A/N: Behold! I have not disappeared :) Hope you enjoy (and if you do, please leave a review)!
Jessie leaned forward, gasping as the pain slowly subsided. "I'll ask you again, Captain," came a voice from her left; a voice that belonged to a creature who was more twisted metal than anything. "What is the Trinitium Project?"
"I don't know," came Buzz's terse reply. He was chained to a wall across the room from Jessie, while she stood on a metal plate in the center, her arms held above her head by a strange metal chain. She gritted her teeth, waiting for the pain to start like it had when Buzz had refused to answer. But this time, nothing. Instead their captor sighed.
"You live up to your reputation of being hard to crack, Captain. Still," he added in a maliciously cheerful tone, "maybe we just need to try a different approach, hmm?"
Jessie's body tensed as the tingling sensation returned. The alien stood with his hand on the knob of a control panel. He turned it up another notch before looking at Buzz, "What is the Trinitium Project?" Each time Buzz gave an unsatisfactory answer, the alien turned the knob. The tingling changed to the feeling of thousands of needles stabbing every inch of her. Jessie squeezed her eyes shut, trying not to give in to the increasingly excruciating pain. She heard the alien say something and then it felt as if her entire body erupted in flames. She heard a strange noise and she realized it was her own screams.
She sat up on the bed, breathing heavily as the terror passed. It was the same dream that had haunted her for three weeks, ever since she returned from her last mission. Jessie pulled her knees to her chest and wiped her damp forehead with a hand. She thought back to what happened in that cell, and after.
"IT'S A WEAPON!" Buzz's roar had cut into the agony. Instantly the pain had stopped and she had sagged towards to the floor, the chain above her going taut as it held all of her weight. Tears fell unbidden as she struggled to breathe normally. Somewhere Buzz was telling their captor all he wanted to know, but to Jessie it had sounded far away. She remembered hearing the alien say something and then she had hit the ground hard. She had tried moving her arms, her leg, her head, but she could not.
"You know, Captain, I'm a bit surprised. You've been interrogated before and let other Rangers be killed, all in the name of Star Command. Yet not this time. Why is that?" There was a brief pause, "Oh," came the smug tone of realization. "Oh, I see. How very interesting. Well, she'll be as good as new in a few hours. And I think, by then, I'll have a few more questions for you."
She was aware of the alien leaving the room and of Buzz tentatively calling her name just before she had slipped out of consciousness. She was roused after an unknown amount of time by a crash and the cacophony of voices: "Captain! Are you all right?" "Craters, what happened here?" "Jessie! Doctor Hammond, over here. I think she's hurt." Jessie tried moving, even just to open her eyes, but every part of her felt heavy, as if she had been filled with lead. She heard rather than felt the bonds around her wrists being removed and then Doctor Hammond's voice, "Her vitals are stable. I'll know more when we get her back to Star Command. Captain, what happened?"
"Tell you on the way back. No, I'll take her," Buzz's tone defied argument. Jessie felt herself being scooped up. Her head had fallen against his chest and she fell asleep, knowing the safety and strength of the arms that held her.
When she next awoke, she was in the medical clinic at Star Command. She had looked to her left to see Doctor Hammond busying himself with something. "Doc?" she had all but croaked.
"Cadet Pride!" he had hurried to her bedside, "How are you feeling?"
"Okay. What happened? Buzz! What about Buzz?" she started to sit up.
"Easy now," he had gently pushed her back onto the bed with a hand on her shoulder. "Our young captain is just fine. He asked me to tell you that he would be in to check on you as soon as he is out of his briefing. As for your other question," he pulled a stool over and sat down. "From what I surmised from Captain Lightyear's description, it was a form of electrocution. Only instead of an electrical current, what was used is a current of neuronic energy, so called because it targets your neurons….your nerves," he added, having seen the blank look on her face. "It's a very effective means of torture, from an efficiency standpoint. It causes a great deal of pain while causing very little damage. Which means it can be used repeatedly, possibly for weeks, before bringing about any sustainable damage. You suffered a temporary paralysis, but no other physical harm. Speaking of," he stood and moved back to the counter where he had been earlier, "I have a muscle relaxer I would like to give you. You've been back for several hours, and the paralysis has worn off, but this will help with soreness. I want you to stay overnight, just for observation." At that moment, Buzz had entered the room and Hammond smiled, "But first, I'll give you some privacy."
Buzz had smiled at the doctor before hurrying over to Jessie, where he took her hand in both of his. "You're okay? Thank heavens," he had sighed with relief after she nodded. "Jessie…I'm so sorry."
"Wasn't your fault, Buzz. What was your briefing about? You ain't gonna be in trouble, are ya?" Jessie fretted but relaxed when he had shaken his head.
"No, nothing like that. I'm just glad he asked about a fake project. No, my briefing was about another mission. Remember the relocation of Athenia 8? Well, you're no longer on duty for that, obviously, but…"
"But you still are," she lay her free hand over his and had given it a squeeze. "You'll be okay, right? What time d'ya leave?"
He had nodded, "I promise. But it's a five week mission and I'll be out of communication range. I wish I could have been relieved of it, but Nebula didn't see a reason. We're heading out at oh-four-hundred, so I can't stay long tonight. Woody's going to look out for you, though, while I'm gone."
"My brother's good at that," a smile had crossed her face. "Just as long as you'll be safe, I'll be okay." A tiny thought began gnawing at the back of her mind, but she had brushed it away.
Doctor Hammond poked his head into the room, "Sorry to interrupt, but I need to give Jessie her medicine now."
Buzz had leaned in, kissing Jessie deeply, something she was happy to return. He brought his forehead to rest against hers. "Love you, Cowgirl," he had whispered.
"Love you, Space Boy," she had whispered back. He had stayed, holding her hand, until the relaxant made her fall asleep. At some point in the night, Jessie had woken with a yell. It would be the first night of many where she dreamed of the torture. She had lain back down, but sleep remained elusive. When she had been discharged in the morning, she traveled to a complex of offices. Knocking on the door frame, she had asked, "Commander Nebula? Sir?"
He had looked up and smiled, "Cadet Pride! Glad to see you up and about! What can I do for you?"
"Can I speak with you, please?"
"Of course, of course. Please, come in."
She entered his office, letting the door close behind her.
"Okay. One more time. Tell me why you're doing this again?" Woody's voice was filled with frustration.
Jessie had been packing her clothes into her bag. She folded a shirt and pressed it onto a stack of clothes. "I told ya, Woody. I resigned."
"Yeah, I got that. What I don't get is why?"
"It's just somethin' I gotta do."
"Well I wish when you and Buzz decide somethin', you'd tell me first! Wait," he had looked at her with narrowed eyes. "Does Buzz know about this?" Her silence answered the question. "Jessie, what is this about? Did he do something to hurt you?"
"You know he wouldn't," she had answered softly. "I can't tell you, Woody. Just please, please trust me that I'm doin' the right thing. For everyone." She had turned and looked at her brother, her green eyes sad and pleading for understanding.
He had pinched the bridge of his nose, "Where will you go?"
She turned and resumed packing, "Aunt Bonnie's, out in San Francisco. But you can't tell Buzz," she rounded on him. "Promise me."
"Okay, okay," he held his hands up. "I promise I won't tell him where you've gone. But he's gonna try and find you whenever he gets back. And I'm not going to try and stop him."
She had nodded, "Fair enough."
Jessie sighed and lay back on the bed. She had arrived at her aunt's house and was grateful that she did not ask any questions, but told her that the house was hers as long as she needed. A few days after her arrival, Bonnie had left town to visit ailing relatives and she did not know when she would return. Jessie was glad for that; she did not want to worry about constantly waking her aunt with her nightmares.
She shifted, curling up on her left side. Her right hand rested on the pillow which usually cradled Buzz's head. Through the window she could see the moon and she wondered where Buzz was, and hoped he was safe.
Buzz, at that very moment, was exiting Nebula's office, elated to be back from the mission a full two weeks early. He could not wait to surprise Jessie. It was late, and he figured she would be sleeping. The grin on his face widened as he thought of various ways to wake her. Buzz took a step towards the door, but rocked back on his heel in surprise as it remained closed. The access panel glowed red and sounded a dissonant chirp as it rejected the code. He entered "A113" again, and again it was rejected. Did she change her lock code? he wondered briefly. He was about to press the door chime button when the doors opened and a disheveled young male cadet stood before him.
"Whazzhappnin'," he asked, his voice slurred with sleep.
Buzz felt a flare of jealousy before taking a deep breath. Calm down,he forced himself to think logically, It's not like Jessie to be unfaithful. "I'm looking for Cadet Jessie Pride."
The cadet's eyes focused on Buzz's name badge and he straightened with a hasty salute, "Sir! I'm- I'm not sure who that is. Unless she was the cadet who had these quarters before me. All I know is they came open and I was assigned to them."
"At ease, Ranger. How long ago was that?"
He scratched his head, "Two weeks? Maybe a little more. I'm sorry, sir."
Buzz nodded, "Thank you. Sorry to have woken you." Was she reassigned? But when? And why? He knew that it would not have been as fall out from their last mission. Nebula knew everything that had happened, including Buzz's divulgence of the Trinitium Project; a project which was entirely fabricated. It was designed to be a distraction from Star Command's real efforts, and so if Rangers needed to give away information about it, they were free to do so. He found the nearest computer screen and searched for Jessie in the housing records. If she had been reassigned, it was not to base housing. He opened up a window, logging in with his clearance code. Buzz called up Jessie's file and saw her status listed as "Resigned". Resigned?! Why would she have resigned? His eyes skipped down the screen and saw that the effective date was three weeks prior; the same day he left for the Athenian relocation mission. He frowned, his mind reeling with confusion. He cleared the screen and headed to the one person who would know exactly what happened. He ran through the corridors, hastily excusing himself as he pushed by other Rangers. He reached Woody's quarters and he pounded on the door. His best friend opened the door and pressed his lips together. He stepped back and nodded his head, indicating Buzz should come in. "Where is she," demanded Buzz as he entered the room.
"Woody, where is Jessie?"
The former Sheriff sighed, "She's gone, Buzz. She left the same day you did."
"Gone? Gone where? Why?"
"She wouldn't tell me exactly why, just that she was doing what she needed to do."
Buzz rubbed his forehead, "I need to know where she is, Woody." His mind was reeling; how could she have just left without telling him? What could have prompted such a move?
"Buzz…she's gone. You just need to accep-ooof!"
Buzz had slammed Woody up against the wall, his forearm across his friend's collarbone. His eyes and voice were filled with an ice cold fury, "Where. Is. She."
The shock on Woody's face was replaced with a mixture of anger and pity. He managed to push Buzz away, "Look, I don't know what happened between you two, but I'm not telling you where she is. I'm sorry, but I made her a promise. You're going to have to fly this one solo."
The Space Ranger dropped his arm as he watched his friend walk away from him. He ran his hand through his hair, his mind and pulse racing. He thought about the emphasis Woody had used and his eyes widened in hope. Wherever Jessie had gone, she must have taken a shuttle to get there. Buzz looked at Woody who nodded in confirmation, knowing his friend caught the hint. With a look of immense gratitude, Buzz sped out of the room. He tore into the medical bay, relieved to see Doctor Hammond on duty. "Doc! When Jessie was discharged…what was the time?"
Doctor Hammond stroked his chin in thought, "About ten o'clock, I think. Is everything all right, Captain?"
"I hope so! Thanks!" Buzz called over his shoulder as he was already halfway out the door, headed back to his quarters. He sat at his computer, If she took a shuttle, her name'll be in the logs. He called up all shuttle logs for the date he had left, starting with the time of her discharge. His eyes flitted across the screen until… there; her name was registered to a shuttle headed to San Francisco. Buzz sighed in relief; he knew her Aunt Bonnie had a house on the outskirts of the old Western town. He packed a small bag and ran to the shuttle bay where he signed out a small craft, grateful for the privileges afforded him by his rank. Once away from Star Command, Buzz pushed the little shuttle as fast as it could go.
Jessie rubbed her eyes as she read the sentence in the newspaper for what must have been the seventeenth time. She had been unable to fall back asleep after the nightmare, as with every day for the past week. She had tried napping during the day, but no matter the time she slept, the dream was there, waiting. She was startled by the sound of a frantic pounding from the front door. She walked into the hallway and opened the solid oak door, her heart sinking as she found Buzz on the other side of it, his arm still raised in preparation to knock again. Buzz could see the circles under her eyes and there was a new sadness found in her eyes and in lines around her mouth. They stared at each other for a several seconds before Jessie turned away, walking back into the house, neither inviting him in nor dismissing him.
Buzz let his duffel slip onto the floor as he caught up to her in a few steps. He grabbed her arm, making her face him, "Why? Blast, Jessie, tell me why! Why did you do it?"
She wet her lips nervously, but her voice was fierce even as it trembled, "To protect you."
"Protect me? Protect me from what?"
"From me, from yourself! Buzz… you told him everything he wanted to know!"
"Of course I did, Jessie! The Trinitium Project is a fake, you know that! And what was I supposed to do? Just watch you die?"
Jessie wrenched herself free from his grip, "That's exactly what you were s'pposed to do! If it had been any other Ranger, that is what you'd have done… it's what you'd've had to do before. What if he hadn't asked you about the Trinitium Project, huh? What if he has asked you anythin' else? Can you honestly say that you'd have kept quiet? Or would you have told him everythin' as long as it meant I'd stay alive?"
Buzz opened his mouth to retort, but realized with conflicting emotion that she was right. He was no stranger to Rangers being killed as part of interrogation efforts, but this time was different because it was Jessie. And he was not about to just let her die.
Jessie recognized the dawning look in his eyes. "See? Buzz, you can't have that kind of weakness! B'cause if he saw it, others will learn of it. And what if one of those is Zurg? D'ya think he won't stop at nothin' to be able to get to you? You're too important, Buzz; too important to Star Command. Too important to me-" she stopped short, her voice trembling, "to many people. So I did what I had to do to keep you safe. B'cause I won't stand by, knowin' the harm I could cause," her voice shook again and her eyes were bright with unshed tears.
He took her gently by the shoulders, "Jessie, Star Command has other measures of keeping me safe. Didn't you ever wonder why my core team never changes? Space Rangers know that they might be called upon to give their lives for their fellow Rangers. That is especially true for those under my command; and that's one of the ways Star Command works to protect me. You resigning would probably also be one of them, and it protects you as well, so you're not an easy target. But disappearing completely? Running away? You didn't need-" Buzz's voice broke. He took a breath to compose himself. "You asked me to be honest, well now I want you to do the same. Forget about Star Command, forget about me as a Space Ranger. Forget about anything other than you and me: is this really what you want?"
She looked into his blue eyes and thought of the misery of the past three weeks, of how much she missed his voice, his laugh, his touch, the special smile she knew he kept just for her. Her lower lip quivered and she dropped her head with a shake, closing her eyes against the tears that threatened to fall.
Buzz curled his fingers under her chin and lifted her head and gaze back to him. "Do you still love me?"
She saw the anxiety in his eyes, the fear of how she might answer. A single tear made its escape, dropping onto her cheek. "More'n anything," she whispered, she shoulders falling with the admission.
He brushed the tear away with his thumb and rested his forehead against hers. "Then trust me," he pleaded huskily. "Come home."
She looked up and nodded, a small smile tugging at her lips. The smile was covered quickly as Buzz's lips claimed hers in a profoundly longing kiss. The intensity of their mutual relief served as a flashpoint, fueling the passion as the kiss rapidly deepened. That which he cherished had not been lost, and it was as if he had been pulled back from a deep precipice of fear. Buzz's fingers slipped under the hem of her shirt, finding the small of her back as they bumped against the wall.
Jessie tilted her head up as his lips moved to her jaw, her neck. She felt like she was taking that first precious breath after almost drowning. She wrapped her arms around Buzz's neck, hoisting her legs around his waist as his arms slid under her to lift her up. Her mouth found his and she tugged at his lower lip with her teeth, wanting nothing more than to be as close to him as possible. Neither of them was aware of the journey, but they eventually fell onto Jessie's bed, pulling at each other's clothing, desperate to remove the last remaining barrier that separated them.
Some time had passed and they lay on the bed together, Jessie with her head on Buzz's chest; him with his arms circling her. As she lay there, cherishing the peace which has eluded her for so long, she bit her lip, tracing his collarbone with her finger, "Buzz?"
"Yes?" he trailed his fingers through her hair.
She propped herself up on her left arm so she could look at him. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have just up and left Star Command; I was wrong."
He reached up and tucked her hair behind her ear, "Your heart was in the right place. And you were right about something, you know. I would have divulged everything if it meant it would keep you from further harm." He sighed, closing his eyes briefly, "When I was on my mission, I had the same nightmare every night. I was chained back to that wall, forced to watch you be tortured again and again; nothing I said would make it stop. I woke up hearing your screams as loudly as if you really were in the room." Buzz smiled as Jessie caressed his cheek, "If it meant saving your life, Jessie, I would hand Zurg himself the keys to Star Command. Because nothing is as important to me as you. Star Command I can live without; I cannot say the same about you."
Jessie kissed him softly, "You won't have to."
Buzz ran his fingers along her jawline as he studied her face. "When I got back from the mission and found you gone, I didn't know what to do. I just knew I had to find you."
"Guess it helps that you have a best friend who can't keep his big mouth shut," she smirked.
"What do you mean?" he chuckled.
"Woody. I made him promise me he wouldn't tell ya where I'd gone."
"He didn't tell me," Buzz told her about the hint Woody had given him. "It was just a nudge in the right direction. Actually, I owe him an apology. I, heh, I kind of shoved him against the wall when he wouldn't tell me where you were."
Jessie's green eyes widened, "You did?"
He nodded, "Yeah. I'll make it up to him when we get back."
She bit her lower lip, "Buzz…I don't wanna go back to bein' a Space Ranger. I'm sorry to lose the training I was gettin' with the Doc, but I can't go back."
"You don't have to be a Space Ranger, and you can probably resume your training. There are lots of Rangers who are also medics; Doctor Hammond is one of them. But several of the medical staff aren't Ranger; they're just employed by Star Command. I'm sure we can get you back there."
"Really?" she felt a stirring of hope and excitement. "But they wouldn't live on base, would they? Where would I go?"
"With me; at least, I hope with me. Officer's quarters are outfitted to accommodate families. And if, for some reason, you can't go back to the medical bay, we'll find something else for you." He grinned, "I know how much you cringe at the thought of being a housewife."
She laughed, "Well, I ain't a wife, am I?"
He smiled tenderly, "We can fix that in time, too."
As Jessie looked down at Buzz an immense amount of gratitude welled up within her. She wanted to tell him how much she loved him, how glad she was that he had come after her, how she would always be by his side. She knew that it was useless to try and put her thoughts into words, so she tilted her head and pressed her lips against his, pouring all she wanted to say into the kiss. Buzz needed no translation and returned the kiss and the sentiments behind it. She pulled away, a contented smile on her face, "I love you, Space Boy."
"I love you, Cowgirl. Now we just have one more pressing issue on hand."
"What's that?" her brow furrowed in confusion.
Buzz grinned widely, "Where we can go to get something to eat."
"What?!" she laughed.
"Well, it was about two or so in the morning when I got back to Star Command, and I came straight here. I haven't had a bite to eat for quite a while. Aren't you hungry?"
Jessie grinned, hardly able to comprehend her happiness, "Starvin'."
"Good. Is that seafood place down by the water still around? The one where Woody's dinner was extremely fresh?"
They both laughed over the memory. Woody's friend Andy owned the restaurant and had put a live fish on Woody's plate as a joke. Both the fish and Woody had ended up on the floor with wide eyes. Jessie nodded, "I think so. Let's go find out."
The world seemed brand new as they headed out, hand in hand; all of the fear and anxiety they had known had been eradicated by the joy that now engulfed them.