Calibrations, Part 3 (Alpha & Omega, Chapter 6)

The ugly mess that are broken hearts.

He felt her taking a deep breath. And another.
“Christopher…” Her voice was strained, and she swallowed hard. Then she sat upright, still looking like if she was on the verge of tears. Adelie pushed back a strand of hair and looked into the garden, where silver veils of rain danced in front of the flower beds. “He made me believe I was in love. He played me like a stupid fiddle, and I was too blind to see it because I was bored to death after my return from racing. Then, the evening before our wedding, I finally saw it as what it was: a ploy to gain rank and status. The house of cards collapsed.”
“Holy shit.” He put his arm around her shoulder, needing to comfort her. She nestled into his embrace, her forehead resting against his collarbone. “I had no idea you were practically standing in front of the altar as the relationship failed. I’m so sorry, Lily. That must have hurt… that must have hurt.” Continue reading

Calibrations, Part 2 (Alpha & Omega, Chapter 6)

Decisions over paint chips and matters of the heart.

Holding her, even just as loosely as Nate was holding her now, was the best thing in the world. Adelie had installed herself in his life in a way he’d never imagined as he’d opened the door to let her in. Her smiles, her conversation, even her teasing – there was something profoundly missing when she wasn’t there. The colours were brighter when she was around, with her travel sized watercolour kit and her determination to capture happy memories.
“Why don’t you just snap a picture?” He once had asked, as she sat in the middle of the workshop yard, painting the garage and his bike, hair aglow like spun bronze in the setting sun.
“It’s not the same,” she had answered, “the emotion is missing. This is how I see it with my soul.”
As a former racer, she was good with a wrench and not afraid to get dirty. No more blindly groping for tools, she handed him the right one before he could ask and he missed her second set of hands every time she wasn’t there to help him.
He tried not to think about what this meant. Instead, he pulled her a smidgen closer and mumbled: “Too be honest, I was looking for something the shade of your lipstick. It’s the perfect juicy red.”
She giggled. “You’re in luck, I have it in my purse. Let’s compare.” She freed herself from his tender embrace and fetched the tote bag sitting on a chair. They picked the closest matches and Adelie held her lipstick next to them.
“This one comes quite close. Or this. The others are either too blue or too orange, don’t you think?”
His glance clung to her lips, and she probably could have read him the space force’s code of conduct, he’d still be as mesmerised. Even after all the weeks he knew her, he hadn’t gotten used to her beauty, her appeal, and it still had the power to derail his brain. Other women had vanished from his radar completely.
“Nate? What do you think? This red, or this red? I think this one would look fantastic with metallic flakes to add some depth.” She looked at him with raised eyebrows, holding up two paint chips. Focus buddy.
“Pick the one you like best. I trust you more with this than myself.” He was somewhere else with his thoughts, Adelie could tell, and she could also tell that these thoughts had something to do with her. She had no idea what to think about this fact.
“This is flattering, but I’d like to wait and see how they look when it’s sunny.” Resolutely she reunited the two paint chips with their brothers on the table and snuggled back into her corner of the swing. Nate was still watching her, a pensive look on his face. She prodded his thigh with her knee. “Why so gloomy?”
A smile flared up like an old aerobeacon. “I’m not gloomy. I thought about our summer adventures. How much fun we had. I’m gonna miss our weekends together.”
She scooted over and used him as a backrest. His arm naturally fell around her shoulder. Calm spread through her like it always did when they were close. “Why d’you think we won’t spend time together over fall and winter?”
A soft chuckle. “Because it’s unusual enough that you were willing to spend your summer weekends in the dirty garage. It’s freezing cold and uncomfortable in the winter, even with the oven glowing red. And we won’t be able to take trips to the coast and visit our secret cove, either.”
“There are some art galleries in town I could drag you to,” she suggested. “If you need a reason to meet up, that is.”
His chest expanded in her back, then air left it forcefully. “What d’you mean, Lily?”
She sat up and turned around so that she could see his face. “I mean that I’d be perfectly happy with holing up with you here or at my place. Watching movies, or something.” She took a deep breath and stared at their touching knees. “I liked being here because I had you for myself. I don’t need trips to the coast or an art gallery opening as an excuse. I… I just want to spend time with you.”
Nate remained silent for a minute that stretched into eternity. She couldn’t meet his gaze, so she kept on staring at their legs. Eventually, he moved, reached out for her face and gently lifted it. Embarrassed, she blinked as their eyes met. Sun-faded indigo, little dabs of Prussian blue, streaks of almost white. His irises were an endlessly fascinating kaleidoscope of different hues of blue. His wool sweater was soft under her palms as she slid them over his chest. Nate himself radiated a comfortable warmth. His hand moved from her chin to her cheek, cradling her face.
“My little Spitfire,” he whispered. “Beautiful, fierce, little Spitfire.”
The sharp memory of Christopher and his lovely words that meant nothing stabbed her heart again and the pain must’ve shown on her face. Nate furrowed his brows and pulled back a little.
“What’s the matter? Did I say something wrong?”
She shook her head, blinking back the tears. Hoping that her voice would not crumble, she said: “No, no, not you.”
He tugged her close, and she gave in to the impulse of finding shelter in the crook of his neck. Nate had always been open and honest, and she wished she could believe that what he said was true. That she was his little Spitfire. That she could trust him.
“What did this asshole do to you?”

Calibrations, Part 1 (Alpha & Omega, Chapter 6)

Rain, motorcycle repairs, and scones on a porch.

Rain fell in a steady rush. It gargled from the spout of the gutter, and it splattered into the puddles in the yard. It was still warm enough to leave the garage doors open, but it was clear that the violet and orange asters behind the garden fence were summer’s last hurrah. Soon Nate would need to close the doors and fire up the old cast iron stove. He turned his attention from the dripping bushes to the woman sitting on an upturned crate, polishing chrome accents for his bike. Adelie wore a rust coloured, thick cabled sweater; her old fatigue trousers pushed into chunky work boots. The right attire for a day at a dirty workshop, but too concealing for his liking. He missed the days of sundresses that showed off her perfect figure. His back lamented his crouched position behind his motorcycle, and he stretched. The movement caused her to look up and smile. She put her work aside and stood up, crossing the space between them with large strides. Putting her hands on his shoulders, massaging them lightly, she bowed over him to study his progress with the bike.
“Hey, that’s looking great. You’re almost done with reassembling it.”
He fitted his dirty, oily hand over hers on his shoulder. “All thanks to you and your steady Saturday company. Don’t think I’ve come that far in just a couple of weeks if it weren’t for you.”
“Come on, what I’ve gotten to do with your bike?” She pushed her knees into his back, ruffling his hair with her free hand.
He craned his neck to look up. Amber brown eyes shone down on him. “Oh, a whole lot. First, I finally want to go riding with you on my own bike. Then you’re always asking about my progress… and I’m not one who likes to show up empty handed, so I kept working on it. And last but not least your quiet company. Your willingness to get your hands dirty and help me.”
He got up and stretched his legs. Adelie reclined against the workbench, arms crossed in front of her chest. She watched him intently with a tilted head as he strutted around the garage to get the blood in his legs flowing again. He had enough of tinkering with tools and tightening bolts for one afternoon. He wanted to spend some time gazing into two compassionate brown eyes and listen to her mellow voice.
“You know, I think I’m done for today. How about some tea on the back porch? The garden offers a much nicer view than the workshop yard anyway.”
She laughed, pushing herself away from the bench. “You are aware that it is raining, yes? Not exactly the weather I envision for tea on a back porch.”
“I am. But you like the swing, and there are blankets and pillows. It’s really cosy on rainy days.”
He was right. The back porch was a comfortable and cosy place, even with the rain. Adelie picked up a blanket and sat down between the thick pillows of the porch swing. Gently swinging, she made herself comfortable, not for the first time wondering why a house of three men had wicker chair cushions with floral patterns. It looked quaint and almost grandmotherly. Behind the railing with the chipped white paint, soggy pink roses nodded in the breeze. Way back at the end of the garden, she could see Bob’s yellow sou’wester peek over the bushes now and then. He was digging up a bed in the vegetable garden, prepping it for the coming fall. The garden was Bob’s domain, just like Eddy’s was the workshop where he was always building or repairing things. Nate had made the kitchen his realm, and she admired how the three men had turned the whole place into a home. It was old, and some corners desperately needed work, but it still breathed more life than her polished and styled studio back in the Star City complex.
Nate kicked open the screen door, both hands busy holding the tea tray. He had switched his ratty work sweater for one without oil stains and holes, brushed his hair and washed his hands. On the tray, he had piled up scones, marmalade, clotted cream, cups and a teapot painted with blue flowers, and both her heart and her stomach appreciated the view. She patted the space next to her and with a bright smile, he joined her on the swing after he’d set the little table in front of them.
“You’ve outdone yourself again, English,” she mumbled while munching one of his scones.
“Thanks, Princess.”
“Why’s Bob digging up the garden in this weather?”
“Because he’s a stubborn mule. He’s leaving for another concert tour tomorrow and said it couldn’t wait until his return.”
After a delicious scone break, Nate asked if she could help him picking a colour for his bike and went to fetch the paint chips.
“Here are the ones I collected, but I can’t decide. It’s all red to me.” He turned with pleading eyes to her and dropped a small pile of painted squares into her lap.
“Oh my gosh, that’s a lot.” She placed the chips on the table to study them. Indeed, they were all different shades of red. “They’re all pretty. What are you looking for?”
He’d sat down next to her and pushed the swing with one foot. His warmth enticed her to lean against him, and he put his arms around her, his chin on her shoulder.

A Matter of Honour, Part 6 (Alpha & Omega, Chapter 5)

Nate finds a special button to push and Adelie makes a confession.

“How do you manage to keep a straight face through all of the abuse?” Nate sounded worried, and as Adelie looked up, she found a new warmth in his eyes. He’d driven her up to Bunker Hill again, this time in the truck and with a picnic basket, and they had made themselves comfortable in the truck bed, enjoying the view while the driver’s cabin sheltered them from the wind.
“I guess I’m just used to it. It’s not as bad around here as it was in the race camps. And – at least that’s what I keep telling myself – they don’t really mean me. They see me, and they have a particular idea of me, but they don’t know me. They abuse the picture they have, not me.”
He huffed. “Still. It’s not fair.”
“No, it’s not. But it’s also no reason to tarnish our little celebration. What do you have in your mystery picnic basket?” She grinned at him, and he grinned back.
“That’s a secret.”
She quietly observed him while he unpacked the culinary treasures in the form of sandwiches and cake onto the picnic blanket. She also had to remedy the picture she had had of him, and she must say, she really liked what she had found.
“We all do it, though, don’t we.”
He looked up. “We all do what?”
Adelie smoothed her hair back and cocked her head. “Create ideas of people before we know them. I certainly had an idea of you, and it couldn’t have been further away from the truth.”
His smile was pure tease. “What was your idea of me, and what did you find instead?” Hot blush crept into her cheeks, and his smile grew wider. “Come on, tell me.”
“Oh, alright then.” She huffed. “I thought you were really full of yourself, a playboy, the typical poster boy for a cocky pilot.”
Nate waggled his head. “This is not an entirely wrong assessment. Even though I prefer the terms ‘dashing’ and ‘daring’. Or ‘impossible’, but only when you say it.” He looked up and winked. She blushed. Again.
“Sometimes…” She smoothed the creases out of the tea towel that served as their picnic blanket. “Sometimes I wish we would spend more time together. I like you.”
He rummaged around inside the basket, but she could see him smile. It was a very private smile, almost invisible if not for a cute dimple in his cheek. “Spend more time with me doing what?” He asked, making eye contact again. She bent over until her face was only centimetres away from his.
“Oh, I don’t know. Riding motorcycles? Sitting in truck beds watching space ships? Anything, really.”
“Anything, huh? I see…” His smile was downright dangerous. Gently he brushed a hair from her cheek.
“There’s no reason to say this so sleazily, English.”
“But it makes you blush. It’s so flippin’ hard to make you blush.” He contemplated her face, his gaze wandering over her lips, cheeks and nose up to her eyes. Heat rushed into her cheeks again, and he smiled. “You’re unflappable. Not a red hot button like me.”
“You certainly found my blush button.”
He laughed softly at her confession. “Even worse – I like to push it.”
“Are you always such a shameless flirter?”
“Oh yes.”
She scooted over, and he wrapped his arm around her. For a long while, they watched the incoming ships in silence. Eventually, he squeezed her and said: “Just so you know, I want to spend more time with you, too.”
“You say that as if you usually don’t spend time with people.” She craned her head to catch a glimpse of his face, but it was unreadable. He cleared his throat.
“I usually don’t spend a lot of time with women.”
“What?” Adelie struggled to sit upright again, which he prevented with tightening his grip around her. With a huff, she gave up and instead poked her finger into his ribs. “I thought you’re the guy who’s very successful with nurses. Leslie explicitly warned me about you. Is that not spending time with women?”
She heard him chuckle. “There’s a fundamental difference between going out with a woman once or twice, spending time with her in bed afterwards, and allowing someone into your life.”
“But you can’t fall in love with someone if you don’t let them into your life!” She blurted out, biting her lips immediately afterwards.
Nate sighed, then said, after a pause: “I don’t believe in love. It just leads to pain.”
“That’s not true!”
He turned his head and nuzzled her hair. “Says the one who cried bitter tears about some guy who broke her heart. Look, my parents had a gruesome divorce. I have trouble believing in happily ever afters after I’ve seen two grown-ups fight over a teapot like two toddlers in a sandbox.”
She pondered his words while they watched a Class 3 Sandhawk touchdown on the runway, the mighty roar of its engines reduced to a faint meow due to the distance. “And yet you once tried and let somebody close enough to hurt you with their dishonesty.”
His body became stiff for a second, then he exhaled forcefully. “Yeah, once I did.”
“So, no more women allowed in Nate Havisham’s life?”
He chuckled. “There’s always an exception to the rule.”

A Matter of Honour, Part 5 (Alpha & Omega, Chapter 5)

In which G-force throws Adelie a curveball and Payne gets angry.

The bubble canopy hissed open, and a waft of fresh air promised stable ground. With weak knees and a queasy stomach, Nate climbed out of the Stingray. Adelie followed suit and he already had a quip on his tongue about the wildest rollercoaster ride he’d ever been to, as she dropped her helmet and bowed over the front wheel of the bird. He just had time to catch her braid before her stomach stated its own opinion about their performance.
He greeted her with a handkerchief and a breath mint as she finally came back up. “Better? Here, take this, helps with the vile taste.”
A weak smile. “Thank you.”
She steadied herself against the plane, the sickly green colour of her face slowly changing back to the usual lovely pale rosy-pink. Eventually, she grinned at him. “Sorry for pulling so many Gs. Hope you’re not going to be sick too.”
Nate shook his head. “No, I’m feeling okay-ish. Fresh air is lovely, though. D’you want to see the flight surgeon on our way to the debriefing room?”
“Nah, I think I’m all right.”
“You were awesome. Even though some of your moves had my stomach either up in my throat or down at my knees. I think it was all worth it.”
She blinked at him as she had to look into the sun. “You weren’t bad at taking down the enemy either. I admire your jamming tricks. They totally didn’t see us coming. This was highly enjoyable.”
“It was. We’re a good team.”
Major Payne clearly wasn’t happy with the overall results, which suggested a lack in the capacity for teamwork across both squadrons. He pulled up a spreadsheet with the results for every team. Next to Nate, Adelie gasped and squeezed his thigh.
“I knew we were good – I didn’t expect us to be this good.” She whispered. His beautiful partner in crime was right – they had indeed blasted everyone out of the sky as he had envisioned. Payne highlighted the first five teams in the spreadsheet.
“These teams were the ones who understood what the exercise was about. Teamwork. Putting your own need to shine behind the greater good. Working with whatever you get. Some of them were more successful than others in their attempts, but they all were professional and resourceful. No bickering, no insults. Instead focused communication. Not to mention skills and the ability to work together instead of against each other. This is how you not only get into Space Force, this is how you make a great career in the Space Force.”
“But Havisham and Klaiber trained together!” Someone in the back had the audacity to pipe up. Payne raised his eyebrows and with a dead-calm voice said: “So, they trained together. They sacrificed precious free time to get better at their craft. Either of you could’ve done the same. These two show a dedication I’m missing in a lot of you. You should not complain that they trained together, across squadrons even, but ask yourself why you didn’t.”

A Matter of Honour, Part 4 (Alpha & Omega, Chapter 5)

In which our duo faces another challenge – but takes measures to win it.

“He can’t be serious!”
“That’s a bad joke!”
“Why’s he doing this to us?”
“I don’t want to fly with this guy, I don’t even know him!”
Adelie listened to her unhappy classmates as the two squadrons trickled out of the assembly hall. Major Payne had just announced a wing exercise, grouping every cadet with their sister squadron counterpart according to their ranking, and it didn’t sit well with a lot of them.
“Hey, Princess! Looks like we’re going to share a cockpit for a day.” Nate had fought his way through the throngs of people heading for the exit and sauntered along her, all smiles and smirks. He didn’t seem vexed by the prospect of flying with someone else, like many others.
“Hi, English. Lucky us, huh?” She followed him outside, where a sunny afternoon greeted them.
“Extremely lucky. D’you have time for a soda at the Lemon Tree? We should discuss our strategy to win this game.” He waggled his eyebrows at her, half-way turning around as he descended the steps leading up to the building. Crisp white shirt, dark blue slacks. The black eye had faded to a faint grey shadow and the cut on his lip was merely a thin line. He was almost back to his usual level of devastating perfection.
She adjusted the strap of her bag over her shoulder, tilting her head to the side. “Are you sure you do not just want to spend the afternoon with me?”
He laughed, not at all ashamed that she apparently had seen through his little scheme. “That too. Now that I actually have a valid reason to do so and neither of us needs first aid in one form or another.”
Adelie shook her head. “You are impossible. But, okay, you’re right – we need a strategy if we want to win. And the exercise is in three days.”
They found a quiet corner in the back of the diner and after receiving their sparkling lemonades, Nate indeed came right down to the matter at hand, but not in the way she’d expected.
“You’ll fly,” he said, flashing his trademark megawatt smile.
“What?” With a heavier than planned thunk, she set down her glass. “You don’t want to fly?”
“No, ma’am. You’re the much better pilot.”
“Don’t be stupid. I’m not.”
“Oh yes, you are. Don’t sell yourself short.” He smiled sheepishly as if he was about to confess something. “See, I analysed you. Nah, don’t get upset. I wanted to know why I couldn’t beat you unless you seemed to have an awful day. I compared results, from our own interactions and with others.”
Now he had tickled her curiosity. “What did you find?”
He laughed softly and made eye contact. “We’re on par when it comes to hits, but your reaction time is much faster than mine. You’re excellent at anticipating your adversary’s next move. I guess your racing days give you an advantage here.”
Baffled, she blinked at him. “My racing days? Nate, driving a race car has nothing to do with flying a jet…”
“Ha, that’s what you think!” He scooted to the edge of the bench. In his excitement to get his point across, he nearly knocked over his glass. “When you race, you need to make split-second decisions. You need to anticipate what the guy in the car in front of you is going to do next, to figure out how to overtake him. All of that while driving at neck-breaking speeds and trying not to get off course. You’re simply used to think a step ahead of the game a lot longer than any of us is. Add your discipline and your will to go the extra mile, and it’s no wonder you’re leading the ranking by miles.” He beamed at her. “And that’s why you’re going to man the stick, and I’ll happily take the gunner’s position.”
His reasoning was solid, she had to give him that. “Nate, it’s not that I don’t want to fly, but… aren’t you afraid they’ll make fun of you when you let the girl pilot? You got yourself a split lip because of me already.”
His blue eyes became serious, and he took her hands into his. Her mouth went dry for no reason. “Excuse my French, but I don’t give a flying fuck what these twats think. I want to win this, and I know our chances to win are much higher when you pilot. And they won’t laugh when we’ve blasted them out of the skies.”

A Matter of Honour, Part 3 (Alpha & Omega, Chapter 5)

In which Adelie saves Nate’s tush once more, but with a lot more style than last time.

Adelie felt him tense up under her hand. Awareness trickled in, the fact that they were, and there was no other way to put it, cuddling. Slowly she eased away from him. Nate gave her free without protest, his arm moving to the backrest of the love seat.
“Sorry… I’m not ready… yet.” She fumbled for a cover up, but his smile stopped her. It was a sad smile. Maybe it was his battered and bruised state, but he looked as vulnerable as she felt.
“It’s okay.” His voice was coarse. The sight of him slouched in the corner of the seat, a tired and hurt man, tugged at her heartstrings. The need to comfort him, to hold him was stronger than her fear. Tentatively and awkwardly, she slipped back, resting her head on his shoulder and his arm wrapped around her again. “Ready now?” He whispered. She shook her head. “Then why…”
“I could use a little more of your particular brand of first aid.”
He made a happy sound, a half-chuckle, half-sigh. “I’ll try my very best.”
“I’ve accepted that I seem to end up in your arms every time we meet anyway,” she added, provoking a laugh from him.
“I’m not objecting.” She could hear the teasing grin without the need to look up.
“Of course, you aren’t.” More laughter. She liked his laughs.
A sigh lifted his chest, and his arm tightened around her, pressing her against him. It didn’t matter that he had a beaten up face and a bloody shirt – if anything, it added a nice touch of roughness to his already sky-high appeal.
“I want to beat up that asshole that broke your heart,” he said.
“Sh, I don’t want to think about him right now. The memory fades when I’m with you.” She bit her lips after her unplanned confession, anxiously waiting for his sure teasing, but he stayed quiet. As she looked up, he put down the icepack and tenderly cupped her face with his cool hand. Their glances tangled, and he sighed as he contemplated her.
“Something about you makes me overly protective.”
She was still thinking about his words when she ran into him the next afternoon in the hallway of the administration building. He was wearing his uniform and looked even more like a model for Aerospace Fashion, battered face aside.
“You clean up nicely,” she joked. He grinned, but there was a strain of worry on his face. “What caused the dress up?”
“Payne ordered me in. Apparently, Parachute complained this morning.”
“Oh. That little…” She swallowed the expletive and Nate chuckled. “You know what, I’ll come with you.”
“Because I’m not going to allow that little douchecanoe to ruin your career. He has to learn to take responsibility for his actions. Provoking people and then complaining that they hit you is bad form, terrible form.”
He laughed at her anger. “Now who’s protective?”
Adelie just smiled at him, eyes crinkling. She was wearing the blue dress with the gold buttons again, looking prim and proper. “Hey, you’re always calling me your guardian angel… I just accepted the job.”
She led the way to Payne’s office and knocked. To be honest, he was glad not to face the Major alone.
“Yes.” Payne sat at his desk over some paperwork. He was a man in his late forties, with a salt and pepper buzz cut and steel grey eyes. Nate didn’t want to know how much discipline it took to maintain the Major’s fitness, but he clearly hadn’t let himself go. He raised his eyebrows in surprise as he recognised Adelie.
“Klaiber? What are you doing here?”
“I figured, if Cadet Havisham is facing penalties because of his behaviour, I should too.”
“What?” Nate realised that he and Payne had spoken in unison. The Major added: “What’s this nonsense all about?”
Adelie sighed. “Apparently, Bukovski had set his eyes on me and I failed to recognise and stop this development. He thusly became jealous of Havisham. His plan of action was to provoke Havisham in any possible way who only reacted in defence of my honour. I’m sorry.”
Payne rubbed his chin with his fingertips but wasn’t very successful in hiding his twitching mouth. “Sit down, you two. I need to know what happened. I can’t let a cadet breaking someone’s nose slip by unnoticed. But I also know that Havisham is not someone who picks fights.”
“See, I told you, you broke his nose.” Adelie sat close enough to Nate on Payne’s visitor sofa to shove her elbow into his side.
“He called you a whore.” Nate’s guts clenched at the very thought of it. Asshole. He’d break more than just Pat Bukovski’s nose if he’d get the chance.
“That is indeed a grave insult.” Payne sighed. “And of course, Bukovski omitted this crucial piece of information in his complaint.”
Adelie recounted the happenings in the Officer’s Club with her clear and mellow voice. To Nate’s regret, she was concise with her words, as he could have listened to her for hours. Payne asked a few more questions, which they both answered until he seemed satisfied.
“Havisham, I see that Klaiber has taken it into her capable hands to keep you out of trouble. You should consider yourself lucky.”
Nate cleared his throat, thinking back to the last evening and their delightful snuggle. “She sure gave me hell for my behaviour, Sir.”
Payne laughed a rumbly laugh. “I bet she did, so I won’t punish you any further.”
“Excuse me, Sir?”
“Judging from what you both just told me, the one who should get a penalty is Bukovski, for insulting the integrity of a fellow squadron member and aggravating another to the point of violence. This is not the sort of behaviour I want to see in any of my cadets, let alone a future officer. There will be consequences. But – Havisham.” Nate involuntarily straightened his back at the tone of Payne’s address. “I can’t let you off the hook every time – see that you’re not breaking anybody’s nose from this point on. It’s not acceptable behaviour, but considering that you maintained a low profile so far, I can let this pass.”
“Thank you, Sir.”
Payne nodded. “Dismissed.”

A Matter of Honour, Part 2 (Alpha & Omega, Chapter 5)

In which someone has to learn that bold acts of confidence can place you in very hot water afterwards but also yield unexpected rewards.

Nate sat on Adelie’s love seat and tried very hard to not get mesmerised by her beautiful face as she cleaned battle marks from his face. Long, curved lashes contrasted with translucent, rosy cheeks. Faint freckles sprinkled the tip of her nose. The plump pillows of her lips invited to bestow fervent kisses on them and not even the harsh sting of the disinfectant could mute the longing to do so. He wanted to take her sweet face between his hands and kiss her. Not that he actually could, his upper lip throbbed and filled his cheek with a dull pain. And even though Adelie naturally tried to be gentle and careful, every dab was as if she was poking a glowing knife into the wound. He involuntarily winced through clenched teeth, and she looked up.
“Sorry.” She cupped the unhurt half of his face with her soft, warm palm and a flicker of worry passed over her features.
“Don’t be. I’ve looked worse after rugby matches.”
“That’s not something to boast about.” Her kissable lips turned into a thin line, and her hand dropped away.
“You’re upset.”
“I had slightly different plans for tonight.” She snapped the ointment bottle shut, stuffed it back into the first aid kit and zipped that close too. She got up, grabbed the bag and stomped into the bathroom, the skirts of her blue dress swishing. He heard the sharp clatter of a cupboard door smacked shut.
“I’m sorry that I ruined your evening,” he said as she returned. With a huff, she gathered her hair and tied it into a ponytail, offering him a prime view of her chest.
“It’s not even your fault. It’s that idiot Pat’s,” she answered as she walked into her closet sized kitchen. He got up and followed her, which was a blessing and a curse, as now she brushed against him with every move due to the restricted space. She filled the kettle with water and switched it on. He wanted to brush away her hair, put his arms around her and kiss her snowy nape to comfort her. Instead, he was sentenced to watch her rip open a new box of tea, fill the infuser and pour the boiling water over it. Finally, she rested against the counter and stared blindly out of the window into the summer night. In the distance, the white light of the aerodrome beacon blinked in the darkness, guiding smaller blinking dots to safety. Adelie sighed, and he couldn’t take it any longer. It only took a step to close the space between them anyway. He put his hands on her shoulders, his thumbs massaging her trapezoid muscle gently. To his immense relief, she moulded into his touch.
“What’s the matter? You’re like an angry lioness waiting to pounce.”
Abruptly she turned around, glaring at him. He bravely met her eyes while simultaneously trying to ignore the fact that their bodies were inappropriately close. Her index finger poked into his chest with every word she hurled at him. “I feel like a damn prize for boys to fight over, not like a person. I’m angry that Pat succeeded in pushing your buttons. And…” The finger wavered and then her hand fell to the side. Her look softened. “And I’m sorry that you got hurt on my behalf.”
He took her hands and laced his fingers through hers. “Lily, I play rugby. I get hurt all the time.” She huffed and looked at him with widened eyes. “Seriously, don’t feel bad about me. I’m fine. You cleaned me up so carefully. Our team doc isn’t so considerate.” This finally brought a reluctant smile to her face, and she freed her hands to pull the infuser out of the teapot.
“Do you want ice for your black eye and your lip?” She asked over her shoulder.
“That would be great, yes.”
Adelie pointed at the fridge behind him while taking two cups from the shelf next to her. “It’s in there, help yourself, will you?”
To his surprise, she sat down on the love seat with him, even leaning slightly against him. He put his arm around her shoulder and pulled her close, needing her proximity as well. Her touch seemed to soothe his soreness.
“Pat looked awful, I’m sure you broke his nose,” she said.
“He deserves it. Stupid asshole.”
“Nate!” She giggled and looked up at him with twinkling eyes. “You can’t just beat up everyone you deem an asshole.” She nestled closer, pulling up her legs on the seat too.
“Not every one, true. But all the ones who dare to insult you.” He squeezed her shoulder, and she giggled again.
“It was sweet of you, though,” she eventually said. “Stupid maybe, but sweet.” She looked up and smiled so warmly at him, he’d do it all over again. He slid his hand down over her arm to her waist, and she didn’t object. Instead, she reached up and gingerly brushed over his beaten up eyebrow. “Thank you.”
Peaceful silence settled between them. The ice dulled the pain in his face, and it took him a full five minutes to realise that Adelie was snuggled up to him, her head on his shoulder, her hand on his stomach and that he played absentmindedly with her silky ponytail. Quiet satisfaction had spread through him, a warm and happy feeling that now was frozen by an arctic blaze of shock.

A Matter of Honour, Part 1 (Alpha & Omega, Chapter 5)

In which someone gets a very bloody nose and soaked by a soda siphon.

Adelie stepped out of the airbase administration building into a velvet summer night. A yellow moon hung in the ink blue sky and the amber runway edge lights glowed below like giant fireflies. A faint breeze ruffled her petticoat as it brushed against her bare legs. From the other side of the airfield merry laughter wafted over, the Officer’s Club was open. Maybe Nate would be there. She hadn’t seen him in the last two weeks, and curiosity got the better of her. Humming she crossed the airfield and entered the brightly lit room. It wasn’t too crowded, and she spotted Nate playing pool with his friend Jake at the table in the back. She waved as she made her way to the bar, strangely delighted as he nodded and flashed her a smile.
“Hello, Princess!” Squadron mate Gerald “Haystack” MacLaren was bartending tonight, and he greeted her with a smile. “I don’t see you here often.” She settled at the bar.
“Hi, Haystack. I just finished work for my semester project over at the airbase, and digging through dry and dusty files sure makes me thirsty. Thought I’d drop by.”
“Lucky for us you did.” Nate’s warm voice was distinctive and rumbly and caused shivers of goosebumps to run over her back. “Hey, Princess. Happy to see you.”
She half-turned and flicked him a quick smile. “Hi, English. Nice to see you too.” She noticed dark under-eye circles and a yellow pallor instead of his usual honey golden skin tone, and it worried her a little.
“Haven’t seen you in a while, what have you been up to?” She asked after Gerald handed her her soda. She took a sip and glanced at him again.
“Like you, I had a lot to do for my semester project.”
“You look like you’ve pulled a few all-nighters… but the papers aren’t due until the end of the month?”
“Don’t ask.” He smiled sheepishly. “I’m not as organised as you are.”
She shoved him with her shoulder. “Stop flattering me.”
“I’m not flattering you, it’s a fact.” He grinned, leaning against the bar with one elbow propped up. “Nice dress. I like the gold buttons.”
Blush crept into her cheeks as she tugged at the bodice. “Thank you. I bought it because it reminded me of our dress uniforms.”
“It suits you.”
“Havisham.” Pat Bukovski’s sneer. “You really better stay away from her. She’s not good for your career.”
Nate straightened and slowly turned around. His jaws clenched. “Good evening, Patrick. You do know the old adage of if you have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all? It would certainly help to improve my view of you.” He crossed his arms in front of his chest, biceps bulging under his shirt, straining the fabric. His eyes had the quality of steel and lost all of the warmth she’d liked so much. Standing head to head, she realised how massive Nate actually was. He was easily a head taller than Pat and stared at him with all the confidence of someone who knew how to take a tackle and still cross the line.
Pat hissed, fidgeting. “What d’you want with the whore anyway?”
Adelie couldn’t look as fast as Nate’s fist flew towards Pat’s face. Blood splattered as the cadet stumbled backwards against a table. Before he was upright again, Nate grabbed him by the collar and pulled him up to his face. “What did you call her?”
Pat apparently didn’t know when it was time to let it go. “Whore.” He spat the word into Nate’s face and the next moment the two men were locked together like feral dogs. Tables crashed, glass shattered. Someone yelled: “Go Havisham, get him!”
A circle of jeering men formed around the two combatants grappling on the floor. Adelie had enough. They were Officers-to-be, not fighters in a carnival tent. She grabbed the soda syphon from the bar and aimed right at the faces. A sharp jet of icy seltzer spritzed, confusing the fighters enough for Jake and Gerald to pull them apart.
“Enough.” Anger whipped the word from her lips, and the room snapped back to normality. Pat was unable to stand on his own feet, and his nose looked like he should better see a doctor. But she had no sympathy for him. “Someone bring him to the ER,” she ordered, and two cadets followed through, grabbing the barely conscious cadet under his arms. Her attention focused on Nate. His bloody face was a dagger to her heart. His lip and nose were bleeding, and a bruise was forming under his eye, but he could stand and met her glare unblinking. He even managed a crooked grin.
“Joined the fire brigade, huh?” He pointed with his chin at the syphon.
“Shut up.”
“Yes, ma’am.” He straightened and winced, but stood to attention.
His formerly white shirt was adorned with blotches of blood. She wanted to scream and yell at him. She wanted to cradle and kiss him. Instead, she jerked her head towards the door. “You better come with me.”

The Green Fairy, Part 6 (Alpha & Omega, Chapter 4)

In which Adelie finds that sometimes it’s best to enjoy the moment without thinking too far ahead.

His suggestion caused heat to flush Adelie’s chest. He stood in front of her, looking like he was about to actually kiss her. Like during their pond picnic, they had made it into difficult emotional terrain again. Dangerous, difficult terrain. His hugs had been wonderful, he was using possessives and all of this was rather disconcerting. He was not to have exclusively and yet he acted like he was. She realised they were staring at each other and cleared her throat.
“Oh dang, now we’ve missed the sunset. But look, there’s another treat coming in.” She pointed at the horizon east of Meadow Junction, where a succession of tiny, fast-growing, blinking lights had appeared. “A convoy.”
“Lucky us, huh?” His voice was threaded with relief. She turned and straddled the bike again, and to her surprise, he slid on it behind her. “The wind is getting cold,” he said, as he put his arms around her again. Sneaky bastard. She should tell him off. On the other hand, he was right, the wind was rather chilly, and having him in her back was beyond comfortable. She ignored the content spreading through her like warm syrup and focused on the lights. They had grown into diminutive spacecraft, rushing through the sky.
“Look, there are ambulances.” Nate turned her attention to a string of emergency vehicles coming from the airbase hospital and beginning to line up at the end of the airfield. Bunker Hill provided an excellent view. The drop ships grew quickly and then fell into a circling pattern over the base. One by one, they made a dash for the landing strip and then taxied to the waiting ambulances. Hatches opened and then each of them dispatched its cargo: Stretchers with wounded soldiers. “It’s a medical convoy. A hospital ship must be in orbit.”
Icy cold poured down Adelie’s back as she watched the choreographed dance of nurses and medics on the field, and she nestled closer into Nate’s embrace.
“You okay?” Nate tightened his hold of her as he noticed her shivering.
“I… don’t know. I wondered if that’s our fate too. Ending up on a backwater planet, on a stretcher, rushed to the hospital, more dead than alive.” Her voice dwindled away. “And I thought of Leslie, who likely was getting ready to go home, and now will have to stay to care for them. There are never enough special care nurses on duty.”
His warm breath brushed along her cheek. “These chaps down there are lucky. They’re still alive. They’ve got Leslies and doctors looking after them. Others might’ve not been so lucky.”
They fell silent, watching the ambulances cycling between the airfield and the hospital. Nate’s chest moved in the rhythm of his breathing and her temple touched his jaw. His hand found hers resting on the tank of the bike. His fingertips were smooth as he stroked its back, tracing her knuckles. He had beautiful hands, sinewy with long, elegant fingers. Eventually, he fitted it over hers, encasing her in the warmth of his palm. Their fingers entangled, and she nestled closer. She watched the last stretchers being loaded into the ambulances. Holding hands with a gorgeous man while sitting on a motorcycle in the fragrant air of a summer’s evening seemed like the right thing to do. Who knew how much time she had left to enjoy life?
A nudge from him pulled her out of her thoughts.
“It’s getting dark, Princess. How about dinner at the Lemon Tree?”
“It’s a weeknight.”
“So? Are you not eating dinner on weeknights?”
She turned in her seat and poked him. “Don’t be silly. Of course, I eat on weeknights. I just don’t want to go to bed too late, because I’m supposed to manoeuvre dangerous weapons early tomorrow morning.”
He laughed. “Don’t worry, I’ll get you home before 11 pm, ‘kay?”