, the light touch sending a spark through his blood. “You’re not just a weapon.”

“I know what I am,’’ he said.

The silence stretched between them, the only sound the crackling of the fire.

She leaned back next to him, resting on her elbows. “They say that somewhere out there was our home, once upon a time. The oldest story.”  Her shoulder was close enough he could feel the heat of her body.

“Usually when a clan member dies, we sing them home. And I’ve always wondered which? Here where we’ve traveled and loved the land for so long, meeting new friends along the way? Or back there, the place we all came from, lost in the stars?” A soft laugh. “It seems impossible. How would they even know the way back to that old, lonely world?”

Gavin could answer that at least. He searched the sky, checking against his memories of the updated star maps since his Enforcer Unit had arrived on Crucible.

“It’s one of my favorite things about what we do,” he said. “Every place we go, the sky is different. The same stars, but you’re looking at it from a different angle. The ancients called them constellations, imaginary pictures they drew in the sky.” He could draw his own constellations here.

An air sled, over there, maybe.

Maybe that cluster was a flower. Maybe a horse.

“But on a different world, everything is out of alignment. You’re forced to take a new perspective, a new pattern every time you move to a new place.”

He pointed towards a faint nebula, a cluster of three stars to the right. “But I think the world your generation ship left from is that way.”

“New worlds,” she said, leaning a little closer as she followed his pointing finger into the black.  “I can’t imagine exploring everything there is to see on this one in my lifetime, much less having time to see another.”

Gavin snorted. “We’re not exactly seeing the sights. Like I said. We’re just weapons.”

Esme sat up, staring into the fire, and the loss of her nearness struck him like a physical blow.

This was ridiculous, he thought, then was startled by her low laugh.

“You have a gift, a skill like Rhela and Adena, I think,” he started cautiously. “You read minds? How does that work?”

She shook her head and the low flickering light of the fire cast shadows across her face.

“Thank the Lady, no,” she said. “With most people, I can occasionally pick up on strong emotions, and the rest is just watching body language.” She shot him a sidelong look, then stared back into the fire. “Sometimes I get glimpses of the future in dreams. But I never know the truth from a dream until it’s too late. It’s not so much a gift as something I live with.”

Esme pushed herself back up to her feet, swaying with exhaustion.

“What are you doing?” he asked, watching her intently.

“Normally the clan would take turns, staying up with the one who’s passed, and then bury them the next day,” she said, straightening her back, eyes bleak. “But now, there’s only me.”

He followed her to the row of bodies, standing at her side.

“Are they particular about bloodlines in your clan?” he asked.

She looked at him questioningly. “Good thing for me they’re not, no. Why?”

“Then swear me in, do whatever you need to do, and let me take my turn.” He smiled. “Have pity on me. Adena will have my hide if you don’t get some rest.”

Her lips pursed. “They’re not your people. This isn’t necessary.”

“Does it break any taboos if I do?”

“No, I guess not, but…” She gazed around, as if looking for someone to give her a better reason.

“Is it going to help them if you fall over where you stand?” He pressed on, feeling a twinge of guilt at using dirty tactics. “Don’t you want to be in good shape tomorrow, when we meet with someone who might be able to tell us anything about the children and Layla?”

She glared at him. “Of course, I do. That’s not fair.”

“But you know I’m right.” The guilt wasn’t nearly strong enough to overcome the need to see that she rested.

And whatever her gift revealed to her of his thoughts, she finally gave in.

“Thank you again.” She shuffled back to the fire, curling into a ball on the blankets.

He knelt by her side, pulled the second blanket over her. “Is there anything special I should do or say?” he asked, suddenly aware of the magnitude of his offer. “I’m not much of a singer.”

“Just stay with them, let them know they’re not forgotten,” she murmured. “Let me know when you need a break, all right?”

“Of course.”

***

The pale moons gave more than enough light to work by, and Gavin made good use of the time.

When Esme stirred with the first morning rays, he moved to her side.

“Still warm enough?”

She struggled out of the blankets he’d piled on her through the night, eyes wide. “You didn’t get me! You said you–”

He held up a hand. “You said someone needed to stay with them. I did.”

Esme rocked back, pulling the blankets tightly around her shoulders against the cool fall air. “All night? By yourself?”

“It wouldn’t be the first time,” he said. He rubbed at the back of his neck. “I told them stories of places I’d been. Figured them being a traveling people, they might like to hear.”

A slow smile spread over her face. “That was perfect. I wish I’d been awake to hear.”

The nervous knot only tightened in his gut. “I can tell them again, if you really want. And, um. I did another thing.”

A dark eyebrow raised, but she said nothing.

He held out a hand, and she took it.

That was a good sign, right?

If he hadn’t just ruined everything.

“Stop worrying,” she said, as they picked their way across the camp in the pre-dawn mist.

And then she froze.

“What did you do?” she whispered.

He watched her face. He knew what she saw, he’d spent the long hours of the night digging them all, one by one, grave by grave.

“Is it right?” he asked.

She knelt by the first shrouded body, stared blankly into the neatly dug grave beside it. “How did you do this?”

Gavin coughed, embarrassed. “I told you. We’re built as weapons.”

“Nonsense,” she snapped, flying to her feet. “However you were born, whatever your gifts are, it’s what you do with them that counts.” Her eyes softened. “And what you did was an act of kindness. Don’t forget that.”

It didn’t take long to complete the burial of her clan. As the sun rose, Esme took one last walk around the destroyed camp while Gavin watched her every step.

“Is there anything you want to bring back with you?” he asked as she finally turned away, walking quickly towards the air sled.

“No,” she shook her head. “I’ll get a message to the other clans, see what can be reused. But none of this matters to me, not anymore.”

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