Jofuran stood in front of the cabin door and hoped he was awake. She pressed the chime button.
The door opened and she found herself looking up at P'nyssa Traken, not Ken Shardik. "Uh... hi. Is Ken here?"
"No, he isn't. Do I... Jofuran?"
She nodded. "Yes, it's me, Miss Traken. Do you know if he'll be back?"
"Probably not tonight. Are you okay, Furry? You don't look so good."
"I... It's personal."
"And you were hoping to talk to Ken about it?"
"Come in," P'nyssa beckoned. Furry stepped through the doorway. It closed behind her.
Ken's cabin didn't look any different from the one she and Nickolai had shared on their way from Pendor to Ritacha several months ago. She knew that Ken insisted on trying to use only what he needed, like any Pendorian, and what he needed on a starship was room for him and his partner. She still felt a little surprised that the room looked so mundane. The only clear sign that this room was in anyway different was the clear presence of fixerbags lying around the floor, ready at a command to shape themselves into the furniture of a specific species. Most rooms came with just one, opting for regular furniture most of the time. This cabin held four.
"Take a seat somewhere, Furry," P'nyssa said as she walked into the kitchen. "The couch is fine." She busied herself in the kitchen while Furry waited, taking the seat she'd recommended. "Sugar or honey in your tea?"
"Honey, I guess."
"Honey for us both," P'nyssa agreed, stepping out with two cups on a small tray, one cup with a distinctly oversized handle. "It's a blend of chamomile, spearmint, and a few other things. Aaden gets it for me but he won't tell me where. I'm glad he gave me enough to last the whole voyage. It's good for sleeping, too." To emphasize the point, she yawned widely. "Now. What brought you looking for Ken tonight? It must be important."
Furry didn't want to place her burdens on P'nyssa, whereas Ken always seemed willing to at least listen, even if he didn't always have any advice to give afterwards. But the blue-furred fem was asking, and Furry had to tell someone. "I'm afraid, Miss Traken. Afraid of losing Nickolai."
"Call me P'nyssa, Furry, like you did a century ago. And why are you afraid of losing Nickolai? Has he said he wanted to leave?"
"No..." she said. She began from the beginning, about how a week ago Elizabeth had shown up on their doorstep and asked for permission to cash in the Right of Replacement card Nickolai had given her long ago. She described talking to her parents, and how she had given Nickolai permission to sleep with Elizabeth tonight.
"That's not an unusual arrangement," P'nyssa mentioned.
"It is for me. I know you guys do it all the time and still seem to be so much in love for it, but for me it's different. I've never done, what's the word?"
"Polyamory. As opposed to monamory, one love." She shook her head. "I've never much liked the words, but the acronym is just uglier. They don't really describe anything." She reached out and placed a mitten on Jofuran's paw. "You have to trust in him, Furry. He loves you. When I saw you both a few days ago you both looked very happy. He will come home to you."
"But he's never had this kind of temptation before!" Tears welled up in her eyes. "What if... what if he finds he really misses humans, and wants to sleep with her more and more until he doesn't want me anymore at all? What if... oh, fah, what if he wants to join her and help raise the baby?"
P'nyssa spoke with care. "I don't know how to tell you things will be all right if those things happen, Furry. You have so much to be proud of. Relationships do fall apart; Ken and Aaden and I are just weird. So are your parents, and they're the same species so they have a better chance. You and Nickolai are such a different kind of pairing. I hope he comes home to you. I believe he will. But you have to just learn to hold onto your heart until you know one way or the other. Don't throw your relationship away, Furry, on just a doubt."
"But... but..." Furry couldn't stand the pressure anymore. P'nyssa scooted across the couch to gather the smaller fem up into her arms as she began crying, sobbing loudly. P'nyssa held her tightly, rocking back and forth, letting her release all the tension and pain that had built up over the two weeks since Elizabeth had arrived.
Furry tried to quell the tears but they wouldn't cease on command. Eventually they did die down to little more than painful sobs from deep inside her chest. She heard P'nyssa say something in a tongue she didn't recognize, then she felt herself be lifted and carried into another room. She was put down onto a soft surface, a bed. P'nyssa leaned over and whispered, "Rest."
She didn't even question the offer. Tears and frustration had taken their toll and the emotional exhaustion had finally overtaken her. She collapsed onto the proffered bed and closed her eyes, barely cognizant of the fem getting into bed with her. She curled up into a ball, as if the bed were one of those cupped feline sleeping shells, and closed her eyes, hoping to get through the night and awaken into a different world.
She felt P'nyssa turn over and listened to the older fem's breathing assume a quiet, slow rhythm, the sure sound of someone falling into deep sleep. She envied the other fem's ease with the darkness. She had always found sleep an uncomfortable friend, no matter how hard tonight she wished for it.
She rolled over again, fluffed the pillow, and for the ninth time imagined the perfect murder for Elizabeth Zofrani.
"I feel the same way about Ken and some of his lovers." P'nyssa's voice murmured from the other side of the bed. "Even the ones that, like you and Elizabeth, I don't know very well."
"Did I wake you?" Furry asked.
"It's no matter," P'nyssa said. "You were putting out a lot of pain. So many people hear Dr. Traken, or P'nyssa Shardik, and they sometimes forget that I'm a telepath, or that I was once the titular leader of the Tindal People, or that I once held the chair in the College of Telepaths. Of course, there were only a few of us then." She eased herself over to where Furry lay and gathered the smaller fem into her tentacles. Furry found the experience surprising; she'd never been held by a Tindal, and the animated feeling of those warm, furry tentacles pulling her close felt... comforting. Then again, maybe it was P'nyssa's telepathy arranging that. "A little," P'nyssa admitted. "Sorry, you were projecting. I don't try to listen in to other people's thoughts. It's hard to filter out when you're so close to me, though."
"I knew what I was in for," Furry said.
"No, you didn't know," P'nyssa said, and Furry could feel the amusement from the other fem. "I'm very aware that exposure to telepaths is still rare and disquieting to most people. There is a spare room, Furry, and I can ward it for you."
"No, that's okay, Ms. Traken. I choose to stay."
P'nyssa resumed the conversation she had started. "I've thought about murdering a few of Ken's lovers over the years. Right now it's a thirteen year-old mynx named Tylia. They haven't even done anything yet, she's not even here, but he's already got her completely on the brain and from what I can tell it's mutual." She briefly tightened her grip on Furry. "I guess I'm bad at sleeping alone, even today." She kissed the top of Furry's head. "Glad for the company, even if it is a bit squirmy."
Furry settled into P'nyssa's arms. "Have you ever had this problem?"
"No, but that's because Ken won't have children of his own. He's afraid of how they'll view the world, and how the world will view him. He wants Pendor to be his children, and to grow up and be his adult children. I don't think he quite trusts them to be the second yet."
Furry sighed. "I'm so afraid."
"Would he be afraid that you were here, with me?"
"No, but your not a, a..."
"Who says?" P'nyssa asked. "You've loved a woman, I still love one. We're not limited. We are a threat, Furry."
"I mean, would you want to sleep with me?"
P'nyssa replied with a small chuckle. "I was trying to, wasn't I?"
"I don't mean 'sleep' sleep. I mean, like... you know..."
"Yes, I do know. Furry, ten centuries ago I understood what it meant to share Ken's bed, of the great power and great price I had to deal with because of it. That's why a century ago I didn't pounce you into a corner and try to coax you into my bed."
"You don't do stuff like that," Furry objected.
"Not often enough," P'nyssa replied. Furry found the ability to feel P'nyssa grinning, even in the dark, a little disconcerting. "And I'm definitely not going to take advantage of you when you're so distraught as right now."
"What if I asked you to?" Furry felt herself surprised to hear the words come out of her mouth even as she said them.
"Why?" P'nyssa asked.
"Because... Because Nickolai gave me permission to do what he's doing. And because I want to show him I can."
"Not because you like me."
Furry paused. "I like you. I like you as well as I know you. I don't know you well enough, maybe. But I trust you."
Furry could feel P'nyssa considering her words. P'nyssa's tentacles tightened slightly around her, and she found herself wondering if she should feel nervous, perhaps, given that somewhere in her genetic past were ancestors who died in the grips of various constrictor species of snakes. Still, the mittens at the ends of those tentacles were friendly and caressing. "I like you too, Furry. I have since I met you on the Castle all those years ago. But I don't know if I'm prepared to take advantage of you in your current state of mind."
Furry struggled momentarily in P'nyssa's tens, turning around to at least be facing the other fem in the darkness. "I just want... attention."
"Do we have to make love to make you feel attended to?"
"No... " Furry paused. "But it wouldn't be a bad thing, would it?"
P'nyssa's lips touched her nose briefly. "No, I suppose it wouldn't." Furry could hear P'nyssa's heartbeat speeding up in time with her own as the tens underneath her slithered out. P'nyssa's other mitten stroked her back, sliding back and forth in a rhythm Furry found odd, even disquieting. She was used to elbows, shoulders, wrists; P'nyssa had none of those, just one long, supple tentacle from shoulder to fingerless mitten.
Furry tentatively explored the space between herself and P'nyssa with her fingertips, probing forward until she made contact with P'nyssa's fur. The touch made little shocks of surprise run up her arms as she realized that she was not prepared for the promises she had made to herself. Or at least, she was not prepared for them right now. "P'nyssa..."
"I heard it." The older fem drew her close again, cradling her head between her breasts. Furry's tears began to flow again, this time with quiet constancy as she sobbed out her frustration once more. It wouldn't go away, she realized, until she had the knowledge Nickolai was hers, completely hers, and nobody else's. Or until he was out of her life, and that would leave behind it a residue of pain she might never recover from. She couldn't know now which. She just needed an end to the pain.
"I understand," P'nyssa whispered. "I understand."
She wasn't sure when she had fallen asleep during her crying, or when she had awakened, but it was well into the ship's daylight cycle, which was synched as well as possible with the groundside daylight cycle. P'nyssa had already awakened; a note inscribed on the kitchen table read, "Had to go to work. Make yourself comfortable. Call me if you need anything. Anything at all. Nyss." The note faded as she touched it.