Sester stared at the ceiling. It was very boring up there, no pattern to break the monotony of dull grey, nothing to count or stir the imagination. Not that he need any external inspiration. His overactive mind provided far too many distractions these days.
His stomach grumbled in complaint, reminding him that he hadn't eaten anything since yesterday. It had been silly of him to forgo his last meal on the ship, in anticipation of the gourmet delights of the Justice. Now he was paying for it.
Sester wasn't used to being deprived of basics like food, water or things that other people considered luxuries but to him were essential ingredients of daily living. One of the privileges of being an Alpha.
He wondered if Argus planned to starve him or if the man had plain forgotten that he might need food. Typical. It wasn't as if he were important, being a psychostrategist who had vital information didn't seem to merit any breakfast, lunch and now, no dinner either. Some water would be nice. Even that disgusting porridge that they had forced Avon to eat at the Detention Centre might look appetizing. Well, look appetizing.
That thought filled him with shame. He shouldn't be thinking about missing a few meals when Avon was… No, he shouldn't be thinking of that. It would provoke an emotional response that would be counterproductive.
The best way he could help Avon would be to remain calm and rational. Understand the emotion without giving it control. Not like the hothead Argus who couldn't see past his own pain.
Not that he could blame him. Sester was trying not to think of Reya either but it wasn't the mind that was the problem with her. It was something that reached much deeper.
His door slid open. Without looking over, he said, "I was starting to think that you'd forgotten me."
A melodic and amused female voice said, "How could anyone forget you?"
Sester bolted upright, grimacing as the restraint rubbed on his sore wrist. "Kirsten!"
"I see you haven't forgotten me." She was a vision of feminine beauty, standing there with a tray of food in her hands, her hair falling softly on her shoulders. A smile curling her lips deliciously upwards at the corners. A twinkle in her eyes that was inviting him closer and the gentle curve of… Sester coughed and unconsciously loosened his collar. It was getting awfully warm in the jacket he couldn't take off. (His mischievous mind thought this was very unfortunate.) Plus, it wasn't the only place that was feeling the heat.
Sester knew the dreams were going to cause him trouble. "I have a good memory."
Kirsten laughed, sending delightful ripples of pleasure through his body. How did she do that? He had been alone on that blasted ship far too long with only his dreams for company. Now presented with the reality his body was responding rapidly.
"I just bet you have." She laid the tray down and approached him. "Now, what do we have here?" She eyed the chain that attached his wrist to the bed. "When Argus said that you were locked in here, he didn't say that you were…locked in here..."
There was a mischievous and highly interested gleam in her eyes that made him both nervous and excited at the same time.
Kirsten touched the chain curiously, the tips of her fingers lightly brushing the links, caressing them. Sester was transfixed, not even noticing that the curves he was admiring a few seconds ago were close enough to be tasted. It was as if she were stroking his skin. He almost stopped breathing as her fingers reached the cuff. His fevered mind urged her on. Don't stop.
Kirsten withdrew her hand and said in an interested, and completely unerotic tone, "Does this hurt?"
Sester groaned. There was a serious pain but it wasn't from his bruised wrist.
Kirsten's eyes widened slightly. "I suppose it was a silly question. I'm sorry."
To his intense frustration she moved her hand away. He watched her cross the room to the shower unit and disappear inside. His far too helpful mind briefly conjured up an image of her naked, the water cascading down her soft back. He groaned again.
Trying to salvage a shred of dignity, or at the very least not try to give himself away, he said, "I'm all right really."
Kirsten re-emerged holding a damp cloth. His mouth dried as she approached the bed. He couldn't remember if all the Chandaran women's hips swayed as enticingly as hers. At the moment all he could think of was one particularly enjoyable dream he'd had, involving that curvaceous...
"Lie back," she told him. Had she read his mind? But she had a cloth in her hand.
He gave a sigh of regret, which he hoped didn't sound too much like frustration, as she began to apply it to his wrist. Leaning back as ordered, he closed his eyes as she bathed the bruises that the cuff had caused, the cool, smooth material as gentle as her caress.
This isn't helping he told his body sternly. His body ignored him. It was having far too good a time enjoying her touch. He never realized how sensitive the area around his wrist was. It was an electric sensation, energy that raced up his arm, across his chest,… "Kirsten," he gasped, "please stop."
"Oh, I'm hurting you!"
"No, not hurting." This was torture.
Her lips were inches from his own. All he had to do was lean forward. The sweet scent of her hair mingled with the musk of arousal was like wine going to his head. He moved closer, needing to…the chain rudely dragged him back onto the bed. This time the groan was more a snarl of frustration.
"Hmm being tied down does have its drawbacks." Kirsten said softly. "Or maybe not..." She chuckled.
As Sester's brain struggled to come up with a coherent reply, Kirsten bent her head and gently brushed his lips with her own. It was as light as the brush of a butterfly's wing. Sester gave an agonised groan. She was killing him and she knew it!
"So you aren't hungry?" she asked. "I brought your favourites."
He barely managed to croak out a semi-he-hoped-witty reply, "My appetite has changed."
"You mean, you're not hungry anymore? Or..." She traced her finger along the chain, just stopping shy of his wrist again. "There is something else you want...to eat?"
In a husky growl, he said, "You enjoy being naughty, don't you?"
"I'm not the one chained to the bed." A smile played across her lips. "This definitely has its advantages; I must remember to thank Argus."
Argus! All of a sudden, reality came crashing back, leaving Sester drowning in guilt. "Reya…how is she?"
Kirsten's expression changed, no more the teasing playmate. "Didn't Argus tell you?"
Sester ground his teeth in irritation. "He omitted some relevant details."
"Oh. I'm sorry. He doesn't like you, does he?"
Sester said, "What gave it away?" For the first time, he was no longer in the mood for witty replies. "Kirsten, please tell me how she is."
Kirsten could see the pain and anguish reflected on his face, it was clear that he loved Reya. She could have reacted with jealousy but the look in his eyes, the depth of feeling, revealing his capacity to love, made her want to kiss him again. This time no teasing embraces, but a full kiss that would take his breath away. Her voice became gentle, compassionate. "She's going to be fine. She was hurt badly. Two shots from what I understand. One to the chest and one to the shoulder. But the surgeons were able to repair the damage and she's resting now. She hasn't woken up yet."
Sester's eyes closed and his head bowed in relief. "Thank you."
Kirsten touched his cheek hesitantly and he looked up at her.
"You love her." It wasn't a question." Her voice became quiet. "If you tell me that there isn't any chance for us…"
"You would give up?"
He laughed quietly. "I didn't think you would."
"You know that you're being a fool?"
"I'm a psychostrategist; we take courses in recognizing fools."
"Do you take any courses in how not to be one yourself?"
Sester laughed aloud. "It looks like I may have missed a few."
"I'd say so."
He reached out with his free hand and guided her to sit on the edge of his bed. "Keep doing what you've been doing."
"You mean driving you crazy?"
"Is that what you call it?" Before he realized what he was doing, his fingers were tracing the curve of her neck, to the hollow just at the base of her throat. He bent and kissed the soft flesh there, his lips feeling the energy that he wanted to drink in.
She groaned softly and tilted her head back, like a supplicant offering her throat to a creature that needed to feed on her lifeblood. Her hands grasped his shoulders.
Sester lifted his head, his eyes were deep and intense, and the muted cabin lights gave them a soft glow. "I'm hungry now."
"What did you bring me?" There was no longer a hint of desire in his eyes, only a glint of the rogue.
Kirsten recognized with dismay that he had just turned the tables on her. She freed herself from his arms. "That offer just expired."
"But…I'm hungry," he said with a plea in his eyes designed to move anyone with an ounce of compassion, or who loved adorable, furry animals.
"And you're irresistible. Plus you have the food. A deadly combination."
Kirsten picked up the tray, and balancing it precariously on her lap, sat at the edge of his bed. The fragrant aroma of coffee and the tantalizing smell of steak greeted his nostrils, causing his stomach to grumble embarrassingly.
Steak. Something that needed to be cut with a knife and fork. "We seem to have a bit of a problem," said Sester, pulling on the chain. He grimaced and reminded himself to stop doing that. "I don't suppose your cutlery includes the keys to these?"
As she cut the meat up into bite-sized portions and fed them to him, she asked, "Can you help rescue Avon?"
Sester swallowed what he was chewing and said, "I promised I would."
"Argus doesn't believe you?"
"He…doesn't like secrets and I'm full of them."
"It is hard to trust someone if they have secrets."
"But you're not going to tell him what he wants to know?" She brought the hot mug to his lips and let him take a sip.
"Then you might be locked in here a long time."
"I don't think so."
"You seem very sure of that."
Sester caught her hand as she tried to feed him another slice. "Do you trust me? Even with all the secrets?"
"What do you want me to say?"
Kirsten put the fork down. "Can you answer a personal question for me first?"
"It depends on what it is."
"Everything that we've been doing together the last few months, it's been fun. Like a game. But I want to know if that's all it is to you."
"Kirsten…all I know how to do is play games. You should know that by now. But this game that we've been playing, it's an important one to me. Does that answer your question?"
"Then will you answer mine?"
"You already know the answer."
Sester took the tray off her lap and set it beside him. This time they both bent towards each other, lips parting. Of course, at that moment the door slid open and Vila stepped in.
"Oh, maybe I should come back..."
Sester stifled a groan as Kirsten casually turned the lean into a reaching for the tray. She said as she stood up with it in her hands, "Don't do that. We're finished." She turned slightly so that only Sester could see her and flashed him a quick, teasing grin.
Sester scowled at her and said, "Yes, come in Vila."
Olean Rane had been moved to a medical facility that was treating Shade victims. As befit the Chamberlain, he had a large spacious room overlooking the flowered courtyard. It wasn't something he would have wanted, but no self-respecting Athol doctor would have put him in anything less. He still looked like someone on his last legs, despite the reassurances by the specialists that he was well on his way to recovery.
His voice was weak as he spoke and he lay back tiredly on the bed that had been inclined so that he could receive visitors. The man had started working the moment he could open his eyes and start giving orders again. "Please convey my thanks to Avon. I owe him my life."
Argus and Cally exchanged glances, wondering how much Rane had been told about what happened. Cally projected, Be careful what you tell him. He might not be strong enough to be told everything.
Argus inclined his head slightly in answer. "That's why we're here. We need your help."
"If there's anything in my power to do, just ask it."
Rane tried to sit up but fell back exhausted. "There's something wrong, isn't there? I knew it. No one wants to answer my questions. Not the important ones. They don't think I'll be able to handle it."
"Then…maybe I shouldn't either," said Argus. The Chamberlain still looked terribly weak. Cally was right, he shouldn't be asking this of Rane.
"This has to do with Jenna, doesn't it?"
Argus started. "How…"
Rane said, "That's one of the questions that no one wants to answer, which I found rather odd. Now are you going to tell me?"
"Jenna took Avon."
"What do you mean, took? Took him where?"
"She kidnapped him."
"That's ridiculous, why would Jenna want to do that?"
"Revenge?" Rane stared out of the window at the clouds that were obscuring the sun. "This is about Blake, isn't it? She was here when she heard that he'd died. It affected her a great deal."
"Yes. She holds Avon responsible for killing him."
Rane turned back to him and looked him square in the eyes. "Is he responsible?"
Argus and Cally looked at each other. Argus said, "It's not that simple."
"Did he or didn't he kill Blake?"
Argus's eyes lowered. "Yes, he did."
"But it's not that simple?"
"Explain it to me."
"I don’t know the full story, but Vila was there. He told me what he could remember."
Argus told Rane about what happened on Gauda Prime, the events leading up that fateful meeting in the tracking gallery and the final confrontation.
When he was done, Rane said, "They were both mad."
Argus said, "They both made mistakes and they both paid the price."
"I understand Jenna's need for revenge," said Rane.
"Then you won't help us?"
"I said I understand. I didn't say that I agreed. Avon didn't murder Blake in cold blood. Even in our laws, that is not a crime that merits capital punishment. But you realize, Argus, that it does demand payment."
Cally said, "Avon understands that. He's already paid part of it with his life. He spent three years under Federation torture. That should be worth something."
Rane nodded. "And the rest?"
"Avon can make sure that Blake's dream is realized."
"Does Jenna know this?"
"I've already spoken to her but she rejected it."
"She is blinded by her need for revenge?"
"Very well, I will help you."
Argus asked, "Just like that?"
"I'm a reasonable man and Jenna is my friend. I've known many who have spent their lives seeking revenge, in the end, it is an empty thing. I don't want to see Jenna destroying her life."
"I just ask one thing of you."
"When you find her, no matter what she's done, can you give her a chance?"
Cally said, "You don't know what she's done."
"The revenge has to stop somewhere or it will never end."
Argus asked, "Cally?"
There was a frown on her face. "If she hasn't killed Avon…I will consider it. But I don't want her back on the ship."
Rane said, "That's fair enough."
Cally said fiercely, "That's more than fair." Suddenly she doubled over and collapsed, her hands going to her stomach and her chest as she cried out.
"Cally!" shouted Argus in alarm as he caught her.
"Avon!...Fire…burning …inside...ahhh…" She thrashed about as Argus held her.
"Cally, try to concentrate. You have to break off. Separate yourself from Avon."
The pain was so intense that she could barely hear him but her eyes closed tightly and she tried to put up a mental barrier to block the pain.
Rane sat up in alarm, "I'll get a healer." He reached for the comm unit beside his bed.
Argus said, "No. They won't be able to help."
"Are you mad? She's in pain!"
"It's not her pain," said Argus. "It's Avon's."
"What do you mean, it's Avon's?"
"Cally is an Auronar. She has a mental connection to Avon. Sometimes she can experience what he's feeling."
"And wherever he is, he's experiencing pain?"
"This is what Jenna is doing to Avon." A cry of agony escaped Cally's lips again as she struggled to gain control. Argus held her tighter. His voice was harsh as he asked Rane, "Do you still want to ask Cally if she wants to give Jenna a chance?"
There was a troubled look on Rane's face.