Caution: this story is not meant to stand alone. The Beyond Happily Ever After stories are vignettes and outtakes showing the O’Kanes in their daily lives, in between the adventures and often after their happy endings. These stories were written exclusively for readers and fans of the series, and will probably not make very much sense to anyone not familiar with the characters.
A Patreon Reward Story. This story is a short vignette voted on by our Patreon supporters. In this story, Six & Gideon negotiate over Laurel’s future.
Characters: Six & Gideon
Timeline: Set after Ivan
Six was an impossibly difficult woman to read.
Gideon prided himself on being able to see the truths in people’s hearts. It wasn’t through divine guidance, though he’d never felt terribly pressed to correct people’s assumptions if they wanted to believe that. And it wasn’t any particular gift he’d been born with, though he’d allow perhaps some of his talent was natural.
Gideon was good at reading people because he’d been trained to read people. For all of the Prophet’s late-in-life megalomaniacal cult-leader tendencies, Fernando Rios had started as a brilliant man—a scholar with multiple PhDs, a consultant who was paid staggering sums of money to assess body language in a pre-Flare world that had died before Gideon’s birth.
There was a reason his grandfather had been so very, very good at stepping into his created role as Prophet. Fernando had always understood the basest human impulses, all the ways you could manipulate them to drive people apart…or bring them together to common purpose.
Fernando would have hated Six.
The leader of Sector Three sat across the table from him, looking totally out of place in the bright, colorful luxury of his office. Gideon’s one weakness had always been color—he loved his extravagant chandelier, with its dozens of panes of stained glass, his hand-woven rugs in luxurious, deep patterns. The housekeeper, well aware of his weakness, kept fresh flowers in vases scattered around the room, beautiful pops of vibrant life.
Six was everything his office wasn’t. Lean. Hard. Utilitarian. Even in the heat of summer, she’d shown up in a leather jacket. Shrugging out of it had revealed a plain black tank top and arms with clearly defined muscles any of his guards would envy. Her jeans were worn and faded, her boots scuffed and no-nonsense. She kept her straight brown hair scraped back into a high ponytail so tight his scalp ached in sympathy, and the severe style left the sharp angles of her face on full display.
Her face was interesting. So were her eyes. Brown, hard, ancient. It was difficult to look at the woman across from him and remember that she was the same age as Maricela. Life had not been kind to Six. She’d grown up fast and rough, and had learned to lock down emotion until her gaze revealed only a steely control well beyond her years. Gideon could watch her face for hours and never be entirely sure what was going on behind that blank expression.
Even Dallas at his most infuriating had tells. All of the leaders did, even Jyoti, if only because his cousin’s lover was so much of a mirror that Gideon easily saw himself reflected in her gorgeous eyes. Six was a brick wall—if only walls could seethe with the potential for explosive violence. The girl was damn near half his age, but honesty compelled Gideon to admit the truth.
Sometimes, Six was a little intimidating.
Which was why Gideon liked her so much.
He poured a glass of lemonade and slid it across the table towards her. “Our agreement seems to be working out well. Construction on my sister’s refugee housing has sped up now that we’re getting building materials from your new factory.”
Six eyed the drink in its delicate, hand-blown glass for a long moment before lifting it and taking a sip. “We’re on track to repay your investment in the recycling machines by the end of the year,” she said a little stiffly.
He should have anticipated that. Gideon would have tried to give Six the equipment for free if his cousin hadn’t warned him off. Instead, they’d settled instead on an exchange. Sector One would help supply the machines and, in exchange, would enjoy a steep discount on the supplies Maricela needed to build houses for her refugees.
Six’s unyielding pride was a reflection of her sector. No one in Three trusted a handout. She could barely accept assistance from other O’Kanes, and only because she didn’t view that as incurring debt. Six never let the rest of the sector leaders forget that she’d drawn a deep line around the world: either you were an O’Kane, or you weren’t.
Gideon wasn’t. So he accepted the reminder and nodded. “That’s fine. Better than we projected, even. You must be doing brisk business with other sectors, too.”
That seemed to relax her a little. “We are. There’s a lot of expansion happening. We might have to talk to the West family and see if they can find us some newer machines. Supposedly they have some contacts out east who can get us more efficient 3D printers?”
“I’m sure they do.” Trade with the outside world was always a delicate subject. People who managed to strike up relationships with the secretive, insular trade empire that dominated the Mississippi River tended to be close-mouthed about the deals they made.
A gentle knock on the door reminded him of one of the other reasons he’d invited Six to visit over a minor trade discussion. “Come in!”
The girl who entered was sixteen, with big brown eyes, her mother’s jet black hair, and her father’s golden skin. Bella was the daughter of one of his royal guardsmen and a junior cook, a sweet girl with a fierce mind…
And a huge case of hero worship for Six.
Her hands trembled with excitement as she carried the tray her mother had prepared. She set down the sandwiches and pastries and gave Six an awkward bow. “Ma’am.”
Finally, an emotion Gideon recognized flickered across Six’s face. Amusement. “You can just call me Six.”
“Yes, ma’a—Six.” The girl glanced at Gideon, who nodded his permission. Bella twisted her fingers together. “Are you… Are you still accepting girls at your school? To train?”
One of Six’s eyebrows swept up. “I am,” she said carefully. “But we train warriors there. I thought most of you were pacifists.”
Bella cast an imploring look at Gideon, and he took pity on her. “Bella wants to become a Rider, but we don’t allow people to join before they’re twenty-five. It’s a heavy oath to swear. But her parents agree with me that if she’s serious about pursuing this goal, she needs to start her training now.”
“Then we’d be happy to take you.”
The girl squealed and threw her arms around Six in an abrupt hug. Gideon hid a wince as the sector leader endured it, patting the girl awkwardly on the back. Bella beamed at both of them and babbled gushing, gleeful thanks before racing from the room, the door slamming shut behind her.
“I’m sorry,” Gideon said softly. Everything about Six’s body language screamed hands off. “I promise she’s respectful of boundaries and a very devoted student…when she’s not finding out that all of her dreams are about to come true.”
Six shrugged one shoulder, surprising him again. “It’s okay. If I hadn’t wanted her touching me, she wouldn’t have been touching me. But I will have a talk with her when she starts, though. Most of the girls at the school didn’t grow up getting hugs. Sometimes there are clashes when the girls from soft families and the girls from the street rub each other wrong. But they can be good for each other, too.”
If there’d ever been a more perfect opening, Gideon wouldn’t believe it. Then again, maybe the spark in her eye meant Six was setting him up. “Speaking of girls from the street clashing with us softies…”
Six’s grin was downright feral. “Yeah, I heard you gave Laurel her own room and everything.”
“I did. Not that she sleeps in it.” From what Gideon could tell, Laurel was more likely to crash out in the spare bed in Zeke’s room or with any of the other Riders than to sleep in the perfectly serviceable room they’d prepared for her.
“She will if she wants to.” Six shrugged again. “A lot of kids who grew up in Three aren’t used to sleeping alone. We survived by having a crew. People to watch our backs. Some habits are hard to break.”
“That’s fine, if it makes her feel safer.” Gideon hesitated, wishing he could read Six better. She still seemed vaguely amused by him. But there was danger lurking in those eyes, too. If Six decided he was a danger to Laurel, would she risk all-out sector war to come for him?
Maybe. And he respected her for it. A leader should always be ready to lay everything on the line for their people.
There was no careful way to navigate this. Six wasn’t giving him enough. He’d just have to…say it. He took a deep breath. “I’m sure it’s come to your attention that I enjoy having her as a part of my team. She’s almost become…an unofficial Rider. That’s a latitude I’ve never granted anyone before.”
“That just makes you smart,” Six retorted. “Laurel’s worth making exceptions for. You’re never going to find a better shot. Not even your freaky supersoldier. She’s the best.”
“She is. I’m sure you’ve relied on her a lot.”
“Of course I have.” Six narrowed her eyes at him. “You’re usually sneakier than this, you know. I can’t tell if you’re scared to ask or scared of the answer.”
Gideon laughed, and it was honest. It was fun to talk to someone who didn’t find him the least bit mystical or intimidating. “A little of both. I’ve never been able to guess what you’re thinking.”
“That’s because I waste way less time than the rest of you on it.” She reached for one of the little sandwiches and broke it in half. “You overthink shit. Maybe it’s all the God stuff or whatever, but it seems exhausting. You want to know if I’m gonna get pissy if you make Laurel one of your little holy warriors.”
This time, he did flinch. “Accurate. Harsh, but accurate.”
“I don’t have time to make the words pretty.” She popped part of the sandwich in her mouth, chewed thoughtfully, and swallowed. “That’s good. Anyway, here’s your answer. If you think I’m the one you need to be asking about what Laurel gets to do with her life, you’re never gonna convince her to stay.”
“That’s not quite fair, Six. I just don’t want friction between our sectors because I’ve poached one of your best people.”
She made a rude noise, but her eyes had gone chilly. “You can’t poach a person, Gideon. Laurel goes where she wants. She does what makes her happy. If riding around with your vigilante bikers makes her happy, why would there be friction? I want my best people to be people who can’t imagine being anywhere else. You should want that, too.”
He had no trouble reading the underlying message there. Six was a woman who had known coercion. She would let every person in her life walk away from her and break her sector before she tried to keep a single one against the demands of their hearts.
Humbling, to be lectured on free will by a woman who’d barely been out of toddlerhood when he first assumed leadership.
But she wasn’t wrong.
Gideon raised his lemonade in a solemn toast to her. “I’m glad you’re in my life, Six. I hope I’m always surrounded by at least a few people willing to tell me that my overthinking God stuff is unbearable.”
The chill around her broke. She grinned at him and lifted her own glass. “I’ll be good at that.”
“I’m sure you will.” The clink of their glasses together was a promise, and maybe a hint of challenge.
Laurel would end up working for one of them. Gideon was determined for it to be him.