Argus felt much better. Or rather, he didn’t feel like dying, the Wolf was no longer howling and whimpering inside his head – who knew the creature was such a wimp when it came to hangovers (grrrr) – though he couldn’t feel anything above the neck. He wasn’t sure if that was a good sign but he was glad the pain was gone.
He studied himself in the reflective surface, straightening the collar, needlessly brushing the sleeves and breathing deeply. The dark navy dress uniform with mandarin collars and fringed in silver, courtesy of Reya, was an Athol one with Commander markings.
I can do this. He took in a deep calming breath, determined to do his best for Reya.
“How do you feel?” she came to stand beside him, slipping her arm around his waist as she studied their reflections. She was in a similar uniform and her face had a slightly modified look of the makeover with more subdued colours.
“Like my first day on parade.” He hugged her closer and marvelled how perfectly they fit together.
“I know you’re nervous.”
“I haven’t managed to say anything wrong yet at least.” There was a wry grin on his face.
She leaned her head on his shoulder. “You’ll do fine.”
“You would say that even if I fell flat on my face.”
“I’m nervous too.”
Argus’s brows lifted. “You?”
“It’s a big responsibility.” The warmth and solidity of his body made Reya feel as if they could face anything together.
“Should I lose some weight?”
Reya smiled. “Don’t change anything.”
“Not even my tendency to put my foot in my mouth around you?”
“That’s one of your many endearing qualities.”
Argus sighed and turned to look into her eyes. They were a great deal softer today than they normally were. “You’re wonderful.”
“That’s the alcohol talking.”
She gave him a playful punch on the arm. "Ouch."
The door chime sounded. A muffled voice said, “Commanders, its time.”
They walked side-by-side, automatically in step, to the bonding hall. Lt. Dain had gone on ahead to set things in motion.
Reya looked down at their matching booted feet. "We're marching."
Argus looked down too as they rounded a corner and the wide double doors of the hall appeared at the end of the corridor. "Yes?"
She sighed. "Nothing." They were both life-time soldiers, it was natural.
His hand reached for hers as they neared the doorway. Lt. Dain, who looked very handsome and serious in his own uniform, was waiting for them.
"Can't we go in together?" asked Argus, whose stomach was doing somersaults.
He sighed. "I don't like tradition." The Wolf sniffed in agreement.
"It's only for a few minutes." She squeezed his hand before she let go. "Lt. Dain."
Dain stood at attention, gave them the Athol military salute of fist over heart, and bowed. "Commanders. It's an honour sirs. I wish you both light in the darkness and hearts that are forever young."
"That's much appreciated, Lieutenant." Reya acknowledged the Athol blessing and returned one in reply. "And may you find your own light."
Dain nodded formally.
"That's nice, Dain. I never knew you were a poet," said Argus.
"He's an artist," said Reya.
Dain cleared his throat in embarrassment. "I wouldn't know about that, sir."
"Yes, I remember the art lesson in the cargo hold." There was a light teasing grin on Argus's face.
"I think, they're all waiting for you, sirs." The tips of Dain's ears were starting to take on a reddish tinge. "We'd better go in."
Argus took a deep breath, held it for a few seconds and let it out slowly. "Let's do this then." He took Reya's hand and pressed his lips to it. "I'll see you on the other side."
A hush descended over the packed cargo hold as Argus and Reya appeared on opposite sides of the room, ready to begin a walk that would bring them together in the centre. On a raised platform stood Admiral Tarkov in full military dress, the front of his uniform a sea of colourful campaign and honour ribbons. The room was draped in light and dark blue fabrics, with bits of silver glinting like bright stars.
The crew stood as one as the sombre music began and the two Commanders walked towards the platform. Their eyes were only for each other as all eyes were focused on them. Shadows danced merrily along the walls in celebration.
Argus and Reya reached the platform together, hands reaching out for each other as if they were magnets naturally drawn together. A peal of bright bells tinkled when their hands touched. It was a moment of truth that made everyone draw in bated breaths.
They ascended the few steps, two strong individuals already joined together, a formidable bulwark against the coming storms. At the top they faced the Admiral, their eyes gleaming with anticipation.
Cally and Avon sat in the front and she conveyed the details to him as they occurred.
* They're handsome together. I wish you could see them, Avon. They're both wearing the navy blue and silver uniform of Athol. *
* Appropriate. *
The Admiral raised his hands above their heads. "Please be seated."
Everyone took their seats, their eyes intent on the platform.
"I have known Drel Argus for a long time. He is an honourable man. A brave man. A leader of men. Very few can stand against him and win. But most of all, he is a man of compassion and integrity who would be the first to rush to anyone's aid."
Avon remarked to Cally, * Another idealistic dreamer. *
* You mean, like Blake? Is that why you like Argus? *
He turned his head towards her. * I don't believe 'like' was in my description. *
* Wait a moment. * Cally's 'eyes' opened up inside Avon's head and blinked. * You knew Argus first. You were drawn to him from the beginning. Is that…* Her eyes were deep in thought. *…why you believed in Blake? Despite your conflicts with him? *
* You are surmising I was subconsciously 'looking' for Jack? Interesting theory. *
* And your constant conflict with Blake was because of the ways he wasn't like Jack. *
* An unsubstantiated theory at best. *
* You're not saying it's an improbable one? *
* Anything is possible. *
The Admiral continued, "I don't know you Commander Reve but from the little Argus has told me, you appear to be a legendary creature who couldn't possibly be real." He smiled on them both with fondness. "But from my own observations, you are a perfect match. You are people of strength and integrity and your love for each other is true. So it is my pleasure to perform this bonding ceremony for you."
Kirsten sat in the second row with Sester. Occasionally she would glance over at his reaction but his face gave away nothing. He seemed amused, but then he usually did.
Vila and Corinne sat near them, their hands joined and eyes glistening. She leaned against him.
"Reya Reve and Drel Argus. These are my words of blessing and bonding for you." The Admiral's voice was grave but there was affection in his eyes. "May your lives be graced with good health. May you always find happiness in your journeys. May you be a refuge for each other from the storms of life. May your love grow ever stronger as you share your lives together, and may your future be even more wonderful than you dreamed possible."
He paused and nodded to Argus.
Argus took Reya's right hand and placed it over his heart. "Reya, I offer myself to be bonded to you. You are my better half. The greatest joy of my life. You are the light in my darkness, without you, my life would not be worth living. All I have is myself. It's not much but it is all yours if you'll have me."
Reya took Argus's other hand and placed it over her heart. "I do." She squeezed his hand. "Argus, I offer myself to be bonded to you. I never thought I would be able to find anyone I could give my life to. I never expected that someone like you could exist. You make me complete. With you, I feel that we can do anything and face all dangers together without fear. You make me a better person than I am. The fire of your passion inspires me. I may have many things that others may consider valuable, but in my eyes, they pale in comparison next to you. All I have and all I am, I offer up to you, if you'll have me."
Argus felt the start of a howl at the base of his throat and squashed it before it could emerge. His eyes seemed to be having trouble focusing, Reya's face was slightly blurry. "With all my heart."
One's eyes are wet, said the Wolf.
No, they're not.
The Admiral announced, "Then by the authority invested in me as the senior official of a ship in space, I declare that Reya Reve and Drel Argus are bonded. And if anyone dares tear them apart, they will answer to me."
The room erupted in cheers and shouts of elation as everyone rose to their feet, throwing bright streamers high into the air that burst into a rainbow of colours. Eyes were moist with tears of joy and everyone rushed forward to congratulate the happy couple.
The Wolf lifted its head and let off a full-throated howl of joy that filled the room and echoed through the corridors of the ship.
---------- THE END ----------
Next Story: Tingash