I feel inclined to blame the entire situation on bad luck, but while I could not have been expected to guess my old friend was in the area, it would have been much less embarrassing if not for my own choices.
The hotel room I had checked into under the name Gunter Benton had been compromised, but I had been expecting that and had left monitoring devices in place. What I was interested in was who broke in and whether they sent their A-team or B-team muscle.
This left me at loose ends for housing, and after thirty hours without sleep, the last seven hours dodging arbite patrols and the massive war that had broken out between three underhive gangs while I was nearby, I was keenly feeling the need to rest my feet. Even with the juvenat and the augmetics, I was not as young as I used to be.
I had found myself in the red-light district. As havens went, those with financial concerns here were doing a better job at keeping the fighting gangers away than any of the arbite riot squads. The same slumlords had probably provided the gangs with their weapons for that matter in exchange for agreements for muscle.
With a few adjustments to my appearance, I built an anonymous cover. An old, burnt-out soldier, eyes darting around, leaning on an uninteresting walking stick, and other hand on a sword in a plain, worn scabbard in case gangers jumped out of any doorway, but limping and looking at every sign for a quiet place to burn his pension until the nonsense subsided. It did not require a great deal of subterfuge.
I chose an old prefab hab surrounded shops offering to repair servitors, acid-tat parlours, and a laundry. It was painted a terrible shade of pink that must have been eye-bleeding back when it was less faded. Fortunately, the only scent of Chaos a brief scan picked up was the distant echoes of my bonds with Cherubael, who was lurking far enough away but not so far that I wouldn’t be able to call him if I needed to. I had no intention of doing so if I could avoid it.
The man behind the desk must have doubled as the bouncer, because he had obvious ogryn blood and was shining a lasrifle with scrunch-faced look of someone who could only concentrate on one thing at a time. The prices written directly on a wall were in half-hours, but this low in the underhive the guard at the door was what you were paying for and this was about as good as that could be had for. Pocket change compared to my earlier uphive accommodations, of course.
‘I want a room for the night.’
He grunted. I took for acknowledgment that this could be arranged and searched my person for low-denomination currency.
‘Who do you want?’ the dull-eyed receptionist asked.
One large, meaty hand gestured vaguely in the direction of a series of low-resolution picts tacked to another wall. ‘Girl.’
‘I don’t need a joygirl. I just want the bed.’
‘Girl comes with the room,’ he insisted with the stubbornness of someone who had a single script and was going to keep to it.
In all honesty, the only thing I really wanted was to close my eyes and hope that in ten hours my eye wouldn’t be burning with the effort of keeping them open and alert and the pressure creeping across my cheekbones would have eased. I missed companionship, but I couldn’t say the anonymous sort sounded deeply appealing.
I also did not need an increasingly twitchy ogryn holding a lasrifle, so I pointed to a picture mostly at random because the girl in it didn’t remind me of any acquaintance I’d ever had over the years. ‘Her.’ I could shoo out the girl later.
‘She can come by later.’ Or not, alternatively.
His brow furrowed and I feared I had made the situation too complicated for him. Lucky, he deemed this was alright with a ‘Candi comes by later’ and laboriously counted out the coins I had put on the desk.
The accommodations were primitive, consisting of a bed and a small washroom. The smells of mildew and moulding plaster almost drowned out the base human smells clinging to the sheets until my nose was in contact with them. I couldn’t bring myself to care, because I was asleep by the time my head hit the stains on the pillow, still mostly dressed and with the lumin panel still on and flickering.
For all this initial lapse in caution, I awoke immediately when I heard movement outside the door. I had my hand on the gun in my coat, but a quick sweep with my mind confirmed there was no one there but a joygirl named Candi.
I nudged her mind to convince her she was already done with this room, only to discover a disordered mixture of minor psyker potential and pharmaceuticals. She saw visions in standing water sometimes, reflected in the oily rainbows washed from the hive. She’d begged for alms at the steps of the God-Emperor’s temple every day of her childhood, and picked pockets, and believed with all her heart and left flowers everyday at the new statues to her father and his wife, who was not her mother. She’d known neither of them in life, they’d been martyred before she’d been born and were beatified now, but she often saw the green-eyed woman in her visions. One of her sisters was a twist, the only one who wasn’t a joygirl, and at least Candi didn’t have seizures while seeing visions like her.
By the time I’d detached myself from the haze of her psyche, she had closed the door behind her. Long black bangs framed her face and the rest of her spiked hair stayed too still as she moved from all the chemicals gluing it in place.
‘You don’t need to...’
‘What? You wanted a boy? We have those too.’
‘No, that’s not...’ The fact was I couldn’t think of a reason not to do it. I could feel secure in prudish virtuousness if I sent her away, but it did not matter in the least if I ‘gave into the temptation’ or not. I had taken no vows of chastity or monogamous fidelity. She was not an enemy seeking to seduce me. I hadn’t sought this out, wasn’t particularly interested, but it had been a long time since anyone had touched me except Cherubael, and, despite his teasing and insinuations, we did not do this. If I relaxed a bit, felt better, then slept awhile longer, what harm was there in that? ‘Fine.’
She was wearing very little and losing that quickly. Under her thin blouse, her figure suggested she’d never had enough to eat at any point in her life. Her short skirt rose further as she crawled on the bed next to me and threw a knee across my hips.
Her hands were a few shades darker than the unhealthy pallor I was developing, I noticed as she unbuttoned the last layer of shirt that I had not bothered to remove before falling asleep. As soon as she finished using both hands at this task, she stuck one down my trousers.
My breath caught slightly. It had been a very long time.
She pressed her body up against me as she divested me of the rest of my clothing, soft if bony, at least pretending enthusiasm over her professional disinterest. Her hands roamed my body, catching on knots of scar tissue.
Her blue eyes seemed to glow for a moment and my psychic senses told me that was not a trick of the light.
She wasn’t Candi anymore. Her body was possessed by the mind of Gideon Ravenor.
‘Gideon? What are you doing on Tancred?’
‘I thought I sensed your power. I wanted to know if you were here, if you were in danger...’ he trailed off, more in embarrassment than from a desire to purposefully avoid speaking of the investigation he was pursuing here, I judged. He shuddered and rested her forehead against my chest, the sensations of physicality hitting him harder than when he only brushed against minds.
I instinctively put an arm around him. It only belatedly occurred to me that this situation was only getting increasingly more awkward, and I should be putting distance between us for the sake of professional decorum.
Recovering, Ravenor chuckled. ‘Are you really planning to have sex with a joygirl named Candi?’
The question was rhetorical considering how obvious the situation was, but I would have liked to return the smile. ‘I hope you haven’t lost all respect for me.’
‘We must have had more embarrassing adventures before, although I can’t remember them at the moment.’ He shifted her body a bit, not away. ‘There was a time I admired you so much I dreamed about ending up exactly like this.’
He had to be exaggerating the ‘exactly’ considering the strangeness of our circumstance, but I had not been unaware that Ravenor had a bit of an infatuation with me back when I had been his mentor. Such things were hardly unknown in the Inquisition, but I had never taken advantage of the situation and had done my best to steer the impressionable interrogator to more appropriate liaisons. I’d wanted him mould him into a mature inquisitor, not bind him to me.
I knew I should stop this now, but more than a failing of willpower, I did not want to and could not convince myself I had to. My original reasons for avoiding this were decades obsolete. I had chosen to be alone in my work for a variety of reasons, my one companion being most of those, but since this chance encounter had already happened, I had no desperate need to cut it prematurely short. I would disappear as completely as I do by morning.
‘Only in the past tense?’
He reached up, ran one of her hands down the side of my face, and kissed me.
We kissed for a long time, slow and languid, surfacing for gasps of air from time to time, then bringing our lips back together. Meanwhile, we explored his unfamiliar body, me by the touch of my hands and him through the sensations from across her skin.
If it had been a while since I’d done this, it had been much longer for him. He was hungry and eager, too long without true physical contact so that each stolen glimpse of the feelings most would take for granted shocked him to the core.
And he wanted me, personally. He missed me. I had far too many secrets to let my mental shields down, but there was some spill-over of emotions and impressions between us. Casual mind-touch was simply how he interacted with his environment these days. I didn’t want to know what he was sensing from me considering how raw his feelings were against the edge of my mind. He loved me, not romantically at its heart but deeply and desperately still. No one had ever shaped his whole world quite like I. I wanted--he wanted me?--to take him in my arms and turn back time.
It was too much. A representative of His Divine Majesty’s Holy Inquisition could not indulge in could-have-beens or we wouldn’t be able to go on. I distracted him with physical sensation, made love to his borrowed body, because it was the one thing I could give him.
I could feel exactly what he liked as my hands moved down her body, though I could have ascertained as much from the moans and the arch of her back. ‘Unusually I don’t notice so much when waring a woman,’ he commented, somewhere between aroused, amused, and disgruntled as I ran my thumb across the curve of her breast to her nipple.
Eager to prove he could give as well as he got, he traced the implants for my augmetics with her fingers. I was so used to them, inconvenient though they could be, that it was easy to forget that I’d hardly seen him since acquiring them.
He was still straddling my thighs and every little movement meant friction between us. I was hard and aching as he ground against me, both our moans lost in a hungrier kiss.
My hands returned to her shoulders, making her skin shiver everywhere they touched along the way, and I gently pushed him down onto the bed. She was so slight beneath me, but I pushed away that musing. I knew the strength of this soul.
I kissed down her neck while I ran a hand up her thigh. He bit back an Gudrunite curse as I reached between her legs.
I explored her slowly, letting him get used to the signals from unfamiliar female anatomy. She was wet and wanting, pressing up against my fingers eagerly and spreading her legs further. I didn’t know how much was instinct and how much purposeful puppetting. It wasn’t my specialty like it was his.
How could I deny my beloved Gideon anything? Besides, I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to be far from all those I loved. I didn’t want to be alone. I wanted him.
Though my ardour burned, I was careful as I took her. I pressed kisses, soft and loving, to her swollen lips, her cheeks, her eyelids. She gasped and struggled for air like he had to think about each breath.
I started to pull away, but he stopped me. +More. I want to feel you. I want to feel everything.+
‘I apologise for holding back,’ I replied as I thrust in deeper.
‘Good,’ he muttered, concentration elsewhere.
I laughed, an unfamiliar sound these days, and found a steady rhythm. I filled her hard and deep each time, but I didn’t hurry. I returned my lips to her skin. I wanted to wring out every last ounce of pleasure from her body for him.
A warm feeling built in my chest, reminiscent of love and home and family and things being as they should be. The physical was very gratifying, but despite what has been said about me often enough, I am far from emotionless. Being with him made me happy. The warmth spiralled between our minds as both of us took pleasure from each other’s enjoyment.
It was so easy to answer his breathless ‘I love you’ with ‘I love you too, Gideon’ and it brought me over the edge, our breathless cries blending together.
I held him for a long time afterwards, stroking her hair and whispering such sweet nothings as I could think that weren’t lies into her ear. He was obviously tired from holding onto another’s body for so long, but reluctant to leave me. He knew perfectly well I wouldn’t let him find me again now that I knew he was here.
‘I’ll miss you,’ I admitted, and he kissed me goodbye like he pitied me.
Then I was alone again with myself and a rather confused joygirl.
‘Haven’t had a trip like that since I had the bleed virus,’ she said with mild puzzlement but little concern and no sign of permanent trauma. The plague she was referring to had been particularly hazardous to psykers when it had swept through the hive some years ago, I recalled reading, and its cure was attributed to a genuine miracle from the same soon-to-be sainted local that Candi was fond of leaving flowers for.
As an inquisitor, I rarely trusted anything enough to believe in miracles, but it could be true. With the mood I was in while I dressed, I could almost believe it was and that sometimes the God-Emperor took pity on us cast out among the stars, even those of us who didn’t deserve it.
My daemonhost was waiting for me.
‘Had fun?’ Cherubael’s smile had too many teeth.
‘Shut up.’ I added a command behind it because I already knew what he would say. He hummed a wordless tune, and I tried not to imagine what his words would have been if I’d let him.
I wasn’t ashamed of this, and I wasn’t going to let him insinuate that I should be. Let me look back upon this memory fondly, that I once had a moment of intimacy with a friend even as things are now. I bear too many regrets.