She sighed with temporary
defeat. She’d run a locator on him an hour ago and discovered him in his
quarters, but when she’d called his commlock he hadn’t answered. Freshly showered and hair nearly dried she tried
again only to find his commlock set on privacy mode. Helena was beginning to worry. It wasn’t like John to avoid anything
or anyone like this. Since she’d known him, his style had been to grab hold of fear and force it to look him in the eye. Behind her worry, a trickle of uncertainty
that she tried to suppress and couldn’t quite, inched its unwelcome way into her thoughts. In her talk with Bob, she’d
said that she’d had no doubts about her feelings for John throughout their recent ordeal. Against her will, all the
reservations she’d ever had about allowing herself to become involved with Alpha’s Commander meanly reasserted
themselves and reminded her that she didn’t know whether the same could be said for him.
This was wonderful. She was making herself nervous on top of everything else. She ran another location on him
and discovered he was out and about in Alpha’s corridors, commlock still on private. She’d have to just try again
later. The evening was relatively young and now she needed to talk herself out of the insecurity she’d so successfully
planted in her mind. She set her own commlock to emergencies only. She wasn’t in the mood to be bothered by the trivial
In the name of comfort, she reached into her closet for her fuzzy pink bathrobe, but her hand came out instead
with one of John’s old button-down oxford shirts. He rarely wore it, even off-duty, but somehow it had found its way
to her closet, along with a couple of his uniforms and half the rest of his limited wardrobe. Holding the pale blue cotton
to her face, she closed her eyes and softly inhaled. He wore the shirt just often enough for it to retain the subtle memory
of the bay laurel-scented soap he favored. Slipping it onto her shoulders, she fastened a few of the buttons and felt better.
It was not only comfortable, but comforting, too.
John took a deep breath and attempted to suck in a little bravado with Alpha’s oxygenated gases. After
showering, he’d tried to call her commlock but she hadn’t answered. He’d run her location and found her
in her quarters, but on a second try, she still didn’t answer and he turned his own commlock to private, opting to try
and rest before he faced her.
The sleep effort backfired in its now-typical fashion; more death-raining skies, more fiery cosmic destruction.
His brain pounded with the headache that had apparently decided to take up permanent residence between his ears. As he checked
her position – still in her quarters – and called her commlock – now set on emergency only – he started
to envision bigger problems. Maybe she was now avoiding him. Maybe he’d irritated her so much the few past days she
was just fed up. He wouldn’t blame her.
But they couldn’t continue like this. They had to deal with each other every day and, if it should unhappily
transpire that a professional relationship was all they were going to have, they had to make that work effectively regardless
of personal issues. He left his quarters and did a quick check-in with Main Mission. All readings holding steady, no crises
reported from any sector. The bad and the good news was the same: Computer detected nothing ahead of them for weeks other
than limitless empty space.
As he left Main Mission and turned toward her quarters, he was unaware of his body switching to auto-pilot.
His feet knew the way by memory. His mind knew without knowing how many steps it took to get to her – 399, not counting
the short elevator trip and brief hop on the travel tube.
Standing outside her door, he checked her commlock one last time. She was still coding herself generally unreachable,
but she was in there. John took one more deep breath and rang the door chime. He hoped he could make her understand enough
of what he’d been experiencing to forgive him for his negligence.
His face on her visitor screen made her breath unsteady with apprehension and optimism in equal measure. He
looked so stressed and tired, but hopefully his presence signaled he was ready to talk. Maybe they could finally put Terra
Nova and everything that happened there behind them. If she had her way, he wouldn’t leave her quarters until all was
resolved. She couldn’t hit the button fast enough.
He’d had some careless, throwaway line in mind to say, something to ease the anticipated awkwardness and
lessen any anger on her part. Then her door opened…and the sight of her standing in front of him, wearing one of his
old shirts and, his imagination assumed, little else, sent all words out of his brain beyond a rather throaty, “Hi.”
She smiled slightly, noticing the huskiness in his voice. “Hi.” She almost laughed. Her voice sounded
a little hoarse, too.
He didn’t move. “I uh…I did try to call you first.” He tried to keep his focus on her
face, tried not to stare at the way the shirt hem came down not so very much lower than where her exquisite long legs began,
tried not to notice that she’d only bothered to fasten three of the buttons…just
three little buttons...
“I tried to call you, too.” She didn’t move either. Did he always look so darkly handsome
in that damned uniform, or was it just the enforced absence of the past few days?
“I guess we missed each other.” His feet seemed rooted to the spot.
This was becoming farcical. One of them had to make a move. She cleared her throat. “I think you should
probably come in, John, before someone walks by and sees me standing here in nothing but your shirt.”
The words ‘nothing but’ combined with ‘your shirt’ sent his thoughts reeling off into
intriguing realms…Five, maybe six seconds tops. Couldn’t take more than
six seconds to deal with three buttons…but also served to nudge him across her threshold. The door swooshed closed
Now they stood a few inches closer together and only a few inches apart. Helena couldn’t help but notice
that the gawky discomfort factor in the room rose correspondingly by those same few inches. It was going to be a challenging
evening indeed if they couldn’t do better than this.
Months from now, even weeks, she would know how to read his moods without thinking. She would come to recognize
every gesture of his body, every expression of his face, by heart. But they hadn’t yet been together long enough and
she couldn’t fully translate the look in his eyes. The intensity she saw could bode well, or not, and the ‘or
not’ was setting off unsolicited alarms in her head. She licked her lips and tried to swallow some of her escalating
anxiety. “Shall I open some wine?” Was her voice really shaking so much?
“Sure,” his answer was mechanical. “Wait…I don’t know…no, maybe not,”
he tried to force his brain into first gear. “I’ve had a headache for two days, I’m already not thinking
very clearly,” he tried to explain.
She nodded. Here was safe territory. Her voice converted to habitual doctor mode. “I’ll get you
something for your headache.”
She started to turn away and that simple action abruptly caused a reaction within him. He didn’t want
to watch her turn away from him, not even to get aspirin. She’d been too far away for days. That was his fault not hers,
but in this moment he didn’t want her any further away than these few inches. Even these few inches were too many. His
hand shot out, firmly grabbing her wrist. From his heart, the vital words came to him. “I don’t need any pills,
Helena. I just need you.”
His long, warm fingers around her wrist sent a riot of electric pulses down her arm. They hadn’t held
each other, hadn’t even touched since being on the surface of Terra Nova. She couldn’t have said whether he pulled
her, or she stepped toward him or he moved toward her, or if they did all those things at once…but in the next instant
his arms were around her for the first time in days…and it felt so inexpressibly right.
With her arms wrapped around his neck, her body pressed to his, her head on his shoulder, John felt like he’d
been trying to live without one of his own limbs and had found his missing piece again. He exhaled slowly, convinced he’d
been holding his breath for days. A live current seemed to feed from her into him. Surely it was his imagination, but he felt
his energy striving to return while the pounding in his head retreated just a bit.
He battled with himself not to kiss her yet. He was hungry to feel her lips against his; ravenous more described
it. But if he kissed her now, he wouldn’t want to come up for air till sometime tomorrow and they needed to talk. He
knew that, rationally.
Maybe one kiss, though. Perhaps they could manage one…They hadn’t kissed since the morning of Lee’s
appearance and, throughout Lee’s tenure, John hadn’t thought to go near her in any intimate way. It would have been too unseemly, too tasteless. He really needed to kiss her.
But…if he kissed her now, right now, his hands would want to drift down where he expected to feel nothing
but her bare bottom, lift her up, wrap her legs around his waist and kneel right to the floor…He would pause just long
enough to rip open that shirt and watch those three maddening buttons go flying off into the carpet never to taunt him again…free
himself from his uniform and then…then paradise…pure, absolute nirvana.
But he would exercise restraint…a little longer. She had looked at him so uneasily moments ago that he
wanted to kick himself. He had put that worry in her eyes and he needed to remove it. He didn’t want her questioning
his motives, wondering if he was here seeking only physical release.
It didn’t matter, John finally realized, what she might have once felt for Lee. That was her past and
her business…and whatever she still felt, he would have to accept as gracefully as he could. He had no right to dictate
her feelings or make presumptions on her heart. But it mattered very much for her to understand what he felt for her here
Assuming they got through this evening with their relationship intact, assuming she still wanted him, John knew
he was done with the backtracking. No more would he take one step toward her and two steps away as he had for the last few
weeks. He had confused her and hurt with that he knew, and made himself unhappy in the bargain. No more. His future lay with her. She was his future. He would make sure she knew where he stood.
His arms were such a safe refuge, but the feelings between them were new, and still so fragile. She could feel
the ripples of emotion surging through him, feel his physical desire against her groin. She wanted him, too. Would it really
be such a bad thing if she asked him to make love to her now and talk later? She didn’t think it would take a lot of
convincing on her part…but, yes, it could be bad…maybe.
He didn’t yet know her feelings about all that had happened and she didn’t know his. If he was harboring
doubts and fears, she wanted to assuage them. She hated the idea that she might have caused them. But if he wanted to continue
to step back, have a professional relationship with sex on the side, could she do that? Prior to Lee’s reappearance,
that’s what he’d almost seemed to want. She’d tried to give him space to figure things out. If he’d
decided that he had so many other responsibilities on his shoulders, so many other people to worry about that the only thing
he had room left for was a casual mistress, could she be that woman? She couldn’t blame him if that was his choice,
but she wasn’t sure she could be a party to it.
The hard truth was that she’d allowed her heart to get away from her too fast and too easily. It was frightening,
the way she’d let this man get in and under her skin. Her soul was completely open to him, vulnerable to whatever he
might choose to do. When had she become this damned needy? When had she let her defenses crumble to nothing?
She tried to reclaim control. She’d wanted to comfort him tonight. Now she found the difficulties her
imagination was creating were bouncing off the walls in her mind and making her question everything.
He could feel tension rising up her spine, coming nearer to outright fear with each passing second. He held
her closer and that helped, but only briefly.
She knew from the way his arms tightened about her that he could feel her distress. She tried to push it away,
but she needed assurances from him and she needed them now. She raised her head from his shoulder to look into his eyes.
Her eyes, those beautiful green eyes were searching his for answers. He knew what he wanted to tell her, he
just wasn’t sure he could say it the way she deserved to hear it. He wasn’t eloquent by nature. He had his moments,
but more often his ego, or temper, or stubbornness got in his own way. When it came to Helena, the very sight of her could
sometimes leave him tongue-tied.
John raised his hands to gently hold her face, his gaze not breaking with hers for a moment. “Helena,
I’m sorry. I know I’ve hurt you and I’m sorry. I’ve been confused and…I don’t know what
I’ve been…I know as we go on, I’m going to cause you all kinds of grief because I’ve never been any
good at relationships. Even if you can put up with me, you’re probably going to wish you’d gotten involved with
almost anyone else. This job just doesn’t go well with…being in love,” he shook his head.
She rested both her hands against his chest, her head burrowing under his chin. “Funny thing about being
in love,” she whispered, “you really can’t control it. Besides,” she smiled up at him again, “for
all you know you’re the one who’s going to have problems putting up with me.”
He shook his head and slid his arms once more around her back. His voice was cracking, but the gentleness he
saw in her face made things easier. “Honey, I never want you to question my feelings for you. If I have you, I think
I can face anything.”
Her smile became trembly as one hand reached to stroke his cheek. “John, you’ve ‘had me’
since the day you crashed your damned stupid Eagle out there playing super hero. What was that? The third day you were here?”
John snorted amusement at the memory; neither the incident, nor the run-in he’d had with her afterwards
had been clever actions on his part. “Was it the crash that won you over, or did you love me for being a smart-ass to
you after the fact?”
She chuckled. “A little of both, I guess.” She kissed his chest. Then she heard her own voice cracking
in a tone that matched his. “John, you don’t have to question my feelings for you either. There’s no one
else. No one.”
His mouth lowered to hers. Her lips parted against his. As his arms wrapped around her, John felt an unfamiliar
sensation he could only classify as something akin to peaceful. His earlier assessment had been correct. He didn’t want
to stop kissing her till sometime tomorrow.