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“You’ve met?” Rory asked, easing up to his elbows and looking from the tall woman to his captain and back.
“She works for Tariq,” he explained.
“Worked for Tariq would be the operative term,” Galileo said. “Now she works for me.”
“Bet he offered her more money,” Jagati stage-whispered to John, who sighed.
Ysabel favored her with a cool glance. “Mary persuaded me to consider new employment when I escorted Colin and her away from Tariq’s home.”
“And how much did your loyalty cost?” John asked her.
“More than I’d have earned with Tariq in—”
“Enough to do her job,” Galileo interrupted, waving to Ysabel to continue.
With a shrug of acceptance she gestured to Rory who, grumbling, climbed to his feet and started for the starboard bulkhead. There, just opposite John and Jagati, someone not on John’s crew had left another set of shackles hanging from another of the bulkhead D-rings.
“Where is Colin?” Galileo asked.
“Oh good, Colin’s here, too,” Jagati murmured.
“Above decks,” Ysabel replied to Galileo’s question. “He said he had an idea.”
“That I did,” Colin’s voice called from the companionway, causing John and Jagati to angle in that direction.
“I don’t pay you to have ideas,” Galileo said.
“Technically, it ain’t you doing the paying,” Colin pointed out as he thudded down the ladder, “but not to worry, this stroke of genius is onna house.”
Which was when everyone saw Colin had brought company.
Despite Galileo’s assurances, Jinna appeared paler than her norm.
“Now everyone’ll be on their best behavior, won’t they?” Colin said, his fingers tightening over her slender wrist.
“Listen, buster,” she said on a gasp while John, Jagati, and Eitan all lurched forward, chains rattling, curses forming.
Then Rory, making a sound unlike anything John had ever heard, slipped his hand free of the shackle Ysabel had yet to fasten and rammed his shoulder into her sternum. Before she could recover her breath, he’d stolen her sword and flung himself across the deck, sweeping the blade wildly to keep Galileo back as he raced towards Colin, who fumbled to draw his shooter.
“Don’t!” John, Jagati, and a gasping Ysabel called out, momentarily united by the fear of sparks on an airship.
The combined caution was enough to make Colin hesitate and, for a moment, it looked to John as if Rory would succeed in his attack.
A thought that worried him almost as much as Colin’s gun, because Rory was no killer.
But mere steps from his goal, the short sword pulling back to strike, Rory came to a juddering halt, as if he’d run into a wall. His fingers flew open, and the sword clattered to the deck. Then his body jerked, and his breath gasped out, and then again his entire frame wracked as if someone or something were striking him, over and over and over again.
Which was when John caught on—but only because he’d been present the first time he’d seen Rory flogged.
Instinct had him searching the room for the culprit, but of course there were no whips to be seen, nor any blood spreading under the muslin of Rory’s shirt.
But there was Galileo, standing mid-deck, his eyes fixed on Rory.
Galileo, who, according to Eitan, possessed the ability to send a man back in time.
“Stop,” he said, pulling at the chain so hard that Jagati hissed. “Damn it, he’s disarmed, make it stop!”
“Leo,” Eitan added his voice. “Please. This is not who you are.”
At that, Galileo turned, his eyes blinking as he returned to the present. “Are you so certain?” But even so, as he spoke, Rory’s body gave one last, convulsive shudder, and dropped like a stone.
Jinna twisted her arm out of Colin’s grip and rushed past the flummoxed mercenary to kneel at Rory’s side.
Even as Colin strode after her, Galileo—who’d been pressing at his temple, as if it ached—dropped his hand and stepped in front of him. “She is not to be harmed,” he told the mercenary, his eyes narrowed. “As you knew.”
“I did,” Colin said. “But they didn’t.” He jerked his chin at the surrounding crew of the Errant. “Now that bluff’s bolluxed.”
“McCabe.” Kneeling at Rory’s side, Jinna’s voice was low, but everyone heard the tremor in it. “Are you all right?” She put a hand to his cheek, leaned over. “Rory…”
“Come.” Galileo stepped up and offered her a hand. “You are upset, it is not good for the babe.”
The gray eyes shot up, sparking as Jinna slapped his hand aside. “Don’t play the risto with me; I’ve already seen what you are.”
Galileo’s body tensed.
“Attagirl,” Jagati tossed in, John assumed in both solidarity and the attempt to prevent another psionic attack from their captor. An attempt for which he was grateful, as his own voice froze in his throat, iced over by a rage he recognized from six years ago, the first time his ‘ship had been stolen and his crew abused.
“Leo.” Eitan’s voice followed while, on either side of the young couple, Ysabel and Colin waited for some sign of what they should do. “We know how it was to be young, and hurting.”
Galileo’s eyes flashed up at that. “That I do,” he said. “I know it all too well.”
Silence fell as another fragment of the past lodged between the two men.
“Oy, then,” Rory’s voice slurred its way through the tension. “S’aright.” His hand rose slightly and fell again. “Everthin’s fine an’ dandy.” His eyes opened and, despite the vestiges of remembered pain, his brown eyes were clear, and for Jinna alone. “See?”
“Yes,” she said as she nodded, knuckling at the tears already falling before thumping him in the shoulder with a vehement, “Dammit, McCabe!”
“Wait! What did I do?”
“The same thing you always do.” She waved the thumping hand and thumped him again. “Putting yourself in front of the plasma for me.”
“I do not always—”
“Of course you do. You did it on the York that time my jump line frayed while I was handling a midair disarm. You did it at Allianz when you were dead sure I was about to step on a mine—as if,” she continued in frustration, “I can’t tell the difference between a mine and a mushroom!”
“Obviously Rory couldn’t,” Jagati murmured.
“I only wanted you to be safe.” Rory started to sit up.
“Really?” She pushed him back down. “Why?”
“What d’ye mean, why?” Bafflement danced over the young man’s features and John felt a stirring of pity for him.
“I mean,” she said as her hands flew out at her sides, “why?”
“Because we’re mates. I’d do the same for any of my mates.”
“Really?” Jagati whispered.
“Bollux to that,” Jinna said, borrowing Rory’s term. “Why,” she said as she leaned forward, a pale fury with fire for hair, “do you keep putting yourself between me and the wasps?”
Rory hissed and rolled to his knees, so the two were facing each other. “If ye must know, t’was all for Liam’s sake,” he said.
“Liam’s.” The name dropped like an anchor between them.
“Who’s Liam?” Colin whispered.
“Baby’s father,” Jagati whispered back. “Shhhh…”
“Aye.” Rory tried and failed to meet her accusing gaze. “For him. Because...”
“Because he was your friend,” she filled in the blank when his voice faltered. “And because you think you owe him something.”
“I did.” He looked up, his eyes more fierce than even when he’d been charging at Colin. “I do. After Nasa? I’d have been rotting in the bact-tanks or sent to the Barrens as a deserter, for I was that close to jumping ‘ship before he raised me out. So yes, I do owe him—I owe him everything.”
At that Jinna’s expression softened. “He didn’t think so.”
“No?” Rory shook his head and let out a sigh. “Well, he’d not. But he did ask me to look after you while he was gone, and then…” He said nothing and John could almost see the shadow of Liam Del fall between the two young people. “He asked that one thing of me, and then he died,” Rory finally said. “So I owe it to him to keep you safe.”
“Okay,” she said. “I understand that. Except Liam wasn’t asking you to keep me safe for him.”
“What?” Rory said, looking up. “What?”
“I’m not sure what Liam told you.” Jinna shook her head and the red-gold of her hair glowed under the overhead lamp. “But he and I were never a couple.”
“Really?” Colin snorted. “Because where I come from, a queen inna royal jelly says otherwise.”
“Do you mind?” Jinna’s eyes shot in his direction.
He held up his hands and stepped back a pace.
She turned back to Rory. “The war was over, you’d left the York almost before the treaty was signed, and we—I was lonely,” she confessed. “And one thing led to another and then it led to me getting pregnant, which sent Liam over the moons because he wanted—really wanted—to be a father. But he never wanted to be my husband. He wasn’t for me, and I wasn’t for him. I was for you. And Liam knew that.”
“But, he—you…” Rory’s face paled and reddened and paled by turns. “You never said anything about it. All this time—years! I thought the two of you mad in love!”
“And all this time, years,” she countered, “you kept throwing Liam at me and me at him. I thought you weren’t interested!”
“Because I wasn’t—it’s not—I thought I had no chance with you,” he protested. “And besides, you never said anything,” he echoed the original protest whilst rising to his feet.
“Neither did you!” she pointed out as she tried to do the same, then held up a hand so he could pull her up next to him.
“Well,” he spluttered, and shoved his hands in his pockets. “I suppose that makes us both bleedin’ stupid!”
“I suppose it does.” She tossed her head and literally bellied up to him, gray eyes snapping with fury.
“Fine!” he snapped.
“Good!” she snapped back.
“All right, then.” And now Rory’s hands came out of his pockets, and he grabbed the girl by the shoulders and yanked her in for a kiss.