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In the Breathless Night

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Guam, Early Fall

The hot, humid night pressed close. The air smelled like another storm was on the way, and the humidity grew as the night crept on. Kono and Adam stayed up on the deck of the tramp freighter, chatting with the crew and Doris well into the early hours of the morning, avoiding the even deeper, stiller air of their cabin as long as possible.

When they were finally yawning too hard to sit up, they headed for their bunk in the hopes of a few hours of sleep. But the sheets clung close, their skin stuck together, and it was open to debate if the tiny plastic fan improved matters by moving the air, or worsened them by the small, electric heat it generated. The glow of the reflected lights from the harbor spilled through the open window, compounding, well, everything.

Making a virtue of necessity, they decided to try the traditional method of courting sleep. It worked to the extent that touch was welcome instead of irritating, but now, for Kono at least, sleep seemed as far away as ever. She lay across Adam’s chest and tried to think of surfing in Hawaii, of comfortable cool water, a fresh breeze, and warm, blessedly dry sand.

Adam’s voice rumbled against her ear as his fingers stroked gentle patterns on her naked back, “I read a lot of science fiction and fantasy when I was a kid.”

Disturbed from her own reverie by his, she chuckled softly, “Yeah, I know!”

His fingers paused and he twisted his head to catch her eye. “How?”

She raised her head to rest her chin on his chest, gently amused by his shock, deeply pleased that he was sharing another private part of himself with her. “You still have a hidden stash.”

It was, like so much else in his life that he really cared about, tucked neatly out of sight, away from prying eyes. In this case, in a stylish and ridiculously expensive under-the-bed bin, from one of those high end catalogues. It was just deep enough for trade paperbacks to stand on edge, three columns wide and some two-dozen rows long. The books stood with their cracked and faded spines and titles showing, the tiny logos of Baen and DAW and Tor and Del Ray half worn away. She could see from the relative states of deterioration of the spines which of them had been his favorites, which ones he had read and re-read the most often. They were alphabetized by author and title, and filled the bin exactly. As if he had allowed himself just this many and no more from a collection that had once been larger.

He went still, his gaze turned inward and a shadow crossed his face. “Had.”

She dropped her head back to his chest, her arm tightening around him in apology and, she hoped, comfort. Had. He’d had a collection, tucked away in a stylish box, hidden under his large bed in his large and stylishly decorated house. All lost to him now, along with the life he had led and the dangerously beloved younger brother he had killed to save her. “Sorry. Go on.”

She felt his stuttering intake of air, and slow release. To her relief, his fingers began moving again across her skin. “So, I was thinking what a weird trip it is to find myself in the middle of one.”

It hadn’t been her favorite genre growing up, she’d been more about ‘Goosebumps’ and then transitioned to thrillers and spy novels. But she’d seen enough movies and at least tried to read Lord of the Rings, so after a moment of reflection, she could understand how, from his perspective, it could seem like that. Ripped from all he had known, sent out into the world with nothing but his wits and skills to keep him safe, pursued by malignant forces, on a quest to find some path that would take him home again. “It does sort of feel that way, doesn’t it?” she agreed with a smile.

“Only I’m in my thirties, I already have the love of my life with me,” she grinned into his skin, “and,” his tone turned droll, “it turns out the wizard in disguise was Steve McGarrett’s back-from-the-dead PTA president mom.”

Kono pulled away and half sat up, staring at him in disbelief. Then she caught the humor in his eyes and the absurd element of truth snuck up and she started to giggle. A kaleidoscope of images of Doris exploded behind her eyes. Doris explaining how to slip through customs, how to barter for IDs and transportation, how to carry cash and weapons across borders. Doris swinging through a doorway as she took out a man with roundhouse kick before breaking his jaw with the butt of her pistol. Doris taking aim with a rifle and hitting her target on a moving ship thirty yards away, and her giggles turned to laughter that she struggled to keep quiet in the silent mid-night watch.

He grinned back at her, his shoulders starting to shake with his own suppressed merriment.

Soon enough they lost control and their gales of laughter floated out the open window and into the still heaviness of the night.