Where the light meets the dark, hands wound together like an unspoken promise, backs met and hands on their swords.
The moment feels golden—light spilling between her fingertips as she giggles and leans in close to brush her own over his mouth. A trace of a sketched outline flares pink then falls to the charcoal-colored imprint of her hand against his face.
They’re breathless, and her hands are cold with the frost that accompanies his light.
Lightsculpt. Sketch. Two of a kind and it feels so sweet.
She doesn’t pull her hand away, leans in closer, kisses him with a warmth that surprises her. He answers her with a kiss returned, with his hand gripping hers—wrapped in light.
Skylight pulled the sleepshirt over her head and eyed her remaining clothes not in the laundry. With her habit of shoving in extra training sessions wherever they would fit, she had a bad tendency to sweat through shirts almost faster than she could wash them.
Math chuckled behind her, as if he could see the speculative look on her face (he could not). There must have been something about her stance that gave her away.
“Wash tomorrow,” she commented. Her spare supply was justified.
“Yes.” He got out of the bed behind her and fished down her second to last tank top. He paused, hand tracing over her back gently then over the line of her sports bra.
Skylight breathed evenly, slow and steady, but she felt warm all over.
He carefully lifted the shirt over her head and tugged it down over her shoulders, let her fit her own arms through the holes, but smoothed it carefully into place after.
She didn’t let him go for the overshirt before she dragged him close and kissed him good morning.
It’s downright educational to watch them move together, in perfect sync, like they’ve been doing it all their lives. (They have.)
She watches the way Lock and Key practically dance through the air and through any objects or obstacles in their way, hands outstretched as they mingle their power to devastating effect.
Gloria can’t help but think there’s no one like that for her, no one to reach her hands out to that both mirrors and expands her strength simply by existing, no one like her other half.
Her name over the comm.
She stands and unleashes her power—alone.
Skylight woke before morning had fully come. The room was dark, and Math’s warmth and the beating of his heart lay under her head. His arms had come up around her in the night, and she blinked a moment at the sensation of being held.
She had things to do before they flew out to the next mission. There was always last minute mission prep slotted in, and she had always risen early for practice and training, but for a moment she ignored that in favor of this feeling, this warmth, the solid sense of being loved.
Morning would wait.
They count coup: confirmed kills, unverified kills—which covers the halo of supposed inhabitants or workers within a given area when they destroy en masse—and sometimes when the weight gets too heavy, they count things they aren’t required to.
“Five confirmed lives saved. Seventeen unverified.”
“Ten confirmed saved.”
They pass the tea back and forth, alcohol warm on throats too young to be drinking it, and it almost washes away the taste of blood in the backs of their mouths.
Because they don’t care about those numbers. They care about mission success rates, intelligence gathered, acceptable cost.
They add up successful missions over time, beads on a string, but though somewhere in Department headquarters someone tracks absolute numbers, Team 95 only tracks percentages. Ninety-nine percent mission success rate, with the closest hewing to planned acceptable losses across the Projects.
They control the flow of Baganechi raiders around international trade in the region, build intelligence networks, and exploit them ruthlessly, knock problem leaders out of power, manipulate chosen leaders in.
It’s bloody, it’s violent, they’re all too familiar with working in shadows and dealing in bodies and lives.
“Minimize the blood, Skylight,” Wolf murmurs. “Save some of them.”
“Count me in.” Bridge leans forward.
Ice Queen swaps the coin in his hand for a jar of tea. “First kill?”
“Ah. I don’t remember that.”
“Most memorable then,” Arc substitutes with hard eyes. They count them all, adding them up like stones on their backs, in the backs of their minds.
Most memorable was “Saving Augment from that Baganechi over his back.”
Augment scowls, doubtless displeased at the reminder of being thrown from his horse at the caravan, at the old fashioned blade coming down for the kill. “It wasn’t even a planned raid.”
Planned by them.
Augment does head count when they break from the jet at base. He’s been Wolf’s right hand from early on, and it’s his job to interpret the team’s flags, for good or ill.
When Stream doesn’t smile when another team member glances at him, when Ice Queen moves like her bones ache, when Skylight actually looks like she cares… When ghost memories that aren’t Augment’s drift in from Bridge, when Arc smiles as if she means it, when Math doesn’t immediately bury himself in a book or dossier—
She pauses, sighs. “Who?”
An answer. Another down for the count.
Stream keeps them laughing. They all have a thing, and that one’s his. He supports and smiles and draws smiles from their lips because at the end of the day, they have to survive this childhood and teenagerhood and time spent as a living weapon before they finally come out the other end.
He counts them sometimes, the smiles he draws from Ice Queen that reach her eyes, the number of times Math’s quiet laugh breaks the stillness, the outright chuckles he can coax from Bridge.
At base, each day he claims dozens. On missions, he’s lucky to get five.
Skylight has made blood of the regions they serve in. The Ogunn block of nations is bloody enough without their team dipping in their hand, but when it comes to mission parameters, it’s Wolf that decides acceptable cost, and Skylight that tells her the options available.
“Minimize the blood,” Wolf says, slowly, thoughtfully, knowing there will be some other cost for even that.
And Skylight minimizes the blood, taking it down from thousands to hundreds to dozens before she digs in both her metaphorical feet and tells her leader, “That is the minimum.”
Fifty-six people dead to achieve their goals.
They’re older, practically grown, when Skylight broods for a moment, considering the dance they’re practicing. She isn’t given to brooding, though he’s heard she knits her brows in concentration or thought quite frequently. But she doesn’t hesitate, until she asks for a goal and the instructor says, “Just dance.”
It’s an outside instructor. He doesn’t realize there’s always a goal—whether seduction, intelligence gathering, or even assassination.
“Sex, blood, and violence,” Math murmurs. The mortar with which empires are made. “Arc is the sex, Ice Queen is the violence, and you’re the blood. And that’s okay.”
They dance for blood.
It’s not Wolf’s job to comfort her team. It’s her job to take care of them and protect them, which means making sure they continue to do the things they do, no matter how terrible.
But when Ice Queen sits down quiet and somber against the wall of the training area, Wolf goes and sits beside her. Sometimes they say nothing, and she ends up feeling frustrated at her inability to break that emotional wall.
Sometimes, Ice Queen tilts her head and stares with coldly glittering eyes. “Three hundred eighteen.”
Unverified kills. Counting coup.
Wolf counters, “Five hundred ten saved.”
She feels all cold inside. They call her Ice Queen, and there are times when the name truly fits, when they bring down their rules and their punishments and she stares back at them with icy uncaring defiance of a kind they can’t do much with.
But most of the time, she feels aflame with all she wants and all the viciousness she can bring to bear on a mission.
Right now, she’s just razed an encampment to the ground in service of the mission. Right now, she feels cold, like a wind blows through her.
She reports. “It’s done.”
She comes in out of the cold, night shadows like wings trailing in her wake, and drops to a crouch beside the fire.
They make room for her, these Baganechi raiders, recognizing the leather bands around her arms, the tattoo encircling her wrist, the icy blonde hair and blue eyes of one of their most infamous members.
“Cherinagos,” one says and hands her the cup.
She drinks with a nod of gratitude. To share in the spoils one has not taken is an honor.
“You are home,” says another.
But she laughs at this, this wandering raider. “Where is home?”
Skylight whispers warm, sweet nothings against his ear. Math can barely even make out the sounds into proper language, but it doesn’t really matter. That’s not what he’s listening to.
It’s her heart he hears, her love, the way she doesn’t judge him for taking deep, ragged breaths while he tries to deal with everything he’s just seen and done. Math hates to kill, only does it when he must.
They were told it was a military target, not a civilian one, and for once they hadn’t had time to gather their own intel first.
But they were lied to.
Word came at dawn of the newly outfitted military station in Westerfields, that vast uninhabited territory between Glaston and Edyll, both kingdoms cities. A quick reconnaissance by interested parties (read: operatives) identified standard and, to them, quite familiar signs of Thorn Republic activity. Once upon a time, those operatives had been the source of those signs, and they knew their own, besides any other departments Thorn might tap to do their dirty work.
There was a big difference between how Skylight practiced her dance and how Skytouch did.
Skylight was skilled and her control over her body practically perfect. She went through each stretch and leap and twirl and footwork and stance until it was perfect. Then carefully retrained her reflexes to maintain safe combativeness.
Skytouch let herself go completely. She threw herself into the dance, technical perfection offset by genuine emotion and less control than Skylight. She didn’t bother to fix her reflexes after.
“You’ll break an ankle one day like that,” Skylight pointed out.
Skytouch shrugged. “One day, I won’t fight.”