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evening full of the linnet's wings

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The bees started coming to Jupiter—not in the same, startling swarms that she'd seen at Stinger's farm but in clusters of threes and fours, no matter the season or the time. It freaked her out a little bit at first, but the bees never hurt her and no one around her seemed to notice that bees flew at midnight when Jupiter Jones was around.

"But don't you think it's weird?" she asked Caine. He was sprawled next to her on the bed, drowsy and scarred and gloriously naked; his wings, unfurled, were nearly blanket enough to cover her. "Stinger said that bees are drawn to royalty, but I don't get how it works. It's not like you ever see any of the British royals on TV, covered in bees, right? Pretty sure I would have noticed that."

Jupiter stretched her arms out over her head, arching her back to work out the night's kinks, and then watched as a bee hummed to a rest on her right forearm. Its legs tapped against her skin, the barest breath of sensation, but her Entitled sigil lit up in response, bright in the dim bedroom.

"Because you're not the same as them," Caine mumbled. He shifted to curl closer around her, dragging the tip of his nose from Jupiter's collarbone, up along her throat, before burying his face in the tangled mass of her hair. "You smell right."

"But why do bees care what I smell like?" She picked up a hank of her hair and sniffed it, not sensing anything more than whatever cheap shampoo her mom had picked up two-for-one at Walgreens.

"You're who they were made for." She felt Caine shrug, the hitch of his wings making his feathers brush deliciously against her skin. "Well, for the Abrasax matriarch. They've always respected you, but now that you've come into your inheritance, they want to honour that."

Jupiter blinked at the ceiling for a long moment, before suddenly recalling something that hadn't clicked with her at the time: all of the Regenex cylinders that Titus had shown her had been stamped with the symbol of a bee. "Wait—bees are space aliens?"

Caine pulled back just enough to cock an eyebrow at her. "Your Majesty," he said, his tone dry in that way that meant he thought Jupiter was being ridiculously parochial for believing that thinking globally was thinking on a large scale.

"Of course bees are space aliens," Jupiter said with a sigh. "Silly me, thinking that they could just be a regular old insect from Earth."

"You're not—" Caine broke off whatever he was going to say with a click of teeth and a little huff of breath.

Jupiter tapped him lightly on the shoulder, then ran the fingers of one hand through the wing feathers nearest her, making Caine shudder. "C'mon," she said, "we've been working on this. I'm not going to get mad if you tell me stuff when I'm being stupid, I'm not going to kick you out for being rude to royalty or whatever. I don't care about that part of the rulebook."

"You're not stupid," Caine said, his voice as fierce as Jupiter had ever heard it. "Not knowing something about how the 'verse works doesn't make you stupid. And I don't…"

"What?" Jupiter asked. She nudged him up so that she could kiss him, slow and careful, and thrilled in the way his big body just went when she flipped him, so that she could straddle his hips. She could feel him, half-hard again already, beneath her, and Jupiter pressed down just so—that was a thrill, too, hearing the rumble that rolled through him at the sensation, heady as a summer thunderstorm. "You don't what?"

"I don't understand why you're surprised that they're drawn to you." Caine's hands moved up over her thighs, her hips, her sides, his rough calluses pulling goosebumps up out of her flesh. The look on his face was utterly earnest. "Why wouldn't any creature want you?"

Even as Caine spoke, Jupiter could hear another little cluster of bees slip into the room and spiral, humming, around her head. Six months ago, she thought, she would have been scared of them, or thought them a nuisance, their noise pulling her out of an exhausted sleep in the early hours of the morning.

Now it was—well, it was still weird. There was no getting around the fact that Jupiter had stood on other planets and flown on spaceships; that her boyfriend was only technically human; that she hadn't yet come up with a plan for what she was going to do with the various members of a good-as-immortal alien dynasty with a vested interest in getting rid of her. But there was a particular kind of happiness that came from saying what the hell: Caine liked her, and Jupiter was pretty sure he'd like her even if she was just plain ole Jupe, her genes hers and hers alone.

Jupiter leaned in and kissed him, and over their heads, the bees danced.