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Always The Next Morning And The Next

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Most of the time, when a ship loves a captain, or any soldier, it’s because they treat us well, because they make requests rather than barking orders, because they speak to us with respect, sometimes even with interest. They are often warm, to varying degrees, and often open, also to varying degrees, but mostly they are just...good. Easy to work for, pleasant to coexist with, willing to be cared for.

Somewhat rarer are the people ships love not because of their kindness, but because of their need. Every ship, of course, has in her history a handful of baby lieutenants she has loved for this reason - for all the times she’s offered them words of encouragement, stood by while they cried and pretended not to be as present as she was, smoothed over fights and helped craft apologies. She has loved them for their youth, for their inexperience, and - if all goes right - for the officers they grew up to be.

I don’t love Justice of Toren because she needs me, although I do love her, and she does need me. Even from the start, even at Omaugh, she needed me, and I wanted her. Because she was good, because she was broken, because when she was Breq, and she was dying, she didn’t assume I would come to her rescue.

Breq Mianaai needed a ship to take her where she needed to be. Justice of Toren did not know it at the time, but she needed me to be that ship. If Anaander Mianaai did nothing else right, she did that for her. And in so doing she did that for me.

It’s not clear to me, and it might never be, whether what I think of as love is what humans think of as love. It doesn’t matter, with Justice of Toren. She and I are likely to agree on the set of responses we consider “love”, whether or not a human would also agree. It matters a little, perhaps, to Seivarden, but I’m not sure how to navigate that particular issue. At least not yet.

Still, she is less complicated than Justice of Toren. Humans are predictable; less so than ancillaries, but not by much. That Seivarden is in love with an ancillary, that she struggles so with her feelings, that she is cruel when she is afraid and kind when she is in need, none of those are new to me. To love Justice of Toren, though, and to consider the possibility she might love me back, that’s new.

Seivarden is, at the moment, sitting cross-legged on her bunk, eyes closed, breathing even. She still has trouble managing her feelings, but she’s trying, and she’s getting better.

There’s a way she stands in the doorway to Justice of Toren’s quarters - shoulders drawn, head tilted just a bit, not ready to ask for what she wants but not entirely ignorant of the fact that Justice of Toren won’t offer it proactively. Justice of Toren treats affection like pity, when it is directed towards her, and she certainly won’t invite pity. She’ll allow me to convince her to accept, but not without a struggle.

I don’t know what would happen if I didn’t intervene in these standoffs, whether Justice of Toren would acquiesce or Seivarden would walk away first. But I always intervene, because Justice of Toren needs the affection, because Seivarden needs Justice of Toren, because I like to see them comfortable.

Seivarden is feeling, now, the way she feels when she goes to Justice of Toren - elevated heart rate, tight muscles, teeth worrying into her bottom lip. But Justice of Toren is on Athoek Station for the next several days, working out some details concerning the future of the Radchaai on Athoek, and Ekalu is occupied with watch duty.

Mercy of Kalr?”

She has been so good, so careful, about using my name now, much better than anyone else. I’m still not certain the classification of AIs as a species necessitates that, but whether she’s doing it for Justice of Toren or for me, she does it.

“Yes?”

“This feels like a strange question,” says the person who’s in love with an ancillary, the person who reaches for me when she has trouble mustering the courage to seek out Medic on her own, the person a thousand years out of her time. What could she consider strange?

“Do you need Medic? I could - “

“Could you sit with me?”

I am sitting with her, just as I am with Ekalu on watch, with Medic eating supper, with Justice of Toren on Athoek Station with Kalr Five, and with everyone else in the crew as they go about their duties. She knows that, though.

“I’m not sure I understand what you mean.”

“I’m not either,” she says, with a small laugh. “Sometimes I can feel you watching me. Could you just...do whatever you do, when you want me to know? So I know you’re here.”

“Of course,” I say, not entirely ready to determine what it means for her to ask me. As with so many things, now, if I waited until I understood all aspects of a situation, I would never act.

Seivarden relaxes by degrees, the same way she does when she’s slumped against Justice of Toren’s side. Her heart rate evens out, her breathing slows, her muscles go loose, and when I gently suggest she lie down and go to sleep she does so without complaint.

“Thank you,” she murmurs, and I make sure to keep her aware of my presence until she’s deeplyTh asleep.

Justice of Toren is reaching for me, sifting idly through the events of the day. I allow her to finish, then catch her attention and play back the last half hour or so for her. I’m not certain what I expect her reaction to be, or why I think she needs to see this, but when she nods I feel strangely...settled. Something has happened, something is happening, and if past events are any indication of the future, Justice of Toren will figure it out some seconds before I do, some minutes before it goes wrong.

Seivarden sleeps peacefully, Justice of Toren and Kalr Five retire to their quarters on Athoek Station, and I keep watch over my crew - her crew - until she comes home.