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Let no one who loves be unhappy... even love unreturned has its rainbow. - JM Barrie

My quarters on the Excalibur are rather luxurious, at least by the standards normally ascribed to by Earthforce military vessels. They are a courtesy; Captain Gideon quietly arranged for this small space to be set aside for me, though I am not a member of his crew and come and go as I please. As much as he claims I 'irritate' and 'inconvenience' him at times, he does go out of his way to make me feel welcome on his ship.

I gaze through the portholes at the multitude of stars gliding past, and wonder--dream--hope--that his solicitude is not entirely out of mere obligation, or even solely out of friendship.

Every techno-mage knows the fourteen words to make one person fall in love with another... but I have never know them to be used from one man to another. I do not even know for certain if the incantation would work.

And it is not that kind of incandescent love that I want. Not from Matthew.

In the eight years since the destruction of the Cerberus, he has always been in my thoughts. Not the smoldering intensity of lust roused and quenched, not the comforting, all-encompassing warmth and light that surrounded Isabelle, and surrounds her still, in my heart, but a white flame, constant and steady and possessed of all the colors of the rainbow. A molten prism, burning and quiet in the back of my consciousness.

It was only a matter of time, before the swirling eddies of fate and chance, luck and destiny, brought our paths together again. But in physics, love denies all laws. Once it is set in motion, the chance exists for an equal reaction or an opposite reaction. Not both.

If I squint my left eye three-point-two millimeters, I can call up the precise sequence of events leading up to our initial encounter, how I broke away from the fleet of my brothers and sisters and the exodus to reel in the tiny speck of silver lost in the sea of stars, like some interstellar fish. I can see the coordinates spelled out in soft green glow against my retinas, the exact distance from my ship to the stranded being and note just how long it took to get him safely inside. If I squint just a little more, the scene shatters and fragments, kaleidoscoping into fragments of hot red, hot black, flesh tones and living metal and circuit colliding.

Blood pressure, pulse, heart rate, breathing. These are not the impersonal memories of technology, implanted by spells, but the false memories of mere mortal senses, created by nothing more or less than my own inescapable longings.

He is my friend. He is my family. Now, perhaps the only one I will ever have. All this, he knows. As to the rest? I have not been willing to risk finding out.

Isabelle was the only one who ever knew for certain, that my heart and body were formed for all people—techno-mage and not, female and otherwise. She didn't care. To her, I was as I was meant to be, and while she was alive I was meant for her. All else was unimportant. Sometimes... I think she and Matthew would have liked one another very much. Everyone fell under her spell, though she never needed to cast one, and Matthew has a charm all his own. A very prickly charm, true... but nevertheless.

My parents would have disapproved, but if they taught me anything before they died, it was never to model any of my relationships on theirs. My old teacher Elric would most certainly have been displeased. Enough to banish me from the Order pre-emptively, before the others got the chance? Possibly... Or possibly he would have simply been disappointed by me. Again.

Ah, well. Win some, lose some.

Introducing Matthew to Alwyn on Regula IV was one of the most nerve-wracking experiences of my life. I was no better at hiding my deepest secrets from him than I was from anyone else I loved and whom I knew loved me in return. He knew, the moment he set eyes on Matthew Gideon, what he meant to me—perhaps not in a romantic sense; I sincerely doubt that Alwyn, in his long and womanizing life, has ever spared a moment's consideration for what my sexual predilections might be. But he knew in an instant that Matthew was important to me.

And now Matthew knows as well... somewhat. The knowledge does not appear to please him.

I can't hold that against him. He has the fate of his species riding on his shoulders, the responsibility to his crew not only to keep them safe, but to save their families, their loved ones—their spouses and children, siblings and parents—their entire collective civilization. If he is not willing to see and accept and embrace the private path that we both walk, who could blame him for that small blindness? I can't. It's only going to leave me alone, after all.

And I am used to being alone.

I will keep my promise to him. My promise to the woman I love has been fulfilled and now I will do the same for the man who holds no less vital a place in my life. If I cannot have his love—platonic, brotherly, sexual, romantic, however which way—I can have his trust, and hold it as I would a relic, and not betray it again. I can act my part in the great drama of fate unfolding slowly all around us and help him in his quest as much as he will let me. It will be enough.

I must do what I must, walk alone where I must, and love whom I must. In the end, so must we all.

The door chimes, but I do not turn away from the window. "Come in, Matthew."

The air shifts just so, and the temperature in the room rises imperceptibly. "How'd you know it was me?"

I smile. "The same way you always know when I am in your quarters."

"At least I knock first."

"True." I can just make out his reflection in the strong transparent material encased in the porthole. Stars flash across his angular features in streaks of color, the barest blinks in time. "What can I do for you, Matthew?"

His reflection comes closer, and he lays a hand on my shoulder. "I think we ought to talk."