I start to wonder if fixing him is beyond my ability, no matter how much I love him. Right now, I feel weird and frozen. They say wild animals belong in their natural habitat, not among people they could savage while simply following their nature. So does that mean he should return to Nicu Tertius?
Finally, I answer, “I think that’s enough for now.”
“Aren’t you going to tell me how much you love me?” His voice is mocking, acid-etched. “How much you’re dying to be with me like we used to be?”
He expects things to have changed, and right now I feel too shaken to offer convincing reassurance. But I’m too stubborn to do what he expects. So I come up on my knees and gaze up at him.
“You can love somebody without loving what they do. I wish that hadn’t been necessary, and I wish you weren’t so fucked up over it, but seeing what happened on Lachion didn’t change anything for me. Not really.” As I say the words, I’m surprised to find they’re accurate.
I haven’t touched him since I came in the room, but I still want to. I wish I felt like I could crawl into his arms and let him lose his pain in my body. At this point, I’m afraid of the route something like that would take. My love isn’t blind or foolish, and I don’t have a death wish.
But it’s not like March went on a killing spree for fun. He waged war to save the lives of people he cares about, after the McCulloughs started the conflict. Now he has to deal with the aftermath, but he won’t do it alone. He keeps trying to drive me off, but I’ll be damned if I’ll go.
He shakes his head. “Are you that desperate not to be alone?”
That hurts, but I shrug it away. “No. What we have is that good.” Not until the awareness flashes in his eyes do I realize I’ve spoken in present tense. His face softens almost imperceptibly as I go on, “I want to help. I just don’t know what to do.”
“I never had anyone love me like you do,” he whispers, almost despite himself.
I smile. “Kai taught me. The one you don’t like me thinking about? I didn’t know how to love somebody before he showed me.”
He struggles for words, his voice rough and low. “Then I think maybe I’m grateful to him instead of jealous.”
“Why would you be jealous of him?” The question slips out. “He’s gone.”
March shrugs. “He seemed to hold a part of you I could never touch.”
“Kai was a warm sunny day, and he trickled into every fiber of me. You’re more like a strong rain, but you’ve gotten inside me just the same.”
His mouth twitches. “Not lately.”
I grin, grateful he can joke at all. “Not what I meant. What were you dreaming about last night, March?”
Yeah, the night he choked me. I hope he doesn’t show me. I want him to tell me. He dragged me into his nightmares to try to change my mind about him, so show-and-tell versus voluntary sharing represent different things.
A silence follows the question, but March seems pensive and uncertain, not full of impotent anger. Finally he says, “Our patrol couldn’t get back to base one night after you left. We had to camp in the tunnels, so we split the watches. The kid on fourth shift was young, and he must’ve nodded off. I woke up with a McCullough on top of me, just barely rolled away from his knife.”
He won’t look at me as he goes on, “I choked him to death with my bare hands. When I bumped up against you in my sleep, I must’ve thought—”
“You were back there,” I finish. “In the tunnels. Because you’re not used to sleeping with me.”
“Don’t make excuses, Jax. There’s something wrong with me. I’m sure they have a name for it, something with initials, that requires me to be further medicated than I already am or . . . confined. I just don’t care anymore.”
I arch a brow. “Then why did hurting me bother you?”
That stumps him. Finally, he comes up with, “I don’t target women or children.”
But it’s more personal than that between us, and March knows it. He’s not broken beyond repair, just badly damaged and caught between memories of how we are together and the seductive pull of a life without fear, pain, or regret. I can understand the draw, but it’s not right, and I won’t yield him to it.
If only I could dive into him, the way he pulled me into his memories. Something from Mair’s logs nags at me—she stressed the importance of connections, but she could slip inside him and look around. If only I could—
“I have an idea,” I say softly. “Are you willing to try something?”
Once he would have said yes, no questions asked. Now he says, “That depends.”
“We don’t need to touch.”
“Then it won’t be much fun,” he decides aloud. “But why not?”
He seems surprised when I say, “Put your boots on. I’ll be right back.”
I’m gone before he tries to read me. I’ve been listening to Mair’s journal, hoping I’d find something to help, but everything she did is geared toward the Psi-gifted. Now I think I know how I can approximate that. I remember how she said the mind is like another world. Well, I’m an expert at exploring new worlds. In fact, at one point, I was the very best.
In my quarters, I find a long coat with a hood. I tug that up immediately. No point in drawing attention, making the Bugs wonder what the ambassador is up to so early in the morning. They’d certainly assume the worst. Most of the Ithtorians would recognize me on sight, but the other humans in our delegation don’t get so much coverage. In the hood, I might be any one of them.
By the time I return, March stands by the door, ready to go and wearing a mystified expression. Too bad. I’m not going to explain my intentions. He might balk. I’m grateful that he doesn’t pry; there’s no icy prickle that signifies he’s reading me.
We speak little on the way to the underground tram. Thankfully, the chip includes both written and spoken meanings. So I can understand the symbols now, and we make it to the spaceport without incident.
The guards on duty have been instructed to permit humans free passage within the docking area, so we board as the day lengthens into full brightness. Excitement overpowers my general weariness.
This is a much bigger vessel than I’m used to, so I have to ask directions to the cockpit twice. The skeleton crew on duty at this hour reveals little interest in our progress. From his expression, March has some inkling what I intend; but he doesn’t protest, just follows me in silence.
When we finally arrive, I find things in order, well-maintained equipment if not top-of-the-line. The controls shine as if they’ve been recently polished. Whoever jumps here takes great pride in it. That’s a good omen. With a little shiver of pleasure, I settle into the nav chair and invite him with a gesture to take his place beside me.
“I don’t think running away is the answer,” he says with amusement. “Plus, I think we still have people on world.”
Maybe he doesn’t know after all. It’s nice to know I can still surprise him.
“Wrong. We’re not running away.”
“Kinky jacked-in sex?” Now he raises a brow. Somehow he manages to sound both hopeful and dubious. Whether he realizes it or not, he’s been thawing slowly, joking with me the way he used to.
I shake my head as I power up the nav system. “Nope. Just jack in for me, okay?”
It’s a leap of faith. I can’t explain why, but I think it’ll be less likely to work if he knows what I intend to do. The human mind has natural shields, he told me once. So if he figures out what I’m planning, his will come up. He won’t be able to help it.
In response, he plugs in.
I jack in as well, and the world goes dark.
Ordinarily, March would be gearing up for a jump, checking equipment. His connection doesn’t rob him of external perception as mine does. If this were a real jump, I would sit like a blind woman waiting to feel him join me.
But this isn’t a regular session.
Thanks to wetware, the nav computer hosts our combined consciousness, and I intend to use that in a way the designer never intended. Knowing Farwan, there’s probably a warning written up in a navigation manual against trying something like this. To hell with it, I never read those anyway. I spare a curse for my ex-husband, who was in charge of safety when we met. I hope Simon’s been shanked in Whitefish by now, or at least been made somebody’s bitch. He certainly tried to make me his.
I’m reassured to find March receptive, if a touch wary. If he brings mental walls up, then I’m doomed to fail. Tentative, I reach out, seeking a union like we had when Vel chased us through grimspace. Though he doesn’t actively try to push me away, he doesn’t draw me in either. I’m going to have to work for this.
March feels remote, as if his memories don’t entirely belong to him. Most times, that’s probably a good thing. Maybe this damage is a defense mechanism, preventing him from feeling the pain. I’m sure the drugs don’t hurt either.
For a while, I let myself drift, offering quiet mental touches now and then to get him used to me again. It’s different from having him in my head; I don’t suffer the same icy burn because we share a neutral space. He relaxes by degrees, and I register the slow shift reflected in his thoughts.
I’m not there to poke around or learn his secrets. Instead, I do as Mair suggested and treat his mind like a world to explore. To aid in that, I visualize the inside of his head as if it’s part of grimspace. Now I consider what I do when I make a jump and find that the beacons are weak and don’t connect properly. His emotions, now locked away, become beacons, and I listen to their pulse. They’re faint and thready, slowly starving from lack of nourishment.
Eventually, I find them, charting his mind as if it’s a new jump. I’ve always been good at spatial relationships, translating abstract ideas into real points that can be located, and this is just another application of that ability. Soon I’ve mapped out the various control points.
Here lies motor function; over there is higher thought. Just as all beacons are linked, so should his mind be, but he has dark spots that interfere with connections being made. If I continue the analogy of looking at his damaged psyche as if it were a broken beacon, it will require energy to effect a repair. Ordinarily, that energy comes from the pilot-jumper bond and filters through me into the beacon.
Unfortunately, there’s only me. March can’t fix himself, or he’d have done it. That means I need to give twice as much. I don’t know if I can survive that. I keep my fear locked down behind small partitions he won’t notice if I’m careful.
What are you up to, Jax?
Trust me a little longer.
I remember the way he brought me nearly to climax with his mind alone. Though certain mental manipulations can be very powerful, he’s had turns to practice them. Misgivings strike. Maybe I shouldn’t be rummaging around in here; I might do untold harm. So to test myself, I find his pleasure center and envision a soft touch.