I hope he wants it, too, at some level. If I believed in Adele’s goddess, I might even pray over it. He means that much to me.
“Mine,” he repeats, deep and low. “Sometimes I feel that you’re woven into my bones. There’s a resonance when I look at you, as if from a part of me that’s missing . . . and it won’t let me walk away, not even when I want to.”
“So you’re in this?” I can’t hide the tremor in my voice.
I don’t even try. “You’re not going to Nicuan when this is over. To live like a king?”
He shakes his head slowly. “Not unless you’ll be my queen.”
“Well, I do look better than anticipated in the ceremonial robes.”
March smiles. He’s not back, not entirely. He’s on the cusp, I think, and his recovery will depend on so many factors that it boggles the mind to try to factor them. But for the first time, I feel a glimmer of real hope.
“You want to tell me what had you so twisted up at the party?”
My expression triggered the mental touch, I realize. He saw my face, and he went in instinctively, as he’d always done, when he realized there was something wrong. I touch him on a reflexive level, somewhere beyond conscious thought, and that’s how I’ll save him, too.
“Do you think you could stand to hold me?” I make the request nakedly, as I would never have done before. But I’ve made peace with needing him, and right now, I need his heat and strength more than ever before.
I’m not insulted when he has to think about it. “If you don’t make any sudden moves, it should be all right.”
I tell myself I’m not worried about this at all. He’d never hurt me. After all, he’s had ample opportunity. “Then let’s go to bed.”
With only a slight hesitation, he takes my hand and leads me through to the bed. I’m painfully grateful to have even this much of him back. This is where secrets are shared and empires crumble, not in secret meetings but in darkened bedchambers.
“Jax,” he murmurs, and it sounds like an endearment.
“Can you find another way? I don’t think I can handle the frustration.”
He’s talking about how I said I intend to tease him to jump-start his emotional responses. I still think it’s a good idea, but he knows how he feels better than I do. If he says he can’t handle it, I’ll find another path.
I don’t undress all the way. Earlier, I meant it when I said no sex until he could say he loved me and mean it, but I won’t torment him on purpose since he’s asked me not to. When we’re both in our underclothes, we slide beneath the blankets. He pulls me to him slowly, and I stay still, unsure of how much movement he can tolerate without feeling threatened. Mentally, he may be certain I pose no danger to him, but that won’t stop his reflexes from kicking in if I hit the wrong trigger.
His arms feel strong and sure. My breath comes out in a soft sigh as his familiar scent washes over me. I close my eyes and begin a quiet recitation of what I overheard. March listens in silence.
“So,” I conclude, “it sounded like they might be planning to kill me. But they never said that outright. All I know for sure? Something bad is going down in two days.”
“I wish I could get you the hell out of here,” he mutters.
I smile, wistful. “Me, too. But that’s not an option.” I sum up what Tarn said in his message earlier. God, it feels good to share stuff with him again.
Beside me, he tenses. “Mary. This isn’t going to be enough, Jax. Whatever Tarn thinks or hopes, the Ithtorians as allies are not going to warn off regular raiders, let alone the Syndicate or Farwan loyalists. They might give pause to the Morgut, but frankly we don’t have any guarantee of that either. We should be out there, marshaling our forces, not wallowing in diplomatic bullshit.”
“That’s the soldier in you talking.”
“Baby, I’m mostly soldier, even on my best day. I’ve spent too many turns mired in mud and blood for it to be otherwise. If you wanted a sweet talker, you should have looked elsewhere.” His hands smooth over my head, investigating the pins that keep my hair in place. He pulls them out, one by one, in a gesture that’s silently proprietary.
I grin. “As I recall, I tried. You would’ve killed Hon if I’d gone through with it.”
There’s no humor in his voice. “Without a doubt.”
There’s surely something wrong with me because I enjoy a purely atavistic thrill from that certainty. He’d kill for me, no question. And I like it.
We drift off with no solutions between us, and that’s all right. The warmth feels heavenly, as if I can face anything with him beside me. For the first time since I found him sitting in that dark room, I feel like he might be coming back to me. After tomorrow’s merchant summit, I’ll play some more of Mair’s logs. Using the clues she left behind, almost as if she knew I’d need them, I’ll help him find the way back.
In the silence of my head, I say: I love you, March. Always.
Though I don’t realize I’ve drifted from waking to sleep, I must have because the world turns to darkness and fire. I can’t breathe, lungs burning with oxygen deprivation.
I wake with both his hands wrapped around my throat.
His eyes look weird and wild, too much shine.
I struggle. The fragile flesh at my throat starts to give way, and black spots dot my vision. I buck upward and kick out, but fighting back only seems to make him more determined to kill me. He doesn’t realize it’s me. In his head, he awoke with an enemy in his bed, but that won’t stop my lights from going out for good.
I go limp and, with the last scraps of coherence, try to imagine touching his mind as he does mine. Red washes over me, as if I’ve done it, but it could be because I’m dying. But no, rage and turmoil accompanies the mental touch. That’s not how I feel. I’m scared shitless. I can’t speak, clawing at his hands in movements that gradually slow.
March, no. Stop.
His hands loosen. Did he hear me?
Through my spotty vision, I can see when his self-awareness returns. With a sound sharp with self-loathing, he springs away from me, poised like a wild animal unsure how it wound up in human skin. I roll off the bed on the other side onto my knees while pulling air into my tortured throat. My forehead drifts down to the cool mattress, resting while I luxuriate in the ability to breathe. Though he warned me, I feel shell-shocked—and if I’m honest—a little betrayed. I thought there was something between us, something so deep that it would safeguard me from this kind of damage.
My head swims, so I stay down for a little while, waiting for the fuzzy feeling to fade. I’m also waiting for March to say something, but what the hell covers a moment like this? “Sorry” seems a bit slim somehow. The most he could do is say “I told you so,” which would only make things worse. I hate admitting he was right.
He could kill me in his sleep.
I don’t know how to comfort him, or if I can. Hell, I could use some reassurance myself. I don’t know what I would have said, but when I look up, the door that connects his room to mine is sliding shut. Part of me wants to run after him and demand . . . something—and another part is glad there’s now a door between us. Please don’t let this become a precedent. Him walking away and me letting him.
Once the shock wears off, I stagger to my feet, cursing my own ignorance. I’m flying on instinct here, and it obviously doesn’t replace experience. March needs a fully trained Psi adept to help him, and maybe a professional psych, too, but he doesn’t like the latter any more than I do, and we don’t have much chance of finding the former.
This probably undid any progress we might have made. Now he’ll go back to believing he’s broken beyond all hope of repair and counting down the minutes until he can walk away for good. He might even be bouncing messages to his merc buddies right now, feeling out the situation on Nicu.
I check the time and find that it’s hours before daylight. Unlikely that I’ll get back to sleep, so I pad out to the living area, where I find Constance jacked into the terminal. She must have finished with Vel and returned to our suite at some point. Motion sensors kick her out of sleep mode, and her eyes open to regard me with the uncanny alertness that reminds me she’s not human.
“Do you require assistance, Sirantha Jax?”
“Maybe.” My throat throbs.
I pad back to the bedroom to snag the thin blanket, then return to curl up on the sloping settee thing. Wrapping up helps a little, driving back an internal chill that says I’ve lost him more surely than when he stayed on Lachion to fight. In the half-light, my gaze fixes on my PA, but I don’t really see her.
There’s enough left of the old March that he’ll want to make sure he never hurts me again, even if that takes putting light-years between us. And I won’t chase him. Once he walks away, it’ll be for good; I don’t give second chances. Kai would have said that once crossed, I’m as forgiving as the wall you hit at two hundred kilometers an hour.
He’d have been smiling when he said it, of course. He knew my faults—and loved me anyway—but there was a thread of steel in him. He put up with a lot from me, but I always knew exactly how far I could push him. A steely glint would come into his green eyes when I passed the point, and he’d say, “Are you no longer happy with me, Siri? Forget the minor stuff. Are you unhappy?”
I knew what he meant by that. If I was miserable on a grand scale, then we would have reached our expiration date as a couple. The primary thing I learned from Kai was the importance of free will outweighing hollow promises. I really believe if I had ever said to him, “Yes, I’m unhappy” and meant it as more than a complaint about some small annoyance, he would have opened his hands and set me free, no matter how he felt about the state of our relationship. That was the magic of him . . . and the madness.
It’s difficult to live with someone like that. Sometimes he felt like a wisp of light that I had no hope of holding. I could only watch the shine glide along my skin, knowing it was destined to disappear.
Unless I want the same thing to happen with March, I have to find some way to bring him back. I’m tired of losing people. It’s not normal for a jumper. We’re the ones who live hard and die young.
Right now, that sounds pretty damn tempting.
I miss grimspace, but it’s a bitch mistress. Each time we jump, navigators are exposed to extreme conditions that fry the brain slowly. Even with those inherent risks, the way I feel right now, a good, hard jump would be the best thing for me.
I’ve been taking my injections, so my bones have shored up, but when I reach critical mass, there’s no telling how the weird repairs will affect my body. It pulls vital components from other systems to rejuvenate grimspace damage to my brain. That’s how I wound up with a bone deficiency in the first place. Next time, it could ravage my heart or my lungs, and I’d die too fast for a transplant. Without a regulator to ensure a minor system is tapped, there’s no guarantee I can survive even one jump.