CHAPTER SEVENTY-EIGHT: AFTER GLOW
“And what does this one mean?” Jace’s breath whispered against Khoth’s back before he kissed the first birth ta’na. Well, it wasn’t a birth ta’na anymore. It was a binding ta’na.
“That appeared upon my birth,” Khoth answered as he shifted his head on the pillow.
They were in bed, naked, but covered by a light-as-air comforter. Khoth was lying on his stomach, head turned to the side resting on a pillow, while Jace traced the glowing tattoos on his back. This first one was just above the swell of his buttocks and it was star-shaped.
“So it’s your start?” Jace asked as his fingers trailed over Khoth’s spine.
Khoth flexed his toes. He felt so good. His Xi and Xa were in perfect harmony. The constant need to keep control of himself was gone. He could just be himself. Open and warm and released. Jace was his mate! He could hear-feel Jace in his mind. It felt as if they were mentally holding hands. He had never felt alone before, not truly, but this connection made him realize how singular he had been before. He never wanted to go back to how he’d been.
“And this one?” Jace touched the second binding ta’na on his mid back.
“That was my first battle,” Khoth answered. Echoes of long dead voices cried his name as Jace touched it.
“It looks like a lightning bolt. Ragged,” Jace murmured. It had been a rip in his soul so the look of it had always made sense to Khoth. “So, obviously your first ta’na appeared when you were born and this one--”
“Appeared after that first battle. They reflect moments of great emotional resonance,” Khoth answered. “That battle solidified for me that I would do anything to stop the Khul threat. Little did I know how incapable the Alliance was of accomplishing that task.”
“Even with everything against you, the Alliance has fought bravely,” Jace said gently. “Now with all we can add just imagine how much more can be done.”
He hoped so. He truly did. Jace had performed wonders on Haseon in such a short time under terrible circumstances. But at what cost? Jace seemed back to his former health after the medicine and their mating. Yet he felt that for all Jace’s strength that there was still a fragility there. As Jace’s mate even more so than his Commander, he had to protect the young man. Would Jace let him?
“Does every Thaf’ell gets these spontaneously occurring ta’na?” Jace clarified.
“Yes, sort of. They are different for each of us,” Khoth explained. “One of our poets might receive a mark for their first epic work of art rather than a battle. But they mark pivotal moments in our existence.”
“And your body just does this? So wild. So much more fun than mine,” Jace muttered the last almost as if he were disappointed not to have such ta’na himself.
“Your body is quite fun,” Khoth contradicted with a smile as he remembered just how fun it had been. Jace’s reactions alone were so very fun.
“Yeah, well, not ta’na on me. Spontaneous or otherwise,” Jace sighed.
Khoth thought to ask him about getting tattoos on his back the old fashioned way with needle and ink, but he found himself holding off. Jace was so new to this. It wasn’t right for him to ask Jace to mark his body permanently while the first flush of their mating had occurred. Not that he thought Jace regretted their mating. Well, not anymore. But still, this was new for the young man. New for him, too, but newer for Jace.
“You have gifted us the ability to communicate telepathically, Jace,” Khoth pointed out.
“Oh, yeah, and that is totally cool! I wonder if that’s what the Osiris meant when it was interrupting us earlier,” Jace mused.
“What do you mean?”
“It reminded me that I am Altaeth. I love how these sentences by the AI are supposed to mean so much more to me than what they say,” Jace harrumphed.
“You could command the Osiris to explain it to you in such a way that it would be clear,” Khoth reminded him.
“Yeah, but what would be the fun in that?” Jace chuckled. “I mean there were times when we were making love when I wished I knew more, but the discovery was so awesome. Knowing and experiencing are so different anyways.”
“That is true.”
Khoth stretched out his right hand towards the sunbeam that had filtered its way through the window and the trees. The golden light played over his blue skin. He felt so different that he kept expecting to see more than just the binding ta’na on his back. He felt he was transformed and that should show in other ways.
“Okay, what’s this one here?” Jace lightly touched the third ta’na. It looked like a black sun.
Khoth shifted uncomfortably when he did so as if it still pained him. There was residual pain from the cause of it. “Daesah’s death.”
“Oh. Oh, I’m so sorry.” Jace lightly brushed it with his fingers as if attempting to heal a wound.
“I am sure my mother and father have similar ta’na. Maybe theirs are even more extensive and painful. But we’ve never discussed it,” Khoth admitted.
“Why not?” Jace asked. “I mean… I’m sorry. I shouldn’t judge. I know things are different for Thaf’ell about how much you talk about your feelings and such.”
“But they are my family. I should be able to confess these things to them when we are in private,” Khoth pointed out. “But we have always kept our secrets even from one another. Perhaps especially from one another.”
Khoth rolled his lips, comparing how easy it was to tell Jace everything and how difficult it had been to say anything to his parents at all. It had not been even as easy to speak to Daesah as it was to Jace. But Jace was his mate so that made sense. Not for the first time, he wished his sister was alive to meet Jace.
She would have given her whole self to him.
“I think it was because of the roles my parents had in public life. To be a leader like my mother is to be alone in many ways,” Khoth answered. “My father’s position as a justiciar meant that he had to keep his counsel private so he could not share his burdens either. And I believe Daesah and myself were quiet about our burdens because we didn’t want to weigh our parents down further, but also because we did not wish to disappoint them.”
“You thought if you told them how hard it was for you that they would be disappointed?” Jace guessed.
“I can understand that.” Jace let out a sigh. “When I was sick, I hid from my parents how bad it was. I didn’t want them to worry and I didn’t want them to think I couldn’t live like a normal person, even though I really couldn’t.”
“We wish to bring only joy and lightness to those we care for,” Khoth agreed. Then after a momentary pause, he added, “But, Jace, that cannot be how we are together.”
“No, no, we need to be honest with one another,” Jace said.
Khoth was pleased. He knew Jace meant this. He was here to lighten Jace’s burden and Jace lightened his. That was the core of what it was to be mates. They were there for one another beyond all else. He just hoped that Jace continued thinking this when Khoth objected to Jace grinding himself down without rest.
“There’s one ta’na left on your spine that I don’t know the meaning of or, maybe I do.” Jace touched the mating ta’na. “This one’s us, right?”
Khoth smiled broadly against the pillow. “Yes, it is us.”
When Jace touched it, there was the sensation of a silent chime ringing throughout his body. He curled his toes again. So much pleasure. So much contentment.
“It’s shaped like a tree with roots that are growing down through the other symbols along your spine,” Jace said, tracing those roots.
He’d only seen a glimpse of it in the mirror himself as he’d carried a sleeping Jace to bed. He would look at it closely another time. Besides, all that mattered was that it was there, not what it looked like. Still, he was pleased by the shape he’d seen and Jace described.
“A mate connects all life events as one,” Khoth said.
Jace was quiet for a moment and then with awe and glee in his voice said, “I can’t believe it. You’re mine and I’m yours and it just happened! Shouldn’t there have been a ceremony or something? This seems bigger than marriage! And how are we going to tell everybody?”
“These are all good points.”
Khoth turned over onto his back and pulled Jace against him. He’d gotten the young man to sleep for about an hour after their mating, but he’d woken to find bright, blue eyes watching him.
“You didn’t think this was going to happen this way, did you?” Jace asked, as he snuggled down against Khoth.
“No, I would have informed you if there was a risk of this,” Khoth assured him.
“Yeah, yeah, of course! Though I’m curious what you would have said and if I would have understood it. Because this is so much more than I’d ever hoped for,” Jace sighed in contentment.
“While I did feel that tingling along my birth ta’na when we were kissing earlier, I did not believe it would simply happen.” Khoth kissed Jace’s head. “Spontaneous matings like this are very rare. In fact, I’ve never actually heard of one in real life. There are only stories told of them. Great, fated lovers who moved the universe.”
“I think that resembles us, don’t you? Though just saying that feels a little arrogant,” Jace admitted.
“Yet, your role as Pilot is to do just that.”
“And your role as Commander is to help me do it. I’ve felt from the beginning that I couldn’t do this without you, Khoth,” Jace said quietly.
“You do not need to do it without me,” Khoth assured him and ran his hands through Jace’s short hair.
They should create some selchitte for their family. Their nascent House. It had to be something that would suit Jace’s preferred cut, though Khoth would like to see him with long hair at some point. He smiled as he considered designs and materials. They would have to be as unique as Jace.
“I wonder if it happened so fast between us, because I needed it to,” Jace murmured. “I know you were freaked out that you’d somehow trapped me with you for eternity or something and I didn’t want it.”
Khoth swallowed. “Yes, I was. I had not warned you in full about our mating practices. I had thought we would make a decision together. But then my body… Well, it did what it was meant to do, I suppose.”
Jace’s head snapped up to look at him. “I do want this, Khoth. I mean I’m in your head now. You didn’t exactly agree to that, but you’re okay with it.”
Khoth nodded. “Yes, Izail, it is most pleasant. Though it could be distracting if we indulge in speaking that way too much.”
Jace gave a reluctant nod in return. “You’re not hearing my thoughts now, are you?”
“No, I just feel your presence. That is all.”
“Good. That’s what I’m going for,” Jace told him.
“Is this something you must work at?” Khoth felt alarmed. The last thing he wanted to be was an additional burden to Jace. He already had enough voices in his head with Gehenna and the Osiris.
“No, not really. It’s a compartmentalization thing.” Jace shrugged. “It’s actually good practice. You remember how before we even went down into the lower levels that I was having those terrible headaches again?”
“Well, part of it is because I could hear the calls of all the little AIs on Haseon. I could feel all the broken connections. They were plucking at me like millions of fingers,” Jace explained. “I had to learn to keep them out when I need to and only open myself to some of them at a time.”
“That is most sensible. And the other reason?”
Jace cough-laughed and ducked his head. “You know that reason. Typhon.”
“Typhon? Ah, your anger at his treatment of me--”
“That was part of it,” Jace quickly interjected and grimaced. “But the truth was that I was jealous.”
“I do not understand why you would be jealous of Typhon. He is nothing compared to you,” Khoth answered, honestly confused.
“I think you are downplaying him a little bit. The man is like a Greek--ah, a Thaf’ell--god in terms of looks. And he’s clearly smart and brave and capable--”
“Compared to you?” Khoth’s right eyebrow lifted.
“Compared to anyone.” Jace grimaced again. “He just seemed so much more than me. I can’t explain it. He’s Thaf’ell and he was saving your dad and… I know he treated you badly, but people go back to exes who treat them badly all the time, because there’s feelings there. Deep feelings.”
Both of Khoth’s eyebrows were lifted. “I did not--and, clearly, do not--have any feelings for Typhon except disappointment that he behaved as he did with me all those cycles ago. He is a lesson to me on how not to behave.”
Jace let out a soft breath. “You prove just how superior you are to me when you say things like that. Because I realize how silly I am in comparison.”
Khoth caressed his cheek. “You are not silly, Izail. You can be silly, but you are not silly. You are so much more than you know. But, unlike Typhon, you keep yourself grounded and do not believe in your Greek god-ness.”
Jace grinned. “I am a Greek god. Total god material.”
Jace bent down and kissed Khoth on the mouth. They lingered in this kiss. Khoth’s binding ta’na tingled. He felt fireworks going off in his brain from Jace. His mate loved when they kissed. He especially loved when Khoth fluttered his tongue just so against his palate.
“This reading minds thing is going great,” Jace said breathlessly as they broke apart.
Khoth caressed his face again. Jace turned his head into it and kissed his palm. There was a happy, dreamy look on Jace’s beautiful face that was reflected in his thoughts. It was as if Jace was sunshine inside of his head. Warm and welcoming and healthful.
“I just hope that my need for you didn’t cause this,” Jace whispered. “I mean, I’m happy, but I want to make sure--”
“Izail, read my mind. Look into it. You will see no doubt there,” Khoth told him.
Jace went quiet for a moment, his eyes glowing blue, and then he laughed. A sweet blush covered Jace’s cheeks.
“You see? Neither of us was forced into this. It was exactly what we both wanted,” Khoth assured him.
“So what do we do?” Jace asked, all bright eyes.
Khoth tilted his head to the side. “What do you mean?”
“Well, do Thaf’ell have weddings or something like that? A celebration of being mated?” Jace asked.
“There is usually a small ceremony between the two mates, but I do not think that would be a party in your opinion,” Khoth answered.
“Really?” Jace looked disappointed. “Because weddings for humans are pretty big deals. You have all your family and friends that you can afford to put on a big party for and you eat, drink and dance all night. Then there’s the honeymoon.”
Jace sighed at the thought of this “honeymoon”. The thought of a party like Jace was suggesting was overwhelming. To share one’s most sacred feelings for a mate with hundreds of people? But if Jace wanted this…
“With everything going on would we have time for such a party?” Khoth asked, praying not.
“Probably not.” Jace sighed, deflated, and Khoth regretted saying that or hoping against the party. “But what about telling people? Our parents? The crew?”
“Such a relationship is normally shown with a change in selchitte.” Khoth touched his scalp where his used to be.
“So we need to figure something out for that! And I need to think up a cool special name for you, too,” Jace said and peppered his face with kisses. Jace settled back down against his chest with a happy sound. “Oh, I ordered some food for us. Someone should be bringing it soon.”
“Yeah, I told them but they’ll need to find a person to cook it and bring it. Though I could get one of the maintenance bots to do it, but they’re not really good at cooking,” Jace answered. “Their programming isn’t quite up to snuff.”
“What did you order?”
“All your favorite things. I’m hoping I’ll like some of them,” Jace admitted.
“Ah, that is most acceptable.”
Khoth let his eyelids shut as he caressed Jace’s hair, neck and back. The happy humming in his head increased pleasantly. He could almost fall asleep until a knock on the door brought them sustenance. He couldn’t wait to see Jace’s reaction to some of Haseon’s finest food. He frowned a little. It was nothing like the junk food that Jace seemed to adore. It was actually nutritious and came from food that was grown or bred on the planet. Khoth was certain that junk food was made in some terrible lab. But Jace did eat other things so…
It will be good for Jace to eat real food.
“I have Typhon and Amana fetching the database,” Jace said. “Evidently, it was damaged during the Khul fight. They dropped it when Davies and the others dropped them.”
“Do you have any idea what’s in it and why the Khul wanted it so badly?” Khoth asked.
“No, and I’m still leery about having Gehenna… well, she’s not here so maybe when it's brought up the Osiris can hack it,” Jace said. “The AIs tell me it was brought here some time ago, but they don’t have any real information on it either.”
“It is of great importance yet you have sent Typhon and Amana to retrieve it?” Khoth questioned carefully.
“I know. I know. After what I said about Typhon, here I am trusting him with something important,” Jace sighed.
“You were worried about my feelings, not Typhon’s. He could be lusting after me forever and it would not matter. I am yours,” Khoth reminded him. “But no, I was more concerned with them being… not crew.”
“Yeah, there’s that too. But the database was in their Compound. Or beneath it anyways. If I had Davies or one of the others take it that would not be friendly,” Jace explained.
“And they supposedly want to help. And we’re supposedly working together,” Jace pointed out.
“Of course. All sound reasons.”
“Besides, they can’t access it without me. I’ve had the AIs make sure of that,” Jace added.
Khoth smiled even as he kept his eyes closed. “I see. Clever Izail.”
“Always.” Jace undoubtedly was grinning too. “Trust but verify. We’ll see how they do with this task. It’ll tell them how far we can trust them with others. Like Davies.”
“He has lived up to his file,” Khoth admitted. “I am impressed. I am not the only one. All of the crew show surprising traits.”
“Yeah, they’re definitely interesting. Each and every one of them. I can’t wait to see what happens with the ones that we add from other species,” Jace said.
“Nothing is ever boring with you, Izail.”
Jace shot up. He was blinking rapidly and rigid as a board.
“Jace?” Khoth asked.
Jace slowly turned around to face him, a mixture of amusement and horror on his face. “Our food is here.”
“That is wonderful. I--”
Jace let out a high laugh as he added, “My mother brought it.”