There Be Mature Content Here
Please be advised that the following is intended for mature readers only.
Luna the Baby Bunny
Soft, minuscule armored scales are pressed against my naked skin. I sigh as I’m cresting. Beneath me, Pyx’s deep, slow—
My body is rocked.
Not by an awesome alien lover, but by the hard, rounded toe of a boot.
“So sick of this,” I hear Joia mumble. “Luna!”
I jerk up. “Never touched ’em!”
With my hands held overhead, my body swings past ‘upright and balanced’ straight into ‘pathetically toppling over’.
Seriously. I don’t even amaze my audience with that heart-pounding, half-second of ‘will I/won’t I’ suspense.
Nope. Just an uninterrupted, slow-motion pendulum swing from right to left.
“Cra—” Rather than smacking down onto the floor by Joia’s feet, I’m smoothly snatched up.
Yay! I’m saved!
But then Pyx, my savior, gently resettles me back into my original position.
Okay. Not saved. Dammit.
See, my original position—before Joia’d prodded me awake with her boot—had been drooling all over Pyx’s thigh.
How do I know I was drooling?
Because it’s a truth universally acknowledged that puddles of saliva don’t lie.
They never lie.
Right now, my cheek’s lying in an ocean of my own drool.
Okay. There’s gotta be a dignified way outta this. I just gotta think—
Jo nudges me with her boot again. “What cha doin’ here, Baby Bunny?”
Nudge. Nudge. Nudge.
“Sleeping?” I cringe and squeeze my eyes shut.
Dammit, Jo! Like, two more seconds was all I needed. I would’ve had a way better answer.
To clarify, ‘here’ is sitting on the floor outside of Jo’s apartment. And yeah, I totally have a reason for being here. I do.
“Uh huh,” Jo says, and I can hear the ‘calling out your bullshit, Luna’ in her tone. “And why’re you here, Fanboy?”
“Because Luna’s here.”
Freaking, frackity, fudge. The way Pyx’d just admitted that—open, honest, no hesitation—has my chest squeezing.
Time to get up.
No it isn’t, say my shebits, sounding kinda panicky.
It is, and not that it matters, I kinda don’t want to. Trust me, it’s not for the same reasons as my ‘hot aliens make us desperate idiots’ shebits.
We’re not desperate. We’re addicted. Can’t help ourselves.
Whatever. Focus, for like, two seconds. I gotta stand up, and you know the many countless ways that this can go ridiculously wrong. So, please, I’m begging you, pull it together so that I can stand up without wobbling like Humpty Dumpty.
Fine, my shebits grump, but stand up all sexy and stuff.
Awesome. I sound hysterical as I push myself up, fumbling only once before finally making it to my feet. Success!
Pivoting away from both Jo and Pyx, I mutter to my shebits under my breath, “Thanks.”
Eh, they shrug. Coulda stuck your ass out more.
Ignoring the useless critique, I carry on with stretching and yawning. I’m really making it a point to keep my back turned because it’s common courtesy to not make eye contact while you’re stretching.
And I really am stretching. I’m not purposefully avoiding their gazes or anything while I wait for the embarrassed flush to fade from my face.
Behind me, Pyx springs to his feet, stretches, and groans.
Okay. I’m gonna need a moment here.
First of all, I’ll admit it. I’ve turned around. Not sorry about it either.
Because, second of all, that stretch…
As he’s lifting his arms overhead and spreading out his wingspan, his armor’s pulling taut, outlining the thick, corded muscles of his chest and shoulders in stark definition.
And then that groan…
It’d been coated in deep, satisfying relief. Like Pyx’d just gotten exactly what he’d wanted all night long.
We hugged that hot bod all night long. My shebits purr. Let’s dive right back in there for more. Sneak Attack Hug!
With his arms spread wide—leaving his torso enticingly exposed—Pyx stills. “What’s a Sneak Attack Hug?”
“Top secret,” Jo snaps at him as she jabs a finger toward The Tower’s front door. “Now get gone.”
Pyx cocks his head at her. “Get gone where?”
“I dunno.” Jo shrugs. “Go fix something.”
“Fix something!” He gasps as he lunges for the door. “Fantastic!”
That’s it. He’s gone. No pausing at the front door. No glancing over his shoulder. Gone.
“You know,” turning to Jo, I point my thumb over my shoulder, “Emys never sends him off on his own like that.”
Yeah, I’m stating the obvious, but he’s called Pyxis the Restrained for a bazillion legit reasons. Me, voicing my concern, has everything to do with how reckless Jo’s being. It’s got nothing to do with Pyx having been so eager to go and leave me behind.
“She sure the hell does,” Jo scoffs, then shifts her gaze to me, “when someone needs an asskicking.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” But I totally know what she means. “I told him that he could sleep at the modular. It’s not my fault that he didn’t stay there.”
She keeps staring at me.
I stare back. “It’s not.”
She’s not gonna make me feel bad about not staying in the modular after Pyx’d said he’d do anything with me. Only a crazy woman would stay in a tiny, secluded place with a smoking hot alien who’d basically thrown himself at her while growling Take me!
Okay. That’s not quite how it happened. But if my mind replays the actual events, then a disastrous real-enactment of ‘what happened next’ will happen.
Not. Gonna. Um, happen.
But, why do I even bother? I know what’s coming next.
Slowly—like tortuously slowly—Jo arches a single eyebrow, and I ruthlessly crush my urge to fidget.
“Inside.” She cants her head toward her open door. “Now.”
Throwing my hands up because I’m really trying to sell how freaking unfair she’s being—not because she knows me so dang well—I stomp into her office-slash-apartment.
Jo follows me inside, closing the door behind her.
I run my gaze over my friend, starting at her pair of worn boots, up her slim, gazelle-like legs, to the raggedy, baggy nightshirt she’s wearing. Next, I bypass her bony elbows and criss-crossed arms and encounter her slender neck and sharp chin.
Finally, I reach Joia’s eyes and I’m gazing into the exposed strain caused by the heaviness of being Two-Four-Kay’s new mayor.
My shoulders drop. “I’m so sorry, Joia. I didn’t—”
But, I can’t finish. Because last night, when I’d barreled ahead with my thoughtless plan to avoid being alone with Pyx, I hadn’t considered Joia. Didn’t stop to think if she might be having a frustrating night or a rough morning.
I’d just plopped myself outside of Joia’s door, because Joia fixes everything.
“My hair,” she says.
“Huh.” I must’ve spaced out and missed her entire sentence.
“You’re here to do my hair, right?”
I almost smack my forehead. “Right.”
That’s the answer that I was supposed to have given her. That I’d spent the night outside her door so that I wouldn’t be late for our ‘whenever you can squeeze it in’ weekly hair appointment thingy.
“Good,” Jo nods with a frown on her face, “I can’t fix my hair worth shit.”
As she settles on a stool before a cracked mirror, we both know she’s lying to spare my feelings.
I can’t fix anything at all.
I’m bending over, brushing aside the leafy ground cover of Briarwood, when a stick snaps behind me. Like, super close behind me.
I gasp and twirl about—
Okay. Fine. I fall on my ass with a high-pitched shriek.
Let’s just move on…
“Shit! Sorry, Luna!” Benny—Rogers, Jr’s right-hand-goon and Pyx’s patrol partner—is hurrying over to me. “Didn’t mean to scare ya.”
“S’Okay,” I mutter.
I know Benny’s being sincere. Truly, he didn’t mean to be caught staring at my ass.
He drops to a knee next to me and begins to gather the vitamin candy that’d been flung from my basket when I’d toppled over.
It’s been a few days since the whole Howie Incident, and I couldn’t let the vitamin candy go to waste. I’d worked way too hard to make the stuff. Since its shelf life should be a good decade or more, I figure that I can always try again. Who knows, Howie may miraculously turn into a candy lover.
One can always hope, right?
“Is…” Benny’s holding a piece of wrapped candy, pinched between his thumb and forefinger. He’s rotating his hand side-to-side as he examines it. “Is this candy?”
“I haven’t seen candy since…” He chuckles. “Well, since the ship rations ran out.”
“Bet you were just a kid, huh?” Gathering my scattered composure, I sneak peeks at every exposed patch of Benny’s skin.
And no! Not because of that!
Ugh. No. This is Bum Peeping Benny! Ick.
I’m taking note of his bare skin because it marks the places he’s vulnerable to my touch. So far, I’ve been able to scamper away from every solo Benny encounter while managing to keep my hands to myself.
As I’m flicking my gaze over Benny’s scraggily bearded face, our eyes lock.
His flat, grey-eyed stare never shifts away from me. “Your ship had candy?”
Benny holds out the candy. “That’s how you know what candy is. How to make it and shit.”
I’m an idiot. A freaking moron. If Jo and Rez were here, they would slap me upside the head. “Always look like you know your shit,” Rez would say, as Jo would tack on, “And that you know everybody else’s shit, too, Baby Bunny.”
But here I am, gaping at Benny as I’d blurted out a confused ‘My ship?’.
Heck, just as Benny’d held out the candy, I’d been about to say that there wasn’t any candy on my ship.
Because, come on? The scientists? Give us candy?
“Is it good?” Benny raises his brows. “‘Cause thinking about tasting your candy’s kinda got my mouth—”
I snatch the candy that he’s fumbling to open.
And, um, I use a little too much un-Luna-like speed.
Yeah. I said—er, thought ‘shit’. This is a shit-worthy moment. The settlers of Two-Four-Kay do not know that Jo, Rez, I are H.A.R.E.s: Human Alien Research Experiments.
Which is just freaking crazy, because H.A.R.E. is stamped onto the scrap of salvaged hull that Rogers, Jr had installed as the door to The Tower ten years ago. It’s spelled in InterLingual—which few of the settlers can speak but none can read, but still…
Okay. Focus on here and now. Fix this screw up, Luna. You gotta fix this.
Benny’s staring at his empty hand, his brow twisting as his brain struggles to understand what his eyes are showing him. Vanished candy.
That ominous creak has Benny jolting upright onto his feet.
“Fuck,” he mutters, appearing to have forgotten about the vanishing candy.
But, yeah. I’m internally ‘oh fudging’ too. I know that creak, and apparently, so does Benny.
In fact, I bet everyone in the settlement’s well attuned to that telling creak. And I’m also betting that Benny’s and everyone else’s reasons for ‘oh fudging’ are entirely different from mine.
“Listen, Luna,” Benny licks his lips as he darts his gaze nervously about, “I gotta go.”
“Okay.” Crap, I almost blabber ‘Take me with you!’
My flight response is spiking. Seriously, my heart’s sprinting inside my chest as I’m whipping my gaze about like Benny.
I swallow, forcing my voice to sound calm and even. “Sure thing, Benny.”
On shaking legs, he takes a step and halts. Cocking his ear, he heaves a body-shuddering exhale and turns in another direction.
“Yeah,” he says without looking at me. “I’ll catch up with you later.”
Then he heads off, running at a half-crouch while he’s constantly scanning his surroundings…
…and leaving me—a supposedly defenseless woman whose ‘candy’ he wants to lick—sitting on my ass in the middle of a forest, on an alien planet, chock-full of freaking elephant-size predators…
“Thanks a fucking lot, Benny,” I seethe.
Yeah. I’d seethed ‘fucking.’ This is completely fu—
“Heya, Luna,” Pyx says from behind me.
Run! My heart and legs demand.
Yeah, but, why bother?
Pyx is so incredibly fast. Only Rez is faster.
And me? I’m out here, tripping over my own feet as I’m trying to retrace my steps to find all my missing—
“Here you go, Luna.”
I glance up at Pyx.
Oh god, someone help me.
I stare. Simply look silently up at him.
Which leaves Pyx to dart his gaze from his outstretched hand to his other hand that’s tucked against his stomach. His entire body is radiating his confusion and the crumbling of his confidence.
It’s obvious that, due to my lack of response, the poor guy thinks he’s done something wrong. But he hasn’t done anything wrong. I just need another moment or twenty…
See, here I am—once again, pathetically sprawled out on the forest floor—with Pyxis the Restrained holding his hand out to me. But this time, his other arm is pressed against his ripped abs, and inside his huge, upturned palm, he’s cupping a freaking mound of my candy.
Pyx, carefully cradling my candy, looks…
It looks exactly like how he’d carefully cradle a tiny baby in his rock-crushing hands.
He slowly retracts his offered hand. “Luna?”
My legs and my voice are shaking. “Pyx?”
I spring up—trip over my own skirt, but fuck it—and Sneak Attack Hug the shit outta the guy.
When it becomes too much, I release him and take off back toward the settlement. My arms are pumping as I lift my legs high. I’m really pushing my short-spurt of H.A.R.E. speed. You’d think I’m running for my life.
I’m not. I’m running for Pyx’s.
Pyxis The Restrained
Luna is long gone, but I’m still standing in the middle of Briarwood, gaping down at my torso.
By Aku. She’d had her arms around me.
I take a deep breath, expanding my aching chest as I try to understand what the fuck had just happened. Only, my plastron’s jumbling my thoughts. It’s tingling with sensation that’s gotta be fake. Because there’s no way that I could really feel her arms around me. Not with this damn, useless armor between us.
My mind replays the moment. Luna had tucked her chin as she’d pressed her cheek to my chest, and her hair had slid forward, covering her eyes. The way she’d pulled herself closer for a split second, tightening her arms before pushing off and dashing away…
I snap my head up from my Luna-less torso and look at the space between the trees where she’d dashed away.
I could have caught her.
She’d taken off faster than a human, but she was still slow for an Akupara. Just a handful of strides at my true speed would’ve been enough. I could’ve snatched her up in my arms. Could’ve held her close as I’d yanked off my helmet and…
By Aku, her lips would’ve tasted like her candy. So sweet to suck on.
Benny had also wanted a taste…
“What the fuck was that, Pyx?”
I shift my attention between Rez—who’s standing a few paces off and gaping, and a pastel, glittering cloud that’s puffing up from my clenched fist.
I hadn’t been expecting her, yet here she is. Oddly, my sibling isn’t shadowing her.
“Was that Luna’s candy?” Rez steps closer.
Yes. It was Luna’s candy.
Now I’m holding a handful of sparkling dust. Hell, I’m not even holding it. It’s slipping through my fingers like sand.
“Shit,” Rez breathes out as she gives me her ‘are you fucking crazy’ look. “She works really hard to make that stuff.”
I swallow, but my voice is still gruff. “I’m sorry.”
Yet, despite being sorry, that doesn’t fix it. Why the hell can’t I restrain myself all the time? Be as the other Akupara are?
We exercise restraint to conserve, Pyxis. My father had often told me. So that we shall continue to carry on.
I open my hand and let the crushed candy go.
Rez whistles. “Fucking atomized the stuff, Pyx.”
She’s exaggerating. I simply ground it under some moderate pressure.
“Moderate pressure, my ass.” Rez flicks a hand toward the incriminating pile of dust. “You crushed it into dust, Pyx.”
Okay. That’s true.
Rez’s gaze darts from me to the dust. Back and forth. Her brow, that she’d raised in shock, furrows into confusion. “You aren’t gonna say anything else?”
“I’m really sorry?” Fuck. Can I be really sorry if I’m not a real Akupara?
“Nothing about this being fabulous or some over-the-top ecstatitude?”
“This isn’t fabulous.”
“Everything’s fabulous for you, Pyx!” Rez gestures toward the settlement. “Jo even said that you were thrilled about your shitshed being blown down.”
“Thatched hut and it was knocked down.”
I flick my gaze to Rez. She’s still staring at me like I’m a complete idiot. Sure, she’s often rolling her eyes at me and whapping the back of my head. But she’s always coated her gruffness in affection, just like Joia does with me.
Right now, though, she looks disappointed. Like somehow, I’m letting her down.
Unsettled, I start picking up Luna’s remaining candy. These are the whole pieces that’d been scattered from her basket when Benny had startled and cornered her.
And yes, you can be cornered in a forest. I’d cleared this portion of Briarwood with my bare hands. I’m very practiced with cornering prey in an environment that lacks intersecting planes.
My gaze slides to where Benny had scampered off.
Looks like another cleansing’s in order.
I gently settle the last bits of Luna’s candy on a fallen, broad leaf.
Next, I squat before a tree and wrap my arms around the trunk. Digging my fingers into the bark, I steady my grip.
“Pyx?” Rez stretches out my name, pumping her tone full of caution. “Whatcha doing?”
“This.” With a vicious snarl, I stand, uprooting the tree as I rise.
With the tree held over head, I look down at Rez.
“Yeah.” She’s staring up at me, hands on her hips, lips pursed. “That still doesn’t answer my question.”
“Seriously? What’s not to get here?”
“Either you’re doing extreme weeding or having a massive temper tantrum.”
I give the tree a good shake. “I’m staking my claim, Rez.”
Everything from wood dust, splinters, to chunks of the trunk rain down upon me.
“Right.” Rez has zipped off, just outta range of the disintegrating tree. Not a speck is on her. “Yanking up trees is you staking your claim on…?”
By Aku, how is Rez not getting this?
Within the past handful of minutes—a fucking eternity for an Akupara—every damned time I inhale, my nostrils are flooded with the sweet scent of Luna and the sour stench of Benny. Which is fucked up.
Rez keeps on staring at me. “Whatcha claiming here, Pyx?”
“This spot.” Because it belongs to Luna.
It’s where I’d found her, days ago, crushing the vegetation as she’d set her trap for her chosen predator-turned-prey.
Vivid images flash in my mind. Her dress had been rumpled. Sticks had been tangled in her hair. Her bosom had been heaving like she’d just finished running down her kill.
Was that what Luna had been doing? Using both pursuit and ambush strategies to chase her prey into her trap?
Which is so predatorily clever, it’s down right sexy.
Rez keeps staring at me, so I keep starting right back. I’m not gonna back down. This spot belongs to Luna.
“Listen, Pyx. I got this thing to get to. I’m trying to be fashionably late and all meeting this other settlement runner. You know?”
“I don’t know.”
“Course you don’t.” Rez narrows her eyes and jabs a finger at me. “Jo would know exactly what to do about all this, Pyx.”
“I doubt it.”
“Your funeral, then.”
I have no clue what a funeral is, but I do know that Jo’s been ‘off’ lately. Like I said before, she’s missing the mark when she usually hits everything dead center.
How could Jo not know that Benny’s taken an interest in Luna?
Yeah, sure. I’d just figured it out. But Jo, she always knows and she always knows before anyone else, too.
“So,” Rez says, pulling my attention back to her, “is this what we’re gonna do all day?”
“Do all day?”
“Me watching you hold a tree over your head?”
I mean, if she wants to?
“I don’t.” Rez rolls her eyes. “I was supposed to meet that runner and Benny here—”
That was the tree. It totally was the tree—being squeezed—by me.
“I think I’m catching on here.” Rez waves bark dust away from her face. “So, this tree. What’s your plan?”
“Yep. Care to share?”
I am kinda just standing here, huffing so hard that the inside of my helmet is fogging. But I’ve got this claim-staking tree held up triumphantly over my head, so I’ve got that going for me. Although, my cock-turned-battering-ram’s laying siege against my loincop because Luna’s pretty much the unnamed topic of conversation…
Kinda don’t have a place to put the tree…
Kinda still feel the need to uproot a hundred more…
And I really need to try my cock for treason.
“Fuck,” I spat.
I can’t even twist around, because that’ll knock my massive tree trunk into other massive trunks.
Are you talking about me or the tree? My cock asks.
Fucking, idiotic cock.
“Don’t worry. I gotcha back, Pyx.” Rez starts walking off, heading south. “Know the perfect place for you to toss that.”
“Toss it?” I start to follow her.
“Just chuck it like a javelin.”
“I don’t know what that is.”
“Trust me.” Rez gives me a sly grin that kinda has me feeling like myself again. “It’s gonna be fabulous.”
You know what? Throwing massive Briarwood trees like spears is fabulous.
Rez’d let me throw a half dozen more out into the empty scrubscrape of The Chaparral before calling it quits.
But, during that time, I’d gotten a chance to gather my thoughts. This thing with Luna—although it may seem like I’ve started down the same ‘to be mated’ path that Kinixys whole-heartedly and full-throttle-ly raced down—is not that.
Like, I could easily see myself, standing here at the border of Briarwood and The Chaparral, hurling massive trees with any of my human female friends.
Truly. Had it been Jo or Rez or Luna with me, I would’ve been as equally thrilled. And admitting this also thrills me. This means that I can see Luna, be with her, and not have to take great care with reining in my impulses.
Because I like and value her as a friend.
Just a friend.
Feeling bolstered, and honestly, fucking relieved, I step out of Briarwood, right at the edge of Two-Four-Kay.
Right by the shitters.
Right where I see Luna stacking tiny sticks into…
Okay. I’ve got no clue what she’s doing. But I want to know. I really, so fucking badly, want to know.
“Heya, Luna.” By Aku? Why am I always so fucking loud?
She startles, which has me rounding my shoulders and stooping my head. Hell, I’m crouching and a soft rumble is coming from my chest.
“Oh, hi, Pyx.” She gives me a small, bright smile as she gestures to her sticks. “Surprise!”
With my hands on my hips, I nod. “I’m surprised.”
“You really are?”
“I hope so.” Scratch that. “No. I’m definitely surprised.”
“Oh good.” Luna’s shoulders slump. “I was worried that, well, you’d want to build your own cabin.”
“A cabin!” Thank Aku. Now I know what she’s doing. “Can I help? I want to help you.”
“Sure.” Luna smiles up at me, and even though it’s late afternoon, I’m basking in the rays of the midday sun. “Can you get me more sticks?”
“Just sticks? Nothing bigger?”
“Bigger?” She cocks her head. “There’s nothing bigger out there, Pyx.”
“Of course there is.” I’m twisting at the waist, looking from Luna to Briarwood. “Lots of trees.”
“Yeah, that we can’t cut down.”
“Just look at the settlement.” She’s gesturing behind her. “You’ve seen the materials of the modulars, right? It’s all original seed ship structures, just set up quickly until the real construction was supposed to happen.”
“Like permanent houses.”
Seriously! I do!
While I’d been hurling trees with Rez, she’d mentioned that the settlers don’t build with wood. That when the first settlers’d tried harvesting lumber from Briarwood, something about the vibrations of the tools had attracted predators.
“Unless you wanna be a full-time lumberjack,” Rez had warned me, “don’t let others know that you can pluck full-grown trees like unwanted leg hair.”
Okay, so that reference I didn’t quite get. But otherwise, I understand what Luna’s saying.
I nod. “Just sticks.”
She sighs, sounding resigned. “Just sticks. Once it falls to the forest floor, it’s ours to work with.”
Ah. “So, like fallen branches and shi—stuff are good?”
“Yep.” She sighs again as she surveys her cabin—which is several sticks tied together, forming a cone-like thing. “If it’s not too soft with rot, it’ll work.”
“Got it.” I’m heading back into Briarwood. “Not soft. Be back in a minute.”
And fuck that, I’m back in less than a minute.
“Pyx!” Luna’s amazed gaze is running all over me. From my shoulders to my legs, back to my shoulders and settling on what I’m carrying. “Where’d you find all that?”
“You know. ” I lay the branches at her feet. “Here and there.”
“But, where on Warren’s…”
“Are we gonna build?”
She stares at my offered branches a second longer and blinks once as she shakes her head.
“Yeah, Pyx,” she nods as she looks up at me. Another sun-blazing smile lights her face, “let’s build.”
So, we build.
And as we build, believe me, I totally see the problem here.
No, it’s not that Luna has no clue what she’s doing.
She’s trying—for me—and that leaves me fucking speechless.
The problem is that I was just darting all over Briarwood getting sticks for her. In fact, once I’d been concealed by the forest’s dense growth, I’d climbed into the uppercanopy by driving my fingers into tree trunks, creating handholds as I went. Then I’d torn off fresh tree limbs, shouldering a measly ten to twelve of them as I’d climbed back down.
And you know what? I was fucking pumped the entire time. I’m still pumped. This is way more fun than tossing dumb trees with Rez.
And even better? Absolutely nothing compares to the astonished gape Luna’d given me as I’d swaggered—yeah, I’d fucking swaggered—up to her with her requested ‘not soft with rot’, extra large ‘sticks’ balanced across my shoulders.
You know, My cock interjects, we can offer something else that’s ‘hard and large’—
“Fuck!’ I turn to her. “Did I say that out loud?”
Her brow wrinkles. “Say what?”
“Nothing about hard and large?”
I’m gazing at her cheeks. They’re turning the most amazing shade of rose, and I wanna reach out and touch—
“Pyx, what’s hard and large?”
I hold up my hand. “Sticks.”
And I’ll praise Aku forever, because—the lucky bastard that I am—I’m actually fisting a damn stick. “Hard and large. Good for cabin making.”
“Yeah, they are.” Lune looks at the tree limbs that we’ve added to the conical structure.
She’d said the design’s based on a tent structure called a ‘tipi’, but that once the stick frame is done, it’ll be more of a wigwam because we’ll use bark for the sides.
It’s not exactly what I’d built with my father. It’s different, and different is outstanding.
I turn from the cabin to look at her. She’s so damn pretty in the light of the setting sun. “Hey, Luna.”
“I think we need to call it a day.”
“It’s a day.” I don’t understand, but it’s what she wants, so I repeat it.
She sets about organizing unused sticks and packs up her tools and ball of twine. “Ready?”
“Well, let’s go,” she starts to walk away, “unless you’re gonna stay—”
“Going with you,” I say, hustling a bit more than I should out in the open.
We’re not gonna have a repeat of last night. I’m going with her. Whether that’s to her tiny, yet tidy modular, or spending another night on the floor outside of Jo’s door.
Where Luna goes, I’ll be right behind her.
“Oh, good,” she sighs.
It’s her relieved sigh. I’m starting to pick up on these things about her.
As we walk back to her modular, I hear a creak from behind us, followed by a snap. Finally, a cascading tumble ensues.
Eh. I’ll fix it all later.
Right now, Luna’s talking. She’s thanking me for fixing her oven, which was Jo’s command—this morning, Jo’d told me to ‘go fix something’—but it was my extreme pleasure to do.
“I made bread,” Luna tells me.
“But, ah, don’t eat it.”
“Got it.” The Akupara don’t eat grains, so it’s no matter.
She ducks her head. “They didn’t turn out right.”
“Did I not fix the oven correctly?”
“Oven’s great.” She rushes to say as she settles her hand on my arm.
Gotta admit it. I stop listening. I’m just all head nods and ‘got it’s as I stare at her tiny hand on my arm bracer.
“Pyx.” It’s her tone, demanding that I focus on her, so I look up. “Seriously. I’m the reason the bread came out like bricks. But, work-in-progress and all that. I’ll try again tomorrow.”
I like tomorrow. So many new things can—
Luna jerks to stop outside of her modular. “Benny?”
Fuck. I’d been too focused on Luna.
“What?” She runs her gaze over the scene. “What are you doing?”
To me, it’s obvious. Benny and Gary are setting up camp outside of Luna’s modular. Well, Gary’s setting up. Benny’s just sitting on a mattress.
Benny grins at Luna as he stands. “Hey there, Luna. See you made it back all right.”
“Are you freaking kidding me, Benny?” Luna flings an arm back toward Briarwood. “You left me, Benny. In freaking Briarwood, Benny!”
He waves her off. “Nothing to worry about.” He turns to me. “You ran off all the big beasts. Right, F.B.?”
“Freaking hate that name,” Luna mumbles, then louder, “What are you doing here, Gary?”
Ah. Luna’s smart. Gary’s a talker.
Gary stops moving as his wide eyes slide to Benny. “Just, you know…”
“No.” Luna props a hand on her hip. “I don’t know, Gary.”
“Luna, hey, easy now,” Benny croons as he steps toward her.
Me, well, I growl. Because.
Benny’s smile wavers as he looks from me to Luna. “Listen, Jo announced the housing lottery.”
Luna swears. “She did n—”
Benny raises his hands. “She did, Luna. You know she was gonna have ta sooner or later. Well, later’s here.”
I glance down at Luna. “What’s Benny talking about?”
“Stupid freaking lottery,” Luna heaves. “It’s a thing they do here in Two-Four-Kay.”
“You got prime housing here,” Benny raps his knuckles on the metal siding of Luna’s home, “and it’s under capacity at the moment. So, it’s time for the lottery. Now that Rez and Jo’ve moved on, you’re getting some new roommates.”
I pivot toward Benny. “I’m her roommate.”
“Like I said,” Benny shrugs, “this modular’s under capacity. Luna can fit a few more in there.” Then he turns a slick smile to Luna. “Unless you pick ’em yourself, Luna. You know Jo will let ya chose your roommates, being her Baby Bunny and all.”
Wait. Benny’d said unless Luna picks…
“She hasn’t picked anyone.” I turn to Luna, “Have you?”
“Heck no,” she snaps, her glare locked on Benny.
“So, why are you here, Benny?” Yep. I’m growling again.
“Easy there, F.B.” Benny nods at me. “Good thing you’re here, too. As the settlement’s patrol, we’re to make sure no one takes advantage now that the lottery’s been announced.”
“No one?” Luna throws her arms out and looks around. “There’s freaking no one here but you, Benny!”
“And me,” Gary adds. “I’m here.”
Luna jabs a finger at Benny. “This is bullcrap and you know it.”
“Following orders, Luna. Straight from Jo.” He places his hands on the left side of his chest. “Swear it. I’m here under mayor’s orders.”
Luna’s grumbling and huffing as I continue to stare at Benny. If Jo did order the patrol, then she’s got to have a reason. Jo always has a reason.
“So, we’re staying here tonight?” I ask Benny.
“I’ve got first watch,” I say as I place a hand on Luna’s tight shoulder and guide her to her modular’s door.
“Sure thing, F.B.” Benny does this human, finger-salute thing at me as he holds the door open for Luna. When I go to follow her, his eyes widen. “Going on in, are you?”
“Yes.” I push the door open wider and step inside.
Benny snickers as he closes the door. “Gotta keep the bed warm, eh?”
“Will do!” I utter like an ass, because I don’t know what else to say.
There’s this heat in my gut. It’s a hot spur that’s rolling around.
Eyes on the closed door, I ask, “How do I warm a bed?”
I turn to Luna.
Her eyes are locked on the bunks. The two off to the right—where she’d said that she and Jo’d slept—are missing their mattresses.
Well, that explains what Benny and Gary had been sitting on outside.
But it’s the smell—the foul pungent stench of human males—coming from the two rucksacks that has my chest vibrating with a feral growl.
I snatch up the rucksacks, open the door, and hurl them outside.
“Pyx!” Luna gasps.
Yeah, I’d moved too fast. But Benny and Gary had their backs to the door. They didn’t see.
At least, I think they didn’t see.
Turning back to Luna, I square my shoulders and repeat my question, “Tell me how to warm a bed.”
She slowly shifts her gaze from the closed door to me. “I’d rather not.”
“I’d rather you do.”
“I’d rather Benny lived through the night.”
“So, tomorrow then?” Sounds good. I can take care of Benny tomorrow.
“Tomorrow,” Luna stresses the word, “we’ll do nothing to Benny. We’ll go see Jo. We’ll figure this out.”
I don’t like this plan.
“I don’t like it, either,” Luna looks at me, her eyes tired and glassy, “but it’s all I’ve got. Jo fixes everything.”
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
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