That Blood of Eden asshole had tied Mercymorn's wrists in front of her. It was bad enough that she’d come to consciousness on some planet crawling with bugs and plants and life. Worse, she couldn’t remember anything after John had ripped her heart out of her chest and splattered it over the wall of the Mithraeum. Worst of all, though, that Edenite zealot had found her meat before her consciousness had. Frankly, death might be preferable.
Wake, clad in synthetic gloves, had secured the petroleum-based rope over a second pair of long gloves that strangled Mercy’s arms all the way up to the elbow. (How had she survived? How had she found any meat, let alone meat that so closely resembled the meat she’d worn when Mercy had met her??)
"You’re awake," said Wake, by way of hello."Come quietly or I’ll slit your throat."
Mercy was still trying to take stock of her surroundings while Wake hauled her to her feet and pulled at the rope, dragging her around copses of disgustingly dense foliage and through stands of trees that snatched at Mercy’s robes. When Mercy was ready to scream and be damned with the consequences, a shuttle came into view in the distance. Civilization, the thin veneer of normalcy. Even though they were sworn enemies, even though they’d only ever had the thinnest truce, she could have asked.
As a matter of principle, Mercy put her gloved hand on Wake’s arm so she could explode her eyeballs. Somehow, even though Mercy had exploded her share of eyeballs over the years, she couldn’t quite get purchase through the fabric.
"Nice try, wizard. Do that again and I’ll sever your brain stem. I’ve done it to one of your kind before." Wake wrestled Mercy through the hatch and into the shuttle, which was at least more convenient than the dead planet where Mercy's meat had coalesced.
"Who?" Mercy asked, in spite of herself. There were such limited options: only Augustine and Gideon had been alive when Mercy thought she’d died.
Wake smirked."Wouldn’t you like to know?"
"I can’t believe I ever worked with you." It was fangless defiance-- something in the gloves was keeping her from accessing the necromantic well. Mercy seethed in her own impotence. She’d thought she’d in control-- she’d thought she’d been right-- so many times before, and now she found she’d been mistaken about even her own death. Faced with her own unexpected fallibility, she could only gnash her teeth and wait.
Inside, the shuttle held two chairs (plex, with hard backs), one desk (bolted to the floor and cleared of all paperwork) and a Murphy bed (currently folded up against the wall). Sparse, utilitarian furnishings. That didn't stop Wake from tying the end of the rope to the leg of the desk.
Mercy allowed her to do this. She could still access her Lyctoral senses: there were two other heartbeats in the shuttle, including Wake's. Strong, steady beats; no aptitude. Two souls, no necromancers. She could overcome them easily. She could escape, preferably once they’d gotten somewhere closer to civilization.
"Hurt my partner and I'll kill you right there." Wake shoved Mercy into one of the chairs. "I brought you a present," she added, louder, in honey-I'm-home tones.
"That’s a prisoner, not a present." The voice poured out from behind the cockpit hatch. It stirred something stale in the depths of Mercymorn’s memories.
"It's a lich," Wake said. "They don't count."
"He lied to all of us. They're victims as much as any soul, Nine Houses or no." Footsteps and scraping noises, as the unseen speaker unwedged herself from the control closet on her way to the main compartment. "I hope you haven't hurt them. They could be an ally."
"Not yet," Wake said. "But only for your sake."
It had the ring of an old argument, the ground trodden to death. Unless--
"Traitor, " Mercy hissed.
"Aren’t we all? " said Pyrrha Dve, emerging from the hatch.
Mercymorn stared. The newly-arrived body was the spitting image of Pyrrha from ten thousand years ago, from her buzzed scalp down miles of curves all the way to her booted feet. She was dressed in the same kind of black uniform Wake had always worn under her haz suits, buckles securing it in place and dog tags jingling at the swell of her chest.
The voice was right, the stance was right, the faint smirk curling up the corners of Pyrrha's mouth was right. She could have just stepped out of one of Ulysses’ sexy parties, if Ulysses hadn’t wrestled the eighth Beast through the stoma thousands of years ago.
Only one person in the world could ever have recreated Pyrrha with such unerring detail, and Mercy had personally watched Gideon eat her soul. Had seen her body decompose, as if it were just meat and not the mortal container of the singular Pyrrha Dve. "This isn't possible." (None of this was possible. John had upended all the rules that had structured Mercy’s life for millenia.)
"It took some doing," Pyrrha allowed. "A lot of luck and engineering." She tangled up her fingers with Wake's, and Wake allowed this for three lengthy beats before scowling and shaking her hand free.
"You'll die," Mercy said. She had seen Pyrrha die once, and she did not know if she was strong enough to watch it again. In spite of that, she wanted to reach out and touch, to feel the warm flow of blood pump through Pyrrha’s veins, to pretend that Pyrrha’s reincarnation meant that maybe she could save Cristabel after all. (She could not. She had scoured the recesses of her own soul after she’d realized what the infant Harrowhark had done, and there was nothing there but a faint suggestion of texture, like gristle stuck in your teeth after a good meal.)
Pyrrha shrugged. "I had ten thousand years, trapped in Gideon's meat. It will be an honor to grow old with my lover, or to die by her side."
Ten thousand years they’d all mourned her, and she’d been right there, with no way to tell any of them. Were it not for the heavy stone of grief pressing down on Mercymorn’s chest, she could pretend that none of it had ever happened. That John had never betrayed them-- that they were all still alive.
"Are you done catching up?" By way of diversion, Wake had produced a whetting stone and a knife and was leaning up against the shuttle wall, sharpening her blade. "Pyrrha, if you're trying to ground yourself in your new body, this is your chance."
"She was a friend," said Pyrrha, simply. "She's worth the pleasantries."
Mercymorn had never been worth the pleasantries, not even when they had all been alive. She did not particularly like being subject to them now. "You can’t expect me to believe you brought me here for-- a social call."
"We seek allies," said Pyrrha, who had always addressed business before pleasure. (Mercy approved of this.) "John lied to all of us, and it will take all of us to right the wrong he wrought."
To convey her displeasure and her ensuing likelihood to join the cause, Mercy yanked on the rope binding her wrists. "I did what I could to open the Tomb, and I failed. I did what I could to avenge her and he killed me." It hadn’t taken, apparently, but Mercy could investigate how that had happened when she didn’t have an audience.
"You're still a Lyctor." Pyrrha had moved in close and tipped Mercy’s chin up in a way that emphasized how helpless Mercy was without her necromancy. A wild, reckless desire to let Pyrrha take over beat in her chest like the wings of an ostrich trying to take flight. She yearned to shed the responsibility of trying to untangle the monster they had served for ten thousand years and be, once again, only one soul under someone else’s command.
She flapped her hand to dismiss all of it, which was extremely awkward while tied to a desk. "What else?"
"If you'd like, I could also fuck you." Pyrrha smiled down at her-- an intimate thing that reminded Mercy of everything they’d ever shared during the hundreds of years that they had lived together (the years John could have shared his secret-- the years before he had condemned fully half the people in the world Mercy had ever cared about).
"Why would I ever agree to that?" Indignation settled onto Mercy's shoulders like a blanket, shielding her from the obvious appeal of the idea.
Pyrrha leaned down, so close that Mercy could feel her breath on her nose. Stone-cold fox, John had said. He hadn't been wrong. "Cristabel always did."
"I am not Cristabel." Mercy could hear her own voice shrill against the metal walls of the shuttle. She had never been half of what Cristabel had been. She had never wanted half of what Cristabel had wanted-- and yet she wanted the harsh pressure of Pyrrha's palm on her cheek.
Pyrrha drew the tip of her index finger up the column of Mercy's throat. "I could make you feel in remembrance of her."
Mercy closed her eyes, swallowed, and tried to think with the logical part of her mind-- the part that knew that fucking Pyrrha now would be a bad idea. Her brain felt as muddy as the bottom of the ocean outside Canaan House after a storm, the particulate stuff of memories hazing her thought process until she could no longer see clearly.
Ten thousand years ago, it would have been easy to say yes. Ten thousand years ago, Mercy and Cristabel had been inseparable. Pyrrha had fucked her way through nearly all the disciples in Canaan House, one at a time or a pair together, as amorous as her necromancer wasn't. Even Mercy herself had sampled Pyrrha's charms ten thousand years ago: Pyrrha been technically skilled, her taut and honed body an instrument of pleasure as much as it was a weapon of war.
It had never compared to an evening with Cristabel. Mercy would have tucked herself away to study when her cavalier would find her, sweaty from the training salle or from an interlude with Pyrrha. Cris would flop into Mercy's space, glowing with physical exertion, and Mercy would push her away again and tell her she could come back once she'd bathed. Inevitably, Cris would bound away and return half an hour later smelling like soap, forcing Mercy to move her books and papers to make room for her thighs on Mercy's lap or her arms around Mercy's shoulders until Mercy gave up, laid her work aside entirely, and kissed her. Sometimes they would go to bed from there: more often, they'd stay twined together, and Cris would produce a much more frivolous book and read Mercy out all the best bits.
But Mercy had murdered those evenings on the exhortations of a liar, and she would never have another. This was the real danger: Pyrrha had known her before grief had calcified her joy into stone and time had ground stone into dust.
Tearing herself out of the tide of memories that threatened to swamp her, Mercy snorted in a vain attempt to conceal her feelings. "What, you want to fuck in a utility closet?"
Obnoxiously, Pyrrha ignored the deliberate crudeness of her remark. "You know that wasn't the only way I had her."
Mercy did know. She had tried to forget. Back in Canaan House, Pyrrha and Cristabel's escapades had been the stuff of myth. Back then, they could have gotten away with selling tickets, if they hadn’t already been legendarily indiscreet. Mercy had once walked in on them in a disused room not so different from this one, with Cristabel’s legs wrapped around Pyrrha’s waist and Cristabel’s head thrown back in wild ecstasy--
Pyrrha could see the memory naked on Mercymorn's face. She smiled, long and slow, the way she'd always done when she knew she'd won. "But you want me."
Horrifyingly, Mercy did. "I hate you." It had been so long since she’d been in the presence of a soul she could tolerate. And Pyrrha-- however she had survived-- would remember, and could understand what had been lost.
"Good to know that hasn't changed after ten thousand years. Yes or no, Mercy. It's not a hard question. It's just sex."
It was never just sex. Had never been just sex even on the few occasions they’d had each other a myriad ago. Flesh held so many secrets. But it had been far too long, and Mercy had never been able to resist Pyrrha Dve in any event, no matter how they felt about each other on a personal level. They both knew that. She glared. "Yes."
"Good. Commander, may I borrow your knife?"
Wake passed the blade over.
"Don’t you dare--" Mercy began, three instants before her Lyctoral robes slithered to the ground, neatly shorn in twain. She could appreciate the efficiency: she was naked less than six seconds after Pyrrha made the first cut. The results-- that she was standing in an enemy shuttle, completely bare? Those, she could do without.
"You’re better off without them," Pyrrha advised her, handing the knife back to Wake, casual as breathing. "It’s not like John wants any of us back."
"Obviously," said Mercy, as Pyrrha led her out of the chair and around the desk. It pulled the rope uncomfortably taut. "But I can’t go around naked--"
"You worry too much." Pyrrha bent her easily over the desk, which at least added slack to the rope again. Mercy couldn’t quite remember how to fight, even though this position was highly undignified. She dug for a protest, and lost any chance of finding one when Pyrrha hiked her hips up so she could use the ruined robes as a bolster under them. Her toes barely touched the ground. "Let’s see if we can get your brain to turn off for a little while."
Somehow, Pyrrha hadn't forgotten that Mercy had a series of spots on either side of her spinal column that reduced her to a gibbering wreck. She traced these until Mercy squirmed and pressed her naked breasts pressed hard into the unforgiving surface of the desk.
Wake sheathed her knife, dragged one of the chairs out from the desk, and sat heavily upon it, spreading her knees until she took up about three times as much space as she needed to.
At last, a plausible excuse to ask Pyrrha to stop. Mercy seized upon it. "Are we really going to do this with her there?"
Pyrrha didn’t miss a beat, using her fingernails in the small of Mercy’s back as punctuation. "She bore you a child."
"Biologically nothing. We've all been too intimate over the millennia for you to play at modesty, Mercymorn."
Wake tossed her gun up in the air and caught it by the grip. "There was nothing intimate about it. But I’m here for her, not you. Get over yourself, wizard."
Surely there was a rejoinder to that. Mercy opened her mouth, and squawked as Pyrrha’s hand left her back and slid up her thigh. Her legs felt like someone had jellied the bones, or maybe turned them into soup.
"Hey. Catch." Mercy really wished that someone would liquify Wake, even as a bundle of straps wrapped around a metal insertable sailed over her exposed back. From the glimpse she’d caught, it was a big, ungainly thing, not at all the kind of toy she preferred.
Pyrrha caught it. "This is yours, Commander."
Surely Mercy had misheard. "What?"
Wake sneered. "Use a condom and stop whimpering." To Pyrrha, she added: "It’ll do until we can get you your own."
"What?" said Mercy again. There was engaging in an affair with the enemy-- dangerous, temarious, and unfortunately sexy, which was Pyrrha Dve in a nutshell-- but then there was whatever that was. "Is this serious between you?"
Wake ignored this entirely. "She looks like the type who’s all talk until you get your fingers inside her."
"That’s what Cristabel always said. " Mercy could hear the grin in Pyrrha’s voice, and craned to look, only to see Pyrrha adjusting straps on her hips. Something flew through her field of vision-- the condom-- and when Pyrrha unrolled it over her length, Mercy’s mouth went so dry she had to manually stimulate her salivary glands to maintain acceptable levels of moisture.
"I am right here," she said peevishly, because the Edenite and the woman who Mercy had once seen dead had apparently forgotten. She hadn’t asked to be brought here-- she hadn’t requested sex-- she was here on sufferance only--
"You still like this?" Pyrrha asked, running her hands over Mercy’s narrow hips until she found that spot right above Mercy’s pubic bone.
Mercy collapsed onto her face on the desk. She didn’t know if Pyrrha was asking for her current preferences or if she had materially changed on a personal level. Either way, it was a question she was woefully unprepared to answer.
It still galled when the question turned out to have been rhetorical. "Thought so." Pyrrha found Mercy where she was already wet, caressed her as though evaluating her. "Tell me if you need me to slow down."
"Don’t patronize me." Peevishly, Mercy struggled up onto her elbows.
Wake was staring at them-- at Pyrrha-- with impossible heat in her dark eyes. Alarmed, Mercy followed her eyeline and found Pyrrha applying a generous quantity of lubricant to the condom, which was the only thing that even approached considerate behavior that had happened to her since she’d woken up.
"It’s different," Wake said. "You never let me watch you like this when you were living in his body."
"It is different." Pyrrha paused, considering. "It’s good to be back in my own shape."
"After you’re done with her, I want you." Wake said it easily, as if her desire had never been used as a weapon against her.
"You can have me when I know I’m not going to hurt you. I haven’t even started with her." (Mercy patently disagreed with that, and so did the tremulous quiver in her thighs that she could probably shut off if Wake hadn’t strangled her access to her necromancy.)
Impatiently, Wake paced in front of Mercy. "You never hurt me when you were a regenerating wizard thing. You won’t hurt me now."
"You’re too important for me to take chances with." Pyrrha was as implacable as she ever had been. "You spent too much to bring me back."
Mercy decided this was an appropriate place to interject. "Excuse me, but why are you taking chances with me? I didn't agree to this."
Pyrrha lined herself up at Mercy's entrance. (Unwillingly, Mercy realized that, with no intervention from her flesh magic, her body had yielded, softened, moistened itself in anticipation.)
"The thing is, Mercymorn, everyone has always treated you with kid gloves." Pyrrha pushed in, barely a centimeter, and yet Mercy felt the sensation zing through her nervous system. The toy was cold, and she hadn’t been penetrated at all since-- here, her memory was fuzzy-- but she thought that the last time had been with Ulysses. "Poor, stiff, harsh, brittle Mercy-- they think you’ll snap if they’re rough with you. Am I wrong?"
"You've been dead for ten thousand years." But Pyrrha had always had a gift for discerning the truth from lies, and she saw the evasion for what it was.
"You and I, we know better," said Pyrrha. "You have always been stronger than they thought."
"I don't have to listen to this," said Mercy, uncomfortably aware that she was beginning to writhe on Pyrrha's cock.
"You need to hear it. You need to know, to your bones, that you can bear up under pressure. That you can bend instead of breaking. Even Cristabel was too gentle with you."
"Get her name out of your mouth," Mercy demanded, though she was in no position to demand anything.
"Fuck you, Mercymorn," said Pyrrha, and she did. She fucked as relentlessly as she had ever tracked criminals or sought intelligence. Each stroke hit home with precision and force.
Mercy had forgotten how cavaliers could fuck: it had been too many years since she had bothered to interact on a personal level with anyone who was not a Lyctor. From a very long way away, she realized she was making a terrible noise.
"Cris always let you pretend you were in charge," Pyrrha said. "I thought Augustine would do better. He would at least put up a fight."
"I have not been intimate with Augustine for 6,000 years." Mercy scowled at Wake. "Except for twice, and that was part of a ruse." She had taken no pleasure from either encounter, and very little profit.
"And you never fucked Gideon. I would have known." Thoughtfully, Pyrrha reached around to tweak one of Mercy’s nipples. Mercy shuddered at the touch: it was too much. "Has it really been so long?"
"What was I supposed to do? Tryst with the personnel under my command?" This was calculated to make Pyrrha flinch, and didn’t work.
Without missing a beat, Pyrrha took her hand off Mercy’s breast and moved it back to Mercy’s hip for better leverage. "You could have taken care of yourself, at least."
"I couldn’t." That was all the explanation she could give, and it was enough. Pyrrha understood.
Wake, on the other hand, didn't. "What else would you expect from a lich?"
Pyrrha traced a circle on Mercy’s flank. "She’s had a long myriad, Commander. Longer even than mine."
Wake planted her hands on either side of Mercy’s shoulders to lean over the desk. "She did it to herself."
Perhaps it was fitting that these harsh words were what pushed Mercy over the edge. Mercy trembled violently, and Pyrrha fucked her through it as if she didn’t even notice. Of course there was no reprieve, of course Pyrrha was calm and collected behind her even as Mercy quaked and quailed.
Mercy stewed in her own pleasure as it built again, helpless and angry with the sheer magnitude of it, so wrapped up in the maelstrom of her memories that she barely noticed Wake climbing on top of the desk until she settled her weight astride Mercy’s naked shoulder blades. Disgusting: other people might want to use that desk for its intended purpose. Not that she had any intention of using it herself. If Wake wanted to desecrate her own shuttle, so be it.
"Wait your turn, love," Pyrrha was saying, as if the steady snap of her hips and Mercy’s impending crisis were afterthoughts.
"Fuck that," said Wake in tones that, on any reasonable human, might have been tenderness. "Twenty years a revenant, and I missed your touch every minute of it."
And then they were kissing. Mercy twisted her head to confirm. She was going to get a crick in her neck if she kept watching, so she looked away and stared at the rope around her own wrists instead.
It reminded her of a time, long ago, the one time Cristabel had tried to convince her that three was a perfectly acceptable number of participants in sex. It had been Samael she’d included in that scheme, with Anastasia sitting across the room with a book, having declined Cris’s invitation to participate. Cristabel had situated Mercy on his cock before she’d settled herself onto his face, and the best part of the whole sordid affair was the way that Cris had kissed her when she’d come--
The memory was enough to set her nerves ablaze again, and then, not long after, it was too much. Twice after a six thousand year dry spell proved more than Mercymorn’s healing flesh could take. "Get off me," she snapped, and then, when Pyrrha slowed and pulled out: "Let me up."
"I wouldn’t untie her," said Wake, sliding off the desk back onto the floor. "We can’t trust her."
Pyrrha’s hands were undoing the knots anyway, and Mercy was abjectly grateful. "Look at her. She’s not going to do anything."
"Don’t be so sure of that," said Mercy, thickly. If she needed a nap-- well, John had blown up her heart. Anyone was allowed to take time to recover after an injury like that, Mercy was sure.
She allowed Wake to prop her against the wall while Pyrrha unfolded the Murphy bed. It was probably better not to think about where the sheets had been, Mercy decided as they settled her between them. "If you’re going to fuck, go somewhere else."
"I’ll fuck wherever I want to fuck in my own shuttle, zombie," said Wake, without rancor.
Pyrrha laughed, and the sound continued until the shuttle door shut behind them, leaving Mercymorn blessedly alone to drop away into sleep. This, at least, she could survive.