Warnings: Read and heed. Sex: Yes. Violence: Yes. Language: Yep. A couple of bad words. Dark, adult themes: Nope. Not really.
Setting: Post PKW
Spoilers: Through PKW
He stretched his hand, looked at the body on the med bed still under light sedation and in soft restraints. “Keep him here until First Meal and then we’ll take him to the techs.”
He left the med bay and headed toward the level risers and in a little over five hundred he was standing outside her quarters. The door opened and she stood there in her workout clothes.
“Lieutenant.” With a nod she gestured him in.
“What’s wrong with your hand?”
Her voice was low and soft in the stillness of her quarters, but it sent a shiver down his spine as she pinned him with her gaze.
He realized his hand was still clenching and unclenching reflexively and he willed it to stop. “Just a small accident, Ma’am.”
“You’ll be ready to go?”
She turned and led him to her terminal. “This is our most current intel?”
He looked and skimmed the report. “Yes, ma’am.”
She scrolled down. “And this is the new mission brief?”
“Complete with escape and evade?”
“Good. We’ll do a final briefing with the entire team after First Meal. Run a few sims. And then we’ll wait. Make sure the others know.”
Her nod dismissed him.
The hand over his mouth snapped his eyelids open to see her standing next to him backlit by the low level illumination of the sleep cycle in the med baby. His had strained against its bond, groping for hers. It slid gently into place and his finger curled around it. Her other hand moved to trail soft fingers across his lips, two of them pressing gently before leaving.
A sudden thought cut through the cotton wrapping his brain, made his stomach roll. “Where’s the tech?”
“Of course.” He relaxed against the hard bed.
“I take it this has something to do with my lieutenant’s hand,” she murmured.
“My nose broke it.” His voice was barely a whisper as he tugged her hand, urged her closer.
As she hunkered down beside him his eyes focused on the angry red lines and purple-black bruises on her throat, imagined others on other places on her body.
He pulled violently against his restraints as he growled low and harsh deep in the back of his throat. “What did he do to you?”
“He didn’t do anything, John.” Her voice was low and level in the quiet of the bay, her eyes flat and dead.
He focused on her voice, her eyes, her hand clutched tightly in his own like a lifeline as a knife, edgeless and dull carved a valley for the freight train that was suddenly running through the middle of his skull.
She chose not to see your brains splattered against a command carrier’s wall. She chose to give your son a living father and not a memory. She chose…this.
“What do you need?”
“They’ll release you after First Meal.” Her eyes blazed suddenly as she whispered fiercely in his ear. “Stay with the techs.”
He nodded once to let her know he understood.
She pulled back slightly to look into his eyes. “From what it looks like, we’ll be going out sometime within the next solar day.”
She shifted slightly, made sure she was in his line of sight. “I may not be able to see you before we go. It’s half an arn out and back. When I get back, I need you to be ready to go.”
“I can do that,” he whispered, easing back his death grip on her hand and giving it a gentle squeeze. “Come here.”
Her eyes locked on his as she leaned forward. His head came off the bed to meet her, his lips seeking hers as he kissed her sweet and soft.
She broke the kiss gently, let her forehead rest against his as they shared the same air.
“I love you,” he breathed.
“I know.” She ran her free hand through his hair. “I love you, too.”
She rose without a sound, squeezed his hand and was gone.
He lay in the semi-dark, eyes wide open and unblinking.
“So you’re my frelling new guy.” The Senior Tech snagged a cup from the workbench, took a long swig, pointed at it John. “You’re not a Peacekeeper, but you know about Prowlers. And I’m supposed to train you, right? I miss anything?”
“Nope.” He flipped his hands out, palms up. “That’s about it.”
“You got any…” Senior tilted his head and narrowed his eyes as his smile pulled to the left, “…skills I should know about?”
“Skills?” He snorted a laugh, an angry puff of air. Used it to bank the bluster, knock back the urge to trot out the patented John Crichton dog and pony show. “Your Captain seemed to think I was good enough to make your cut.”
He shoved his hands into his pocket, let his shoulders drop and rocked back on his heels. “Give me schematics and the right tools, and I can pretty much figure things out from there.”
Senior nodded once, tossed back his cup. “Couple of house rules.” He raised a finger. “One. Don’t torque off the team. They’re Ghosts. That means they’re elite. We’re their techs. That makes us elite.”
He dropped and pointed the finger at John. “You’re only here because the good Captain wanted you here. Don’t frell that up.”
“Right.” He pulled his fists out of his pockets, rolled his shoulders, ran his hand along the back of his neck as he cracked it. “No frelling it up. Got it.”
“Good,” he nodded, starting to walk across the bay. “Come on. You can meet the rest of your team.”
John fell into a long, loose-limbed step. “You said there were a couple of rules. That’s only one.”
The senior tech slid his gaze toward him. “Don’t torque off the team.”
They came to a stop in front of a group of three techs elbows deep in the guts of a Prowler.
“Quit playing around in there,” Senior barked. “Listen up.”
Three heads came up and around. Three pairs of eyes locked on the newcomer.
“This our frelling new guy?” The taller of the two males leaned back against the Prowler, crossed his arms.
“This is the guy?” The shorter one grabbed his cup from a workbench, tossed back a quick gulp, tipped it toward John. “The one Larraq almost whacked?”
The Senior Tech slapped him in the head. “Shut the frell up. He may be gone, but that doesn’t mean anything.”
The ache that had been a bassline of anger and fear humming just behind his eyes exploded as the rage that had been simmering just beneath his skin boiled up. He let it roll, forced his lips to curl up unpleasantly with effort. “Yeah. That’s me.”
The Senior Tech pointed at the rest of them. “And Captain Sun wants him trained. So guess what?”
The two males pointed as one toward the female.
“Fine,” she snorted, rolling her eyes.
“Now that that’s settled, you two get your stuff and meet me over at the Vigilante. We have a major overhaul that should’ve been started two solar days ago.” He ran his eyes over the newest member of his team one last time before spinning on his heel and setting off across the bay.
“So tell me.” The taller tech shifted against the Prowler, angling his head, the leer lighting up his face more than a little taunting. “How was the very fine Captain Sun?”
He felt that like a kick to the head. His jaw clenched and he heard his teeth grind, the sound an unpleasant undercurrent to the pounding in his head. He shoved his hands back into his pockets, felt his fingers curled tight.
He’d seen that look, aggressive and hungry, worn it, especially around Aeryn. He wanted to smack it off this bastard’s face, bounce his head off the Prowler.
Don’t frell this up.
He throttled back his urge to reach out and touch someone.
“For frell’s sake,” the female snapped. “Give it up.”
“Yeah.” The shorter male laughed. “Like the very fine Captain Sun was gonna frell a tech.” He moved off the Prowler, leaned in, thumped John on the shoulder. “You probably thought about frelling her. Wanted to, right?”
Keep your shit together.
“Don’t you have somewhere to be?” The female threw a bag at him.
Ouit bugging. .
“Frelling hezmana.” The taller one grabbed his own bag. “Not like we haven’t all thought about it.”
Frell this up, she’ll kill you herself. .
“You have some kind of death wish, even thinking about that,” she observed dryly, rolling her eyes again.
You get yourself killed, she’ll never forgive you. .
“Yeah? Well, we’ve never had a pulse pistol shoved in our faces.” He smacked her ass and set off laughing.
Get her killed, you’ll never forgive yourself.
“See you for Last Meal.” The shorter one nodded at John, snagged his cup off the workbench and followed.
“They’re not as stupid as they sound.” She combed fingers through her shoulder length blonde hair, pulled a tie off her wrist and wrapped it in a high pony tail. “Almost, but not quite.”
“Yeah, well, that’s a guy thing.” He unclenched his fists and let his fingers drum against the naked spot on his thigh.
“Everybody around here just seems to have an…interest in the good Captain.” She slid her eyes over him, swept him up and down. “But you’re the only one Captain Larraq ever threatened to kill over it.” She shrugged a shoulder. “Makes a good story.”
She was white noise in his red haze of rage. “And your interest?”
“I know my role. No Peacekeeper Captain is going to frell any tech.”
“Right.” Anger turned the word to ash in his mouth. “Peacekeepers always follow the rules.”
“One set of rules for us, one for them.” She shrugged again. “But even by their rules that is one very non-regulation relationship.”
“What are we supposed to be doing?” He needed to breathe.
“We need to overhaul this engine.” She gestured vaguely to the guts of the Prowler. “Upgrade the ECM, and run a general diagnostic on the weapons system.” She snagged a scanner from the workbench.
He needed to be somewhere else. “Can you handle the engine on your own?”
“What?” She threw the question over her shoulder. “Tech girls don’t do it for you, either? Or is there something really wrong with you?”
His voice was as flat and cold as his eyes as he pinned her in his line of sight. “I’ll take the weapons system.”
“We’ve got great intel.” She keyed on her console and put the vid chip into the reader. A map of the compound appeared.
“We’ve confirmed that the meeting will take place here,” she said, indicating the center of the map. “High end retreat section, isolated, on a pleasure planet. Low level structure. The delegation is one Scarran, one Hokothian, and the host who will be responsible for handling the exchange.”
She let her eyes run over her team. They’d all sprawled in various stages of exhaustion, sweating and slouched in their seats, arms and legs akimbo, waiting for her. She was tired and hot, and a slight shiver worked its way though her as she swiped the back of her hand across her forehead and wiped it against her thigh.
“The most efficient entry is here.” She zoomed in to a spot on the enlarged image. “We hit the roof, silent entry, infiltrate the target structure. Standard rules of engagement. Everyone’s a hostile.”
She reached for her water bottle, drained half of it in a long swallow and pulled up a new image. “Two levels down, meeting chambers are arranged around a central courtyard. That’s where we do it. Pick up our package. Out the way we came in. The Marauder picks us up.”
“Security?” The lieutenant shifted in his seat, raised his water bottle to his lips.
“Minimal.” She swallowed hard, felt shards scrape against the back of a dry, tight throat. “A security contingent of four on the meeting level. Four more on patrol. All courtesy of the host.
“No one on top?”
“Shouldn’t meet anyone until one level down.” Her voice sounded oddly harsh and distant in her ears. “The bulk of their people will be between there and the courtyard. The Marauder takes up station and patrols the perimeter, takes care of any danger there.”
She tossed back her bottle again, drank long and hard.
“We’ve run the sims, mission specifics have been downloaded to your personal terminals.” She pulled the vid chip out of the reader. “Any questions?”
Three pairs of eyes locked on hers.
“No, ma’am. We’ll be ready.”
“Then we wait for the go. Dismissed.”
She keyed off her console and pulled herself up out of her chair. She’d stop in the commons, grab a few extra water bottles, then a shower.
She needed to sleep.
She scrubbed roughly at her face, wiping the fine sheen of perspiration on her leathers as she stepped into the corridor.
The planet was too frelling hot. Why the frell hadn’t her intel told her that? It was hot, and there was a stream of sweat sliding down the curve of her back to pool at the base of her spine. Sweat that pasted her leathers to her ass and her thighs, gathered between her breasts, pulled at her shirt.
She chafed under her body armor. It was heavy and restrictive, not the comfortable second skin it usually was, but oppressive like the heat.
It was dark, and she didn’t understand how the frell it could be so hot in the dark. She was alone on the planet and couldn’t find her team.
What kind of officer couldn’t find her team? Frell, she couldn’t find her ship. She couldn’t even find her water bottle. And she was thirsty. Her throat ached and she needed to drink.
But she couldn’t frelling move, couldn’t frelling see in the blackness that surrounded her. All she could hear was the frelling buzzing of the scavengers in her ears.
Louder, closer, coming for her.
Her eyes snapped open and a semblance of conscious thought returned, gave her something to beat back the worst of the terror.
Her bed. Her quarters. Her own sweat soaked sheets.
She was breathing open-mouthed, fast and shallow, each jagged inhale sending shards of glass down a dry, closed, aching throat.
The buzzing hadn’t stopped. She jerked upright, swung her legs off the bed, and slapped at her comms.
“Yes?” The word was little more than a ragged croak as she reached for the water bottle by the bed and drained it. Leaning forward, elbows resting on her knees, she looked at the empty bottle in her hands.
“Captain, we’ve just received something you should see.”
“Lights low.” She pushed herself up from the bed, stumbling once before she reached her console and clicked it on. “Put it through.” Leaning over, she stabbed at the keypad, keying in the proper codes.
It was barely thirty microts long, and before it was over she’d closed her eyes, trying to will the fine tremors from her hands.
She shook herself fiercely, unsure of how long she’d been standing there. “Yes?”
“We’ve just received word. Your mission is a go.”
Her eyes opened and she breathed deep. “Inform my team.”
Heavy hands pulled him from a hard sleep and his body coiled in on itself as light stabbed at his eyes through the semi-protective barrier of closed lids. Above him he heard the shifting of a body as the Senior Tech’s booming voice joined the dull, pounding pain playing just behind his eyes.
“Come on, ladies, let’s go. Gotta prep the Marauder. Team’s going out.”
He uncoiled like a spring, jackknifed into a sitting position and swung his legs off the bed. Snagging his coveralls from the foot of the bed, he jammed his legs through, stood up and yanked them over his hips.
Threading his arms into their sleeves, shrugging his shoulders into place, zipping up, he was only vaguely aware of the others also getting ready.
His leathers were in his flight bag, along with everything else, ready to go. He hunkered down, yanked it out from under the bed. Standing up, he shoved his feet into his boots, and without bothering to lace them, grabbed his bag and the one with the tools, shouldered both and was in the corridor, footsteps pounding furiously on his way to the bay.
She’d been right. He hadn’t seen her. Not at Last Meal. Not since the medbay an entire solar day ago.
He needed to see her. See that she was all right. Let her know he was there, ready to go.
That everything would be all right.
He moved faster down the corridors, bobbing and weaving through the increasing early shift traffic as the carrier came awake. Increasing tension mixed with the fear in his gut as he moved, spread out and settled in his chest like a steel band that had snapped into place.
He burst through the entry, eyes raking the bay. He was the first one of the team here and crossed the distance to Aeryn’s Prowler with long, solid strides. He popped the hatch open, tossed his flight bag into the back, and closed the hatch.
He was heading toward the Marauder when the Senior Tech blew into the bay, barking orders, followed by the rest of the team.
The hiss cut into the haze of worry wrapping his brain and he flicked his eyes to see what the hell was wrong. Long, tall tech boy had obviously not been focusing and had the gaping red gash across his hand to show for it.
It barely registered on his radar because he hadn’t seen Aeryn yet and they were almost finished.
“Wrap it up and get to the medbay.” A female voice floated over the din of final prep.
He saw her then, long, lethal grace in her body armor as she entered the bay with her team. His eyes drank her in as she moved, ran up her body hungrily and froze.
“Belay that,” Senior rasped. “Take care of it here. No one’s going to the medbay.”
Even this far across the bay he could see that her skin was too pale, ash white, not the cream he knew so well. And that her eyes burned too brightly, fever bright, set in dark circles.
His stomach clenched and rolled as ferocious fear hop-scotched the hills of his spine and spiked straight into his brain. The band across his chest tightened, cutting off his breathing altogether.
“They’re locked down. Some kind of virus. Entire section of the carrier’s been quarantined.”
White noise like the whirr of a drill washed over him as his eyes followed her into the Marauder.
“Did you hear what else?”
He felt the bite of the bit boring clean and smooth through his skull and he scrubbed his hands roughly against eyes that wanted to pop out of his head.
“They got a message earlier from Larraq’s team. He’s dead.”
His inner bastard high-fived him through the white noise suddenly turned black-red haze.
“They’ll all be dead by the time they get here.”
He breathed jagged and sharp, swallowed hard against the need to throw up.
There was no resistance as the Marauder entered the planet’s air space at maximum velocity, following the high, tight vector they were jamming for their approach.
She felt the anxious anticipation that had been building within and around her begin to shift as they approached their target. Out of the corner of her eye she saw the pilot turn his head.
“Two hundred microts.”
She watched her team going through their silent, individual rituals of preparation, saw the fine sheen of perspiration on each of their faces glisten in the cabin light.
The pounding in her head threatened explosive decompression and a spasm shivered through her full-body ache. She was burning up. There was fire in her veins making her sweat heavily in body armor that felt as heavy as the crush of sudden deceleration.
A simple hit and run.
The ship slowed just as she finished her own final run through. Putting on her gloves, she flexed her fingers and reached for the packet of battle stims that was standard issue.
Cover your target window. Hit the Hokothian.
The pilot turned around and yelled again. “One hundred microts.”
She stood with the rest of her team and slowly moved to stand next to the bottom hatch. Once they were in position, they braced against the further deceleration of the ship.
Grab the package and run.
Again the pilot’s voice roared back to them. “Fifty microts.”
Cracking the packet, watching the others do the same, she brought it up and inhaled deeply. It hit like a hammer and cut through the haze in her head. Everything sharpened in vivid relief.
She became acutely aware of the rise and fall of her chest, the air hissing into and out of her lungs, the beating of her heart, and the adrenaline surge in her veins.
Looking around, she tapped her helmet with two fingers, made sure faceplates came down, and then lowered her own. She braced as the ship flared. Silently counting down, she felt the initial rush of the drug back off and settle her, giving her heightened senses and reflexes just as she heard the pilot’s final screamed instructions.
“Go. Go. Go.”
The bottom hatch opened as the ship settled, the grab ring descended, and she followed her Lieutenant as the team dropped from the ship, landing in position, weapons ready.
Dust-off complete, they were moving even as the Marauder lifted off.
Her point man was already scrambling communications inside the building. Reaching the hatch leading to the inside, he disabled the exterior sensors, tore off the cover and then they were in.
She took point as they moved in loose formation down the main hallway, scanning for resistance in their target windows. At the last cross hall down, she dropped suddenly and rolled back just as pulse fire danced across the intersection.
Her lieutenant held up a grenade and she held up three fingers. On the count, she popped up from cover and began laying down suppression fire. He rolled from cover and hurled the grenade. Coming up on the other side, he began firing just as the grenade exploded.
She was up and moving through the black smoke and haze and heat of the explosion, following her Lieutenant.
Ten microts later they were in position at the double doors and she was putting the shaped charge in place before pulling back to a safe distance. When it blew she followed the blast inside, firing at the guards as the rest of the team entered the meeting chamber.
Her people took up their positions off to her side, began firing at their targets. She heard their shots as she took out one guard in her window. Her eyes raked the room, scanning for her objective.
Shots from the side alerted her to the fact that someone had missed a target and she quickly rolled, seeking cover under the conference table.
Running the silent count in her head, she knew they were almost out of time and that they needed to move. Popping up from cover, she sprayed continuous fire covering her window as movement in her peripheral vision grabbed her attention.
He had the case and was running through the ruined chamber toward the open hallway. As pulse fire lit up the chamber, she stepped and took a stance. Raising her pulse rifle, she snugged the weapon to her shoulder, sighted and fired, and watched the back of his head explode.
He dropped like a stone.
She was moving before he hit the ground, oblivious to the scattered shots still coming from the two remaining guards pinned down by the others.
Reaching the body, she quickly rolled it and grabbed the case. Slipping the strap over her head, she settled it against her hip as the last of the pulse fire faded.
“Time,” she yelled. “Let’s move.”
And then she was running out the door, rifle in her hand, scanning for targets and threats as the team formed up in the hallway.
“Out the way we came in,” she said roughly. “Ready?”
They began their retreat to the extraction point, again moving in formation down the hallway. There was no resistance as they worked their way back, silence and acrid smoke of the battle hanging heavy in the air behind them.
Kicking open the door at the end of the hallway, she was the first one through, climbing for the light of the roof and their extraction point.
Suddenly she was there and saw the waiting Marauder, hatch open and ramp down, miniguns covering their escape, ready and waiting to take them home.
She ran up the ramp, the others hard on her heels. The hatch had barely closed when she braced against lift-off, felt the engine’s strain as the pilot pushed it toward the red-line and the ship screamed for open space.
Settling into the jump seat, case in her lap, she stripped off her sweat soaked gloves and watched her team do the same. Almost as one they pulled helmets off and she saw the heavy sheen of perspiration, the rivulets of sweat running down their faces.
She felt it on herself. The internal fire raging in her veins, racing along neural pathways and nerve endings. It scrambled thought and sent fine tremors through a body shivering even as it baked under her second skin of armor.
Her hands wrapped the case in her lap. She looked at her team and wondered how long it would be until they were all dead.
Half an arn. Where the frell was she?
He hooked his thumbs in his belt, tapped long fingers rhythmically against leather. The silence in the bay screamed in his head, jangling raw nerve endings. He rolled his neck, heard the crack as he leaned back against the bulkhead and slid his eyes over to Senior.
The tech stood next to a workbench, tapping a spanner against his thigh. He dragged the palm of a huge hand across his forehead and wiped the sweat on his pants. “Too frelling hot in here. Gonna have to have somebody check the environmentals when things settle down.”
“Yeah.” John rolled his shoulders and cracked his neck as he bit down hard on his lower lip. “We hear anything yet?”
Senior tossed the tool onto the workbench and brought both hands up to rub at his temple. “Nothing.”
“That’s good, right?” John reached up a hand, ran it through already spiked hair, then wrapped his neck and rubbed at the knot at the base of his neck. “If things were frelled…”
“We’d have heard.” Senior cut narrowed eyes to John. “Doesn’t matter. Still shoulda heard.”
“Everything’s fine.” John blew out a jagged exhale. “They’ll be here.”
“Just don’t like surprises. Had too many of ‘em this shift.” Shifting his bulk, Senior settled a hip more comfortably on the workbench and wiped his hand on his thigh. “Everything’s going to hezmana. Got a bad feeling.”
“About the quarantine?”
“Nobody knows what the frell’s going on.” Senior snorted harshly. “Or if they do, they’re not frelling telling us.” He slapped a rough hand to his comms for the incoming hail. “What?”
His nodded his head and his eyes narrowed as he listened. “We’re on our way.”
“Come on.” He came off the workbench and started stalking toward the door. “They’re inbound on short final. You and me are gonna meet ‘em in the bay.”
John pushed smoothly off the bulkhead in one liquid motion and fell into step beside him.
He bounced on the balls of his feet, nerves ramped on adrenaline as he waited for the air lock to cycle and let them into the bay. He’d seen Aeryn’s bag in the Prowler when he’d tossed his in, knew they were all ready to go.
Just gotta get Aeryn and get the hell outta Dodge.
Senior cut his eyes to him scowling and he stopped.
“Where is everyone else?”
“Most of the carrier is on lockdown. All non-essential personnel are in their quarters until the med-techs figure out the frell is going on.”
“What about ships outside the carrier?”
“Most of them are back. The rest aren’t our problem.” Senior tapped a fist on the bulkhead. “Soon as we get our people back we’re gonna hit our quarters.”
His head jerked at the whoosh of the door opening and he was slipping through the sliver of open door before he knew his feet had moved.
The Marauder was settled and sitting like a returning bird-of-prey, the team already on the deck and crossing the bay in loose formation, the lieutenant on point and Aeryn bringing up the rear.
Intense blue eyes ran over her looking for any obvious sign of injury. He took in her flushed face, the heavy rise and fall of her chest as she labored to breathe normally in her battle armor, the silver metallic case hanging loosely in her left hand. Moving back up her body, he met narrowed blue-grey eyes that shifted slightly.
He shortened up his strides, stepping slightly to his left with every one. Even knowing it was coming, he was still amazed that in slow motion it all seemed so…focused.
Aeryn stepped and her arm came up in one smooth, flowing motion, the pistol in her hand flashing silently four times as the members of her team fell forward face down onto the deck, backs of their heads blown off, brains and blood pooling rapidly around them. Senior had time to back up one step back before the pistol flared again and a gaping hole opened in his chest, knocking him flat onto his back, a crimson puddle flowing around him.
Giving the bodies littering the deck a wide berth, John stalked over to Aeryn. She was already on her knees when he reached her, opening the silver case. Grabbing something he couldn’t see from inside, she shoved it away and pushed to her feet. She staggered and he grabbed her arms to steady her, pulled her close.
He breathed harshly in her ear. “Are you hurt?”
“No,” she hissed, pulling back. She shoved an injector into his hand, grabbed his free one and began tugging. “We have to go. Now.”
They reached the Prowler and his hands wrapped around her waist, pushing her up and into the cockpit as he followed. She was already strapped in as he half-fell, half-maneuvered himself behind the pilot’s seat.
Without thinking he pressed the injection gun to the side of her neck and pulled the trigger.
She didn’t flinch as her fingers danced over the controls, abandoning the pre-flight as the engine came to life and systems came on line. They were up and moving before the last green light had flared to life and the first of the klaxons blared and the countdown began.
The hanger doors were beginning to close and she pushed the engine to the firewall before they hit open space. His knuckles were white on the back of Aeryn’s seat as he held his breath and waited for the carrier’s cannon to target them; waited for any response from the carrier.
It never came. There was nothing from the carrier and only black, empty space in front of them before the wormhole blossomed on the horizon, twisting and spinning angrily. Aeryn headed straight for the undulating blue waves.
His hands grabbed the back of her seat and he pulled himself forward, willing himself to silence as she maneuvered closer to the gaping blue maw.
He felt the pitch of the ship and the pull of the giant, felt her fighting the controls, correcting and recalibrating as her fingers flew and they drew closer to the horizon.
Suddenly they were in and he was back on the e-ticket ride, stomach rolling as they careened madly through rushing blue in the twisting, swirling tunnels. Again the ride was over almost before it had begun and they were spat back out into normal space.
Right in front of Moya.
“Whoa.” He breathed out in a slow exhale. “Baby, you did it.”
She didn’t answer and he leaned forward. Her head lolled as he brought his hand to her forehead to wipe away the fine sheen of perspiration gleaming in the dim light of the cockpit controls.
He slapped ferociously at his comms. “Pilot.”
His fingers frantically searched for a pulse. “Deploy the docking web and bring us in.”
“Deploying web now.” Pilot’s voice rose sharp with fear over the comms. “Where’s Aeryn?”
“She’s here, Pilot.” He felt the gentle grab of the docking web as his fingers finally found the faint rhythm at the base of her neck. “But she’s sick.”
“With whatever killed the…other Captain Sun.”
“Is she going to…”
“No, Pilot. She is not gonna die.” The word turned to ash in his mouth, closed his throat and choked him. He swallowed hard against the cold fear and the memories that shuddered through him.
“Are you sure?”
He breathed deep, ran his hands through his hair as he bit down on his lip. “Yes, Pilot, I’m sure.”
There wasn’t an alternative.
Aeryn’s gonna want to know when she wakes up.
“He’s fine, Commander.”
He shivered with relief as the Prowler settled on the deck. Popping the hatch, he began frantically working Aeryn out of her restraints.
Climbing out the cockpit, he wrestled her out of her seat and down the stairs. His feet hit the deck and he dragged her into his arms, cradled her tightly against his chest and ran for the med bay.
He palmed open the door to their quarters, stepped inside and stopped, letting his eyes adjust to the semi-darkness.
In the spill of low light from the corridor he could see that their bed was empty. His gut clenched in a knee-jerk reaction that bordered on panic and set him in motion. He reached the door on the far wall of the cell in half a dozen long strides and stopped again to let his eyes adjust to the deeper darkness of D’Argo’s room.
She was there, outlined in darker shadow standing over her sleeping son. Crossing the distance silently, he wrapped his arms around her waist as he fit himself to her, belly to back and breathed softly in her ear. “He’s fine, babe.”
She leaned back into him as he pulled her closer, her head resting against his shoulder, his cheek resting on hers as she whispered on an exhale. “I know. I was just so…terrified…”
“But he didn’t.” He pressed his lips against her temple. “He’s not sick. He’s sleeping. And you should be, too.”
His arms unwrapped and he slid his hand around hers, cupped it gently and tugged. She followed him quietly out of their son’s bedroom.
“Lights low.” He slid his eyes to his wife as they walked toward their bed, took in the exhausted eyes set deep in dark shadow, the pale skin stretched too tightly over her cheekbones.
He sat her down on the edge of their bed, dropped a kiss on the top of her head and hunkered down in front of her. His fingers ached to touch her; needed to feel her, couldn’t touch her enough, and his hands had a mind of their own.
He willed them to stillness, rested them on her legs and traced feather light patterns on her outer thighs. She ran a hand through his hair, wrapped his neck with gentle fingers and pulled him forward to rest her forehead against his.
He nuzzled her with his nose, slid his cheek along hers, felt the heat still simmering beneath her skin as he repeated himself. “You should be sleeping, babe.”
She exhaled softly. “I know.”
“D’Argo’s fine.” He whispered a kiss into her hair. “And so are you.”
“Larraq is dead.”
He kept the sudden tension that erupted like a solar flare in his gut from reaching his hands.
She felt the subtle shift but pretended not to notice. “So is his team. And everyone on the carrier.”
“Your team brought back that contagion.” He cupped her chin in his hands. “And it doesn’t matter. They would have been contaminated when the Hokothians unleashed it.”
She shook her head. “That doesn’t mean…”
“That doesn’t mean you killed them.” He fixed her with clear blue eyes. “You got the cure. You left the chip with it for them to find…”
“When they find the dead carrier.” She focused her eyes on a spot on the far wall over his left shoulder.
“You know they warned High Command.” He feathered the tips of his fingers down her cheek, ghosted the backs of his fingers along her jaw line. “Told them what happened.”
A small, sad smile pulled at her lips. “Cold comfort.”
“I know that doesn’t make it any better. But it’s more than they had before.” He twined his fingers in her hair. “And now Pilot and Moya can synthesize a cure here.” He leaned forward to kiss her lips gently. “I may be a selfish son-of-a-bitch, but I’ll take that trade any day.”
She trailed silken fingertips down his cheek and glided along his jawline before tracing the outline of his lips. Her breath ghosted along his cheek. “I love you.”
He nipped at her finger as he splayed his hands on the bed on either side of her and leveraged himself to his feet. “I love you, too.”
Dropping a kiss on the top of her head, he stepped back. His hands found the hem of her tee and tugged gently as she obediently raised long, lean arms. Tossing the shirt to the chair, he slid his hands under her knees and lifted her legs up and around, pivoting her on the bed. She settled back against the pillows and slid her feet under the cover.
Leaning over her, weight on his arms, he pressed his lips to her still too-warm forehead. “Bedtime, baby.”
He pulled his own tee up and off in one fluid motion and tossed it to the chair. Flexible fingers worked belt buckles, fasteners, and zipper until his leathers slid over slim hips to puddle at his feet. A step out and a quick flick of an ankle sent them flying into a corner.
Climbing carefully into bed, he settled close in on his side next to her, pulling the comforter up over both of them. One hand twined in the spill of her hair as the other snaked over her middle. He nuzzled into the welcoming join of her neck and shoulder, that spot that always called to him and breathed her in as he pulled her close.
Gentle fingertips traced geometric patterns on the smooth satin of her skin as she snuggled in tighter to him. He wrapped her body head to toe, belly to back, knees tucked in behind hers, leg twined, feeling her heartbeat and listening to the sound of her breathing in the dark.
His fingers moved and he listened long after her breathing evened out in sleep.