There Be Mature Content Here
Please be advised that the following is intended for mature readers only.
(Finished – 8/24/2021)
Luna the Baby Bunny
I gape at Jo. “Whaddya mean you’ve got nothing?”
“Ah. Exactly what I said, Baby Bunny.” Jo arches her brows and sweeps her arms wide, her hands empty. “I got nothing.”
“But…” No. She’s gotta be wrong. “But, you had extra armor for him last time!”
Jo narrows her eyes at me. “Just how many ‘extra’ sets of black market Akupara armor do you think I have?”
“More than one?” I say hopefully.
But honestly, I’m way past wishful thinking. Pyx and I are full on desperate. Like, really desperate. After spending days holed up in my bolthole, we’re outta everything. Water. Ration bars. Clothes.
Seriously, I’m here at Jo’s—in the middle of the night—wearing a bedsheet like a toga.
“That bed sheet isn’t fit to be tied.” Jo wrinkles her nose. “And I mean that, Luna. I really mean that.”
Yeah. Jo has a good point. While Pyx and I’ve spent days being all over one another, this sheet has been under us the entire time. So. Gross. I get it.
But like I said, we’re desperate. This morning I’d been woken up by the sound of shredding fabric. Which was freaking awesome because nothing turns me on faster than Pyx ripping my clothes off of me.
So there I was, crossing that languid divide between sleepy impressions and wakeful clarity, when I’d heard shred.
That was all it took. My aroused shebits had punted my sleepy butt wide awake with full on, achey neediness. Seriously. I’d been tingling, wet, and rearing to do whatever the heck it was Pyx had wanted to do to me.
Only, instead of Pyx teasing me with ‘tearing-my-clothes-off-me’ foreplay, he’d been on the far side of the cave ripping up the sheets.
Which brings me here, to Jo’s place, in the last kinda whole and sorta dirty—
“No sorta about it,” Jo huffs.
And freaking Jo! Again, with her always freaking knowing things!
I spread my arms wide as I nod my head. “Yeah. It is a dirty sheet. It’s also our last sheet. So, whaddya gonna about it, Joia?”
“Nothing.” She crosses her arms and leans against the door jamb of The Tower.
That’s it. No lip-service ‘sorry’ or ‘oh well’ shoulder shrug.
“Nothing?” I echo back as my arms drop to my sides.
How can she not have something? Twice now she’s had replacement armor sent over exactly when Pyx needed it. That means there’s gotta be a third set laying around here somewhere. Right?
“I’m all outta hat tricks, Luna,” Jo says, her tone flat.
I don’t like the way she sounds. I can’t tell if she’s fed up with me or giving up on me. And I’m not splitting hairs here. There’s a real difference. Fed up means she’s engaged enough to be frustrated. You know, she actually still gives a crap. Giving up, though, means she’s got nothing left to give.
The icy, sharp edges of panic prickle through me. Jo can’t give up, not until she gives me a way to fix everything.
“Listen, Jo,” I blurt out as my heart starts racing. It’s beating faster and faster, trying to keep pace with the frantic thoughts running through my head. “Once I can get Pyx geared up, I can get back to working on—”
“Fanboy’s already geared up.” Joia juts her sharp chin as she shifts her gaze to over my shoulder.
I turn and look and—Gimme a second here.
Two equally Important Things are happening right now.
First—because I really gotta fess up to this—I totally misjudged how ‘middle’ the middle of the night was left of, er, the night. It’s obviously ‘first-thing-in-the-morning’. War-roosters are braying like screaming goats as people are stumbling outta their modulars.
Second—Pyxis is walking through the main square of Two-Four-Kay, heading straight for me, and…
Oh. My. Hotness.
What she said, my shitbits drool.
Pyx has his armor back on.
Well, most of it.
In the places where he’s missing any matte black pieces he’s got torn bits of our sheets filling in the gaps. The neatly shredded strips of fabric are wound around his wrists, biceps, and thighs. Heck, he’s even rigged a makeshift loincloth.
This is bad.
As an Akupara who’s not in his Bale or safely hidden in my bolthole, he’s supposed to be completely covered. His honor and duty demand that he wears a shell of fake armor that’s not meant to protect him, just his people’s secrets.
And even though the people of Two-Four-Kay are lowering their eyes as they’re skittering outta his way, they’re still seeing him.
Sucking in a chest-bursting breath, I snapped my attention back to Joia. “Jo, you gotta—”
“I gotta?” Jo pins me with a hard, cold stare. “What’re you gonna do, Baby Bunny?”
What am I gonna do?
I turn to face Pyx. He should look ridiculous, like a half wrapped mummy from Ancient Earth.
Only, he doesn’t.
The sheets look like bandages over his armor. Which, in turn, makes Pyx look like a badass, battle-worn warrior who’s just barreled his way through hell and back. And yet, here he is, gearing up for another ass-kicking charge down that same godforsaken road.
Everything in me is pulled toward this indomitable, determined, and so incredibly sexy warrior who wants me—Luna, the girl who can’t fix anything.
And Joia knows this.
I turn back to face my friend. Some freaking friend she’s turned out to be.
“You gotta stop this, Jo!” I point toward Pyx. “People can’t see him like this. So I really don’t care what kinda crappy thing you’re trying to get me to do or see or admit. Stop it with all—”
I growl, so freaking frustrated with all of Jo’s veiled hints and sneaky meddling. I’ve had it. Absolutely have had it. My heart’s hammering my ribcage. My harsh exhales are flaring my nostrils. My anger’s pulsing heat into my hands.
“Nah.” Jo frowns and shakes her head. “Ya ain’t mad, Luna. You’re scared.”
“I’m not scared! I’m just so fucking sick of all your harebrained head games!” Looking at Jo, I jab my finger toward Pyx. “Just tell me how to fix him!”
“Luna?” Pyx says from behind me.
Like, from right behind me.
Aw, heck. I think he ran over to me when I’d started yelling at Jo.
“Yup.” Jo nods once. “Zipped right over right on time.” She shifts her gaze up and over my head. “Heya, Fanboy.”
Pyx ignores her. I think. I can’t turn around to know for certain. I’m too stunned.
“Not stunned, Luna.” Jo pushes off the door jamb and steps back into The Tower. She grasps the doorknob with one hand. With the other, she points at me. “Too scared.”
She slams the door in my face.
Which, I get it.
I do. That’s my cue to turn around and face Pyxis.
But I can’t.
Because of my stupid mouth.
And my even stupider mixed-up words.
But mostly, because of my stupidest incompetence.
The last words that I’d shouted at Jo—a freaking mental mix-up of what I’d meant to say—are lingering all around me. Their echo is pounding in my ears as their taste fouls my mouth and sours my stomach.
Fix him. Fix him. Fix him.
Pyxis The Restrained
Him is me.
Just now, when Luna’d shouted to all of Warren’s to ‘fix him’, she’d been pointing right at me.
I don’t know what do to.
“Luna?” I don’t care that my voice is strained as I plea with her to turn around. I’ve already said her name once and she’s yet to face me. If I can’t see her face, then I don’t know how to process this.
If any Akupara had demanded the means to ‘fix me,’ they would’ve been furious and irate. Because having Pyxis The Restrained under their command is a public punishment—a black mark on their record—and they would be desperate to be rid of me.
Luna did sound furious and desperate. But still. I just don’t fucking know what to do.
Luna turns around.
The look that’s on her face—her wide eyes, her pale cheeks, and the upward slant of her brows—makes no sense. She’s panicking, not angry.
“Pyx.” Her voice also sounds odd, like it’s being stretched and strained. “What I said? It’s not what I meant. It’s not.”
“Then what did you mean?”
“I didn’t mean any of it,” Luna says in a rush. “It came out all confused.”
“Came out all…” I don’t understand.
But Jo would.
I side step Luna and knock on—
The main door to The Tower crumbles under my first knuckle rap.
“Pyx! Stop!” Luna lunges for me. “Just stop!”
With my gaze locked on Luna’s small hands that are grasping my bandaged fist, I grate out, “What would you have me do?”
Because I’d already stopped before she commanded it. Why bother continuing? The door’s already destroyed and Jo isn’t on the other side. She’s not there to tell me what to do.
That, and now I’m caught in another hyperaware moment where everything should be crystal clear. Yet, it’s all shattered and jagged and wrong.
“What I would…?” Luna shakes her head, confusion wrinkling her brows and turning her mouth into a frown.
She turns her head toward The Tower’s busted down door, probably looking for Jo, but the ground floor lobby is empty.
“Pyx,” Luna slides her gaze past me as she looks around, seeking something, “I don’t want you to do—”
She cuts off with an astonished gasp. And yeah, I know what she sees behind me. I can hear the humans whispering harshly to one another as they scramble to get outta the square.
But, Aku help me, if my mate doesn’t tell me how to process this moment—if she doesn’t tell me what to do—then I’ll do my fucking worst.
Then Aku help us all.
“Tell me what to do, Luna,” I snarl.
“Come.” She tugs on my hand. “Come with me. Now.”
She’s my mate, so I follow.
Luna shifts her hold on me, moving a hand to my bicep. She’s pushing against me.
“Slower,” she hisses under her breath as she flicks her gaze about. “Go slower. There’re still people about.”
I’d also noted those lingering humans who’re sheltering in the nearby alleys and watching us. Although, I didn’t need to resort to my mate’s not-so-sneaky head-turning to spot them.
I slow my pace, but only because Luna’s commanded it. A real Akupara mate would do anything and everything that his mate bade him to do.
“Let’s just get outta here,” Luna continues in a rushed, but soft voice. “We can go back to my mod—”
“Briarwood,” I snap.
A real Akupara would never snap at their mate.
Hell, a real Akupara wouldn’t have walked amongst Outbalers while dangerously exposing himself in ill-patched-up armor.
There is no excuse for what I’ve done. It doesn’t matter that the scent of my mate’s arousal and pleasure is infused into the bedsheets that are holding all of my armor’s shredded pieces together…
…pieces that I shredded because I couldn’t resist her. Because I can never resist her…
…I shouldn’t have let my craving for her drive me outta the bolthole with the foolish plan that Jo would have more armor for me.
I was just too damn impatient to wait.
And a real Akupara is never impulsive or impatient or reckless.
Luna and I continue to walk at a slow and steady pace toward Briarwood’s tree-line. Each step has become a death march, bringing us closer to the end of…
My head is pounding as white noise buzzes in my ears and thrums through my entire body. I don’t feel connected to the ground, rather my stomach is dropping as if I’m plummeting—like jumping off the sea cliff by the Bale.
But I can’t stop the inevitable, and once we cross into the shaded undergrowth of Briarwood, I stop walking.
Luna, who’s still gripping my clenched fist—which isn’t creaking because there’s no armor covering my hands to squeeze—is jerked to a halt.
“Hey?” Luna, looking startled, glances back at me. “Come on.”
She gives me a tug, but I don’t move.
Frowning, she tugs again. I stay rooted.
“Pyx?” She runs her gaze over me. “Weren’t you listening to me?”
“I was.” My voice is hoarse and rumbles my chest.
The entire time we’ve been walking, Luna’s been talking. And because I am still locked in this hyperaware moment, I’d heard her. I’d heard every single word she’d said.
So, taking a deep breath, I exhale and respond to it all. “Yes. Benny was watching from the alley by the mess hall. He’s definitely gonna tell Rogers, Jr. what he saw. Which is me sorta being—” I glance down and assess myself. “Check that. Which is me mostly being outta my armor yet still covered. But that distinction won’t mean shit to my people because we don’t spit hairs the way that humans do. So, yeah, I’m totally in fucking trouble with my Bale.”
See. I’d listened to her.
Luna gapes up at me, and despite everything happening in this hellish moment, her mouth still calls to me—running a hot, spine-snapping sizzle through my body with the memory of her lips on mine. With her lips everywhere on my body…
“I wanna put my mouth all over you,” she says as she visibly trembles.
Her desire for me? It’s so clear. Her body wants mine. Mine wants hers. I’ve never questioned the realness of our attraction.
But I don’t want fucking.
I want her.
“I want you, too,” Luna’s face is tilted up as she gazes at me. “But it’s all too…” She squeezes her eyes shut as she lowers and shakes her head. “It’s too distracting, Pyx.”
Of course I’m too distracting.
My people have wasted countless years, resources, and Aku-given patience trying to redirect, then suppress, and finally flat-out eradicate my un-Akupara-like traits. There’s simply nothing left to do. I really am an unsalvageable fuck-up.
“I thought,” Luna says oh-so-softly, “that mating you would fix everything. But it’s all getting worse.”
That must be it, then. This is what Luna’d meant about fixing me. A real Akupara will always follow his mate’s commands, yet I truly am Pyxis The Totally Unrestrainable. It’s just…
I’d never noticed how exhausted and harried my mate must be. How the impact of me being…
…just so unrelentingly unbearably, me…
…has burdened her.
“I see that now,” I admit with a single head nod.
Luna blinks, then cringes. “Yeah, I know it’s bad, but I’m gonna fix it.”
Now she flinches, taking a step back. “Don’t?” Her voice comes smaller. “You don’t even want me to try?”
I do not.
My mate has so many important things to address. The miners’ failing health. The children’s poor nutrition. Rez’s fertility. The drill she’s letting me help repair.
Only, we’ve never managed to finish fixing the drill because I’ve always distracted—
By Aku! I’ve been caught off guard.
My suit’s tech—comms, enviro controls, and fucking sensors—had all gotten destroyed when I’d shredded my armor.
I pivot around, spread my arms wide and lock the plates of my plastron and carapace into place. The resounding snap of my natural defenses—not muffled inside the insulation of my fake armor—ricochets around us.
A feral snarl rips from my throat as I shield my mate from a dangerous—
“Oh, heya, Gary,” Luna says from behind me.
I snarl and shift, blocking her view.
Luna pats my shoulder—which I can feel because I’m not wearing all my armor. “It’s just Gary.”
Yes, it’s Gary. I know it’s Gary. I can see him cowering while he’s trying to shield himself behind a measly bag.
But I just can’t stop my primal, protective response because this could be the last time I’ll get to openly declare—to fucking everyone and everything—that I’m hers.
My people believe that last is best.
Well, it’s not. It’s the absolute fucking worst.
“Oh!” Luna taps my shoulder again—and I can feel it all over my body—as she gasps. “Is that armor? Gary, do you have armor in that bag?”
“Um…” Gary’s pale and trembling.
“Yeah,” I sigh as I step forward. My gut’s churning as Luna’s hand slips off of me. “That’s armor.”
“That’s fabulous, right?” Behind me, Luna sounds hopeful. Like this bag is gonna make it all better.
“Yep.” But it’s not fabulous.
Gary’s got armor but it’s not gonna help us. By the mishmash shape of the bag, plus the metallic clinking sounds coming from within, I’m guessing that Gary’s probably not holding an intact suit. Rather, he’s got a bag full of shredded remnants.
“Jo, um,” Gary swallows as he holds the bag out to me. His arm is still shaking, rattling all the bits and pieces of scutite that I didn’t bother picking up before going in search of Luna. “Jo. She sent me—”
I snatch the bag. “I know, Gary.”
“Oh,” Gary swallows again. “Um, good?”
No, Gary. It’s not good. Of all the things that I frustratingly don’t know, I definitely know this damning bit. While I’d been standing outside of The Tower—selfishly risking my Bale with the unforgivable state of my armor—Jo must’ve sped away. She’d gone to Luna’s modular, down into the bolthole, and covered my selfish ass. She’d gathered up all the discarded pieces of my armor—all the bits I didn’t bother securing in order to ensure the safety of my Bale—because I couldn’t stand to be away from my mate.
“This is great, Gary,” Luna says as she comes to stand next to me. She dips her chin, gesturing toward the bag. “Now you can fix it.”
I stare down at the bag. I’m not even gripping it tight. The contents within are invaluable to my people, yet Gary could easily snatch it away from me.
“One-million, one-hundred and twenty-seven thousand, five-hundred and thirty-six individual pieces,” I say hollowly, just rattling off an asinine line to fill the silence.
There are only fifty-four strips of Luna-soaked-sheets wrapped around my body.
That stat I keep to myself.
“That’s a lot of pieces.” Luna’s amazed gaze shifts as her thoughts turn inward. “It will take you awhile, huh?”
I shrug. Not really.
“So…” Luna gestures at the bag as she starts backpedaling. “While you work on that, I’ll go work on all my other stuff.” She jabs her thumb over her shoulder. “You know, back at Two-Four-Kay.”
“Oh!” Gary startles. “Jo wants ta see ya, Luna.”
Luna snaps her attention to Gary.
“She does?” Then she narrows her eyes at him. “Of course she does.” She flicks her hand toward my sack of useless armor pieces. “She’s gotta do her whole ‘Whaddya learn, Luna?’ thing. When she could’ve done all that back at The dang Tower!”
“But she didn’t.” I say.
Luna points her finger at me. “But she could’ve.”
I simply shrug again.
Yeah. Jo could’ve given me the bag then, but it wouldn’t have mattered. There’s nothing that can fix me.
Not my armor.
Not my bestest friend.
Not even my mate.
I’m Pyxis The Unfixable.
Luna the Baby Bunny
Okay. Everything’s fine. It’s all fine—
Okay. That’s not fine. That was me getting slapped in the face by one of Briarwood’s mammoth War-fern leaves because I wasn’t watching where I was going.
I mean, I’m not lost or anything.
It’s that I have to keep throttling back my strides because I’m not the best at using my H.A.R.E. speed. It sorta tends to get away from me. I’m like a kitten careening into a wall because I don’t know how to stop my legs.
Or, you know, I lack practical experience with navigating the complicated relationship between distance, velocity, and really solid objects.
Thus, I’ve been slapped by lots of leaves while trekking back to the settlement. I’ve gotta time my arrival just right. I can’t show up too soon after Gary left. I have to travel at plain ol’ human speed. So…
I’d figured this nice, long stroll through Briarwood would be the perfect time to reassure myself that everything is absolutely fine.
Pyx’s ripped up armor?
It’s gonna be fine because he’s got the pieces plus plenty of ‘not-distracted-by-Luna’ time to fix it.
All the Two-Four-Kay settlers who saw Pyx semi-out of his armor?
Again, it’s gonna be fine. Because once I fix all the things I gotta fix—the broken drill, the sick miners, the sucky food, oh, and the rigged housing lottery—no one’s gonna care that some sexy warrior had been strutting his breathtaking backside through the settlement.
See? It’s all gonna be fine.
Yet, I’ve slowed my pace. I even stop and look over my shoulder.
There’s nothing behind me. There’s just the War-bugs and War-birds who’re hiding in the undergrowth and making clicking and shrilling noises.
Nothing to worry about.
Yet something made me turn around—a shiver that I’m being followed. Only, the disappointment squeezing my chest confirms how big of an idiot that I am.
I know there are no animals in the area. Pyx personally removed them all. And only runners, like Rez, or patrollers, like Gary and Benny, come this far into Briarwood.
So, I’d thought…
…well, I’d hoped…
…that the shivering of my spine would turn into something heated and thrilling because Pyxis had followed me. Because I’d truly fixed that hurt and confused look on his face when I’d told him that I what I’d said—fix him—isn’t what I’d meant to say.
But no unbelievably hot and amazing alien warrior is prowling through the forest with his focus targeted solely on me.
And that’s fine. Because everything’s so freaking fine.
“Everything’s shit,” Jo says.
Of course I freaking scream. One second I was alone and then suddenly I’m not. My lungs are pumping air into my windpipe like a decompressing spaceship hull.
Which has me glaring at Jo while my heart continues to pound against my ribs. “What the freaking hell, Jo!”
Jo huffs. “You know what, Luna.”
I shake my head. “No, I—oof!“
Jo shoves a bag into my chest as she walks off.
Wrapping my hands around the bag—heck, it’s my duffel bag—I turn toward her. She’s mumbling under her breath and shaking her head as she’s storming her way through Briarwood.
Confused, I look at where where Jo had come from—the settlement—then back to where she’s heading—away from the settlement.
“What?” I do my back-and-forth look one more time and I don’t see anything. “Where are you going, Jo?”
She mumbles something while continuing to march onward. Her replies are getting drowned out by all the clicks and shrills of the insects.
“Freaking Jo.” I mumble and then take off after her. “Wait up!”
She doesn’t slow down. She also doesn’t acknowledge me.
Irritation starts huffing its way outta me. I’m flaring my nostrils as I’m puffing up my chest.
Really? She’s ignoring me?
Is she freaking serious?
She’d sent Gary for me. I was on my way her to like some spineless, brainless underling.
Instead, she has me shuffling slowly through Briarwood—wasting my ‘not-distracted-by-Pyx’ time—when I coulda been racing back to Two-Four-Kay to actually start fixing stuff. Plus, she’s ignoring me while leading me further away from the settlement.
And you know what else? I was even gonna spend some of my rare ‘not-distracted-by-my-mate’ time to let Jo do her whole ‘Jo’s Wisdom Imparted in an Incredibly Vague and Exceedingly Frustrating Manner’ speech-thing with, like, minimal interruptions.
Why? Because even though I call myself ‘Stupid Luna’ a dozen times each day, I’m not a complete idiot. Joia—for whatever reason—needs to mentor and guide Rez and I like this. It’s some deep rooted compulsion—probably courtesy of the crappy evil scientists—that she’s gotta do. So, I give her just the right amount of begrudging attitude. In turn, she gives me just enough guidance so that I don’t epically screw things up.
But now that I’m mated…
Well. I’m mated. That changes everything, including my patience.
I tap into my H.A.R.E. speed and zip in front of Jo, making myself a freaking obstacle that can’t be ignored.
“Jo,” I snarl, and yeah, I’m snarling because I’m pissed. “What the heck—”
“What the hell,” Jo stresses the curse word, “is goin’ on is a fucking eviction, Luna. That’s what’s going on.”
“Eviction?” I shake my head in confusion. “You mean the modular lottery?”
“Not the modular.” Jo points over her shoulder. “The settlement.”
“Yeah,” Jo huffs a dry laugh as she narrows her eyes at me. “The settlement. All those idiots in Two-Four-Kay kicked us out.”
“Kicked. Booted. Banned. Don’t mattered what it’s called,” she says as she sidesteps me, clipping our shoulders as she passes. “We ain’t welcomed there no more.”
“Wha—” My tongue trips over my dozens of questions as my feet—which are doing a crapy job of pivoting me about to follow Jo—trip over themselves.
Which is me being so incredibly me—especially at time like this.
“Wait!” I stumble after Jo. “What do you mean kicked us out? Why would they do that?”
“Asking the wrong damn questions, Luna,” Jo tosses over her shoulder as she continues to stomp through Briarwood.
“Wrong questions?” I stop, stunned. “You know, Jo, now is not the time for your—”
Jo spins toward me. “For my what, Luna?”
I flutter my hands at her. “For doing what you do, Joia. Just tell me.”
“Just tell you?”
Yeah. She’s not really asking me. She’s calling me an idiot.
But, because I am an idiot, I shuffle my feet as I shrug. “Yeah. Just tell me.”
Jo stares at me a moment as her chest continues to rise and fall with sharp inhales and exhales. And I don’t like that the reason we’re standing here in silence is because she’s obviously reconsidering whatever it is that she’s gonna tell me.
Jo never has to thinking about the pros and cons of anything. She always knows what to do. So this moment is making me nervous.
Check that. It’s starting to scare me.
I brace myself. “Jo?”
“They found our bolthole in our modular, Luna.”
My stomach drops. What Jo said is too open ended. There’s too many scenarios spinning inside of my head.
“And?” I choke out.
“And whaddya think?” Jo cocks a brow at me. “They found the damn drill and the thing’s all torn apart.”
“But I was trying to fix it.”
I should have said that with more force, boosting my voice with conviction and confidence. But I didn’t. So instead I sound exactly the way I always sound. Whiny. Incompetent. Pathetic.
“You say fix. They say sabotage.” Jo shrugs. “So, whaddya gonna do about it, Luna?”
I don’t have a freaking clue.
Which doesn’t surprise me. I never know what I’m doing. My attempts at fixing things usually end with people giving me ‘well, you tried your best’ shoulder pats.
But this time, my belly’s churning and my skin’s prickling in a way that feels muted and unreal. Me monkeying around with the drill didn’t simply fail to make things better.
It made everything infinitely worse.
This chapter is complete! I’ve enabled commenting and have added my own thoughts as well.
As always, thank you so much for reading!
From Slow & Steady: The Velveteen Tortoise
Copyright © 2020, 2021 by Bex McLynn
All rights reserved