Sitting in her quarters, Raina locks the door behind her.
Gently, ever so gently, she lets a shield greater than her usual everyday one fall between her and the place and time around her, soft as a silken curtain. In the same movement, she gently slips off her gloves.
The flow of the air in the stateroom feels odd on her naked palms. As she lays the gloves aside, she catches the faint scent of blood and burning. Glancing at them, she realises there is a small brownish stain on the fine black silk. Istil’s blood, seeped deep into the weave.
Clutching Istil’s cold, cold hand as she was laid on the sickbay bed, face dead-white other than the blood streaming from her eyes and nose and ears. Fixing her gaze on the curve of closed dark lashes over the scarlet trickle; better than looking at Reaper or Shane or one of the many others and wondering if they were already readying the shot that would blast her daughter to the Emperor and out of her life forever…
Raina realises she has been squeezing her eyes shut tightly enough that her face hurts. She gets up and goes to her bureau, taking out a small leather case tooled with the Mercutio rose. She opens it and the holograph springs into life; her own face, white and exhausted and bleached out with a terrible, transformative joy, but still the same face she would see looking at her out of the silver mirror on the opposite wall should she choose to turn her head. In her arms, a tiny bundle in a very soft black and green shawl; a tiny red face, crumpled as a newly-opened flower bud, with only the identical curve of the dark eyelashes to connect it to the bloodstained young woman’s face she cannot help seeing again as she closes her eyes.
She had never intended children. Knowing what she could pass on to them… Not fair. Not right. And then the missed courses, Dexter’s joy… She had felt only fear and doubt until she saw the little face. And then, suddenly, the joy had been hers as well. For a little while…
Without even knowing she is going to do it, she turns and hurls the case at the silver mirror. It bounces off, landing on the green silk bedcover without even switching off the holoimage, but the mirror shatters into a thousand pieces.
“DAMN YOU! DAMN YOU FOR DOING THIS TO ME!”
And as she pants, looking down at her smiling face surrounded by a thousand distorted fragments of her fury, she realises she is not sure precisely which of them she means. Dexter, Istil – or herself?