Title: Oasis Cycle ch 2: "Collision Courses and Shoulder Scars"
Author: falsechaos
Email: falsechaos@mail.com
Rating/Warning: PG-13. Much tamer than the first. But it has more of a plot. ^_^
Notes: Formerly posted under alias "Ayame Daae." Account got eaten. Ayame died quietly in her sleep and falsechaos took over her body. Old stories now posted in new account. Goodie.

=====

The coarseness of the blankets startled him. He rolled a fold of the fabric between educated fingers. Cotton. Untreated. He opened his eyes a bare slit and winced at the sudden presence of light. Dull brown. It kept him warm and held no pretenses at doing anything else. Functional. Utilitarian. In short, nothing he would go near knowingly. So there for, he was not in his mansion or at any respectable hotel that he could remember. So where was he? Metallic walls gleamed dully at him. The familiar queer tug at his sternum told of artificial gravity. Metallic walls. Artificial gravity. A ship. In space.

Space. Some small animal portion of his brain luxuriated in the feeling of free movement, in the scent of clean clothing and clean sheets. Space. To stretch. To move. He didn't have to worry about bumping into someone. But where was that other someone? Where was the person he was supposed to be alternately cursing and pining for? An empty space.

What's with this space thing? he wondered to himself. Space, space, space. Something important about space. The strange paradox of sudden appearance and sudden absence of. Space to move. No space staring back. No space staring back....

"Gene!" Fred yelped the name and jerked upright. The sudden change in position made his head spin. He groaned and placed the palm of his hand on his forehead. Where was he? The silence in the small room made him uneasy. Fred swung his legs over the edge of the bed. He yelped again ("Eeagh!") as the soles of his feet came into contact with the cold metal of the floor.

The young merchant shivered. Cold in the ship. Goosepimples sprung up on his flesh. Fred looked around for something to cover himself with. Nothing much beside the blanket. And the tight black underwear he was currently wearing.... He plucked nervously at the waistband of the tight shorts. Nothing he would wear. Fred wrapped the blanket around his shivering shoulders. So.... He was on a ship. In someone else's bed. Wearing someone else's shorts.

He paused momentarily, musing. Fred started to snicker to himself. Gene's shorts. He was on Gene's ship, wearing Gene's shorts. He furrowed his brow. So where was the outlaw himself? And what had happened? Something tugged at his mind. A trace memory opened softly at the edge of his mind. -Flesh on flesh, the sacred sound of his beloved gasping his name....- He shook his head. Vivid dreams. It must have something to do with.... with....

"Space, of course. It always comes back to space," he said bitterly to himself. Fred sighed softly, frustrated. He tugged nervously at his earlobe. A puffy blank spot in his memory. He could remember all of the current 365 accounts that were open for transaction. He could remember the names of the children of his 50 personal bodyguards. Nasty puffy blank spot. He was trained to remember any of a thousand seemingly insignificant details. He had to, with his business. So what was with this blank spot? No, not a blank spot, not really. More of a blurring of memory. It was there. He could poke and prod the nagging half-memory much like one would poke and prod an empty tooth socket in the mouth. Something was supposed to be there. It would return in a while, but the waiting was annoying.

The door opened easily to Fred's hand. He stepped out into the narrow hallway of the Outlaw Star. His bare feet made only a soft padding as he walked unsteadily towards the bridge of the ship. Perhaps Gene would know what happened. Unlikely, given the outlaw's notoriously short attention span, but Gene had something to do with that annoying half-memory floating around in his skull. Fred tugged at the black shorts as he half-stumbled, half-tottered down the hallway. He stopped suddenly. He stared at the shorts as though some sort of parasite had attached itself about his hips. Thoughts jarred suddenly in his brain. How did I know these were.... I mean I've never seen Gene in his shorts, much as I'd like to, so how.... Fred shook his head. Gene would know.

He hoped.

Fred stepped out onto the bridge of the ship. Suzuka sat at the left side console, typing in coordinates and speaking with a quiet Gilliam. Fred cleared his throat nervously and the assassin turned to look him cooly in the eyes. "Erm, Miss Suzuka, where would Gene be?"

He noticed a slight tug at the corner of her lips. Was she trying not to smile? "He is still sleeping. Aisha and Jim are restocking supplies that we purchased at a nearby station. Melfina is preparing breakfast." Suzuka rose and brushed nonexistent dust off of her immaculate kimono. "Did you rest well, Fred Luo?"

"Yes." He paused a moment, uncertain. "That is, I think I did." He smiled a tight smile that didn't quite reach his eyes and pressed his hand to the back of his head. "So.... what happened?"

Suzuka tipped the corners of her lips in a small, private smile. "Perhaps I am not the one you should be asking." She turned back to the computer console, the conversation terminated in her mind.

Fred shivered. Even when being perfectly cordial, the woman gave him the creeps. He nodded tensely and walked off the bridge. He could hear gentle laughter and the electronic voice of the ship's AI behind him. He walked down the hallway, steadier now, and opened a random door. Supply closet. Nope. Another door. Empty bedroom. Next. Kitchen. Close enough.

"Fred!" Melfina looked up from the steaming pot in front of her and smiled. "Did you sleep well?" She laughed delicately, small roses of red forming on her cheeks. Melfina brushed a brown lock of hair away from her face. An expression of unexpected (but not quite unwelcome....) surprise fixed on her face like an exquisite mask of white jade.

"Well enough, I suppose." Fred sat down at the table, gratefully accepting the steaming mug of tea she handed him. He sipped cautiously at the brown liquid, uncertain of its quality. The merchant's eyes widened slightly with pleasure and he sipped again, relishing the feeling of warmth returning to his body. He looked up to question Melfina about it, when he saw again the mask of bemused surprise stuck on her face. Fred put the mug down slowly, forcing himself through civil motions. She knew something that he didn't. Why that normally wouldn't bother him, her acting like he knew when he didn't was starting to annoy him. "Yes?" he asked to her smiling face.

"Nothing," the navigator replied, hiccuping slightly from the restrained laughter. "Really, Fred. Nothing."

Fred frowned and turned his attention back to the tea. Silly girl. He really couldn't see what Gene saw in her. Yes, she was sweetly naive and had a delicate kindness.... But really, delicate was not Gene's type. Fred smiled ruefully at that slight turn of thoughts. Of course, how would he know? Countless advances shot down with a word of brutal kindness or a look of quiet desperation. Fred turned the now empty mug 'round and 'round in his hands. Curiouser and curiouser. Indeed.

Melfina had turned away from Fred and moved her attention back to the steaming pot in front of her. He breathed a slight sigh of relief. Deciphering the girl's odd new behavior wasn't really what he wanted to focus on at the moment. He turned his attention, instead, to that nagging spot in his memory. Bits and pieces came back to him as he sat.

-The growing fear of his friend's sharp stillness. Sudden desperation to make him respond, any way, it didn't matter, as long as he was still there.... A bitter desire fulfilled in the depths of space and some new hurt and longing put in its place. Eyes of darkest brown, snapping back into reality, staring back into his own, hungry and desperate with desire and need. Oh, those eyes....-

Melfina's voice brought him from the brink of discovery. He sighed in annoyance and turned to see the one she spoke to. Gene stood in the doorway, dressed only in (Surprised Fred? Didn't think so.... the merchant thought with vague panic) tight blank shorts. Starwind grunted a vague series of monosyllables at Melfina and sat down with a huff next to Fred. Melfina smiled that same smile of barely contained mirth and put another, similar, mug of hot tea in front of the outlaw.

Fred tensed slightly at the unexpected proximity of Gene Starwind. Why should I tense? I *do* know something.... he thought again with the same slight panic. Fred forced himself to relax.

"I need to.... that is, perhaps I should help with...." Melfina stood, helpless for the moment, before breaking off into peals of laughter. She left the kitchen with her shoulders shaking.

Fred turned a helpless look on Gene. "What is she talking about? Gene?" He blinked and poked the outlaw in the shoulder. Gene's only response was to slump over onto the merchant, snoring softly. The mug of tea in front of him went untouched. Starwind muttered something under his breath and (He isn't, he isn't! Is he...? Yes, he is, he is...!) nuzzled closer to him. Fred's breath caught in his throat. He sat for a few startled moments, the outlaw's head resting on his shoulder.

He moved slowly. He had to take care not to startle the young man out of his slumber. Fred hoisted the still snoring outlaw up, a firm hand gripped about his arms, and drug him towards the room where Fred had awakened. Gene's only response as they awkwardly navigated the narrow hallway was to grunt softly at those times when he was propped against a convenient wall.

The bed seemed to sing a gentle siren song, even with the coarse sheets. Fred lowered Gene gently to the bed. The outlaw snorted and curled around a pillow. Fred sat there for a moment, staring at the scarred form of his friend. Hesitantly, he reached a slender hand toward a scar that marred his friend's left shoulder blade.

"Three years ago. Sentinel III's primary spaceport." He spoke softly, and with a quiet tenderness. "You took a shot that was meant for me. You didn't yell or scream. You just took it with quiet grunt of pain. You shoved me out of the way and shot the assassin. I think that's when I fell in love with you. You didn't know who I was. *What* I was. But you took the pain that was meant for me...." Gene slept on, punctuating the near silence with small snores. "No one's ever done that. Not without wanting something in return. Even the second time I hired you. Or the third. You expected payment, but you wanted to see me survive first.... I can't tell you what that means to me."

A yawn split Fred's faint smile in half and stretched his mouth into a wide, round O. He laid down next to Gene and fumbled for a blanket. "Just for a few minutes. Then I'll go."

He was still there an hour later.