Actions

Work Header

Bedtime Story

Work Text:

It's time for you to be in bed.

I don't want to...

Of course not. But still, it's time. Your dad will skin me if he finds out I let you stay up this late, let alone later.

He won't.

Easy for you to say, kiddo. Into bed.

Tell me a story.

A story? Do I look like a library lady?

No. Tell me a story anyway. Pleeeeeease. Tell me one.

You're a brat.

Please? Tell me a story.

Oh, all right, all right. Stop whining. Get into bed. Yes, the dagget can get in with you, I don't care. Now settle down...

Once upon a time, three kingdoms over, there lived--

a woodcutter who had three sons.

Nope.

Okay, a king who had three sons. I know this story. Tell a different one.

You don't know this one. In the first place, he wasn't a king or a woodcutter. He was a rich and powerful nobleman, brave in battle and wise, a revered and much-loved leader. And in the second place, he had two sons. And a daughter.

A girl?

Of course a girl. But don't keep interrupting. Do you want a story or not? Okay. So,

Once upon a time, three kingdoms over, there lived a nobleman, who was brave and wise, a revered and much-loved leader. He had a wife who was as beautiful as the day, and as generous as the sunlight. And they had two sons and a daughter.

The daughter was as beautiful as the moon at midnight, as generous as her mother and as brave as her father, and when she grew up she became a warrior just like him. All three of the children became warriors, in fact, because this kingdom was beseiged by a horrible enemy, as numerous as, as rodents and as evil as demons...

Is this a scary story?

A little, maybe. In places. It's not very scary.

Is it a mushy story?

Yeah, a little. In places. It's a true story, so it's scary and funny, and happy and sad, and mushy and exciting... not all at the same time, of course..

Does it have a happy ending?

I think so. You want to hear it?

Is it about that girl?

She's in it, but it's not about her. Now, look. You wanted a story, not a Q&A. Settle down and be quiet. And listen...

All three of the nobleman's children became warriors. His sons were both handsome and strong and like their sister as brave as lionets. When they would come home in the uniforms their mother was proud but inside she wished, not that they would stay out of the war but that there was no war. She knew the oldest son would follow his father, and she was ready for that, but then the middle child, the daughter, did so as well, and then the youngest... When she cried she didn't let them see.

And she had good reason to be proud of them, even though she was afraid. Most noble families didn't send their children to the war. Any of them, let alone all of them. Most nobles believed the war should be fought by the rest of the kingdom. Especially by the poorest and those with the least of anything. But this nobleman's family went to the war and fought with honor and courage; they really deserved to be called "noble".

In that kingdom, usually the father got to name the oldest boy and girl and the mother named the others, so the children's names weren't the same. The youngest one's name meant "Laughter", but the oldest two were named for ancient gods: the girl for the goddess of war and wisdom, and the boy for the god of beauty, light, and sudden destruction. And the names fit, though such names don't, always.

The oldest was much older than the other two. He was older than you when his sister was born. So the younger two were the best of friends, and played together, and he was almost an only child. But when he went away to learn to be a warrior, he met someone.

A girl?

What did I tell you? Quiet. Anyway, no. Not a girl.

He met a boy who was anything but noble. He was an orphan, with no family and no money. His family had been killed when the enemy had attacked a distant part of that kingdom, and he had been brought up in an orphanage and sent to the warriors when he was old enough. He didn't have any real friends, because every time he'd made a friend, they'd gone away--somebody had adopted them or they'd gotten a job and left--until he stopped making friends. He liked people, but he didn't like the way he felt when he was left alone, so he just played with everybody and didn't let anybody get close to him and never showed that he was serious about anything, and after a while he stopped being serious about things... And he didn't trust the rich and powerful and noble, anyway, because in his admittedly limited experience of them, they were apt to think they were better than he was. So he wasn't very happy when the masters at the school made him and the oldest noble boy, Phoebus, share a room. He wasn't happy at all.

Phoebus, on the other hand, was a rather shy boy. He'd never had real friends either, but not because he didn't want them. If he'd been brought up in the orphanage, he'd have been friends with everyone. Instead, he'd been brought up mostly alone, only his little brother and sister. He spent most of his time with grownups, warriors who served with his father, and he was a very serious and grownup boy indeed. He didn't do anything the orphan boy thought of as fun, he didn't drink or play games or stay up late or anything. He was very responsible and very steady and didn't know how to get along with his own age group at all. In fact, he was kind of boring. He didn't want to be, he just didn't know any better.

Now the orphan boy, who had been named Hesperus at the orphanage after an explorer, envied Phoebus his money and his family, but Phoebus envied Hesperus his way with people and his ability to have a good time. Hesperus didn't want to like Phoebus, because he thought it would just hurt him, but he wanted to get along with him. After all Phoebus's father was important, and Phoebus had money, and they were stuck in the same room for yahrens... so he pretended to like him. Phoebus wasn't sure at all about being friends with such an irresponsible nobody, but his father had taught him that all men are equal, if the laws of the kingdom added "but some are more equal than others" and he thought that underneath his careless, fun-loving ways maybe Hesperus was a good person, so he let himself like him. Hesperus let Phoebus pay for them to go places, even places Phoebus picked like theaters, and for dinners out, and then found himself trying hard to make sure Phoebus didn't regret it. Because he found out that Phoebus did like him. And somehow, even though they weren't anything at all alike, they became best friends.

Such good friends, in fact, that Phoebus insisted that Hesperus come home with him for the holidays instead of staying at the school alone. Hesperus was scared to death of that, because now he was friends with Phoebus he didn't want to find out that Phoebus's parents didn't like him, or that he couldn't do things the right way, or that he'd be out of place... But as a matter of fact, what happened was that Phoebus's mother Gaea and his father the Commander were more than happy that their shy son had made such a good friend, and they didn't mind at all that he was from an orphanage. And Minerva and Radko made themselves absolute pests, they thought Hesperus was so entirely superior to their plain old brother. He could do card tricks and didn't see any reason why they shouldn't go swimming in the river or climb tall trees or have a drink of kava or grog or eat way too much candy...

Basically he was the older brother kids want to have but shouldn't. And he loved it. All of it. Gaea and the Commander and the little brother and sister as much, though he wouldn't have believed it once, as he loved the big house and the good food and wine and all the trappings. He and Phoebus were closer than brothers.

I could tell you all sorts of things they did over the next twelve yahrens, but I'll just say they were both heroes of the kingdom, and that their friendship got even deeper. And then everything changed.

They were all serving under the Commander, who commanded the first fleet of the kingdom. Phoebus was a Captain, in command of the best fighting wings in all the fleet. Hesperus was a lieutenant in that wing, the best pilot of all of them, even Phoebus. Minerva was a lieutenant, too, on the Commander's bridge. And Radko was a brand new pilot, just arrived, to serve with his brother. They were all together, and the war was going to be over.

Yes, the enemy had said they wanted to end the war. But just when everyone was ready to have a huge party and celebrate the peace, they found out the enemy wasn't telling the truth. Instead of the war being over because of peace, it was over because the enemy attacked the kingdom when they weren't ready, and overran it. Many people died, and the rest fled into the wilderness.

Radko died when he and Phoebus discovered the enemy's plan. He bought time for Phoebus to warn the Commander. And the Commander was able to save all the people of the kingdom who were saved, though, sadly, not his own wife. The lovely Gaea died. And the Commander, and Minerva, and Phoebus, and Hesperus too, were all sad.

But they didn't have time to be sad for long. They had too much to do, getting all the people away safely.

And then Phoebus fell in love.

In love? You said it wasn't mushy!

I said it wasn't very mushy; I never said nobody fell in love. If you want me to finish, just be quiet. Otherwise, I'll go on and turn out the light and you can go to sleep.

No! I want to hear it.

All right. So, as I said,

Then Phoebus fell in love. Her name was Irene and she was beautiful, with long dark hair and big eyes, and delicate features. She was strong-willed and brave, and she loved Phoebus very much. She had a little boy and Phoebus loved him, too. So they decided to get married and be a family. The commander and Minerva were very happy, and Hesperus was happy that Phoebus was happy. He didn't think he'd ever get married himself, he liked being single. He had asked Minerva to marry him, but she knew it was a bad idea and said no, and now Hesperus was glad of that. He'd wanted to get married because it seemed like the right thing to do, with everything starting over, but he wasn't in love with Minerva. Not like Phoebus was in love with Irene.

Because the enemy was chasing them, they needed more warriors, and Irene became one. Phoebus worried, but he had to admit she was brave and clever, and he was proud of her. But the day of their wedding the enemy attacked again and brave Irene died protecting the Commander and Phoebus, leaving her husband and son alone but with each other. And the Commander, Minerva, and Hesperus.

Aren't you going to tell what happened to what is it, Hesperus?

When did you get here? Stay in bed! He can kiss you good night without you getting up.

Actually finished up my reports early... Aren't you?

Not in detail; I said it wasn't a really scary story.

What happened to him? Tell me!

He was captured by the enemy--

But he got away. And he wasn't hurt.

Everybody was very worried about him, though.

I'm telling this story. If you're going to stay, then sit down and be quiet. Both of you. Now, where was I? Right,

Phoebus had lost his true love. Hesperus hadn't been there for the wedding, though he was supposed to be the best man, because, yes, he got captured by the enemy. But they didn't kill him; they didn't even hurt him, which puzzled him, especially when they let him go. But it turned out that letting him go was part of their plan, because they lied to the people and said they wanted to be friends and that they'd let Hesperus go to prove it. And when they attacked, they almost killed Phoebus and the Commander. But Irene saved them, even though it cost her her life.

Phoebus was very sad for a long time, because he'd lost his wife. And the little boy was sad, too, but in time they both stopped being so sad. And their family, and Hesperus, helped them to feel better.

But in the meantime, the Commander was leading the people of the kingdom deeper and deeper into the uncharted wilderness. He knew where they were going, but he wasn't sure where that was or how to get there. All he knew was that it was Out There, somewhere, beyond the blackness: a shining planet. The people's new home, somewhere in space.

If they could get there.

And the enemy hasn't stopped chasing them, either.

It's an exciting time for our heroes. They have a lot of adventures--

Too many, if you ask me.

I didn't but... It's true. Way too many.

Like the time Phoebus got lost--

Hey. Not lost. Shot down. Heroically--

Who's telling this story? No interruptions, thank you.

Phoebus got lost, in the sense that no one knew where he was. He led the enemy off away from the fleeing people and couldn't get back. Every one was worried about him, especially his new son who'd only just gotten used to having his dad around. But he saved the fleet, and Hesperus and their other good friend Thunderer found Phoebus and saved him. Not that he was in much danger... except from the widowed agrist lady who wanted to marry him. But Hesperus and Thunderer came and rescued him.

Or the time the enemy set the battlestar on fire and Minerva and Thunderer and Locky, Phoebus's son, were in danger of dying. Locky's droid dagget saved them, while Phoebus and Hesperus saved the battlestar and almost got killed doing it.

Or the time Hesperus got lost on patrol and saved a whole planet from the enemy, with a little help from the locals, while waiting for Phoebus and Thunderer to show up and give him a ride home.

But the biggest adventure of all was when they found another great lord of the kingdom, with his army, who had been fighting the enemy all along even though everyone thought he was dead. He and his battlestar perished in battle saving the fleet, all but a few of them who joined the people on their journey. One of them was his daughter, and she was a devil woman--

Hey!

She was. Tell me I'm lying. ... Okay.

The devil woman wanted to marry Phoebus because he was the son of the Commander, and she thought he'd be very important and that his wife would have the power she'd had in her own fleet. She bewitched Phoebus and he thought he was in love with her.

But even though he was bewitched, somehow he didn't ever quite ask her to marry him. Everyone expected him to, including Hesperus, and the commander, and Minerva, but he never did. And before you ask, yes, Hesperus had a girlfriend, Rhiannon, and he thought about marrying her, except that unlike Phoebus he hadn't spent his whole life thinking of himself as someday being married. It scared him. And Annie (that's what they called her) could tell, so she didn't push him. And in fact, she eventually fell in love with someone else, the best of the warriors who'd come over from the lost fleet, a man who was actually as good as the best of the Commander's fleet and who'd once been a pretty good friend of Hesperus's. When she finally told him that she wanted to stop seeing him and only go out with Victor, he was happy for them, more happy for them than he was sorry about it.

He just occupied himself taking bets on which of the Commander's children would get married first: Phoebus to the devil woman (because nobody knew she was a devil woman yet) or Minerva. Because she'd fallen in love with another nobleman on the Commander's staff, a very smart and capable man called Zed. And when Minerva made up her mind to get something, she got it.

But before anybody could get married, the fleet had to fight off the enemy again. Several times, in fact, one right after another. The first time they manage to win with all their warriors taking part. The second time, the battlestar is weakened and they have to get tricky. Phoebus and Hesperus disguise themselves as enemy scouts and sneak inside the fortress the people have to go past, and there they manage blow up the enemy's scanners and just barely escape. And the third time, the fleet was tired and there was no where to go. And it wasn't an enemy fortress, but a fast group of strong enemy warships.

Things looked very bleak for the Commander and the fleet. They had a war council, the Commander and his colonel, and Phoebus and Zed, and some of the other warriors, like Hesperus and Thunderer and Victor and the devil woman. And they came up with a plan.
A very dangerous plan. The fleet's only hope...

They were passing near a plasma and stardust field, where ion storms raged and it was certain death for big ships to go. But the storms were cyclical, which meant if you were very fast, and very good, you could go straight through the field to the other side, and anybody chasing you would get caught. But you'd have to be very fast, and even then there was a chance the storms might come early, because they weren't like clockwork.

"So the trick will be to get them to chase whoever goes in," said Phoebus.

"I think we can arrange that," said Zed. His plan was to disguise the fighter ship to send out a signal which would make the enemy think it was the battlestar. And the battlestar and the fleet would run silent, only the rest of their fighters out and ready to leap into action to defend the people if necessary. And the disguised warrior would lead the enemy into the plasma field, where they would all die.

Except, hopefully, him.

The Commander and the colonel approved of the plan. Oh, it was dangerous, especially for whoever the warrior would be, but it was the best plan they could come up with.

"Right, then," said Phoebus, to absolutely nobody's surprise. "I'll go."

"No, I will," said Hesperus, and Victor and Thunderer volunteered as well.

"I'm the Captain," said Phoebus. "I'll go and that's final."

So they worked very hard to fix up Phoebus's ship, and he said goodbye to Locky, promising to come back, and to Minerva, asking her to make sure Locky was taken care of, and then he went to say goodbye to the devil woman.

"Why don't you let someone else do that this time?" she said.

"It's my duty," he said. "And I can't send someone else to do something this dangerous."

"Of course you can," she said. "You're the captain, you can send anybody. Besides, you've done it enough. You can't impress anybody any more; the council already thinks you're the one who should take over instead of the colonel, all the wonderful things you've done--"

"Take over?" he asked.

"Well, not now, of course," she said, "but your father's quite old. And you've impressed all the ones who might be afraid they weren't being democratic enough. Send someone else; this time it's too dangerous. Send Hesperus. Or Victor, he'd go. Or--"

"I'm going," Phoebus said. "And not to impress anyone. Anyone who's impressed by this doesn't understand what's happening. And neither do you, I think." And he turned and walked away from her, down to the bay where his ship waited.

And there, and this didn't really surprise him, he found Hesperus.

"What do you think you're doing?"

"Coming with you. Or going after you. As you prefer."

"Hesperus--"

"And don't say there's no point. Zed's people have rigged my ship to broadcast like some of the bigger ships in the fleet. We'll be a much more tempting target."

"Hesperus--this is dangerous."

"Yeah, no kidding. That's why you need me along."

"To do what?"

"May I remind you that the last time you went out like this by yourself you almost didn't come back?"

"Yeah, well, your track record's not that great either. Talk about nearly dying--"

Hesperus started laughing.

"Something about this is funny?"

"No. But don't you see: that's the whole point. We belong together."

And Phoebus stared at him a minute and then shook his head, but he was chuckling. "I think you're right, scary as that concept is. And I don't suppose there's any way to stop you, anyhow."

"Nope."

So they went together, flying off into the plasma field--

You know, you should make up your mind if this story is about a kingdom or a battlestar.

No, I like it like this! I'm the only person ever to hear this story, aren't I?

Yes, you are, kiddo.

And I like it... And I know who they all are, too.

What do you mean, who they all are?

He said it was a true story, and I know who they are.

You know what, kiddo? You're as bad as your mother. You just cannot stay quiet, can you?

There are others in the family who talk a lot.

Learning by bad example, eh? Well, maybe. Maybe. And maybe you do know and maybe you don't.

I do. Except the devil woman.

Look, that's enough about her, okay?

Suits me. But we'll just keep these names anyway, okay? It makes the story easier to tell--

I don't know why. You don't brag on Hesperus nearly as much as you--

Could?

Should. Did he tell you how handsome Hesperus was?

No, he didn't. Just the commander's children. All of them.

Well, Hesperus was much better looking than all of u--them put together. He had golden hair when Phoebus first met him, though it got darker as he got older, and eyes as blue as a summer sky--

Are summer skies different?

All right, both of you, that's enough. I swear, I don't know which of you is a child and which is in his second childhood.

But are they?

Yes, they are and you can read about it in the learning center 'cause neither of us is a meteorologist. And you can both be quiet. Or else.

Else what?

Else lights out and no more story, that's else what.

You know, I know this story... Okay, okay. If you're going to be that way about it. I'll be quiet. Not another word. Silent as a musa.

Good. Now--

But Hesperus really was very good-looking. Once upon a time.

Shut up. Okay... Now I forgot where I was.

Phoebus and Hesperus were going to go on a very dangerous mission to save the whole kingdom.

Right. Okay,

They flew off together. Ahead of them was the enemy force, fierce and evil. Behind them was the fleet, all huddled together and silent as meese, and to their side was the plasma and dust field, very beautiful, all red and white and orange and shot through with black and flashes of light. Their timing had to be perfect... it was their only chance.

The plan worked: the enemy thought they were the fleet and came chasing after them, not quite close enough to see that they were only two little ships. They fled in front as fast as they could, right into the middle of the plasma field and the clouds of stardust, taking the long way through so all the enemy would be caught. And then, just as they were almost out--

The storm came.

Oh, it was a terrible storm. It smashed into Phoebus's ship and sent him spinning out of control toward a little bitty planet, almost just a rock. Hesperus, of course, went after him, ignoring it when Phoebus yelled at him to "Get out, f-for crying out loud! Just get out!"

After all, saving Phoebus was what he did.

He managed to avoid getting pulverized by the storm and to set down on the rock next to Phoebus's ship. But there was no chance of getting out; the storm was getting worse with every passing centon. The only thing to do was help Phoebus out of his broken ship and hide in a cave until the storm died down. Then they could both get into Hesperus's ship and fly out in the lull between storms.

Phoebus was hurt pretty badly. And he was angry at Hesperus. "Why don't you ever listen to me?" he demanded. "Now we're both going to die."

"No, we're not," Hesperus said. "I'm not going to let you die, and I don't go on one-way trips. I'm going to die in bed, you know that."

"You shouldn't have come after me."

"You're wrong," Hesperus said. "Coming after you is the rightest thing I've ever done."

"I don't want you to die," Phoebus said.

"Don't you understand? I don't want to live if you aren't."

And for a centon they looked into each other's eyes.

And then Phoebus said, "Neither do I. I don't think I ever have." And even though it hurt, he reached up and touched Hesperus's face.

Mush.

I told you so... You know, when you're older you'll appreciate a little romance in a story.

I hope not. But anyway I'm not older. I'm this age.

Very true. So I'll keep it down, just for you.

They kissed, and that's when Hesperus realized that what he'd said earlier was the truth: he and Phoebus did belong together. He loved Phoebus, not like a best friend but like someone he wanted to marry. And marriage to Phoebus didn't scare him at all. It was living without Phoebus that scared him... which was why he was always risking his life to save Phoebus's. Like now.

And it's when Phoebus asked him to marry him. And he said yes. Just before Phoebus passed out.

But of course Hesperus didn't have time to think about being in love with Phoebus, not right then. He had more important things to think about--

More important than being in love?

Hesperus sort of thought it was more important to make sure that Phoebus was alive to hear whatever he decided to say than to decide what to say, yes.

Point taken.

And what happened to 'not another word'?

Shutting up.

He had more important things to think about, like were there any of the enemy around, and if so, where, and how were he and Phoebus going to get off this dangerous rock. Because he refused to think that they weren't. Both of them.

And it was a good thing, too, because one of the enemy ships had managed to follow him down. And three very mean, and very angry, enemies were looking for them.

But while all this was going on, back on the battlestar--

No! What happened? How did they get saved? Oh, sorry...

That's all right. 'What happened next' is the one legitimate question you can always ask anyone who's telling you a story. You just have to be prepared to accept 'I'm getting to that' as the answer.

Back on the battlestar, everyone was relieved that the enemy ship had been destroyed, but they were all afraid that Phoebus and Hesperus had died this time. "How many lives can they have? They're not felixes, after all," some people said. "There's no use looking for them."

The Commander was torn. Phoebus was his son, after all, and he was fond of Hesperus, but he had the whole fleet to worry about. It would have been very dangerous to send warriors into the plasma and dust fields where Phoebus led the enemy. Thunderer and Victor and others are willing to go, but the Commander wouldn't let them risk their lives with no hope.

And then Zed came up with a plan.

Six warriors went out and took up positions on the axes of the dust cloud and then went, slowly and quietly, into it, and all the time listened, very hard, for the whisper that was all of the signal that could get out, and six more came in doing the same thing on the cross axes. And four more stayed outside, to relay between them.

But all this took time. And back on the rock, the enemy had found Hesperus and Phoebus's ships. And Hesperus and Phoebus.

Phoebus was in no shape to do anything. Hesperus had left him, covered with their jackets, and was sitting near the front of the cave, waiting for the storm to do die and hoping nothing else did, when the enemy came. Quietly wasn't a word in their vocabulary; that was what saved Hesperus.

He heard them coming and managed to take cover before they got there. He shot one of them, and the other two shot back at him. They had a firefight right there, and it was a terrible fight, charged plasma streaking through the red sky. And not just from their guns, either, but from the storm. It was just exactly as if the storm thought their weapons were little plasma lightning bolts and wanted to show them how it was done. By the time the fight was over, and all the enemy were dead, Hesperus's ship had been torn to pieces by the storm.

He stood and stared at the wreckage for a while. There was no way to leave now, unless they were found. He knew the Commander couldn't risk the fleet's safety by bringing the battlestar into the plasma field, and he was afraid that no other ships could survive. But, because he never quite gave up, he climbed inside Phoebus's ship and turned on the broadcaster as high as it would go.

Then he walked into the cave to sit next to Phoebus.

And waited. Until Hesperus heard a ship coming.

He kissed Phoebus's forehead, not waking him up, and ran to the front of the cave. But it was an enemy ship. And all Hesperus had was one gun--the other was dry. And then, just when he was sure it was all over, the enemy ship exploded.

It was Thunderer. He'd heard the signal, and he and Victor and Happy, another friend, came roaring out of the storm and blew the enemy out of the sky. Then they vectored in the rescue ship that brought Phoebus and Hesperus home. Together.

Yay!

I thought you knew who everybody was?

I do. But I'm still awfully glad.

Me, too.

Me, three... Because

When Phoebus got out of the Life Center, they got married. The wedding was the social event of the yahren. Thunderer was Phoebus's best man, and Victor was Hesperus's, and Minerva and Annie wouldn't let them have a wedding with no women, so they stood up with them, too. And the Commander said the Words over them, and the party went on for nine days and nights.

And that, I believe, is The End.

Is that all there is?

Oh, no. There's lots more. They had lots of adventures before this one, and lots and lots afterward. They lived a very long time. But it's a good stopping place, and it's very late, and you really do have to sleep.

Good! Will you tell me more about them?

Not tonight, Arianwen. Some other time.

Promise?

Yes, I promise. Go to sleep now.

Okay... Goodnight, Granpa Starbuck. I love you.

I love you, too, kiddo.

Good night, sweetheart.

Good night, Granpapollo.

I think she liked the story.

I think so, too. What about you?

Depends on the ultimate ending.

Oh?

And they lived happily ever after?

I sure hope so...

I think they do. In fact, I'm pretty sure of it.

Good. I like a happy ending.

Who doesn't? Put out that light and I'll show you.

Show me in the dark? Show me what?

Just come to bed.

Coming...

the end