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Just Tell Me What I Want (Expanded Version)

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It made a good place to lie low, to stay out of her face. She needs time. Once they headed out, she'd have to deal with him day after day. Close quarters, tense times. They could both use the space, for a few more hours. Deal with it all tomorrow. So John sat on the Terrace, watching the stars all around him. A spot he'd loved since the first time he saw it, a view that still awed him. A few years back, he'd have killed for an hour of this view. It seemed important to savor it, one last time. To remember who he was when he got here. To remember what had been good.

He heard a footstep and knew it was hers. He didn't turn. When she saw him there, she could slip back out. But she stepped closer and there she was, just off to the side. He controlled his surprise. Relax. Just be cool. She stood looking out, but she spoke right to him. "Hey," she said.

"Hey. Packed to go?"

"It doesn't take long."

"Then this is the place to be. This is something I'll miss." She nodded, and slid her spine down the wall. Out of his reach, but close enough to talk. Like that was a normal place to be. Like they chatted like this, all the time. He went back to the past. A much safer place. "My first night here," he said, "Life was so simple. Get the hell away, try to get home. I thought that day would be hard to top."

"The day you ruined my life." Was that a joke? He cut her a sidelong look, and he took a chance.

"The first time a girl beat the crap out of me."

She actually laughed, a short little bark. Then she stopped herself, looked away. "Sometimes I forget – It's strange, just talking with you."

"I guess... I've got nothing for that."

"My old ways don't work." My god, she's still talking. "If I were back in barracks, before a campaign, we could recreate..." The word made him wince, but he bit his tongue. She caught his reaction. "Don't be superior," she said. "That's what it was, then. That's all dead and gone."

He felt himself flush. " I didn't mean – Look, forget it." She doesn't miss much. You could run her off without saying a word.

"Or, if you were him, if he was here now –" She didn't go on. Time passed before her voice came again, firmly, flatly. "But you're not him. That's lost." Lost. That's the word for today.

"Aeryn, you..." She looked at him sharply. Careful, man. You sure you want to be talking to her? At least he knew where he'd seen this before. This mask. This pain. He started again. "You know, you make me think of my dad. Think back on my dad. You know those first guys who left your home world, went out into space? Maybe centuries ago? My dad, Jack, he was one of those guys. I've heard cockpit tapes where he shouldn't have lived, and he sounded so cool. So straight ahead." She was nodding. "And Mom was his match."

"Then Mom got sick. They shot her with poisons, cobalt, ugly shit – man, she was tough. She just – It took her a long time to die. He... Dad... All he could do was watch." It was harder to say than he'd thought it would be. It caught in his throat. He sat very still as he talked to the stars. "Later, after – He'd prowl the house. Three or four in the morning, he's out on the porch. I'd get up to run, he's asleep in his chair. It was hard. It took a long time."

"I only saw him lose it once. She was really in pain. It was in her bones, it hurt just to lie still. He went after the doc to get better drugs. Scared them all shitless. If he wasn't Jack Crichton, they'd have called the cops." It gave him a kind of bitter pride, that his dad had been ready to take them apart. "But he never cried, not that I saw. Just drank every night to take off the edge."

Her voice surprised him. "Takes a lot more drink than you think it would. A lot more drink." So, she was there. She was listening.

He nodded. "Dad was controlled. He's good at that. If he draws a line, he's not gonna cross it. He'd pour two drinks, set 'em by his chair, put the bottle away before he sat down. Just dull the edge." Control, that's good. He paused, thinking back, feeling her presence. "You know, you're a kid – you know it all. You've had your girlfriends, you've had lots of sex. You've got no idea... What it would be to have your true mate, to watch your mate die. My eyes are a little more open, now. I see that it hurts like hell. No matter what kind of hero you are." He shot her a sidelong look. Frozen face. Close to home.

She swallowed hard. "Grief," she said. "John taught me that word. My mother was shot, he said 'grief.'" Her voice kept breaking up. Made his own throat hurt, just hearing those sounds. The other guy, there with her, trying to help. Just as helpless as he was right now.

"Aeryn, stop. Just take a deep breath." She obeyed, and was ambushed. When she let up the tension, there went the tears. Oh, shit. Well, at least they'd hit on something he knew. "Listen to me. You can't not do it. Just cry 'til you're done. It'll pass."

"I am so frelling weak." She breathed deliberately, deep and slow, while tears flooded out. Her shoulders shook. He managed to keep his hands to himself. "Who ARE you?" she sobbed. "How do you do this to me?"

"I don't know," he said. "I'm the twin of the guy who died on you." He sat there tensely, rocking a little, feeling his way. "You've just got to hack your way through it." He kept talking, half to himself. "I've just got to hope that you will."

"You are the strangest creature, to talk about HOPE." That strangled sound – it could be a laugh, or a sob.

"Well, we're both alive." He shrugged. The silence between them stretched out again. Okay, we said it. We just said it all. Except the part where she says to frell off.

She sat hugging her knees. The way she slumped, the whole line of her body – miserable. But the tears had passed, he'd been right about that. And she hadn't fled. They could sit for a while.

"Hey," she said. She sounded so tired.


"Can you draw a line, and then not cross it?"

He tried to smile. "I have shown some control in my life."

"This sounds strange when I think it."

God, Aeryn, anything. Let me do something. Just give me something to do. "What the hell, say it. You know I was crazy first."

"My body, it's choked, it's numb. I don't want you to touch me." Damn, he thought, even I knew that. She seemed embarrassed. What was that about? "But I want to touch you." Her voice was so quiet, he strained to hear. "To feel you... move." Sounded so fierce, for such a soft voice. "Could you let me do that? Do nothing to me? It feels..." She hunched her shoulders and sighed. "I don't know."

"Look, if you feel it, I trust it. That's what we do." Words straight from his gut. They were out of his mouth before his brain heard them. Whatever she needs. Whatever she'll take.

"You would do that for me?" A rush of relief, in her voice, in his chest. It caught him off guard. He moved without thinking.

"Ah, babe, it's all right." He brushed his fingers across her brow, lifting back her hair. She went stiff, her eyes widened. Oh, you fuckup, bad move, he thought, pulling back, thinking fast. "I didn't mean – "

"No," she said, not moving at all. "That gesture. That's... exactly his." Her voice broke again. "Yours. But you're not –"

He raised his hand, stopped her. Things felt very clear. "Just tell me what feels right. That's what we'll do."

"We should go to your quarters. Give me a half arn." She pushed herself up, and walked inside.

He was alone again. A half arn. Huh.

He should really clean up. He was startled to think that. How long since he'd showered? Might have been a few days. Pip kept ragging him, said he didn't take care of himself, said he was cutting corners too much. Better get going. He jogged to his quarters. Hit the door, turned the water on, stripped off his clothes. Scrubbed himself, his hair, rinsed off, rubbed down. Good thing she hadn't made her move out there. He'd let himself go. Too much on his mind. He stood naked to shave, lathered up, watched his face in the mirror. No scar on his forehead. What should he wear?

So, John. Green or black?

He kept his eyes fixed on his duffel.

Harvey, this is not a good time.

He found a gray tee. That was a blessing. Khakis were good. Calvins, or not? 'I want to touch you.' What did that mean? More layers? Less?

The voice came again.

John, this is foolish. It's only going to make things worse.

He pulled the tee over his head, doing his best to ignore the clone.

You're putting on clothes for her to take off? That's a human thing?

Harv, I'm a human guy. Just scram, okay?

"I want to touch you, to feel you move." That sounded like nakedness. Not many clothes. But maybe clothes would make it feel safer. So, pants. With calvins. A range of choices. Let her decide how much stayed on. Just want to be... smooth. Not so awkward. Like that was even an option. He wanted – No. Try not to want. Try not to want anything. This isn't for you.

How can you let her do this to you? After what she did?

Don't sweat it, Harvey. You're not going to get this. You're not equipped.

She went with the other guy, John. She never looked back. You're only the... back-up. Is there anything you won't let her do?

I love Aeryn. You remember that, don't you? Reasons to live?

The clone made a noise of disgust.

John, you don't know...

I know that she's hurting like hell. I'd rather do something than nothing. This... It's what I can do.

John, she's only weakening you. Distracting you. If we're going to survive this ludicrous plan, you have to focus –

Look, I don't want to hear it. Get lost.

You lost. He won.

"GO!" he shouted. How much time had gone by? He'd lost track. Where was he? He had toweled his hair, tossed his dirty clothes. The room looked okay. How clean was the bed? Not very. Oh, shit. He stripped off the sheets, pulling new ones on. Then he flopped down, clutching his hands to his head. Easy, man. Be cool. Just take a break.

John, John. You're fooling yourself. You think she'll respect you in the morn –

I don't need your input. You're gone. Right now!

When he turned to look, the clone was gone. He shook his head to be sure. Son of a bitch, he could still make it work.

How long had it been? Had it been a half arn? It seemed like more. She'd bailed. She was gone. She was safely locked in her quarters by now, feeling ashamed of herself. Wouldn't see that woman again, tonight. Might not see her tomorrow. Or she could be out in the passage right now, frozen, embarrassed to knock. He should leave the door open. Let her know she was welcome. Let her know how welcome she was. She could walk right in. He went to the door and cracked it open. No one in the passage, no footsteps approaching. Oh, great. More time to think – just what he needed, tonight. He wandered back into the room.

There was his stuff, what there was of it, anyway. His jacket. Winona. His leathers. Stuff that had been on the other guy's body. Clothes she'd probably stripped off him – This was too weird. My so-called life. Today's installment. The door stood open. That was too lame, too eager. Close it. She'll knock. If she comes at all. If she hadn't come to her senses yet. This made no sense. This was one big train wreck, coming right at him. He'd be screwing it up in technicolor, in Cinemascope, in frelling Dolby Smell-O-Vision. Gonna be a night to remember, for sure. In ultra slow motion, one frame at a time, run the loop over and over. This couldn't be good. Hey, give it a rest. You'll make yourself sick, if you think too much. He sighed and headed back to the door. Definitely needed to close it. He caught sight of her feet, and froze. Her feet were bare. That seemed so strange. But there she was. She was there in the doorway. Just let it be. Just be there for her. See where it goes. You've done harder things.

He said, "Hey." His voice was softer than he expected. He stood where he was, barefoot, awkward, scared to death, so happy to see her.

"Hey." She opened the door and stepped inside, letting it close behind her.

"I'm glad you're here." His voice sounded careful, formal, to him. Sure would be good to relax a little.

"You know," she said gravely, "This is only tonight." She looked to see if he'd gotten that.

He thought he had. "Tonight is good."

She shook her head, frowning, and tried again. "This could all be a dream." She avoided his eyes, but she spoke more firmly. "You know how... intense a dream can be."

She knows, for sure. She was there when he woke in the night. It took him aback. Such a subtle warning, coming from her. She'd changed in ways he hadn't heard yet, hadn't seen. "You think it's a dream we'll remember?"

Something dark went across her face. "Do we ever forget?" There was silence, again. Then she blurted out, "The last time we kissed..."

"Yes?" he asked softly.

"Tell me about it."

He was instantly there. Seeing her, back from the dead. He'd been punchy, amazed, so scared. The chip just pulled out of his brain. One frelling miracle after another. "Uh, in the maintenance bay. Your first night... back. You'd been walking, walking all over the ship. For arns. I was talking, making sure I could talk, to myself. I finally caught you. I needed... to see you. You were angry. I didn't know, yet, about Zhaan. You thought you shouldn't be... with us. I said, it's exactly where you should be. I said I loved you. I had never quite said that before, straight ahead, to you, alive, with me. You said it, too. And we had that... moment." The last one I had.

She had gotten so quiet. "I'm sorry... that I was afraid. I wish –"

He shook his head. "You thought it was wrong. It was a hard time. " She looked away. "Would you like to sit down?" he asked.

She nodded. He sat on the bed and she sat beside him, not quite touching his body. She had dressed in her sparring clothes: loose black pants snug at the ankle, hair in a battle braid. Bra straps showed at the neck of her tee. She shivered, staring down at their feet. He was trying to follow, but she wasn't giving him much to go on. Had he ever seen her afraid before? His tension began to bubble again. He braced himself. This could be it.

Finally he asked, "Is this just too strange?"

"He – you – remembered it. Just that way. You were both... there, that night. You're... John." Her voice was so tight. "And you're really not. I can't pretend –"

"Don't try to pretend. Just do what you can." Oh, God, that set her off. Couldn't he open his mouth without making her cry?

"He said –" She was choking. "He said –"

"Stop," he said. "You don't need to explain." This is way too much talking. "Would you like – Could I hold you?" She nodded blindly, trembling. He reached out carefully, guiding her into his arms, turning her face to his shoulder. She sank into his chest. Like your sister, crying. Hold her like that. Be a safe place. Don't grab, don't cling, don't pull for more. She was so close, he could hear her breathe. He could feel the breath moving through her body. His hand was pacing that, stroking her shoulder-blade, circling her back, falling into that rhythm. Her rhythm. Her head brushed his cheek. It had been so long. He wanted to bury his face in her hair, he wanted to kiss her. He held himself back. Held them both steady. He could show some control. Slowly, she settled. To hold her was plenty, for now.

She kept her eyes pressed against him. At last she spoke, without lifting her face, "What – what I thought – I want to touch you. But I don't want –" She made a noise that was almost a growl. Confusion? Frustration? Disgust?

He waited a moment. "Is this okay? What I'm doing now?" His hand was still light on her back.

"Yes. But – not more than this. Don't be my lover. Let me –"

"Okay. That's okay. What else?"

"I need my clothes. But I want – could you – be naked?"

"Can you keep me warm?" It was almost funny, the way she was asking. Never heard her ask. She was always the type to just grab what she wanted. Or to run like hell. Not to ask, and then wait.

"I believe I can. If I don't, you could tell me."

"I can do that." He managed a smile. "Don't worry. I won't say much."

She squeezed his arm. "Then that would be good. Tonight." She walked to the basin. While her back was turned, he started to strip. Save them both that awkwardness, get naked now. He sat on the bed. She was splashing her eyes, drying her face and her hands. Turning, she softened the lights. He pulled off his shirt as she came to stand beside the bed. She leaned stiffly to kiss him. His neck, his cheek, then his lips.The last time we kissed, I thought you were mine. I thought we'd made it. A wave of grief. So much was lost.

She straightened back up, looking down at him. Expressions flickered across her face, too many to catch. On their best days, she'd never been easy to read. Tonight she seemed baffled, herself. Didn't look like she'd walked in the door with a plan. She seemed lost, diminished, like somebody he didn't know. He wanted her back. One thing he could see – this woman was serious. As serious as a heart attack. Whatever was coming, this sure wasn't play. But she'd made it here. She must hope that something was possible, something could change. There was something she needed. That was enough.

She sat beside him, touching his arm. This was not how he'd wanted it. Those nights he lay here thinking of her, thinking how right they could be, together. That night when she'd finally come to his bed. All those wishes. This wasn't his script. His bed, his body – her call. Too late to back out. Was he playing the part of the ghost, tonight? 'Is there anything you won't let her do?' Apparently not. Not if she asks. His right hand went to her wrist, brushing it lightly. His hands, the hands that had killed her. Hey, she's in your bed. Let's focus on that. He'd be playing this back 'til the day he died, he could do all the thinking later. He squeezed her wrist. Nowhere to go but forward. He shifted his body down the bed, deliberately, slowly. He lay there beside her, waiting. Let's do this thing.

She lay down, and fit herself to his body. She ran a hand down his side. God, how long since anyone touched him, touched his skin? Some drunken gropes on the pleasure planet – not much else. Now that her hand was on his body, he could feel how thirsty he'd been, how parched. It felt so good that it scared him, a little. Made him feel jumpy, made him want more. But he loved her hand, he really liked her long, slow strokes. That's right, he thought, just take your time. He lay there, absorbing her touch. His hands were itching to cup her breast, to knead her hip. That would be wrong, for sure. He reached up instead, to her arms, her braid. He caught a whiff of that odd, fruity sweat: melons, apricots, spices and salt. Her smell. That smell was so good, he wanted to cry. Her lips brushed his cheek and she moved in to kiss him thoroughly, deeply. He met her kiss. He wondered how he smelled to her, what flavor he had. He reached to embrace her, pulling her close.

She broke free. Oh, shit. She's gone. You blew it already. But she only turned, head to toe, shifting down the bed, so her face was next to his hip. Her feet, her ankles were at his face – at least those were bare. She spread open his legs and pulled one over, across her body. She rested her cheek against his thigh, looking right at his package. He had never felt so exposed, so much on display, laid out like a gift to the world. Her hands browsed at the base of his shaft and played in the fur below. Her fingers flickered over the boys. "Careful," he breathed.

"Don't worry, I know." He flinched as she said it. She's done this before. God, was this a mistake? No, this is a gift. No matter how weird this might turn, it was something she needed. Something no one could do except him.

She was touching his cock. It had been hard as soon as she kissed him, his body craving her touch. That felt odd. Like sitting down next to the widow, hearing the eulogy, getting a hard-on. How could this feel so good? What kind of man takes advantage of this? Like fooling around on a grave. All those nights his father sat up in the dark, was he wanting his wife, feeling her absence? Feeling that yearning all through his body, missing her everywhere? He shuddered. Never thought about that. It embarrassed him, hurt him, as if he dishonored his father. The mere thought felt intrusive, none of his business. God, that must be so lonely. Something nobody talks about. Something nobody's supposed to feel. Sad was one thing – but hungry, desperate, sexual? What kind of person feels that? The person who's lost their true mate. The one who's lost everything.

Her hand slipped and slid in a maddening stroke. The head of his cock was glowing warm. Might as well be tied, for all he could do. His hands hit the bed and grabbed at the sheet. Oh man, oh man. She was getting more serious, squeezing his shaft to force the crown fuller, curling her other palm on the tip. Things were rolling hard, his nerves were revving. He heard a moan from the back of his throat and thought, No, no. Not so fast. Give me time. He had to say something. He couldn't bear to end this so soon. He had that much selfishness in him.

"Aeryn, you've got me real close to the edge." In that moment, she froze. He felt her squeeze him, at just the right spot, and the pressure eased off. He felt himself soften. She knows how I work. Exactly how. One hand held him loosely, the other massaged the crease of his thigh, the cheeks of his butt. Then again she touched him, slow but relentless. His head sank back, his body straining with every stroke. He took a few breaths. Relax. Let her work. Now he felt coolness, slippery, silky. That's good, he thought, that feels so good. Familiar sensation. Oh, shit, he thought, that's my lube she's using. He took some with him. He remembered how much that had pissed him off. And the other guy had used it with her. Well, he hoped they'd enjoyed it. They – Whoa. Now the tip of her finger was quivering, slippery, cool, in his ass. His eyes flew open. He felt his face flush. Every touch she had was so good. This must have been good for him, too. I must like doing this. Just didn't know it. That was a thought to get used to. Do I trust him, too? Do I trust his judgement?

She was working his cock, again, making him flex around her finger. She flicked back, without going further. Is she waiting for me to relax? He took a deep, ragged breath. She was stroking him softly, teasingly, giving his cock such a ride. It all linked together. The air went out with a rush, and he sneaked a look. Her eyes were closed. Every plane of her face was intent, listening hard. She was so focused, feeling him, all his responses. What else did she know about his body? Did he have any secrets left? Holy Mother, I'm had. She's going to blow my brains out.

Her hips were moving, along with her hands. Her body remembered. God, what was she like, falling over the cliff? Let me live long enough to see that, just once. What he'd give to be there, to see her with every receptor lit up, to feel her rushes feeding off his, to sweep her over and watch her fly. His hands had to grasp something else, right now, or they'd be on her body, everywhere, making her feel. Baby, I hope you appreciate this. He was twisting the sheet in his fingers. This isn't my style, to lie back and be done. This is not what I know how to do.

Dear Penthouse, he thought, a strange and dangerous woman is having her way with me... His calf, the big muscle, was going to cramp any second. That would be bad, very bad. He consciously eased it, tensed and relaxed, and relaxed again. As he sighed, her finger slid deeper and pressed. Man, his doc never touched him like this. Those strong, steady hands made his cock strain and jump, pressing up from its roots. She was kneading his belly, her fingers swirling over his cock. Exhale. Blow it out. His senses were confused, overwhelmed. His hips floated up from the bed, and drove his shoulders down hard. Heat filled his belly and ran up his spine. The charge was building all through him, all over him, and she knew it, she felt it. She watched him voraciously, wanting more. She was using him. She was reaching through him, working through him. She was serving him, too – he was serving her – he was helping her work. It made his head spin, while his body was flooding. He pulled in the air as deep as he could, trying to steady himself. His hands flew to his face, palms pressed to his eyes. He couldn't keep still any longer. "God, baby, god, it's too much," he said, and her hands fell away. His breath went out in a rush. He fell back to the bed. His legs were trembling, his nerves were jammed. God help me, I need to be in you. Just kill me now. I need you, now.

She shifted around and just that fast her lips, her tongue, her throat enveloped him, liquid, soft. Oh, God. She had him. He was inside her, she'd taken him in. He'd thought of that moment, wanted it, dreamed it. The way that this felt was so different. Felt so good in his body, so perfect, she rose and fell smoothly. He couldn't believe how deeply she took him. She did it so beautifully, gracefully. He could glimpse her expression, more peaceful than he had seen her, so calm. She loves to do this. It's something they loved. He was trembling again. Her palm found his thigh and kneaded and pressed. She knew what he needed. She knew it was hard to lie still. He could work against that. He tensed back against her, meeting the force of her hand. Had he ever been so wired, so full? His brainstem was screaming: MOVE – THRUST – DIVE – FLY! His body was pinned, sucked into the bed. Tracers screamed past his eyes as contractions came on, flashes, colors. He felt her ease back. She knew where he was. She knew.

He let it all go.

Escape velocity. Free and flying, out of his head. It went on and on. His spine had melted and pooled in his gut, all that pent-up energy roared in his ears. When the last wave broke it threw him clear, wrung out and deaf, slack-jawed and dazed. Her lips had found his already, her body pressed over him. Safe. Home. He gripped her arms, hanging on, coming down. His own body's smells were strong in his nose, mixed together with hers, his smells on her face, in his mouth. Moisture between them: her sweat? His tears? Who knew? Kiss her, taste her, inhale. His hands found a shoulder, the small of her back. Cradle her lightly, give her whatever she'll take.

He felt her pull back, and he opened his eyes. She was watching him gravely, from inches away. Her pupils were huge, dilated, making her eyes almost black. She closed her eyes and slowly, slowly she let herself sink. As his body absorbed her weight, he realized his chest was wet. Tears. Those are tears, for sure. He stroked her back with the fall of her breath, kept it light and easy, not wanting to spook her, afraid to do more. The moments stretched out. Each one was a gift. She'd be leaving soon. He steeled himself for that, bracing himself for her going. Don't be greedy. Don't make it harder.

A small ragged voice at his chest said, "Thank you." Oh, God.

"Oh, babe, I'm so sorry. You loved him so much." She was so quiet. Had he said the wrong thing? But she seemed okay – he could feel her relaxing. Her breathing was slowing, evening out, finding a steady rhythm. It finally hit him that she must be sleeping. She slept. As if she were the one who'd blown everything out, the one who was spent. He lay there under her, taking her weight, just willing that she'd be able to sleep, willing her peaceful dreams. One peaceful night, just let her have that.

He would bring the other one back, if he could. Right now, he would. She wanted to touch a body that hadn't been burned. She was in this so deep, wrestling with things that he'd barely glimpsed. She needs time. He could honor that, any decent guy could. Any idiot would. But how long could he stay alive? Give her time. He was drenched with envy. The other guy. Feeling this, smelling this, night after night, touching her, with her, in her. Bastard. Having it all. He could feel it, open in front of him, and there was a bitter wash in his throat.

For so long he had felt her wanting him. That had given him patience, given him hope. Those moments when she had welcomed him, needed him – those had kept him going. Gave him a reason to live. But the life that went on between them, without him – that had been so much more. This had been a glimpse. A taste, such a little taste. He had missed that dance. Die in your arms. God, he'd said that himself. It's a thing that you say. What was that like, to have her, to have her completely, to look in her eyes while you felt your last breath going out? He shivered. Poor bastard. There were tears on his face. Who the hell was lying here, feeling so sad? Envy and pity, everything tangled, all those parts of John Crichton, sorry for himself. Would there ever be another night, for him? Maybe the wheel had already turned. He might be down to the echoes, already.

She stirred and shifted. He held his breath as he eased her down. Now she was settling into the bed, into his arms, finding her spot. Something she did in her sleep. She lay draped across him, head on his shoulder, deeply relaxed, breathing slowly. A glimpse of the other guy's life. He felt the clock speeding up, time slipping away. No way to stop it. Just breathe, just feel her. Run your fingers along her hair. Memorize this. You'll want to remember it all.

He woke in the glow of the safety lights. Did a dream wake him? Did she? Deep in the sleep cycle, arns until dawn. She was still there. Still there. She was stretching herself, beside him. His hand found her waist. "You okay?" he mumbled.

"Shhhh," she said, and brought his hand to her lips. Another glimpse. "Roll over."

She molded her body against his back, her belly and breasts, her strong legs. She pressed her face to his shoulders. She fit, oh, she fit. Her arm went around him, snugging his knee, enclosing his body. Remember this. He sank back to sleep.

He woke at the ship's dawn, lights rising slowly. His arm was flung out over cooling sheets. She'd been gone for a while. He stretched and groaned. Disappointed, but hardly surprised. She's not sleeping much, these days. He breathed deep from her pillow: apricots, salt. When he moved, his neck was ungodly stiff. Several odd places were very sore: the sides of his back, his forearm, his calf. The inside of his thighs. He'd been very well used. A whole-body dream – he could live with that, for now.

Time to dress. Time to go. Time to see what came next.