“Oh, Ryder, how thoughtful,” Lexi said, smiling at the gift Ryder had sheepishly placed on her exam table. It was an arrangement of attractive red fruits nestled in an artfully woven basket, with a few long-stemmed flowers wound around its edges for decoration. A lovely gift indeed, although not quite as lovely as the giver, who was currently shifting awkwardly from foot to foot, as if awaiting approval.
No, not lovely, Lexi reminded herself, as she always did these days. Ryder is merely my friend and patient. But lately, it was getting harder to remember why she’d thought taking a break from relationships was a good idea.
“Yeah, I—you’re welcome,” Ryder said, interrupting Lexi’s internal self-reprimand. “I found them for sale in the marketplace, and Jaal said they were delicious. All his idea, really.”
Lexi wasn’t so sure. From the hopeful look on Ryder’s face, she suspected the Pathfinder had been looking for a gift to begin with. It wasn’t the first one Ryder had brought back to the ship for her, and even though Lexi knew she shouldn’t entertain the human’s crush—a crush she might have returned, if she weren’t the ship’s doctor, and if she didn’t have to maintain the utmost professionalism—she couldn’t seem to resist that dopey grin.
“If Jaal says they’re delicious, I’m sure they are.” She scooted back on her wheeled chair, making room for Ryder to perch on the exam table. “Why don’t you join me and try one? We’ll find out together.”
Ryder brightened immediately. “Just one, though,” she said, hopping up beside the basket. “The rest are for you.”
Lexi sighed. In addition to being sweet, Ryder could also be incredibly stubborn. “If only it was this easy to get you to eat your vegetables,” she mused, taking one of the fruits from the basket. It had a soft, fuzzy texture, which reminded her of a sweet Earth fruit Harry had introduced her to years ago.
What was called it again? Peach?
Yes, this was very much like a peach, Lexi decided as she scanned it with her omnitool. It was merely habit, and if it was for sale in an Angaran market, she doubted it was poisonous—but it never hurt to be sure. Sometimes, food could have wildly different impacts based on species, even among levo eaters.
The readouts showed no potentially harmful compounds, so Lexi brought the fruit to her lips. “Should be fine to eat,” she said, for Ryder’s benefit. “High sugar content, though.”
Ryder took it cheerfully in stride. “Did you think I was trying to poison you?” she joked, selecting another fruit from the basket.
Lexi fixed her with a playful stare. “Are you confessing? Silly thing to do before I’ve even taken a bite.”
“No, I just…” Ryder lowered her fruit, staring at it with much less amusement than before. “I wanted to do something nice for you. To make sure you were okay after…”
“After our conversation at the bar,” Lexi finished for her. They hadn’t discussed the incident since, although Ryder had made a point of dropping by the medbay at least once a day. Probably to check on me and make sure I’m not moping.
“Well, yeah. I just thought you could use, um. Some reminders. That you have friends here, including me, who like you for who you are, and don’t think you’re cold, like some very stupid people in the past have told you.”
“They weren’t entirely wrong,” Lexi said, pausing to munch on the fruit. Its smell was rather mild, but the taste was an explosion of sweetness in her mouth, and the texture was perfect, soft without being mushy. “Mm. Jaal was right. This is delicious. What did he say it was called?”
“Pursik,” Ryder said. “And they were wrong, Lexi. You’re passionate and driven, but that doesn’t mean you don’t care. Totally the opposite. Even Peebee agrees.”
Lexi’s eyes widened. “Does she?”
“Yeah. We had a talk. She’s dealt with her share of bad exes, too, so she’s got trust issues.”
“With medical doctors?”
“With lots of people,” Ryder said, “but I have a feeling she’ll try and apologize soon.”
“Ah.” Lexi took another bite of the fruit, licking her lips to prevent its juices from running down her chin. Eating it was proving messier than she’d anticipated, despite how mouth-wateringly good it tasted. “I appreciate the sentiment, but you don’t need to defend my honor.”
“It’s not about that,” Ryder protested. “I just—I like you, and the rest of the crew should, too. At the very least, they should give you a chance before writing you off.”
Lexi knew she should say something to discourage Ryder’s ‘I like you’. It was the professional thing—the right thing to do. She was Ryder’s doctor, and in no way ready for another relationship. Even if the person interested in me is kind, and thoughtful, and sexy…
She coughed, nearly choking on her next bite. Sexy? Where in the galaxy had that thought come from? She’d noticed Ryder’s physique before, of course. It was impressive, and not just for a human. Muscular and fit, but not overly bulky. She’d spent a fair amount of time examining it in a professional context, and once or twice, admiring thoughts had crossed her mind. But this time, she couldn’t seem to think about anything else.
“You’re beautiful,” she blurted out, the words going from heart to mouth while completely bypassing her brain. At Ryder’s look of surprise, she attempted to course correct almost immediately. “A beautiful soul, I mean. You let everyone on your crew know you care about them, even fussy old doctors like me.”
“Old?” Ryder shifted on the exam table, scooting closer. “You’re only what, two hundred? Hardly old.” She’d finished half of her pursik, and Lexi’s gaze was drawn to the plumpness of her lips as she took another bite, and the graceful line of her throat as she swallowed. Her heart somersaulted in her chest when Ryder’s tongue snuck out to catch a stray droplet at the corner of her mouth.
“Sometimes, I feel like I’ve already lived a thousand years. Not counting cryosleep, of course. And I noticed you deflect my compliment.”
A grin spread across Ryder’s face. “I don’t know what to do with it! You usually take the piss out of me instead.”
“Only when you deserve it,” Lexi said, “which is often.”
“That’s more like it. Our usual banter.” Ryder pushed off the exam table, setting her feet back on the floor. “Well, I should… whoa…” She swayed, clutching the edge of the table.
Immediately, Lexi was out of her chair. She set her half-finished pursik aside, forgotten, as she hurried to steady Ryder. “Are you all right? What happened?”
Ryder gave a weak smile. “Nothing. Sudden dizzy spell. I’m fine, I think.”
“Sudden dizzy spells aren’t normal,” Lexi insisted. She knew she should be worried—she was worried—but she couldn’t help but notice the heat of Ryder’s arm under her palm, even through Ryder’s shirt. “That’s it. I’m giving you a quick check-up.”
Ryder sounded unsure, but Lexi assisted her onto the exam table, grabbing a fresh pair of gloves from a nearby box. She snapped them onto her hands, trying not to notice the smell of Ryder’s body wash. It was floral, and it had taken Lexi a little while to realize that it was so prominent because it lingered in Ryder’s hair. One of the more obvious differences between their species…
I really was lying when I said Ryder wasn’t my type, she admitted to herself as she activated her omni-tool, scanning Ryder’s vitals. If she wasn’t my patient, I would…
Intense, vivid images of the things she would have liked to do swam through her mind as she struggled to maintain her composure. Her entire body felt overheated, like she’d been exercising vigorously, and her nipples had stiffened against the undershirt beneath her jumpsuit.
“Vitals look, um…” It took an effort of will to tear her eyes away from Ryder long enough to check them. What she saw surprised her, momentarily distracting her from her growing discomfort. “Your heart rate has increased, and your hormone levels have fluctuated significantly. I have a pretty good baseline for you, and this is definitely abnormal…”
Her voice trailed off, and she completely forgot what she was saying. While she’d been studying her omnitool, Ryder had stripped off her shirt. She tossed it aside, breathing heavily. “Sorry. I felt really hot.”
Lexi blinked. Hot is certainly a word one could use. She felt a sudden wave of dizziness as she admired Ryder’s abdominal muscles, which appeared much more defined beneath the thin material of her undershirt. No! Patient! She forced herself to look at Ryder’s face instead, but failed miserably when her gaze landed on Ryder’s nipples. They were visibly hard, forming stiff peaks that strained against the fabric.
Ryder noticed her stare, but didn’t object or crack a joke. She took another shuddering breath and leaned slightly closer.
Lexi shook herself, closing her eyes momentarily to regain some control. She forced herself not to stare at Ryder’s stomach or breasts, and breathed shallowly so she wouldn’t catch another whiff of Ryder’s scent. “Let’s see,” she said, probing gently along Ryder’s jaw and behind her ears. “I don’t feel any inflamed lymph nodes that would indicate an infection or allergic reaction…”
Goddess, her skin is so warm and soft. The little hairs are adorable.
“I feel fine,” Ryder protested. “I swear, I just got dizzy for a second.”
Lexi ignored her. Reluctantly, she stopped probing Ryder’s face and activated a light on her omnitool. “Look left.” She shone the light into Ryder’s eyes, trying not to dwell on how very blue they were. “Now right. Hmm. Your pupils are dilated, but—”
A shudder coursed through Lexi’s body. She let her wrist fall, unsure whether to step backwards to put some distance between herself and Ryder, or step forward and brace herself on the table. She stepped forward, leaning in as if drawn by a magnet.
“Are you okay?” Ryder asked, her brow furrowing in concern. “Is something wrong with you, too?”
Everything’s wrong! Lexi wanted to scream. The most beautiful creature in the world is sitting on my exam table, and I can’t touch her except in my capacity as a doctor! She burned with the desire to reach out, run her fingers through Ryder’s dark hair, and take those tantalizing lips in a kiss—the kind of kiss she had only experienced in her most shameful dreams.
So what if you kissed her? a seductive voice whispered. Ryder wouldn’t complain. She’s had a crush on you for ages.
No. I can’t…
But even as she wrestled with her own conscience, Lexi found herself leaning forward. “No,” she mumbled, her lips hovering mere inches away from Ryder’s. “Nothing’s wrong.” Then, when Ryder made no effort to withdraw, Lexi kissed her with all the ferocity of a woman who feared she might never get the chance again.
It was better than she’d dreamed in her weaker moments. Ryder tasted like the pursik fruit, but also like heat and sex, and Lexi soon found herself addicted. Ryder froze for a moment, obviously shocked, but soon melted into the kiss, returning it with the same enthusiasm.
The alarm bells in Lexi’s head grew fainter and fainter. She couldn’t remember why she’d held off for so long. Why she’d tried to convince herself it wasn’t right. Kissing Ryder felt very right, in every possible way, and she wanted to keep doing it.
Before she fully realized what was happening, she’d climbed onto the exam table, and Ryder was tugging frustratedly at the zipper to her jumpsuit. Somehow, Lexi wasn’t the least bit surprised by this. Her flesh burned, and she struggled to help Ryder pull her suit down without breaking their kiss. She didn’t think she could bear that, not even for a moment.
Ryder’s hands palmed her breasts, kneading them through her bra, and Lexi spilled a sob of utter relief into Ryder’s mouth. Every part of her ached in ways she didn’t have the words to describe, and only Ryder’s hands and lips could soothe her.
Her own hands were just as busy. One tangled in Ryder’s hair, pulling lightly at her ponytail, and the other gripped her shoulder, as if in search of an anchor. “Sara,” she mumbled between kisses, still unwilling to give up Ryder’s lips for more than a few moments. “I’m sorry…”
Ryder broke away, looking dismayed. “Sorry? Don’t be sorry. This is right.”
It wasn’t right, and Lexi knew it. The fruit. It had affected them, somehow. Enhanced their desire for each other to the point where it couldn’t be ignored any longer. But all she said was, “I’m sorry I didn’t do this sooner.” She kicked her suit off, very awkwardly, and went to work on her bra as well.
Ryder’s hands only left her breasts long enough for her to take it off. They returned as soon as the way was cleared, and Lexi straddled Ryder’s hips, gasping as the heat of Ryder’s mouth moved down, sucking her sensitive neck ridges. “Ohh,” she hissed, bucking forward as Ryder’s teeth pinched her flesh.
“Mm.” Ryder tugged briefly, although not quite hard enough to leave a mark, and then stopped kneading Lexi’s breasts, reaching down to cup her ass instead. The new hold forced Lexi to lift off her heels, bringing her breasts in line with Ryder’s face. The warm lips that had trailed along her neck latched onto one of her nipples instead, and she cried out, grasping Ryder’s shoulders and letting her head loll back.
She’d had other lovers touch her this way, of course, but having Ryder do it was entirely different. Every pull of Ryder’s mouth, every squeeze of those rough, sure hands, sent Lexi into uncontrollable shudders. The material of her underwear clung to the swollen lips of her azure, proof of her desperation. Even without any contact between her legs, she feared she might come, or worse—inadvertently reach out for a meld, like an inexperienced maiden during her first time.
“Sara,” she pleaded, rocking her hips forward against nothing. “Sara, please…”
Fortunately, Ryder seemed to sense what she needed. She kissed her way across to Lexi’s other breast, and one of her hands slid up along Lexi’s shaking thigh, cupping between her legs.
Lexi sagged with relief when Ryder’s fingers found her azure. It was instant bliss, and the buzzing in her head grew stronger, urging her to reach out, to share, to connect. She barely suppressed the impulse. Instead, she wriggled and squirmed until Ryder’s fingers found her entrance, and sank down onto them.
The fullness made her head spin. If Ryder hadn’t been holding her, she might have fallen. Instead, she tumbled helplessly into Ryder’s mind, forgetting her resolve of mere moments before. The sensation of Ryder’s fingers inside her was simply too intense.
It’s okay, Ryder thought, instinctively trying to soothe her. It’s okay. I want you here. I want this.
Those thoughts, clouded by lust, but still undoubtedly sincere, did more to reassure Lexi than anything else. I didn’t mean to. I didn’t mean to… But she made no attempt to withdraw from the union, if that was even possible while she was so far gone. Instead, she rode Ryder’s fingers, holding Ryder’s mouth tight to her breast.
After only a few strokes, Lexi came. Ryder hadn’t even had time to find the right angle, but she was so overwhelmed that it didn’t matter. She ground the ridge of her clit into Ryder’s palm, trembling as her peak took hold. If she hadn’t been wearing gloves, she might have gouged Ryder’s shoulders with her nails. Instead, she merely clung desperately, shuddering through a sudden, violent release.
Beneath her, Ryder stiffened, grunting around her nipple. Through the meld, Lexi felt a torrent of sensations and feelings — pleasure, relief, and even a little awe, but also something else. Something warm and welcoming, which urged her to lower her walls. Something so pure and simple that at first, she wasn’t sure whether it was real.
Ryder, Lexi asked, even though she already knew the answer to her own question. Do you love me?
There was no hesitation. Of course. I thought you knew?
If she had known, Lexi had done her best to minimize the possibility. She’d tried to convince herself that Ryder’s feelings were merely a small crush, and her own were even less serious. But now, there was no denying it.
You shouldn’t love me, Lexi thought. I’m too cold. I’m no good as a lover. That should have doused the fire that was still blazing through her body, but it didn’t. She continued rocking on Ryder’s hand, completely unable to stop even though she’d already come once. Her body was already building toward another powerful peak, and her first hadn’t even taken the edge off.
Yes you are. You are, Lexi. Ryder detached from her breast to gaze up into her eyes, tilting her chin up and pleading wordlessly for a kiss. You’re perfect.
In her hyper-aroused state, Lexi was in no position to argue. And maybe that was a good thing. Her doubts no longer gnawed at her while she kissed Ryder again, with everything she had. She had no choice but to believe everything Ryder was telling her, and surrender to the storm of pleasure and emotion.
When they came again, Lexi couldn’t be sure where she ended and Ryder began. The barriers between their bodies and souls had dissolved, forming a new being of pure love. They rejoiced in the union without shame, and clung to its vestiges long after the initial wave of pleasure had broken.
Lexi relaxed, leaning forward to rest her forehead on Ryder’s shoulder. It felt good, right, to be this close, even as the meld faded. Deep down, she still felt a twinge of guilt, but even so, she couldn’t help smiling.
“Don’t feel bad,” Ryder said, rubbing soothing circles on her lower back with the hand that wasn’t between her legs. “I’ve wanted this for a long time, Lexi. And the meld made me realize you have too…?” She ended the phrase as a question, which Lexi hurried to answer. She couldn’t bear for Ryder to be uncertain about where they stood.
“I tried to ignore it. You’re my patient, and I’m… not suited to relationships. But…” She lifted her head, giving Ryder a soft smile. “You’re right. I wanted this, before the fruit.”
Ryder groaned. “Shit! The fruit! I’m so sorry, I had no idea it would do that…”
Lexi silenced Ryder with a kiss. She had sensed Ryder’s surprise and confusion in the meld. There wasn’t a duplicitous bone in the human’s body. That body, though. She still has some of her clothes on. Completely unacceptable. Obviously, the pursik’s effects hadn’t worn off yet—or perhaps Ryder was simply irresistible, now that she’d had a taste.
A taste. That was another good idea.
It didn’t take much coaxing to get Ryder to lay on the exam table. Lexi quickly dispensed of her gloves, which she’d completely forgotten about in the heat of the moment. She didn’t want any barriers between them as she took her well-earned turn exploring Ryder’s body. She kissed her way along Ryder’s neck, down to her chest, and lavished attention there as she helped Ryder wriggle out of her pants and underwear.
“I want to taste you,” Lexi breathed against Ryder’s sternum, already parting the Pathfinder’s thighs. “Is that all right?”
Ryder huffed with amusement and impatience. “Please.”
Lexi kissed her way down Ryder’s stomach, already grinning. She hadn’t tasted Ryder yet, but she could already tell it was a flavor she’d never get enough of.
“Oh! Fuck, Lexi!”
Peebee stopped dead in her tracks as she approached the medical bay, her face twisting in horror. “What the fuck?” she whispered to herself, taking a step back as the moaning continued.
“Fuck, your mouth!”
Peebee’s face burned. Not much embarrassed her—her sense of humor definitely ran toward the crude and irreverent—but this was the last thing she’d expected when she’d gathered the courage to head down to the medbay and apologize to Doctor T’Perro.
So distracted was she by the obvious sounds of sex that she didn’t notice the large person behind her until she backed straight into them. Whirling around, she came face to face with Jaal, who eyed her with a smirk on his face. He steadied her with one of his large hands, for which Peebee was grateful.
“Sorry,” she mumbled. “Uh, don’t go in there. The Doc is… busy?”
Jaal gave a low, rumbling chuckle. “I see Lexi is enjoying her gift.”
Peebee blinked, still valiantly trying to ignore the moans coming from within the medbay. “Gift?”
“I advised Ryder to buy pursik at the market. We offer it to our lovers as gifts. Its juices enhance feelings and sexual pleasure.”
“Lexiii! I’m gonna… ahh!”
“Um.” Peebee tried and failed not to grimace. “Lexi and Ryder aren’t a couple.”
Jaal looked surprised, then concerned. “Are they not? Oh. Oh no. It seems I have misunderstood.”
“Well, I guess they are now,” Peebee said with a shrug. “C’mon. Let’s give them some privacy, I guess. Maybe next time, warn someone before you give them Angaran Horny Fruit, okay, big guy?”
Probably a good thing he did, she thought, but didn’t say. Otherwise, Lexi might never have taken the thermometer out of her ass long enough for Ryder to get some.