Here, for your reading enjoyment, is another one of the bits of Line and Orbit that was cut from the final version of the book. It was one of the casualties of our many cuts for length, and ended up going because it doesn’t do a huge amount to advance the plot. However, what it does do is present a sweet little slice of life at home with Kae and Leila, and also builds their characters a bit. Additionally, it brings to light something about Kae’s character that, without this scene, actually doesn’t get revealed until later in the book.
It made me sad to have to cut it. But hey, here it is for free. Hope you enjoy.
A note on chronology: This scene originally came at the end of chapter 9, after Lochlan has taken Adam to meet with the Council and Adam has had his first awkward meeting with Ixchel. There are no majorly important spoilers to speak of unless you count Kae’s character thing, but the scene also won’t make the maximum amount of sense if you haven’t read the book.
Leila was waiting for Kae when he opened the door, much later. He could feel her in the air, a soft warmth and a hint of perfume, though she was nowhere to be seen. He smiled, walking across their living area and unstrapping his jambia as he went. No need for weapons now.
There was an answering sound from the bedroom, the faint squeak of a mattress. When he got to the door she was lying there in her satiny chemise, half covered by the sheets, and he looked at her for a moment or two, meditating on nothing more complicated than the curve of her neck, the graceful dip of her collarbones.
“You’re late,” she murmured, one arm slung back over her head, her dark hair a halo on the pillow. “I had to eat supper without you.”
“Sorry.” He kicked off his boots and pulled off his shirt as he crawled onto the bed, and as he passed over her she reached up and ran her fingertips lightly over the faint scars on his chest, so faint now that they could barely be seen. But she knew they were there. By now she knew every inch of him. She turned as he settled down beside her, one hand over his breastbone and the other tucked under her chin, looking up at him.
“What is it?”
“They’re not going to let him stay,” Kae said after a second or two. “They discussed it… and they feel it’s too dangerous. I think. Lock didn’t really go into the reasons for it.” He smiled thinly. “He was too busy getting the attitude beaten out of him. I made him spar until he got his head straight.”
Leila was silent. Thinking. Lochlan would think and speak at the same time, no pause and no filter between his mind and his mouth, but Leila thought first, methodical and orderly, however quick, and when she spoke she knew her own mind clearly. “You don’t like it.”
Kae shook his head. “It’s… he’s… There’s just something about him. I don’t know how to put it into words. I’ve met people who are Protectorate, who were, and he’s not like them. In many ways, he is, but there are other things…” His mouth tightened in frustration, and Leila reached up, pressing the cool tips of her fingers against his lips, quieting him.
“You don’t have to like it. And you don’t have to explain it all to me, habibi.”
They were silent for a few moments. Kae turned a little away from her. After a moment he stripped his pants off and let them fall carelessly to the floor. He touched a small panel by the bed and the lights dimmed into a barely perceptible glow that seemed to emanate from the walls themselves. Sighing, he slid naked under the sheets, and his hands slipped under the straps of Leila’s chemise, pushing them down her shoulders. It was an idle kind of thing. They had been together for too long, loved for too long, for there to be any rush to it now.
“I took him to the Halls.”
Leila’s look had an edge to it even in the dimness. Not quite alarm. “Why did you take him there?”
“He asked about magic.” Kae sounded faintly uneasy. “He seemed like… like maybe seeing some would do him some good. I don’t know where he came from, Leila, but I think maybe it was a long time since he saw green things, growing wild. So I took him there. I trust him.” He paused, working a hand thoughtfully through the fall of her hair. “Lock doesn’t. And I know I have no reason to. But I do.”
“But they’re sending him away.”
“In a few days, yes.” Kae lifted her hand to his mouth and kissed her knuckles, one by one. “They’ll observe the protocols. Give him supplies and whatever ship we can spare. It’s only fair, since I gather Lock spirited him away from his own. But then he’ll be gone.”
“And life back to normal?” Leila let some of her doubt color her tone. “Good, I suppose. But you’re still not happy.”
“No.” Kae turned onto his back and sighed again, gaze locked on the dark ceiling. “I’m not.” He paused, a pause that seemed full of something, and said, “There were children playing everywhere today, it seemed.”
In a single graceful movement, Leila sat up and pulled the chemise off over her head, the curves of her breasts faintly outlined in the glow of the ancient metal. She slid herself against Kae’s side, her hand on his belly and her head on his chest. “We’ve had many new couplings lately. You’re still thinking about it?”
“I never stopped.” Kae drew in a breath. “I know… Habibti, I know we’ve discussed this, I know what you always say, so you don’t have to say it again. But I feel like I fail you. I feel like I’m failing you now. And I hate it.”
“Would I have married a failure?” Leila closed her eyes, pressing her body closer. “Would I have taken a failure into my bed? I picked you out of everyone. I saw you and I picked you.”
“You saw me,” Kae started. “You still didn’t know—”
“I knew,” she whispered, touching her fingertips to his lips again. “Maybe not right away. I was still fresh from Jakana. But I knew.” She slid an arm under Kae’s strong shoulders and tugged gently at him, pulling him against her as she turned onto her back. She raked her hands through his short hair as he moved beside and over her, staring down with his lips slightly parted. “We both went into this with our eyes open, habibi. No backing out now.”
Kae smiled, though it was almost pained, even as he cupped her breast with one hand and squeezed carefully, the flesh warm and yielding under his palm. “Ixchel told me I was getting into trouble with you.”
“That old witch would have said that about anyone.”
Kae laughed softly. “Probably so. That’s just the point, though, don’t you think?”
“You’re the best kind of trouble,” she said, leaning up and catching his mouth with hers. And it started quick but it didn’t end up that way, slowing and deepening as she arched up against him, her breast hot in his hand, and when they finally broke apart she was breathing hard.
“I love you,” she murmured. “I love you, habibi. I love you and you could never fail me.”
She heard him draw in breath once more, slow. He moved his hand down and laid it over her belly, her womb, where there hadn’t been any tiny, moving life and wouldn’t ever be, not from him. He was brilliant and beautiful and perfect and he had given her a home and all the love in the world, but the one thing Kae couldn’t give her was a child. Not one truly made by the both of them.
There had to be a balance, and if this was hers, she’d take it.
“Kae,” she breathed, and his hand slid lower, between her thighs and working against her and into her until she and then he was gasping with pleasure, the sounds of the two of them echoing off the glowing walls.