In the end, John skipped the drink.
Best, all around, he decided, what with the local constables wanting answers.
Answers, he knew, neither Jagati nor Eitan liked but, given that only Pascal had the vaguest idea why the stranger had attacked Soshi, playing ignorant wasn’t so very far from the truth.
We’re berthed at the air dock, waiting out the storm.
No, I’ve never seen the man before.
Yes, Pyotr acted in haste, but he had no choice.
Most of that, for most of the crew, was true enough.
Pascal, of course, knew more, but stuck with the theme of shock and horror, assuming the man was snow mad or some such, for who would want to harm Soshi?
And Eitan, who seemed to have actually known the dead man, explained he thought he’d recognized him as a friend from the war, but had been mistaken.
Their statements didn’t shed much light on the situation, but the officers were satisfied that no one from the Errant had done anything other than their best in a bad situation. And, as Kallik’s quick action had saved Soshi’s life, they were all released, with the gratitude of the local police force and a bottle of Keld’s vodka.
Keld, John noted, had also lingered some as he said goodbye to Kallik.
By the time they left the tavern, the storm had finally abated, the shredded clouds revealing an expanse of stars along with the moons lighting their way back to the airfield.
The cold was sharp as glass, the only sounds their boots crunching in the snow.
John sighed, his breath turning to fog, and hoped Soshi would recover completely.
He wondered what sort of intelligence she’d meant to pass to Pascal, and where said intelligence might have ended up, as there had been nothing on the body but another knife, a garrote, and a flask.
All of which meant the man couldn’t have traveled far on foot.
Which meant he’d been staying in Upsilon, or had arrived on another airship, as the trains didn’t run this far north, and the river was currently frozen.
John further wondered which of the Colonies’ many enemies Conn worked for, then he glanced at Eitan, striding forcefully through the airfield gates, and decided to leave those wonderings to Pascal.
He was more than relieved when they reached the Errant, still softly bobbing at anchor and, with Rory’s aid, hauled open the starboard hatch.
They’d barely stepped into the ‘ship when Kallik insisted on taking both Pyotr and Eitan to the sickbay.
“It is only a graze,” Eitan told them, repeating the assertion he’d made in the tavern.
“And a teeny bump to my head,” Pascal added, once again using Pyotr’s Stolichnayan accent.
“Odd,” Kallik said, “I don’t see anyone else here with a medical degree.”
“I’d listen to them,” Rory added. “Plus, all four of you should do a frostbite check, seeing as you were out in that cold longer than is wise.”
“If I didn’t get frostbite in the damn ‘ship over the last few days, I don’t have it now.” Jagati grumbled, but still she pressed at her nose before stomping up the ladder, leading the way to the third deck.
John went last, and found her standing in the passage, herding everyone aft.
She bared her teeth at him, then turned and headed to sickbay, leaving John to follow.
As he entered the Errant’s infirmary, he was reminded how small the space was, most of the space taken by the three beds lined against the bulkhead.
Kallik shed their coat, tossing it onto the lone surgical stool, then pointed to the beds. “The both of you, sit,” they said to Eitan and Pascal. “Rory?”
“Aye?” Rory, already heading to the cupboard where he stowed the clean and suture kits, looked back. “Do ye need me t’wake your da? Or Lakshmay?”
“No, I think between us we’re good, but if you can take Pyotr, I’ll handle Eitan.” They glanced over, “And, John, can you give yourself and Jagati a frostbite check?”
“I can feel my toes, I am fine,” Jagati bit off the words quickly.
“Feeling them means nothing,” Kallik said, then grinned at John as they added, “Southerners.”
John grimaced, then turned to the glaring Jagati. “It won’t take long,” he said, pulling off his gloves and shoving them in his pockets. “Let’s get your boots off.”
“Oh, I’ll show you my damned feet…” Jagati muttered under her breath, as if the room were too small to accommodate her anger.
John’s own teeth gritted as she pulled off her gloves, boots, and three pairs of socks, all the while listening to the murmurs from Kallik and Rory as they attended their equally reluctant patients.
“See…see.” Jagati said, pulling her attention to a bare foot kicking up, then disappearing before her second foot waggled in front of him.
“Hold it,” John said, crouching and grabbing her ankle so quickly that Jagati almost fell on her ass.
“Don’t make me kick you…”
“Children,” Kallik cut in, while Rory utterly failed to suppress a snicker. Eitan hissed, but John suspected that had to do with the antiseptic Kallik was pouring over his wound.
John, still holding Jagati in place, shot her a look, but she was staring out the bay’s lone porthole.
As that was as close to permission as he’d get, John ran his hands over her foot, looking for patches of white and feeling for any signs of whiteness, bumps, or purpling. Her breath expelled in something between a huff and a growl when his fingers glided over the arch, making him wonder if she were ticklish.
And it occurred to him, quite suddenly, and quite warmly, that he’d never seen Jagati’s bare feet before.
It made sense, he supposed, as on the Kodiak, they were ranked officers. They’d never shared quarters, nor had they taken leave together, as a command officer always had to stay with the ‘ship while in anchor.
And after the war, after they’d purchased the Errant, well—shoes were very much required when working an airships—and they’d never gone anywhere warm enough to shed their footwear.
Even the one time Jagati had been in this very sickbay, recovering from a knife wound, she’d been well and truly covered by blankets.
Still, he couldn’t help but think it odd, that he should feel as he felt for her for as long as he had, but never have ever seen her foot, or knew if she was ticklish, or—
“What the hell, did you find an extra toe or something?”
“Clear,” he said, releasing her ankle and waiting for her to thrust her other foot violently forward.
He wasn’t disappointed, but took the same care with the second foot as he had with the first. “Hands,” he said, starting to stand, then cursed as his trick knee decided this would be the best time to trick him.
John supposed he should be grateful that, angry as Jagati clearly was, she still reached out to catch him.
He met her eyes and watched the irritability morph into concern as he steadied, and for the split second that they stood nose to nose he saw her catch her breath…
He had a moment of hope, then saw the shutters drop.
“Fercombssake, ya gonna check my hands or what?” she snapped as she gave him a shove back.
Deeply aware of the other four people in the room, John took her hands in his. “Hold up,” he said, when she began to tug herself free. “I don’t think I got a good enough view of the right hand. Your middle finger took all my focus.” Saying this, he pulled the hand closer, and ignoring the grinding sound he assumed were her teeth, spread her fingers out, running his hands over every inch, seeking any cold spots.
“How can you be so warm?” she groused as he ran his hands over her wrists. “It’s like standing next to a solar farm.”
“I’d think you’d enjoy the heat,” Rory commented.
“Enough,” she said to John, at the same time he said, “You’re all clear.”
“Fine. Great. Happy?”
Anything but, he thought. “I can do my own check,” was all he said, as Kallik’s voice rose from Eitan’s side.
“A little frostbite here,” they said, and John and Jagati both turned to see Eitan had removed both his shirt and the device in which his spring dagger was sheathed.
Kallik was laying a warming patch over a spot on Eitan’s forearm, ignoring the burn scars that ran along what remained, just as, when the young doctor moved to address the wound along Eitan’s ribs, they ignored the other scars scattered over his skin.
A light hiss from Jagati echoed John’s own feelings.
No one in the Corps walked away unmarked, but Eitan’s body told a tale of a different kind of war—one that John had only glimpsed, during Eitan’s battle with Conn.
“I’m pleased to say, you’re not only not frozen, you’ve no concussion,” Rory said to Pascal, clapping him on the shoulder. “Well done, you.”
“This will take a little longer,” Kallik murmured, breaking open the cleaning kit to address Eitan’s wound.
John turned and met Pascal’s gaze, accepted the inevitable. “Pyotr, why don’t I see you to your quarters?”
“I would be grateful,” the other man said as he slid off the bed, the patch over his temple giving him a rather rakish appearance. “It has been a most unusual—and exhausting—night.”
John felt a very Jagati-like urge to roll his eyes, which made him look at her, but she was looking at Eitan.
“Speaking of frostbite,” Rory said, disposing of the medical waste and heading to the sink to wash up. “I’d best run up to the envelope and check the anterrium cells for frost damage.”
“Good idea,” John said as Pascal passed by. “Maybe we’ll be lucky enough to raise anchor, tomorrow.”
At that, Pascal glanced up at John—clearly the operative wasn’t happy with the idea of leaving Upsilon without Soshi’s intel.
Given John wasn’t happy with the way the evening had turned out, that seemed only fair.
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