Reya's moans of pleasure were music to Sester's ears. She writhed beneath his hands; sensitive to every brush of his fingers as he explored her body, touching everywhere except the most exquisite places that would send her over the edge.
She was long past words as he blinded her mind with sensations that made it impossible to think. Their sweat slick bodies were entwined, sliding in unison, flesh against burning flesh.
They had barely enough presence of mind to stumble into a nearby empty room rather than continue out in the corridor. Now they were lost in each other.
A single thrust was all that would be required, and there would be no turning back for either one of them.
Their bodies were on fire and they were ready for the final step. Sester poised at the threshold, ready to slide into an entrance that was wet and welcoming, waiting to be possessed. He hesitated and his eyes sought Reya's face. Her desired-filled eyes met his, almost begging him to continue, to enter and give them both what they had wanted for a long time.
All he needed to… A face appeared before his mind. Beautiful, tantalizing, gentle, mischievous, and the hurt look in the eyes tugging at a heart that he didn't know he possessed.
Sester groaned, half in agony, half in need. He didn't know how he found the strength or presence of mind but his body twisted and he fell beside Reya, his lungs panting with anguish and unfulfilled desire.
His voice was an agonized whisper, "Reya…I can't. We…can't."
Sester's tortured words and his unexpected strength pierced through Reya's desire-soaked mind. The truth of what they were about to do exploded in her consciousness. Tears welled up in her eyes and emotional pain shot through her in sharp, merciless jabs. Her voice was a guilt-soaked whisper, "Argus…Oh, god…what have I done?" She rolled her body away from Sester and curled up, her arms hugging her pulled up knees, trying to be smaller so she could hide from herself. From everyone…
Her shoulders shuddered violently as silent sobs wracked her body. Sester reached out a comforting hand but didn't touch her. His voice was warm. "Reya…"
"Leave me alone."
Now that he had made the effort, the desire was abating, the stiff desire of his body flagging. A mind normally active with analysis and calculation was still alarmingly empty, but Sester had realized something very important.
He said gently, "Reya, I know you don't want to talk right now. But I hope you can listen. What we almost did…"
"Don’t say it," her muffled voice told him.
"I have to."
A woman, who normally face life with courage and strength, found that she no longer had either. "Please…don't…"
With an anguished heart, he listened to Reya's choked breaths as she cried next to him. His hand reached out again, trying to give her comfort, but stopped just shy of touching her. He wished he could take back time and erase all memory of what happened. It didn't matter that they had not…
"Reya, we have to talk about it." Sester suddenly sat up. He may no longer have a mind that functioned the way he expected it to, but he knew they couldn't ignore what happened. The last thing he wanted to do was cause her more pain but he knew it would be worse if they didn't deal with it. "I'll…start. You don't have to say anything if you don't want to."
There was no reply but Reya's body was no longer shaking.
Did it mean she was willing to listen? Was she too overwhelmed with guilt and grief to respond? Or had she cried herself out?
Sester shook his head in frustration and mystification. How did common people cope with the uncertainty of having to make blind guesses? He imagined that they invariably made the wrong ones. It was no wonder human society was such a mess.
He continued, hoping that she was listening. "I know you don't want to hear it, but…I care a great deal about you."
"No!" she said in a voice that was almost a plea.
He said as gently as he could, "Let me finish, Reya. I would be lying if I said that I didn't. And…you know that I won't lie to you. I'm also strongly attracted to you physically. And you are to me. We can't deny that either. Not after what we almost did. But…I can't do it…" It had been a great revelation to him. "…because I have someone else now."
Reya rolled over to look at him.
Sester's breath caught. Her eyes were puffy and cheeks stained by misery but she still looked beautiful to him.
She asked in a scratchy voice, "Kirsten?"
His head dipped in acknowledgement. "Yes. How did you know?"
The corner of her lips briefly lifted. "It was obvious. Besides, Jenna isn't your type. You need someone who's at least as intelligent as you are and just as devious."
"I'm…not sure if that was a compliment," he said wryly.
"I will never be able to stop caring about you, Reya. But…I think…I can let go of you now."
Reya looked deeply into his eyes and found a man who seemed to have forgotten how to play games. "I'm glad."
She sat up and faced him. They were both naked but there were no stirrings of the senses, no primal urgings or involuntary bodily reactions.
Her head bowed and she took a deep breath. The act, so reminiscent of the man she loved, filled her with even greater sadness. "You're right. I can't…deny that I'm physically attracted to you. This…was a great mistake…a moment of madness…" She shook her head in disgust at herself. "…weakness." Her voice hardened, "It will never occur again. I will never let this happen again." Troubled eyes were also filled with confusion. "I…don't understand how…" It didn't matter how. The damage was done but she was determined that this would never occur again.
Her head lifted and she sought his eyes. "I don't love you. I never have and I never will. Not even if I lose Argus. The two of us are joined…in a way that even death cannot separate us."
"I've always known that," Sester said quietly.
"Yet you still…"
"I shouldn't have. I know. I have no excuses. You can't always rationalize away your obsessions…that was what you were to me. You're an incredible woman, Reya. Argus is a lucky man and if he ever takes you for granted…"
"You will make his life miserable?"
Now that the air was clearing between them, they automatically slipped into the easy banter that characterized their lighter moments.
Sester gave her a sad grin. "I suppose…that won't be much of a change."
"Not much." Reya gathered up her clothes and began putting them on. Sester watched her for a moment, admiring her precise fluid motions, before putting on his own clothes.
After they were dressed, Reya turned to face him. "I may not love you, but I do like you."
"Can we still be friends?"
Reya hesitated. "Not now. Perhaps…later. When we've gained some perspective …and when you've decided about your relationship with Kirsten. She's a remarkable woman."
"This ship seems full of them."
"Is that why you're in trouble with so many of them?"
Sester chuckled as he slipped his arm into the dark grey jacket. "You have no idea."
"I don't think I want to know. We should stay away from each other for awhile."
"That's going to be hard on a ship."
"We have to try."
"You're right." He looked down at himself and straightened his shirt. "Do I…look decent?"
"Do you want a real answer?"
"Now, you're sounding like me," he grinned and then a thoughtful look crossed his face. "Reya, you mentioned something earlier."
Reya checked that her clothes didn't look out of place. "Yes?"
"You said this must've been a moment of madness? What if it was?"
"You're hoping it was?" she asked.
"I…" He was trying to think as hard as he could, concentrating the few brain cells that seemed to be working. "There's something…odd."
She looked at him sharply. "What's odd?"
"I can't think."
Her eyebrows lifted in query. "I don't understand."
"I can think, somewhat…but it's different." A distress look crossed Sester's face. "I've lost it all, Reya."
"What have you lost?" her eyes were clouded with confusion.
"My ability to think." Seeing that she still didn't understand, and wishing that he had just a few more brain cells working, Sester said, "Normally, my mind is analyzing everything. Calculating. Arranging probabilities. Observing a million minute details that most people take for granted. I can go into any situation and know, within a small degree of error, how something is going to turn out. But I've lost it. My mind no longer works."
"That's strange. I would almost suspect that someone had slipped you some Shade. Do you feel any other symptoms?"
"No. Nothing like that. I think something's wrong."
"We should get you to the medical unit and have you checked out." She moved towards the exit.
"It's more than that. I don't think I'm the only one who was affected."
Reya stopped and her lips pursed. She nodded slowly as she remembered something. "Before finding you, I was lying on the ground in the gym. Others were too. I…should have found that strange but…I couldn't think. I…was filled with…" She looked at him uncomfortably. "…well…I found myself looking for you."
"We should look into this."
The two walked out of the room together, on the search for some answers.
Argus had run off so fast that Vila was left staring in his wake. The sight of their half-naked leader, his muscles bulging and beautiful as he stood, clad only in a towel, ready to take on any enemy and tear them to shreds, had been both reassuring and frightening.
He was just the person Vila needed. Someone big and scary to fight the monsters lurking around the corner. A man who knew what he was doing and would give the orders. Not like him, afraid, desperately grabbing for ideas and hoping they were the right ones.
Now that there was someone to take charge, Vila was no longer hampered by fear or panic and there was room for other thoughts.
Maybe Argus might need help? Vila might not be able to face danger on his own, he'd prefer not to face it at all if humanly possible, but now that he wasn't alone, he had room to be - at least a little - brave.
A thought stopped him. Where's Corinne?
He couldn't believe that in his panic, he'd forgotten all about her. That would never do. He had to find her and make sure she was safe.
Vila took a step and realized he had no idea where to look. The last time he'd seen her was at the practice range with the Commander and Kirsten. He didn't imagine she was still there but maybe someone might know.
Corinne hid behind a mound of boxes she had piled high. The end of her rifle stuck out and was aimed at the door. Her heart fluttered with fear. An unknown horror lurked, the one that was always beyond the walls when she was on Chandar.
She'd always been kept safe by her parents but they had warned her never to leave the compound. It wasn't safe. There was danger outside beyond the walls.
As a young girl, she had imagined it as a fearsome monster with many sharp, pointy teeth and smelly breath. Eyes that glowed red with fire and razor-sharp claws that could tear a little girl in two. Sometimes she would wake up in the middle of the night, shivering with fear and her sleeping gown soaked. She'd never told her parents of the monster. They had too many things to worry about and too much to do. She wanted to be brave like them and she swore that one day she would slay the monster. Her mother had taught her how to take care of herself and now - Corinne sighted along the rifle - she had the weapon to do it with.
Today was the day she would slay the monster.
The Argus-Wolf raced through the corridors at break-neck speed. There was danger to the ship and he had to get to the flight deck as fast as possible. He slowed down as he came upon two familiar figures.
The Wolf didn't need introductions as it identified...Reya. Mate. Its mouth opened in a wolfish grin of delight and the towel around its waist was not tight enough to hide its primal reactions.
Keep your paws off her.
The wolf sneeze-laughed. Reya. Mate.
Now wait a minute…we may be in the same body...but… Argus had horrifying pictures in his mind from half-remembered childhood lessons about the mating habits of wolves.
The Wolf growled low, a menacing sound rumbling in its chest. It recognized the other figure. Enemy.
Before Argus realized what was happening the Wolf had bounded forward, a knife gripped in its hand. Instinct made Reya turn but the Wolf had launched itself and tackled Sester to the ground. It now knelt, straddling his enemy's body, its knife pressed up against Sester's neck as a bead of red gathering at the tip.
The Wolf growled threateningly. It did not like what it smelled.
Reya said in alarm, "Argus! What are you doing?"
The Wolf looked up at its mate. Its nose twitched as it sniffed her in greeting, a sound that turned to a grumble-growl of displeasure. Reya-mate smelled of the male beneath him. It glared at its enemy and bared its teeth. It was going to enjoy killing this human.
What did you say? Argus's voice sounded shocked in the Wolf's head.
Could the Alpha-human not smell it? Reya-mate has been with this male. They could not allow that.
The Wolf could tell that Argus was upset but it had a ready solution. The creature pressed the knife in further, beginning a shallow line across the enemy's throat that would soon become deeper. Beads of blood became a slow trickle.
Sester grabbed at the hand holding the knife but it was like trying to bend steel. "Argus, let's talk about this!"
"Argus! Don't!" Reya's voice became frantic as she took hold of his shoulder.
The Wolf shook her off with a snarl of warning.
Don't hurt her! Argus's voice on the Wolf's mind was frantic.
A grumble resonated deep within the creature's chest. It would not hurt Reya but no one touched its mate and lived.
"Argus, you're going to kill him!"
The Wolf gave a cynical bark. Reya-mate must know it had to be done.
Through the eyes of the Wolf, Argus looked into Reya's face. Pain welled up inside him and sadness. He loved this woman more than his own life and he had never considered himself good enough for her. He never had the right words to say. All he knew how to do was kill and to lead others to kill. She deserved someone better than he was. Maybe she finally realized it.
Let him go.
The Wolf gave a half-growl of refusal and incomprehension. The Alpha-human's thoughts confused it. In its orderly world, the Alpha male took what was rightfully his without question or fear. If the human did not know how to behave, it did. The Wolf moved to slice the enemy's throat but found that its hand could not move.
You will not kill him. I won't let you.
The Wolf shook its head angrily. Rivals and enemies had to be dealt with swiftly and without mercy. Why did the Alpha-human not understand?
Because you're not human. I cannot let you kill him.
The Wolf lifted its head to Reya and realized that it was because of her. It understood now. It was bound to her too. Before the Wolf became conscious of it, Argus had regained partial control.
The Argus-Wolf looked down at Sester and lifted the knife from his throat. He would deny his mate nothing. He loved her too much. Wolves mated for life and he was no different. For him, there would be no other woman.
If Reya chose another, he would let her go even though it would break his heart to do so. The Wolf whined and gave a low mournful howl.
Reya fell to her knees and put her arms around him. Argus had not said a word but the look on his face, the pain in his eyes and the strange cry from his lips had told her what was going through his mind. "I will never love anyone else. No matter what else happens. I need you to believe that, Argus."
The Argus-Wolf's heart leapt. Reya's eyes were sincere. It cautiously planted a big wet kiss on his mate's lips. His mouth opened in a wide smile and his eyes gleamed.
He stood up, back straight like the soldier he was and his head held high like the Wolf. "Now we fight!" Argus-Wolf looked down at Sester and gave the outcast a warning snarl.
Clang! Metal hit on metal and the deck lurched beneath their feet. Argus-Wolf instinctively put his arms around Reya. They looked at each other as the same thought passed through their minds.
Argus-Wolf said with the calm urgency of a leader whose pack was in danger, "We're being boarded. Mid entry hatch. Reya, gather anyone you can find and arm them. The enemy cannot be allowed to get to the engineering section. I'll go to the flight deck and see if I can talk to these people."
She nodded and ran off.
Sester got up slowly, his hand covering the bleeding cut on the side of his neck. "And what do you want me to do?"
Argus-Wolf glared at him for a moment. "Stay where I can keep an eye on you." He ran to the flight deck as an amused Sester followed.
Avon let go of the side of the panel he had grabbed to steady himself. He recognized the sound of a ship being boarded.
What could he do? He couldn't fight them. Even if he wasn't blind, he was alone and unarmed.
His hand touched the panel. The ship itself could be a weapon. There were many possibilities to stop a boarding party. With no one else aboard, he had additional options. His only concern would be the smell of decaying corpses afterwards but he was certain the autocleaners would be able to take care of them.
The engineering section had to be sealed off first. Avon began feeling his way to the right control panel.