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Returning to the atevi side of the station was a relief to Irene. The proportions were welcoming, and the atevi -- Irene liked to watch the atevi, and they like to watch her. But Irene didn't mind; especially not now, when she was flanked by Cajeiri's bodyguard. The atevi respected her, and watched her, and left her alone.

Her mother did none of those things.

Irene let out a breath and walked a little faster. Cajeiri was waiting for her, waiting to hear how her meeting with her mother had gone. How had it gone? She could feel the answer in the tension in her shoulders, and the buzzing in her ears. But maybe Cajeiri would be able to see some better aspect of the situation, and help her figure out what to do. He was good at that, and it wasn't just because he was atevi, and so the questions he asked came from an angle and made her think. It wasn't just that; Cajeiri was so much more than that.

But when they reached the dowager's apartment, Irene was dismayed to find the way to Cajeiri's room was blocked. Everyone was very polite, but Cajeiri's bodyguard abandoned her to seek out the news, and Irene was shunted into a different room altogether.

Eventually the news came back to her: Cajeiri was ill. He had been fine this morning, but Irene knew how quickly things could change.

 

It was three days before they allowed Irene to see Cajeiri. They had to make sure that the illness was one that couldn't be spread by humans, and then they had to wait until Cajeiri felt well enough for visitors.

"I tried to tell them that I wanted to see you, Irene," he said as soon as he saw her. He looked weak and shrunken, not as solid as he should be. "But they wouldn't listen."

Irene was used to being at the mercy of the adults; adults decided everything, and children were expected to go along with it. She knew that Cajeiri was at the mercy of adults as well, even though he was going to be the ruler of the atevi some day. But he always had a plan for getting what he wanted, and this was no exception. "I shall ask mani to allow you to see me more often," he said. "She was here quite often when I was even more ill, I remember that very well, so I'm sure she'll understand. But I must ask her very properly."

"Are you ... very ill? Are you going to be okay?" Irene asked. The feeling in her chest when she thought about what it would be like if the answer was no -- she couldn't bear it if the answer was no.

Cajeiri got a strange look on his face, and Irene wondered if she'd accidentally stumbled across another of the things that atevi thought about differently than humans. She couldn't imagine Cajeiri bragging about his illness to make himself interesting, like a human might; he took her interest for granted on a fundamental level. But what did he imagine her thinking, when he told her how bad it was? Could he imagine her trepidation?

But then he said, "My mother wants me to return to the earth to recover. It is the most unnecessary thing, but the doctors seem to think there is some merit to it."

That was almost as bad as anything Irene had imagined. "Oh, no," she said.

Cajeiri looked unhappy. "I don't want to go," he said. "But they keep insisting that this is a very dangerous illness, and my father has spoken to me to say that it might be necessary. Not just to make mother happy, but to satisfy elements of the aishidi'tat."

Politics, Irene thought. She'd read everything she could about atevi politics, information from Mospheira, everything that was available to her, and Cajeiri had talked about it, but she still didn't trust her understanding. "I'm sorry," she said.

"Me too. I'll make sure... I'll ask everyone, Bren, mani, Lord Geigi, everyone who will listen, to look out for you if I have to go," Cajeiri said. "And we can write."

"No." Irene remembered -- her world, small, except for those letters, those tiny bits of hope, fading and fading as no response ever came. "I mean..." She made an effort. "Baji naji, Cajeiri. Until we are old enough to decide for ourselves."

He smiled, acknowledging the effort. He'd been upset about the lost letters too. "But now you must tell me about your mother," he said.

That took a while, because Cajeiri was interested in every nuance of Irene's mother's demands. "I don't think she can force you to go back to her," he said.

"She only wants me for leverage," Irene said. "But she's my mother. That counts, among humans."

"I will have to think very hard about this," Cajeiri said solemnly. "But I will do so, Reni. You may depend upon it."

And then the dowager appeared to chase Irene out with much thumping of her cane, because she'd been there longer than she was supposed to. But even though everything was bad and threatening to get worse, Irene left feeling a little better for having shared it all with Cajeiri.

 

She was able to visit Cajeiri the next day, and the dowager was having lunch with Lord Geigi. "So we will have more time today, unless Cenedi decides to be strict," Cajeiri said. "But I don't think he will, I think they mean for us to have as much time as we can, before I leave."

"So you're definitely going?" Irene asked.

"It has been decided," Cajeiri said. "But I have an idea about what you should do while I'm gone."

Irene braced herself; she never knew if Cajeiri's ideas would be brilliant or frightening -- or both.

"You know that we were supposed to start another round of talks with the kyo? And that I was supposed to be part of them? You should be part of them instead of me."

"But... I'm a Reunioner," Irene said.

"Yes, but you're also my associate, which is important, and even more than that, Bren obviously wants you to be a paidhi, so you should get started as soon as possible."

"Mr. Cameron? Wants me to--?" He'd never said as much to her.

"And I need you to do this, Irene," Cajeiri said, his voice full of a certain kind of persuasion.

Irene froze. "You're doing it again," she said.

"No, this is perfect," Cajeiri said. "It's good for everyone."

"Yes, but you're assuming that I'm yours to move around," Irene said. She was especially sensitive to being moved around because it was exactly what her mother did all the time. Just assuming, never asking.

She didn't mind it so much when Cajeiri did it, but she had at first. It was one of the things they'd had to negotiate, in the way that children do, pushing against each other and learning what would be tolerated and what would not. If they'd been adults, there might have been a war; they were children, there had been pushing and crying, and then they'd worked it out.

And so now she told him when he was stepping on her toes.

"I'm sorry," Cajeiri said, frowning. His posture changed; she couldn't identify exactly what about it was different, except that he was looking at her in the same way she was looking at him: puzzled, alert, interested.

The difference between her mother and Cajeiri was that Cajeiri listened, and he cared about making things right between them. And he really did think about it, and try to do what was best for Irene, not just what would be advantageous to him.

It was funny -- in a way that made Irene so disgusted sometimes she wanted to spit -- that someone who was a member of a different species, with totally different emotions, could manage to figure that out, when Irene's mother couldn't.

Irene gave a little bow to show that things were good between them again. Polite, always so polite among the atevi. She loved that too; the rules made her feel safe.

"Tell me more about how this will be advantageous," she said.

Cajeiri bowed in return, awkwardly because he was propped up in bed, but she could tell what he was doing and it made everything be completely back to normal. She folded her hands, ready to listen to what he would say.

"Of course you know as much of the kyo language as I was able to teach it, so you will be as useful as me. And you are young, so you will be able to take my place in that as well. And if you are paidhi, in training, if you are Bren's apprentice, then you will become more independent. You won't have to depend on me, or the goodwill of my friends, because you'll have friends of your own."

Irene listened with all her attention, and gave a tiny nod to each point. They were good points. "And my mother will not be able to get me, because I'll be needed," she said.

Cajeiri couldn't contain his enthusiasm. "Yes, you'll make yourself indispensible to them, very quickly. Don't you think this is a good plan?" he said. Not insistently, not trying to make it happen, just happy to have come to a solution and eager to share it. And it was clever, Irene admitted it. Especially the part about her mother. Thinking about that, she felt like a knot inside of her had been loosened.

"I like this plan," she said. "I like this plan very much, Cajeiri."

"If we work very carefully, we can make this happen."

Irene smiled, believing him.