hth: (bunny)
So in an attempt to take control of my life after my Summer of Angst, here is what I did: I set up a Kickstarter project to help me through the last phase of my novel.

Here it is: Fortunate Son on Kickstarter

I would love for you to take a look at it (if you haven't already come here from there, that is), and if you feel like you can chip in a little, obviously I'd love that bestest of all. But even if that's not in the cards, go look at the page! There's a little 15-minute video of me chattering dorkily about how much I love my book that might amuse you.

Now, if you're coming the other route, from the Kickstarter page rather than toward, here are a few links to some of my fanfic work. I chose these four stories because I think they're most similar to the kind of writing I do in my original work, so if you like them, you might like Fortunate Son!

Steadfast, Loyal, and True
Stargate: Atlantis fandom.
Ronon Dex, before and after the end of his world.
some sexual content: Ronon/Teyla, Ronon/Melena

Pink Ladies
Buffy the Vampire Slayer fandom.
Tara is a good girl. So was Drusilla, once.
some explicit vampiric violence

Daughters of Jerusalem
Firefly fandom.
River goes to finishing school.
non-explicit romance: River/Mal, Mal/Inara, Inara/River

Sibylla ti theleis
due South fandom.
Ten years after "The Call of the Wild" gave Ray Vecchio a wife and stole his best friend. Shantih shantih shantih.

And below the cut I've placed the first chapter of Fortunate Son, which is of course what is really most likely to let you know if it's a project you'd like to support. I hope it is, of course, but even if it's not, I honestly do appreciate your time.


Queen Semele stabled her fairy chargers alongside the mortal draft horses who drew the carriage tours around Old Wilmington. Shod with iron nails to keep them from running in the air or on the water, they were remarkable only for their great beauty and obvious breeding, and maybe for the red flash of fire that certain angles showed in their eyes – nothing that marked them undeniably as creatures of the Otherworld. Michael had always been fond of the pair of them, nameless because they had not chosen for their names to be known, ever since he was sixteen, puffed up with the honor of being the Queen's own stableboy and determined to prove his worthiness for the knighthood. Even then, fresh from his human life and ignorant about most of Iron Court's ways, he had never wanted anything else.

The horses were his apprenticeship, but being in their company was never a burden, or even really work. They'd been his first friends here, his teachers in that particular blend of pride and kindness that Michael would come to recognize as a characteristic of all sizes and shapes of purebred Neighbors. Iron Court belonged to beasts like these, Michael thought as he stroked the mare's nose, the ones who were only a little more than mortal – larger, brighter, wilder – but never so much more that they could not pass for natives of this world. Beasts like Captain Michael Bruce of the Magnolia Knights and his Queen.

He didn't know if the mare remembered him, but probably not. There had been other squires in the years since, and Michael was a middle-aged man now, or nearly. Even the hand he put on her muzzle had changed, two fingers lighter than it used to be. It was his only battle scar, the only wound that a giant's natural strength couldn't shake off.

Eager changeling children dreaming of knighthood might groom the chargers and muck out their stalls, but when a shoe needed changing, the Queen did so herself. Semele hummed an old tune, bars of it surfacing when the sharp clang of her hammer paused, and when she drew another nail out of her upswept hair, a lock as black as her stallion's coat fell alongside her face. She shook it back absently and spoke to her steed in the low, burring language that Michael had never bothered to learn. Even among the purebreds, only the very oldest of old ones still recalled how to speak the language of the Young Lands.

“My Queen,” Michael said. “I'm afraid I bring you bad news.”

“It won't be worse news when I'm finished here,” she said amiably. “We're enjoying the quiet, Himself and I. Are we not, handsome?” The charger made no answer, except to narrow his eyes and shake his mane a bit when Semele began to drive the final nail.

Michael waited, putting discomfort out of his mind. He was far too large to stand comfortably in the confines of a stall shared with two fairy chargers, a queen, and her lady's maid waiting in the shadows, and the lack of moving air meant that his clothes had stopped drying, remaining stuck to his arms and legs with a coarse layer of sea salt between, not to mention the sand in his boots. When the adrenaline haze of battle faded, he was always left like this, too fragile to contemplate the mysteries of life and death, fixated instead on longing for a hot bath. All the worse on nights like tonight, when he had to fight his battles without a sword and against no enemy that he could see or understand.

“Ah, you fine one,” Semele said to the horse as she released his foreleg from her lap. She had tied the skirt of her ballgown into a knot to keep it off the dirty floor while she sat on a crate, and a line of that old ballad passed through Michael's head – Janet tied her kirtle green above her knee. Indeed, Semele had always looked more like a willful girl than like the fell and angry Queen of the story, as if her love of the human world had settled inside her and molded her to its shape. “Until you collect your debt from me, have my thanks.” He bowed his head respectfully, and Semele shifted and held her hands up toward Michael.

They were pale and cold, and after he helped her to her feet, Michael rubbed them between his for a moment, but her fingers were still stiff when she curled and uncurled them, numb from the handling of so much iron. “No sorcery for me tonight,” she said, locking her fingers together and stretching them high above her head as she rose onto her toes.

“He's dead,” Michael said, because it wasn't in his nature to soften the truth. “That boy.”

“I know,” she said. “And his body?” Michael hesitated, but there was no softness here, either. He shook his head, and for a moment some tension around the corner of her eye hinted at Semele's anger, but she released it with a little sigh. “Well. The sea must eat.”

The sea and its creatures could be fed just as well on something other than the bones of changeling boys, in Michael's opinion, but then he never pretended to be an expert in the ways of the Mare Queen's court or her uneasy relationship with her Gentry cousins on solid ground. Michael was a creature of rock and forest, and just because he'd been through the eerie drowning ritual euphemistically known as going by sea himself many years ago didn't mean he understood it. He mercifully remembered little of it, but he knew the important thing: that he had washed up on the shore alive, and changed. That made him one of the lucky ones.

Semele touched his beard with her sallow fingers, a rare frown darkening her eyes. “It was no failure of yours, you know. You want to arm them, but only what is inside goes with a person into the sea.”

“He was just a boy,” Michael said. He'd been a year younger than Michael when he went by sea. Michael didn't know what kind of arms anyone with so few experiences in the world could be expected to carry inside of him. What had he carried within himself at that age, except for disappointment and desperation?

Semele picked up her book from the floor and brushed off the damp straw before sliding it into a wide pocket in her skirt. “I came here to be alone,” she said, her attention fixed on untying the knot in her skirt.

“I'm sorry. I thought you'd want to know.”

“I did know,” she said sharply, but when she straightened up and looked at Michael, she softened. “Were you diving long?”

“Not long,” Michael said, even though in reality he had no idea. It hadn't felt long. The sea must eat, but Michael was a giant, and giants were not known for surrendering their hold. He might not be enough of a knight to protect the children who had to go by sea, but he was enough of a fighter to make the Mare Queen's fishbelly subjects struggle to hold on to the corpses of the ones who failed. Sometimes he brought back enough to bury.

Semele curled her cold hand around his forearm and said, “Take me home, Captain.”

They made a strange sight on the street – Michael's workmanlike black clothing still soggy, the Queen in her gown, and the Queen's goblin maid trailing behind them in a miniskirt and a
hooded sweatshirt to mask her feral eyes and predator's teeth. No stranger than Wilmington saw on many a night, so close to the heart of Iron Court, but it was Michael's job to be alert and he was aware of the odd looks that any Neighbor party was bound to receive along the waterfront. The scrutiny made him edgy for no clear reason, and he found his body trying to react without his permission, his shoulders stooping inward and his steps coming slow and loping until he corrected it by force. Among his own kind Michael knew himself to be the knight that he had been for so many years; when he was surrounded by humans, time wound itself out of shape and threatened to turn Michael into the awkward rock giant he could as easily have become. If not for Iron Court. If not for Semele.

A trio of girls in dresses – short and fitted, nothing at all like a Gentlewoman's high Court attire – passed by them at a run, their high heels clattering on the narrow cobblestone sidewalk, taking turns catching each other as they lost their balance. Semele watched them come and go, and when she looked back up at Michael he saw her true smile for the first time that night. “Do you think they're going dancing tonight?”

“Drinking, more likely.”

Semele sighed, but it was a pleased sound. “On another night I would've joined them. Ah, well. Mortal girls have no palate for wine.” When Michael didn't respond to that – it wasn't a question, and mortal girls were well outside Michael's area of expertise – Semele said, “If I had not been a Queen, I think I would have liked to run a winery. The scenery would suit me, and the visitors, and vine spirits are soft, happy little things, more sociable than ivy and less brooding than the treefolk. It sounds like a very pleasant life to me. What would you have been, Michael? If you had not been what you are.”

“Dead.” Michael had not been afraid, when it was his time to go by sea, and not because he was overconfident. He'd simply known that the risk of doing it was death, and the certain price of not trying at all was the same. The purebreds never seemed to understand that – how hellish the life of a changeling child was, caught between states, with neither a human soul nor a stone heart. They all died sooner or later, most by their own hand, some by the slower suicide of self-medicating addictions or the haphazard one of reckless and angry thrillseeking. They found their way to a court like this one, to someone who knew what kind of great and dangerous deed would win their transformation into whatever monster or godling slept inside their hollow bodies, or else they died.

Sometimes they found their way here and then died, of course.

“You are determined to make me cry tonight, aren't you?” Semele said. “Dammit, Michael. What good do my tears do?”

“No good,” he agreed.

Semele stopped walking and turned to face him. “I am seven hundred years old, and year by year I have seen the ranks of the pure children of the Young Lands fade and die out, and the number of changelings increase. Do you think I have made my court the strongest in the New World by weeping like a banshee over the world that has passed away? Let lesser Queens live in the dim past and scorn changelings as shameful bastards and degenerate weaklings. Iron Court is more changeling than pure, and if that is so, then so am I.”

Michael couldn't restrain a scoffing noise at that. Semele's blood was as pure as if she'd been spun out of twilight and moonstone by the Goddess' own hand. Michael wasn't fool enough to question Semele's wisdom on any subject, but knowing the changelings she ruled was different from being one of them.

“The Court is the Queen,” Semele reminded him sharply. “Do not think that I don't grieve for these children. I see them with eyes you can't imagine. I see them out of time: what they could become as much as what they have been. You see only yourself in them, but once I lay eyes on them, I know all of them. For you, a hope died tonight. I lost a child. Don't needle me with death to see if I'll bleed. See to your own mourning.”

Mourning didn't come easily to Michael, but anger was a fist around his heart that he knew how to live with, so he said, “Is that why you surrendered the Queen's Road? Because if they die before they get close enough to make you look at their faces-- ?”

Semele slapped him across the mouth as hard as she could, which was only hard enough to get Michael's attention. It was what Michael had expected, but then again nothing like what he'd expected, because however hard he searched, he couldn't see the shadow of the Queenship in her. He'd been as insubordinate as he knew how, and certainly Michael had seen lesser threats to Semele's authority bring out the possessing spirit of the goddess that lived in her – but tonight she was flesh and blood, her dark eyes wide and startled by this small betrayal from a friend. Tonight it was just the two of them.

“Is that what people believe? We didn't surrender, Michael. We were defeated. Remember?”

He remembered it very well. “People believe the sun wouldn't rise over Wilmington without Semele the Great's permission.” Michael could almost believe as much, and he was closer to the Queen than most, saw her as half a friend and only half a legend. “People believe had to have known the war was unwinnable with the numbers you sent.”

“There was much in motion, and few who could see all that was required. I did what was necessary, at that time.”

It felt like the chance Michael had been waiting for without knowing it for two years. He caught her forearms in her hands and leaned closer to her. “So it's a different time now. Let's open it.” Semele began to shake her head, but if she hadn't said no yet, then it wasn't no, and Michael put his whole stone heart into his deep voice as he pleaded, “We can do it, we can start now. They're weakest in the autumn, and my people can be ready on a dime. My Queen, it can be the way it was again. The Beast Kings can fear the sign of Iron Court from here to the mountains.”

“Oh, my dear Michael,” she sighed. He looked away in frustration, hating the pity in her eyes as she said, “Not this year.”

Not this year. Nor the last, nor the year before that. They'd pulled back first from the Outer Banks, and then from the southern front in the swamps of South Carolina, and Michael had kept his thoughts to himself as a knight should. Even after they surrendered– were defeated on the long Queen's Road itself, the one that connected Iron Court in the east to the free Neighbor stronghold of Asheville in the west, Michael hadn't been able to make himself believe it was over and done with. Believe that Semele would really permit Wilmington to become so isolated, locked in by its enemies and turned into something beautiful but paralyzed, like a city frozen in amber.

“We're a shadow of what we were,” he said. It was so painful to admit of the city and Court that had been his salvation, that had given him someone to be and a reason to be alive.

Semele smiled at him as she pulled her arms out of his grip. “The Court is the Queen. Come, Michael. We're almost home.”

She turned away from him, gathered up her skirts and ran. When Michael was a young man with too much energy, Semele used to race him and make him struggle to keep up, but now Michael followed easily; iron-weakened as she was, she couldn't make the space flicker and fold around her feet, and so she was only a petite woman in high-heeled boots, nothing like a match for a giant's strides.

They reached the windowless vault of the renovated factory on the waterfront that served as Semele's home and the heart of Iron Court, but instead of turning up the hill to reach the front doors, Semele ran up the fire escape to the roof, further slowed by the heels of her boots sticking on every third step in the iron grating. Behind Michael, Keren swore and put on a burst of speed to pass him by, pelting up the stairs just behind her mistress, so that it was she and not Michael who was there to catch Semele when she swooned at the top, both Keren's arms around Semele's waist to keep her on her feet by a technicality.

Michael reached the top and put his own hand under Semele's elbow for support. “Too much iron,” he chided gruffly. “It's one thing not to fear it, but sometimes I think you love it too much.”

“I like to see how the world looks, with all the enchantments broken,” she said. “It's good to remember what's real sometimes.” She took hold of his wrist, but instead of pushing his mutilated hand away, she pressed it against her breastbone. “Can you feel my heartbeat?”

“No. Wait – maybe?” It was very faint under his thumb.

“It's almost gone,” she murmured, tilting her head forward so that Michael couldn't see her face beneath the night shadows. “My heart of stone.”

It was a common expression among the Gentry, who thought of the heart as a weight that anchored them to this world, but somehow Michael felt as if she'd heard the drift of music in his earlier thoughts – oh, had I known at early morn Tam Lin would from me gone, I would have taken out his heart of flesh, put in a heart of stone. Humans had many variations of the song, as humans always did, but there was a Gentry version as well, a sad song that they liked to play late in the maudlin hours of a fading party. That one was the lament of a fine Queen whose true love had been reived away, tempted by a girl who held the one thing that a Queen of the Gentry in all her splendor could not reliably offer – a child. Michael wasn't a sentimental man, but he found the song uncomfortable. When the Gentry were in a melancholy mood, they could make even the devouring sea weep.

“No, no, no,” Semele muttered, twitching restlessly under his touch. “We won't cry tonight, Michael, neither one of us. I won't have it. I should've gone dancing. Dance with me, my dear.”

“Come on, now,” Michael said. “You've seen me dance. That'd give us something to cry about.”

“Keren will dance with me, won't you, darling?” Semele pushed back the hood of Keren's sweatshirt, and her large eyes flashed the yellow of floodlights across the Cape Fear fog. Semele was not a tall woman, even by human standards, let alone the norms of the willowy Gentry, but Keren was smaller still, chest-height to Michael and a suitable dancing partner for her Queen, deftly following Semele's easy swing and footsteps that were nimble even without magic. They made a pretty sight, Michael thought; it was easy to scorn the eerie beauty of goblin women, half cat and half serpent with their wide features and their swaying, stalking movements, but Michael had learned early the foolishness of judging all Neighbor women by the exacting standards of lissome Gentry delicacy. One of his earliest love affairs had been with Keren's sister, who served as the chatelaine of the Princess Estrella's fortress on the old northern front, where the Magnolia Knights were garrisoned in the early days of the war. Keren and Keziah Jobs were two of a set of identical triplets – goblins came in litters more often than one by one – and Michael felt certain that the many lovers who featured in court gossip about Keren Jobs had as few regrets as Michael did about his affair. They had that same lush, decadent curve to their smiles.

Keren's smile vanished abruptly when Semele's knees buckled mid-mambo, and this time the Queen's weight was more than Keren could support easily. She sank with Semele to the rooftop, kneeling on the pool of Semele's skirts and working her sweatshirt off to wrap around Semele's shoulders, while Michael stood helpless and puzzled. Semele had always been careless around iron, and while it broke her sorcery as surely as it did most Otherworld powers, it should never have gone through her like this physically, not without being imbedded inside her.

Semele slumped against Keren's chest, looking small inside the bulky sweatshirt. Keren's eyes flashed angrily as she looked up at Michael, but Michael wasn't fooled, recognizing in her face his own familiar trick of conjuring up anger when what he really felt was fear and fading hope. “She's tired,” Keren said in her husky voice. “She sleeps so badly.”

“That's true,” Semele said with a wry little smile as she took Michael's hands and let him carefully lever her to her feet. “I can't seem to force myself to bed. My daughter was this way when she was small; even when she was exhausted, she resented being ordered to sleep. Oh, and wasn't everything a struggle with that one? And why not, when mamma always surrendered in the end? How I spoiled my children.”

“No, my Queen,” Michael said. “You only loved them.”

“No, no, it's the truth. But I couldn't help it. I delighted in them. It was as if I saw everything beautiful about myself in their sweet faces. You can't imagine what it's like, my friend, to live so many years, and then to discover something so new. They pay the price for my indulgence now. Estrella seeks to please only herself and manages not even that, and Lorenzo-- Ah, my darling dear little boy. He's had everything I could give him, and he remains the hungry wolf of my realm, carrying winter with him wherever he goes. There's a good heart in him, but there is something perilous there, as well. I can't see what he will become. Too much love can cloud the sight that way.”

“No one knows how a child will grow,” Michael said. There was no particular love lost between Michael and Lorenzo, and he hardly viewed the notorious Black Prince of Iron Court as a child, but when that soft look passed over Semele's face it was easier to imagine him that way, through the eyes of a doting mother.

“I'm sure your mother would agree,” Semele said lightly, and Michael looked away with a little scowl. The human woman who had given birth to him and brought him up had never known what to make of Michael, any more than he of her, and to Michael's way of thinking their fates had separated forever when he went into the sea and survived. He could recall her name – Cynthia Bruce – but everything else about her was isolated and impressionistic in his mind, even her face. In another life, he'd had a mother, but in this one he had only his Queen. “You will be a better parent than I was,” Semele said.

Parenthood was rare among knights, even among those like Michael who could hope to be far more fertile than the Gentry. Rare, but certainly not unheard of, and it didn't surprise Michael that Semele knew he'd considered the subject at length. She knew his mind more often than not. “Phoebe and I have talked about it,” he said, although he did not add that neither of them would seriously entertain the idea while there was still hope of another campaign, this fall or the next.

He thought it would come as good news, but Semele frowned and put her hand on Michael's shoulder. “You do not love her.”

It seemed like a strange objection, coming from Semele, who had never bothered to name the father or fathers of her children, let alone marry or even designate a consort. Semele was not a nun, but she was her own woman, first and last. Nothing about her life would have indicated to Michael that she valued romance over children. “I love all of my sister-knights,” he said, “and my brothers, too. But you're right, we thought less about love and more about the chance to bring a child of something like pure giantish blood into the world. We're so few now.”

“And with mostly human genes wrapped around your stone hearts,” Semele agreed thoughtfully. “To pass on the old blood from father and mother – yes, I can see the appeal. And...I have seen that for you, I think, although I wasn't sure at the time what I was seeing. But...yes. Joined to one of your knights by life as well as by the work of war, bound all through your life's labyrinth by the children you share. You will make a very fine father. It is a good fate.”

It was, Michael guessed. Plenty of people would be happy with it, especially other giants, who most often liked their lives rooted in place, sturdy and resistant to extremes of action and feeling. “You promised me another destiny once,” he said.

“And you shall have it.” Semele closed her eyes briefly, sounding tired but certain. Michael could count on the fingers of his bad hand the times he'd ever heard Semele sound less than certain. “You shall be a War Duke and a mighty slayer of monsters and bring such honor on your Queen as this world has never witnessed. All of it, Michael. Yes.”

There was such kindness in her soft voice, nothing of the fierce goddess, everything of the mother whose children were all grown and more than half gone. Michael regretted ever picking a fight with her, regretted trying in his clumsy way to strengthen her will by bringing out her royal rage. Gently, he kissed the top of her head. “My life for Iron Court.”

“Don't,” Semele said curtly, shaking her head until Michael pulled away. “Don't say that. We have death enough about us tonight without you threatening knightly martyrdom.”

“Is that how I die, then? Is that why you won't set me free to fight?”

“Michael, I wouldn't tell you how you die, even if I knew. No man should know such a thing, nor no woman. I love you much too dear to damn you so.”

“She needs to rest,” Keren said.

Michael stepped to Semele's side and gave her his arm to hold. “Yes, please put me to bed,” Semele said dryly. “I'll go ever so quietly, without even one last lullaby. I could sleep forever, except that – I worry so over them. My children.”

“They can take care of themselves,” Michael said, which he considered an understatement. Two more willful people he'd never met in his life, even among the Gentry. He guessed that was what came of being born to the blood royal.

Semele seemed to agree, from the wry tone of her voice as she said, “Taking care of themselves is the one thing I trust them both best to do. What worries me.... I worry that they'll quarrel. Over something – it could be anything, really. Estrella is stubborn, and Lorenzo ambitious. They could tear the world in half between them, if they set their minds to it. Everything I have, they would shatter, to keep it out of the hands of an enemy.” She looked up at Michael, her dark eyes suddenly sharp, nothing sleepy at all in them. “I have given them freedom in all things, all their lives. For good or for ill, that is what I have done. But I made them give me one promise only: that they would never make enemies out of one another. I put it in your hands, Michael, to remind them of that if there should ever be a need. Will you do that for me?”

“If you think they'll listen to me,” he said, which he hoped was the polite courtier version of why would you ever think they'll listen to me?

“They will hear you,” she said. “Whether they listen or not.... Well, it was all I ever asked of them. Perhaps when it comes to the moment of truth, that will weigh with them. Keren, I have a task for you, as well. Go tomorrow and throw one of my diamonds to the sea. When the whiskey horses come, say that Queen Semele intends it as a gift, and if the Mare Queen wishes to return the favor, we will accept the bones of-- Michael, what was his name?”

“Jim,” Michael said. “Jim Pfeiffer.”

“That we will accept the remains of our Jim in return.”

“Of course, my Queen,” Keren said without batting an eye. Michael flinched a little to imagine what would be left of the boy after spending the night in the sea's care, but of course not even the most stylish and ladylike goblin ever born would give a moment's thought to carting a bag of bones and bloating flesh from the beach to town. It was just part of their goblinish charm.

“There,” Semele said with a little sigh. “That's the night's business, and what hasn't been done won't be done. So be it. Get me to my rest.”

They walked her cautiously back down the fire escape, Keren behind the Queen and Michael leading her way with her fingertips on the back of his arm for balance. At the door to her private rooms, Michael turned her over to Keren with a bow in both their directions, and Semele touched his face, a fond stroke of his beard before she turned away to lean on Keren's shoulder and be coaxed to the other side of the closing door one careful step at a time. She seemed so light now, as if each experimental step tested out whether she could keep her feet in contact with the ground. Michael had seen this with the Gentry before – how they aged, not in the face or posture as humans did, but thinning somehow from the center outward, never less than beautiful, but gradually turning into an exquisitely delicate antique. It was just hard to believe that time could ever touch Semele the way it did lesser subjects like humans, and Gentry, and mountains.

Once his night was his own again, Michael was suddenly aware that he was exhausted enough to envy Semele; falling down right where he stood sounded great right about then. But he'd probably lie there for days before they found someone capable of picking him up again, and anyway he desperately wanted to wash the sea off of himself. Michael blundered in a weary haze through a shower and found his bed by pure instinct.

There were no windows in Michael's bedroom, but he had an instinctive sense of dawn when he woke. It wasn't the intuition of light that had awakened him, though, but feeling someone else's presence. He pushed himself up on his elbows, blinking back and forth between the three knights who had surrounded his bed – Naima, his second, and her cousin Kendrick, and Phoebe closest by Michael's side. Phoebe's broad, craggy face, which usually struck Michael as dignified if unbeautiful, was stretched into something ugly by tension, her jaw jutted forward and her eyes red. “Captain,” she said. “Michael....”

“What's wrong?”

“It's Semele. She's...”

Phoebe couldn't seem to finish, looking down at the edge of Michael's bed as she twisted her thick fingers into her belt. Michael looked to Kendrick, whose head was hanging low as well, and at last to Naima. Purebred and perfect in her Gentry poise, Naima wasn't crumpling in on herself like the others were; she was as tall and elegant as ever, but brittle somehow, with the dim light from the room outside bending itself respectfully around her, allowing her to wear shadows like a shroud. Michael shook his head once, but Naima didn't move at all, and that was how Michael knew for sure. Nothing but the end of the world as they knew it could keep Naima from contradicting him.

“They tried to wake her,” Phoebe said.

Michael's chest seemed to struggle stubbornly against allowing the air in, but he grabbed hold of himself as best he could. Phoebe shouldn't be made to say – not this, not out loud. “I know,” he said hoarsely. “I've...known. That it was coming.”

She'd known, too. I love you much too dear, she'd said, to damn you so, and Michael shuddered and leaned back against his headboard, scrubbing his hands over his face. “I can't....” he said. “She was....” Immortal. Invincible. Necessary. The Queen is the Court. My life for Iron Court.

A strange sound came out of him, something like a rockslide, like something that once seemed permanent crumbling down for good. Phoebe gripped him with rough, giantish kindness, one big hand on the back of his neck and the other against his chest. “'S all right,” she said.

The sound broke when his shoulders hitched hard, but he couldn't stop it for long, couldn't do anything but close his eyes and disintegrate into the low, keening sound, the sound, Michael was sure, of his stone heart breaking.
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