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Praise for the Loved

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Being back on earth, being able to be back on earth, is comforting and surreal at the same time. The alarm goes off at 4:45 and she's up already, too excited to be still a moment longer. The old routine is like a worn in hoodie; scrubbing toilets is ridiculously predictable and normal and a relief. No one is trying to kill her. She knows what she's supposed to be doing at any given time. Her mom says 'I love you' before they all go to sleep.

Just behind the facade of normalcy though, above the atmosphere and behind her eyes, the whole insane universe sprawls out. Her life was claustrophobically small and confining, all of her options dead headed by lack of a little piece of paper; but now the options explode out in front of her like a startled flock of birds.

She could stay home. Intergalactic Advocate Bob had showered her with little crystal business cards once the whole Ascension process was straightened out. Apparently he specialized in inheritance law, but he could recommend many qualified advocates to help her become familiar with her new possessions. All she had to do was let them set everything into a holding pattern for 70 years or so and she could live out her life in peace.

Or she could head out into space, engines on full, take the reins of the biggest commercial enterprise in all of eternity and give the proverbial finger to Titus, that asshole. The intergalactic advocates could assist with that too, and Caine would help. Caine would always be a step behind her no matter what, and he'd ask Stinger to sign on without a second thought. Hell, Stinger and Kiza seemed downright eager to provide information about the larger universe; some mix of guilt for valuing each other over some women they'd never met and gratitude for giving Stinger the option to re-join the Legion.

Jupiter is pretty sure he cares less about the wings and more about affording Kiza's health care.

It only took a week or so of driving herself crazy over which option to pick before debate club training popped up to yell "False Dichotomy!" It was a perfectly sane and logical choice to stay on earth, at least for now, and learn as much as she could before trying to take on the whole universe. She ended up wiping her family's memories all the time trying to learn How To Be A Space Queen in Uncle Vassily's basement though.

It was ridiculously fun to let loose and design the kind of apartment she'd always wanted. Having it in Sears Tower was a bonus absurdity.

"Why did you pick the Sears Tower to hide out in anyway? There's plenty of quieter places to lay low until your ride showed up."

"My ride didn't know where I was." Caine turns his head up to her from his seat on the floor in front of the couch. "Directing them to the tallest building in the city was an easy way to make sure they got to the right place as quickly as possible."

"Huh. That's really smart." Jupiter tilts her head to the side. It's not like he had to worry about the CPD finding him, so a quick escape was probably the most important thing.

"You think I did good?" Caine's eyes widen hopefully, and he twists around to face her.

Jupiter blinks. Caine's a little softer, a little more willing to be vulnerable when he's not under threat of death. It's throwing her off a little. She's absolutely sure he's aware he has more experience with Hunters than her, but he's definitely fishing for a complement. "Yeah Caine, you did good. You had a really great plan for finding me and keeping me safe."

"Oh." If Caine actually had a tail, he'd be wagging it now. He settles back against the side of the couch and smiles a little into his shoulder. "Thank you, your majesty."

Jupiter starts scratching his head to buy a little time. Caine trying to do something to get a positive reaction from her wasn't weird. Even when he was still working for Titus he'd taken the time to explain all his gadgets to her, looking up at her every time to read her face. And... oh, back in the basement of the Commonwealth Ministry, before he was a total jerk and a liar and said he was only helping her to get reinstated. He'd smiled that same smile before turning his face to her again and saying "Her Majesty."

Caine has a, a praise *thing.* He wanted to help her from the start, despite having no reason to at first, and he wants to hear her say he did good. Wait. That he was good? That he was a good boy?

Well, Jupiter hadn't been lying when she said she loved dogs. Jupiter was a Queen; he could be her good, good dog.

Caine loves being one step behind Her Maj... Jupiter? Her, he loves being with her while defeating her enemies, battling bureaucracy on Orous, or learning and re-learning respectively how to use the grav skates and his wings (his seamlessly reintegrated wings!) But making sure she's comfortable on the couch and then carefully creeping up under her lax hand might be his new favorite thing. She starts scratching his scalp or playing with the points of his ears and it's... it's like being back with his Pack. He takes in the careless affection like his genetic sequence so eagerly embraced the lycan sequence.

Only sometimes, it's not just like being with the pack. Sometimes it's like when he was sparring under Stinger's command, and his heartbeat sped up and he got a chilled, prickling feeling under his hot sweaty skin, and all he wanted to do is get better. Be strong enough, skilled enough to make the bout last and last and last. If he was good enough, Stinger would drip sweet honeyed praise along with what to work on for next time, and it felt better than almost anything. Better than hot meat under his teeth or coming back from patrol without a scratch on him or flying through a clear, calm sky.

Back then it's just confusing, but somehow he managed to be bad without even remembering it, and Stinger and his daughter and Caine were all pushed out. Out of the Legion, out of the pack, out of anyone's care at all.

"Hey." Her Majesty pulls the tip of his ear, startling him out of the past. "Caine, everything okay?"

"Yeah." He swallows the rough tone that comes out, tries again. "Everything's fine. Do you want me to get you something?"

She looks down at him, brows pulling in as she peels back his skin.

"Yeah... I'm out of water, could you fill me up again?"

"Yes, of course, Your Majesty." He makes himself rise smoothly and tries to gently wisk her glass off the low table instead of snatching it. The food preparation area is primitive, more like a long term field camp than something you'd find in a real facility, but Her Majesty had picked it herself and trusted him to supervise the workers who installed it, so the simple mechanisms are pleasing to use.

He rinses the dregs from the glass at the basin before adding two of the smaller ice cubes to the bottom, then stirs while water from the filtering tank slowly drizzles into the glass. He lets the process calm him, and feels a small splash of confidence as the cubes melt away completely only a few moments after the glass fills. Her Majesty winced from iced water, and only drank desultorily of room temperature liquids, but smiled after drinking slightly cooled water. It had been a nice discovery to make, that he could be good for her so easily.

He pads back with the glass cradled in both hands, kneeling to bring his head below hers before handing back her drink.

"Is it right?"

"Yes. You did good Caine." The smile he was hoping for blooms as she tries the water, and she reaches out to scratch behind his ear. "You're good, you're so good."

His skin prickles and heats, and he breaks her gaze.

"I'm glad... I'm glad you're pleased. "

"Hey, sit back down for awhile? I still have more of this contract summary to get through before I let myself off for the night."

"Of course, your Majesty."