I believe I am finally satisfied with this. Depending on your interpretation of 'moments', there may or may not be minuscule MarveLuka, LukaAhim, and JoeMarve in addition to the JoeAhim, but I tend to err on the side of caution when labeling something a 'moment'. Yay tension? After this, I have several drabbles I want to edit and post, as well as another multi-chaptered fiction, likely three or four chapters, "Rum". That's a tentative working title, of course - check my profile for more details.
As always, reviews are appreciated.
Loud stomps, quick and harried, sound upon the wooden deck. Roughly pushing brunette locks out of her face, she snatches up her sword. Begins her irritated rotations, warming up. It catches the sunset's mocking color rays, reflecting the light and tossing it blithely about the room.
Round and round it goes – sching, sching – with every twirl of the weapon.
"First the Mobirates, now this, Ahim disappearing into thin air, and – Marvelous what the hell are you doing?"
Her captain is standing stock-still, eyes watching an ominous plume of smoke swell and billow across the tops of the forest trees. She has the feeling that he can see it regardless of the window – that he has a sense of danger far more keen and sensitive than them all.
She raises her hand in a flash, as if to grab him, but he turns his head only slightly to fix her with a silent stare. As if a talented handler of clay was given free rein to mold her face, the jagged lines of distemper fade, carefully, smoothing themselves into softer ones of disbelief.
Head sways in a tentative 'no'. Remembers the dead man and Ahim's –
"I let her go!"
Doc is out of breath as he takes the stairs two at a time, skidding to a stop in the middle of the room. He opens his mouth.
With a frustrated cry, she brings her arm across her body in a ruthlessly straight cut; extending her elbow the sword is released, and Doc flinches as it spears the couch. The tip embeds itself into the wall behind it, the handle barely wavering from the impact.
Doc is shocked into silence, but instead turns to the mechanical bird in the corner, who is suspiciously quiet and has been so for most of the day.
Now, it quivers and shakes. It knows.
Even the captain turns from his silent vigil to bestow his gaze as the bird releases a high-pitched sob.
A vague, almost ludicrous thought stirs within his panic: Like a snowstorm.
One of dust, debris, and the lingering scent of death. The copper-gold air thins, fades to a foggy grey, not unlike the indescribable shade of mist. Still with sword drawn and muscles taut, he waits; if cells could halt division and blood could pool, so he would be in a state of preservation. Breathing, that devilish necessity, is irrelevant.
She is not pink anymore, and he can see the result of the assault.
Grey. Crimson. Even her skin is ash. Dark locks tossed with metal shards and bullet casings, she is not the girl he let walk into this senselessly violent brawl. Her knees embrace the ground, kneeling in front of the stooped creature while her arms are lost in the tangled shadow still shrouded in dust. Slowly it peels away, revealing two limbs locked at the elbow and sliced with thin wounds.
Her head is bowed, motionless. Dress ripped and torn like a dance with aggressive tendrils of thorns. Her companion looks for the guns, the weapons, but they are literally swallowed by the innards of the creature. She is inside of it, forearm-deep. Now it is clear that the enemy is bent at the waist, hunched and curled around the gaping wound she has created.
She tilts her head toward the noise but does not – or cannot – look up.
One foot slides from beneath her and now lies flat upon the ground, ready to push. An attempt to support her weight. The quietest whimper reaches Joe's ears, but he watches incredulously as she makes it to her feet. Knees bent in slightly and the shoulder wrenched all out of place again. The creature stirs and Joe carefully sidesteps around the scene, now able to see its backside.
Two gun barrels are protruding from between its shoulder blades, still emanating whisper-wisps of smoke. Judging by the projection, its spine must be shattered by the force and angle, metal grinding through several vertebrae. Even on an alien, it must have been an excruciating experience.
He hears a crunching noise which sets him on edge. Completing his careful circling, his eyes widen as Ahim raises her foot and pushes it into the creature's torso, into its cracked armor. She bites her lip.
She yanks, gasps. Kicks harder. Harder.
It is only when Joe grabs her other arm that she manages to wrench her hand and weapon loose: She gains little for her effort but more scratches and pain. The force of the release almost sends her broken body tumbling backward, had Joe not been there. Still clinging to the gun despite her shakes. As one, they both look to the arm still buried in the creature. Hesitantly, he wraps his fingers around her shoulder to keep it steady – he dares not take her tiny forearm in his hands. Sometimes, he swears he could crush it. His other forearm wraps around her waist from behind, and she has no objections. Regardless, she is not in any shape to do so.
"Relax." He knows that must be impossible, given all this. Still, he hopes she tries. Leaning into her, molding, feeling her heartbeat still forcing adrenaline in waves.
No sooner have the words left his lips, a quiet laugh is heard. Raising his head, Joe sees the creature stirring, no, vibrating with the insatiable laughter of a joke known only to those amused. He curses.
There is the sound of skin on metal. He finds the source of the noise, as he catches a glimpse of Ahim adjusting her fingers. Before he can say a word, she brings her arm back and whips the barrel across the creature's face. Once.
The laughter is cut off abruptly, slurring into a groan like a music note gone sour.
A distinct crack, the sounds she always remembers which rob her of sleep.
But they shouldn't anymore.
It is a late command, for the creature collapses and Ahim takes the chance to wrench her arm out. As it lands heavily at her feet, she begins struggle in Joe's arms.
"I am sorry," she whispers. The alien cannot hear, and it lies broken and pathetic in the same sort of heap as the innocent man. The incident feels so long ago, a faint and flickering memory.
She wants to collapse and sleep, but she wants to run and never look back.
At last, her knees give out. Joe lowers her to the ground as the tears begin, kneeling with her as she throws herself forward, chest heaving in shock and despair at her own broken sense of faith. One hand steadies her shoulder which he knows can be fixed a second time. The rest of it, well, it may take time. His other arm still holds her torso to hold her up – now would be the worst time to let her sink.
His fingers are splayed across her heart, smattered with burning tears. His stomach churns at the scent of burnt hair invading his senses; he stares at the ground, avoiding the greyed and soulless ends that threaten him, beckon him.
With a trembling hand, she places her fingers over his. They hold her heart together, if mere care can ever accomplish such a thing.
"Let's go," he responds. His tone is a bit brusque, but not unkind. It is all he can do to not falter at the cuts, the blood. "You're a mess."
Before she has the chance to try, he lifts her to her feet; he supports her waist while her shoulder slumps noticeably. She is clinging, fingers twisted in his jacket. He may never forgive himself.
They limp along in silence. Joe takes a different route toward the Galleon to avoid the steep slope, instead opting for a gentle, curving path bypassing the forest. The dusk tucks in the curve of the horizon with a quilt of crimsons, oranges, purples and faint budding stars. Every now and then she has to stop and gasp, breathing shallow.
He would carry her, but she does not let him.
It happens again as they reach the crest of a hill. Tears spring to her eyes and the sound of her whimper kicks Joe in the chest without remorse. Suddenly, she is dead weight and slipping from his grasp.
"Are you all right?" he asks, but her lids have already fallen closed. He quickly dips to swing his arm behind her knees and lift her before she completely falls unconscious. Cursing, he shifts her body against his chest and quells the urge to flounder and panic.
That feeling increases tenfold as he sees his crew mates hiking up the hill, weapons in hand.
There is no escape, no time. They see him and begin to sprint, expressions falling into ranging degrees of confusion and shock as they come closer.
"Joe!" Doc exclaims. He is roughly shoved away by Luka, who stands toe-to-toe with the swordsman. Though she only reaches his chin, anger is radiating off her body in waves; it could level buildings. Thrusting her sword into the ground, her stare is murderous, and it flickers down to Ahim.
"Joe," she snaps. Without waiting for any response, her fierce gaze softens as pushes the bangs off Ahim's forehead. Looking down once more, Luka's eyes rake over the girl's scratches and cuts.
Luka's arms shoot out and she shoves him at the shoulders, hard. Doc yells, "Luka!" but she ignores him, hands curled into fists as she watches Joe stand his ground, barely moving as not to disturb the girl in his arms.
"What did you do?" she demands, consonants cutting the air and reaching his ears, ringing deadly.
"They must have run into the enemy already while they were out, Luka. Don't get so worked up," Doc admonishes. She growls. "I mean, please don't." Doc looks expectantly at Joe as if it would be confirmed immediately, but the stoic and pained expression which stays silent is not a good sign.
Now Luka yanks the collar of Joe's jacket, hissing, "You don't have a scratch on you!"
Finally, Marvelous strides up. He has taken his time reaching the reunion and surprisingly, he is expressionless. As Luka fills her lungs with air, ready to berate the first mate, the Captain gently shoves her aside.
They communicate without words. What little Joe will reveal, that is. He has suspected that his captain has known all along, her motives and his lack of resistance. There are nights he has no real excuses for wandering amongst the cabins, or polishing the pistols she had already cleaned hours prior. Times in which he jumps all too quickly to snatch his coat from the rack – and hers, too, so they can explore whatever city in which they parked. When he taps on her door in the wake of an impending storm, or sometimes immediately after he awakes. He wonders, in some corner in the recesses of his guilty mind, if they have both fallen into the same twisted, gorgeous dance of charm.
Marvelous places his fingers over a particularly deep gash in her pale forearm; he holds it for a second and only Joe can see the concern that shakes his core. Removes them – they come away with viscid blood. Raising his eyes to the first mate, there is an almost feral flash of anger, so minute and fleeting that likely no one else would have realized. Wiping the fluid on his shirt, Marvelous quirks his head slightly and without warning, curls his fingers into a fist and passes them across Joe's lips.
It is almost a quiet slap, just the vague sound of skin on skin. His first mate does not move and there is no reason to, considering it is no more than a light push. Doc noticeably gulps in the tense silence.
Now, the captain's fingers come away with the faint tint of pink lip gloss. And this, he does not wipe away.
"Go," he says, almost jauntily. "She's in bad shape, Joe."
Joe twitches at the threatening sound of his own name. Marvelous brushes past him while drawing his gun, his other hand clapping him on the shoulder with gusto. One more eyelock: he is not pleased, though not angry nor indicative of any other truer emotion than curiosity. Always, he is too inquisitive for his own good.
Luka leaves Joe with one last poisonous glare before also brushing past him. Swinging her weapon 'round and 'round, she calls back, "You had better take care of her to my standard."
Doc begins to run after them, but skids to a stop and comes back to look at Ahim. She still does not stir, breathing lagging and shallow. Too embarrassed and proper to touch her, even to touch her arm, he steps back, inclines his head, and nods. "We'll take care of the Zangyack. We'll be back to help you soon."
His team's footsteps are receding in the distance, and Joe exhales heavily, feeling as though he has not breathed for minutes on end.
"Please forgive me."
Her voice makes him jump.
"I just . . . cannot explain my reasons to them right now. I will in time. I also hoped staying quiet would keep you from being questioned," she whispers; she is losing her voice.
Joe resumes walking, adjusting his grip. He sees the shadow of their home throwing the forest into darkness. "It's fine. I didn't know what to say."
"No matter if you explained it correctly, they would be frustrated. I will handle it," she responds, her head swaying. It falls against his chest.
Her energy is fading, and he knows how rude it is to ask her another question. "The Mobirates . . ."
Ahim hesitates. Then, "Nav'i agreed to disable them, but eventually gave in. I expected that. It was an awful thing to ask."
Because Ahim treats the bird like a pet and not a machine.
"But since that day the man died, I have not been able to sleep. The nightmares I already had would worsen. When Luka told me he had . . . died . . . I could not stand it. I have never felt so angry or vengeful. That poor man with a family and children was caught in the crossfire of our fight," she continues. "I had a dangerous feeling. I could not tell you what it was, but something very intense and it needed to be released. I felt that the only way I could handle it was to take matters into my own hands. You would let me fight, and that is why I trusted you."
Ahim giggles faintly, and he feels it against his chest. "Because I let you, so long ago."
After a moment of contemplation, Joe gruffly admonishes, "Fair enough. But don't do anything that reckless again."
"I cannot promise that."
He can feel coarse, burnt hair weaving around his fingers. The ropes are waiting for them, ready and hanging, and he suspects the captain had already sent the signal.
"I can hold on," Ahim begins tentatively, but the damage done to her arms says otherwise, and Joe tightens his grip on her, which speaks volumes.
"I'm not listening to your order this time," he says, hoisting her onto his hip to cradle her with one muscled arm. Carefully taking her arm, he places it around his neck and tugs on the rope. With a short leap he is settled comfortably as she lets out a little cry, wrapping her legs around him so tightly he begins to lose circulation. They begin to rise. He smirks.
They swing back and forth recklessly, as they often do around one another. A trip that normally takes seconds seems to stretch into minutes and hours of colorful dusk. Though she still holds tightly, her eyes gaze to a place far beyond the lit horizon. They are alone, clinging to a flimsy rope in an unknown city, on a planet that has perhaps become more of a home than any place else in space. Two figures, two shadows silhouetted against a sunset that is not visible from any other precipice or height. Up here, even the swordsman's tied hair is tossed relentlessly.
Silence blankets the land. Time suspends. Joe's last question is little more than a whisper in her hair, lost to the rolling lands spread out far beyond the eye's gaze.
"Why did you – do that?"
Ahim knows without having to clarify; she knows he has difficulty even asking. The corners of her mouth turn up, and she shakes her head slightly. Every limb wrapped around him tightens as her light sigh is lost to the winds of the plains. Their slight blushes are shrouded by the disappearing sunlight.
"I do not know."
With one last wisp of strength, her lips press against his chin, the most of him she can reach.
"But . . . let us find out, Joe-san."