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.”
“Why?”
“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?”

The Green Fairy, Part 5 (Alpha & Omega, Chapter 4)

In which Nate administers a special kind of first aid.

The way Adelie nodded and pressed her lips together took away any flirty mood he’d entertained. She took a deep breath, her hand wiping her cheek. Christ, if she was still crying because of that guy, it must’ve been a hell of a story. Her pain went deep. He moved close and touched her arm. She turned, completely undone, and just like that he wrapped his arms around her and folded her into a hug. He hadn’t planned to extend it into an embrace, but to his surprise, Adelie relaxed with a deep sigh and leant into him. One single ragged sob emerged from her and pierced his heart. He couldn’t remember when he last comforted a crying woman. This felt a lot like his first time in a cockpit: Accelerating faster than he could think and he wasn’t sure he was entirely in control. Luckily, autopilot kicked in before he could baulk. Without giving much thought into it, he rubbed her back and made soothing noises. She sighed, her nose pressed against his neck. Oh, sweet baby Jesus…
“Is this part of your usual service too?” Her voice was muffled, but he could hear the tease. Granted, a teary, watery tease, but a tease. Someone else was in need to get back to solid ground. He cleared his throat.
“No, it’s not.”
She lifted her head from the shelter of his body, giving him a long look. “It’s not? Your tactic is not to make the lady cry to have a reason to hug her?”
He adjusted his hold around her to a loose circle, arms crossing behind her lower back, far away from the temptation of catching an errant tear coursing over her cheek. “No, I’m not Mr Comfort. I’m not the right guy for hugging and listening. I’m the one for dancing the night away and having fun, err, elsewhere.”
This brought a smile to her face. “And what you’re doing right now is not hugging and listening?”
Damnit, now she had him cornered. And she knew it, as her biting her lower lip told him. He made his poker face. “What I’m doing right now is just first aid.”
“Ah, I see.” She settled back against him, nose burrowed between the jacket collar and his neck. Autopilot took over again, his arms tightened around her, one hand rubbing the space between her shoulder blades. Tentatively and slowly, her arms wound around his waist. Warmth spread from where her body touched his. “I do like your particular brand of first aid, though,” she mumbled. His hand slipped under her ponytail, up to her neck, his thumb caressing her warm skin. With every stroke, he felt her becoming less and less tense. This was more like it.
“You really put me through the motions, though. First forcing me to practice my rescue skills, now you’re testing my abilities in administering first aid…” He couldn’t resist teasing her a little. She untangled herself from his arms and shot him an amused look.
“You should consider yourself lucky I’m not set on practising mouth on mouth resuscitation. Who knows where this might end.” She twirled a strand of her ponytail around her finger while she looked at him with her damn eyebrow arched. He ran his hand through his hair, rubbing his suddenly hot neck, gazing at the ravishing beauty in the orange light of the setting sun. Her hair glowed in a dark chestnut, and her skin had a faint rosy tint. Her lashes were still wet and sticking together, making her all the more adorable. Then her bright smile broke through her unreadable face, the sight nearly stealing his breath.
“Too bad, this is the one and only field I can confidently call myself an expert in,” he growled, taking a step towards her.

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

In which the past interferes with the present, and not everybody involved can handle it.

Fact was, Adelie liked being with him and she wouldn’t mind using possessives. It had been a while, and she missed the warm feeling of belonging to someone. The bitter taste of Christopher’s betrayal warned her that Nate’s words could be just that: Words without meaning.
“What are you thinking about?” He asked, turning his head to look at her.
“That it’s been a while since someone called me their anything.” With a sigh, she extracted herself from his warm body and got off the bike to walk a few steps to the edge of the road. “And the last time someone did, it was a lie.”
He inhaled sharply. “I have a talent of reminding you of unpleasant things today, haven’t I?”
“It’s not your fault that I have a painful history.” Everything around her was bathed in a golden glow. His steps crunched on the gravel as he got off the bike too.
“How can someone call you their anything and not mean it?”
“Do you mean it when you say I’m your little Spitfire?” She turned her head to look at him. “Or are you just saying it to charm me?”
“I admit that it’s more wishful thinking than actual fact, but yes, I mean it when I call you my little Spitfire.”
His honesty baffled her for a moment. “You are very straightforward.”
He sighed and rubbed his neck, then he pushed his fists deep into his jeans pockets and stared into the distance with an unseeing eye, his mouth a thin line. She contemplated his handsome profile, wishing for her watercolours to paint him in the burning colours of the setting sun. Eventually, he turned back to her and said: “Being straightforward has to do with my history. There was a time when someone was not honest with their intentions from the beginning. I don’t want to inflict this particular pain on anybody. It’s not fair.”
“No, it’s not fair.” She bravely met the sun-faded indigo of his eyes, only to discover that the twinkle that usually danced in them had vanished. A serious Nate. A serious, open and obviously hurt Nate. The sight grabbed her heart and squeezed it painfully. “We seem to be very much alike… we love fast things, we like good food, and we’ve been both betrayed by people we trusted.”
This made him smile. She liked his smiles. The way it crinkled his eyes, how he quickly cast his glance down and how he cocked his head to the side as they made eye contact again.
“Yeah, we’re very much alike.” He stepped closer. “And I’d like to get to know you better. I want to learn more about the woman who’s a menace in a plane, an ex-race car driver and a pretty baroness. I’d never thought I’d meet a woman who’s just one of these things, all of them wrapped into one is like Christmas, Easter and my birthday falling together.”
She laughed. “Don’t be silly, I’m not that special.”
He grabbed her hand and tugged her closer. “Oh yes, you are. You are wonderful, fascinating and yes, special. You’re my little Spitfire, never forget that.”
She couldn’t keep herself from grinning. “Idiot.”
“Would you go on a date with this idiot here?”
“Another motorcycle date?”
He shook his head. “No, I meant something fancy. A dress and a suit, a restaurant with white tablecloths and real silverware, scrumptious food, candles…”
“And it’ll all end in your bed, right?” She poked him, and he twitched out of reach.
He opened his arms wide and shrugged. “Maybe. Maybe not. That’s up to you. I’m a full-service guy.”
She folded her arms across her chest. “You’re impossible.”
“Admit it; you like it.” There was the smile again.
“I like riding bikes with you. I like picnics next to enchanted ponds. I even like just studying with you, sitting in the same room for a few hours, scribbling away… You don’t need to impress me with expensive dinners. Just be who you are. Just be Nate, who knows secret ponds and rides bikes with me to cheer me up. I need something real. Not something that feels like a plot to get me into your bed!” She spat the last words out and breathlessly turned away from him. Why was she so angry all of a sudden? Where were the tears coming from?
“That guy really hurt you badly, huh?” Nate’s voice was velvety soft and tender, and it unravelled the last stitches that held her countenance together.

The Green Fairy, Part 3 (Alpha and Omega, Chapter 4)

In which we learn that the limited space on a motorcycle is something one should think about beforehand – or suffer the consequences.

His blue eyes did things to her, especially when they lit up like they did now. He stood there, going from apologetic to mischievous in the blink of an eye, and all Adelie could think of was that his set of broad shoulders would be perfect to cry on. He moved closer as if he’d knew where her thoughts were going. He probably did, having honed his skills of anticipating women’s desires over the course of a lot of nurses.
“You can cry on my shoulder anytime you want.” His voice was a velvety, suggestive rumble.
“How did I know that you were going to say that,” she teased him, tapping his shoulder playfully. He caught her hand and tugged her closer so that she nearly stumbled against him.
“Maybe because you want to cry on my shoulder?”
She raised her eyebrow. “Well, I don’t quite feel like crying now, although I could use something that distracts me.”
“Would a motorcycle ride distract you?”
“I thought your bike’s in shambles?”
He laughed. “It is, but luckily I know someone who has more than enough bikes. Gimme a sec.” He unclipped his InstaComm from his belt and dialled a number. “Hey, Eddy, Nate here. How’s it hanging? … Ah, that’s bloody marvellous man, I’m happy for you! Listen, I was wondering if I could borrow the Green Fairy today? … You drive a hard bargain, sir. Yeah, I’ll help you with cleaning out the second garage. … Yes, this weekend. … Thanks, man. Yeah, you too. Laters.” With a victorious smile, he turned to her. “Do you have a leather jacket?”
She couldn’t quite believe it. “Wait a minute… you doomed yourself to help to clean out an entire garage brimming with stuff so that you can take me on a motorcycle ride right now?”
“Yes, ma’am.”
“Why?”
He crossed his arms, grinning at her. “Because I want to cheer you up. And I have a hunch you’re going to like riding.”
An hour later Nate drove up in front of her house, sitting on a rather low bike with a voluptuously curved tank and wide handlebars. It was a brilliant candy apple green, its chrome accents gleaming in the afternoon sun. She immediately understood why he was willing to sacrifice a weekend in exchange for riding this particular machine – with or without her. The bike was a beauty.
“Hello, beautiful lady. You requested a ride?” He glanced over his sunglasses and waggled his eyebrows at her, his voice mockingly dropped even deeper than it already was. Blue jeans, white button down, a red ascot, and a totally badass looking leather jacket – he had her at hello. She smiled and stepped towards the bike.
“Where do I sit?”
“Right here. Hop aboard.” He patted a leather cushion right behind his seat.
***
As Adelie swung her long leg over the bike and sat down behind him, her thighs aligning with his, Nate remembered that having a guest rider was usually a touchy-feely affair. He had no chance to dwell on the consequences, as her voice right next to his ear inquired: “Is… is it okay when I wrap my arms around you?”
“Of course. And don’t be afraid to hold on tight, okay?”
“Okay.”
He turned in his seat to check on her. “Hey, I… I don’t ride with a passenger often, and even less with female ones. I completely forgot that bikes require a certain amount of body contact. I hope you don’t mind.”
She grinned, resting her chin on his shoulder, wrapping her arms around his waist. “Not at all.” Relieved, he started the engine.
It was more natural than he’d expected. After a while, her grip around his waist got loose, and her body relaxed into the ride. The Green Fairy wasn’t the fastest bike in Eddy’s collection, but she was steady and as soft as butter. She was perfect for the leisurely stroll he had in mind. The roads behind Meadow Junction were seemingly endless lines stretching towards the horizon, cutting through the softly rolling hills. He opened the throttle and let the bike pull along them at a comfortable speed. The wind tousled their hair, and the sun warmed their backs.
“This is wonderful.” He couldn’t see her, but Adelie’s voice alone told him that she was enjoying herself. She squeezed him. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. Do you want to go up Bunker Hill and watch the sunset?”
“Oh yes, please.”
“Your wish is my command.”
A soft chuckle, her body vibrating against his. Sweet. “This is a dangerous thing to say to someone who’s used to people following their orders.”
He laughed. “I like the thrill.”
The road went up the hill in long sweeping curves. Reaching the top, a breathtaking view over the plains around Meadow Junction greeted them. The sun stood low over the horizon, illuminating everything dramatically. Every blade of grass had a tiny halo. Insects flitted around between them, their wings forming glowing orbs. They found a place to park and enjoy the view. Adelie let her legs dangle, leaning against his back. Instead of the burbling sound of the engine crickets’s chirping filled the warm air. Her hand had fallen on his thigh. Not even consciously thinking about it, he put his own on top of hers, and their fingers interweaved on their own accords.
“You said you don’t often take other girls riding?” A cute uncertainty laced her question.
“No, I actually only ever took one girl riding. She didn’t like it.”
Her fingers tightened around his. “What’s not to like about riding with you?”
He thought back to the woman he once loved and her distaste for anything fast and dangerous. “Well, it was a much more powerful machine… and she wasn’t cut for the speed.”
“Mmmh, speed.”
“There’s my little Spitfire speaking.”
Adelie’s laugh was like heavenly chimes, and she wrapped her free arm around his shoulder, her chin back on his other. “Your little Spitfire? Are you using possessives now?”
Heat crept over his cheeks.

The Green Fairy, Part 2 (Alpha & Omega Chapter 4)

Sorry for the not so regular updates, I seem to be unable to find the energy to schedule a bunch of posts in one go. Decided to ditch the pretty pictures for now, because finding them is the time-consuming part. *sigh* Anyway, here’s the next installment.

Adelie was grateful for the ever-present wind on the airfield, blowing straight into her face. Her eyes stung with anger and tears just waiting to well over. She mustn’t cry now. Absolutely not, under no circumstances. She pressed her palms against her heated cheeks, taking a deep breath. Easy. Inhale. Exhale. Calm down.
“Adelie? Are you okay?” Nate’s warm, compassionate voice. Hurriedly she dropped her hands, then she felt his on her shoulder, a soft squeeze. She wished she could turn around and hide at his broad chest. “Hey, little Spitfire. You okay?”
“Sort of.” Her voice was squeaky from the strain not to burst into tears. Reluctantly she turned and forced herself to smile. He looked like a model straight out of the latest catalogue of Aerospace Fashion, with the blue of his shirt complementing his bright eyes and the wind tousled hair.
“I’m sorry these idiots ruffled your feathers so much. May I apologise on behalf of my sex?”
She couldn’t help but feel better when he grinned at her. “I could forgive you, but you’ve done nothing wrong. Forgiving your sex for acting like it does – unlikely. The way men treated me had a too high an impact on my life to be quickly pardoned.”
“I’m still sorry that some of my fellow men seem to be unable to cope with an intelligent and beautiful woman. For them, a woman is either beautiful or intelligent. Encountering one that is both is too much to compute.”
Adelie crossed her arms in front of her chest and cocked her head. “Really? And of course, you’re able to handle brains and beauty encased in one female body, aren’t you?”
He stepped close enough to shield her from the wind. “I don’t know if I can handle you. I do know that you have to work twice as much as any of us guys to achieve the same recognition. You study hard and train even harder, and you’ve earned to lead the board. If anything, I’m inspired by your diligence and your integrity.”
She looked into his blue eyes full of sincerity. “Thank you.”
They walked along the row of hangars in companionable silence. Eventually, he tried to jumpstart the conversation again. “So men are the reason you’re here?” She pushed her hands into the pockets of her uniform pants.
“Only one.”
“Your father?”
“No, not my father.”
Nate stopped and contemplated her. “You’re a bit monosyllabic.”
“It’s…” With a frustrated huff, she smoothed some fly-away hair back, which the wind promptly swept back into her face. “It’s a long story. I don’t particularly enjoy being reminded of it. The wounds have finally closed, I found some perspective in my life, and I just want to move on.”
They stared at each other and to her horror, she realised her bottom lip was quivering beyond her control. She wasn’t going to cry. Not in front of him. Not in front of anybody.
***
Nate grappled with the urge to cradle her in his arms. She was fighting with her emotions, and she was on the verge of crying.
“I’m sorry. I had no idea this would be so painful for you. I was merely curious.” He went straight to the point and was rewarded with a small smile.
“It’s okay. You couldn’t have known.”
He tried to smile back, to move back to their easy banter, but a glance at her face told him, she wasn’t ready. She almost looked fragile.
“I could’ve thought about it. I mean, with a little thought I could…”
“Nate. It’s okay.” Her hand was on his arm and stopped his stumbling apology. “You did nothing wrong.” She smiled one of her disarming open smiles, and the only thing he could do was to smile back at her. He fumbled for her hand and threaded his fingers through hers.
“I thought you maybe need to repay a deed or were sent on a quest. Nobles do weird things, how should I know?”
“What?” Adelie gaped at first dumbfounded; then an understanding smile dawned on her face. “You thought…? Oh dear, this is priceless.” Laughter bubbled up inside of her until she stood in front of him, holding her sides, tears of joy running over her cheeks. “I wish it would be something this exciting and weird,” she finally panted. “Sadly, I never lived in a fairy tale. I just had enough of men deciding to change my life on a whim. The guy who totalled my brother’s car and cut off my racing career. Or the idiot who brought me here, which is a tale of caution, if anything.”
“I hope that you’re going to tell me sometime. When you’re ready to share it.”
She giggled. “You should bring lots of tissues, and I might need a shoulder to cry on too.”