Her Majesty was yawning.
Caine wasn't surprised. While he'd have been quite content to stay on Stinger's roof all night with her head pillowed in his lap, she'd woken after little more than an hour and insisted on going back inside, and while he'd gone to bed himself her light had stayed on. If she had managed to sleep, it hadn't been for long.
Sleepy or not, however, she did look quite regal. The dress she wore was from Earth, but it looked close enough to Entitled fashion; it was silvery, and floated in layers, and that was about all the detail he could describe, aside from the fact that it suited her very well.
She held the skirts up above the dust as they walked towards the skimmer. Early morning light gilded what was left of the corn - it had been harvested two days prior, and left Stinger's place feeling exposed - and there was a distinct chill in the air. This hemisphere of the planet was tilting towards winter.
Caine fell in behind her, watching as Stinger and the rest of the Stormbreakers waited next to the slightly bigger ship that would take them to Gabal. Tsing's crew was already on board the Neva, waiting in orbit; the skimmer and the mistico had been brought from Gabal to provide more room. The staff on Seraphi's business planet were apparently quite eager to serve her Recurrence - the ships had arrived mere hours after the request.
Kiza and Dr. Thompson would be following in a few days' time; the economist had some affairs to finish before leaving, and Kiza had volunteered to wait to go with her.
Jupiter slowed as they neared the skimmer's open boarding ramp. "Are you sure this thing is big enough?" she asked Caine. "It doesn't look like it can fly, let alone do interstellar travel."
"The ship that took you from here to Cerise was smaller," Caine told her, though it pained him to revisit the memory. If he'd just been a little bit faster -
As if she sensed his discomfort, Jupiter gave him a tired smile. "Right, space tech. I'll get used to it." She waved to the Stormbreakers and headed up the ramp, and Caine followed.
It seemed a bit excessive to him to be taking three ships, particularly the skimmer, but Captain Tsing and Stinger had agreed that bringing the skimmer directly into the landing bay on Gabal would be both more secure and more impressive than using a transport beam or a shuttle, particularly if the mistico full of Stormbreakers landed first. Caine approved of the security, at least.
The little ship was luxurious to the point of absurdity, with a plush seating area in front of the flight console and a huge viewing window; behind the flight deck were living quarters equivalent to the apartment Jupiter had rented in Chicago, but much more richly furnished. Caine, inspecting it on arrival, had noted with relief that it was all clean, with fresh linens and even a few pieces of clothing in the narrow closet.
He didn't know why Queen Seraphi might have wanted a ship with no space for her attendants, but it didn't matter. Maybe she just wanted some time alone.
It was distinctly odd to think of an Entitled being so...ordinary, but being near Jupiter kept adjusting his worldview.
Her Majesty walked around the flight deck, peering at the controls with interest as Caine brought them on line. "That is so cool," she murmured.
He grinned a little. "Would your Majesty like to close the hatch?"
He took her hand and guided it into the holofield, showing her where to pinch her fingers and turn, and felt a pulse of pleasure at her delight when the ramp retracted smoothly and the hatch irised shut.
"Remember when you had to open the door for me on the Neva?" Jupiter asked, smiling up at him. "At least I can do that much for myself now."
"There are Entitled who never open doors for themselves either," Caine pointed out, amused, and she rolled her eyes.
"They'll get stuck in their own bathrooms someday. I'll leave the driving to you for now though."
Caine nodded. He approved of her endless curiosity concerning the technology around her; it was always safer to know how to do things even if one never expected to need to. "Excuse me, your Majesty, I need to do a communications check."
Jupiter nodded and wandered back towards the observation window, standing to watch out of it as Caine checked in with the Neva up in orbit and the (yet-unnamed) mistico parked in the corn stubble. He could see the latter through the window as it sealed and shielded, vanishing in a shimmer of distortion; he did the same with the skimmer. No passers-by would be reporting UFOs today.
Her Majesty was silent as he lifted the skimmer out of atmosphere and around the planet's curve. They were meeting the Neva on the far side of the planet, since portaling in view of the occupied space station was considered bad form, but it didn't take long to enter orbit next to the cruiser's bulk. The Stormbreakers' ship came in right behind.
Jupiter was still staring out the window at her Earth as if it were looking back at her.
Maybe it is.
Caine ran through the pre-portal routines at speed, but with care; he hadn't piloted one of these models before, though the controls were standard. Everything was in order; he finished the second comms check and went over to where her Majesty was standing, sliding his arms around her waist and rejoicing silently in his privilege to do so. She sighed happily and leaned back against him.
"We're ready to go," he said after a moment. "The escort waits on your word."
Jupiter sighed again, not as happily. "I suppose we can't keep them waiting."
He puffed a breath of laughter. "They will wait on your Majesty's pleasure all day, if you wish it so."
"Yeah, but that's just obnoxious." She folded her hands over his and squeezed, then let go, yawning. "Go ahead, Captain, let's get out of here. Second star to the right and straight on till morning."
Caine snorted at the title and released her, heading back to the control console to relay her order. Their little convoy began to move, with the Neva taking point to form the portal.
But before the bigger ship even began, the controls under Caine's hands flashed red and the skimmer veered off-course. He swore in surprise, then dismay as the console refused to answer to any of his gestures.
"What's the matter?" Jupiter braced a hand against the bulkhead.
"I don't know." He thumped the console with one fist, to no effect. "I'm locked out - Majesty, strap in, I don't - "
The comm was a babble of alarm, but he had no time for it. Caine dropped to one knee and levered off the console's casing, groping for the cutoff and hoping desperately that if the mistico was in their path, it would get out of the way in time.
"Caine?" Jupiter's voice was sharp in alarm, and she hadn't moved.
And then he heard the distinctive rising hum of the portal generator and lunged at her, wondering wildly if they had time to get to the lifepod, but before he was halfway there the skimmer lurched hard and he went tumbling.
Light vanished, and reality wavered as they passed through the portal. He heard Jupiter gag and felt his own gut twitch queasily, but then they were through and things were solid again.
Alarms sang clashing notes; there was only a little light, most of it coming in from the big window. Caine got his limbs beneath him and staggered up, searching desperately for his Queen. There, there she was, in a heap next to the bulkhead, and he fell down beside her and gathered her up. "Jupiter?"
"'M okay, I'm okay, are you okay?" Her voice was wavery but her hands reached out for him, patting frantically. "Caine?"
"Not hurt," he bit out, then, "Are you sure?"
"Yeah." She braced herself against him, sitting up. "Just knocked off my feet. Caine, is the ship okay?"
He didn't want to leave her, but she had the right of it. He levered himself to his feet again and returned to the console; its lights were burning in the darkness, most of them the angry red of error.
"The hull and life systems are intact," he reported after a quick examination. "I'm not sure about the guidance system or communications."
"Yeah, no kidding." Her Majesty was standing now, still leaning against the bulkhead and peering vaguely in his direction; she wouldn't be able to see anywhere near as well he could, not in so little light. "What happened?"
He growled a little. "Sabotage." It was the only answer; ships did not portal at random. The knowledge was a sick knot inside him. Someone had sabotaged the ship, and he hadn't noticed; someone had tried to hurt his Queen.
The knot was rapidly becoming rage.
"Well, hell." She sounded more annoyed than upset. "So why are we still alive?"
"Good question." Caine regarded the console sourly, then bent to reach into the still-open casing and feel around. The cutoff resisted his push, as it was built to do, then snapped into place.
The console went dead. Caine took in a slow breath, released it, and flipped the switch back.
The lights came back on. Jupiter blinked at him across the little space, face creased with dismay and anger. "You know, I'm getting pretty tired of people trying to kill me."
Caine grimaced and straightened. "I'm not sure your death was intended."
"Yeah? What the fuck was that then?" She stalked closer, and he had to remind himself that her anger wasn't directed at him.
Caine poked at the controls. They had folded down on the reset, and now came back up, though many were still glaring red. "Someone got into the programming to set up an unauthorized portal. If they could get that far without being detected, they could easily have damaged life support, or set up an engine overload. Someone wants you...out of the way." And all the reasons he could think of for that were very, very bad ones.
"Mm." Her Majesty frowned more deeply. "Do we even know where we are?"
"Not yet." He brought up the comm panel, which was silent. "But I think we're alone. For the moment."
"And if I want more answers I should shut up and let you work, huh?" The humor was strained but there, and he couldn't help softening at her wry smile. "Okay. But one thing first."
"Your Majesty?" And it still startled him when she embraced him, hugging hard, though he didn't hesitate to return it.
"I'm glad you're okay," she said to his collarbone, and he folded her closer, pressing his cheek to her hair, grateful beyond words that she too was unhurt.
Then she laid a quick kiss in the hollow of his throat and let go. "I'll stay out of the way."
Caine was no engineer, but the Legion expected its soldiers not only to handle a wide range of craft, but to be able to perform basic repairs when necessary. It didn't take him long to confirm his initial suspicion - only the programming had been tampered with, not the hardware. And while that was reassuring on one level, it also presented its own set of difficulties.
As he worked, he sifted the scents of the cabin as best he could. Aside from himself and Jupiter, they were mostly stale, and all foreign; he didn't know any of the people who had last been in the skimmer.
But he set their traces in his memory nonetheless. If - when - they got out of this, he would personally chase them all down, and find out who had dared to threaten his Queen.
Jupiter had settled herself on the viewing couch in front of the window, apparently watching the stars, though she was chewing on her lip the way she did when deep in thought. And though the window had no reflection, she knew without turning when he was finished. "What's the word?"
Caine let out a long breath and came to where she was sitting. He tried to stand at parade rest, but she pointed at the other end of the couch, and he perforce sat.
"Your Majesty," he began, "I apolo - " And got no further as her hand landed firmly on his mouth.
"Was this something you should have seen?" his Queen asked sternly.
Compelled, he could only shake his head. She nodded, once, and let him go. "Then it's somebody else's fault. Not yours."
He had to take another breath before he could go on. "I, uh. The programming was sabotaged, set to portal this ship on its own, probably the moment we left orbit."
"To somewhere specific?" She gestured at the starfield outside the window.
"I don't think so." Caine looked out, but there was nothing to see besides those distant suns. "If it were, someone would have found us by now."
"Unless they missed the bus," Jupiter muttered, but didn't argue. "So can you fix it? Or do we call for a tow?"
"That's where it gets complicated, your Majesty." Caine swiped a hand through his hair nervously. "The ship doesn't need fixing, exactly; the main computer system needs to run a system cleanse and reboot. But that will take hours."
Jupiter glanced around apprehensively. "Would we have enough oxygen?"
He hastened to reassure her. "Yes - life support would still be running. But in the meantime everyone in the fleet will be..."
"Panicking," she supplied grimly. "Yeah. Well, can we call them, let them know we're okay? Maybe have them send a pickup?"
"We could," he said, and she raised her brows.
He kept his voice level. "Transmitting our position - if we can figure it out - and status would be on the same level as a distress beacon. It could mean that whoever sabotaged the ship could find us first."
"But they sent us somewhere at random," Jupiter pointed out. "They don't seem to want us."
"But others might." Caine chose his words carefully. "Your Majesty, the laws concerning rescue and salvage are - harsh. You could be forced to give your rescuer concessions you might not otherwise consider." He hesitated as she bit her lip again. It might be the best thing all the same, to get her to safety as soon as possible, but - "They might even be able to claim ownership of me, depending."
Her eyes flashed with that sudden fury that was like a lightning strike in clouds. "Oh, hell no. Cross that one right off the list." Her grip on his hand was tight. "We are not getting separated."
He had to swallow before he could continue. "Then...then the only choice is to run the cleanse."
Jupiter nodded. " So how long will the reboot take?"
Caine squeezed her fingers and let go. "The reboot, not long. The cleanse...about twelve hours."
Her jaw dropped. "Twelve hours? And I thought Microsoft was bad."
He shrugged. "We can cut that time a little if we reduce life support to minimum. But it will be dark and cold in here."
She waved that aside. "There's blankets in the little bedroom back there. We can snuggle to keep warm." Her smile was teasing, but quickly gone. "Go ahead, start the reset. I'll find those blankets."
Shutting down the ship felt eerie, as if it were never going to come back to life again, but Caine ignored the feeling and made sure the cleanse was underway before going back to the small room.
Only the emergency guide lights were on, and there was already a chill in the air, but her Majesty had piled all the linens on the wide bed. She'd even found the emergency kit and cracked a cold-light; its amber glow looked almost like fire, but steadier. Her elaborate gown lay draped over the headboard, and the closet was open and clearly rummaged through for whatever she'd changed into.
And she was mostly buried under a quilt, eyes closed; clearly her lack of sleep had caught up with her.
Caine slid the door shut behind himself and wondered if he should sit against it, at least until the room was colder, but a drowsy voice came from the heap of bedding. "Get in here, Wise. No noble freezing to death allowed."
"As your Majesty pleases," he replied, unable to suppress the smile, and sat on the edge of the bed to take off his boots.
It felt dreamlike, almost, to lie down next to her and take the blanket shoved in his direction. She was hardly visible, but he could feel her warmth against his skin nonetheless, and as soon as he was settled she startled him by sliding over until her quilt-bundled form was pressed against him.
Very tentatively, he laid one arm over her, and was rewarded with a contented mumble. Shortly her breathing slowed into true sleep.
He just lay still, staring at the far wall in the faint light, and wondered at how his barren life had bloomed.
She slept for almost four hours. The ship got colder, enough to make the blankets welcome but not quite so cold that their breath was frosting. Caine got up once to check the progress of the cleanse, glaring in frustration at the console. Putting life-support on minimum had shaved about two hours off the estimated repair time, but there was nothing more he could do to speed things up.
He was drowsing himself, on his side with Jupiter snuggled against his lower spine, when she woke. Her groan brought him back to consciousness instantly, but as he rolled over she was staggering out of the bed towards the tiny refresher unit, quilt dragging behind her. Caine watched her disappear, finding himself grinning, and took the opportunity to stretch and check the cleanse again before returning to the nest of covers.
She came back smelling of fresh water and drowsiness, and he silently held up the blanket's edge for her to dive under. "Thanks," she mumbled, and rubbed her eyes, visibly waking up. "How're we doing?"
"The cleanse is on schedule. You can go back to sleep," he offered; she still looked tired.
"Mmm." She muffled a yawn, blinking. "Maybe in a bit."
Caine dared to gently push her hair from her eyes. "There's nothing else to do."
She curled a smile at him and propped her head on her hand, elbow denting a pillow. "Have you ever been in a situation like this before?"
"In bed with an Entitled?" he asked, deadpan, and Jupiter snickered and poked him.
"Stuck in a broken spaceship. Waiting for rescue, or whatever."
"A couple of times." Not a very pleasant memory, an overcrowded troop transport full of nervy Legionnaires, some of them wounded - that one had been a retreat. "Not this comfortable."
"Yeah, this thing is ridiculous." She laid a hand on his chest, a light touch. "Tell me what it was like, being a soldier."
To his surprise, he did. Not the ugliness of it, the blood and screaming and death, though from the way her eyes darkened he knew she could hear it all the same. But there were funny moments too, stories of training mishaps, as well as beautiful worlds and endless vistas, and the glorious times when they would all fall out of the sky and descend on their targets like the wrath of the heavens.
"Do you miss it?" she asked when he ran down.
He had to think about that. "Yes...no. Not exactly." When she cocked her head, he struggled to find the right words. "It's what I was trained for, what I was bred for. It's what I am, or...or was." He drew in a breath. "But I don't want to go back."
Her lips parted, but before she could speak he reached out, touching her cheek with the tip of one finger. "I don't want to leave you."
"You won't have to." It was a promise, a firm one. "I'll buy out your Legion contract myself if they ever try to take you away. And then I'll give it to you."
Delight went to bafflement in one second. "I...you can't do that."
She frowned. "What, I thought the Legion worked the same way as the Aegis. Stinger said - "
"No, it's - Splices can't own their own contracts."
She squinted the way she did when some part of her new universe didn't make sense to her. "Seriously?"
At his nod, she cursed. "That...that is totally fucked up. Every time I think I understand this setup, it turns out to be worse than I thought."
"It wouldn't make sense if we could," he explained, or tried to. "A Splice is property - first of the Splicer who breeds them, then of whoever purchases their contract. Splices not under contract would dilute the value of their genomic line."
His words didn't soothe her; she clenched both fists, staring at him in what seemed to be disbelief, and he wanted to apologize even though he'd only spoken the truth.
Then the anger seemed to drain out of her, and her eyes squeezed shut for a moment. "You know," she said distantly, "the worst part of this is that none of you seem to see just how sick this all is."
"It's...how it is." He'd never heard anyone protest it before. "I understand that you think it's wrong, but..."
"Your whole life." Her voice thickened. "You've spent your whole life being exploited. It's so not fair." A tear slid from her eye, and he wanted to lick it away. "Nobody ever let you have a choice."
He settled for blotting the moisture from her skin; the salt scent stung his throat, and some part of him marveled that anyone, that she, would weep for him. "That's not true. I had a choice, once."
"Yeah?" She blinked another tear free. "What did you choose?"
He followed its path as it rolled down her cheek. "To fly through a hurricane to find my Queen."
He watched the droplet fall past her chin towards the sheet below, and held out a finger to catch it. Then her hand was tilting up his own chin, and her lips were on his, a guerdon so sweet it overwhelmed the salt and sorrow.
It was a hot, slow bliss, to kiss her as much as he wished to, and feel her smile against his mouth. Caine pulled away long enough to chase the moisture from her skin, absorbing the flavor with absolute concentration, because it was Jupiter and therefore essential. And then she was tugging him back to meet her kiss, purring a little as their lips met again.
She smelled so good, grief and anger fading into pleasure and arousal, and he couldn't resist kissing his way to her ear and drawing in the warm scent of her from the delicate skin just below. Jupiter giggled, hands curving around the back of his neck. "Tickles," she whispered, and when he would have pulled away guiltily she held on. "I don't mind."
Something in him loosened at her smile, and Caine thought dazedly that he could just lie there forever and let her be his oxygen, but she was reaching for the fasteners on his shirt, flipping open the latches and peeling back the collar. "If you get to smell me, I get to smell you," his Queen said, eyes crinkling, and then she was pressing her nose to the hollow of his throat and inhaling.
His eyes dropped shut and the sound he made was somewhere between a whine and a groan. She giggled again and kissed him there, and he remembered wanting to present his throat to her. "You smell good," she commented.
"Your Majesty," he managed, though it came out sounding strangled, and he could feel her shiver at the words. And he had to kiss her again. She liked his scent. How was that even possible?
One of those small strong hands was still playing with his collar; the other stroked his cheek and curved around to his ear, and Caine shuddered, skin prickling delightfully. And then she was pulling away just far enough to whisper in that same ear. "What do you want?"
The question didn't make sense to him. Caine blinked at her, confused, and Jupiter met his eyes, smiling. "What?" he said after a moment.
She cupped his face in both hands and kissed his nose. "What do you want? And don't tell me it's up to me, Caine. This is a mutual enterprise."
It was hard to think in the close-wrapped dimness, with her scent filling his nose and her taste filling his mouth; all his instincts told him to follow where she led, and rejoice in her delight. And while it was true that there were plenty of things he'd imagined doing with her, they were all strictly in the realm of fantasy. Entitled didn't associate with Splices; the fact that Jupiter touched him and kissed him on a regular basis was so outside what Caine knew to be true that he set it aside as a separate, almost mystical thing.
But his Queen was asking - asking - and so he searched for a path for his words.
"I want to...to breathe you." It was her turn to blink in confusion, and he returned her touch, tracing the line of her jaw with one reverent finger (so soft, she was always so soft). "Your skin, I want to just...breathe. Taste." Steep himself until he could sense nothing else.
Surprise melted into a smile, pleased and intrigued. "Okay, sounds like fun." Jupiter reached for the hem of her top, but Caine startled himself by laying a hand on hers.
"May I, your Majesty?"
Her smile widened and her hands fell away. "Knock yourself out."
He'd learned to cope with the idiom. Caine leaned in to brush his mouth over her cheek, her ear, her neck, filling his lungs with her essence. She shivered hard, and her scent deepened with arousal, winding tendrils into his brain and making the rest of the universe vanish.
He tugged down the edge of her top to expose her clavicle, velvet over the delicate knobs of bone, the tiny hairs there rising as his breath passed over them. So rich it was dizzying, and so warm in his mouth; as if every molecule of air was conspiring to intoxicate him.
The join of her neck and shoulder, the firm roundness of her bicep; when her top would go no lower Caine switched to the cooler skin of Jupiter's wrist and forearm, daring to taste her pulse. Her chuckle ended in a gasp, and the sound gave him a surge of pleasure he scarcely recognized. Her other hand stroked the back of his neck, thumb brushing tentatively over his brand, and he huffed against the tender cove of her elbow, almost thrown off track by the tingling sensation.
Rational thought was thinning out. Caine let her arm go and pushed her top carefully up, exposing the curve of her belly, and closed his eyes as a fresh wave of her scent rose up. He sank into it, rubbing his face against the softness, trying to transfer her smell to his own skin so that he might never lose it.
Jupiter gasped again, her stomach tensing and her hand closing in his hair, but not to pull him away; her other hand was tugging her top up further. He took breath after breath, saturating his lungs with her, feeling as if it would mark him as hers even more than her seal on his arm. He wanted to draw the blanket back over them both, just stay there always, head pillowed on her abdomen and her heartbeat in his ears, but that heartbeat was picking up speed as he nosed up her torso and -
"Caine." Her scent was sweeter here, between her breasts, and she wriggled slightly, but only to pull off her top entirely. He had to taste, he had to; his own pulse was beating like a drum and he could hardly think at all. So soft, so soft under his lips, his tongue; he couldn't get enough.
"All right - my turn." Determined hands tugged his head up, and he blinked and focused on his Queen's flushed face.
"What?" he said, or started to, but she was busy unfastening the rest of his shirt and pushing it off his shoulders. The chilly air had no chance to affect him; her mouth was on his skin in turn, her fingers tracking over his freckles, and Caine's head dropped back in stunned pleasure. It took all his concentration to put his wings into standby mode, before they spread out and destroyed the nest of blankets.
His hands flexed slowly in the sheets; Jupiter was seeking out his scars, kissing each one gently as if to ease the old pain, and Caine locked his throat on a whimper. When she lifted her head she was smiling, eyes sparkling in the low light. "You are so beautiful," she said softly, and words deserted him entirely, but it didn't matter because her lips were on his again, her hands stroking his shoulders, his arms, his chest in patterns that made him shake.
He let his fingers skate up her spine; she purred into his mouth, but her skin was cooler than he liked, so he dragged the nearest blanket up to cover her. His Queen lifted her head and laughed, and slid closer still, leg slipping between his; Caine would have been ashamed at his own arousal, but the way she hummed and kissed him shorted that emotion out. He could only fill his palms with her shoulders, her hair, the nape of her neck - only taste, and feel.
Then she straddled him, and the pressure made Caine gasp, hands dropping to grab her hips. Before he could apologize or even let go, Jupiter was grinning. "It's probably illegal, but I read your medical file," she murmured against his jawline. "So I know you're clean. And I'm clean, if you'll take my word for it. Plus I'm on this primitive tercie thing called the patch."
She looked Caine in the eye, brows rising, cheeks still flushed, and if he hadn't already been wordless the question there would have struck him dumb. He knew he was gaping, knew he needed to answer, but he couldn't even move.
Is this even real?
His Queen bit her lip, still smiling, then dipped her head to whisper in his ear. "Yes or no, Wise. Give me a sign."
Somehow he managed to jerk his chin downward.
She laughed again, then took his hands in hers and slid them under the waistband of her loose trousers, so that he was touching bare skin instead of cloth. And his brain seemed to white out with pleasure and wonder, letting instinct take over.
Caine pushed the trousers down, then all but whimpered when Jupiter wriggled against him to rid herself of them; she busied herself with the catches of his own pants, but in the meantime his greedy hands were taking in all they could, from fragile shoulderblades to supple spine to the firm muscle below. Then she was urging him out of the rest of his clothing; he kicked the pants away in a daze.
Instinct said touch, so he did, eyes and nose and ears all assessing what pleased his Queen the most as she trembled and sighed in his grasp. Instinct urged taste, so Caine sought out her most fragrant, delicious spots, thrilled when she moaned and her own hands faltered.
But instinct fell silent when Jupiter shoved him gently against the headboard and knelt astride him, heedless of the chill. He had no coding for someone who kissed him as she took him into herself, who stroked his astonished face and said "I've wanted to do this since the first time you smiled at me."
Then she pulled back her hair, tilted her head - eyes bright, breathing fast, and oh her scent, her scent - and whispered "Go ahead."
Slowly, reverently, he opened his mouth against the tender skin of her throat, set his teeth, bit down.
Gentle and perfect.
Her soft cry of pleasure squeezed Caine's eyes shut and set his heart to pounding. It wasn't instinct that moved them together, slow and deliberate in the dimness; it was something they shared, passed from mouth to mouth, lingering in the slide of fingers, rising with the hot tide of rapture in his blood. It was the light in her eyes as he kissed her, the tickle of her hair, the fiery pleasure of every movement, until Jupiter shuddered and cried out again. All the glory he ever wanted was there in his arms, gasping his name, and it was one syllable too much; he was lost in the firestorm, and there was nothing but ecstasy and his Queen.
He was lost, lost, lost, and utterly found.
He was hers.
She'd never seen him sleep.
Jupiter lay still and watched, knowing that the smile on her face was distinctly sappy and not caring in the least. Caine lay on his side, lashes motionless on his cheeks and face smooth with relaxation, looking...innocent, she decided finally. Like he must have been, once, before his Splicer began to mold him for a soldier.
One hand was beneath his head and the other lay limp between them, but his legs were tangled with hers as if even unconscious he couldn't bear to be parted from her.
I was right. You are incredible. Not the way she'd imagined, exactly, but his stunned reverence had been an amazing turn-on. Jupiter was quite willing to keep practicing until they got to eager and confident.
The past hour did require some consideration, though, and she pulled her thoughts into order even though what she really wanted to do was drift on the lingering high. It's like...like he never expected this to happen.
It was true that they hadn't really discussed their relationship, but Jupiter had assumed that they were both moving in the same direction, and from what little she'd seen - and read - she didn't think the galactic population at large behaved that much differently when it came to pairing off. And with Caine's enhanced sense of smell, he couldn't possibly have missed what he did to her just by saying your Majesty.
But I swear he thought he was dreaming this whole time.
Part of her wanted to be mad at him for still thinking so little of himself, or maybe it was still that whole Splice-Entitled thing. But you didn't talk about it either, Jupiter reminded herself. You'd found the perfect guy, and things were going so well...
She'd let it go. The thought brought a small surge of shame. Her relationship with Caine was one thing she'd thought she didn't have to worry about, and in the process she'd - well, she didn't think she'd actually hurt him.
But I'm gonna have to be careful. Jupiter held back the desire to brush a finger over his lips; it would wake him. Because whatever's going on in that gorgeous head is not what I thought it was.
Caine's slow breathing deepened. As his lashes quivered, Jupiter put that line of thinking away for later and leaned in to kiss him, matching skin to skin under the blankets and not caring at all that they were both a little messy from earlier.
His mouth was slow and sleepy at first, then moved on hers with the familiar warm gentleness that was so alluring. She felt his lips curve, which made her smile too, and the kiss was ruined as Jupiter giggled. Caine's rare deep chuckle just made her grin the wider, and she felt his hands sliding carefully down her bare sides and around her waist.
She hummed happily and reached up to hold him still for a better kiss, only backing away enough to form words. "Up for round two?"
His body certainly was, Jupiter noted with something distinctly like glee. Caine's arched brow meant "pun noted and ignored", and he kissed her again, lingering until she was ready to whimper herself. "As your Majesty wishes," he replied.
"I'm going to buy you a wand with a star on top," Jupiter told him, then moved her hands lower before he could ask. His gasp was very gratifying.
They had a snack later, though with the power down the galley was unusable; Caine found some emergency rations in a cabinet, and they were edible if uninspired. And soporific; Jupiter was yawning again as soon as they finished, and barely felt Caine tucking the blankets back over her.
The lights coming back to full woke her later, and she rolled over to see Caine disappearing into the flight deck. When he came back, he wore a satisfied look.
"The cleanse is finished, your Majesty," he reported. "All systems are back up and we can leave whenever you're ready."
"Terrific." Jupiter stretched, still swaddled in blankets, though she could feel warm air coming out of the vents. "I want a quick shower first though."
It wasn't a shower, exactly; it was something that used sound waves, or at least that was how Captain Tsing had explained it to her back when the whole thing was just getting started. Jupiter couldn't actually hear it doing anything, and it just didn't feel as cleansing as water, but she had to admit it worked; when she stepped back out of the cubicle, her skin and hair were clean and fresh.
She wrapped up in a blanket long enough to stick her head through to the flight deck. "Do you want a turn?"
Caine glanced up from the controls. "I already had one."
Huh, must have been more asleep than I thought.
It didn't take her long to get back into the gown she'd bought for the trip, or to settle the sparkling headband - almost a tiara - that set off the outfit. I hope they're not too freaked out by us being missing, she thought, though she was pretty sure it was a vain hope.
As she walked back into the flight deck, Caine glanced back again. "We're ready to portal, your Majesty."
Jupiter picked up speed to go sit on the lounge in front of the window; the transition still turned her stomach. "Okay, go ahead."
The portal bloomed in front of them in amber light; a few seconds later, they were elsewhere. And the view took Jupiter's breath away.
Gabal was blue and white, much like Earth, but it had no green at all - it seemed to be entirely ocean, at least on the side that was facing them. There were ships arcing out to meet them, and Jupiter heard Caine acknowledging them tersely, but she couldn't take her eyes from Gabal. It felt like seeing Orus for the first time, excitement underlain with anxiety. It's yours, she told herself silently, but that felt no more real than it did when she looked at Earth and said the same thing.
Two of the ships followed them down into the atmosphere. The water stretched from horizon to horizon, but as they descended Jupiter saw an island of some kind come into view. It was quite large, but there was still no green or anything that looked like vegetation; as they got closer, it revealed itself to be entirely manufactured, at least on top. Buildings, streets, pavements - a city, dominated by a spire much taller than anything else. Is the whole thing artificial?
Caine guided the skimmer towards what looked to be a circle of concrete or something similar, but as they neared it irised open; they kept going down, revealing a landing bay, well-lit and occupied with what looked to be about fifty people, all facing the landing pad and waiting. The sight made Jupiter swallow nervously.
"You'll be fine, your Majesty," Caine said softly behind her, and she had to smile.
"Remind me not to try to keep secrets from you. Do I look okay?"
Caine shut down the controls, his gaze flicking up from her toes to her face, and the light in his eyes gleamed out at her for an instant before he shut it away. "Very royal."
Jupiter snorted at him and smoothed her hands over her hips just to make sure the fabric was hanging properly. The dress was simple compared to the elaborate thing Kalique had dressed her in, but it still felt not-her. "Okay then, let's go."
As the skimmer's ramp opened, Caine took up position behind her and just to her left. Jupiter reached back to squeeze his hand quickly, and the wrap of his fingers around hers made her feel just that much more confident.
Then she let him go, raised her chin, and started down the ramp.
At least half the crowd were those gun-robots, she saw, drawn up in two ranks in precise order and flanked by Stormbreakers with their wings mantled. Most of the rest were people she didn't know but who probably worked for her, a wildly mixed group of faces and shapes. Where's Stinger? I don't see anyone from the Neva either -
As they stepped off the ramp, Jupiter heard a soughing noise, a collective intake of breath from the watching crowd. And with an explosion of noise and blurring movement, she and Caine were suddenly surrounded by Skyjackers.
All of whom were pointing weapons at Caine.
"On your knees!"