Eclipse woke with her warmth still tangled in his. It took him a moment to process his surroundings: the fresh sunlight streaming in through Mirei’s window, the bedroom packed with books and papers and arcana besides the weapons he was familiar with, and the unaccountably strange and uncomfortable feeling of realizing he was at Starfall instead of in a world that truly welcomed a Hunter, never mind they had been allied for the last few months.
And then there was Mirei, arm thrown over him, long red hair cascading over the pillow. He gently tugged his fingers through it, glad of that difference from his year-mate. She had Mirage’s body, the scars he knew each origin of and his hands traced over the muscles of a Hunter. Too close to Mirage to see her beauty except with brotherly disinterest. Too far from Miryo to be comfortable with his year-mate’s other half. But this was different and it was in the differences that he could accept loving Mirei.
As if she felt his scrutiny, Mirei stirred in his arms and sat up, covers sliding down from her breasts as she squinted in the light. She looked over at him and caught her breath, not saying anything for a moment. Eclipse wondered, briefly, if the morning after was as awkward for her as for him.
“Mirei,” he said easily, keeping his hand on her hip, telling her without words this wasn’t a mistake.
She narrowed her eyes for a moment, then smiled. “Good morning.” Her voice was beautiful, hitting notes that Mirage had never been able to manage.
They had felt their way slowly into this relationship. He wished he could stop cataloguing which part of her was expressing, but that would only come with time.
“I suppose it’s time to train the doppelgangers,” he answered grudgingly. He didn’t want to leave this moment.
Mirei laughed and clambered over him out of the bed. “Are you sure Jaguar won’t want you back soon? He still claims I’m half his.” She found her tunic to pull it over her head.
Eclipse stayed quiet.
She started to glance over at him, then didn’t look away. “What?”
“You know there won’t be nearly as many Cousins soon,” he answered, finally standing up and pulling on his own clothes. “What Cousins there are won’t be the same either.”
Once Eikyo and Urishin had opened that door to a true relationship between Starfall’s society and that of the Cousins, things had to change. The Goddess had touched them, shared books worth of messages and prophecies, and even with the unbalance the Cousins had inherited, they were far more whole than the pre-reform daughters of Starfall. They had sons.
“Yes.” Mirei reached for one of her knives and pulled her triquetra over her head.
Eclipse wrapped one arm around her to lift it for a moment. “You don’t need Cousins to protect you.”
“Of course, I don’t.” Mirei turned around and narrowed her eyes at him. “I could take any number of them and you know it.” Even without her doppelganger reflexes, and he knew she missed those, she was still one of the best warriors the Silverfire Hunter school had ever produced. Warrior and witch.
“No Hunter school is going to take on the doppelgangers, and they still need to train in dance or war or whatever name you’re going to give to the blend you made of them,” Eclipse told her matter-of-factly. “Jaguar knows that and Satomi knows that, and they approve.”
Approve. She tilted her head at him, irritated at how cagey he was being. “Of what?”
“Of starting our own Hunting school.”
Mirei stared at him. Witches and Hunters had kept their difference from each other for centuries. While Mirei combined both skills and lives and in one body, she had never intended to make that standard procedure for all the girls to follow.
Eclipse grinned at her. It was so rare he got to surprise her.
She sputtered for a moment, then groaned. “First Void path, now this!”
“You’re the only one that understands it, Mirei,” he reminded her patiently.
She glared daggers at him and muttered something unmentionable.
It hit him a split second later that this was exactly the sort of exchange he had used to have with Sen. Not just Mirage, but his year-mate’s birth name before she graduated as a Silverfire Hunter and took a name fitting for the honor. It was an intimacy they had kept between them until she merged with Miryo. And for the first time with Mirei, he had that total ease without feeling uncomfortable being reminded.
He leaned over and cut off her complaints with a kiss.