The boys from Trapped are back. They've got more air this time. And a functioning ship. And decent rations. Things would be perfect if one of them would start talking.
Only the soft beeps of the navigation computer and the faint cloth on cloth rustle of sheets disturbed the oppressive silence on the ship. It wouldn't have been as oppressive if I could have convinced myself that he was asleep on one of the cramped bunks behind me.
My job was to watch the computer. I didn't understand the numbers that scrolled past, but I knew as long as the lights stayed green and the stars streamed past, we were on course. I didn't have any excuse to “wake” him; he had the next shift and needed to be alert when the convoy passed.
I let go and inaudible sigh of relief when I heard the bunk creak followed by his bare feet on the deck. I didn't turn to look. I tracked his progress with my ears while my eyes stayed dutifully on the board. He moved the ten steps from the bunk to the galley, and opened the creaking door of the refrigeration unit. There was the gurgling liquid sound of two glasses being filled and then the soft hiss of the refrigeration unit as it resealed. His footfalls were almost silent. That meant he was in his shorts, he hadn't bothered with the jumpsuit and boots. I felt him behind me and waited for his hand on my shoulder.
Instead a glass of water invaded my field of vision. “Here. You haven't been drinking your water.”
I let out a breath I wasn't aware I'd been holding. “I'm not a child.” I touched his wrist when I took the glass in both hands. His whole arm jerked. I affected not to notice. I drank down half the glass and watched him from the corner of my eye as he flopped gracelessly into the seat beside to me. Two weeks after my trip to the infirmary he remained both solicitous and aloof. His sentences were clipped and always about business. And on a ship so small it barely deserved the name; he maintained a pristine personal space.
I found myself missing his voice. I would've taken a dry explanation of the ship systems or even another condescending argument about who on the list we should track next over this silence.
More surprisingly, I still anticipated his hand on my shoulder. Or clap on the back. Or a gentle nudge from his arm as we sat side by side. But that was gone too, eaten up in confusing silence, taking something I hadn't realized was there until it was gone.
“We should eat now. There's only an hour until we go dark,” he said in a flat, tired tone that confirmed that he hadn't been asleep.
“I'll get the rations.” I popped up out of my chair and was across the thirty feet to the galley before he could protest. I felt his eyes burn into me as I opened the self-heating packets, but when I turned with a tray of reasonably edible food in my hands I could only see the back of his head and his pale shoulders.
I set the tray on the console and handed him his plate. We plowed through the tasteless fare in silence. I had seen him eat at every meal, but slouched in the pilot's chair, he gave the impression of having lost weight. “I'll be more than ready for real food when we reach Lear Station,” I said as I set down my fork.
The briefest smile twitched his jaw. “Clearly you've never eaten there,” he said. He met my eye for what seemed like the first time in days.
I smiled and leaned forward in reflex. “Zane, we've become friends, haven't we?”
His smile disappeared, his shoulders straightened and his fingers pecked restlessly at the navigation controls. “Of course we have,” he said flatly, his tone meant to end the conversation.
I wasn't about to let it go, not now that he was talking. “Then why have you been-”
A strident alarm sounded. I peered somewhat uselessly between the viewport and the computer watching his hands fly over the controls.
“Convoy's early. Shut everything down in the back, I have to get us in a better position,” he said as he unfolded the manual steering controls.
I scooped up the tray, made the short dash back to the galley and pushed the whole thing, tray and dishes, into the cleaning unit. I double checked that everything was clamped down, and had to enter the security code into the power systems twice because of my shaking hands. I got it right on the second try and the rear half of the ship went obediently dark.
Without warning the front had half went dark too. I felt a moment's panic before my eyes adjusted to the faint emergency lights and the sudden lack of gravity. “Zane?”
“Gotcha.” His hands closed over my wrist and shoulder, guiding me to my bunk. Once I had a leg curled under the pallet to keep me from floating away he released me.
I caught one of his hands. “Are we safe here?”
His fingers flexed in my grip but he didn't pull away. “We're close enough to the asteroid belt. We won't even be a speck on their sensors,” he said, his free hand brushing my shoulder.
“You're sure?” I asked. My throat was dry.
He hooked his own foot under the bunk and leaned forward until I could see his serious brown eyes. “I'm not going to let anything happen to you,” he said, his short hair just brushing my brow.
“I believe you,” I said, not able to look away.
He was impossibly close, eyes hooded and dark. And then they closed. And then there were his lips.
This was what I had been waiting for. Not for his voice, not for a friendly arm around my shoulder, but for this. His lips were smooth and hot, contrasting with the stubble around his mouth. I had his hand clasped in both of mine and held it tight to my chest. His other hand wound into my hair, holding us together even when we parted. Before I'd caught breath enough to speak he was tracing a wet trail down my throat. His short beard felt different on the skin there, almost tickling compared to the heat of his mouth. “This... wasn't quite what I had in mind... when I asked if we were friends.” I said unsteadily.
The lips on my neck and the hand in my hair withdrew, the hand in my grasp tugging away, his face only a strained profile. “Sorry. I didn't mean to-”
He pulled hard enough on our joined hands to make me lose my grip on the bunk and send us flying toward the ceiling of the cabin. Clutching the only thing I could reach, I wrapped both arms around his waist and closed my eyes against the impact.
“I've gotcha,” he said calmly.
I didn't open my eyes until I felt our motion halted. I found him watching me with an amused smile, his hand extended above us, fingers splayed against the ceiling.
For brief moment his smile became familiarly smug, then his eyes shifted away and he was reaching behind him, gently tugging one of the arms wrapped around his back. “Let's get you back down.”
I evaded his grip and pulled myself level with his face, my heart thundering in my ears. “I wanted it.” He turned his head to keep from meeting my eyes so I repeated it in his ear, “It wasn't what I expected, but it was what I wanted.”
I felt a shiver travel down his long frame. I only had a moment to wonder what it meant before his mouth was devouring mine. Both of his hands were in my hair, making my scalp tingle. I didn't realize we had drifted again until my hip jammed into the refrigeration unit. “Damn,” I hissed.
I was immediately steadied against the counter. “You alright?” he asked.
“Fine.” I nodded and gripped the edge of the counter.
“I should go check the position of the convoy,” he said, a sheepish expression on his face I wouldn't have believed possible an hour ago.
I nodded. “We'll talk more when we're back underway?”
“We'll talk,” he agreed with his familiar smirk. He pushed off against the counter to send himself towards the pilot seat. He might have winked over his retreating shoulder, but was lost in the dark.