The late morning air was sunny and truly warm, balmy enough that the chief cook of the Court had ordered the windows of the Blue Star Terrace opened for the first time in months. Issar Nikara was in the middle of enjoying a bowl of the Terrace's famous herdbeast stew when Haskell broke a piece of essential news, glancing past his sister Hask and Nikara as they all sat at their usual lunch table beside one of those windows and remarking: "That's that, then."
Nikara, who had only known the two sprites for a month and a half, just looked puzzled, but Hask, who had long familiarity with her brother's habit of packing a lot of meaning into few words, immediately craned her neck to follow his gaze.
"Don't," Haskell said darkly.
"Oh?" Hask stared a moment longer, then quickly snapped her head back around, her violet cheeks flushing a deeper pink and her small mouth curving in a catlike smile. "Oh!"
"What's going on?" Nikara demanded, and started to turn in his seat. Hask stopped him with a slender hand laid quickly over his and a little shake of her head.
"Just pretend you don't see them," she advised, and glanced at her brother, who confirmed her advice with a curt nod of his square chin. "They'll pass below us in a few seconds anyway, if they're heading for the Silk Library."
"They are," Haskell confirmed. "Megabyte's got that appointment with the head —"
"Megabyte?" Nikara desperately wanted to turn his head but restrained himself with the greatest difficulty. The entire Court was talking about the tall virus with the deep enthralling voice and, it was said, an insatiable lust for power — and designs on the Red King's throne. Nikara, being a keen student of sentient nature, definitely wanted to see more of the 'man' who promised to make things very interesting in the relatively near future. "Who's he with?"
"Bob!" Hask exclaimed, and hid a giggle behind her hand, sharing a mischievous glance with her dour brother.
Nikara raised a puzzled eyebrow. "And…? That's nothing unusual." Bob was Megabyte's right hand man, a warrior who operated outside of the strict chain of command the virus ruthlessly enforced among his troops and yet, it seemed, had more influence with him than any. Not that that was saying much: it was said that once Megabyte made a decision it was a thing set in steel.
"Oh, yes it is," Hask said gleefully. "Just wait 'til they come by!"
"All right," the scholar said cautiously, glancing back and forth between them as if doubting their mutual sanity. His gaze came to rest on the big-boned brother of the pair. "You know, I'll never understand how for someone who's so stingy with words, you always seem to know who's up to what at any given time."
The sprite shrugged and took a sip of his cup of k'rahl. "People like good listeners," he muttered.
"Better not let Megabyte get wind of that," Hask advised him with a merry gleam in her emerald eyes. Nikara could have gazed into them forever; he wondered why the sprites had irises so much brighter than those of most other humanoids, their tones jewel-like, catching every scintilla of available light. "He'd find some way to use it before you could blink twice."
Haskell's concern, it seemed, could only be measured in the negatives. "Didn't mind us taking up with Bob."
Another bright giggle from the charming singer. "Well, that's not going to be an issue any more!" she said with a delight that puzzled Nikara; he'd thought that she and her musician brother were rather fond of the Guardian who also hailed from their distant reality. Certainly they'd bedded him, which would seem to indicate a certain degree of affection.
"Wait," the scholar said, the penny finally dropping, "are you saying that —?"
Haskell nodded toward the courtyard two stories below. "There," he said, and out of the corner of his eye Nikara saw them stroll into view: side by side, Bob on Megabyte's right and thus on the side further from the Terrace, their heads inclined toward each other as they proceeded unhurriedly toward their destination. The virus's draconic facial structure made his expressions difficult for some people to interpret, but Nikara could make out the edge of what looked like a smile, and the Guardian was definitely looking immensely pleased with himself as he gazed up into his companion's face, his amber eyes half-lidded and his lips curved in a sly challenging smirk that made his features appear even more foxlike in spite of his azure skin.
They weren't touching — in fact there was a good foot of space between them, and Megabyte's clawed crimson hands were neatly clasped behind his back as they walked — but something in the way their bodies related to each other, a subliminal quality that Nikara would have had to work hard to put his finger on, made the air between them practically incandescent. They were talking quietly together, their voices reaching the second story only as tones — Bob's words light and agile, Megabyte's words heavy and dark — and they appeared completely oblivious to the three spectators watching them from above. Glancing back to his lunch companions, Nikara saw Hask looking almost deliriously happy while Haskell appeared to take a glummer view of this turn of events.
"And this is new?" Nikara asked, turning his gaze back to the sprite and virus below.
"New since yesterday," Hask chimed in. "I guess one of them finally made a move."
"Only took them three months," Haskell grumbled.
"That wasn't Bob's fault," Hask said tartly, wrinkling her little nose in a way that Nikara found so absolutely adorable, he could have kissed it.
Before the siblings could get into one of their arguments that consisted of Hask pouring out waves of eloquence that ran headlong against the immovable rocks of Haskell's monosyllabic rebuttals, Nikara intervened: "So when you say 'that's that', you mean…?"
"No more good times with Bob," Haskell said glumly, and turned his attention back to his hasparat salad, stabbing at the green leaves with unnecessary force.
"Aw, don't be so sour," Hask chided him, her gaze still following the clearly happy couple. "I'm glad for him. He's waited so long for this."
In spite of his personal resolution not to pry into the details of the sex life of the woman he was more than a little infatuated with, Nikara couldn't help asking: "Are you sure he's entirely out of play?"
"Yes," Haskell stated flatly. A bright sharp laugh drifted up from below — Bob's — and a deeper rumble of an amused reply, low and intimate in spite of the carrying quality of the voice that conveyed it.
"Bob's a one-man guy," Hask amplified, "when he's really in love. And if that's not love," she concluded, picking up her fork again and casting a final satisfied glance in the direction of the sprite and virus strolling below with no attention to spare for anything else, "I don't know what is."
For one mad instant, Nikara briefly considered hooding his eyes and trying Bob's smile on for size, and telling her that he could really show her what love meant if she'd give him half a chance. But the insanity lasted only a fraction of a second; then he was himself again, a student of humanoid sociology who had no real idea how to handle the lovely companion that fate had dropped into his lap. Gazing after Bob and Megabyte as Hask and Haskell proceeded to disagree in their inimitable style, he reflected that at least one couple in Omalan was as blissful as he himself could never hope to be — and that there was indeed a certain comfort to be found in that prospect, on such a warm and beautiful spring morning.