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One Morning After the War

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For several days after the battle, Christopher barely got out of bed, and Barabas did what he could. He fed him chicken soup, because it was supposed to be good for you, until Christopher said crossly that he was going to turn into a chicken at this rate, and Barabas barely bit back that yes, that was the general idea. His parents brought over soup made with cobra—it was supposed to be medicinal—but even though Barabas knew perfectly well the venom sacs would have been carefully removed (the one kitchen task he was really excellent at himself) before his father would even think of feeding it to a non-weremongoose, he was too paranoid right now to let Christopher eat it.

Then one day Barabas woke up and Christopher was out of bed ahead of him, and he padded downstairs and found him with Maggie lurking hopefully around his feet, in the middle of something complicated-looking involving dough, the kitchen already smelling amazing. It felt a little like a miracle, even before Christopher said, "I have a question."

"Okay," Barabas said.

"In a legal capacity. Coffee's by the stove." He poured himself a cup, added sugar and cream, and waited until Christopher finished his—braiding, or whatever it was, and said, "Well, it's not really a question. What is, is: Landon still has all of my stuff."

For a moment it didn't register—not enough caffeine in his system—and then he remembered: Landon Nez, who had succeeded Christopher as Legatus of the Golden Legion. Christopher and d'Ambray had both been concerned about leaving him unchecked in charge of Roland's resources if their attempt to remove Roland from the board proved successful, but Kate, the person with a legal right to claim her father's empire, hadn't cared beyond dealing with him, and, at some point in the nearish future, probably Mishmar, so nothing had been done about it, and now Nez was in control of most of Roland's former empire by default.

He remembered, now, after the battle, d'Ambray's face as he said, "Sell his empire off for parts for all I care, but you cannot just let Nez have it!" and Kate brushing him off. Considering some of the things he'd said before said battle, Barabas thinks Christopher would have backed d'Ambray up there, if he'd been conscious. Probably the outcome of the conversation would have been very different, then, but it was what it was, and they'd deal with it as it came. Apparently, for Christopher, part of that was now.

He sipped his coffee as he thought about it. "Because Roland kept all your stuff after he made you crazy--"

"I made me crazy."

Barabas waved that off. "Semantics." It amounted to the same thing. It would never have happened if Roland hadn't made Christopher a god, against his will and without his consent. "Anyway. You want your stuff back?"

"I don't care about most of it. My books, though. I want my books."

"Of course you do." Of course he did.

"I worked hard to build that library. Most of them Roland didn't even have. And a lot of them, I don't want Landon to have. There was a..." He was still facing the cabinets, tucking the twists of dough into a bundt pan, but Barabas could see his profile, the way his hands stilled at his task and his throat worked. "Never mind. It's gone now."

"Tell me," Barabas urged him.

"There was a rare alchemical treatise I'd been looking for for years. One of Hugh's Dogs had come across a copy in...Belarus, I think, but he never got a chance to deliver it to me before Roland took me to Mishmar. He brought it to Colchis, and he would read from it...I'm sure it went up with the castle."

Barabas set down his coffee on the counter and moved to stand behind Christopher, dropped a kiss on his shoulder and ran one hand, soothing, up and down his arm, the other resting on his hip. Christopher took in a deep, long breath, blew it out slow, let himself lean back into Barabas' deceptive shapeshifter strength. "You want your books back," Barabas said into the quiet that had permeated the kitchen.

"I want my books back." After another moment, Christopher pulled himself back together, straightened up, went back to fussing with the dough-thing. "I don't have the first clue where we're going to put them, of course, but I want them back."

"We have another spare bedroom that can be sacrificed to the cause," Barabas assured him as he moved to pick his coffee cup back up.

Christopher snatched a look at him out of the corner of his eye, looking a little guilty. "There might be—more books than that."

Barabas rolled his eyes fondly. "Of course there are. Has anyone ever told you you have a problem?" Christopher just flashed a smirk at him. "What are you making?"

Christopher covered the pan with a tea towel and turned away from the counter to face him. "Babka. It won't be ready for a while. We'll have to do something else for breakfast."

"My mom loves babka."

"I know, and your mom is mad at us, so: babka."

"She's not mad at us. She's mad at me. She understands you." The corner of Christopher's mouth pinched at that. Christopher was, as it turned out, an intensely private man—a trait no doubt cooked up between having to guard himself so closely in the backstabbing fiesta that was the Golden Legion, and spending who knew how much time literally on display in a cage, and people speculating about what was going on with their relationship had damned near given him hives, especially during the period when they didn't honestly know, either. Once they'd figured it out, well, it wasn't like the old days when you could change your status on Facebook or whatever it had been, so rather than make a fuss they just hadn't said anything. To anyone.

And then Barabas had decided he wasn't going to get killed by a motherfucking dragon without at least asking this man to marry him, so now everyone knew, and his mother, who he honestly had thought had figured it out ages ago, was pissed. She was getting over it, and had mostly already forgiven him—he would always be her spoiled baby boy, after all—but the whole thing was upsetting to Christopher, who was already emotionally a mess from the loss of his wing and hadn't spoken to his family at all since he'd walked away at sixteen to join the People, and didn't want to fuck things up with Barabas' family, as if he could have.

His parents had wanted him to take over the winery eventually, stay home and learn the trade, he'd said, once. They should have known better than to think that was ever going to happen. Barabas didn't have to have known Christopher as a teenager to know exactly what he'd been like, both brilliant and ambitious, the kind of kid you could never keep down on the literal farm once he'd seen Paree—the part of Paris being played in this particular tragedy by the creepy undead, but still. The price he'd paid for that ambition had been far too high, the person it had made him someone he didn't like to look back at, but even if his parents had understood that, if it had been at the root of their objections, how the hell were you going to explain that to a teenager so that it stuck?

Besides, if at this much of a remove he'd remembered enough that he'd managed to teach Kate to make forest sangria that hadn't killed anyone yet, how much more could he possibly have had left to learn? All around, it sounded like his parents hadn't known what to do with their genius kid, but he couldn't much blame them: with the sheer level of navigator ability and raw magic Christopher had had, Roland had never been going to let him go once he knew he existed.

He shook himself out of his thoughts and said, "One problem: it's not like you have a list."

"I did have a list. I had them fully cataloged, I'll have you know. I made an intern do it. Roland would have kept that as useful, so Landon should have it."

"So I just have to pry it out of him." He leaned against the counter and drank more coffee. "Well, assuming you didn't have a will or anything on file that said Roland or your successor got your books in the event you were killed or incapacitated, it should be pretty easy after that." If he had, it should still be pretty easy, considering he was no longer incapacitated, but Nez would be able to be more obnoxious about it. Either way, Nez might just flatly refuse to give the books back and the legal system be damned, but by that point, Barabas thought, Kate would have gotten involved out of righteous indignation for Christopher, and then Hugh d'Ambray would probably get his wish regarding the whole damned empire.

"Actually," Christopher said, like he found it funny, "they were supposed to go to Hugh."

Barabas absorbed that as he crossed the kitchen to open the fridge, thinking about breakfast, since the babka was off the table. Finally, he asked, "Really?"

"Well, I wasn't about to incentivize killing me any more than it already was. He seemed like a good alternative. I think Nez probably still has all of his stuff, too, now that I think about it."

They had eggs. He didn't remember buying the eggs, which was concerning, but when he dropped one in a glass of water, it sank. Possibly someone had brought them over while he'd been in crisis mode and Christopher had been grieving. However they'd gotten there, eggs were good. He could do eggs. "I'm not suing on behalf of Hugh d'Ambray, Chris."

"I didn't ask you to, don't worry."

"So if the babka's for my mom, does that mean I don't get any?" he asked, trying not to sound plaintive.

"You're as bad as Maggie. I'm sure your mom won't begrudge you a slice of babka."

"Oh, good," Barabas said, and kissed him again. He could kiss him as many times as he wanted now.

Tomorrow, Christopher might not get out of bed again, or might do so only to move to the hammock on the porch. But the day after that, or the day after that, every day that came, he'd be better, and eventually, he would work up the nerve to assume the features of Deimos, to find out if his wing was going to grow back or not. And even if it didn't, he'd be okay, Barabas thought. They'd be okay. And one day soon, he was going to get his man his books back.