John and Judy carefully made their way through dense foliage, watching closely for the insects and their nests. Their progress was painfully slow, and it took everything Judy had to keep from sprinting through the jungle to get back to the ship. As they finally made their way to the clearing, Judy spotted Maureen sitting at the dining table, intently studying the readouts on her data pad. "Mother!" she cried, running over to her.
Maureen looked up from her work. Her face visibly brightened as she saw her oldest daughter had returned safe and unharmed. "Oh, Judy, thank goodness! I've been so worried!"
"I'm fine," Judy quickly assured her. "How's Don?"
Maureen smiled. "He's much better now, dear. He's downstairs sleeping. He's going to be very tired for a while and will feel better when he is lying down, but he should be good as new in no time." She paused. "He's been asking for you every time he wakes up. He wasn't too happy when he found out what you did."
"No, I suppose he wasn't," Judy replied softly, more to herself than anything. "I'm going to go sit with him," she announced brightly. She gave her father a quick kiss on his cheek and hurried into the Jupiter.
John nodded approvingly toward her. "She really is a remarkable young woman," he told his wife. "Just like her mother. I couldn't be more proud of the way she handled herself."
"I'm proud of her, too. I hope Don sees it the same way," Maureen added worriedly.
John put his arms around her and pulled her into a hug. "Don't worry," he smiled. "They'll work it out."
Penny heard Judy coming down the ladder and went to greet her. "I'm so glad you're home, Judy!"
"I'm glad to be home. Thank you for watching Don," Judy replied.
"It was kind of scary," she admitted. "But he's much better now. I'm going to take a nap, I'm sure you want to be with Don anyway. Good night, Judy."
"Good night, Penny."
Judy quietly entered Don's cabin and pulled up the chair to sit beside him. She watched him closely, comforted by the steady rise and fall of his chest. He looked so young and innocent when he slept. She desperately wanted to touch him, to stroke his hair or hold his hand, but she was afraid she would wake him.
Finally Don's eyes fluttered open. He blinked several times before focusing on her face. "Judy," he said hoarsely. He managed a smile for her and tried to sit up, but dizziness and waves of nausea washed over him. He grimaced and tightly squeezed his eyes shut in a futile attempt to stop the Jupiter from spinning.
"Not so fast," Judy chided him as she gently pushed him back down on his bunk. "You're not ready for vertical yet."
Don settled back onto the pillows and breathed deeply while the sensations passed. "Good thing I do some of my best work horizontally," he retorted with a sly smile.
Judy smiled and shook her head. She poured him a glass of water and handed it to him. "Drink this, but not too fast," she warned. "Use the straw so you don't have to sit up."
"Thanks." Don cautiously sipped the water. He didn't want to get sick to his stomach again, but he was so thirsty. Suddenly he jumped. "The alien!" He was so happy to see Judy he'd almost forgotten what she did.
"Shhhhhh," she soothed. "It's fine. Nothing happened. I'm here now."
"She could've hurt you," he protested.
"But she didn't."
Don reminded quiet for a minute. "Judy, don't ever do anything like that again."
"That's how you say thank you?" she snapped. She knew he was sick, but she couldn't help it. His tone made her feel like a child.
"No. No. I'm sorry. Thanks," he muttered. His eyes were downcast, as if he couldn't look at her. It was almost as if he was embarrassed.
"You're welcome," she replied coolly. "And I can take care of myself, thank you."
"I know you can. I just don't want you to ever put yourself at risk for me."
"Oh I see," she seethed. "It's alright for you to sneak off to make deals with aliens or volunteer to stay behind for my safety, but I can't do the same for you? Is that what you're saying?"
"It's different," he offered weakly.
"How so?" she demanded.
Don sighed. She wasn't going to let this go. "For one thing, I have years of military training. Going into hostile situations is part of my job."
"In case you haven't noticed, we're all on this mission with you! We need to take care of each other."
"Judy, you've got to understand. I've been on my own for a very long time. I'm used to taking care of myself."
Judy stood and walked a few steps away before she said something she would regret. Why was he acting this way? She remembered how she'd felt when she'd learned Don offered to stay on the planet and how worried she was every minute he was gone. Maybe something else was bothering him. She sat down next to him.
"Don," she closed her eyes, trying to find the right words. She opened them to find Don watching her, his eyes betraying the worry and concern he felt but was trying to hide. She took his hand in hers and laced her fingers through his. "What's really going on? Why are you so angry with me?"
"Judy, I..." He looked away for a moment, trying to organize his thoughts. "I'm sorry. When I heard you had gone with that alien, it just..." He paused, unsure if he could go on.
Judy searched his face, her heart aching at the depth of the vulnerability he allowed her to see at that moment. "Don, what is it?" she urged gently.
He released a breath of exasperation. "I was afraid." His gaze was steady but uncertain. "I was just so afraid. I was afraid I was going to lose you."
Judy realized she had been holding her breath. She finally exhaled as relief washed over her. She knew how hard it was for him to admit he was afraid or to show anything that could be perceived as weakness. He was always her protector. She ran her fingers lightly through his dark hair as she unwaveringly met his gaze. "You will never lose me." She smiled sweetly and leaned over him. "I love you so much." She whispered so softly he could barely hear her. Her hand slipped behind his neck, tickling the short hairs there as she brushed his lips with hers. She was so close he could feel the heat from her skin.
"I love you, too." He looked dreamily into her eyes before meeting her lips with his own. His arms tenderly embraced her and he lost himself in their kiss. He found himself getting dizzy, whether it was because of her or the lingering effects of the creature's sting he didn't know or care. When they finally parted, he licked his lips, savoring her taste as she watched him from mere millimeters away.
"You need to get some rest," she ordered playfully. She ran her fingers through his hair, stroking it absently
"I'm fine," he objected, but before Judy could say anything he continued. "But you're right. I probably would feel better with some sleep." He scooted down on his bunk and shyly smiled up at her.
Judy fluffed the pillow under his head and draped a light cover over him. "You need to get better soon," she whispered seductively as she kissed his ear. "I think you still owe me a walk to the pond."
"I'd like that very much." He gently caressed her cheek and pressed his lips to hers in a long, sensual kiss.