The pub isn't the typical fare, as pubs go. Sure there's the flowing ale and obligatory Celtic music in the background. Normally pubs are a meeting place, verging on "family friendly". But all the patrons here seem on the rough side, keeping mostly to themselves. The newcomer walking up to the bar feels the wary eyes staring.
"Can I buy you a drink?" she asks the rugged gent, with the lightly striped hair and 5 o'clock shadow, who's standing at the bar nursing the last of his drink. His Aegis uniform says he must be an officer.
He downs the rest and doesn't bother looking directly at her. Though he can see her short blonde hair and full red lips from his peripheral vision. "I don't play with zooies," he says in a terse 'end of conversation' tone and his eyes flash yellow.
"Well, I don't think I want to know what a zooie is by they way you said the word. This was just the first pub I could find. The first thing that reminded me anything of home. Thought I'd spend my last few nights of freedom in somewhat familiar surroundings." She folds her roughed up hands on the bar counter as if to root herself there.
"Do you know what kind of pub you walked into?" he turns to her and demands with a scowl and clenches his glass tighter.
Glancing around with her inquisitive brown eyes she answers deadpan,"Looks like a normal pub to me."
"Tersie, you haven't noticed that every single one of the patrons here isn't human. have you?"
"Expecting everyone in the 'verse to look like me would be silly and boring. What's your point?" she counteracts, starting to feel defensive.
He sighs and pinches the bridge of his nose. "The sign outside says 'no humans'. Didn't you see?"
"Oh... If I did, I couldn't read it," her face falls. "I guess I should go then... S-sorry for bothering you." She embarrassedly slinks from the bar toward the door and wraps her jean jacket around her tighter, but a splice with a hint of cobra in him blocks her way. He speaks in a hissing kind of language. She stutters and tries to step around him, "I... I'm sorry I don't understand you. I know now that I'm not welcome, so I'm leaving."
Behind her she hears the officer at the bar swear, "Beeswax." Stomping, heavy sounding boots come up behind her and then he's cussing out the snake splice in that odd dialect. When he comes to some sort of grudging understanding, he gruffly leads her by the elbow out of the establishment.
Only when they reach her lev cycle, does he let go. "You owe me a drink for that, missy. He wasn't going to take no from you. Thought you were a zooie too. I told him I'd already taken you up on your offer. He's a regular there, and I won't be able to go back there without a fight."
"Well, I definitely owe you and I obviously don't know the establishments here. The ship I'm staying on has a well stocked bar. Can I be your barkeep for the evening? Or is there a bar you'd prefer?"
"Your captain won't mind you bringing company aboard?"
"Nope." She puts on her helmet and hands one to him.
"Maybe we should just go to a bar near your ship..."
"I make a mean wild honey buck and they stocked a home brewed mead that is to die for," she casually mentions into the helmet mic and straddles her latest model lev rocket bike.
"Sold. How'd you know what kind of drinks I'd be interested in?" Standing there for a moment, his eyes follow her sharp features and curves. The breeze blows her golden hair through her transparent mag helmet. He questions his motives before he gets on behind her. Beeswax, what did he just get himself into? Not only is she beautiful, she looks far younger and must be several classes above him status wise with a ride like this. Not likely a thief. There's something more to this tersie though. She looks like she's used to hard work - maybe a mechanic. But not likely from her build. His hackles are up.
"Educated guess. Your drink smelled like honey and the mark on your neck is a bee. And I like them too," she shares as she starts up the bike and speeds off, causing him to grab on tightly and lean into her. She offers, "Name’s Bridget. What's your’s?"
"Stinger. Drinks or bees?" He anticipates the turns with her and helps lean into the turns for efficiency.
"Both, I guess. You're not a dead weight back there, what do you fly?"
"Zeroes and a clipper. How does a tersie know how to fly one of these, let alone have one?"
"Part of the training and perks for my upcoming job. Though, I had a motorcycle back home. Not sure why I need to be able to fly at this point. Since when does a bondservant need to drive? But it's one of the few fun parts. Zeroes huh? Cool. Wanna drive?"
"You'd trust me?"
"Stinger, if you can fly a Zero, this is cake." She slows and parks before getting off and encouraging him to scoot to the driver's spot.
"That's not what I was talking about."
"Listen, you're Aegis and you just got me out of an uncomfortable bind. That's good enough for me. Besides, you have the right to ask if you can trust me too. I've seen some weird shit since I left Earth. It's just common sense to be on guard." Hopping back on the cycle - behind him now, she clasps her hands around his waist.
"Bondservant? You read the agreement thoroughly?" he asks with concern and continues in the direction they were headed.
She groans and thunks her helmet on his back in frustration. "Yes, 'Dad'..." The silence becomes uncomfortable, so she explains, "I would have done anything to heal my son. He's all I've got."
Stinger shakes his head at the memories of Kiza having the bug. "Been there... So who are you contracted to?"
"Oh bloody hell."
"What? Everyone knows he's a pompous twit and uses people, but what's that reaction about?"
"I had to make a deal with him too... to save my daughter."
"Oh. Is she doing ok? My ship is at the Helix Temple dock, by the way."
"She's fine. If Titus gets his hands on me, I won’t be."
"Sounds like an interesting story. Will you tell me?"
Abruptly stopping, he powers off the cycle and starts to get off as he removes the helmet. "I knew I should listen to my instincts. Damned entitleds! Sent a tersie who's just barely matured to a woman to do their dirty work. I almost fell for it."
"What are you talking about?!?" she's genuinely perplexed and grabs his coat sleeve.
"Titus sent you after me! That's why you zeroed in on me! Where's your tracking chip? How long until they arrive?" he crosses his arms, brushing off her hand, as he confronts her and his eyes are blazing gold in warning.
"What tracking chip? I don't get that for another two days! Listen you caught my attention, that's all! And I'm 39, thank you. They saw the same gene problem in me, just latent, and put me through the treatment too. That's why I have such a damned long contract."
He gruffly grabs the chin of her helmet and turns her head to look for an implant. When he doesn't find one, he rubs the back of his neck in embarrassment and lets out a breath to decompress from the stress that had slammed into him. "Sorry. I just thought... "
Pursing her lips then looking up at the sky, she grudgingly accepts his apology. "I get it, OK. And I see it won't be safe for you on the ship, just in case Famulus is there. We can go anywhere you'd like. Do you want that drink or not?"
"After what I said, I'll buy," he volunteers, still suspicious but not aggressive anymore.
"Deal. Where're we headed?"
"Across the street." He jerks his thumb over his shoulder. "Best mead planetside."
He holds the door for her and the barkeep greets him by name when they enter. "Who's the lady with ya today?"
Stinger introduces them. "Bridget. Don't let her quietness fool you. She's got pluck."
Bridget holds out her hand to the man behind the bar, who returns a solid handshake and he answers "Jinco. Good ta meet ya, Bridget. So what'll ya have?"
"Stinger recommended the mead here."
"It's all he ever gets, cause of the fire honey. Two pints comin' right up."
Jinco plunks the tankards down in front of them. A dull red glow emanates from the mead inside and she swirls the drink and takes a sniff. "Cinnamon?" she asks hesitantly.
"No, but similar. It'll warm you on the coldest day," Stinger replies savoring his own mug.
Her first sip has sweet tones with that oddly cinnamon like hint and it does feel warm all the way down as she swallows it. "Even on days your only acquaintance grumps at you."
"Ouch," Stinger retorts.
"Well, it's working. And it really is as good as you said."
He gives a little one sided smile and motions with his pint toward a table, "Wanna sit?"
With her nod, he ushers her over and inquires, "So where on Earth are you from?"
"Nebraska. Omaha to be exact. Not that it matters, no one here would know where it is," she laments with a shrug and tilt of her head.
"I do." Stinger gives a cautious reply but leans in toward her.
"Really, now? Do tell." She's skeptical but curious.
"Up until a few months ago, I was a Marshall based outside of Chicago. I drove to Omaha once with my daughter. She loved the zoo there. But that was quite a few years ago."
"I've only driven past Chicago. What's it like?"
"They don't call it the Windy City for nothing. Even an hour away we'd get the occasional lake effect snow. But it's a big city. Kiza and I prefer the country."
"Really? I wouldn't have pegged you for a country boy. Charming" Her surprise causes her to pause and to take a better look at him with the new perspective. Her lips turn up at the edges at the thought of him working on a farm.
"Kiza is still watching over the hives and is likely hiring the neighbor to plant the corn for our bees."
"So she's an adult now?"
He nods. "How old is your son?"
"17. I'll miss him going off to college. He's one of the candidates for a fellowship to MIT. But it kills me I won't get to be one of those moms they have to shoo away from the dorms as the kids are dropped off at school."
"Must be a fine young man." His compliment is guarded, because alarm bells are going off in his head. She seems interested in him and far too open. Why would a pretty tersie be interested in an aging splice?
"His grandparents and I are very proud." She sees the question Stinger won't dare to ask. "And no. No father in the picture. He left before Ian was born. The only reminder we have of him is the monthly check he's required to send. Never even bothers to ask about his son. But I won't fuss, I've known women to be just as bad about kids not in their custody and I've had the support of my parents... And I'm rambling now. What about you? You sounded like it's just you and Kiza."
"Yeah, just the two of us. I paid my splicer to create her, so I'd have family. She's the only good thing I’ve done in my life."
"I didn't even know that was possible. Wow. I know so little about the 'verse. Does she like Earth?"
"Better than other places we've lived. She fits in well enough and has friends in town." Seeing that Bridget has downed a fair amount of her mead already, he guiltily warns, "You won't want to drink that too fast, unless you expect me to drive."
"So noted." She smiles gratefully for the advice. "It's just so good that it's hard to not down quickly... So, if you don't mind, where'd you get the English accent? Did you grow up in England?"
"My drill sergeants had this accent."
"You learned to speak from drill sergeants? Gahds, how young were you when you started in the Legion?"
"Six. We're engineered to mature quickly for the most bang for the credit."
"I can't imagine sending someone off to boot camp at the tender age of six. So you've fought or been an Aegis officer all your life?"
"Aye. What about you? Your rough hands say labor, but your physique, clothes and cycle don't."
''On Earth I was a massage therapist, but I liked working on my cycle. I assume I'll be put to work in massage, but teaching me to fly is still a mystery."
He nods empathetically. "If you can be more independent, it's good. They may be training you for deliveries."
"Need a ride back to wherever you're staying?" Bridget offers.
"I wouldn't say no... " He's opened up considerably since she first met him. "But it's not in a real good part of town, especially after dark. Maybe you should just drop me off on the edge of the neighborhood so you can get back to your ship safe."
"I'm not in a hurry to go back. It'll be a prison soon enough."
"But... Never mind." In his head he hears, ‘Don’t go there old man.’
"Nah, it's fair. I thought if there were happy memories, then it wouldn't feel so much that way. But I want you to be safe too. And you won't be there."
His eyebrow is arched as he contemplates her words. He tries to dissuade her,"My apartment here isn't much. Just a one room flat."
Shrugging, she's unconcerned. "Would you rather I get a room for the night? All I have is company credit. My employer might ask about that though and I'd have to answer him about ordering breakfast for two."
He runs his hand through his hair, "I guess that's a way to ask yourself over."
"Want me to be blunt instead?" Her face turns mischievous with a toothy grin.
Giving a snort of laughter he declines that last question, "No need to hit me over the head. I'll drive, the directions are complicated."
He parks the cycle on the roof, so it should still be there in the morning. Bridget stares up at the sky and the immense almost lacy structures that go well into space. "Wow. For a rough neighborhood, it's not a bad prospect. Those spires to the north really add to the view."
"If you want to think of it that way." He shrugs noncommittally. "Usually those towers just remind the folks here that we're the 'have nots'. Wanna stay out here to gawk, or see if there's a view from my window?"
She smiles, amused at his terse manner and follows through the door he opened for her.
His flat is spartan with odds and ends scattered about, and only a few choice pieces of furniture. He must not really call it home. Tossing his worn Aegis jacket on a chair, he offers as he heads to the tiny kitchenette, "Hungry?"
"Maybe." She does the same with her jean jacket and follows.
"We'll get you some food, so in the morning that mead doesn't make you wish you'd never met me. Fire honey masks a strong alcohol content." Rummaging through his fridge and pulling out a few ingredients - eggs, onion and peppers, he inquires, "Like omelets?"
Nodding a yes, she verbally ribs him a bit, "So you thought you'd get me drunk?"
The accusation doesn't phase him, and he doesn't bother denying it. "Then I'd 've dropped you off at your ship, and been on my way."
"Instead, I was troublesome..." she won't give up on the teasing.
"You could say that," he says in that curt manner, but this time it hints at a little friendliness.
"You could have just said 'no'." She counters as she pulls dishes off the shelf, clears a spot and sets the table, but keeps an eye on him for his answer. His last answer was so subtle.
Warily he replies, "I tried," while keeping his focus on the task at hand.
"Wasn't direct enough for the likes of me. Anything I can help with?" she asks and places her hands on his shoulders as she stands on tip toes to peek at his cooking in the tiny workspace.
"It'll just take a moment. Sit."
Instead of taking his suggestion, she starts rubbing his shoulders, "I've not met anyone as guarded or as tense as you."
"Keeps me alive. You'd do well to develop some caution yourself," he warns as he shifts under her touch. Though after a bit of kneading, he relents and allows his shoulders to relax as she works the kinks out of his muscles. "You do this for a living?"
"Yep. Would you like me to work your back over tonight?" She gently pokes a section between his shoulder blades. "That spot gives you trouble, doesn't it?"
He folds the omelet in half while confessing, "A tad."
"The alignment is wrong there. The muscles around there are extra tight, trying to compensate. It affects how you stand too." She draws with her finger on his back to emphasize her point.
"You're saying I'm a gimpy old man?" there's a note of dark sarcasm in his voice.
"No, silly. I'm saying your back hurts. It happens to everyone - kids on up."
"Food's ready." He cuts the omelet in half and puts it on their plates. "Eat up."
Scarfing it down, she admits, "I didn't realize how hungry I was. And this is delicious. Thank you."
The abbreviated tilt of his head is all he'll acknowledge as he takes his time on his half of the omelet. While she waits for him to finish, she washes her dishes and clears his when he's done.
He moves his chair to watch her, like he's waiting for the bomb to drop - for her to tell him that she really is here to turn him over to Titus, or that she's just messing with his head. What could she see in him anyway?
"Stinger, you're not used to much kindness, are you?"
"Humans always expect something from my kind," he responds resentfully, meeting her gaze in almost a dare.
It stops her in her tracks, and she almost drops the dish she's drying. "You're absolutely serious... Dear god. I don't think I should ask what my kind has done to you. I'm afraid to find out." When her shock wears off, she puts the dish away, then goes to crouch before him and hold his hands. "Let me pour some goodness and kindness into you."
He squeezes her hands, but a wariness remains on his face.
"May I start by working on that trouble spot in your back? It'll work best if you take off your shirt and lie down." She stands up, still grasping his hands and gives a small tug to see if he'll follow. "Ok?"
He allows her to help him stand. But pulling his hands from hers, he shows his stubbornness. Before removing his shirt, he gives his chair a one eighty to sit astride it - instead of following her recommendation.
She gasps as she sees the plethora of scars, the stunning metallic tattoo that covers three fourths of his right arm, and his iridescent bio neural synaptic bee wings that unfurl from the implants in his shoulder blades. He's got that farm boy physique instead of the stereotyped body builder - strong, solid arms, core, and back that have seen real work.
"Stinger..." she traces the old injuries, it takes her a tick to find the words for what she wants to say, "Your wings - they're incredible - I would have never guessed you had them tucked under that shirt." Resisting the urge to ask to touch them and focusing on his back as promised, she realizes just how much trust she's been given. "They're why you weren't comfortable with me rubbing your shoulders earlier, aren't they?"
He nods and leans forward resting his arms on the chair back.
Evaluating his reaction, she adds with a touch of amusement as she massages the back of his neck and down to his shoulders, "And you had to do things your own way. To have some control over the situation." Despite the lack of response, she knows she's spot on. "Any meaning to your tatt?"
"Legion rank and honors." He tries to sound as if it's really nothing.
"Someday, you'll have to tell me what it all means. I really would like to hear it. But for now, just relax."
It's tricky to work the muscles deeply in that particular spot. Carefully she works around his wings and guides him to move them out of the way so she can get his whole back. Then she returns to working on his neck and scalp. The tension melts from him, and his forehead sinks to his arms. Within a few moments she hears soft snoring, and she smiles to herself that she could do something for him.
Skimming her fingers down the back of his neck and whispering in his ear, she nudges him, "Hey Stinger..."
"W... what..." he shudders and blinks at the bright light in the room.
"You fell asleep - let's get you moved to where you can lay down and I'll work on your arms."
Groggily he argues, "Wasn't sleeping."
She giggles and prods him, "I suppose you just snore while you're awake because you like the sound."
Now he's down right testy, "I wasn't snoring, woman."
"Sure you weren't."
He grumbles more to himself, and she doesn't want to push her luck. "Lay down, so you can go back to blissfully absorbing the attention. When I work on your arms, you'll feel more like a spineless jellyfish and be even less willing to move."
"Spineless?" he glares at the one word that seemed to register.
"Boy you're grumpy when you wake up. I'm talking about the feeling after a massage - the blissful, floaty, you don't want to move because you're relaxed kind of feeling. Please just humor me on this, OK? I know what I'm talking about."
He harrumphs, but complies and crawls then collapses onto his stomach - diagonally onto the bed.
"You're not leaving me any room to crawl in later? Scoot," she orders crisply.
His swearing is muffled into the mattress, but he rousts and removes his hip holster - placing the pistol on the nightstand before folding his wings down and laying on his back. Still taking up about two thirds of the bed, he's entrenched. 'Oh well.' she shrugs to herself.
While she finishes the massage, he regards her as she intently works on his arms then his hands. His brain is still trying to process her motives, but his thoughts are pretty fuzzy from the massage and alcohol. "I thought you wanted..."
She finishes the sentence for him, "Sex? Yeah, I'd still like that - though if it doesn't happen that's OK too. I want to show you that someone genuinely considers caring for you worth the effort - even when you're cantankerous. If you let me, I'd like to be your lover instead of just a fuck."
Disbelief is evident in his raised eyebrow and narrowed eyes flashing from blue to yellow-green. "Damn you're blunt."
She smiles as she finishes massaging his hand. With her free hand she curls his fingers around her own hand and she kisses each of the rough knuckles.
"Come here, then... " His voice has a deeper raw tone. He pulls his hand holding hers down toward his face and she follows it. She lays next to him, while he turns to face her. Guarded, he lightly traces her mouth with his free hand and strokes the back of his fingers over her jawline to see if she's serious.
She leans into his touch before kissing him and nibbling on his bottom lip. Fervently returning the affection, he digs his fingers into her hair and pulls her deeper into the kiss. As she drags her leg up to rest on the outside of his thigh, he greedily runs his hand down her leg from her knee around to caress her bum and press her hips against him. She trails down his neck alternating between kissing and soft nips and she hears his happy growl of "Too many clothes..."
Unfortunately that's when a thought occurs to her. One that she just can't shove aside, despite being here with him - just exactly like she wanted. The thought haunts her so much, she reluctantly pulls back, and gulps nervously "Uhm..."
Annoyance flitters on his face, "Having second thoughts now?"
She shakes her head vehemently. "It's just that something occurred to me and I have to ask. But it's well... incredibly awkward."
"Girl, just spit it out... " he huffs and lets go of her, absolutely sure this will be the end of what would have been a great evening. She must be a zooie after all.
"Well... you're a bee splice."
His eyes narrow.
"From what little I know of bees, drones die afterward. I... I just don't want anything dreadful to happen to you..." It mortifies her to have to put this stupid fear into words and she can't even put it in complete sentences. The picture in her head is too graphic. But she won't be able to give herself over to her desire if there's even a chance of him being harmed.
His throws his head back in a hearty chuckle. He pulls her back to him and kisses her forehead. "Not at all, Love. Not at all." Still laughing to himself he confides, "That one's a first."
Hearing his response and use of an affectionate moniker, she's visibly calmer. She nuzzles her head into the crook of his neck in the security of being next to him and breathes a sigh of relief. "Good."
Shifting so she can move her hands, she starts undoing his pants. "Because I want you … badly."
Author's note: I honestly feel sorry for boy bees/drones. They don't survive long afterward. It's pretty grizzly. So her fears were totally real.
Early afternoon, Bridget rousts and kisses the still sleeping Stinger before heading to shower. She whispers, "You are *wonderful*."
He gives an incomprehensible mumble of what she assumes to be, "You too," and turns over.
While she's getting ready for the day, Stinger hears a knock at the door. "Go away," he grumbles at the intruder.
"Stinger. It's Caine. Get outta bed and let me in."
"Ye're not due to report until the 23rd."
"It IS the 23rd. So get your butt outta bed. What'd you do - stay up and drink all night, old man?"
Stinger mumbles obscenities and stumbles getting his pants on, before letting Caine in and rubbing the sleep from his eyes.
Plopping down at the table, Caine notices two pillows on the bed and the shower running. Extremely out of the norm for Stinger these days. With a confused look he mouths, "Zooie?!?"
In a warning tone, Stinger corrects as he sits on the edge of the bed and leans on his elbows, "Idiot pup. I told you I'd never go for one of those. Bridget's a houseguest. Now, report."
Caine tells him that the list of Jupiter's enemies has grown three fold, that Earth may be ready for 'first contact', and Kiza is becoming serious about the farm boy neighbor.
As Bridget walks out of the bathroom toweling her hair dry and wearing only one of Stinger's button up shirts, she hollers as her sight is obscured by the towel, "I had to borrow one of your shirts, so I could throw my clothes in the auto cleanser."
When her towel moves enough to see a newcomer who is trying very hard not to stare, she startles. Gathering her wits, she wraps the towel around her shoulders and reverts to her usual barreling through the situation. She offers her hand to shake, "Oh, hi. I'm Bridget Thornton. I didn't know Stinger was expecting guests or I'd be more presentable."
"Bridget, this is Lieutenant Caine Wise. He's reporting before visiting his girlfriend on Earth."
"How unexpected to meet someone else who's been to Earth. Nice to meet you, Lieutenant." She says earnestly, as Caine cautiously returns the handshake. The feeling of being extremely under dressed gets the best of her and she kneels behind Stinger on the bed, trying to hide her bare legs.
Caine's face is passive but his words at least sound friendly. "It's good to meet someone who can put up with Stinger here. He's one of the saltiest old soldiers in Aegis."
Stinger seems to take pride in that statement and mumbles, "Damn straight."
She smiles genuinely, relieved the newcomer's focus isn't really on her and he isn't trying to flirt with her in front of Stinger. Placing her hands on Stinger's shoulders and peeking around him, she replies with a giggle, "Oh, he's not that hard to get along with. So far I've found he can be bribed with mead and he hides his care behind his gruffness. He's been quite sweet and watches out for me."
Her answer, despite being contradictory to the visitor's statement, gains her Stinger's approval. She knows because he places his hand on hers and squeezes.
"You must have known each other a while," Caine makes an educated guess.
Both of them smirk and glance at each other, Caine's eyebrows raise and he confirms, "No?"
Bridget answers in her point blank manner, "Since last night."
Caine's eyes widen for the merest instant and his face goes unreadable again, but he says nothing.
"He tried to avoid me, but there was something about him that made me want to be very persistent," she continues.
"That's an understatement," Stinger confesses. "Part of my brain was screaming trouble when she walked up, but the other half, well... "
"Still think I'm trouble?" she teases.
"I know so," Stinger volleys and nudges her cheek with his own.
"I'm gonna finish getting ready for the day. Be back in a bit." Bridget kisses him on the cheek and leisurely makes her escape to the bathroom, trying not to look like she's fleeing.
"My transport leaves soon. Jupiter will be upset if I miss it." Caine gets up to go.
"It was nice to meet you!" she hollers around the partition.
At the door, Stinger whispers to Caine, "She's so hard for me to read. What did you gather from her?"
"You like her already," Caine gently presses.
Stinger just sighs, not wanting to have to use words because his feelings are so muddled right now. Words are too permanent, too concrete. Hard to take back.
"Well, she was nervous around me. She didn't know if she could trust me. But with you she's at ease. Maybe even happy. She hid behind you, like you were her safety net," Caine relays what he noticed with his eyes and nose.
Stinger scratches his chin whiskers in irritation, "She heads out to be a bondservant to Titus in a few days..."
"You ok with that?" Caine sees the concern on his friend's face. Despite knowing the answer, he uses the obvious to prod him to talk.
"No. But I can't do a bloody thing about it. Jupiter's the only one I know with enough pull to get her out of it. But Her Majesty said after the incident that she wanted nothing to do with him, and I wasn't to bring it up ever again. I don't wanna ask her."
"What are his plans for her?"
"She doesn't know yet. Just saw an opportunity to get her son healed."
"Sounds familiar." There's no grudge in Caine's voice as he refers to Stinger's deal for the recode for Kiza.
"Too familiar." Stinger stuffs his hands in his pockets.
"I'll talk to Jupe about it. Let me know if you find anything that will help to bargain for the debt."
Stinger clasps Caine's shoulder in gratitude.
"How do you always end up with the troublesome ones? First you found me, then there was that string of bird splices you watched out for, and now Bridget." Caine asks rhetorically.
"Dunno, pup. You lot all find your way to me some how." Stinger stuffs his hand back in his pocket and lifts his shoulders to emphasize his lack of an answer.
Caine gives Stinger's arm a solid pat and offers, "I'll let you know what I find. Message me when she heads out, ok?"
"Thanks, pup. Will do." Stinger shuts the door and lets out a breath before starting a very late breakfast.
Peeking around the bathroom partition wall, she verifies that Caine is gone before emerging fully dressed. "I smell bacon... yum!"
With a quick glimpse back at her he grouches, "Woman, I better get my shirt back." It's not like she needs the shirt - she's got her own underneath and she's wearing it more like a jacket, undone in the front.
She pulls the collar up around her neck and face and inhales the scent. "It smells like you. I don't know if I want to give it back. Maybe I should keep it until I see you again."
"Just did." He motions 'gimme' with one hand. "That's my best shirt."
"You won't wrestle it from me right now, since your hands are greasy from the bacon. So I get to keep it for a little while longer. ... When is your leave over? And should I put some toast down?"
"The 28th. Get a plate - it's almost done. You're lucky I went shopping yesterday."
She holds a plate out to the wall embedded toaster as she offers, "Let me buy you a few groceries to repay you for meals. Then I'll give you some space. Being around you feels so natural. But I don't want to overstay my welcome either."
"No need." He pulls the bacon off the cooking flame and washes his hands, before taking the plate from her. Setting it down, he pulls her to him. Then he slips his hands into her back pockets and leans against the counter. "You walk into my life like a hurricane, turning everything upside down. And NOW you're worried about overstaying your welcome?"
"Yeah." She wraps her arms around his neck. "Whatever I want, I go after with all I have. But I can be so intense. I don't want to scare you off, now that you've opened up."
"You have, what, one more day planetside?"
"A day and a half at most. Which reminds me, I have to check in - just in case the schedule changes."
"Then you check in, and we spend the rest of our time together like a pair of falling stars. Absolutely dazzling for the short time we have." He nips her ear.
"You're waxing rather poetic for a cantankerous captain," she teasingly compliments while she plays with his hair.
Resting his head on her shoulder and closing his eyes, absorbing in the peace and joy of the moment, he allows himself to open up a little more. "You're starting to resurrect things in me I thought were dead and gone."
To let him know he's safe here, she cradles his head and rocks ever so slightly - until her stomach growls. "Stinger, are we planning to let the food get cold? I'm more fond of you than bacon. And I REALLY like bacon. But feeling this hungry, I think it's starting to approach a tie."
His shoulders shake before an audible hearty deep laugh emerges. Turning his head but still leaning on her, he reaches over to drag the plate of bacon next to her.
She breaks off a couple bites of one of the crunchy pieces and pops one in her mouth making happy "uuuuhm" noises. Not finished with her bite yet, she takes the other piece and offers it to him. He playfully takes it, nibbling her fingers too. They go through all of the bacon that way.
Looking down at him, she notices a spot and laments, "Aw. Crap. I'm going to have to run my shirt through the auto cleanser again. There's grease on it."
"Could be worse."
"I'm keeping your shirt for a while longer now. I need to check in after we eat," she gives an apologetic half smile.
"Got a note sheave?" Stinger asks as she puts on her jacket to leave.
"Here." He shoves a tablet looking device at her. "My confidential contact system can be accessed with it. It can traced to Aegis, but no further. Use the password 'hurricane' and give your message - it WILL get to me."
"What?" she looks perplexed. "How am I gonna remember that?"
"Remember I said you walked into my life like a hurricane. You can remember it without others connecting it to me."
"Do I have to say it just like you? WHOUR ih KEN."
Rubbing the back of his neck he gives a lopsided smile, "No. But it's not a bad impression. ... It will key to how you say it."
She takes his hand, so he knows she's done teasing. "Thanks, hon. It's very sweet and I truly appreciate it. Is this emergency only or can it be used for personal messages, too? I don't want to get you in trouble."
"Both, if we don't abuse it."
"So I can let you know if the ship is leaving earlier, or if I'm running late today."
"So ... how's it work?"
"You really don't know how a sheave works?" he gives her guff. She just glares in return.
Stinger tuts mildly and steps up behind her so they can both see the screen. Reaching around her, he demonstrates the features of the sheave and how to get the communication system to work.
Now that it's clicked for her, questions start popping into her head one after another. "Do I need a passphrase to get my messages? It would be nice to hear your voice instead of just reading text. Is there a headphone jack? And should we have a backup phrase, if 'hurricane' is compromised? And code names?"
"Whoa, lass. One question at a time. So you're goin' to miss the funny way I talk?"
"The sound of your voice too. I heard you talk to the barkeep and decided I would be happy to hear you talk all day, before I even saw your face. Why do you think I'm making you explain this sheave thing, instead of figuring it out on my own? Not like the thing is complicated." She nuzzles his cheek affectionately and he tickles her side.
"Troublesome," he fusses at her but wraps his arms around her waist. "Your implant will act as headphones and mic. It's wet wired to your brain. So only those who touch the sheave will hear the message as it plays or is recorded."
"How's it catch the voice if we aren't using our voice boxes?"
"You think in your own voice."
Her brows furrow as she processes that. "I'll have to see it to believe it. What about a backup passphrase and nicknames?"
"You're chuffed over this covert stuff, aren't you?" there's mild amusement at her enthusiasm for his need for anonymity.
"I'll need something to occupy my brain. This'll be fun."
"Right. My codename will be 'old codger' and yours 'trouble'."
"You really want me to call you old codger?"
"VERY FEW may call me that. Feel privileged. Alternate passphrase and code for an emergency ..."
"Return My Shirt," she says with finality.
His soft chuckle rumbles in her ear. "I'm starting to think you like my shirt more than you like me."
"It's not as good as you holding me. But it's comforting." She turns around in his arms to face him.
"My shirt isn't coming back, is it?" his tone is resigned.
"I'll get you a replacement." She pinches his cheek sassily then kisses him deeply before he can retort.
"You better, Trouble."
"I have to live up to my moniker. Meet me back at the bar at dusk." She winks as she walks out the door.
Playfully, he slaps her backside before she's out of reach.
The Little Devil Tavern:
Stinger tries to remain impassive on the outside. But inside, the doubts are starting to creep in, making him restless. Leaving the window seat, he goes up to the bar to get his tankard refilled.
"What's got ya down, Stinger?" Jinco, the barkeep, asks as he pours.
"Nothin'," he keeps his voice even.
"For a bloke constantly looking out the window, it can't be nothin'. I won't ask more. But I'd bet it's that pretty little lass from last night."
"Mind your beeswax, Jinco," Stinger growls and takes his pint to the empty far corner table.
When he feels the familiar tingle of a call coming via through his net implant, he jerks to tap it and play the message.
"I'm so sorry I'm running late, my dear Old Codger. I'm leaving now and will be there soon. Save a pint for me."
He closes his eyes and shakes his head, then takes a pull of his draft.
His thoughts decide to wrestle with him. 'Why were you so uptight that she might not show up? You can't have it that bad for her after only a bit of kindness and a night of sex, can you? Granted it was great sex, but still. Bloody fool, she'll be gone soon.'
Tapping his neck again, he leaves her a message, "Back corner. Will have pint waiting."
Jinco just smirks when he passes the second tankard to Stinger, who deftly avoids his gaze.
Stinger can't stop himself from looking up whenever someone comes in and he cusses himself out every time. His colorful vocabulary is quite extensive, but he's starting to run out of expletives and he needs to visit the head. Reluctantly he gets up.
When he returns, she's there happily sipping her mead and she has a passel of bags beside her. He sees the smile in her eyes first, then she puts down her drink and her joy at seeing him makes his chest tighten.
Grabbing his hand as he sits across from her, she babbles an apology, practically tripping over her words. "Stinger, I'm so, so, so sorry for making you wait so long. I couldn't message you until I left the ship. They had us meet our new team and prep for the implant and I couldn't get out of there. Then I had to make two stops ta boot. I sped all the way here and RAN into the stores. They thought I was running from someone! But they were so sweet and helpful when I said I was running TO someone. I was so afraid I'd be too late! Will you forgive me?"
Clasping her hand in both of his and not taking his eyes off her, he presses his lips to her fingers. Mentally he chides himself, 'You stupid old ass, she melts you with a few words. You're truly buggered.'
"At the meeting they stressed to us that we need to take care of ourselves for what's coming up. I'm a little nervous about that. But I got scolded that I only ate protein and carbs. I hope this doesn't drive me crazy. Anyhoo, did you eat supper yet? "
He shakes his head.
She's still talking a million miles an hour. "I picked up something that I hope you can stand and sounded fairly healthy. You're not allergic to seafood are you? And... "
"Bridget," he quietly interrupts. Her words trail off and he has her attention. "Breathe."
Reflexively, she covers her mouth and giggles. "Mentally, I'm still running, aren't I?"
Closing her eyes, she breathes deep for a few moments. He's still watching her as she opens her eyes again and at more normal rate she says "Better. I think my heart rate was through the roof."
"You said you met your team. Team for what?" He removes one of his hands to take a pull from his tankard.
"Oh. Well. There's testing for an experimental version of RejeneX. It's very different from the current methods. No one is killed for it. It utilizes volunteers. The procedure is pretty rough, but all who've been through it are basically aged a year instead of the awful other option. Considering what I know of harvest, I'm very much for changing the methods. So I volunteered."
Stinger sputters and coughs into his pint.
"It's ok, Hon. Really." She squeezes his hand. "I survived giving birth, I can do this. And I'll have the rest of my indenture canceled. I just have to help my team through, and they'll help me. Two of us care for the one who just went through it. I can be free again in a matter of months."
"Don't do it."
"But…" she starts to protest.
"I have connections and am working on getting your indenture transferred to someone trustworthy."
"Stinger. I've already signed the contract."
He pinches the bridge of his nose.
"They treat the volunteers really well. Anything we could ask for is provided."
His lips purse in frustration before he speaks in a dark angry voice, "You do realize you were setup."
"It occurred to me that I was wrangled. But I also have a choice. Not everyone volunteered. Some chose indenture." She holds her ground. When he lets go of her hand and turns away and starts swearing a blue streak, she adds, "Everyone who goes through it, survives. No complications." When he doesn't respond, she shares the clincher. "Besides, the other option to shorten my indenture was to join Titus' harem. That was a no go for me. I don't care how devilishly handsome he is. He's not the one I want."
In defeat, Stinger sighs and faces her again. "Woman… " His exasperation is still in full force, but he has few words for the tumult inside. "You're going to be the death of me."
"A night with me isn't that strenuous is it?" Her zing comes out of nowhere, but she timed it just before he takes a sip.
He stops mid motion and a bit sloshes out, then narrows his eyes and raises an eyebrow.
Quickly she snaps a picture of his expression with her note sheave. "That look on you, absolutely precious."
Raising his eyes heavenward, he mutters, "I repeat myself." He wonders to himself if they're each in separate conversations.
"Just so you know, you showed me enough on this thing that I figured out how to add layers of encryption. So I can keep your photos with me. Care if I take one of us together? I'll share."
"Uhm… sure." He tries to put his thoughts together why he's uncomfortable with the idea.
She zips over behind him, resting her chin on his shoulder and wrapping one arm around him as she takes a selfie. Seeing he wasn't smiling in the first shot, she nudges him, "Do you want me to remember you with a scowl or a smile?" Feeling his chest and shoulders rise and fall heavily, she asks, "What's wrong, hon?"
"You're already preparing to leave," he whispers.
Enfolding him in both arms now, she comforts, "I'm trying to capture the memories as we go. It'll be a while before I can see you again. I want to remember every precious moment together. … Remember we're supposed to dazzle for the short time we have. The present, it's a gift. I'll unwrap every second with you with happy anticipation."
He nods, takes her sheave, and holds it out in front of them both - finally attempting a smile. Handing it back to her he remarks, "I think your planet is the only one obsessed with those ridiculous selfies."
"I'll be glad to have the image of you." She gives him a peck on the cheek. "Thank you, hon." Then sitting back down, she asks, "How do I send you a copy?"
Holding out his hand palm up, he asks incredulously, "You figured out encryption before basic mail functions?"
"It made sense at the time." She sticks her tongue out at him, but returns the sheave.
Mumbling deadpan as he navigates to the right menu, he zings back, "Watch it Missy, that looked like an invite." Then he slides the device back to her and catches her reaction to her own game.
She dips her head and purses her lips to try not to laugh. "Positively scandalous!I" Unable to quite wipe the grin off her mouth, she downs the last of her pint and declares, "Perhaps it was. If you want to find out my dear Captain, I need some supper first."
Offering her his arm, he helps her carry her bags and winks at Jinco behind the bar, who returns a thumbs up.
Outside, he gets on the lev bike first, assuming they'll head back to his place and he should drive. Handing him a helmet, then putting on her own and picking up her bags again, she mentions as offhandedly as she can manage, "Stinger, would you like to get a room tonight?"
"My place not good enough now?" He's genuinely puzzled. Didn't she say yesterday that she might be questioned on breakfast for two?
"My whole team is doing the same thing. Will you be able to sleep in your bed, if it's the last place we were together? I thought about it, and I think now it would make me miss you more. I don't want to torture you." Her voice is barely audible and a sadness crept in that she hadn't intended.
His slumps for a second and he lets out a breath. "Where to then?"
"No expense spared, courtesy of His Lordship. Famulus even told our team to be sure to enjoy our night before deployment and live it up." She twirls taking in the penthouse tower based suite with high mag field windows that filter the free flowing air, mag field balcony, the latest ferimion tech: bed and settee, sunken whirlpool tub enclosed in a field bubble, floating mood lights, and portable fireplace. Delectables and a selection of alcoholic drinks are on the table and exotic flowers and loaded fruit trees are arranged around the room.
Stinger whistles appreciatively as he sets the bags on a chair. "You're never going to want to go back to my flat."
Bridget takes off her boots and scrunches her toes into the white plush springy carpet. "I'm fine with your flat, hon. But this is a good way to be dazzling together, no?"
"I don't even know how all of this uppity fancy pants stuff works," Stinger confesses as he takes off his jacket.
She sashays over to him and runs a finger down his nose to his lips. "Then we figure it out together. Our little adventure. Now, take off your boots. You have to feel this carpet!"
Catching her hand before she moves away, he asks with a mischievous twinkle in his eye, "You trying to get me to undress already? I thought you wanted supper."
Playing along, she whispers softly in his ear, "I showed you mine, your turn. I have a thing for guys with naked toes." She pinches his ass and moves out of his way quickly, so she can set out supper.
"You're bloody barmy." His chin dips and a genuine smile appears.
"Nah. Incorrigible. It's a synonym for trouble. Gonna eat with me?" She pats the seat beside her and puts take out containers on the table. "Can you use chopsticks?"
Sitting, he takes his chopsticks out of the wrapper, placing them politely on the take out dish, and folds the paper expertly into a little rest for his utensils. Then he places them properly.
She nudges him with her elbow, "Show off. I don't know how to fold the paper thingy like that."
She starts to try to fold hers and he snitches it from her, and folds hers in a different shape - a little bee. "Kiza, loves Chinese take out and used to fold these two shapes all the time out of paper."
"But THIS is Japanese. And I'm not using the little bee, I'm keeping it forever." She tears section off the take out container. Then she puts her hands in her lap and says, "Itadakimas!" He doesn't repeat it. "Come on, it's part of the experience!"
"Eat a what?" He can't figure out what she said.
"Put your hands in your lap and say EE TAH DAH KEE MOSS"
"You're really going to make me say this?" He tries to wheedle out of it.
"Yes. It means 'I humbly receive this meal'. I'm not making you recite the Kama Sutra positions or anything."
He wipes his palm over his face. "Criminently, woman…"
"I'm waiting..." She smirks and her arms are crossed.
"Beeswax. What was it again?"
She guides him through the saying. The rest of the meal goes smoothly until, she snitches a bite of his food. He doesn't say anything the first time, but the second time he nimbly blocks her attempt and protests. "What the hell?"
"But I like yours better…" She tries again, but is thwarted this time.
He hunches protectively over his food. "Scamp. Eat your own."
Leaning on his shoulder as she gives in to her laughter, she confesses, "I love it when you're a little cantankerous and call me anything that sounds like trouble."
"And you like getting a reaction out of me," he tuts, downing another bite before she can snatch anymore. He's got to be on his toes.
She disposes of her containers and starts massaging the back of his neck. "Of course. But you're learning to play along well, too. You almost caught me off guard with that undressing remark. That was so out of the blue - so perfect."
"Glad you think an old dog can learn new tricks." He leans his head back on her stomach and looks contentedly up at her.
"I have a surprise, it'll take a minute. If you're done, maybe you could figure out if the suite presence will play some music." Seeing his ever so slight hesitation, she addresses the system to help him get started, "Suite Presence, how should we address you. My ship's system has a name."
"Soella, Miss. How may I serve you?" a disembodied almost child-like female voice responds.
"Please help Stinger, here, make some music selections."
Kissing his forehead then grabbing the other bag, she winks and says, "Be right back," before disappearing into the other room.
Soella assists Stinger as he picks some suitably romantic music, though it takes a bit to explain what he wants and for Soella to retrieve the files. He instructs the presence to start playing the music when Bridget emerges.
Peeking around the door, she asks, "Ready?"
He nods, and a song from Earth, 'Bailando', starts playing.
She steps out, gracefully lifts one hand in the air, puts the other on her hip - posing. There's wiliness in her voice as she asks, "Like your new shirt?" Mostly unbuttoned, the black shirt reveals hints of her underneath it and that it's all she's wearing. Turning so he can see the back, she lets it drape off one shoulder. "It even has a wing slit panel."
His breath catches a little and he mouths an appreciative 'oh', then he motions 'come here' with is index finger and pats his lap.
Continuing the modeling gig, she slowly saunters over. Coyly, she stops halfway to do a turn around and blow him a kiss before continuing.
Forget just sitting and waiting for her to get here. He swears she's walking more and more slowly now. The impish shiela is luring him. But he'll be damned if he runs over there or shows how he feels right now. Two can play this game.
Standing and leaning on the table, he causally begins to unbutton his shirt. "I'm going to have to make sure that shirt fits. Though, I won't make it look as good at you do."
Her face colors slightly and her fingers go to her lips.
'Gotcha.' He mentally muses and allows himself a self satisfied smirk. Then he finishes the last button, letting his shirt hang open.
Despite that small slip, she continues as with her goading. "But I'll be completely naked… "
"If that's not the point, you'd better quickly march back in that other room and put more on," he challenges, tilting his head in that direction as he starts toward her.
Closing the gap, she grabs his lapels dragging him down to kiss her. "Hopefully, I don't forget to try this on," he admits as he fondly runs his fingertips down the pocket covering one of her breasts. "Very nice."
She slides the shirt off her other shoulder too, and he assists with the rest so it doesn't fall to the floor. Before he can wrap his arms around her, she tisks. "Ah, ah, ah! You said you needed to try it on."
His chin dips and his eyes close. Damn, she got him. "I was a little distracted."
She taps his nose to count her point, then carefully guides his arms into the shirt and pulls it over his shoulders and around his chest. Then she takes a step back to inspect. "Never the less, I'm not sure about that shirt on you."
His head cocks unsure what she's getting at.
"I don't think it does you justice. We'll have to see how I feel about it later." She returns and kisses his cheek, then undoes his belt buckle. "You had me there for a second as we played. And quite frankly, I'm impressed you even got to the point you tried on the shirt."
"I wasn't going to just roll over and make it easy." His words are a little muffled as he grazes her neck and shoulders with his mouth, "Even if you always win."
"It's a win-win… if we both enjoy it. …Mmm, nice... Ready to… test out that crazy floating bed?" She slides his pants down and lets them drop to his ankles.
He steps out of them and sweeps her up, cradling her. "It's not obvious?"
That gains him a giggle from her. "I did notice a subtle clue."
"Subtle?" He shakes his head. "Now help my wings out of this shirt and I'll treat you to something I've never shared with anyone else."
Doing as she's told, she peeks around his shoulder to watch his shimmering bio-mech wings open and extend, then start to flutter at an incredible speed.
"Hang on." He presses her tighter to his chest. Lifting off the ground, she clings to his neck and squeaks with surprise and delight as he flies directly into the glowing fermion particle stream.
Unused to the tech as they float, she's a little hesitant to let go of him. But he gently reassures her and she relaxes her grip around his neck. Bobbing peacefully among the sparkling ion particles, they acquaint themselves with exploring each other in the freedom of antigravity.
Late into the night when they turn off the fermion stream and collapse into the circular bed, they're still entwined as he lays on his back and her head’s on his shoulder. She traces his splicer's mark on the other side of his neck as she asks, "Stinger, you were used to the floating tech stuff. This wasn't new to you was it?"
"I'm used to grav beams for transport into ships... " his words trail off. He doesn't want to get himself in trouble by continuing.
"Well... sometimes young, hormone driven Legionnaires would sneak into the beam sections of ships."
"Was that your first time?" she asks without condemnation.
"Tell me about her…"
He lifts his head. When he sees she's serious, he says hesitantly, "Personality wise, a lot like you - bold, smart, witty, unflappable. She was tall and held herself with dignity. Skin and eyes like dark coffee…"
"What was her name?"
"You sure you want to know, you could run across her someday?"
"Diomika Tsing. We went our separate ways after our first year in the Legion. She's a captain of her own ship, and still as gutsy as ever. Probably make Admiral at an early age. But she doesn't think much of me now."
"How about we focus on us again?" He plants a kiss on her forehead.
Lazily she traces his lips. "Ok. So where you headed after this?"
"Dunno. I just got my wings back and have an offer from the Legion to get back into the Skyjackers. Or I could stay in Aegis. And Caine is trying to talk me into being a Captain for Her Majesty."
"What're the Skyjackers?"
"The Legion's elite squad. Kind of like the Navy Seals. We all have wings in the style of our choosing, fermion tech boots, wrist mounted mag shields, and the best weapons. Skyjackers are the first into a fight and dropped into the arenas that need stabilizing. And it's in the best pay scale."
She gives a little shudder. "Sounds dangerous."
"Yeah. But I loved it. It's what I was spliced to do. As a bee splice, my reflexes are faster than any of the others. It's like I can predict what will happen. Stayed in well beyond the time to repay my splicing fee."
"What are you talking about - 'splicing fee'?"
Caressing her cheek then running his hand over her hair, he considers how to answer. Her world's ideals are vastly different. "The 'verse runs pretty much on pure capitalism. After my splicer bred and raised me, she sold me to the Legion."
"She did what?!?" Bridget is indignant at the thought and bolts up. "She created you, just to make a profit? That's horrible! How long did you have to work off that debt?"
He kisses his own index finger, then places it on her lips to quiet her. "Shhh, love. It's just how it is. She needs to make a living too. She was very good to us and made sure we had the best recommendations. It took 20 years to pay my splicer's fee back to the Legion. But it's done, and I'm free now."
Her brows are still furrowed, but she's drawing designs on his chest now. "You haven't been free that long then, have you?"
"Like you - I'm older than I look. How old do you think I am?"
"I would have guessed maybe… fifty. But I'd have nothing to base a guess on. So just tell me."
"Just guess. I won't be offended."
"You're playing it too safe. Seventy was a good while back." He can't suppress his smirk as he says, "A hundred and twenty two."
She does a double take then playfully hits his shoulder. "You're kidding me!"
"Bees don't lie, Love."
She squints as if it's painful to think. "I'm having trouble wrapping my mind around that one. You must have been dunked in RegeneX quite a few times then. How'd you afford it?"
"The Legion saw fit to put me back together each time."
He can see that this is pushing her mental limits in the middle of the night. "I'm here with you. Don't tax your brain and emotions over the details of how I got here and what I've been through. It's late and things won't make much sense, because I'm not sure all of it makes sense to even me." Tenderly tugging on her free hand he encourages, "Lay back down and tell me more about yourself. There are few humans I enjoy being around, so I don't get to ask. What's it like to be 'human'?"
Obliging, she nuzzles in beside him again. "That is an odd question to answer. I've only ever been a human. I wasn't sent off to the military at a young age, like you. I was born to loving parents. In school from ages 5 to 22, since I went to college. I was pretty carefree and enjoyed learning and sports. That is, until I met Frank at my first job. Our relationship was great until I got pregnant. He wanted nothing to do with a child and left."
"Bastard," Stinger interjects, teeth clenched. He can feel her shrug.
"Doesn't matter. He wasn't worth having in my life. I found out later that he was cheating on me. My parents helped me raise Ian, so he turned out pretty well. I worked full time as an HR admin, but hated it. Went back to school to learn to be a masseuse a few years ago, and it suites me so much better. I've mellowed considerably since I changed careers. It really was life changing. You wouldn't have liked me back then."
Pulling her hand up to his lips, he responds, "I dunno about that. But, what made you change?"
"I saw Ian becoming like I was. It scared me right down to the very core of my being."
"Kids have a way of making us see thing more clearly, don't they?"
"I guess," she mumbles as she yawns.
"What time do you have to head out tomorrow?" He doesn't really want to think about it, but he might need to let her sleep.
"I have to report in for evening shift at 6pm. His Lordship keeps night hours."
Letting out a single huffed laugh, he darkly muses, "For once, I'm grateful for his selfishness."
"Me too. I selfishly need every second with you. The upcoming four to six months are going to be rough."
Finally he can't hold back his own yawn.
She hugs him tighter. "Maybe we should get a little rest, so we can go at it again in the morning?"
He sighs. He'd rather not sleep. But she's right and he's worn out. "Agreed."
Dread - dull and aching in his chest and the pit of his stomach. Waking up knowing she leaves today, Stinger mentally curses. He knows the feeling is only going to grow and he's going to be miserable after she leaves.
She's sleeping with her back to him, no connection to him now. A fleeting thought of leaving before he has to go through the pain of saying goodbye tempts him for a moment. But she said she was depending on these last hours with him to help her through the months away. Damn. He's so far beyond buggered, now, there's not even a word for it.
She stretches and yawns. In a sleepy voice she asks before turning to face him, "Who are you mentally talking to? You're not saying words out loud, but I can hear the smacking and clicking of your mouth moving. I could swear they're very choice words by the staccato and that you're fussing about something."
Double damn. How does she know him so well after only two days? Pursing his lips, he requests, "Come here. Let me hold you."
Understanding dawns on her face, and she crawls over to lay on top of him. She can't wrap her arms around his neck very well while he's on his back. But she leans on her elbows and surrounds his head with her forearms and sinks her fingers into his hair, then covers his face with the tenderest of kisses. Wrapping his arms around her, he mashes her to him as tight as he can.
Barely audible she gasps, "Can't… breathe..."
His crushing grip releases enough for her to take a breath again, and lifts his head to bury his face in the crook of her neck. "Sorry."
"I know the feeling. I want to soak you up entirely while I have the chance. Sleeping alone tonight will be torture." Laying her head on his shoulder she tightens her arms, as if trying to drink him in and keep him there for later.
A scheduled thunderstorm rolls in around the tower high in the atmosphere. Soella offers to let a portion of the storm effects into the room, mentioning that it's a favorite for lovers. Bridget looks to Stinger and he shrugs. She answers, "Sure."
A warm soft drizzle falls on them and disappears before hitting the floor. When she straddles his hips, he jests "Need me again already this morning? I'm starting to lose count."
That zinger lightens the mood and earns him a couple of big zerberts under his chin. "Yes and this will be five, silly. Is there some record you're trying to break, or what?"
He was just catching his breath from being tickled, and that remark doesn't help. When he can finally speak, he takes her hand intertwining his fingers with hers and states with heartfelt conviction, "It's not a race, Love." Then his eyebrows wiggle conspiratorially, "But if you want to break the record, well have to go for six at least."
After she manages to close her gaping mouth, she looks at him incredulously, "Oh really, now? I thought I was the shocking one. That earned you a point. Now, do tell."
It's kind of hard to maintain so much bravado, but he takes a breath and muddles into a not too detailed retelling. Telling the guys about your exploits is one thing. Telling your girl is another and downright uncomfortable. "Young, lusty Legionnaires. We partied hard and well… sometimes groups of us would end up in bed all together. It was a wild time." Thankfully, her eyes have a reassuring merriment. So he asks, "What about you?"
She pokes a finger in the center of his chest. "You've got my record, old codger. Being with you is as rebellious and wild as I've been."
In a hushed lusty voice he confesses, "I want to be the one to keep your record. Let me make love to you again."
By the time she has to leave, beyond any 'records' - they've marked themselves indelibly on each other's heart. Leaving the hotel they'll never be able to afford to stay at again, they walk down the street hand in hand instead of using the valet service for her cycle. They could care less about the stares at their open affection and plain clothes that don't fit in here among the stuffy aristocracy.
He tells her drop him off at the nearest public transport. As she slows to a stop with his arms still hanging on to her, she brings up a topic she's been avoiding.
"I'm going to be gone a long time..." her voice trails off and her head hangs as she tries to say this. It's so hard to keep the tears at bay and it takes her a few moments to gather herself to speak again. He gets off the cycle and walks around to face her with concern on his face. Her mouth goes dry, and she rubs her arm. She has to spit this out before she can't, but she can't look at him as she says it. "I'll understand if you find someone else."
"Bridget Love, I'll w…" he starts earnestly, but she looks up and covers his mouth with her finger tips to stop him.
"Don't. We've known each other less than three days. The last guy that I knew for much longer made a promise like that broke my heart with that very promise shortly after. If you keep communication open with me, I'll know you want me to see you again."
"I'm not able to be so selfless." Putting a hand on each side of her face, he pulls her forehead to his lips. "I need to know when you get to your ship safe."
She tries to just give him a peck on the cheek, but he'll have none of that and pulls her into a rough desperate kiss that leaves them both a little breathless. Unable to actually say the word 'goodbye', he steps back, shoves his hands in his pockets and mumbles, "You'd better go before I stop you from leaving."
Revving her cycle, she takes off before she sees if he will actually keep her here. She does look back and sees him still there. She pours on the speed, letting the ache seep into the her racing.
After watching until she's out of sight, he turns the collar up on his new shirt to smell her perfume. Instead of taking public transport, he walks. It doesn't matter how far. He just doesn't want to go home tonight.
Thirty-five ticks later, feeling the familiar buzz of a message he taps the back of his neck. Her voice plays in his head, 'My dear Old Codger. Arrived. Still darn sore after all our activities. Everyone here is a mix of being out of sorts and anxious to get on our way. Looking forward to getting my implant tomorrow so messages can be more private and I can hear your voice. Miss you. What are you doing tonight?'
He musters as much positivity as ha can, the opposite of how he feels right now. 'Think I'm gonna head to the range, then see when Jinco kicks me out. Let me know when you get your implant. It's good to hear your voice.'
At the range, his aim is terrible until someone behind him gives him guff. It puts him in an even more foul mood. While the jerk stands there mouthing off, Stinger loosens his shoulders then puts five shots right in between the eyes of the humanoid target. Without even facing the braggart, Stinger growls as he holsters his pistol and cracks his knuckles with expectation, "Care to step outside? I talk better with my fists than I shoot." The guy blanches, clamping his mouth shut and walks away quickly. Stinger shrugs and goes back to trying to blow off steam. A fight would have been better. Tomorrow he'll visit the Aegis training center or maybe that splice bar he had to leave.
When he walks into the Little Devil, Jinco asks where Bridget is. Stinger almost turns around and leaves. Seeing his hesitation, Jinco quickly puts a tankard out for him, "Tell me when you're able." Stinger nods, drains the pint and asks for another.
Aboard the Abrasax Clipper D-Gamma 9, Bridget is overwhelmed and tired. Team building activities, getting her implant, training sessions on how to care for your recovering teammates, drawing lots for who will go through the procedure first, meeting Mr. Night and Ms. Gresh, and dealing with her panicked team member who drew first go. She volunteered to trade and assured her that she'd show her it really can't be that bad. She collapses leaving Stinger a very short message. 'Sweet Old Codger. Have implant. Longer message later. You're probably at Jinco's now anyway.' Replaying his message on the new tech, she falls asleep to his voice.
Mid shift as they practice what they learned in training yesterday, Bridget startles at the feeling of the notification buzz. Her team stares until she shrugs and holds her hands out apologetically. "Still getting used to this implant thing. I didn't grow up with it like you two did."
Tillan, the golden skinned young man with long hair, verbally nudges her with his pet name for her, "Bree, If it's from this mysterious gent of yours we want to hear all the details!" He gives pet names to everyone and unabashedly flirts whether people pay attention or not.
"Tillan…" she sighs in exasperation. "I'm not sharing him!"
"His loss. Still want the details," Tillan winks and waits expectantly.
"Aren't enough pretties here on the ship for you?" Shayla, a butterscotch haired pleasant round faced gal, puts her hands on Tillan's shoulders and flutters her eyelashes as she peeks around to see his face.
"The gal in the team next to us…" he teases her.
“Tillan!” Shayla lets go exasperated and slugs him in the arm. It just tickles his funny bone and he shoves her with his shoulder playfully.
While her teammates were goofing off, she quickly checks her message. Stinger's accent makes her relax immediately, even though it's a bit slurred. 'Trouble Love, found your ssshirt in the auto cleanssser when I ssstumbled back home. You'll have to visssit me to get it back.'
Tapping the button on her neck again she sends back, 'My Sweet Old Codger, you distracted me enough before I left that I wasn't thinking about clothing. Rest now and sleep it off, ok? Gotta go, teammates staring and expecting me to share your message, and I'm not enough used to the buzzing to cover it up yet. I'll be as cryptic as I can and not be rude. I told Tillan I wasn't sharing you. See the attached picture of us dorks. Kisses.'
Meeting their forcefully hopeful gazes again she shakes her head. "You two are absolutely incorrigible! If you must know, I left something at his place."
Shayla's index finger goes to her lips conspiratorially, "Now what could she have left behind?"
Tillan's face lights up as his mind runs through the possibilities.
Thwacking them both with her notes, she tries to get everyone back on track, "Focus! We're each other's care team! If you two can focus through the rest of this shift, I'll tell you what I left behind. Deal?"
"The details better be worth the work, Bree. This constant work stuff is a drag," Tillan insists and Shayla nods.
Bridget rubs her thumb over her index finger, "See this - it's a tiny violin playing my heart bleeds for you. I've had to work hard all my adult life."
"Harsh!" Shayla comes to Tillan's defense.
Tillan just holds his hand up as if it's a puppet and mocks her, "Blah, blah, blah. Juicy details, girly. That's what I care about."
Bridget rolls her eyes, "Nosey bugger."
Back at his apartment, Stinger listens to her message a few times. He'd planned to stay up until he was sober again. But for whatever reason after she told him to rest, he can't seem to keep his eyes open. "Aww, bloody hell." He pulls her shirt from the table and places it on his pillow before collapsing.
Over the next few days as Bridget mentally prepares for the procedure next week, Tillan and Shayla keep hounding her for more info on her beau, simply because she's so quiet about him. She really wants to tell them all about her delightfully cantankerous splice lover. But Stinger needs anonymity with her working for Titus. Stinger doesn't want her used as a bargaining chip if Titus wants to get revenge.
Though, she does wonder what Stinger knows of what Titus has to deal with. While she's been here she's heard of two betrayals close to him, a foiled assassination attempt, and five lawsuits. It's not all wine and roses for the entitleds. No wonder they turn out so messed up.
Her latest message tells him of her struggle with her team.
'Dearest Old Codger. I am terrible at maintaining a poker face. I'm sorry. My teammates are figuring things out about you even though I say nothing!
Today they were pestering me about why you would need such secrecy. I refused to make eye contact - knowing I'm too transparent. But they started guessing out loud before I could cover my ears! Their first guess was industrial spy, then entitled playboy who needs an affair secret, then paranoid Legion Elite.
I still don't know what gave me away after they said the latter - even though it's in the past. But their pompous high five of victory annoyed me no end. How am I going to keep you safe at this rate? I'll keep trying. God, I miss you lover boy.'
She's relieved to get his return message quickly, now that she's figured out how to set a specific pattern to the receipt of his messages. A slight smile appears on her face as the only possible give away. She can usually cover for it.
'Loveliest Trouble, no worries. If you try to hide me too much, it will only bring us unwanted attention. Not everyone can develop a good poker face. Is it one teammate doing most of the asking? Could be just a nosey git, but keep an eye out. If it doesn't feel right, start covertly digging for info.
You'll laugh. I must have drunkenly called my daughter and prattled on about you. I got a teasing note from her this morning. Damn it. Wish I knew what I said. Will tune the implant to not let me message after a certain blood alcohol level. Drinking isn't dulling the ache of how much I miss you.'
Near the end of her sleep cycle, she's awoken by a vaguely familiar, rather annoying, but very polite voice. They'd confided in each other the day before after she stood up for the rat splice. "Miss Thornton. Wake up, please. We need to see Famulus IMMEDIATELY. I believe we're about to be in a great deal trouble, if we don't get to her first."
"Mr. Night? What did you find?" She stretches and groggily asks.
"We must go now!" He grabs her arm with a crushing grip that his delicate hands don't look like they should have. "It's our best chance!"
Her latest note has Stinger pacing aboard his Aegis ship muttering every known obscenity in three languages and making up a few more. He plays it again to be sure he didn't miss anything.
'My dearest Old Codger. Your ID is compromised. I'm so truly sorry. Mr. Night helped me dig. We're intercepted. The industrial spy framed us. I'm afraid I'm going to have to ask you to return my shirt. Being escorted to Famulus. Expect contact from her. I love you.'
What the hell did she find? Is she ok? Where is that entitled bastard's ship the D-Gamma 9 right now? Why is Night helping her? Didn't that damned little rat splice die in the factory destabilization? Famulus is going to use her to lure him, just like he'd feared. Damn. Damn. Triple damn and fuck. Yet another way he's beyond buggered, AGAIN.
The day before, Tillan had flirted incessantly with Chicanery, and Mr. Night had been flattered, but always politely declined - for sake of propriety. Though, he left an invite open for after the volunteer donation requirements were fulfilled. Tillan became agitated. He'd been increasingly this way with everyone. Bridget asked what was going on, he wasn't even next up to donate. Then she stepped in between them and forced Tillan to leave.
Something must have clicked for Mr. Night at that point because he confided in her that he knew the Abrasax extraction inside and out and they shared what they knew about Tillan's behavior. Tillan had been approaching everyone that might know something of it - along with a few others as cover.
Along the way to see Famulus, Mr. Night explains they're being framed and her secretive messages with Captain Apini make her one of the scapegoats. He'd been investigating both her and Tillan. Aegis thinks they corner the market on encryption, but Chicanery was able to crack it last century. Unfortunately, he's implicated too for forwarding what he found to Aegis via the same channel. There wasn't another option to have a backup for the info. He's also aware of her Captain's indiscretion in turning over Jupiter and Caine, and that Famulus is aware of Stinger's help in retrieving said betrayed friends.
"The proverbial shit is hitting the fan Miss Thornton," he manages to say with some eloquence despite the panic of the situation.
Then they meet the guards around the corner…
Famulus contacts Stinger during the split shift, demanding he turn himself over immediately. Stinger gives a pleading expression and shows his hands already in cuffs. Captain Tsing interrupts, "He betrayed the Aegis again. I'll be happy to turn him over for questioning. But he will remain in my custody, awaiting trial on both counts."
Blinking, Famulus is clearly taken aback. This isn't a frequent experience for her. She's used to having the most recent info and the upper hand. "Delightful. His Lordship will be expecting you."
Taking advantage of the situation, Captain Tsing gives Stinger a shove forward as he's led with hands cuffed behind him.
Stinger grits his teeth and mumbles out of the side of his mouth, "You're enjoying this aren't you?"
There's a nasty little glint of pleasure in her eyes as she replies, "It's not every day that I get to push you around old man. But I like that it's happening with increasing frequency."
"Enjoy it while you can Mika," he says flatly, only remembering to use her title as Captain too late and Famulus appears around the corner.
It earns him a slap up the back of the head. "You don't have the right to call me that anymore. You'll refer to me only as Captain. Do you understand?"
Stinger shakes it off and mutters a grudging, "Yes, Captain."
"Mr. Apini, it warms my heart to see you in cuffs again and as humble as ever. How charming.," Famulus quips at his expense, "We can take him from here Captain Tsing."
"The prisoner - annoying as he is - is under my care, and will remain so. He's just being loaned to you for questioning. He says he has information that may be of value." Tsing sternly reminds the head steward.
"It will be a while until His Lordship and I finish going through the data," Famulus warns.
Stinger pipes up, "You'll want the info I have before you make your decisions. I know who the spy is."
Primly and deliberately, the deer splice stops and turns in place to accent her words, "Do tell, Mr. Apini. The clock is ticking."
"I'll tell you if you let Bridget go. I can prove her innocence and reveal the id of the culprit," Stinger offers the tidbit.
"What of her involvement with Mr. Night? That's hard implication to refute." Famulus probes.
"The rat is innocent too, as loathed as I am to say it." Stinger face is painted with shades of disgust.
"Tell me what you know and we'll do what we can." Famulus tests the waters.
"Like hell, I will. Not after our last deal," his words are spit at her feet.
"I'm unsure His Lordship can trust you either, Mr. Apini. You're just making it harder on yourself." She shrugs dispassionately and continues leading them down the passage. "It will be extracted."
"No. It won't. He voluntarily gave me access to the entirety of his files. I personally copied the relevant ones. Upon release of Miss Thornton and Mr. Night, they will be handed over to you," Tsing insists and it stops Famulus in her tracks. "His neural net will not be compromised. We need him fit for trial."
"Miss Thornton and Mr. Night will be released upon proof of innocence. No sooner." Famulus crosses her arms and purses her lips.
"Is she ok?" Stinger asks with desperation in his voice.
"She is alive." Famulus lets her annoyance show by giving as little info as possible. "That is all you need know."
Stinger lunges at the nimble deer splice and demands, "What have you done with her?!? I won't talk until I see her!" Without making it even a foot, he's tackled and shoved to the ground by Captain Tsing and her guards before Famulus can order him shot by the company of sims surrounding them.
Tsing moves to be almost nose to nose with him as she says. "Old man, you're really NOT helping."
They carry him face down, by the arms and legs. Not fighting the guards physically, he pants with the exertion as he screams, "She's in danger!"
"Bring him." Famulus commands tersely. She carries herself with an air of self satisfaction as she hears him being dragged along behind her.
Previously on Captain Tsing's ship:
When the transmission with Famulus ends, Tsing uncuffs Stinger as she expresses her concern. He'd contacted her and Caine for help as soon as the message from Bridget arrived. She verifies, "Are you absolutely sure of her innocence, old man?"
"Positive." Stinger stands his ground.
"I shouldn't be placing trust in you again…" she grumbles. "What is she? Your latest conquest?"
Caine, via vid screen, crosses his arms and leans back in his chair to listen. These two are always entertaining.
"No. I didn't run fast enough," Stinger admits sheepishly, then gains a bit of his old bravado again. "Why Mika, you aren't jealous are you?"
Captain Tsing pshaws him. "Got over you nigh on a century ago, old man. She has no idea how much trouble you are."
"That's the funny thing. SHE'S the trouble between us. She's damned hard to keep up with, even for this old hand." He fiddles with the cuff of his sleeve and kicks the ground.
"Introduce me to her, then. She doesn't know our past." Diomika is intrigued. "A girl that keeps Stinger Apini on his toes is worth meeting."
"Uh, she knows some of it…" Stinger bites his lip and feels Captain Tsing towering over him.
"And how long have you known this girl?" Diomika demands.
"A little over a week. Had two and a half bloody amazing days with her."
"Impetuous idiot." Her eyes go heavenward. Patience for Stinger needs to be eternal, and hers is not today.
"What?! She's a hurricane and I was in her path." Now he's downright indignant.
Caine pipes in for his commanding officer, "I met her briefly. She's a real spitfire."
"Watch your tongue boy." Stinger growls in a low rumble.
"Stinger, to put up with you she has to be," Caine grins and he prods his CO just to rile him up.
"Fat lot of respect you have…" Stinger has turned to grouching loudly since threatening didn't get his way. His eyes are flashing gold again. His accent increases with his temper and he demands of Diomika. " 're we goin' t' git 'er, er wha'?"
Captain Tsing arches an eyebrow and narrows her eyes in a gonna-make-you-back-down look that he's been on the wrong end of a few too many times. "Save the 'tude for the rescue, Sting. I'm still put out with you over the Jupiter incident."
He leans back on the console behind him and bites his tongue. Everything inside him wants to lash out right now, but he's got to cap it for when it's needed. "Hear you loud and clear, Captain."
"Mr. Percadium, open a portal to the Clipper D-Gamma 9's last known coordinates." She finally issues the command he was waiting for.
Caine says he'll see them on the other side.
"Thank you," he says under his breath to Tsing as he looks the floor.
"You WILL introduce me to her." She books no disappointment.
"She wants to meet you too." The twinkle has returned to his eyes again.
"Find a sit before portal." She slaps his arm as she re-claims her captain's chair. "You do realize she and I will gang up on you."
In the cell block, Stinger is set kneeling before the grate looking into Mr. Night and Bridget's cell.
"Bridget!" Stinger howls and struggles against his bonds, upset by the scene below him.
"Mr. Apini!" Mr. Night looks up from dabbing Bridget's face with lacy handkerchief. "Rest assured. She will be right as rain soon." Bridget is unconscious and there's bruising on her arms and hand marks on her neck near the implant.
Captain Tsing kneels beside Stinger and puts a comforting hand on his shoulder. "Calm yourself, old man."
"But…" he rasps helplessly still struggling and his eyes are pleading.
"Sting, we'll get her outta there." She gives a squeeze before standing again. "Famulus, you and I both know the only way we'll get him to calm down is to let him in there."
The head steward rolls her eyes. "He's pathetically predictable. The only thing exciting today was seeing him hauled in." She motions downward for a guard to open the grate.
As soon as it's open enough he jumps to his feet and the guards grab his arms while Tsing undoes his cuffs. Stepping voluntarily out into the nothingness, he lands in a crouch as the grate closes above him.
Mr. Night moves gingerly out of the way as he informs Stinger, "She put up quite the fight. Tillan thought he could hold her down himself, but it took two sims in addition. She was out for the extraction, so there will be no lasting damage."
Only then does Stinger see similar marks on the rat splice, who remarks, "My pale skin bruises easily. I didn't struggle."
"Still..." Stinger's brows furrow as offers with a tad of sympathy. Scooping Bridget up, he leans against the wall cradling her in his lap. Securing her with one arm, he holds one hand out, "May I?"
Without a word, Night passes his handkerchief. Stinger tenderly brushes the hair out of her eyes with it, then folds it over and goes lightly over the bruises - hoping to wipe the ugly marks away. Finally, he checks her implant for signs of damage, running his fingers over it and laying the cloth over it and the worst of the marks. "Damned implants.”
Hesitantly, he offers his hand, "Thank you for watching over her."
Night acknowledges the gesture with the merest nod and accepts the proffered hand, a little surprised at first at the shake. "It was the least I could do. She stood up for me to that vile traitor, even before we were working together."
He as tactfully as possible he pulls out another kerchief and dabs at his neck then looks a little abashed as he wipes the hand that shook Stinger's own.
"Cripes sake, man. It's just sweat." Stinger glowers and the rat splice shrinks. He places his lips on Bridget's forehead for a moment before breaking the uneasy silence. "How long do you think she'll be out? Would it hurt to wake her?"
Mr. Night brings a finger to his mouth in thought. "I am unsure of when she would naturally. But a simple stimulant should do the trick. They used a nerve pinch to knock her out."
Not moving his head but glancing in his peripheral vision and seeing those above are busy discussing the legalities of handing over the info, he mouths a single word to Night. "Installed?"
Motionless he responds, "Yes. I believe Captain Tsing could ask for a stimulant for her." His clever cover earns him a small one sided grin from Stinger.
When he hears Captain Tsing mention that the culprit is not in custody yet, Famulus actually shows a little temper and stomps her foot. "That's what I told you! Everyone has been waiting on lockdown while Mr. Apini has a tearful reunion."
Directing her attention to Stinger once again, Tsing asks, "Stinger, now that you've seen Miss Thornton, are you ready to give your information?"
He gives a clear, "Yes, Captain. I'd like to ask for a gentle stimulant to wake her up though, first."
Looking to her medical officer, Tsing nods in the direction of the holding cell.
After it's administered, Stinger finally says, "It's Tillan Montaine. He works for your nearest competitor outside of Titus's family. Mr. Night sent me copies of his transmissions."
Tsing adds as she hands a small sheave to Famulus. "Contact your Lord and tell him to prepare for a neural net freeze. You won't want Montaine to do a memory wipe. Lieutenant Wise will intercept if anyone tries to leave."
Bridget starts to stir and Stinger runs his thumb over her cheekbone, as he whispers "Hey, sleepy head."
"Stinger? How'd you get here?" She blinks at the light streaming into the cell and he shades her eyes for her with his hand, before she hugs him fiercely.
"That's not important right now. The three of us will be out of here soon. How you feelin'?"
"A nasty headache, but otherwise OK I think."
"The stimulant should help with that in a few ticks."
Mr. Night can't help but butt in. "Miss Bridget, he was positively rabid upon seeing you in an unconscious state. The memory of him being carried in like that, will stay with me for a long time. I'm honestly surprised even you with your charm could affect such a callused old soldier so in such a short time."
"Shut your gob, rat."
Night silently chuckles to himself.
She chides him affectionately, "My dear cantankerous old codger, do be nice to my friend. If it wasn't for him, we would have no proof and no way out of this."
"He was shittin' me." Stinger is appalled. The rat started it.
Her eyebrow lifts in his direction, but she speaks to the rat splice, "Mr. Night, if you would refrain from baiting my boyfriend, I would appreciate it."
"As you wish Miss." Chicanery suppresses a smirk.
Stinger switches the subject before the rat can find a way around that request. "This is even bigger than you two were able to dig up. There's a conglomeration working against Titus to stop him from fully developing this new process. There's another spy working with him, but ID unknown at this point."
"What did you just say?" Famulus looks down at Stinger both literally and figuratively.
"You heard. It's on that sheave. Don't lose it." Stinger ignores her after that.
Tsing taps her neck upon receipt of a message, "It's time ladies and gentlemen. Activate your neural net block inhibitors." Stinger looks up at her with a nod and taps his neck. None of the crew does - they already had theirs activated.
The sims around slump powerless and Famulus motions for Tsing and crew to follow. She wants to be at her Lord's side through his vulnerable moments to protect him.
When the coast is clear he helps Bridget up, then unfastens and removes his jacket - handing it to Bridget. She gives him a funny look until she sees the three pistols strapped around him and his wing tips already sticking out of the shirt's wing slits.
"A break out?" Mr. Night is not amused. Firefights are not his thing. He truly hopes there won't be one.
"Would you rather wait here like a sitting duck? As soon as that net blocker went into effect, the mystery perp will be on the run and may want to shut us up permanently," Stinger reasons as Bridget helps herself to his portable armory.
"I assume you received the code for the cell from Captain Tsing. You could have just asked me," Night shares.
Stinger taps the back of his neck to open the cell. "Night, you first. I can't lift the both of you."
Putting on Stinger's Aegis jacket, she watches as Stinger interlaces his fingers and Chicanery Night gingerly puts his foot there to be hoisted. She calls up, "Nice ass, Mr. Night!" It derails him for a second, "Madam!" but then he manages to scramble out more quickly.
Stinger glowers, then rebounds, "Are you suggesting we become a threesome? 'Cause I don't think I can share you."
She sees Night fanning himself above as she zings, "It would be me having to share I suspect, and I don't think I can either my dear old codger. But never fear. Mr. Night seems to have plenty of prospects, don't you Night?"
"That is true, Miss. One of the perks in working for Lord Titus instead of Balem." Night gives a considering expression.
Stuffing the pistol in her back pocket, then she leans into him and tucks her chin in the crook of his neck. "God, I missed you."
He lets his wings unfurl and snap as he embraces her too. "Me too." Bending his knees for a little extra boost, his wings hum and send the air swirling around them, before they rocket out of the cell.
"You missed yourself?" she quips as he lets her down.
"You know what I meant, woman." Exasperation tints his voice as he holds a pistol out to Chicanery. "Now do both of you know how to use these?"
Mr. Night holds up his hands, "I would prefer not to carry one."
Shrugging as he returns the pistol to its holster, he focuses on Bridget. He hears the familiar whine of the weapon charging as it's taken off safety. "Good girl."
"What should I expect for recoil and how many shots in a cartridge?" she inquires as she tests the aim at the wall across from them.
"Minimal. Fifty shots. More cartridges in my jacket. How's your aim?" he responds as he charges his own weapon.
"Acceptable. I was on a paintball team a few years ago and my son loves laser tag. So I can handle rudimentary tactics too."
His appreciative one sided grin lasts for a moment, before he remembers the urgency. "If we had time, I'd snap a picture of you looking so badass." He sighs and activates his mag shield, "Take us to Titus. Night, at least carry a shield so we can't be flanked so easily." He pulls up his pant leg and removes an additional wristband. Night reluctantly holds out his arm and Stinger slaps it on. "You're flank. Bridget is your cover. I'll lead."
The trio scrambles along at an odd stop and go pace as Stinger checks around each doorway and opening.
"Almost there," Bridget assures.
Night, crouching as he walks backwards, slides surprisingly easy into the military lingo. "Movement. Your 6 o'clock low."
Leading with his shield, Stinger switches places with Mr. Night just in time. He deflects a round of shots and returns the volley. Bridget is right behind him shooting from his left, with right hand on his side so she can try to move as much in sync with him as possible. Seeing the gun in the hand opposite his, he asks as he takes aim again, "Left handed?"
"Didn't you notice before?" She pops off a shot.
"You had me rather occupied." Tapping to open a channel with Captain Tsing, he reports, "Under fire in main corridor. Lone attacker two doors down." Then he issues an order, "Night double time. We need to get you two to safety. Can hunt the shooter later."
A message comes through the neural net and Stinger swears before relaying. "They have a situation. Titus is being held hostage. You two know any back doors?"
"Of course. Follow me." Mr. Night perks up. Being covert is much more his style.
Stinger sends a message to Caine that they're leaving the shooter, there's a bigger situation to deal with.
Night helps them find a secret passage to evade fire and leads them to a curtain covered back entrance.
Stinger scopes out the situation. It's a stand off. Tillan is using Titus as a shield, with a gun to his head. Famulus is in a heap on the ground. The Aegis contingent has their pistols aimed to hold a stalemate with Tillan. Titus's servants are taking cover, sitting on pins and needles.
Stinger opens a channel to Tsing, 'Keep looking forward for now. Does it look like an agreement can be reached? Blink twice for agreement. One for take a shot. Look at the ground for wait.'
The uncertainty and stress of the standoff shows in her face, and sweat is forming on her brow. But she stands determined and unshakable. She's as gutsy and amazing as the day he first met her. Staring as if she can make Tillan disappear, she slowly lets her lids close over her eyes conceding the action to Stinger. When her eyes open there's a look of pure hatred at the man holding the hostage, and a barely visible dark pleasure of knowing his time has come.
Then Stinger voice messages Bridget, 'Not quite a clean shot here. You guard Night - in case the shooter interferes.'
He doesn't even remotely like Titus, but he takes a breath, saying a quick prayer to any deity that might listen, before fluidly moving from cover and popping off a shot.
Bridget scans the hallway as she hears a single shot, a hosts of screams - some random and some "Lord Titus!", two consecutive thuds, and many boots tromping to one area. A status from Stinger, 'Clean shot. Oxymoron to gruesome scene. Don't come in unless you can handle it. 'Lotta sick servants in the room.'
She relays the message to Mr. Night. While he doesn't like using weapons, he says he can handle any amount of gore, if she's up for it. Running a harvesting factory removed any sense of delicacy he had. She doesn't want to see the gore, but she can't just hide here. The need to see her boss alive and to find out Famulus's fate drives her. Chicanery volunteers to go first, and let her know where not to look if she squeezes his hand.
Upon entering she sees servants wiping the blood off Titus' face and out of his hair. Thankfully the medics attending Famulus block the worst of the gore for her. Her legs are wobbly as she makes her way over to Stinger and Captain Tsing.
"Is Famulus going to be ok?" she asks as she slips her hand into Stingers.
Tsing answers in her clear but weary voice, "Yes. Thankfully it ended in time." Stinger nods in agreement.
Relief fills her and she reflexively turns to look. Mistake. Her knees don't feel like they'll hold her. Stinger pulls her to him and tucks her head into his shoulder. "Don't look." It helps, but she hears the swish of that curtain.
She doesn't know why she cues into it - she wouldn't normally notice it. But she looks up with a rush of adrenaline. Shayla is emerging from the curtain, rifle in her hands lifting it to aim at Titus. 'FREEZE,' she commands Stinger via the open channel as lifts her pistol to fire three shots. Stinger jerks then freezes at the repeated deafening sound right behind his ear. Everyone around has weapons drawn. As she sees Shayla go down and the damage she inflicted - her own arms go limp and fall to her side. The pistol clatters to the floor.
Hearing movement in his one non-ringing ear and no more shots firing, he tucks her head back where it was and slowly turns her from the scene. She's shaking pretty badly.
He sees Bridget's other former teammate is lying dead on the floor, with two visible wounds. A crowd is forming around her.
"You saved lives today, Love," he tries to comfort. As her composure crumbles, he tightens his grip and kisses the top of her head. "First kills are hard. If you don't cry over it, something's very wrong."
Through her rapid breathing and sobs she manages, "But she was my friend!"
"She led you to believe that, yes. She and Tillan used you and were going to let you take the fall for them," he gives the truth as gently as he can. But he won't sugar coat it. He notices her skin feels clammy. "Can you walk?"
She gives a negative shake of her head then protests, "But she…"
"Shhh. Don't try to sort it out right now. Give it a few days' perspective. Let's get some air. You're in shock." He picks her up and carries her out of the room - away from the sight and smell of blood.
In the hallway, he sits and sets her curled up in his lap. She's not shaking anymore and her breathing is slowing.
Mr. Night appears with a glass of water and she gratefully accepts. “You did well Miss Thornton.”
As she starts feeling more herself again, she starts to berate herself. "I don't feel like I did well at all! I fell apart and someone is dead because of me. It's so awful!"
"We're alive and only the perps are dead. Any day you can walk away from is a good one," Stinger repeats the age old Legion adage. "I've seen plenty of bad days too, some when only a complete recode would keep me among the living."
The door opens and very haggard Titus kneels to join their company. "Evidently I have you three to thank for another day of life and Famulus still being with us. I don't know what I'd do without her. She's in regeneration as we speak. Now, I try not to be indebted to anyone. Mr. Apini, I will let our by gones be by gones. Mr. Night would you like a promotion? And Miss Thornton you are released from your contract with me."
"Agreed," Stinger answers.
"Thank you, my Lord. Though, I may like to apply for head of security at Aegis. Their secure communication protocols are woefully lacking," Night responds.
"Understood Mr. Night. I'll look into it," Titus graciously offers.
"Thank you, Your Lordship. May I ask a personal question?" Bridget feels a little bolder with Titus's humility.
"Stuff like this happens to you all the time, doesn't it?" There's genuine concern in her face.
He sucks in his bottom lip as he considers his reply, allowing his unease to show before answering, "More than I care to admit. It hardens the soul."
Putting a hand on his shoulder, she sympathizes. "I don't know how you deal with it. But I'm glad we could be here for you and Famulus."
It catches him off guard and the silver tongued playboy is left at a loss for words for a fraction of a second. People don't just reach out and touch royalty without being invited. And yet he can't just quickly write off her sentiment. So, he gives a tired smile before making his exit, "I bid you all adieu. I'm off to see my dear head chamberlain. They should have her dressed, by now. She hates it when I walk in on her. I'll convey your regards."
When Titus is out of earshot, Stinger gazes at her with admiration and breaks the silence, "Love, I'm not the only one you have that unsettling effect on. Titus probably hasn't seen genuine compassion in several millennia."
"Still a WHOUR ih KEN?" She nuzzles into his chest.
With an amused chuckle at the mimic of his accent, he whispers, "Aye."
Captain Diomika on behalf of Aegis offers a formal apology to Titus for endangering him and his crew, even though it would have likely played out similarly and ended much worse without them. Caine had been posted on another Aegis cruiser of the starboard bow to keep the couple from leaving the ship, but Night had blocked all flight protocols for them. They would have been stuck on the ship anyway.
Before Aegis leaves Titus's ship, he offers lucrative positions to both Bridget and Night. Night takes him up on the position of under steward - just below Famulus, with the stipulation that he can take enough leave to act as a consultant for Aegis. The organization is begging him to help patch the encryption protocol.
Bridget considers the offer of being his personal masseuse. But Stinger had just told her he would be taking the Captaincy with Her Majesty Jupiter Jones, and he would be visiting Earth fairly often. Interlocking her fingers with Stinger's, she politely declines his generous offer and thanks him for healing her son.
As she finishes gathering her personal belongings, they receive a message from Captain Tsing that they have a schedule to keep. Holding hands they run through the hall to the airlock. Stinger has her bag hoisted over his back and she's still wearing his Aegis jacket. Panting as they hear the door seal behind them and the small room takes a moment to pressurize as the ship detaches, she leans on him. Stinger drops her bag and confesses as he slips his hands into her back pockets and rocks side to side, "I was anxious to get you aboard. I couldn't shake the thought that you'd change your mind."
Her nose wrinkles with pleasure that she's important to him as she slips her arms around his neck. Giving him a mischievous wink, she teases, "I'm the kind of trouble you can't ditch easily."
His bright blue eyes turn gold and stay that way for several seconds to match the intensity of his grin, "Bring it on, girl."
Ignoring the the airlock door opening, they're in the middle of passionate lip lock, pressed up against the port wall, with his hand pulling her knee past his hip. Captain Tsing rolls her eyes and clears her throat. Not as abashed as Tsing thought they'd be, Stinger lets go. The blonde girl giggles as she wipes the lipstick off his face with the cuff of his jacket that she's still wearing.
Tsing chides fondly, "Jeeze old man - in need of a re-code and and still going after the girls. Think you can wait the few hours to get to back to Orus or do we have to drop you two at the nearest hourly hotel?"
With an arm around each other, Stinger shakes his head and runs his free hand through his hair before making the introductions, "Bridget Thornton, this is Diomika Tsing. Mika this is the troublesome one I told you about."
"Nice to officially meet you," Tsing offers her hand in a hearty shake. "When he said you kept him on his toes, I knew we'd get along."
"Likewise, he spoke well of you," Bridget offers politely, unsure of what else to say.
Tsing motions for them to leave the airlock. "If that's true, he didn't tell you much. We go *way* back. Let me enlighten you, dear," she waggles her eyebrows conspiratorially and offers her arm.
Bridget kisses Stinger's cheek, then accepts. "Sounds delightfully entertaining!"
"Let me tellyou first about how I met him. Then you can tell me how you caught his attention ... So we were a freshly formed unit created to ferret out pockets of resistance in Tellurise. And this cocky young officer with black and yellow stripes in his hair and wings jutting out proudly swaggers over and introduces himself thinking he's hot stuff… " her voice trails off out of range.
"Oh, damn." Stinger has his hands stuffed in his pockets and shakes his head. "I'd better go make sure she tells it right."
Walking back to his apartment from the nearest public transport, they've decided to deal with his transfer papers in the morning. As soon as the door is shut, she drops her bags and Stinger's jacket out of the way. Feeling completely at ease here she sighs contentedly, even though he hasn't said anything about letting her stay long term. She knows she should get back to Earth soon.
Stinger has stopped to take off his boots. When he straightens, she grabs his hands giving a tug and suggests, "Come on. Shower with me."
"Demanding," he mock protests, but offers no resistance.
"You started it back in the airlock…" She drags him into the walled off partition and taps the temperature and start buttons.
A single eyebrow raises and his trademark one sided smirk appears. "Did I now..."
"Wouldn't be right to leave a girl wishing you'd finish what you started." Simpering an invitation, she pulls him toward her.
Not to be outdone. He wrestles her still fully clothed into the falling rain that emanates from the whole ceiling in the small shower. It has them both in a fit of giggles, clinging to each other.
She guides his hands to the opening of her shirt. Seeing he's laboring with even the first button on the sopping garment, she stops her work on his pants to assist. After that stubborn fastener is undone, she shifts so he can pull it up over her head. It doesn't go smoothly, sticking to her head and arms. When she realizes it’s all going to be this tricky, she's a little frustrated with him for making getting clothes off more difficult. But seeing his heady, lusty amusement as her shirt is finally off - it all melts away. Perhaps the crazy struggle together makes the wait more sweet.
As he presses her up against the wall, she can feel the desperation in his kiss as his lips and whiskers drag across her skin and the tingling lingers. They’ve both been wanting this since the airlock, and he’ll be buggered if he’s going to wait a tick longer.
Eventually, they do end up actually showering. But standing as they made love left them both with wobbly shaking legs. They make quick work of getting clean and mostly dry. Dog-tired from the emotional day and strenuous 'shower', she nuzzles her face into the crook of his neck and leans on him. Barely able to stand, he wraps his arms around her and falls with her back into the bed. It only wakes them up enough to chuckle as they collapse together.
As she cuddles up next to him, she whispers, "I don't know how long you'll let me stay. But I feel like I'm home."
He presses his lips to her forehead and they let themselves drift off to sleep.
I'd love to hear your thoughts on the story! :)