She had dozed off without even realizing it. Only waking when arms jostled her into a more comfortable position.
“She’s heavier than she looks,” Mullens grunted.
“Now I’m insulted,” Helena murmured, one hand going to her head.
“Sorry, Princess, but can’t have you sleeping just anywhere.”
Helena could have walked under her own power, but decided to allow him to keep on with his original plan. Her gut told her she could trust him. The wedding ring he wore on his finger served to cement it in her eyes.
Cracking one eye, she confirmed he was carrying her toward the escape ship. Which, although small, looked rather large crammed into the small space that was the cargo hold.
“This is where I leave you,” he said, nearly dumping her onto the deck.
“Watch it!” Kendra cried, Helena silencing further protest with her hand.
“He’s upset, I take it?”
Mullens nodded. “That was quite the bombshell you dropped.”
“You can’t baby them forever.”
“It’s also wrong to jam his safety harness.” Mullens crossed his arms over his chest. “We had to cut him out, only to discover loose pieces within the casing.”
“I won’t lie. I have some, shall we say, emotional problems. Anger issues, if you will.”
Kendra cleared her throat as she stubbed her toe at the deck plating. ‘That’s putting it mildly…’
Helena flicked an eyebrow in disgust. ‘Thank you.’
“I just can’t allow him to get too close to me,” she said. “He needs to keep his distance.”
“I get what you’re saying. I really do. It’s just that he’s been worried about you ever since that burn-shit nearly killed him. Obsessed, almost. Then you appear out of nowhere. What did you expect him to do? Shrug it off?”
“Since you’re his friend, and his best friend at that, I beg you. Keep him away from me.”
“Why should I do you any more favors?”
“Because my so-called family would kill him if they ever learned of his existence.”
Kendra crept closer, clinging to Helena’s arm. ‘Don’t,’ she begged.
“His family went to great lengths to keep him in the dark. He’s incapable of things preschoolers have proficiency in, never mind things an adult should have been aware of since adolescence. He may have been better off to just stay in Protectorate custody. The Borderlands alone will eat him alive.”
“Then stay with him. Teach him the shit he needs to know. It’s not like you’re in any hurry to get back to where ever you came from, is it?”
Helena pursed her lips. Looking down at her feet.
Mullens laughed. “You’re afraid!” he crowed. “Of what? A Bond becoming more than a Bond?”
She enunciated her words. Poking him in the chest. Forcing him back.
“You have no idea what this is like. For me, for us,” she gestured to Kendra. “For him, either.”
“But Nick does.”
“Just go. Tell him I’m only going to be a waste of his time.”
“You can’t even bring yourself to speak his name,” Mullens sneered.
“It’s better that way.”
“No, I don’t think it is. You’re closing yourself off. Because you’re afraid.”
“Well look at you, with your fancy school degree. Think you know everything!”
“If you weren’t such a bitch, people might actually feel sorry for you.”
Helena’s smile was all teeth. Sinister. “Keep him away from me.”
“We both know you don’t mean that.”
Kendra broke away. Taking Mullens by the arm to lead him away. “Please, don’t push her any farther.”
“Whose personality is this? Yours, or hers?” A jut of his chin indicated first Kendra, then Helena. “It would be a definite improvement if you were to Blend with Nick,” called back over his shoulder.
The hatch closed behind him with a loud clang. The latch engaging.
‘Out of all of them, I think I like him the most,’ Kendra admitted, coming away from the hatch.
‘He’s a fucking Groupie.’
‘Then the Master would probably let him be. Maybe name him an Ishim.’
‘I don’t want to hear it.’
‘If it would make you happy, we could bring Nick back with us.’ Kendra’s eyes were downcast. The prospect making her sad. ‘The Master would be unable to deny him, especially if he were…’
Kendra flinched at the outburst.
Helena’s hands went to her head. Pulling at her short hair. ‘He cannot come with us.’
‘But it’s as you said, he knows nothing!’
‘Since when do you care?’ Helena demanded, eyes narrowed.
Kendra’s arms crossed over her chest. Licking her lips, she leveled her eyes at Helena. ‘Because he is one of Us, as you keep reminding me.’
‘No, he is an Other. Like us, but not one of Us.’
Kendra took her by the hands. ‘The Bond is already forming. I can feel it. You’re fighting it, like always.’
‘I will not subject him…’
‘Nick! His name is Nick!’ Kendra’s expression was incensed. ‘You can’t even bring yourself to say it!’
‘Now you are going to attack me?’ Helena demanded, pulling away.
‘I’m only trying to help.’
‘Pretend all you want, but spending time with him makes you happy. Happier than you have been since I’ve known you.’ Kendra turned away, hugging herself. ‘I am just a Seraph. Born for a specific purpose. You were never meant for me.’
Helena placed her hands on the blonde’s shaking shoulders. Slid them down her arms before pulling the young woman to her. She kissed Kendra’s neck before resting her head on her shoulder.
‘Neither of us asked for the live’s we were given.’
Kendra sniffled. Wiping her eyes as she nodded. ‘But what do we do?’
‘It’s still days before we reach the science station,’ Helena began.
Kendra made a sound of disgust in her throat. ‘Days? With that pig, whatever his name is?’
An image of Sanchez appeared in Helena’s mind.
Kendra shook her head.
Helena caught her by the chin, angling her face so they could look at each other. ‘Here’s the thing, the Science Station is planetside. Good atmosphere and everything. You’ve only ever been on ships. You’ve never experienced organic gravity!’
Kendra laughed. ‘You make it sound like magic.’
Helena gave her a squeeze. ‘You’ll think it is, too.’
Kendra was relaxing. The two of them swaying in a subconscious rhythm.
‘Gravity. Water. Air. Dirt.’ She kissed Kendra’s ear. ‘Even an ocean. We can take some time, just for us. Figure out what we’ll do.’
Excitement tinged with sadness colored the moment.
‘What about Nick, and Her?’ Kendra asked, breaking away. Turning to take Helena’s face in her hands.
‘Let’s not think about that right now,’ Helena insisted, brushing Kendra’s hair back from the her face. Tucking it behind an ear. ‘Come on.’
She took Kendra by the hand, leading her toward the escape ship.
Nick sat in a different seat. Turning the damaged buckle over and over against his thigh. Small, metal pieces rattled about inside of it.
“She broke that, with no effort?” Sanchez demanded, pivoting a folded knife between his palms.
“Appears so,” Saito murmured, making notation on a tablet.
“Small scale,” Nick said, tossing the buckle into a bin beneath the seat. “She could do worse, if she wanted.”
Mullens stomped back into the passenger space, flinging himself down into an empty seat.
“Wow, she’s two for two on pissing you off, today,” Sanchez grinned.
“I mean, seriously, she is turning out to be a real ball-buster!”
“Sergeant,” Saito spoke, his voice soft. “Do be quiet.”
Sanchez huffed, but sat down. He then unfolded the knife and began to use the tip of the blade to scrape dirt out from beneath his nails.
Mullens nodded his thanks to the Lieutenant before leaning back in the seat. Eyes closed as he turned his face upward.
Nick watched him for a minute. Mullens didn’t fluster easily. For Helena to get under his skin, she had to have gone after something personal.
“What’d she say?” he asked.
Mullens shook his head. “Don’t worry about it. She was just still all worked up from before. Pushing people away is merely a protective measure for her, that’s all.”
Sanchez smirked, leaning forward to offer his input when Saito put his hand on his face to push him back. Never looking away from the tablet in his other hand.
Nick retrieved the buckle. Returned to fidgeting it against his leg. “I hate these long trips,” he muttered.
He slouched in his seat, legs kicked out in front of him. The red light from overhead casting everything in a sickly color pallet that made it obnoxious to look at.
It would just be better if he could sleep, but his mind wouldn’t allow it.
He nudged Mullens with the toe of his boot. “Got a sedative?”
“No,” the medic and Saito answered in unison.
“There’s enough people on this ship who insist on burying their issues instead of dealing with them,” Mullens snapped.
“Yeah, besides that serum shit makes you worthless for long enough,” Sanchez added.
A glance at Saito indicated the others had spoken for him.
Nick didn’t say anything more. Just shifted about in his seat as he tried to get comfortable.
It wasn’t anger, not really.
More like resentment toward the way Helena had been put into the position she was. To be made to reveal that bit of personal pain in front of everyone.
However, she could have avoided the question. Excused herself sooner, if it was really all that painful.
Someone who wasn’t her choice… What had she meant by that?
Nick scratched at the back of his neck. His scars were bothering him more than usual, it seemed.
If she was a Delegate, and her father some sort of political Minister, more than likely she was married to someone through an arrangement that she had had no part of. So to suggest she marry Nick for convenience’s sake, was a major step out of line. An insult.
Yet, if that was the case, she would have mentioned as much. If the file Saito had in his possession hadn’t divulged the information…
Pressure was building in his ears. As if they needed to pop.
Nick worked his jaw back and forth. Up and down. Forcing himself to yawn. Yet nothing worked.
“Is something wrong with the air pressure?” he asked.
Mullens appeared to be sleeping, his mouth hanging open. Saito had finally switched off the tablet, while Sanchez was eating a protein bar.
Saito shook his head.
Nick pinched his nose. Exhaling against the blockage. Still nothing.
“Here,” Sanchez said, tossing him a protein bar.
Nick tore the wrapper open. Broke off a chunk and shoved it into his mouth. Began chewing the tough consistency.
“Thanks for the banana, you shit-head,” he slurred. Wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.
“It helped though, right?”
“I guess you’re screwed, then,” Sanchez muttered, scuffing off toward the front of the ship to check on Lee and Ratchet.
“God damn,” Nick swore, tugging on his ears.
“Try taking a walk,” Saito suggested, his expression one of patient annoyance.
“Yeah, why not.”
He stood up, stretching his arms up and behind his head. Then, taking the protein bar with him, went to the back.