The burnt sienna expanse filled the viewscreen, every inch of the convex glass looking out on Montressor's arid surface. Korso had been staring at it since the entire reddish planet was the size of a quarter and he could cover it up with his thumb, pretend it didn't exist, and he wasn't getting closer every minute. He folded his arms and tucked his chin down against his chest, hunched and peering at the enlarging continent like it was a drowsy cobra, sedated but still likely to strike.
He hadn't slept in days, and he still couldn't believe he wasn't dreaming.
"Cosmic thoughts, Captain?"
Korso jumped - he hadn't heard the footsteps behind him, but maybe there hadn't been any to hear. Preed liked to slink around the ship like a snake in the grass, and if he didn't want you to hear him coming, you wouldn't. And now the too-long arms and legs sloped and swayed around the stationary deck chairs, and languidly poured themselves into the one opposite Korso. Crooked, snaggly teeth showed under a curled lip, wry eyes at half-mast, while the scruffy human tried to get his heart rate back under control.
"Don't - do that, for the millionth fucking time!"
"I'm sure I have no idea what you're talking about."
"Don't sneak up on me like that - just WALK, like a normal... normal Akrennian being!" Korso snarled, folding his arms tighter across his chest and cramming himself deeper into his chair. "God, I think I liked it better when you were bumping into everything."
"I'll be sure to keep that in mind. A thousand apologies. Or, rather - a million."
"Go back to sleep, Preed."
"I've had enough sleep to last me an entire lifetime, and trying to get more while staring at the walls isn't nearly as exciting as it sounds."
A moment of quiet passed, while Korso's jaw worked silently, and Preed watched out of the corner of one beady eye.
"We're coming in fast and smooth," Korso muttered around clenched teeth that were used to holding something between them. He hadn't tasted nicotine in over a week, and he didn't have so much as a toothpick to keep his nervous teeth busy. "Should be down in ten. Yes, that's ten Earth minutes, intervals of 60 seconds," he cast a sharp glance at Preed - who spread his long-fingered hands, all innocence and wide eyes.
"I wasn't going to say a word." He stretched, long arms almost snaking up to the ceiling. "My, but it will be nice to get out for bit. Stretch, breathe."
"You better be joking." Korso snorted.
"You're staying on the ship." When there was no answer, he looked up. "This isn't news to you, Preed, don't play dumb."
"Who's playing? Captain, I've been cooped up on this ship for a week now. I'm going absolutely stark-raving mad with cabin fever-"
"And you can just go crazy for a couple more days. Keep resting that head, and stay out of my hair."
"It's rested. And it still hurts like the most spectacular BITCH, which is not at all likely to change, no matter where I am."
Preed gingerly rubbed at the metal plate in his head, exploring the edges like unfamiliar territory. Having something added was almost as bad as having something taken away; get a tooth pulled and you couldn't stop tonguing the area where it had been. And he couldn't stop touching the rough places where metal met bone, his skin itched where it was just beginning to heal over, and he only learned to stop picking at it when his fingers came away bloody.
Korso's eyes made the familiar flick up and down they'd learned ever since that plate had found itself patching up Preed's skull a week or so before. He couldn't stop glancing at it, but couldn't bring himself to look at it too long either. It was like staring straight at the sun for too long - his head started to hurt, his hands started to shake, and he had to look away.
Preed, of course, saw all of this, and kept gamely trying to figure out how to turn it to his advantage. "I might as well enjoy the fresh air and sunshine, and whatever charms Montressor has to offer."
"NO. I told you before we left - you can come along in the ship for backup, but you are not coming on-world with me."
"Oh, Captain, really now! I promise to be on my best behavior-"
"Yeah, that's quite the promise." Korso snorted. "No, Preed. This is personal shit, and I need to deal with it myself."
"Stay. Here." Korso stood up, towering over the seated Akrennian, and glared down dark and unflinching. "That's an order."
Their eyes locked for a moment, an unblinking game of chicken - then Preed slowly nodded, and flipped his hand up in a weary human salute.
"Aye-aye, Captain." He turned the motion into an opportunity to pick at the stained, dented plate again.
Korso sighed, and his frown lost some of its hard edges. "And stop that."
"Hmmph!" Preed wrinkled his snout, sniffed. "You try having a foreign object newly embedded in your skull, see how long you can leave it alone."
"Just quit messing with it. I'm not rushing your ass back to the vet if it gets infected or something."
Preed heaved a world-weary sigh, and forced his hand down away from his metal-patched injury. "Aye-aye, again."
"Good. Bring us in slow; I'm getting off the second we touch down. If I'm not back in a few hours, then you can send the search party." Something between a smirk and a dry smile flashed across his drawn face, and disappeared. "I'll see you tonight."
Korso gave a parting nod to Preed's lackluster wave, and stalked off the deck.
# # #
Nothing but pure muscle memory kept him moving forward, stepping up the familiar stairs from the cliffside dock. Ordering one foot in front of the other; his brain was a drill sergeant and his limbs quaking, raw recruits pissing their pants and crying for Mommy. Up the stairs, along the driveway he still knew every twist of, gravel crunching under his boots, teeth grinding to match. He stared up at the place as he walked - the building was bigger than he remembered. Different color too - come to think of it, the place looked nothing like the inn from his memory. Maybe it had been renovated - or maybe he'd been gone far longer than he'd even realized. He shrugged deeper into his coat, eying the dark corners he passed like snipers lay in wait inside them, catching him in their crosshairs.
He stopped on the welcome mat and took a deep breath. Forced himself to raise his hand and knock on the polished wooden door - and jammed his hands back into his pockets, rooting his feet to the ground and ordering himself not to run away like a goddamn pussy. For several breaths, though, there was no answer. Korso growled low, bared his teeth in frustration. This was a stupid, stupid, God-awful idea, he might as well just turn around right now and go back to -
The door opened.
"Hi, welcome to the New Benboooww-oh... Oh." Sarah Hawkins' smile faded as her brown eyes opened wide, and her mouth dropped open. She gasped, staring at the man on her doorstep, eyes so wide the whites showed all around. One hand slowly went to her chest, as she fought to get her breath back. "My God," she breathed, she breathed, when she could speak again. "Joseph..."
"Hello, Sarah," He cleared his raw throat, tried to keep any trace of a crack or tremor out of his voice. Keep it calm, level, cool. "I... I'm here to-"
"Mom?" A young man's voice came from inside, and they both stiffened. Korso tensed - for some reason he hadn't imagined it would all happen so fast, he wasn't ready, he'd forgotten everything he wnated to say. "Hey, we got company? Did you tell 'em we're-"
Sarah glanced back into the inn, then back at Korso, looking torn and on the edge of panic. She took a deep breath, but still couldn't make herself talk.
"Mom?" The young man's voice sounded more urgent, a sliver of concern. "What is it? Who's at the-"
The door opened wider, and out stepped a young man whose unruly hair would only have brushed Korso's chin. But his eyes were old and quick, and they took in everything in an instant. And for just a moment his face blanched white and his face twisted in horror - and then it set into hard, narrow-eyed fury. His eyes went hard and sharp, and they pierced right through Korso like a skewer (God, he has his mother's eyes) -
Jim Hawkins pulled back his fist - and slammed it into the bridge of Korso's nose.
# # #
A/N: Takes place roughly a week after the events of my Preed-head-plate origin story, "Metalhead," but it is not necessary to have read that to enjoy this. And please, do enjoy. Reviews are always very much appreciated, however long or short.