"You don't walk anymore," Finch says, out of nowhere. "Sometimes you just sit up."
I flick ash onto the floor of the q. "I'm not allowed to sit up?"
Shifts on Macedon drag endlessly, like debris drifting through space. Finch doesn't fill our days with talk, but he gets itchy when he goes too long without it. He wants to know what I'm planning. Wants to be a part of it.
As if annoying me will earn him that spot in my life.
"No, but you usually sleep like a damn corpse, so." He glances at me over his shoulder, and I blow smoke into his face.
I keep winding up in his bunk. Or him in mine. And he's always complaining about something but never telling me to stay away.
"What do you mean, 'sit up?'"
He shrugs, rests his face back on the pillow. The nape of his neck peeks out from underneath the collar of his shirt. His hair's growing longer. More signs that time is passing us by.
"You sit up. Stare at the wall like you don't know where you are."
When you sleep around as a career, you never really sleep alone. Even when there was nobody else in my bed, I'd wake up all tense. Sure there was somebody else in the room. Another person, deceptive and invisible, watching what I did in the dark. Watching me with other bodies: ones I was forced to be with and other ones I chose.
Guess I still do that.
I stub out my cig on the wall instead of on his skin. Finch isn't done talking. I'm done listening but I still keep him in my sights. He's just another person hiding in corners of the q, an unknown threat. But I know him now, and he knew me from my pacing at night.
"Honestly it freaked me out the first few times."
'Honestly,' he says, like he has a deceptive bone in his body.
"But not anymore." I ask but it's not a question. Sometimes when I talk to him it sounds like somebody else's voice. Someone else's life that I rode along in, that wound me through space to end up at his side.
"Nah." Finch yawns. "I just pull you down 'till you fall asleep again."
When the jets are particularly bloodthirsty, or when Azarcon's being more of a dick than usual, I wonder if it hadn't been all bad with Falcone. I had my own ship, my own crew. Somebody else's objective, but there was freedom in that kind of life. The euphoria of lawlessness, of preying on the weak, of resigning yourself to a short, selfish existence. Everyone I'd ever known had clawed something out of me, why should I be the better person?
I was tired and I wanted out, but Finch wanted to do the right thing.
Why'd I let somebody like him have this effect on me?
"You always pull me down." I mutter, staring into the shadows, looking for someone else, lingering just out of view.
He rolls over to fix me with a look, one he thinks is pointed. But it's sleepy eyed and helpless in the dark. It's cute.
"You're always so dramatic," he mutters, leaning into my chest.
He falls asleep almost immediately. Somehow he's gotten comfortable here, on this ship. Alone in a room with me.
This is one of the more spacious prisons I've ever been in, but I still feel trapped.
My stay on Macedon operates just like any other prison; they let us out on regular walks, surrounded by fuckers who want to cleave my face off and bust my bones. Every jet on this ship blames me for their problems, just like every prisoner back on EarthHub wanted a scrap of me. A scrap of praise or skin or notoriety. Who killed Falcone's successor? Who gets to wear that badge? It’s the same, on Macedon or in the prison.
The rest of the time we're bottled up in this room, with nothing but each other for company. The locks on the door are for protection, I tell Finch, but I don't say which of us is being protected.
If I needed to, I could blast my way through this ship. I'd leave it behind like the prison, like the Khan, like my family.
That thought seems pretty appealing as Finch whistles, tuneless and shrill, his head lowered near Dexter's cage.
"Cut it out. He's not a songbird."
Finch glances at me, halfway interested. "What kind of bird is he?"
'A lovebird,' only suddenly I don't wanna say it. I don't want to bring up Falcone, or talk about how these types of birds supposedly die when they're alone. That's not true, not just because Falcone told me it wasn't, but because Dexter's been pretty self-sufficient. He was apart from me when I was in prison and we both survived just fine.
My bones feel hollow like a bird's.
Finch looks at me all expectant, tilts his head like the damn thing in its cage.
"The kind of bird that doesn't sing." My skin itches for a knife. "Leave it."
Finch smiles, the same halfway kind he does when he wants to mess with me. I hate him. He whistles anyway, one bird to another.
We attract stragglers on our walks.
Usually it's junior cadets with shit to prove, or Archangel jets with an axe to grind. I haven't figured out which one this kid is yet.
He's playing some game with the jet who's escorting us. Big guy tells him to get lost, the straggler coos and snickers, touches his arms and slides away from getting slapped. I know that dance. It wasn't one of my better performances, but I remember the steps.
I don't care until the jet's bedbug turns from his man, purposefully bypassing me to settle his stare on Finch. He smiles like Finch is a specimen pinned to the wall.
"Hi again." He's got a nice mouth, chipped tooth aside. I want to knock those teeth straight down his throat.
"Hello." Finch is cautious, but not afraid. Maybe they know each other. Finch probably gets up to all kinds of shit when he's not locked up with me. Now I'm pissed and I can't place it.
"Don't talk to the prisoners," the jet warns.
"But I gotta talk to everybody, it's my job," the kid whines. He doesn't take his eyes off us. "Don't be jealous, mano."
The jet swings and doesn't miss this time. The kid folds like he's used to taking a punch. I remember that dance too.
Finch's breathing picks up for some reason. He doesn't know what kind of show we're watching, but he doesn't like it.
"Get lost." Everybody looks at me. Guess nobody expected me to weigh in.
The bedbug cradles his jaw in one hand. I can't tell if that's a new bruise forming or one that's almost healed. He leers at me. "Oh c'mon, Kirov, I thought we could catch up."
His shirt slouches down one arm. Run-down kids wear clothes like that, hoping the extra fabric will keep people away. It never really worked, not in my experience anyway.
A familiar tat peeks out from under his sleeve.
The kid – Shiva's kid – catches me looking. I've been boxed up for too long; I must be losing my edge.
"See ya around." He slinks off too slowly, earning another swat from the jet, less forceful this time. I guess you can't be too rough with a whore on a ship like this. More subtle differences between here and the Khan.
"Why are there other pirates on this ship?" Finch asks this dumb shit even when he knows nobody will answer.
How'd a whore from Shiva get on Macedon? Did he fuck Azarcon? Nah, he's not Azarcon's type. This ship's captain is all military protocol, his uniform buttoned tight to the chin, but I screwed those types too. I know what gets their gears turning. And it's not a brat like that kid, not somebody who smiles cheekily and lets you play grab ass with him in front of the prisoners. What guys like Azarcon want is a challenge, as close to a scrap and a struggle you can get without holding a man down.
A couple shifts later I spot Shiva's brat while we're waiting for the lev.
His head's bowed, hair in his eyes, as he argues with somebody smaller than him. Size wise smaller, but his presence is bigger, it takes up the whole end of the corridor.
Falcone's favorite little bow mouth is all tied up in knots. I wonder what he and Shiva's leftovers are fighting about. What's an empty husk like Musey want with a whore? Maybe Falcone didn't screw all the fun out of him after all.
"Enough, Evan," I hear Musey say. Everything about Musey is built up on his baby-faced frame, piles of cold resistance over open wounds. That stacks him high above the rest of us; whores and protégés, pirates and traitors. 'Enough' Musey says, so soft you can barely hear it, even when every syllable echoes like an explosion.
With concerted effort I see Musey reach out. He touches a scrap of skin at the kid's wrist.
The jet escorting me pushes a rifle between my shoulders, and I get marched into the lev before I can see more. Not that I wanted to see more. Vulnerability is a weapon you swing like a knife. Seeing it honestly- it makes my stomach churn.
What's a whore doing with Musey? I can't imagine anybody brave enough to sling their privates towards him; that's a surefire way to lose them.
Shiva had protégés too, didn't it? Maybe that's how Musey picked him up, from Falcone's work with Shiva. Maybe Musey brought him along like I brought Finch.
Rika had asked if Finch was my protégé. Said he was in love with me.
'Enough,' Musey had said, and Shiva's kid had twisted like Musey's touch burned him, the words sliding between his ribs like the blades we were trained with.
I stare at a fixed point on the floor until a migraine builds behind my eyes.
Finch spends the day in engineering, life systems' wiring winding through his bones. They don't bring him back 'till blue shift and immediately he collapses into bed. Extends an arm for me. I sink into him like a warm bath. I feel like I've run my body ragged, pacing in my head.
"I'm tired too." Finch hooks his chin over my shoulder. He says stuff like this, like he can read my mind. Then again, I've drained most of my skull rambling to him in my sleep, so maybe he can.
"Do you like it?" I ask. I've got my back to Finch, but I can feel movement behind me, imagine Finch's stupid head tilt. "Mech work."
"It's fine. It's what my parents did." He must sense me listening, 'cause he goes on, "There's not a lot of opportunity on the Rim. You take whatever job's available."
I offer the barest of nods. That sounds familiar. Finch's arm rests over my waist, the border wall of a blanket between his hand and my skin.
"You just…" Finch breathes out, slow and thoughtful, and the air tickles the back of my neck. "Grin and bear it. I guess."
That's rich, coming from him. I've never known Finch to 'grin and bear' anything. He took a bolt cutter to the guy that abused him. Sure, I killed my first fuck, but then I spent the next decade whoring because it was easier. You take whatever job's available.
I pick at a loose string of the blanket.
"It's not so bad, you know." Finch mumbles into the back of my shirt. "At least here we're part of something."
"Part of what?" I can't hide the barbed edges of my voice. "The fight against the pirates?" We're only part of that because of circumstance. Sometimes I don’t even know how much I believe it. From the start I never wanted to fight them, I just wanted out. But this is the only way out. There's not a lot of opportunity for prisoners either.
Finch yawns, cheek cool against my skin. "Part of each other."
Vulnerability is a weapon.
Does he 'grin and bear it' when it comes to me, to being part of each other, or does he want this?
I think of Shiva's kid, Evan, his skinny little wrist and Musey's hand over it. Aching, wanting to pull away, but neither of us do.
I miss Estienne.
It feels like a betrayal when Finch's body is crowded to mine. And maybe 'miss' is the wrong word for it, because I don't miss the manipulation, the secrets, the low, predatory look in his eyes when he knew he couldn't cajole me into doing what he wanted anymore.
Distance from him felt good. It felt like being grown up, an adult in ways other than fucking and being fucked. Adult like the days on Colonial Grace where I'd wander as far as my legs could take me.
I didn't feel so grown up when I heard about Genghis Khan being blown to pieces. When I felt Rika and Ville's fingers bunched in the front of my shirt, their tears on my neck.
"I wish I could keep you here," Estienne had told me once, all dreamy sighs, all smoke and mirrors. He knew it was important that I had my own ship, and that I needed to go. And I wanted to go, I wanted to be a captain, an adult, a pirate. Not just a whore who fucked Est in front of Falcone to prove I was worth a scrap of metal floating away from all this.
But still, Estienne wanted to keep me. I still can't figure out why. Keep me in his bed, in his sights. For himself, for Falcone.
Maybe I only think of Estienne because he's the last person who was with me as long as Finch.
Can I keep Finch? Is he even mine to keep?
Finch opens his eyes, stare heavy and warm in the dark.
I'm sitting up. Maybe he thinks I'm asleep. If I stay like this, he'll reach for me, pull me close to him. Keep me, or maybe I keep him.
I lay down and press my body to the lines of his. His hands skim along the edges of my clothes, careful not to go too far.
It wasn't like this with Estienne.
That thought turns my whole body feverish hot.
We work each other out of clothes from the waist down- all you need to remove to get business done. But this isn't business; nobody's paying me to screw this time, not with information or favors. I don't know what either of us expect to get out of this. We keep falling into it.
Falling into it because he's clueless or because it's all I'm good for. With Estienne it kept happening too, but I don't guide Finch's body into pleasing bends, I don't teach him anything.
It's silent except for the wet sound of our bodies together.
Are you done, he asked me once, in the quiet like this, slotted together like this. It was the start of this thing between us, ugly and awful and familiar at first, and now.
Now, I brush his hair from the back of his neck, suck a bruise into the skin there.
Finch doesn't ask questions like that anymore. He makes those soft, pleased noises under my mouth. And in the gold shift he annoys me with useless questions and pokes at the open wounds of my past. He traces hands over my scars and talks about opportunities and hope. Things I never allowed myself before. They wrung hope from me like they wrung my neck.
Hope, Finch talks about, and the future; this nebulous shared thing between us, in more ways than just our bodies linked together. Ways where we keep one another – but I'm still not sure what for.
"Yuri," he says in that lilting voice.
Maybe I'm still that pirate Falcone raised, and maybe Estienne still keeps me the way I want to keep Finch forever.
Maybe no matter what we do, protégés find protégés of their own.
Finch needed me to live when I never deserved it. He needs me and says I need him back, even if I fight him on it. Needing me has never done anybody any favors, I had said, but he shrugged it off.
And this is it, this is how that kind of need ends. How it ends for anybody stupid enough to be needed by me. Bleeding out and dying, dumbly looking around 'cause he's got no clue why he's on the floor.
"Yuri." Gasping like he's being shunted out an airlock. Oxygen ekes out of him in holes, in the ragged edges of his body the bolts pierced. Macedon is under attack. No place is safe, didn't I tell you? I was right, Finch was wrong, but it's hard to feel smug when the idiot's dying in my arms.
"Shut up." My voice is a thin, ragged thing. I don't recognize it. I barely recognize myself with him. I clench my fists around him, hands wet with blood. It never used to bother me before. "Finch, shut up."
The firefight dies down and more jets show up, hustling us out. Finch's hand was in mine and now it's not, slipped away.
My footsteps heavy, I slouch towards Medical. I need to go after him.
He has a spot in my life, he's got it from more than just annoying me. He's not that annoying anymore, not really. I don't hate him. Not so much that I want him to die. To die alone in some attacked ship, cold and dark and waiting for me to rescue him like Estienne waited.
I thought about Estienne and then turned around and fucked Finch. I should've kept them separate, I never should've let Finch touch those dirty memories of mine. Shit happens because life is shit, I know my dumb thoughts don't affect that, but. I'm guilty for doing it. For doing him. For not cutting him loose sooner and instead dragging him down with me when he's stupid enough to think he was the one pulling me down.
I'll do whatever I have to just to keep him, not like how Estienne tried to keep me, not like how Falcone and the pirates kept me. Different, better.
He says we're a part of each other and the thought of losing him feels like losing a limb.
Grief's always been like a fist closed around my throat. But nobody's dead. Not yet anyway.