Time And In Between

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I love the time and in between

The Cortex screen softly illuminated the bridge, glowing with the message just in from Boros. Nika stared blindly out into the Black. Images played across her mind’s eye—the gentle expression of his face when he kissed her every night before bed… the silent pride in his eyes when she mastered something he worked to teach her.

the calm inside me

She couldn’t even remember the first time she’d climbed on a horse, but he was always a quiet presence beside as she rode the fence line. Tanned face laughing; blue eyes crinkled at the corners; skin leathered by the harsh sun, making him look older than his actual years. Life on a ranch was hard. Those hours had been their special time, stolen hours from duties, hours when she confided in him all her girlish and not-so-girlish thoughts and dreams.

in the space where I can breathe

She could still recall his expression when she came home from her first flying lesson, ablaze with a joy she’d never before experienced. She could never have anticipated or understood then that flying changed her life that day, seductive as an addictive drug. But he had seen it. And he’d let her go. The mix of worry, pride, and love when she left him a few years later for the war haunted her now.

I believe there is a distance I have wandered

She’d recognized his relief and joy when she returned at war’s end, and the memory of his arms around her was vivid in her mind.

to touch upon the years of reaching out and reaching in,

Her breath caught. That couldn’t have been the last time she would ever see him. No. It had to be a mistake. She’d been sure of it when she’d asked for confirmation from Boros. The stark reply sat on the screen in front of her and despair turned her heart to stone in her chest. “Come home.”

holding out, holding in.

Nika turned off the Cortex screen and called Hans, the relief pilot, to the bridge before leaving her chair. Outside the viewports, the Black was beautiful in its infinite darkness, the siren call that had taken her so far from home—from him—muted. The stone that had taken the place of her heart burned cold and she couldn’t seem to warm up. The Black offered no comfort now, its peace shattered, its music in the back of her mind now jangled into oblivion. She couldn’t even breathe.

I believe

this is heaven to no one else but me
and I'll defend it as long as I can be
left here to linger in silence
if I choose to,

would you try to understand?


The voice at the door brought her gaze around, hope flaring as wishful thinking tricked her into hearing someone else’s voice for a moment. But no. “Where’s Hans?” She could feel the tears beginning to gather behind her eyes and she looked away, her control too fragile to withstand scrutiny.

“He’s on his way,” Brian replied with a furrowed brow. He glanced behind him, stepped into the bridge, and closed the hatch. He went to her and tipped her chin up; the gleam of her tears shocked him. “What is it?”

I know this love is passing time, passing through like liquid
I’m drunk in my desire

She stood on her toes to kiss him softly, without passion kiss but with a tangle of longing and loneliness and pain rolled into the lingering press of her lips. He was warm and alive and he made the cold inside recede, his mere presence creating a buffer from it.

Brian hesitated. Their relationship was acknowledged aboard the vessel, though they were discreet and didn’t openly share quarters. In the years Nika had been his lover and friend, they’d shared all manner of moments—passion, rage, tenderness, humor. This was something different. Something he had no experience with. But he couldn’t turn her away. He cradled her chin and returned the kiss, letting her dictate the pace and manner of it.

but I love the way you smile at me
I love the way your hands reach out and hold me near...

Nika wrapped her arms around his waist, drawing him full-length against her, and her kiss took on a desperate edge, seeking something she couldn’t articulate from him.

Brian tasted the salt before he realized how wrong a turn the ’Verse had taken. Nika never cried. Not during the war, not when they’d lost crew, not even when she was shot. But she cried now. Silent tears.

I believe...

I believe
this is heaven to no one else but me
and I’ll defend it as long as I can be
left here to linger in silence
if I choose to

would you try to understand?

The hatch behind them opened and Nika turned away quickly to hide the tears. Brian glanced over his shoulder and told Hans brusquely, “Take the conn and let Shyla know I’ll talk to her later, all right?”

“Will do,” said the massive blond, Viking-fair with his long hair and light eyes. He schooled his expression into carefully neutral lines as he took the pilot’s chair.

Brian put an arm around Nika’s shoulders and led her off the bridge, clearing people out of their path with a glare. Her head remained down, unsure she’d be able to keep control if she spoke, and she recognized the threshold of her quarters only as they crossed it. The coiled misery inside her sprang free.

Oh the quiet child awaits the day when she can break free
the mold that clings like desperation

Brian had barely closed the door before she had him flat on his back in her bunk, ripping off his clothes and straddling his body. Brian could feel in an instant she wasn’t ready for him, that she wasn’t even thinking in her desperation. Having a beautiful woman crawling all over him would normally drive him wild, making thought impossible. Not this time. He rolled her over, taking control of their movements, pinning her to the bed. Despite her resistance, he gentled her into submission, taking her out of her head with heated kisses and stroking hands, driving her past the ability for coherent thought until the tension finally exploded, releasing her into a slower, lazier kind of urgency.

The mood changed; he made love to her then. He took her out of her pain for as long as he could, finally drawing her into the curve of his body as he collapsed. He wrapped his arms around her to keep her warm as she started to shake.

Mother can’t you see I’ve got

to live my life the way I feel is right for me

might not be right for you but it’s right for me...

The pain of loss hit her, raw and ripping, destroying what peace she’d found in fleeting forgetfulness. Grief swamped her, great sucking waves of it, and she wept huge ragged sobs of pain. Through it all, she felt Brian’s arms around her. Though she struggled to push him away, to keep him from drowning with her, he was her anchor in the maelstrom.

He tightened his embrace, his lips at her temple, her hair, her face. But she was beyond comforting. The sheer depth of her sorrow was overwhelming.

I believe...

I believe
this is heaven to no one else but me
and I’ll defend it as long as I can be
left here to linger in silence
if I choose to

would you try to understand?

“My father’s dead,” Nika rasped two hours later, when her sobbing had run its course. Three simple words, harmless enough individually but devastating in combination. Nika cleared her throat and tried speaking again, and it felt strange after crying so hard. “He died yesterday.”

“I’m sorry, Nika,” Brian said, stroking her hair. He tightened his arms, holding her close. He heard the words, understood her loss, and thought what a gorram shame it was—Harbinger had taken shore leave on the ranch for a while after the war. Jon Earhart was a man he’d admired.

Nika buried her face against his chest, and Brian felt his skin get wet. She clung to him and soaked his chest with silent tears and as he held her, he turned the logistics over in his head. Getting her home would require some finessing, but not much—they were already en route to the Core from Kalidasa, less than three days out from their destination. A brief layover at the outer edge of the White Sun system and they’d be on their way to Boros.

He kissed her hair and rested his cheek in its silky mass until she finally fell asleep, exhausted. Brian listened to her breathe and ran through the logistics in his head.

I would like to linger here in silence

if I choose to
would you understand it?

would you try to understand?

When Brian was sure Nika wouldn’t wake, he gently disentangled himself from her and slipped out of her quarters.

Shyla was standing in the corridor outside, sparing him the trouble of looking for her. Her expression was worried. “What happened?”

Brian kept his voice down and ditched his predetermined argument for the unadorned truth. “Jon’s dead.” He shook his head, pushing a hand through his hair. “She needs to go home, Shyla.”

Shyla winced. Jon Earhart had been both liked and admired by the entire crew. His hospitality after the war had given them all a chance to unwind a little, and he’d struck Shyla as an astute businessman and a good man.

“Damn,” she said softly. “Real sorry to hear it. I’ll take care of rescheduling a few things so we can head for Georgia.” She studied him. “Stay with her.”

“Was planning on it.” He forced a smile. “She’ll probably want to take the conn when she wakes up.”

“Let her fly. I’ll let the rest of the crew know we’ve got a change of plans,” Shyla said. She shrugged, feeling the weight of the news settling on her shoulders, and walked away, leaving Brian to grab food for himself and Nika from the galley and resume his vigil in the pilot’s quarters. She didn’t comment that he was barefoot and his shirt was unbuttoned. He’d figure it out soon enough.

“Hey, Connelly. Laundry day, no clothes, right?” Harry looked up from her coffee and cleaning rags and raised an eyebrow at his flapping shirt. She stifled a snicker as he flustered with the buttons and tucked it in. Good thing I didn’t mention the shoes. At least his fly’s up. Wait a minute… She got a good look at him and sobered, putting aside the field-stripped automatic she held. “What’s wrong?”

“What’s left from dinner?”

He’d noticed his bare feet at this point, dismissed them, and didn’t wait for an answer but went straight to the counter. Tray and cutlery clattered, accompanied by wet slaps as he spooned up whatever was left in the steam trays. Harry raised another brow—Brian didn’t go for goulash... but Nika did.

She stood up and walked away from her guns.

“Change of plans. We’re heading for Boros.” More wet slaps. “Jon’s gone,” he said.

“Wuo de mah. And Xiao Mei?”

“Cut up. Bad.”

“That for her?”

“Yeah.” Brian put the spoon down and looked at her. “I’ve never seen her like this, Harry. I don’t know what to do.”

She leaned a hip against the counter that held the trays and studied the ship’s XO. It was rare to see him flustered and rarer still that he should force himself beyond the very male tendency to keep his problems to himself. The fact that he was actually talking to her about it told her clearly how cut up Brian himself was. “Just what you’re already doing,” she said finally.

“It’s not enough.” He looked at her with a tormented expression. “She cried.”

Harry nodded slowly, looking thoughtful. Though Nika came across as a tough woman, a soldier, there was a core of softness to her, a closely guarded femininity that she chose not to exhibit much. “You should feel honored. A woman’s tears are a precious gift, Brian, especially for one like Xiao Mei. She would only share them in a safe harbor.”

Brian looked away from the tiny Asian woman. “I can’t fix this. I can’t … bail her out, kick someone’s ass, or shoot someone for her. I can’t even give her dinner,” he said in disgust, gesturing at the too-full tray of goulash in front of him.

Harry smiled faintly. His response was so male—fix it, maim it, kill it, or feed it. “You’ve already helped.”

He looked back at her, uncomprehending. Harry merely smiled. Someday, they would figure it out. It would be amusing to watch in the meantime. “Grab another fork. She won’t bother to eat unless you do.” And she returned to her seat to gather up her weapon and finish cleaning it.