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. This story features Ashwin’s friend (and fellow Makhai soldier) Samson as he watches Ashwin & Kora.
Characters: Samson (Ashwin/Kora)
Timeline: Set between Deacon and Ivan
People like patterns.
Samson sipped his water. The sharp bite of citrus washed over his tongue, along with a hint of honey—not enough to be cloying, but just enough to mellow the sour lime. It was light, refreshing. Perfect in the heat of late summer.
A woman passed his table, the gauzy fabric of her skirt brushing his arm. When she stopped to apologize, he glanced up from his book and smiled, careful not to let his gaze linger too long.
Too much eye contact is worse than none at all.
Her apology delivered, she carried on about her business. If Samson were the type of person to sigh in relief, he would have done so. He liked Sector One as much as he liked any place, maybe even more. The air was clean, the place was pleasant to look at, and he didn’t have to guard his back nearly as much as he did in the city.
A young blond boy with a sunburned nose slid a bowl in front of him—his usual meal, a thick, savory beef stew, heavy on the vegetables. Samson had already paid for the food, but he pressed another coin into the child’s hand in thanks. He didn’t speak, but his open, friendly smile prickled purely reflexive alarm up Samson’s spine.
He’d been coming here too often, often enough for the boy to not only recognize him, but to trigger yet another rule of human behavior: familiar things feel safe.
Familiar things were also memorable. Quickly, Samson calculated the risk inherent in the recognition, and deemed it acceptable. He could find another vendor, perhaps, but he liked this one. Plus, the outdoor eating area offered the perfect vantage point.
He picked up his spoon, checked his watch, and waited.
Across the market, clearly visible between two stalls, Ashwin and Kora drifted into view. Regular like clockwork. Ashwin never would have done something so predictable, which meant it was Dr. Bellamy who wanted to visit the market. And people liked their patterns.
So it was her idea, and Ashwin couldn’t bring himself to deny her.
Interesting. And ill-advised.
Samson ate two bites of his stew as Kora browsed a rack of fabrics, lingering over one pale green cotton. Her pregnancy was beginning to show—even the loose gathers of her high-waisted dress couldn’t hide the curve of her belly. Ashwin hovered at her elbow, continually poised to reach out for her.
Sometimes, people approached Kora during her market trips. Samson had never moved closer than this, too far away to hear the conversations, but the body language was easy enough to categorize. Some people had questions, others simply wanted to greet her. Still others were what the temple priestesses would call the faithful, believers who drew near to her with the awed reverence of someone witnessing a miracle.
Ashwin didn’t like it when anyone got too close to Kora, and the believers were the gravest offenders. They didn’t mean anything by it—that much was obvious, even to Samson—but they tended to get too close, as if the prospect of touching a member of the royal family was a lure too strong, too visceral, to resist.
Today, people mostly left them alone, and Ashwin still hovered. In any other man, it would have been unbearably solicitous; for Ashwin, it was a damn near epic show of restraint. Samson would have bet all the untraceable credits in his pocket that what Ashwin really wanted was to spirit Kora away someplace safe and secluded until she gave birth to their child.
Their child. Samson frowned, then immediately made a conscious effort to smooth the furrow between his brows into a more placid expression. The child was another wild card. There were no documented Makhai/Panacea births on record, only unsubstantiated rumors. Ashwin’s abilities. Kora’s abilities. Their child could be a warrior or a healer, neither or both.
Or it could be something unimaginable.
And how would Sector One react to a child, especially one of royal birth, who could quite possibly exert their will on their surroundings? Gideon Rios was already treated like a god, and his greatest powers were simple—perception and cleverness, combined with enough luck to make him seem all-knowing.
There was nothing divine about a particularly clever man. Samson should know.
Kora left the fabric behind and drifted down the row to the next stall. Samson finished his stew as she purchased several bottles from the proprietor, an older woman with dark skin and silvery braids that trailed down her back. They chatted animatedly for a few minutes, then Kora turned back to Ashwin with a wide, dazzling smile.
The effect was instantaneous—and baffling. Ashwin relaxed as he stared down at Kora. If Samson had been prone to poeticism, he might have said the man melted.
By all rights, Ashwin should have been screaming at the mere sight of her. The torture Samson had inflicted on the man before the war—and inflicted was the right word, even though Ashwin had practically begged him to help—was negligible compared to what the Base doctors had done to him after it. Weeks of unrelenting, unfathomable pain. Agony that stomped across the line from brutal to inhumane.
Samson had been recalibrated once. Just once, because he figured he should know what it felt like. It was the only carefully considered tactical decision he’d ever regretted.
Ashwin seemed to have forgotten it all. He didn’t even flinch as Kora stretched up on her toes and kissed him softly.
A moment later, Ashwin stiffened and half-turned toward the eating area.
Moving as quickly as he could without drawing attention, Samson gathered his book and swung out of his chair, turning his back on the marketplace. The high collar on his light jacket would shield him, but not from close scrutiny.
There was a small tree just beyond the perimeter formed by the loose line of food stands, and he ducked behind it. Ashwin was scanning the market, his brows drawn into a tense, stormy frown.
Samson would have to be more careful. Ashwin could sense danger the way someone with a bad knee suffered aches when the weather was about to change. It was in his blood, his DNA. Unlike his torture at the hands of the Base, he could never, ever forget it, because it was part of him.
It was so much easier to surveil regular people. Even when they were paranoid enough to see threats in every corner, they never realized the callous, wicked truth.
The only threat that mattered was the one that smiled, tipped generously, and sat quietly with its lunch, reading a book. The threat you welcomed as a friend.