I didn’t know if that was possible. Safety was an illusion. There was always someone or something bigger out there. And the whole universe would be in an uproar after what Freska revealed. “Does it have to be us?” I asked.
“Do you trust anyone else?” he asked me quietly. He rubbed my cheeks with his thumbs.
“No.” I sighed. I didn’t even really trust Anyas, not after his performance. How much had been an act as he tried to stay as true to our original plans as possible of revealing the Elite’s plans to the universe by bouncing the signal off the ship’s A.I. network versus his clear obeisance to Rilecca and her father? He was a consummate actor and politician—able to play both sides and jump wherever and whenever it benefitted him.
Still… he’d helped us. He’d benefit from it; already he was talking to Freska, attempting to consolidate power and information. Deke stood over the pitiful old man. Danie watched everything dispassionately.
Did he care that we’d been used? What we’d done, how we’d had our free will taken away? Maybe he’d known freedom for too short of a time, or maybe he was more machine than human and it didn’t really register.
I wanted to grab onto Captain and never let go, but my hands were stained. Blood had splashed down my front. I couldn’t even let him squeeze me to him, take comfort in more than his hands touching me.
“Do we have to stay here?” The urgent need to wash away the taint of violence consumed me.
“No. Anyas, we are going to retreat to our ship. The documents and agreements have been signed; we will deliver our copies to Central Command. I’m sure someone will have taken charge there by the time we get back and will be prepared to oversee a response. Freska will ping your system for updates as needed to ensure you’ve taken control and are ensuring the retreat of any forces and influences under Elite control as soon as possible.”
Even I could hear the implied threat—do as you promised or Freska would find out. And we might have needed Anyas’s help for this mission, but we’d come back with the might of many behind us if he didn’t hold up his end of the bargain or tried to take the same path Rilecca thought to.
“He goes with us.” Deke hauled up Lord whoever. His shattered leg wouldn’t hold him, so Deke dragged him, ignoring his mewling whines. I almost protested, but then I remembered all the times I suffered, all the men and women I’d hurt or killed, and all the people who were still suffering because of the monster. All my sympathy dried up and I stared at him with hard eyes.
“Shut up or I will let Captain cut our your tongue so we don’t have to listen to you, even if I don’t have to worry about you taking control of my brain,” I hissed. “I lived with more pain than that on a daily basis.”
Back on the ship, Captain escorted me to our room.
“Don’t you need to go command things?” I said with a wave of my hand. I desperately wanted to shower.
“No. Someone else can take care of it.” Captain looked deep in my eyes. “I’m exactly where I need to be.” He reached out and released the catch on my shirt, spreading the fabric.
“I can do that!” I rushed to say. He didn’t need to touch the stained fabric.
“So can I,” he replied. He didn’t speak again, just removed the rest of my clothes methodically, then led me with an arm around my waist into the shower. He didn’t touch my hands, somehow sensing that would be too much for me.
As soon as the water was warm, Captain drew me into the stream. It was so rare to feel a hot water bathing, I relished the heat and wet. We didn’t speak as Captain took hold of both my wrists and held my hands in the water. The drops streamed down, beating on the flesh and washing away the rusty stains and darkness.
Captain grabbed soap and lathered it up, suds coating his hands. The first touch of the slippery bubbles and his firm fingers massaging my hands sent a shudder down my spine. I watched intently as he washed the palms and backs of my hands, then carefully scrubbed each finger, leaving no spot uncleaned.
“Oh, Kohen, you aren’t….” Captain held my hands under the water with his and let the suds rinse away, then pulled me in close. Heat and the unique musk of his skin surrounded me as he read my mind, or maybe the tears I hadn’t realized were streaming down my face.
Sobs clawed at my throat, the screams of rage and betrayal and fear swamping me and the soothing love he tried to send me.
If I could have, I would burrow into him, but all I could do was cling to Captain and the reassurance I could feel him trying to share with me through our bond. I could feel it, feel him. He was sad, sorry that he hadn’t protected me, guilty at his failure…
“You didn’t fail.” I gulped, looking up at him with burning eyes.
“I didn’t listen. You told me a long time ago what you were afraid of, and it happened. That’s on me.” Captain’s arms were like steel bands. “I couldn’t feel you. You were locked away from me. It was like our bond was broken, even though I could see you in the room with me.”
Maybe I wasn’t the only one to suffer when Rilecca took control of my brain. I snuggled in closer to him. “You couldn’t have known. It wasn’t something we predicted. Freska saved me and Danie. We’re safe now.” I held him just as tight as he held me.