"You have no right—"
"I have every right. Where would he be without this ship? Without me? Any other rogue trader would've left a defective navigator to the void."
"You do not own him."
A mirthless laugh. "Oh, but I do. I own you as well, unless you've forgotten. I saved you, just like I saved him."
Trivius told me the story once while he drank and I listened, how Sildus had found him bleeding out in an alley behind some shitty bar on some shitty mining colony. So fucked up he didn't even remember who shot him. Seemed like a pretty easy decision at the time. Didn't have much to lose then. He trailed off, regret edging into carefully crafted apathy. His hand found my knee under the table and didn't let go.
"You gave me a choice, Sildus," Trivius spits, voice wavering in fury. "Nyx didn't get that luxury."
"Navigators don't get to choose their own destiny, least of all broken ones."
"You broke him."
Something cracks, and the training dummy crashes to the floor in pieces. I hold my stance, breathing, and listening to the low hum of the witch lance. I can sense Kayp and her brother in her technomat nearby, she radiating excitement and he interest.
Love. Not the reverent adoration I feel from Kayp while I drift into unconsciousness with my head on her chest, or the shy, reticent affection I feel when she kisses me before I shut myself in the navigation chamber for a long journey. This is different. This is the easy, comfortable love of two people who are always connected even when separated by a million lightyears of void.
I finally lower the lance until the point rests on the floor, but my pulse hasn't slowed. What if he asks her to stay with him? What if he wants his sister back? What if she wants to go? My throat tightens as I return the lance to its rack on the wall. If it comes to that, it will be her decision, not mine.
Kayp catches up with me on the command deck, brother in tow. I stand up from her pilot chair when she calls for me.
"Nyx, I want you to meet my brother, Kassius," she says proudly, as if presenting him to a panel of judges.
"Pleased to meet you," Kassius says. There's a pause, then, "Why are his eyes black?"
The rage from earlier bubbles up again, and I suppress it, keeping my face relaxed and neutral as I turn back toward Kayp. "Oh," I say, forcing my voice to stay light, friendly, "are they?"
Another pause, and there's a slight breeze, presumably from Kassius waving his hand in front of my face like so many have done before him.
"Wait, you're blind?"
Kayp is mildly outraged, and inhales to speak, but I point to the blindfold covering my forehead and say "This one works," and hope he takes it as a threat.
"Well," Kassius says after an uncomfortable silence, "ready to go?"
I snap my head toward him. "And where are you taking her exactly?"
Kayp steps in this time. "Kassius was going to show me his ship. Do you…want to come?"
How clever of him. I keep my eyes on Kassius and nod. "You are not going alone."
"Well, here we are," Kassius says as we step off the transport. "The Ardata."
The Ardata. How fucking dare you. "How did it get that name, I wonder?"
"I suppose you wouldn't know—"
"I know who Ardata is."
Kassius rounds on me, an inscrutable emotion darting across his mind. "How do you know? Killian never tells that story."
"I didn't hear it from Killian."
He seems to deflate, takes a step back. "The old man must like you, then."
"What happened?" Kayp asks in a small voice.
"Ardata was Killian's first love," Kassius explains. "She was murdered by a navigator."
I stare at him, and say nothing.
We eventually come to a large plaza with doors leading off to the officers' quarters. Kassius circles the perimeter, naming off his officers at each door, until we come to the last.
"And this is where you'll stay, Kayp."
I almost choke. "What?"
Kayp shrinks back under my scrutiny as well as her brother's. "Nothing has been decided yet," she murmurs.
Kassius flashes with anger. "What do you mean, 'nothing has been decided'? We're together now. You're coming to live on the Ardata with me." It sounds too much like a command.
"I'm not going to just leave Nyx—"
My heart skips a beat. What if she chooses me?
"Nyx can come too," Kassius interrupts. "Although I already have a navigator who can actually see."
I narrow my eyes at him, but remain silent. I'll let him dig his own grave.
Kayp is stammering now. She is confused, torn. "But the Titansbane is my home now…" she trails off, gathering her thoughts. "You could come with me," she says hopefully.
Kassius draws back from her, betrayed, incredulous. "And leave my ship? I'm the captain here. I'm free."
She is angry now. Angry that he thinks so little of the ship she calls home, and the people she calls family. "Are you saying I'm not free?" she asks, her voice dropping an octave.
"You're the property of a Rogue Trader."
I cross my arms. "Sigmund," I pronounce the word precisely so that Kassius remembers that our captain has a name as well, "is a good man."
I know what it's like to be property, and it isn't this.
"He can be a butthead," Kayp begins, and I almost laugh because the phrase is so Kayp, "but he has no say in what I do or say." She is gaining confidence now. Good. "I make my own decisions."
Something snaps in Kassius. "I have just found you!" he bellows, taking a step forward. "You are my sister and we will not be separated again!"
Kayp's confidence withers, and she shrinks back from him, toward me. She is afraid of him.
Kassius storms away, leaving Kayp and I in stunned silence. I reach out for her and find she's shaking. I pull her into my arms until her breathing slows and her fear turns to dull apprehension.
Kayp paces as we wait in the cargo bay for a transport to arrive from the Titansbane. She exhales in time with each footstep, trying to keep herself calm. She doesn't want to worry me.
I wanted to trust Kassius. I wanted to believe that someone raised by the same people who raised Kayp would be just as quietly generous and loving as she could be. It's clear that he cares for her, but this…possessiveness. I've seen it before. I also know that it's possible to love someone and at the same time take away everything they hold dear. But what I don't know is what Kayp will do now. Or what I will do if she decides to leave.
The transport arrives then, and Krieger and Inaja step out. Kayp's pacing ceases and she starts toward Kreiger, relieved.
"She is not leaving!"
Kassius is armed now. His weapon sizzles and smells of raw promethium. Krieger and Inaja snap to attention, and I move in front of Kayp. I want to think that Kassius won't hurt her, but something is wrong with him. This anger is unnatural.
"Krieger, please don't hurt him!" Kayp shouts, then darts to my side. "Nyx, calm down." Her hand finds my shoulder.
In front of us the inferno of Kassius's rage blazes. "She is my sister! She is not leaving me again!" He continues forward, and Kayp takes a step ahead of me. She wants to fix this, but I think she is beginning to realize that she cannot have it both ways. I have no qualms about cutting Kassius down if he hurts her.
A crowd has gathered in the cargo bay, mostly apathetic. Killian Rage stumbles from the transport, yelling a few incoherent words before he finds his footing.
"Kassius! That's enough!"
"You're not leaving!" Kassius is still shrieking, seemingly unaware of Killian's existence. "We are going to be together! No one is taking you away from me!"
Killian moves to stop Kassius's advance, but Kassius easily shoves him to the side and continues toward his sister. He's going to hurt her.
I place myself between the two Washburnes and tear off my blindfold. "You will not point a weapon at her." I keep my voice low and dangerous.
"And who are you to stop me?"
I plant my feet, keeping Kayp behind me with an outstretched arm. "I love her," I begin, and she goes still, "and I will not let you touch her."
Kassius laughs, the sound eerily similar to the way Vult had laughed back on Anteris after I'd boiled his mind with the warp. "I'm not afraid of you."
Oh, but he is afraid.
The voices begin to rise in my mind again, kill him, fry his eyes, Kayp will never forgive me, boil him like you boiled that heretic, Emperor help me, I don't want to hurt him.
Suddenly Inaja is in front of me, charging at Kassius and roaring. Kassius moves to strike, but Inaja strikes first and almost effortlessly disarms him and pins his arms. Kassius struggles futilely, but then goes limp when Inaja's arms won't give. I blow out a sigh of relief and replace the blindfold over my forehead.
"You're not taking my sister away…" Kassius has given up fighting, but the desperation lingers.
"You don't own her," I tell him as if I were speaking to a child.
Half-hearted anger. "What do you know of loss?"
I can't stop the mirthless laughter that escapes me.
Inaja comes to me in the cargo bay on the Titansbane. Kayp separated herself from me as soon as we arrived back on the ship, and I let her go. I sit leaning against a wall, my knees drawn up to my chest, keeping watch over the transports. I trust Kayp, but love and desperation can drive a person to make terrible mistakes.
"Listen," Inaja begins in his warbly baritone. "I know you are being caring for Kayp and not want to make her sad, but—" he cuts off, and only begins speaking again when I look at him. "Next time her brother is being trying to hurt her, I will not being holding back."
I nod. Inaja is a strange combination of anxious and sentimental, and I can hear him shifting his weight from one foot to another.
"Next time," he continues, "there will be no quarter."
"I'll do what I have to," I agree.
Krieger's voice comes through the microbead and startles me out of meditation.
"There is…something for you to pick up from my quarters."
I sigh, reluctantly leave the cargo bay, and catch a ride up to the cathedrals. There is a soft off-key plinking sound coming from Krieger's room, and when I enter she is at her piano. Kayp is balled up in the corner, asleep.
I incline my head toward Krieger in gratitude. I'm glad that Kayp will have someone else to go to for comfort when the warp inevitably drives me insane. I can only hope that the name of a ship won't be her epitaph.
I gather Kayp up in my arms, and she mumbles something in her sleep and wraps her arms around my neck. I spend the rest of the night keeping vigil by the door of her quarters.
The next day we are hailed by the Ardata. "Permission to come aboard?" Killian's gruff voice echoes across the vox channel. "Someone wants to apologize."
We gather in the bay after Killian's transport arrives, and I'm relieved to know that I'm not the only one who brought a weapon. Kassius emerges from the small ship. Something in him has broken. He is sorry, yes, but as he shuffles forward I get the sense that he has realized he's out of his league. He may be related to Kayp by blood, but every one of us here would be willing to fight and kill for her. The Titansbane is her home.
She chose me. The thought fills me with triumph and pride. Despite the circumstances, I feel full, rooted, whole.
"Kayp," he says solemnly, "will you come live with me?"
Kayp's breathing hitches, and her energy is ragged and torn, but her voice doesn't waver. "I don't have an answer for you, Kassius."
She pleads with him to come with us, but he refuses. He is resigned to defeat.
I approach him then, close enough to discomfort him. "I will watch over her."
He doesn't answer. He doesn't trust me. I've given him no reason to do so. I take another step forward.
"If she ultimately chooses to stay here," I pause pointedly, "I promise you'll see her again."
He turns silently to walk back to the transport, but there is a weak strand of relief amongst the cables of heartbreak that are holding him together.
Later, Kayp kisses me before I shut myself in the navigation chamber, and I pull her to me and whisper "I love you" for the first time.