Disclaimer: This is a free work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. Copyright © 2020 Rhea V. May All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced in any form, by an electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except quoted brief passages in a review, post, article or other pieces of content. This work is intended for mature audiences only (18+).
Terran Prime station, 2398 TST
He’d screamed again in his sleep. That’s what woke him. Confused, and still in the nightmare’s clutches, Zale looked around the bedroom without recognizing his surroundings at first.
Sighing, he rubbed a palm over his face, trying to push his father’s snarling expression out of his mind. Fuck. He hadn’t dreamed about his father in years. That he did now frustrated Zale to no end.
He knew why. She was the reason. She came and disrupted his hard-earned discipline, born out of carefully constructed routine. For so long, Zale wore that routine like a cloak against the trauma he’d suffered. Trauma only Brayden knew about and shared, as they grew up together on Orcus, the infamous prison planet.
Despite it all, despite needing the routine like he needed air, and always avoiding any unknown like the plague, Zale didn’t fear change. Inhaling, he uncurled his fists and relaxed his shoulders, desperately reminding himself that fear of change is moot, for life is change. And like any other challenge, it should be met fists first.
Yes, Lima being here threw him for a loop. Because he hadn’t known she was coming, he hadn’t prepared for the encounter. Yes, he felt threatened by her being on the station. No, he would not allow himself be vulnerable to her again.
It was bad enough his nightmares had restarted.
And that she’d come see him yesterday, after he’d convinced himself he could ignore her altogether. Lima coming to apologize served one purpose only, as far as he was concerned—it stirred his interest anew.
Now, his strong will was the only thing stopping him from stalking her movements on his station.
Growling, Zale untangled the sheets and left his bed. Showering in record time, he then meticulously donned his uniform. Glancing one last time in the mirror before he left his quarters, Zale nodded when he found everything in place.
“Fuck!” he swore when he checked the time. With another growl, he exited his apartment and strode down the corridor. The few members he met while descending to CC flew out of his path without bothering to greet him, no doubt fearing to engage the commander when he was wearing such a thunderous expression.
Today proved awful already, as Zale registered another first: he was never late. Bursting through the doors of CC, Zale offered a brisk “good morning” to the day shift and hurried to his office.
He found Theresa Starr waiting for him, which he expected, and Brayden, which he did not expect. Judging by the woman’s scowling expression and Brayden’s roguish grin, Zale had interrupted something. Shooting Brade a warning look, Zale approached his chair on the other side of the desk and took a seat.
“Apologies for being late, Miss Starr,” he murmured, scanning his Correslink to power up the central console. Soft pings sounded as VALID updated his work files and comms stream.
“That’s all right, Commander. And please, call me Tessa,” the corporate liaison replied.
“Aw… you never offered me the same,” Brayden interrupted, sprawling in the other chair.
Blinking, Zale tipped his chin in Brayden’s direction. “Why are you here, Brade?”
“Urgent security matter,” he drawled, his tone bored despite his words. “Takes precedence over this lovely suit’s scheduled time with you,” he continued, jabbing a thumb in Tessa’s direction.
Offended, Tessa Starr sputtered for a minute. “I beg to differ. As Corporate Chair, I have not only a right, but a responsibility to be present for all matters that involve the security of this sta—”
“You’re cute when you’re irritated,” Brayden said, his grin widening when Tessa glared at him.
“Chief Connaway, you will take me seriously,” she ordered in an icy tone. “I may be young, but I am the one Keepers Inc. chose to represent them on this station. At least, for now.”
“Respect is earned,” Brayden volleyed, his tone conversational. “You think any one of us here haven’t worked for the positions we’re currently in? Nobody gifted us a damn thing, you can be sure of that.”
“There it is,” she snapped. “That’s what bothers you. You think I want to be here, dealing with the likes of you?”
Brayden’s blue eyes turned glacial, but before he could reply, Zale intervened. “That’s enough. You are both behaving unprofessionally. So, fine. Your security report takes precedence, Brade. What happened?”
“Chief Miura had an incident in Engineering Bay yesterday, involving one of the shuttles scheduled for repairs,” Brayden said, his eyes focused on a point somewhere behind Zale.
“Since when is an engineering accident a security threat?” Zale asked, leaning back in his comfortable chair.
“Since Maze classified it as possible sabotage,” Brayden replied, finally meeting Zale’s eyes. “He was working with Casey Jenkins on the first shuttle when the pin from the left thruster exploded and the thruster itself collapsed, despite the pistons being disengaged. He says that shouldn’t have been possible.”
“Yes, I’m reading his report now,” Zale said, his eyes roving over the comm’s attachment. “Is he out of medbay?”
“Never went. His injuries have been field-treated by medbots,” Brade answered.
“I’m ordering him to go and get checked up by Doctor Quinn, nonetheless,” Zale replied, his fingers flying over the holokeys.
“Is he suspecting anyone?” Tessa asked, breaking the silence for the first time in minutes.
“No, he isn’t. But…” Brayden trailed off, rubbing his palm over his chin as he pondered his next words.
“But?” Tessa prodded, arching an eyebrow at him.
“But I know the man, we’re friends,” he informed her. Then, looking at Zale, he continued, “So I know he’s hiding something.”
Cracking his neck side to side, Zale nodded. “You have my approval to launch an official investigation. Keep me posted on every step.”
“Great. Thanks, kino.”
“What about me?” Tessa intervened, addressing Zale.
Stifling a sigh, Zale amended his order to Brayden. “And send a copy of our comms to Corporate Chair Starr. Now, about our scheduled meeting, Tessa. There’s bad news. Astrophysicist Jaffai updated her warning on the solar flares happening two days from now. Apparently, they’re going to be much more severe than she initially predicted.”
“Okay…” Tessa Starr replied, frowning in clear confusion. “And does that affect our plans for dismantling the section promised to Leeweather?”
“Indeed. All space operations will be canceled during the flares,” Zale nodded.
Tessa sighed, her shoulders slumping. “That’s going to be so much fun to impart to Lima. She’s already stressed about falling behind schedule.”
“It’s out of our control. For the next week, everyone stays put, inside the Prime and the Ark.”
“Don’t worry, baby girl. You’ll get used to it. I can keep you company, if you want,” Brayden offered, smirking at Tessa.
Scowling, she pushed to her feet. “No thanks. I guess I’ll go talk to Lima. Until later, Commander.” She hurried out of his office, purposely not acknowledging Brayden.
“What the fuck, Brade? Why are you so devoted to driving every Corporate Chair away?” Zale rounded on Brayden as soon as the door closed behind Tessa.
“I’m not,” his brother replied, eyes wide.
“Really? Remember the last one?”
His expression now darker, Brayden scoffed. “That guy was an asshole. I merely gave him a chin check. Her though… her I dig. She’s cute.”
Schooling his own features to a stern expression, Zale pointed a finger at Brayden. “No.”
“No. Leave her alone.”
Chuckling, Brayden shook his head. “I’m afraid I can’t accommodate you, my brother. She’s too much fun.”
“Just be careful,” Zale warned. Brayden was the only one to whom he would ever give in. Their history was simply too intertwined not to– Brade was family.
“Don’t worry, man. I won’t screw this up for you.”
Later, after Brayden left, Zale sighed and gave in to temptation, even though he should have been working. More so now, when his station was being threatened. “VALID, find Lima Harris-Pratt for me, please.”
A mere second later, the footage appeared on the holoscreen in front of him. “Thanks,” he murmured, smiling when he saw her looking quite aggravated, the more Tessa explained to her.
Even after all these years, even after what she did to him, Lima was still the only woman who could make his heart beat this fast. She was also the only one who could make him this hard, Zale thought as he adjusted himself. Especially when she was as furious as she appeared to be now.
Pulling himself away from the footage was hard, but Zale had work to attend to. Updates to revise, projects to oversee, permissions to grant. A plan to follow. Reports to send to Corporate. A possible sabotage to deal with.
All of that fell into the background when VALID announced Lima Harris-Pratt was demanding to see him. Granting her access inside his office, Zale leaned back in his chair and couldn’t help himself from giving her a smug look as she stormed to his desk.
“This was your doing, wasn’t it? You’re hell bent on causing me to fail, aren’t you?”
“What are you talking about?” he goaded, smiling internally.
“It’s all a lie. There are no solar flares.”
Shaking his head, Zale informed her, “I can assure you that threat is very real. And very dangerous.”
“But… a whole week?”
Shrugging, Zale nodded. “Possibly longer. That remains to be seen.”
“Fuck!” she exploded. “No. You cannot do this. I have two days, right? You can authorize the de-moduling now and my team and I have more than enough time to settle in by the time the first flare hits.”
“The detachment of each section is a complex process which cannot be rushed, for every little error could trigger a proper catastrophe—“
“You’re an asshole! But if you think I’m going to let you ruin my chances because of our past, you’re mistaken,” she threatened Zale in a low voice, putting her palms on his desk so she could lean closer. “I’m not going to allow that.”
“Allow?” Zale echoed, finally allowing his amusement show in the smirk he gave her. In the face of her ire, a hot ball of pure lust exploded inside his body. A thousand fantasies ran through his mind, fantasies in which Zale tempered her anger with his touch and mouth and turned it into intense passion instead.
“You did it on purpose,” she accused.
“How could I do it on purpose, Lima? Think I can order some solar flares like I order pizza? Here, I’ll forward you the comm from Astrophysicist Jaffai.”
“Don’t bother. Tessa already did,” Lima grumbled. “Don’t get in my way,” she warned, before turning on her heel to exit his office.
Unable to contain it any longer, Zale released a deep belly laugh, which earned him a scowl from a retreating Lima. After he calmed, Zale abandoned all pretenses and ordered VALID to follow Lima around the station, keeping the transmitted footage in a small square to the foreground of his holoscreen as he returned to work.
Did it feel good that these pesky solar flares encumbered her work? Hell, yeah. Zale quite enjoyed her anger. And, as a bonus, it would keep her on the Eye for longer.
Not that he enjoyed her nearness.
Fuck. So far, she hadn’t given any indication she’d like to give the two of them another chance.
But if she did? Would he sweep the hurt she’d caused him under the rug and welcome her with open arms?
Scowling at the answer his mind offered, Zale knew he was well and truly fucked. Approaching the viewingpane stretching on the entire wall opposite his desk, Zale let his forehead drop forward as he remembered the two of them together. They’d been so young back then.
After his childhood on Orcus, Zale was no innocent. But Lima… she was a sheltered rich girl just making the first steps into adulthood. That’s what drew him to her. The air of innocence and complete belief that everything would be alright.
That’s also what caused Zale to hide his true self from her. What would Lima say if she discovered how different Zale was from the man he allowed her to see? Would she accept the real him, or run in the opposite direction?
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