A Matter of Control

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As usual with me, a passing thought became a train of thought and Andy was game enough to ride along with me to see where it all went. If it turns out to be the last such ride for the campaign, the station we pulled into was a pretty good one. Thanks, Andy!--Maer



Monday, 15 Nov 2523
Durance class Exeter
En route to Highgate
0530 hrs, ship's time

Morning arrived and I woke sore from the previous day's exercise. Luckily my husband had just the remedy for working out the stiffness and together we limbered up nicely. When we rose from our bed, we stripped off the sheets and dumped them into the wash, and went on to tackle our respective days. Joshua had drawn morning duty with the refugees we carried below. I had the daily maintenance routine to get through without tinkering with anything. That old saying, if it ain't broke, don't fix it, carried a certain weight with me these days. Yesterday, I came close to breaking it. Today, not so much. The Pax lay fairly quiet inside me, nudging me only a little to fiddle with something I shouldn't. I was able to distract myself until the feeling passed and got through that maintenance list. So it was with less a sense of escaping disaster that I met up with my husband for a quick lunch in the galley later that day.

I should have known my good luck couldn't last.

Nika and Arden were off elsewhere, Kiera was avoiding us as usual, and it was just me and Joshua. We ate standing up in the galley. He told me of his day, I told him of mine, and we interrupted each other here and there to feed each other bits off our plates. It was a playful thing we'd started soon after we were married, seldom indulged, but since it was just us, we had fun with it. I was feeling pretty good by the time he brought out dessert and that should have warned me to watch myself.

As usual, I ignored the signs and plowed right into a conversational landmine. And also as usual, I didn't see it coming. I was licking off my spoon and making a come-hither business of it when a passing thought zipped through my head and out my mouth before I could stop it.

"You know, as much fun as yesterday was, I could put a serious hurt on you if I gave in all the way, Joshua. I've got teeth," I added, demonstrating by holding the spoon in them. I sobered as the theme started building in my head. "And a taste for blood."

---

"I'm a tough cookie, Rina." Joshua leaned over and gently took the spoon from his wife's mouth, wondering where she got the off-the-wall idea but no longer surprised that she'd got it. Just part and parcel with living with Rina. You never knew what would come out of her mouth from one minute to the next. Adds to the fun. And the mystery. "I can handle it."

---

"But considering what we did this morning?" I let him have the spoon but made him work for it, sucking on it against his tug. He got it in the end and I finished my statement. "Your cock. My teeth. Could get messy."

---

Yeah … no telling what's gonna come out her mouth.

"I think that's just a matter of playing it all by ear." Joshua dropped the spoon into a waiting dishpan of soapy water and started cleaning up. His fingers rubbed the spoon and he irreverently thought of all the things his wife did with that mouth of hers. Lucky spoon, he thought and grinned at the suds. Then again … Lucky me. He tingled with the memory of the blow job she'd given him. She gave fantastic ones. "We'll just have to get oral at the beginning of things rather than the middle."

"But," Rina's voice came to him over the splash of dishwashing. "What if…? I just hope I don't take a bite out of you where it would show. It might get awkward later."

Joshua heard her shift and sigh and looked over at Rina. Sure enough, he could tell the topic got hold of her now. She was leaning on the counter with her arms crossed across her lovely breasts, clearly digging in her metaphorical heels. He quickly brushed her thoughts with his mind and got a sense of worry off her, colored with the rich sensual texture of her own memories of their waking up earlier.

---

It could get awkward. We weren't gentle with each other yesterday on the lines. I was still sore from it though the bleeding stopped sometime during the night. Joshua had some livid marks on his back and I was just grateful I habitually kept my nails short for the sake of my job. Otherwise, he'd have been in worse shape. As for any bite marks? Thankfully only small ones and currently hidden by his clothing. I wondered how long that state of affairs would last. The bloodthirstiness I had in combat had somehow managed to spill over into other areas in my life and it quite frankly frightened me. Despite my vow to Joshua on the lines, that hadn't changed.

---

"Everybody on the ship understands, Rina." They're on the same boat, literally and figuratively. The thought made him smile a bit. How often did that hoary chestnut of a phrase actually match reality? Joshua racked the last of the dishes—not many, it was just the two of them eating after all and he was fast washing up from practice—and dried off and hung up the towel.

---

"I'm sure they'll understand, because they're all suffering from it." I wouldn't be swayed by his optimism. This was a serious matter and one that couldn't be swept under the rug or hand-waved with a grin. "But bite marks on your neck? A black eye? Could get awkward with strangers."

---

"Well, we won't be seeing strangers for a while." They still had nearly a week to go before they touched down on Highgate. But anything could happen in a week, Joshua thought. Hell, in a week, I got married, fought Reaver Mike Carter Superspy ™ barehanded and won, got married AGAIN, and then had the best honeymoon ever. Anything could happen in a week.

And if the week didn't turn up any great progress before they reached Highgate, he knew Arden and Dr. Lawrence and even Kiera would be making use of the medical facilities there to find some sort of cure. Talking about it with Dr. Lawrence one night recently, the subject of maintenance drugs came up. It wasn't there yet, but Dr. Lawrence was confident he would have the formula soon. Should I tell her? What could it hurt? The doctors on board are made of awesome. Heh. Made of awesome. Damn straight, I'll tell her.

"Arden and Dr. Lawrence will come through, and they will cuz they're made of awesome. They cured Prion Disease, Rina. They'll have maintenance drugs for us by the end of the trip."

The docs wouldn't fail them. They just wouldn't.

---

Dammit. I knew that he'd never let anything get him down. Even with the Pax digging its hooks deeper into him, it didn't squash his optimism. If the Pax was making him crazy like it was the rest of us, it didn't show. But then again, said that insidious voice in my head, Joshua's never truly been completely right in the head to begin with. Blue Sun had already gotten to him long before you found him.

And that reminded me of something. He'd been addicted to Flomixipan by Blue Sun and had struggled to get clean of it for over a year. In the end he'd won and hearing him extolling the virtues of the doctors we had working on the problem, I knew without asking that no matter his faith in them, Joshua would refuse the drugs. Knowing he could follow my thoughts, I said without preamble.

"You're not taking them." It wasn't a question.

---

"No. I won't need to. I'm not crazy." Because he wasn't. He was finally discovering his potential with his senses now that the Pax had opened him up to the possibilities. The real crazy would be to take the drugs and limit that, wouldn't it? Joshua could feel a little tendril of irritation taking root in his good mood. Why couldn't Rina—as intelligent as she was—understand that?

---

"Better living through chemistry. Yay."

I hated the idea of being shackled to a pill bottle. But the alternative to not taking the drugs was the inexorable slide into memory loss and insanity. It had already happened to the people on Pericles. It had happened—minus the insanity—to the people on Pala. No telling what it would do to us or how fast it would do it. Did my husband take that into account? Or was his optimism the Pax talking? Either way, I couldn't let the matter slide. I had to put the idea in front of him.

"But here's the thing, Joshua. What if this progresses and starts fucking with your memories? What if you wake up one morning married to a complete stranger? It will be too late to change your decision then." I had to say it, even though I knew it wasn't something he wanted to hear. Even if his optimism encouraged him otherwise, I had to give him the chance to make an informed choice.

---

"I didn't say I won't take the cure once they find it."

---

I shook my head and caressed his face. "Not talking about the cure. That could be years off. The people on Pericles didn't have years, Joshua. They only had months. Weeks." I thought again of Pala and the history of its inhabitants. The odds weren't those I wanted to contemplate.

---

"It's not like the maintenance drugs are going to prevent that, Rina. They're just to return people to 'feeling normal'. I'm fine how I am."

---

I withdrew and fisted my fingers as anger--never far from the surface these days--made me want to hit him. Stepping aside I said the obvious. "I'm. Not. Fine. As. I. Am. Can't have both of us crazy. The Universe would never survive it." I heard the bitterness in my tone and didn't bother to modify it. I got out of there and headed for the stairs. The urge to hit something would not be denied and the practice dummy would have to serve.

---

"I didn't say you didn't have to take the drugs. And I'm not crazy," he called out to her as she left, but he didn't really expect or want her to come back. Probably best left alone.

---

The gauntlet had been thrown. It was a challenge I couldn't resist. I spun in my tracks with a snarl, picked it up, and threw it back in his face. "No," I growled through my teeth. "You didn't. You're so goddamned awesome you don't need them while the rest of us puling candy asses do. One day, Joshua, something's going to get through that head of yours that You. Aren't. Invulnerable." I punctuated the last with a stiff finger into his chest. I calculated the force it would take to puncture flesh and bone and pulled my punch. As satisfying as blood would have been right that second, I knew it was the Pax talking. Besides, no matter how furious I was with him, I still loved him.

---

"Or maybe I just got lucky and the effects of the Pax aren't that far off from the way I am normally. I don't see you beating the crap out of Arden because he won't need to take the drugs." Rina needed to take the drugs just so she wouldn't keep trying to rip his head off. Also, the constant thoughts of blood and killing were starting to get a little irritating.

---

"That's cuz I'm not in love with him!" I screamed, finally losing it. "DamnyouJoshua—!" I grabbed him by the collar and planted a kiss on him before he could move. Like my kisses of late, it was brutally direct.

---

He let the kiss linger for a little before pushing her away slightly. "I like hot hot hate sex as much as the next guy, but if we screw now, I don't know if I'm going to come out of it with all my parts intact." He kept himself slightly on guard, just in case she decided to get violent. "Look, maintenance drugs are just masking the symptoms. They're not going to make a rats ass of difference whether I live or die, so get it under control."

---

The Pax had my hands fisted in his shirt, my breath coming fast, and my vision narrowing dangerously on his throat. But the import of his words sank in and I loosened my grip on Joshua and tightened it on my temper.

"Fine."

I took a step back, still holding him but no longer quite yearning for blood. I took a long deliberate breath and let him go.

"I'll do that."

---

"Good. And who knows, maybe I am invulnerable. An extra bonus from Blue Sun, if you will." His face was serious, but his tone was clearly not.

---

His words hit me as I made it to the stairs and I turned on the top step. The anger was still clawing for release but remorse surged stronger and it colored my tone.

"Maybe you are. But maybe you aren't. I just hope I won't live to see it. Knowing you, that day will kill you and I don't want to live without you." I didn't know how long he had left, or I. Whereas before I could see decades with him stretching out ahead of us, now I could only see … considerably less, thanks to the Pax.

--

"Burning bright means the candle shrinks faster." Joshua wasn't going to let fear rule his life. No way, no how.

---

"Save some of that candle for me. It'll be awfully dark once it gutters out." Having run alone for years, I didn't want to go back to that particular darkness of the soul. It had cost me everything and the price of buying it all back wasn't one I could pay again.

---

"Don't worry, it's long and thick." He couldn't resist the innuendo even when they were fighting like this.

---

I'd mapped out how long and how thick just that morning and the memory of him warm and solid on my tongue made the beast in me crave it under my teeth. Clenching my jaw, I just gave him a tight-lipped smile and ran the stairs down two at a time. The Pax-induced bloodthirstiness frightened me more than I dared express and despite what I'd vowed to Joshua on his birthday, it wasn't something I dared embrace. Not completely. Not while under the influence. I knew there would come a point when I'd go too far and when that happened, chances were good I wouldn't care.

He had it right though. I had to get this thing under control and there was only one safe way I knew how to do it. Energetic exercise to the point of muscle failure. I picked up the steel pipe I'd left leaning by the cargo bay stairs and without breaking stride, I swung it up in an overhead swing and started beating the living shit out of the practice dummy. Maybe once I'd reduced to splinters I could face other people again. My blow bounced off the wood, leaving nothing but a small dent. Raising the pipe again, I brought it down with as much force as I could throw into it ... and it bounced again. And again. And again.

Forty minutes later the dummy was sporting a few more dents but little else in the way of damage. Someone had had the foresight to remove its practice arms so only the post suffered the brunt of my attack. I on the other hand was dripping with sweat, my knuckles bloodied and bruised from punching the wood, shaking in every limb, and blowing hard. The pipe rang on the deck as it slipped from my fingers. I stumbled, punch-drunk, and grabbed the dummy before I fell. Every little knick and cut on my body stung from the salt of my sweat and given the events of the past few days, I stung quite a bit. I cast a glance at the zipline harnesses I'd devised overhead, saw again in my mind's eye Joshua's birthday run—and birthday sex—up there. Was it only yesterday? I checked my watch as my pulse slowed. Yep. Only yesterday.

I dragged myself up and forced myself to move. The deck plates beckoned with the promise of cool metal but if I lay there I'd stiffen up. I showered and put up with the sting of the soap on my cuts, then dressed and went off in search of Joshua. Pax or not, I owed my husband an apology.

---

Joshua watered his pepper plant, forcing himself to stay focused on the task at hand. Gardening felt so slow these days, but if he didn't pay attention to the plants, there would be no fresh food and that would be a hideous turn of events. As Rina approached hydroponics, Joshua could feel the distinct tangle of thoughts that marked his wife. Even when the thoughts were different, there was something about the way she thought them that made it easy to identify her. As she entered the doorway, he said, "Are you going to need to lock the door behind you?"

---

"Depends," I said, leaning on the jamb and watching him work, gripped by the lassitude a punishing workout or vigorous sex brought on me. "Are you going to do anything to me that needs a locked door?"

Even though I'd found him to apologize, that stubborn streak in me refused to just jump right in and say it.

---

"I'm just gardening. You'd think we wouldn't get insects in space...and yet..." He turned around and half propped himself against the table. "Did the dummy survive?"

---

"Stoically."

I tipped my head back and sagged in the doorframe, listening to the ship, listening to the trickling of water in the bay, to Joshua moving around with the plants, to anything but the whispering of my inner critic. It lay too close akin to the beast inside and I didn't want to give it any excuse to notice me. Not so soon after I managed to shut it back in its cage. Those drugs, I thought grimly, had better be strong. I can't spend my days like this. My synapses will fry to a crisp … assuming I don't give in and start playing with the containment field generator. Crisp wouldn't even begin to cover it.

---

"You know I love you and you're awesome, right? I mean, I think I'm awesome, but I think everyone on this ship is awesome." He smiled and motioned for her to come closer. "Come over here, silly. We shouldn't have to talk across the room."

---

I didn't want to move, even though the jamb was digging uncomfortably into my back. I rolled my head to look at him. He leaned against the table, his arms crossed at ease instead of anger, calmly watching me looking back at him. If he was irritated at my reluctance, it didn't show. Neither was there any sign we'd just had a near knock-down drag-out less than an hour before. If there was one thing the Pax had done for him, it allowed him to release his anger easier. Huh. And maybe it found another home in me. I've got enough for the both of us...

The beast inside stirred at the thought and I shut my eyes and went very still, forcing myself to calculate the CFMs pushing out of the atmo vents overhead, gauging the relative humidity levels in hydroponics and the possibility of having to get into the vents to scrape off the mold that might be growing there as a consequence. The beast grew bored and went back to sleep. How often had I pulled that trick in the last six days? How many more times would I have to do it again in the next sixty years? I opened my eyes and knew without needing a mirror that my face was bleak.

"I can't go on like this."

I hated admitting weakness to others, even to Joshua who had his own unique inside track to me. Saying it only made it real, made it true failure. What common sense I had left quietly told me I was being a self-absorbed ass. I conceded the point but still I made no move to join him.

---

"Well, you won't have to." That seemed like common sense to Joshua. "They'll put together a regimen that will get you back to normal. And you'll take it. And things will be good." Joshua should've known Rina wouldn't get the happy Pax. Her body's immune system would have fought imposed happiness like it was a deadly virus. But bleakness and anger? Slipped right on in like it was the common cold.

---

"Great," I said flatly. "I guess the monkey I already have on my back will have company, then." I closed my eyes and dragged a sigh up from my toes. "I'm not liking the idea of being a slave to the pill bottle, Joshua. Or having to constantly worry about refilling it. Making choices that will keep me in reach of a steady supply. Turning down options because it will take me too far away from whoever's making it. Always being broke because I'm spending my cash on buying more. Really. Not. Liking. It."

---

"Do you think I don't know that, that I am somehow unfamiliar with being a slave to a drug regimen? Because, of course, I have NO experience with that." He was starting to get pissed. All this drama over something that was going to be a flash in the pan. "Hell's bells, Rina, Arden and the good doctor will have a cure whipped up in a few months. It's not the end of the world."

---

"You don't see it, do you?" I said, my voice going thin. My lip trembled and I bit down on it to keep my tears of frustration at bay. The taste of copper was strong on my tongue but my conviction was stronger. "You say it's not the end of the world. You're wrong. It's already started."

---

He walked over and took her in his arms. "No, it's not. That's the pax talking, love. We're going to help save the world...the Verse. You know why?" ...Dramatic pause...

"Because we're awesome."

---

There comes a point when even steel shatters, when even granite breaks. Joshua's singular faith in the good outcome, his irrepressible optimism, was his strength and my own feelings—Pax induced or not—could not withstand it. Hope was a coal in my chest, bright and hot, and I couldn't carry it. It hurt too much. In the face of everything that had happened to us as a crew and to the Verse at large since I got my family off Sihnon, I'd managed to keep my eyes dry and my gaze steady. No more. I let my husband hold me and I cried. I cried for every failure, every missed opportunity, every person I'd hurt. I cried for the future I wanted and knew I would never have, a future made impossible by the Pax weapons unleashed on the Verse. I cried for myself, knowing that I no longer possessed the one thing I'd always counted on to get me through whatever the Verse threw at me: the knowledge that whatever I asked of my body and my mind, it would deliver and I would do. I cried, helpless and broken, until I could no longer stand up.

"I do believe in you, you know," I husked. Talking hurt after the fury of my tears but I made myself say it anyway. Words had a weight that mere thoughts plucked from my head did not.

And my head was a mess, a jumble of mixed images and feelings. Fatigue lay over everything but it wasn't strong enough to dampen my gratitude for his tenderness. Little acid spurts of fear and worry kept things interesting and fleeting glimpses of things we'd done together—abseiling in heavy seas, surviving a burning ship, facing Reavers and stitches and BTs—paraded in quick succession through my head. Standing out from all the action was the memory of him quietly drawing in his notebook and humming. Under it all, like the everpresent song of the ship's engines, glowed my love for him. It all came through in a rush and I prayed that he caught it.

---

"I know you do. It's nice to hear you say it, but I never doubt in your faith in me." He hugged her tight. "You're my foundation and my frame. I wouldn't be able to fly without you."

---

"And you ... You're everything." I wrapped my arms around him and basked in his warmth, his strength, his love. I glanced aft toward our quarters. "Take me home?"

---

"Gladly," he said, picking her up in his arms. "Let's go home." And he walked out the door, his wife pressed right up against him, where she belonged.



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