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Jagati became vaguely aware she was lying down, and that her leg hurt, which sent a rush memory back into her head.
Her eyes popped open and in one move she swung up to sit, only to come face to chest with John, who was sitting on the edge of the cot.
Eyes set determinedly on what was directly in front of her, she frowned. Clearly, she had passed out from loss of blood down in the cargo bay, and that had made her imagine things. Things like John’s arms around her and the spark that hit when his lips...
“Back,” John interrupted the (it had to be) hallucination by setting a hand to her shoulder and giving a push that, while gentle, had her plopping back to the pillow. “Rory cleaned the wound, but not fast enough to avoid infection. You’re on bedrest until the antibiotic gel finishes its job.”
The ubiquitous stream of muttered curses vented her opinion on that before she allowed her (narrowed) eyes to finally make contact with his. She hated lying around doing nothing. Hated it enough that her mind started working out potential loopholes to the proscription which, conveniently, pushed worries about hallucinatory kisses to the back of her brain (where they could sit and think about what they’d done).
“You’re worried about missing all the excitement, aren’t you?” he asked, apparently developing the same Sensitivity Eitan swore she possessed.
“Not quite how I would put it.” The grumble was accompanied by her arms crossing over her chest. Yes, yes, I am twelve.
His head tilted to the right. “How would you put it?”
“Being concerned that while the Errant is filled with people trying to kill everyone, you’re down a hand?” Her lids dipped further as she studied him. No indication of affection, no hint of desire, nothing from John’s quarter. Definitely a hallucination.
“Which might be a valid objection,” he said with a nod of understanding. “Except said people are no longer aboard.”
“What? When?” She started to sit up, but at his raised eyebrow settled back with a grunt. “What have I missed?”
“Quite a bit.” He smiled and patted her arm like some smogging medic.
“We left Galileo and company at Lycos Keep. You’ve been out for over twelve hours.”
“I what?” She struggled upright again. “It was nothing. A smogging puncture...”
“It was not nothing,” he countered, pushing her back again. And while his tone remained light, looking more closely, she could see the dark circles under his eyes and the lines of strain in his face. “You lost a great deal of blood, plus the infection, plus you hadn’t fully recovered from the altitude sickness before heading outside to retrieve the calculator.” He paused, took a breath, released it. “You were a mess, and we were lucky the Keepers had a trauma specialist on staff and enough antibiotics to spare the gel for you.”
Jagati crossed her arms over her chest again and grunted. “Getting old.”
“No more than the rest of us.” He patted her arm again. “So, do you want to lie here and sulk? Or would you like to hear why we’re not being ‘shipped to the Barrens for dealing in illegal tech?”
She looked up into his honest face and let a smile tug at the corner of her mouth. “Didn’t even cross my mind; figured you could honey-talk us out of anything.”
“As much as I appreciate the sentiment, as it happens, I didn’t need to say anything. And we can thank Tariq for that,” he said, then, as her jaw dropped, told her what had happened at Lycos, and who Tariq really worked for.
“His mother?” she said as his story wound to a close. “I didn’t think he had one.”
“Ha,” John replied.
“I’m serious!” But she was also, unaccountably, nervous. “So, what happens to them now? Galileo and his drones?”
“I’m assured Senior Hive Master Shohreh will handle the details, but I imagine Mary, Colin, and Ysabel will face some jail time. Either that or they’ll end up working for Shohreh.”
Jagati made a pfft noise and waved her hand. “I can’t see a Hive Master taking on a pair of mercs and a woman more interested in starbucks than loyalty.”
“I don’t know.” John’s expression went distant. “Master Shohreh is nothing if not practical. Plus, think about it—any sort of incarceration would require a trial…and testimony. What if one of them talked about the calculator?”
She frowned, wanting to object. On principle alone she wanted to see the wrongdoers suffer, but he had a point.
“A’ight,” she said as she shrugged, “that covers the three lackeys, but what about the mastermind?”
“Galileo will remain under Keeper care,” he said, his expression neutral, but the mixture of anger and regret fell over her like a nail blanket on a hot, tarry night, first stealing her breath and next making her curse this newfound (or at least, new-admitted) Sensitivity. If there were any justice on Fortune, she’d be able to rid herself of it, or bury it, or—
“And,” John continued, cutting into her thoughts, “I don’t believe Galileo is the mastermind.” At her questioning look, he recounted the theory shared with Shohreh.
“So what you’re saying is there’s someone else out there with the desire and the means to build another of those smogging calculators.”
“It’s only a suspicion,” he began.
“Your suspicions are another captain’s facts,” she said, fluttering a hand in dismissal. “Rory used to make book on them, back on the Kodiak,” she added as her hand flopped down on his thigh.
“Yes.” He smiled. “I knew about that. I turned a blind eye... didn’t want to ruin their fun.”
“Of course you did.” She shook her head and gave him a half-mast stinky eye.
He met the stinky eye with a warm glance before letting his gaze drop to where her hand rested on his leg.
After a stutter of heartbeats he raised his eyes to meet hers, but still he said nothing. Just watched her with the calm patience that, on the one hand could provide comfort and on the other, drive a person crazy.
The silence shifted from companionable to not in a few breaths.
“What?” Her tone was irritable. “Have I got something on my face?”
“Nothing. It just so happens I enjoy your face. I particularly enjoy seeing it after it’s been kissed. Then again, it was only the once I got that particular view, and then you passed out, so perhaps the expression wasn’t a response to the kiss but lack of blood—”
“Oh.” So not a hallucination. “Ummm…”
“Take your time,” he said with obvious amusement.
“Let me tell you what I’ll take—”
A knock at the doorsill cut her off, and both she and John turned to see Rory stepping in. “Sorry t’interrupt—whatever—but John, we’ve a transmission from Nike, from Colonel Quinn. He’s asking for you.”
“Of course,” John said, and looked down at Jagati, who’d removed her hand from his thigh the second Rory appeared. “Get your rest,” he told her, rising from the cot and crossing to join Rory at the door. There he stopped and looked back. “By the way...about what we were not discussing just now?”
“Yeeaah?” Her tone was a little befuddled and a lot wary.
“The queen’s in your net.”
With that, and a nod for Rory, he was gone.
Rory watched him leave before turning to the impatient patient. “He’d be talking about the kiss, wouldn’t he? Because it was quite the—”
“Are you testing to see if I’m healthy enough to slug you?”
“No, nope, not at all.” Silence descended, hunkered in for the duration until, “How are you feeling then? Thirsty? Or hungry? Because Jinna’s whipped up a cracking fine meal. I could go and fetch you a plate…” His thumb jerked over his shoulder and his body tilted doorward, as if eager to escape.
Ignoring the unaccustomed heat that flooded her face, Jagati did not look up. “Get. Out.”
“Consider me gone,” he said, diving out the door.
She barely had time to take a breath before he popped back in. “Only, you’re not to get on your feet. So if you need anything, be sure to use the—”
“Out!” A roar from a bear-dog would have been no match for the single shout.
“I’m out,” he said, and fled.
The fist she’d made started to relax.
“Only,” Rory’s head reappeared, “I’m hoping you’ll give the man a chance.”
Jagati’s inarticulate growl was accompanied by a water pitcher that, lucky for everyone, was empty, and luckier for Rory, he dodged just before it bounced off his head.
“Yes, of course, you’re right,” he said, “I’ll just,” he picked up the rolling pitcher, backing out of sight.
She waited, but this time heard only the sound of boots receding in the corridor, telling her that this time he really had departed.
Jagati lay back, took a breath, and tried to process—whatever.
“Hey,” she heard Jinna’s voice from the door. “John passed by the galley and said you were awake, so I brought you dinner…”
The stream of curses emitting from the room made Jinna decide that the patient wasn’t hungry, or even if she was, she was not in the mood to eat.