Argus hissed as a knife of pain stabbed his shoulder and wormed its sharp way down his arm. He clenched his hands tightly. There was no time for pain. His crew and the Admiral's men might be killing each other. He had to save them; though - he strained his ears - it was eerily quiet now. What if they had all killed each other and Reya lay dying in a pool of…
He shook his head imperceptibly. No.
Reya-mate must not die, said the Wolf resolutely.
We both agree on that, Wolf.
"At least you haven’t let yourself go, Argus," said the Admiral, his eyes appraising him.
Argus, startled from his conversation in his head, said, "I try to keep in condition, sir." His coughed in embarrassment. He never liked all the attention people gave to his physical appearance and couldn't wait to put some clothes on.
Could one find something less itchy? asked the Wolf.
Argus couldn't believe he was humouring the creature but he told it, I'll see what I can do.
The Admiral harrumph a sound of approval.
For a moment Argus wondered if the Admiral could hear what the Wolf had said and was agreeing, but it couldn't be.
"Sir," he kept his voice low. None of Admiral's troopers was in evidence but it didn't mean that no one was listening. "Have you been able to…"
"We'll talk about it later." Admiral Tarkov was even more nervous about the topic than Argus was.
"You've done well for yourself. A good ship. An excellent crew. I've been following the reports on the secured channels."
The two men walked in step, as if on parade.
"I couldn't have asked for a better crew, sir. They deserve most of the credit."
Tarkov nodded. "You haven't changed."
"Some things have." They approached the area where Argus came on the firefight earlier. The ex-soldier put his hand up in a closed fist and the the Admiral stopped behind him.
One's nose and ears are sleepy, remarked the Wolf as it tried to sniff.
Argus had no idea what the Wolf was talking about. I'm busy. Talk to me later.
One should use one's ears and nose more.
The Wolf closed its eyes and Argus's world instantly opened up. A kaleidoscope of sounds and odours he had barely noticed before. He shook his head as his nose wrinkled. Body smells. Even more than that, he could tell just from the odour, how long it had been since someone bathed. The sounds were almost deafening. Objects scratching on smooth surfaces and the quiet, calm breathing of men curiously lacking in stress.
Argus peaked around the corner and his eyes nearly popped out. Tarkov looked over his shoulder.
The Federation troopers were all disarmed and sitting on the ground alongside Argus's men. A few Atholians were holding rifles on the troopers but there didn't seem much need. The Admiral's men were far too busy…sketching.
Lt. Dain was at the front, pointing to an improvised easel with the barrel of his rifle. "Now, you need to learn to see shapes in the objects you want to draw. For example…" He snapped to attention when he saw Argus. "Sir!"
Art supplies clattered to the ground as the soldiers and troopers saw Argus and the Admiral. They jumped up and stood to attention.
The Admiral came forward and bellowed, "What on earth is going on?"
Reya, who was the culprit for this impromptu drawing lesson, came towards them. "It was my idea, Admiral." There was no sign that she was intimidated by the Admiral or his bellowing.
The Wolf's mouth opened in happiness when it saw she was fine. "Reya-mate," it said proudly.
Reya looked at him with a curious expression in her eyes and the Admiral stared at him as if he had lost his mind. "What did you say?"
Argus really wished this day would end. He took as deep a breath as his expanding lungs could take, which was quite a lot, and let it out slowly. Introducing the Wolf to the Admiral was not on his list of things to do today. There was only one way to salvage this. "I meant to introduce you earlier, Admiral. Reya is my bond-mate. I mean, we will be."
The Admiral clapped him heartily on the shoulder. "Congratulations, my boy! It's about time you took the plunge!" Argus squelched a groan of agony at the assault on his injured limb.
With teeth clenched, he said, "Yes…about…time."
"It won't be that bad," said Tarkov, mistaking his stress for the agony of the impending bonding ceremony. "I'll even officiate, if you'll have me. I do have that authority on my ship."
Argus was aghast. "Officiate?"
Rrr? asked the Wolf, more in query than the unbecoming shock that was currently gripping Argus.
"You do plan to have a bonding ceremony, don’t you?" asked the Admiral.
"I…well…never thought…" Argus was at a loss for words and he swayed unsteadily on his feet, though later he would swear it was because of his shoulder injury.
Reya put her arm around him in support, carefully avoiding the dislocated shoulder. "We don't have to have one."
"No!" Argus said in panic and winced. "You deserve one, Reya. I'll do it even if it kills me."
Reya said, "I didn't know bonding ceremonies were considered dangerous."
Argus was horror-stricken. "No! I meant, nothing could stop me from bonding with you."
The Wolf asked, Is one nervous?
One sounds nervous.
Argus added, "Not that anyone would.""Then we're settled," said the Admiral. "We'll sort out this mess. Take care of the injured and then we'll have a bonding ceremony, a celebration of your union together."
"I could see everything," said Cally as she lay in the crook of Avon's arm. It was warm and comfortable there. She sighed and snuggled closer. "But I couldn't do anything. It was frustrating."
It seemed a long time since they'd been together in their cabin, with no dangers lurking around the corner. Avon's mind was relaxing, he was slowly, and consciously opening up to her, like the petals of a flower greeting the sun.
"You did a great deal." Avon ran his fingers lightly along her arm, enjoying the velvety feel of her skin and trying to commit every line and bump to memory, as he had done with the details of the ship. Removing one sense enhanced the others and the sensation of touch, more than the others, gave him a sense of solidity and reality. "If you hadn't forced the contest with the Thaarn, we would have all died or worse." He traced lightly along her shoulder, lingering there at the curve. "Though relying on me to win the contest was somewhat hopeful if not slightly insane."
"I knew you could do it." She wriggled around to face him. The bristle on his face scratched pleasantly against her fingers as she caressed his cheek. "You understood the Thaarn's technology."
"It was fortunate we had ORAC. Or rather ORAC's parts. It uses the same wave frequencies that you use for psi communication."
"You used it to send a feedback signal?"
"It was fairly easy. The hardest task would have been to produce the correct wave signature and ORAC's parts took care of that." He felt for the fingers resting on his cheek and touched them to his lips. "I didn't want to hurt you but I had no choice. It was the only way to defeat him."
Cally leaned forward and brushed her lips lightly on his in a feather-light kiss. "It's alright, Avon." The warmth of each other's breaths mingled and joined, connecting them, like a prelude or perhaps a promise of what was to come. "How did you make the Thaarn's ship visible?"
"There was a seventy percent probability that he adapted his energy isolation technology in the development of the anti-detector screen. Using proven technologies you are familiar with is quite common, even for would-be gods."
"You mean you relied on luck?"
Avon bristled slightly in annoyance. "I relied on calculated odds."
"Isn't that the same thing?" Cally let a wave of amusement flow towards him.
Avon relaxed. She was teasing him. "It isn't remotely the same thing," he said in mock indignation. "Luck is blind." He paused as he realized the irony. "Given the circumstances, perhaps I did rely on luck."
Avon suddenly bent forward and kissed her with unexpected passion. Their arms wrapped around each other, pulling them tighter together, igniting the heat they had been holding back.
Cally had to break away for a moment in order to breathe. Avon carried on, hungrily kissing her lips, the corners of her mouth, her eyelids, leaving a trail of inflamed flesh.
"We should do this tomorrow. You're tired," she suggested even though her body was screaming for him to continue.
He pulled back and his inner 'eyes' opened to look deep into hers. Cally gasped in surprise and a shiver of pleasure passed through her.
Avon said in a husky whisper, "I will be tired tomorrow."