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Without You, I Can’t Breathe

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APINI HIVES/EARTH MARSHAL'S OFFICE, A LITTLE OVER 1 MONTH SINCE BRIDGET AND STINGER MET

 

Stinger had been with her as she'd seen her son, Ian, off to MIT and the empty nest syndrome was harder for her to take than she'd realized. Ian had been everything to her over the last 18 years. Seeing how it affected her, Stinger suggested she stay with him and Kiza. No promises, no conditions. He simply asked if she wanted to stay.

It'd been just about a week since she arrived, and already it felt natural to be here. Kiza welcomed her warmly and treated her like a sister, instead of a rival for Stinger's attention. Bridget wondered how old Kiza really was, her actions suggested she too might be older than her looks suggest.

Humming to herself, Bridget is content in her tasks and happy to be able to help the man she loves in his day to day routine.

While Bridget cleans up after lunch, Stinger decides to walk the grounds checking on his apiary. He wants to make sure their prep for winter is going well before he heads out on another errand for Her Majesty Jupiter Jones. It's exciting to think that Bridget will accompany him this time.

October doesn't have many blooms with pollen for the hives and the sweet corn was harvested late August. Stinger always plants late blooming hearty flowers and vegetables to help any straggling colonies. Zinnias, oregano, carrots, mums, and goldenrod all pepper the yard and between the fields. He ensures the spiders are driven out - so the bees are safe and they can get the nutrients that help to fight mites and colony collapse.

 

...

 

When Stinger seems to be about half an hour late from his rounds, Bridget messages him and asks if he wants tea. He doesn't respond, so she checks with Kiza to see if he'd met her at the neighbor's to arrange for spring planting. Kiza's confused, he won't do that until mid winter and she hasn't seen nor heard from him.

Bridget tries Stinger's comm again. No luck.

Agitated, the bees are entering the house in droves and flying about her head frantically. She'd better go find him.

As she's donning her mucking boots to go hunt him down, a message comes through on the Marshal's FTL. She half trips with a boot partially on as she rushes to answer it.

'Earth Marshal. Ready to receive,' she replies.

'Aegis Cruiser Sigma 089 reporting.'

Tsing's ship? What could she need at this moment? It's nice to hear from Tsing and crew, but Bridget doesn't have time for a friendly chat.

'Captured ship leaving orbit after a weak distress signal was received. Captain Apini was being held against his will. Receiving medical treatment for his wounds. Captors have been arrested. Be ready for transport.'

Stinger was kidnapped?!?!!? What the hell is going on?

Quickly Bridget switches gears to throw on her marshal's jacket and boots to look a little more respectable. Then she contacts Kiza that her dad is found and to be on guard while manning the marshal's station. She's juggling her ‘to go’ bag while strapping on her belt holster and pinning on her badge as she dashes to catch the waiting shuttle.

 

MEDICAL BAY ON THE AEGIS CRUISER SIGMA 089

 

Tsing and the doctor are standing outside waiting for Bridget.

"Marshal Thornton, Captain Apini received some head trauma. He is stable and his physical wounds have been attended, but he appears to be disoriented." The doctor speaks quietly and tries to keep her calm.

"What do you mean?" Bridget's brows furrow and she backs up a step. The fact that they aren't simply letting her in the room is down right alarming.

Tsing takes her hand to ground her, "My friend. Take a deep breath, ok?"

She isn't able to do anything of the sort. "Just tell me, Mika."

"Stinger asked for the FTL to report the attempted kidnapping, to report in as the marshal." Tsing's expression is filled with concern.

The medic spells it out further, "We have reason to believe that the captain has been put through a partial memory wipe. We're prepping the scan now. But he's being rather uncooperative. You should know, there’s no way to recover memory from a wipe."

Shoving her way into the room, Bridget holler's his name and runs to his side. She cups his face in her hands and checks him over. There's still a trace or two of bruising on his face, but it’s fading.

"Git yer hands off me, you blasted imposter!" his words snap as sharply as his sudden tight grip on her wrists. He yanks her hands from contact with his face.

"Stinger, what's wrong? That hurts." She winces at the strength of his grip. The look in his eyes says he wouldn't think twice about breaking her arms.

"I don't know who you are wearing MY badge and that sloppy half uniform. But under the jurisdiction of Aegis code 9765-0965 section 2b, I am placing you under arrest for impersonation of an officer and section 5d for theft of MY badge," he growls squeezing a little harder.

Bridget tries not to flinch as she glares and thinks through her options. She could knee him to get free momentarily, but it would mean hitting her boyfriend in parts she's quite fond of. And with his incredible reflexes, if he’s not completely incapacitated she'd not make it more than a step. She doesn’t think she could make herself point a weapon at him. To add insult to injury, the pistol she carries is the one HE gave her. Seeing it, would only make him more aggressive. Panicking, she looks toward the door. Tsing and several security guards have already taken aim at Stinger.

"Stinger Apini, you will let the good marshal go NOW," Tsing issues the command.

"Mika you're in on this too?" His grip loosens slightly, but not enough for Bridget to wriggle out. "What kind of damn sick joke is this?"

"Sting, it's not a joke. We believe part of your memory was wiped. We've told you this twice now, but your selective hearing was kicking in. So, let the marshal go." Stinger does, but he's still mighty upset. She continues, "You accepted a high profile Captaincy about a month ago."

"What Captaincy? Who is this bloody usurper?” He points to Bridget. “I'd remember a face like that one. Damn young upstart acting all cozy with me." Seeing Tsing's steely glare, he lets out a breath and pinches the bridge of his nose. "Beeswax...you’re serious."

Pale and shaking, Bridget swallows. But she stands her ground, at the same time she digs her fingernails into her palms to verify this is actually happening. She reminds herself that he's confused and needs understanding right now, so she'll try to grin and bear it.

When he gains his composure again, he dismissively waves at Bridget, "Go write your little report or something useful."

She doesn't budge.

"I told you, get out of here! Now you think you're high and mighty with a bit of authority and can get something from me?" Stinger shouts, the default for when a former commander feels ignored.

When Bridget storms out of the room, Tsing gives him another raised eyebrow that would make mere mortals wilt.

"What? You're looking like I was a real bastard again. I'm not gonna cave to that look this time." Stinger's petulance is really kicking in. He's confident that when all hell breaks loose he can still fight his way out.

"You deserve to be slapped up side the head and I think she was considering it." Tsing replies flatly in disgust, leaving him alone.

Perhaps a little more of the truth is needed so he can start to process the world again. She adds looking back at him from the doorframe, "Sting, until 10 seconds ago Marshal Bridget Thornton was the best thing that ever happened to you. You were the one that suggested she help Kiza with the post since you got the Captaincy with Her Majesty Jupiter Jones. Bridget and I are good friends and you won’t ever treat her like that again.

As of this moment, you are under house arrest confined to this room, for assaulting an Aegis marshal. I'm pretty sure she won't press charges, but I will. If you know what's best for you, you'll submit to the cranial scan. If you consent, I'll reconsider the arrest. And before you go thinking she's too soft for the position, think on this. I saw her make an instant decision to shoot and kill someone she thought was a friend - right over your own shoulder. It saved an entitled's life."

The door slides shut behind Tsing and she gives the command for it to lock. But not before she hears the crash of glass shattering against the door. She wonders out loud, “Why do I insist on continuing this friendship, Old Man? I keep having to get your ass out of trouble."

 

 

Chapter Text

As predicted, Bridget is storming off to find the assailants in the brig. Tsing grabs her elbow as her long strides help her quickly catch up to her raging friend.

“You’ve got murder in your eyes Brid. Let my crew handle the interrogation, we need to find the one who sent these lackies. Because they've messed with an entitled's Captain who’s a citizen on a protected planet, who also happens to be a former marshal himself, I think we can get this to galaxy level court immediately. Make sure you've read up on the kidnapping codes and splice rights, ok?"

"But..." Bridget isn't exactly sure what she was going to do when she reached the perps' cells. It's starting to process now that Tsing is right and she stops in her tracks. "Damn it Tsing. Isn't there anything else I can do? They've just taken my lover from me and he has no idea what he means to me or what I meant to him!" She didn't mean to start screaming at her friend, but it's exactly what's she's doing now. When Tsing grabs her by the shoulders and gives her a good shake to bring her back to her senses is when the tears start to flow. "Oh, gods Mika. What am I gonna do now?"

Wrapping her friend in her arms and letting her sob, Tsing offers what little she can with so many unknowns, "I thought I'd passed the torch of watching over him to you. But he's still him. He knows *who* he is. And you still love him. There has to be a way, though that doesn't mean it'll be easy. Nothing with him seems to ever be easy.”

 

...

 

A few hours later Stinger's calmed down enough to see the reason in submitting to the scan. There's enough evidence that this isn't a prank and he's missing quite a bit of shorter term memory from the last month. Learning the actual date is shock enough that he has to sit down. When he feels like he can breathe again, he calls Kiza to ensure she's ok and verifies there’s a contingent guarding her, and that the hives are being taken care of in his absence. Kiza’s at a loss when she finds out he doesn't know who Bridget is and peppers him with questions about if he's ok and what he remembers last.

He remembers the adventures with Caine and Jupiter. And Kiza being healed. But much after that is pretty hit and miss.

Insisting Kiza stay where she's at, he wants to be absolutely sure she’s safe. But she argues that she should be there.

He fumes when she says, "But Bridget is going to need me!"

"What about your Old Man? No sympathy for the one who brought you into this world and just lost his memories and has no idea what he’s supposed to be doing or who this Bridget is that everyone seems to favor?" He figures, when all else fails play the sympathy/guilt card.

"Da! I meant you too. I just feel so sorry for her right now, she loves you so much and she must feel like she's lost everything. And you must feel so confused right now. Who would do such an awful thing!? I was just starting to not worry about you so much, since Bridget was helping me watch over you..."

“Who’s the parent here?” Stinger fusses because he can’t very well yell at his daughter. “And is she really all that special?”

She teases to ward off his whining, “There are days I do wonder if I’m secretly your mother.” Then Kiza’s voice drops to a low tone stressing the importance of what she’s saying, “But seriously, yes. She IS special. Special enough that you’d risk dealing with Titus again.”

“Shit.”

“Da. I really like her. Don’t push her away, please…”

“Tsing said she was friends with her too…” Stinger tries to process what’s been said. He’s been kidnapped, beat up, and memory wiped. After all that a little paranoia is perfectly reasonable and he half wonders if this Bridget is manipulating the situation.

“Da, let me come to you two. Please.”

“No. But I’ll be back as soon as I can. I can’t lose you too. Caine is on his way to help the guard detail. Hang in there and don’t trust anyone but him.”

She doesn’t bother to hide the despair in her voice, “Understood.” Waiting sucks. Big time. Too many occasions she’s been on this end, hoping he’ll be ok and return. “Come back safe or I’ll hunt you down and you’ll wish I didn’t.”

“Considering your aim and Apini determination, I’ll take that seriously. You know how much I love you, Kiza.”

“Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help - either of you. Love you too, Da.” She almost can’t finish the phrase and ends the transmission before they both get choked up.



MEDICAL BAY, THAT EVENING

 

Stinger hears the click of the door unlocking. After it slides open, Tsing steps in. “You’re free to come and go as you please now that the tests are complete and you’re not acting like a complete bugger any more.”

“Such sympathy…” sarcasm drips from Stinger’s words.

“Drop the ‘tude. I’ve stuck through some god awful stuff with you Sting. This is yet another shit hole I have to help you dig out of,” Tsing chides.

His eyes narrow over her words. They're a cue that she too wants something from him. But he owes her, more than he can repay. She really has been there for him through hell and high water. So he bites his tongue.

“We’ll be in court tomorrow afternoon. Will you be ready?” Tsing starts off simply.

“Aye,” he unconsciously rubs his arm with his other hand.

“Our good Marshall, she’s as green as they come. Since she’s a tersie, she’s only been on the job a few weeks. You’ve insisted that Kiza stay on Earth. So Bridget’s usual help is severely limited.” Tsing lets that sink in.

Stinger pinches the bridge of his nose and closes his eyes, “So you want me to help her, even though this is going to be at best very awkward.”

“I knew you’d see it my way,” Tsing pats his shoulder and walks out of the room.

He just snorts derisively. She knows that’s not what he meant at all, but he also knows she won’t accept ‘no’ for an answer.

“She’s in room 54, lower level. Thanks.”

 

 

He presses the visitor notification and shoves his hands into his pockets as he hears the beep boop chime. Beeswax, he’s dreading this.

When he’s bid entrance and takes a seat, she smiles and places hot tea beside him. At least she’s civilized, unlike most tercies that drink that nasty coffee stuff. And it’s got fire honey. Damn. Looking up at her guiltily, he holds the steaming cup and saucer and meekly mumbles, “Thanks.”

“Not as good as Jinko’s mead, but I thought it might be comforting.” She doesn’t meet his gaze as she sits across the open living room from him and sets several sheaves on the coffee table between them. “How are you feeling?”

“Better. You?”

She sucks in her bottom lip and puts both hands around the warm tea cup. “I dunno.”

There’s no response from him.

"It's just a real shock to go from waking up with you in your bed this morning, to not having any connection with you at all.” The words tumble out despite her promise to herself to not talk about it tonight. Steeling herself she meets his gaze, “But that’s not why you’re here.”

“No. But, before I can work with ye, I need to know what our relationship was.”

“I dunno if I can talk about it and not be a bawling mess for the next few days. I’ve got to be able to hold up and not fall to pieces,” she tries to dodge him.

“But they’ll question us. You know this, don’t you? How will you answer them?”

She shrugs and passes the sheaves to him. “I’ll do what I have to. Now down to business.”

“Was I your lover?” he presses.

Her ‘don’t do this’ glare answers for her.

“Kept drone or contract?” he pushes again.

“What the hell are you talking about? Are you suggesting what I think you are? No! Fuck NO to both of them!”

“Ok… that’s an answer too. Then the last option is zooey. Shit.”

“I’m not a damn zooey either! Get out! Now!” She stands and her hand is shaking as she points to the door.

“What about court tomorrow?” he raises his hands in supplication, taken aback at her sudden rejection.

“I’ll deal with it myself!”

“You’re an untrained Marshall. You won’t last a tick in that courtroom.”

She stomps into his space and screams in his face, “OUT!!!!”

Crossing his arms, he plants himself in the spot. He’d told Tsing he’d help this blasted tercie. She didn’t say how hard it would be.

The beep boop of the the door chime interrupts further choice words, and Tsing opens the door for herself only to see them in a face off. Putting the back of her hand to her mouth, she’s not sure whether to scream or laugh her head off. Gathering her composure, she opts for teasing, “Am I going to have to put you two in separate corners? Or can you act like the adults you supposedly are and help me process a new part of the puzzle?”

Settling herself in what was Stinger’s spot, she helps herself to the tea. “Why thank you, yes I'd like to come in and yes I’d love something to drink. So thoughtful.”

“Tsing…” both Stinger and Bridget groan at the same time, look at each other, then away.

Stinger rubs the back of his neck and mumbles, “Can this get any weirder?”

“It’s about to.” Tsing gracefully stirs honey into her tea and takes a sip with her pinky perfectly poised. “We’ve just contacted an Aegis ship with another kidnapped bee splice.”

Bridget’s arm, with the pointing finger, finally falls to her side and she sits to listen for more details.

“A drone with no splicer’s mark.”

“Not even in an unusual spot?” Stinger asks incredulously.

“No. One was faked but it didn’t stand up to the gene test,” Tsing states with a bit of sass.

Bridget needs to know, even though it reveals her lack of knowledge of the ‘verse, “What does that mean?”

“He was made by an unregistered splicer, most likely,” Stinger fills in the blank.

“But…” she tries to comprehend.

“Exactly,” Tsing ties it together. “A pet splice in hiding was taken. Someone with serious ties wants drones.”

Making a stab in the dark, Bridget queries, “Drones aren’t common then?”

“No. Ye haven’t seen others besides me, have ye? It’s almost always the female workers,” Stinger verifies.

She ponders out loud, “I guess I haven’t seen another. Never thought much about it. I always think of you as just like me, but with the awesome wings. Sometimes, I have to remind myself that you’re not human.”

He’s not sure he can believe it. “So you’re really not a zooey either?”

“Focus!” Tsing snaps to bring them back on topic. “We’ll be meeting with the investigation team from that crew and the drone at 0100 hours. Get your plan together and rest while you can.”  She takes her leave and with her usual style makes a comment just before she exits the room so Stinger can’t retort. “If your argument was about what I think it was, let me tell you - when I saw you pressing her up against the wall of the port side airlock and pulling her leg up to your hip, it looked pretty bloody voluntary to me.”

The door slides shut conveniently as he's about to protest. Stinger’s shoulders slump and his hands go right back into his pockets as he kicks the floor.

After a moment of uncomfortable silence he fumes, “How does she do that?”

Bridget’s hands and shoulders go up in a pleading ignorance kind of fashion. “But we were being ridiculous, weren’t we? You know, you thought the same kinds of things when I first met you.”

“I really had you against the wall of the airlock?” His eyebrow raises in disbelief.

“And more... a lot more.” Her manner is shy in return.

He plops back down in the chair with his hands clasped and leaning on his elbows, “An honest to goodness lover by choice. Damn. I hadn’t been that in almost half a century.”

“Seriously? No wonder you were prickly when I first met you... and... today when I was checking you over.” She places the piece she’s missed from the beginning into the puzzle.

His astonishment appears at the description. “You didn’t know?”

“No. I know so little about splices. You and Caine are the two I know best. Growing up on a planet seeded for harvest has a few informational disadvantages, you know.”

He nods. “You ready to talk court?”

“I guess.” She moves her chair beside him and grabs the sheaves so they can look through them together.

Chapter Text

0100 HOURS AEGIS SHIP TIME

 

The conference room is barely large enough to seat the two small contingents. Tsing heads the table with Mr. Percadium and Miss Chattergee to her sides. Stinger and Bridget sit to her right and the Beta 576 team with the other splice drone to her left.

Bridget can’t help but stare at Jack Vespini. His dark skin, hawkish features and coal black eyes strongly contrast with Stinger’s paler age roughened features and blue-green eyes. He must be half a foot taller than Stinger and must work out every day. The stripes in his short cropped thick black hair are more distinct and he keeps a perfect thin line beard. She half expects him to speak with an Indian accent. When he returns the stare with a puzzled visage, she looks away. No signs of mistreatment seem to show on him.

“Marshal, do I offend?” he inquires, interrupting Tsing who was about to start the meeting.

Her head whips back around, not expecting the smooth deep almost southern accent. “Uh! No! Forgive me. You...just remind me of a professor from college,” she lies through her teeth and directs her attention to the design of the table in front of her.

Stinger gives her a dirty side glance then tries to stare the other drone down. From her peripheral vision, Bridget can see the change in Stinger’s posture. If he had hackles, they’d be up.

Tsing crumples a paper from her favorite old fashioned notebook and throws it at Stinger, who ducks lightning fast. “Mr. Apini, you will act appropriately in this meeting room or you will be dismissed. Fights will not be tolerated. No need for dominance here.”

Gritting his teeth, he grumbles, “Understood, Captain.”

Bridget desperately wants to give his knee a reassuring squeeze, but keeps her hands in her lap.

“Beta 576, please report.” Tsing opts to get the show on the road before the bee drama gets any further. One drone is all a hive can deal with. Two in a cramped room? Oy-vay.

Mr. Cassini shares that the kidnappers were also a mix of keepers and splices. But the splicer marks were different markings than on the ones that attacked Stinger. The kidnappers haven’t talked yet. But the Beta 576 team cracked the encryption on all FTL traffic to the ship. Instructions were for retrieving Mr. Vespini specifically and to bring him, memory wiped, to the pre-arranged, but unspecified, meeting place. Neural net scans are impossible since the renegade crew did a net wipe before capture.

“What about Mr. Vespini? Was he harmed? I know Stinger fought back and they weren’t gentle with him. From what I saw of the kidnappers, Stinger gave as good as he got.” Bridget pipes up, because she’s not sure why the Beta 576 left out those details. Was it a simple omission?

“Pardon, Marshall?” Mr. Cassini tries to comprehend. “Are you asking if the goods were damaged?”

Bridget’s jaw almost hits the table.

Jumping to her rescue, Tsing clarifies, “Our good marshall is from an underdeveloped world. She doesn’t see splices as a commodity. Mr. Vespini, perhaps you can answer since your rescuers seem to be at a loss for words.”

He nods acknowledgement to Tsing and Bridget. “My few wounds were healed by the Beta 576 crew. I don’t remember the incident, but my mistress is dead by 3 days prior. There wouldn’t have been reason to fight back. Thank you for asking.”

“I’m sorry for your loss,” Bridget offers.

His shrug is perfectly apathetic.

Automatically, she looks to Stinger for explanation, forgetting again he doesn’t remember being her boyfriend and ‘verse encyclopedia. But thankfully, he mouths, ‘Later.’

It’s decided that they’ll try both groups of kidnappers together. Advocates have been assigned and will meet the group before trial.

 

 

On the way back toward the guest cabins, Bridget steps into stride with Stinger.

She tries to break the ice, “Hey.”

“I suppose you want an explanation for his behavior.”

“Sure,” she’s really noncommittal about it. But if he’ll talk to her, she’ll talk about anything he wants.

Stinger’s voice is flat, “He was a kept drone. Had no feelings for his mate or mates. Simply an object to satisfy lust.”

“Oh. That’s why he was seen as a commodity?”

Stinger nods.

“That sucks. I hate that splices are seen like that, Stinger. I really do,” she pouts and stops in front of her door.

“So what was that stare about?” he verbally presses, then purses his lips - not absolutely sure he wants to hear the answer.

Damn the timing. She was going to ask him in. “I don’t understand splices as well as I should yet. I was trying to find the similarities and differences between the two of you and other splices in general. It was rude though. I shouldn’t stare.”

“And he’s attractive…” Stinger leads.

“So?” She won’t lie to Stinger. But his face darkens and he strides past her. She calls after him, “Stinger, wait! Please.”

He does, but leaves his back to her.

“You’re both handsome in your own way. I won’t ever expect you to rip your eyes out in order to not look at another. Please don’t expect me to either.”

She moves to block his way and to force him to look at her. “We used to be able to tell each other anything and trust that the other wouldn’t go running off with someone else. You even told me about your past with Tsing. And you knew I had offers from others. And we teased about a threesome but reasoned we couldn’t share. I know you don’t remember. But I love YOU, Stinger Apini. YOU.”

“It’s difficult to believe, since you flat out lied at the meeting.” His tone is as sour as his expression.

“Bees don’t lie, Love…” she glumly mimics what he told her once. “I know the truth is important to you. That’s why I’m being an open book with you in the middle of a frickin’ public hallway and ignoring the people staring at us.”

“At least you haven’t said we did the Aeris Sacrament. I’d never let myself get that close to anyone.”

A smug contempt covers his face, as she blankly confesses, “I don’t even know what that is… You’re not exactly verbose at the best of times, and I couldn’t find any documentation on bee splices. For bird splices - there’s a ton. But not bees…”

Hoping to get her to back off, he leans in to add to the sardonic effect, “It’s where the drone carries his mate into the air and they do it there. It’s the ONLY time a drone gives himself completely to his lover.”

Hands going to her mouth, she gasps and backs into the wall. “That’s what you meant…”

His double take emphasizes his hope that she’s not saying they did. “Meant what, woman?!”

Her voice is muffled as she stumbles over the words, “Wh… when, you said...  that you’d never shared it with anyone else. I knew it wasn’t sex in a fermion field…’cause I could tell that wasn’t new for you. But you carried me there...” Slowly she slides down the wall to a crouch. “I didn’t fully understand, but I knew that time was special.”

His palm covers his eyes, “Bloody gods damned beeswax, was I so fucking drunk?”

Her voice raises resentfully, “You weren’t drunk. Yeah you’d had a few pints at Jinko’s before I arrived. But you weren’t drunk.

I don’t understand how you could go from sharing a wonderful love with me to acting like such a horrid fucking prick in less than 24 hours. I know your memory was wiped, but what made you so damn mean?”

Before he can even offer a retort, she does a facepalm. “Wait - you think I want something from you. Why didn’t I see it before? ARGH! I can be such a dipshit at times.” Standing up and taking a breath, she feels like she has at least a smattering of dignity and direction again, “I get it. I really do.”

Giving his arm a pat as she withdraws, she whispers, “I’ll always love you, Stinger. Good night.”

He was ready to fight. But there is no quick heated comeback for understanding and space. He just gapes as the door to her room slides closed behind her.  When words finally come back to him all he can think to say is, “Bugger it.”

 

Chapter Text

COURT DAY MORNING

 

After she’s sworn in for her testimony on Stinger’s disappearance, the defense attorney’s questions get personal fast. She keeps glancing at her former lover. Advocate Mortimer, pounces on her discomfort. “Why do you keep looking to Mr. Apini? Are you asking his permission?”

“No. How would you like to find out about a relationship you can’t remember in such a public setting? I hate for him to go through this,” she responds as simply as she can without choking her questioner.

“But you haven’t seduced him again yet… so he’s up for grabs and by rights anyone could claim him?” the sim advocate sneers.

“What? No! That would be rape. Besides memory was taken from him. So he’s the victim here, not a thing. Are you familiar with Splice Rights Law 46-2a.26? He signed a contract as Captain with Her Majesty Jupiter Jones,” she protests.

“But Mr. Apini has no recollection of it. It could be argued that he’s a free agent as per Contract Law Theta 36-c regarding non-contracted splices.”

Bridget's glower speaks her thoughts for her ‘It could be argued that you’re a complete bastard, Advocate Mortimer.’

“But, back to when you first met Mr. Apini at the Little Devil Tavern. Are you aware there was Fire Honey in the drinks you had that night?”

Bridget can see Stinger’s fists clench.

“Yes,” she answers clearly but her guard is up. She can tell Mortimer’s question has a barb to it, but she’s missing an important piece of information to ward off the coming nastiness.

The gleam from the lawyer’s teeth seems to make them look quite pointy from Bridget’s perspective. She half wonders if the sim skin is cover for a vampire.

“So you’re telling me that you gave Mr. Apini a strong alcoholic beverage with what could be considered a date rape drug for a splice drone?”

This lawyer isn’t a vampire - more insidious. Bridget decides he’s most definitely the spawn of hell.

She’s about to protest, when Aegis Prosecutor Willa, bolts up with righteous indignation and hollers, “Objection, Your Honor!”

“Objection overruled. Proceed Marshall Thornton,” the regal powdered wigged judge directs.

Bridget takes a deep breath. More of Stinger’s privacy blown - and far out of proportion. Blast it all. “I had no idea what Fire Honey was. Stinger just said Jinko’s mead was the best planetside. Jinko automatically served us each a pint of Stinger’s favorite. While we were drinking it, I found out that it tastes kind of like cinnamon and the Fire Honey masks the strong alcohol content. It’s warm and comforting going down. Easy to drink fast, but Stinger warned me not to. We each only had one pint that night and Stinger bought our drinks.”

“It’s well known that Fire Honey is a strong aphrodisiac, particularly for drones and in large enough quantities can be addictive. You’re playing ignorant here Marshall. But you pushed yourself on him by making him take you home.” The defense grins maliciously.

“OBJECTION, Your Honor!” the Aegis representative screams.

“Objection, sustained.”

“That is all Marshall.”

Finally. Bridget can breathe again. She hadn’t realized she was holding her breath. Not sure she could have even answered if she’d had to, it terrifies her that she really did push Stinger into taking her home. But she didn't push him into having sex. She’s sure of it. Atleast, she’s 99% sure.

Shaking as she sits down, Tsing squeezes her hand and gives an encouraging smile with a neural net message. ‘You didn’t crumple. Good girl. Now forget what that bloody dirtbag said. I *know* you and Sting were good to each other.’

Bridget rests her head on her stalwart friend’s shoulder for a moment and messages back, ‘Are there enough horses around for drawing and quartering that good for nothing excuse of a sim?’

‘No horses, but shuttles would do the trick.’ Tsing winks at her.

‘I’m driving one of them!’ Bridget catches herself before she giggles out loud at the dark humor.

 

...

 

At least Willa was a saint and a master in the courtroom. She verbally fried the defense alive several times that day. Tsing had told her stories about this particular attorney in Aegis’ employ and how fortunate they were to have her on their side. Expertly, Willa treaded the line so closely no objection could be raised, but there was not a trace of doubt regarding the kidnappers’ guilt.

Bridget learned more about drones that day than in the whole rest of the time she’d known Stinger. Come to find out - drones are a highly sought after commodity. They’re rare because they’re hard to splice. Bred specifically for their fighting skills and what Bridget sees as sex slaves. No wonder Stinger stayed with the contracts that he could fight under. He didn’t feel used there. Jack on the other hand, had only ever been in the “kept drone” contracts.

The sentence was passed that same day for the kidnappers, and they were given time to consider spilling the beans on their contract holder for a lighter sentence.

So the Aegis crew was free to pursue the leads they have.



OFFICER’S CLUB THAT EVENING

 

Several acquaintances at the table ask bridget to recount how she and Stinger met. She dodges the painful subject, “If he were here and could give his ok, I’d tell you anything you want to know. But you all know he’s a particularly private man. It’s not just my tale to tell. It’s his too. Sorry.”

“But what about you choosing him over being in Titus’ harem?”

“The one thing I will do is an impression of one of his most adorable moments in answer to your question.” Raising her eyes heavenward, she mutters in a mimic of his accent, "I repeat myself."

“That so?” He was right behind her with a pint in his hand.

Scaring the bejeebers out of her, he watches amused as she stands up so quickly it knocks her barstool over. He sets his tankard down and helps her pick it up, but their foreheads crash into each other.

“Woman, did I ever tell you that you’re hard headed?” He rubs his head as he teasingly complains.

She does the same and hopes there won’t be a bruise in the morning, but his remark puts her at ease. “No, though I could say the same for you.”

The group invites him to stay, but he declines and takes his tankard with him out of the bar. Bridget scampers behind him.

Hearing the girls chatter among themselves about how adorkable they are together, Bridget hollers back, “I heard that!”

“You should have stayed. Looked like you were having fun,” Stinger points his thumb over his shoulder at the gaggle of her acquaintances.

“They’re sweet and supportive. But they’d have pried a lot more too. Best to leave when we did.”

When they reach her cabin, he shuffles a bit trying to find the words. “Bridget…”

“Yeah?” she prompts softly and leans on the doorjamb, happy to be in his company.

“You stuck up for me today...”

“It’s hard for you too, isn’t it? Especially in the trust department. ... And unnerving that I know so much about you, yet you don’t know me from a hill of beans.”

He nods.

Opening the door she tilts her head in the direction of the open room. “Wanna stay for a while?”

“No expectations?”

“Maybe one.”

He eyes her cynically, but waits to hear her out.

“That we’ll be civilized to each other.”

“Deal. Owe you at least that much.” There’s relief in his reply.

As he’s about to step in, she blocks his way. It makes him spill a bit of his mead. “What the hell? I thought you invited me in?”

“You DON’T owe me. Are we clear on that?” She’s dead serious and won’t budge until he replies.

“Aye. Criminently, woman,” he gripes, but enters when she moves aside.

Shaking her head, she takes a seat across from him and leans her head back on the couch, pleased at something.

“What?” his hackles are up because she’s being really confusing with these intense mood swings.

“It’s like Tsing said. You’re still you, through and through. The familiarity of your words is incredibly comforting.”

“When did you hear me say that?” Settling because she’s calmer, he’s curious now.

“Are you sure you want to know?” she warns.

Encouraging with a wave of his hand, he shrugs, “What’s the worst that could happen?”

A deep blush appears and she pulls her knees up to her chest as she barrels through, “When I was teaching you a word in another language. You were fussing about it and I told you it wasn’t like I was making you repeat the Kama Sutra positions or anything.”

Mid sip, he sputters and spills more of his precious drink on his shirt and trousers.

Cringing she tries to suppress her laugh as she gets up to get a towel so she can help him clean up a bit. Scurrying back she kneels before him and timidly dabs at his shirt, trying to atone. “I should have thought to wait until you weren’t taking a drink. Sorry…”

“No need.” He snatches the towel, working at the spill marks himself as he grumbles “But they’re going to think I was drunk…”

“I brought your to go bag. Sorry I forgot to give it to you before now in all the chaos. There’s a shirt in there, but not likely pants. I’ll toss this one in the auto cleanser. Leave the shirt untucked and no one will be the wiser.” Going to a bag on the bed, wistfully she pulls out his worn black button up. “I was gonna snitch this one back.”

Seeing that he thinks she’s a bit of a creeper, she defensively volleys. “What? I missed you whenever we were apart and I’d put your shirt on my pillow. You ended up with one of mine too. It was a thing between us.” Shoving it out to him, she makes him choose, “Gonna take it or not?”

Snatching it, he stands. “One of my best shirts.”

“Favorite maybe, but not best. It was getting pretty worn around the collar and cuffs. So, I bought you a few to replace it,” she counters.

He eyes her warily as his hands go to the button just below his collar bones, “This is NOT an offer…”

“Oh...” Tearing her eyes away, she does a one-eighty. “If you want, you *can* change in the other room.”

“I thought you were gonna...” he stammers an explanation as he speedily changes.

Voice a little thick with emotion, she clarifies, “You’re a damn fine lover. And I’d love to again if you ever change your mind.” Didn’t he hear what she said in the courtroom?

“Maybe I should go...” he slips the clean shirt on over his shoulders and starts buttoning it up as he leaves her quarters. Snatching his bag, he hangs it over an arm and works on the most stubborn button. He doesn’t look back to see her shoulders slump as she hugs his stained shirt.

 

 

Tsing stops him in his tracks outside with a knowing smile.

“Don’t even go there Mika,” he warns darkly and turns back around to the closed door, shirt still half open. “Bollocks. Forgot my pint.”

“What happened to the Stinger who’d pursue anything on two legs?” Tsing presses her long time friend.

“Burned too many times. They only took,” he pushes past her.

Raising her voice after him, “She’s crazy about you. Kept you on your toes, and had you begging for more!”

When he’s out of earshot she whispers, “Don’t fuck this one up, Old Man. She was so good for you. Even had your confidence back.”

 

 

The bing bong of the entrance bell catches his ear. “Come in,” he beckons and half expects to see Bridget there. Though he’s not sure why, he’d just accused her of being about to try to take advantage of him.

Instead, a cabin boy is waiting outside with the mead he’d left in her room. “The Marshall said you’d miss this.” He hands it to Stinger and zips off on another errand.

For the first time, her knowing him well is kind of reassuring and he sips with a tinge of guilt over how he treated her.

 

Chapter Text

0923 OUTSIDE BRIDGET’S CABIN

 

Tsing presses the entrance bell again and looks to Stinger.

He shrugs.

Swearing to herself, she remembers he wouldn’t know why she’s not answering the bell or messages, would he? Punching in the lock override, she prepares for the worst.

First in the room, Stinger finds Bridget passed out in a chair and covered with a half-finished honeycomb pattern afghan with a baggie of little handmade bees and a huge sack of yarn. On the coffee table sits an almost empty box of kleenexes and close by is a small trash can, full of wadded up tissues and chocolate wrappers. A hook type tool is on the ground a few feet away from her out stretched hand. Her chin is tucked to her chest and bobs a bit as she breathes.

Messaging Stinger via neural net so they don’t wake the sleeping Bridget, Tsing explains what she thinks happened. ‘She told me she was working on a surprise for Kiza’s birthday next week. But was worried she wouldn’t finish it in time. This must be it.’

‘But we don’t celebrate birthdays,’ Stinger protests.

‘She knew, but she wanted Kiza to feel special. Kiza made her feel so welcome,’ Tsing continues.

‘Hard to remember she was living with us... no memory of it.’

‘We should let her rest, Old Man. I’d bet she was up all night working on it. But let’s get her into bed so she doesn’t wake up with a terrible neck ache.’ Tsing starts to move the project out of the way.

Stinger gently lifts her out of the chair and totters a little off balance as he carries her dead weight to the bed. Stirring slightly, she snuggles into his chest, and sleepily whispers, “You coming to bed too?”

Tsing quickly pulls back the covers as he sets her down and helps her find her pillow. When he looks up again, Tsing’s disappeared.

His mouth goes dry. Bridget’s not awake enough to process the events of the last few days, but her face and eyes are puffy. His thoughts start to plague him, ‘Selfish Old fool, Look what you’ve  done - made her cry. What makes you keep pushing her away? Feel like you have no choice? … At one point you must have let yourself be ensnared by her.’

Unable to answer her directly, he moves a few locks of hair out of her face. “Rest now.”

 

 

Stinger zips out of Bridget’s quarters and almost crashes into Tsing who’s leaning against the bulkhead, arms crossed and one boot against the wall.

Wisely, Tsing opts to keep her mouth shut about the incident. It’s a matter of such delicacy that she’s afraid that bringing it up might spoil any possibility. Fervently, she hopes that Bridget can once again be a shining jewel in Stinger’s life. Because watching them endure this is dreadful and she doesn’t want to have to decide between their two friendships if they can’t find a way to patch things up.

She offers, “We’ll chat about the findings when our Marshall wakes.”

The silent dip of his head and his speedy departure tells her that she chose correctly.


1330 TSING’S PERSONAL CONFERENCE ROOM

 

Her left leg is crossed over her right and the toe of her boot taps away at the table leg in the empty conference room. Bridget hates waiting and wonders to herself, ‘Tsing you’re always punctual, what’s keeping you this time?’  Stinger had taught her to never sit with her back to the entrance of a room and she remembers that lesson well. Every few seconds, she glances at the door.

The door slides open and her head automatically jerks up. Noticing it’s not Tsing, her face falls slightly, but she tries to recover just as fast.

“Would you rather I not be here?” Stinger asks and gestures toward the hall.

“Stay. I was just wanting to tell Mika something. It can wait.” She pats the chair next to her. “We can watch her fidget as she tries to not sit in the vulnerable spot. It’s become a game between us.”

He plops into the swivel seat, shoves back a bit, and puts his heavy Skyjacker boots up on the table.

“You’re never gonna give up that pair of boots, are you?,” she mentions off handedly.

“Earned ‘em.” His hands go behind his head as he leans back. “Did Mika say why she’s late?”

“Nu-uh.”

Silence descends like a wet blanket and Stinger closes his eyes. Bridget thunks the table a few more times until Stinger asks, “Do ye mind?” and she huffs.

When he hears a squeak from her chair as she bobs her leg distractedly, Stinger opens one eye but doesn’t move otherwise. “Out with it.”

She fiddles with the sleeve of her jacket as she debates what to say.  “This is another one of those, are you sure you wanna know kind of things.”

Giving her his full attention, he motions for her to continue.

Her jacket cuff is twisted pretty tight now, so she lets it go. “Well… I dreamed about you last night. But it didn’t fit in with anything else.”

“Oh?” he prompts softly.

“I dreamt that you tucked me in last night.”

“Was Mika in your dream too?”

“Huh? No. Just you.” She scowls, clearly puzzled.

“When you didn’t answer your door, Mika and I thought the worst. We found you buried under some project, so she told me what you were working on.”

“Oh…” The memory clarifies in her mind and she pales. “Oh my! Y.. you aren’t upset that I well... propositioned you?”

He chuckles softly. “Now you remember what you said.”

She blinks, unable to find a come back.

“On a different subject,” he enquires “Do you know who might help me access a set of messages I don’t have the password for? It’s been nagging me all day that there’s more messages and I can’t read ‘em.”

“Try ‘hurricane’. If that doesn’t work, I’ll contact a friend who’s an encryption expert.”

“You read my messages?” The accusation is clear enough.

“Ugh. No. That was our password when we sent encrypted messages. I just got in the habit of sending them that way. Sent you several the morning you were kidnapped.”

“Oh…” and “That was it,” are his replies. No ‘sorry’. No ‘thanks’. But she knows him well enough not to expect those words very often.

Catching the movement out of her peripheral vision, she sees one of his hands cover his face and his ears turn a deep shade of crimson as he mumbles, “Blimey...”

“You aren’t listening to them now, are you?” Her suspicion is strong.

“I don’t dare to listen to any more in public.” He peeks out from between his fingers, chagrinned.

One choked snort, then a fit of laughter so hard it brings her tears. When she can breathe again, she pants, “Gods, I wish I could get away with taking a picture of you looking like that.”

He mutters, “At least *one* of us can laugh.”

Tsing’s impeccable timing kicks in, as she enters the conference room to see Stinger beet red while Bridget wipes her eyes with the cuffs of her coat and sniffles. She stiffens visibly.

Stinger holds up a finger before she can give him ‘the look’.

Seeing the issue, Bridget pipes up, “I was laughing.. really hard.”

“I won’t even ask what that was about.” Tsing is so relieved, she settles down right in front of them.

It causes his embarrassment to turn to childish sniggering as Bridget gives a knowing nod. Stinger whispers, “She’ll figure it out.”

Looking around, it dawns on her where she sat and she groans. “Grow up you two. If a Marshall and former Marshall can’t watch my back, then there’s a real problem.”

“Killjoy,” Stinger gets one last jab in.

Tsing clears her throat. It’s going to be one of those in need of eternal patience days, isn’t it? “Getting down to business, the update from the deal with the kidnappers is the coordinates where they were to rendezvous with their employer. It’s in the Centurion system.

You two will be dropped off on Earth with plenty of discreet security, since Stinger is likely still a target.

Jack’ll be stationed with a friend of Stinger’s and mine, Her Grace Chouli Risa, for his protection. Chouli’s a champion for splice rights, just so you know Brid.

Sting, the bad news...”

He pulls his boots from the table and sits at attention.

Reluctantly proceeding Tsing grimaces, “The coordinates are a facility with last records showing ownership by your splicer, Marceline Calhoun.”

It causes him to bite his lip and frown. Bridget scoots closer to put a hand on his arm.

“It’s not proof positive, of course,” Tsing tries to comfort.

“It can’t be her.”  Stinger slaps his palm on the table and states with conviction, “She’d summon me.”

“I hope so, Sting.” Tsing isn’t as confident. “And now that Stinger’s not acting like a cactus, maybe we’ll have less drama.”

“Cactus?” he sputters.

Bridget interjects, “I was thinking porcupine.”

“Even better. They’re prickly when they’re moody.”

“Porcupine? Moody!?” An outraged scowl appears on his face. “You’re ganging up on me!”

“We’ve been going through withdrawal because we couldn’t pick on you.” Bridget gives his arm a squeeze.

“And why did I ever let you two near each other?” he laments.

“Nothing you could do. It was inevitable.” Tsing winks and gets up to go.

“I try to make it up to you afterward,” Bridget whispers in his ear. “I’d stay for a while, but I need to finish that blanket and pack. See you later?”

“Sure,” he accedes. When he’s completely alone again, he listens to *that* message again. Gods, he was one lucky blighter before the memory wipe.


1610 HOURS

 

Stinger neural net messages Bridget from outside her quarters, “Mind if I come in?”

The door opens for him and his breath catches as he steps in, then freezes - gobsmacked.

Hearing a muffled,”Hey,” he finds her doing some crazy exercise pose with her elbows and hands on the ground, body extended into the air and toes almost touching her head. Gracefully she returns to her hands and knees, then rests in a kneel before him.

“Are you just gonna gawk while I finish up my yoga routine?” she ribs him. “You could have a seat instead of making me feel like an awful hostess.”

Wordlessly he removes his jacket and plops into the chair with the best view.

“Silent treatment?” she pokes verbally.

“Just enjoyin’ the view,” he confesses.

“You could join me.”

Scrunching his face, he pshaws, “I can’t do that.”

“I’d start you on beginner poses.” She tilts her head to urge him to come over.

“Nah.”

“Well, I don’t think I can concentrate with you staring…” She gets up. “I’ll clean up,” she yawns as she says the last few words. “No offense. Hopefully, I can stay awake to keep you company and work on the blanket again.”

“Should I go?” he suggests, leaning forward about to get up out of the chair.

“Oh, no. I’m thrilled you’re here. I’ll hurry. Be right back.” She pats his shoulder on her way to the shower.

Drumming his fingers on the arm of the chair, he goes through the last of her messages as he waits.

 

 

Toweling her hair dry, she chooses a seat across from him. “So what brought you by?” She tries to figure out why he’s studying her every move.

“Finished listening to your messages. Think I’m as caught up as I’m gonna get.” He’s leaning on his elbow, head resting on his knuckles.

“Did they help you feel a little more grounded?”

“Aye,” he replies cautiously. “Listened to several repeatedly.”

“Any in particular?” She wonders would he listen to the steamy ones or the sweet ones or the everyday ones again?

“I decline to answer that at the moment.” He can’t meet her gaze.

Must have been at least a few of the steamy ones. It brings her smile back, like a ray of sunshine and she takes his free hand. She makes a note to go back through their messages to remember what all she said. “Well, I’m glad they were helpful as you piece everything back together. I was feeling so helpless and so unsure of what I could even try to do to help you through this.” Then a treacherous yawn sneaks from her mouth.

“You’re short on sleep. Get some rest.” The tenderness she saw in him before has finally returned.

“I want to stay awake with you,” she protests but her body declares otherwise with another yawn and she absentmindedly rubs her eyes.

“Come on sleepy head,” he pulls her up with him and guides her over to her bed. “We’ll talk more on the transport. 2230 hours isn’t long now.”

Her objections have turned to whining. “I don’t wanna sleep…”

“Shush,” he puts a finger to her lips.

“Will you stay? I’d just lay next to you.” She tries to bargain.

“I should be looking over my ship specs and crew names, but aye,” he gives in. Taking her face gently in his roughened hands, he haggles, “IF you’ll try to sleep.” When she agrees, he pulls back the covers for her. He sets an alarm on his note sheave before taking off his clunky boots.

Crawling over to the far side, she makes room and offers him her pillow as he slides in with her. Laying on his back he nestles his head into it and holds his arm out while whispering, “Come here.”

She tucks her head into his shoulder, puts her arm around his chest and snuggles in as closely as she can as if it’s all completely natural.

Just as he’s about to close his eyes, he hears a little sniffle. He sighs, “What is it?”

“I was so afraid you wouldn’t want me anymore,” she sobs and clenches his shirt tight enough to become a little uncomfortable over his chest. Her warm tears soak into his shirt and onto his skin.

Pressing his cheek into her hair and wrapping his arms around her, he whispers, “I’d be a fool not to.“

Her grip loosens and her crying softens.

A few moments later, with a giggle amidst her tears she recalls, “This is so completely the opposite of when I was in bed with you the first time, you know. I remember, after I gave you an intensive massage, you told me we had on too many clothes,”

It makes him chuckle with her. “We’re here together. That’s what’s important, no?”

She nods into his shoulder and gives him a squeeze, “I guess you just have to do things your own way. What made you change your mind?”

“You giving me space and all those messages we left each other. So what was different in you this time? You haven’t been as sassy,” he contemplates.

“You can’t see it? Back then it was a small risk; I’d go on my way if you said no. But this time, everything was on the line. It had me second guessing every move I made. Truly awful!”

Running his hand tenderly through her hair, he whispers barely audible, “Rest now, Love.”

It seems to settle her and soon he feels the rhythmic rise and fall of her chest and shoulders. In the calm darkness where the only lights he can see are the stars outside her window, he realizes for the first time since he remembers meeting her, he’s not mentally cursing. The peace here with her is good for his weary soul and he soaks it up - the feel of her against his side, the smell of her damp hair, the tickle of her breath on his neck, her contentment as she sleeps next to him.

Before he too drifts off, he ponders. ‘Old Fool, falling isn’t that hard is it? Your presence is enough to make her happy and it’s been decades since you had anything like it. This *might* just  be give as much as is it is take. When you get back to the house with her, then you can worry about just how buggered you are.’

 

2200 HOURS

 

Bridget reaches over Stinger to shut off the alarm and message the ship presence to turn the far lights on very low. Leaning on her elbow she watches his tranquil visage for a moment more. It’s so rare to see him this relaxed. Why spoil a beautiful thing?

As with all perfect snapshots in time, they are replaced with a new moment. There’s a small hesitation as she’s about to reach over to his heavily stubbled cheek. What will he think of her waking him? Mentally she shakes it off. They have to get up. Gotta do this.

With the most loving and soft caress on one side of his face and over his lips, she places her lips in a feather soft touch against the other side. It startles him, until he realizes where he is. She murmurs in his ear, “Time to wake up, my dear Old Codger.”

“Alarm didn’t go off,” he notes groggily and rolls over to face her and pull her to him. “So we have time.”

Sympathetically, she taps his nose and corrects, “It did. I turned it off before it got too loud and woke you up. The darn thing always makes you so grouchy.”

“Damn,” he pouts. Kissing her forehead then stretching and rousting, he prompts her to get moving too, “We’d better not keep the shuttle waitin’. Don’t wanna be on Tsing’s bad side again.”

“True. She’d also be the type to have no compunction over barging in and dragging us down to the shuttle whether we’re fit to be seen or not. She has a schedule to keep, you know,” Bridget adds with a bit of sass.

“She’s done it, actually,” Stinger shrugs and smooths down his shirt and trousers before putting on his jacket.

Bridget helps him adjust his collar and tries to tame the worst of his bedhead hair. “Do tell. This is a you and Tsing story I haven’t heard yet.”

Taking a breath before he plunges in, he reminds himself that she may not want to know all of his past. But she does seem to know about he and Tsing nearly a century ago. “Very well. But it’s not what you think.”

Her eyebrows raise and he runs a hand over her cheek before continuing, “We were co-commanders of a brigade with a mission that day. She’d just kicked me out of bed after the alarm went off. Within 10 ticks we were waiting for the troops at the shuttle and the greenest pair of them was late. Storming off, in three more ticks she was dragging those poor buck naked buggers by the ears. She’d at least allowed them to grab their fatigues. I’d never seen two privates dress so fast. Nor, had I ever had such a hard time keeping a straight face.”

Wrapping her arms around his neck, she lets him know how much she loves his stories. “I’d give most anything to have seen your expression then.”

“Might happen someday,” he suggests before drawing her up into the first kiss he can remember. It catches him off guard how quickly and passionately she responds and it only makes him want her more. Putting his forehead to hers he lowly rumbles, “Better go.”

Reluctantly she frees him, “Yeah. You, know, we have to find someone for her…”

“Don’t think she’d appreciate that. I suspect there’s someone she has her eye on. And she loves the chase.”

She pulls on her boots and grabs her bag, “And who might it be?”

“If I’m right, it’s Jack. It’ll be a very long chase with him, considering what he’s been through.”

“Really? I thought she said she was through with ‘drone drama’,” Bridget lets that sink in.

“He’s been asking her advice right and left and she takes the time for him, beyond the babysitting she’d had to do for us. Ready?” He offers his hand and she slips her’s into his. Feeling the doubts start to creep in anyway, he asks, “You sure you don’t mind staying with us at our run down old shanty?”

“Not at all. You and I had started planning renovations and ways to help the bees through the transition.”

“So it’s ‘home’?”

“Yes, my love. I think you finally felt it was ‘home’ to you too, and worth fixing up.”

 

 

Walking nonchalantly with hands entwined, they make their way to the shuttle. The happy looks and thumbs up from everyone as they pass make them both feel self conscious. But since Stinger’s carrying both their bags, he doesn’t have a free hand to stuff into his pockets in his usual shy manner. To help him feel more at ease, she shifts to put her arm around him so he can if he wants. Instead of shoving his hand in his pocket though, he wraps his arm around her, tucking his hand in her back pocket and she leans in as he exhales under his breath, “In for a penny, in for a pound.”

“Whadda you mean by that?” She has an inkling, but she wants to be sure.

“There’s no halfway. We’re lovers, or we’re not.” He tries to talk himself out of this bashfulness from all the attention.

“Could be worse…” She teases using words she’s heard him say time and again, as she tightens her grip on his side.

With his trademark half grin, he nuzzles his cheek into her hair and concedes, “Aye.”


STINGER’S HOUSE, 1100 HOURS LOCAL TIME (0300 AEGIS SHIP TIME)

 

Entering the kitchen, they see Kiza with an ice pack on her hand and Gage, the farm boy neighbor lifting the heavy pressure canner over to a cold burner on the stove.

Bags dropping from his hands, Stinger rushes over to his daughter, “Kiza what happened?”

“Gage and I were trying to put up the last of the tomatoes before you arrived. In my hurry, I forgot to use a potholder to remove the lid. I’ve never done that Da! My pride hurts more than my hand, but Gage insisted that I cool the steam burn down and if it’s bad, he’ll take me in to get it looked at.” Kiza purses her lips in frustration.

He nods thanks to the black haired, blue eyed, lanky young man.

She prompts as he looks over her hand,  “You and Bridget ok?”

“We’ll be fine.” He winces as he sees the angry blistering on his daughter’s pale skin. “Kiza we’ve got to deal with this right away.”

“Da. I just said…”

Stinger interrupts, “Gage, be a good lad and …”

“Da! He’s my fiance! You’re not going to shoo him off!” Kiza’s indignant, but then it dawns on her and she softens. “You don’t remember, do you?”

Stinger’s taken completely aback and his head droops. “Beeswax, what else happened that I can’t remember?”

Motioning for Gage to follow, Bridget quietly drifts into the other room to give these two some semblance of privacy.

‘Engaged? As in a contract with him?” his concern is evident Stinger finds a seat, he’s not sure he can stand up right now.

Kiza takes his hand and squeezes, “As in - in love with him and he and I want to spend the rest of our lives together. He asked me. Before I would answer, I made him ask you. It’s old fashioned even for tercies, but you and I are so close. When you gave your consent, is when I said yes.”

Stinger rubs her uninjured hand, not taking his eyes off his precious girl, who - what seems like just yesterday - was tottering across this very floor to bring him flowers. But that was 35 years ago.

“He treats me like his queen, Da. Our wedding day is set for 3 months from now,” she gives the deciding blow. Thier eyes turning to that honey yellow for both of them.

Kissing her forehead and blinking back a few tears, he forces himself to be logical about the situation, “Does he know about us?”

“Enough to know we’re not fully human and I’m not a teen anymore. He trusts that I’ll tell him anything he needs to know. And it’s been A LOT of trust extended to us. You wanted me to wait to tell him most things,” she explains.

Encompassing Kiza in his arms, his voice is a bit choked, “Then it’s time.”

When he gathers himself and lets Kiza go, he hollers in his parental tone to the other room, “Mr. Brownning, I’d like to have a word with you.”

Kiza gives his arm a playful shove.”Da! Be nice!”

Quickly scampering in, the young man has a worried look on his face as he answers, “Yes, Sir?”

Stinger’s fatherly expression says he likes the sound of that.  But he resists the urge to taunt his future son-in-law further, for now. “Gage, since you’re about to join our family, there are a few secrets you should be privy to.”

Gage visibly relaxes and his head bobs eagerly, “You can trust me, Sir!”

“Kiza said we could. So, come with me,” he ushers the young man into his back room.

Whistling at all the much higher tech than he’s seen before, Gage stands at attention.

“No need to stand there like a new recruit. Sit.” Stinger waves to the chair across from him before he gets into the details. ‘First off, I understand you are aware that Kiza and I aren’t fully human. Correct?”

“Y...yes, Sir.” Gage opts to sit on the edge of the chair, still not a ease and not sure of what he’s about to hear.

“Kiza and I are splices. When we were made, bee DNA was spliced together with human genomes to create us.”

Stinger hears a “So that’s why her eyes…”. Then Gage raises his hand and Stinger stifles a chuckle before he nods his go ahead.  “Sir, so are there only bee splices or are there others too? And are there humans beyond earth? And other races?”

“Others too. One of my most trusted friends is part Lycan - like a wolf. Yes, and yes.”

Stinger decides he likes the curiosity in this tersie. If the whole planet is as understanding as this bloke and Her Majesty, then maybe it’ll make a good member of the council in a century or two.

He goes on to explain that he was Marshall over Earth until Jupiter Jones came into possession of the planet, blowing Gage’s mind. So, Stinger gives him some time to adjust to the idea and shoves a glowing tube in Gage’s direction. “I’ll explain this later. It’ll be even harder to understand. But spraying some of it on Kiza’s hand will heal the burn.” He waves dismissively. “We’ll talk again. Go now, and be useful to my daughter.”  

Gage obediently scurries out to Kiza.

Noticing Bridget’s fist covering a smirk as she leans on the doorjamb, he reflexively asks, “What?”

“You enjoyed that. Admit it,” she challenges and moves behind him to knead his shoulders so he’ll let his defenses down a little more.

He looks back at her with a scowl. “And you’re manipulating me with those ministrations, woman.”

Wrapping her arms around his middle she admits “Only enough to get you to talk, dearest Old Codger. I’ll do what it takes to get more than one or two word answers out of you,”

“I’m buggered, aren’t I?” he half heartedly gripes but pulls her around to face him.

“Is that conceding defeat or playing hard to get?” She taps his nose, calling his bluff.

Putting both his hands into her back pockets, he waggles his eyebrows, “Wouldn’t you like to know.“

A throat clears behind them and Gage is shuffling expectantly with the glowing canister. Stinger grumbles but holds his hand out for it and ever so carefully puts it away.

“It must be about lunch time,” Bridget claps her hands and sashays out of the room. “Staying for lunch, Gage?”

“No Mam. But thank you. Need to run an errand with my folks.” Turning to Kiza he asks, “Wanna go with us?”

Glancing at Stinger and Bridget first, she returns, “Catch up with ye later, ok?”

Gage kisses her cheek before leaving, “No prob. I’d need to spend time with my family after all of that too.”

 

 

Despite it being early afternoon, the jetlag has Stinger and Bridget worn out. Kiza said she’d be heading out to catch up with Gage.

“Nap with me,” he tugs her into his room and she follows willingly.

“Why did I call you Trouble?” He queries as he untucks his shirt and sits on the bed.

She scoots behind him to start working on his shoulders and that painful area in his back. “Because that’s what you thought I was at first. Well, maybe you thought it most of the time...”

He hunches over a bit so she can reach that spot. Unsure if it’s a reflex or some buried memory, she shrugs and continues to knead deeply.

“I must not have put up much resistance,” he mumbles into his chest.

“Actually, you did. You’re a stubborn, salty old git most of the time. But you show your caring through it somehow.”

His upper body jerks with a snort, “That’s a hell of a way to tell a bloke you care about him.”

“Weren't you just asking me to stay for a nap?” she challenges and works his neck and scalp. "If you're fussing about what I say already, I'll go sleep on the couch."

“Woman…” he gripes until he hears her giggle. “You really are your namesake.”

“I won’t argue with that,” she snarkily confesses and smooches his cheek as she finishes the mini massage.

Wanting more than that little token of affection, he returns her kiss with ferocity pushing her back into the bed, and she welcomes the first lusty attention from him since the attack by wrapping her legs around him.

They hear footsteps, then Kiza’s exasperated voice. “Jeez! You two could at least close the door!” Hearing it slam, they both sheepishly laugh before being absorbed in the passion once more. Having lost each other once, there's much to make up for.

 

 

Despite just cussing them out, Kiza’s happy to give these two renewed love birds some space. She whistles to herself as she slips down the stairs and out the door..

 

END PART ONE

(To be continued…)