Jack stared down once more at the charts spread out on the desk before her and swallowed hard. Theo had let her plot a course on paper before, but he had stood over her when she did it in case she screwed it up.
Now Theo stood at the wheel, not a care in the world. He had told her where they needed to go, and what they needed to avoid. They would be returning to the spot by the river where they had picked up Duncan and Johns. They would be avoiding the forest, and they had to be sure to beat the Company men back. It seemed so straightforward on its face. ‘What could possibly go wrong?’ the traitorous voice in her head whispered to her.
‘You can do it, Jack, you know that you can.’ Theo had told her as she sat before the charts. Riddick had walked by her with Shazza in tow, towards their quarters, and had beamed at her proudly, the tiniest of nods. Riddick knew that she could do it too.
She glanced up surreptitiously at Theo when the tip of the pencil touched the paper; she could swear that everyone had heard the scratchy sound it had made. No one noticed. It took her a long time; she knew that Theo would have done it faster. Joanne came out at some point and brought her a cup of coffee and something to eat.
She studied Old Thomas’ maps, his diagrams plotted out precisely the paths of the ley lines. Jack thought about the river, and the forest, and about the time they would need and, with her eyes closed at first, decided. It was an odd sort of power and she understood a little more how Theo felt, as a captain; it wasn’t enough just to fly, anyone could be trained to fly.
They would skirt the village where they had gotten supplies, and cross the plain to the river, which they would follow and approach the forest from the other side, well ahead of the Company men. Hopefully. They would arrive sometime in the middle of the night.
Her back cracked and popped when she finally looked up, the cup of coffee beside her cold. The heels of her hands were ground into her eyes and she blinked the sleep from her eyes. One last look at the cup of cold coffee before she drank it in one pull and shuddered at the bitterness of it, but it woke her up fully.
The course seemed solid before as she looked at the charts, the strokes definite and precise, even if her script wasn’t quite as neat as Theo’s. She didn’t need to look at the chart again to know where to go, it was clear in her head, memorized. ‘Another advantage to plotting on paper’.
She watched as Theo leaned easily against the wheel, and then looked across the bridge. Duncan paced back and forth, his leg bandaged anew, held lightly by Riddick and Johns on either side. Shazza sat up front and tinkered with a piece of equipment. Jack watched for a few minutes, fascinated at all of the pieces everywhere. It looked like an adaptation to one of the weapons, some sort of spring-loaded device. Joanne and Anna could be heard, in the galley, as they sang quietly.
She took a last look at the charts before she rolled them neatly and left them on the desk, and then went up front to relieve Theo for a bit. “Did you want to see…?”
Theo looked over at her, that same confident look, not only in himself, but in her as well. “No. You’ve plotted the course; the bridge is yours, Jack.”
She had flown the Moorglade, often in fact, but it had always been Theo that had plotted the course. She would fly wherever he told her to fly; now she was completely on her own. Theo’s hand rested on her shoulder and squeezed before he turned and made his way back to the galley.
Joanne felt the blush creep up her cheeks when Theo peeked his head around the corner to get something to drink and pick at the leftovers from their dinner. Anna grinned up at him and bounced in place for a moment before she vanished from the kitchen to chatter excitedly with Jack up front.
She watched his every movement carefully, as though each action happened in slow motion. Everything cemented in her mind. Theo poured his coffee and watched her. She felt her heart race, the memory of the kiss they had shared burned so brightly that she couldn’t breathe. Never in her life had she been kissed like that, held like that. Gently. For her alone.
Theo stood still a moment before he leaned in and kissed her temple, the very top of the scar that ripped down through her eye. Joanne closed her eyes and breathed right then, close to his chest. Lips grazed over her skin as he stepped back to watch her again, his eyes darker than before.
He backed up a step and gave her space again, and took his coffee with him as he walked down the hall to the makeshift quarters. It wasn’t comfortable but it would do for now. He set his coffee cup on an upended crate that he used as a table and picked up the book that he had started to read earlier. Jack would need to be relieved in a couple of hours but he was too keyed up to sleep just yet; the kiss still foremost in his mind. It had been a while.
He had read the same sentence over and over and it still made no sense to him, he couldn’t concentrate. The book got left on the crate with a heavy sigh and Theo leaned back, his fingers interlaced behind his head, his eyes closed. The smell of her hair, the taste of her lips, all of it stayed with him as he thought about her.
He had accepted that he was on Trieste 9; that was a solid tangible thing, something he had planned for, even if he hadn’t had much hope at the time. The Moorglade was a harder thing to accept, but he had seen pictures of her, and knew that she too existed. Joanne was something else, something he had never expected to find.
Joanne knotted and pulled the cloth that she held, nervous and excited at the same time. Far from some starry-eyed teenager, she knew what a man had to offer, or at least those men that she had dealt with in her life. She should have wanted nothing to do with Theo, and maybe if her options had been better she might even have considered living alone, at least for a while. Fate didn’t always work the way you expected it to.
A deep breath, a last nervous glance at her pale reflection in the shiny surface of the coffee urn, and she stepped out into the hallway. She froze again when she reached his doorway, tense and insecure, unsure. He had said that he would wait, and while she didn’t want him to wait any longer, she was still afraid. When she thought of Theo, she couldn’t imagine that he would be rough with her, but what if she was wrong and he hurt her?
Her mind scattered through scenarios and consequences, what she would do. What could she do? In the end it came back to the question; would he hurt her? She closed her eyes, the scent of him still in her nose. No, he wouldn’t hurt her.
The door to the makeshift quarters opened silently and, on the balls of her feet, she crept quietly into his room. Unsure, she froze and let her eyes adjust to the dim light. Her belly fluttered and her mouth went dry. She took a step forward and watched the even rise and fall of his chest, and knew that he wasn’t asleep, that he pretended. He was still so as not to frighten her. Or to grab her when she got close enough.
Joanne swallowed and took another step forward, closer to him. Her heart pounded in her chest as she reached down and touched his chest with her hand.
Theo opened his eyes slowly, everything he did he did slowly. She panted quietly, and he knew that she was frightened, a little at least, and that if he didn’t go slow now she would be gone. So he let her see him first, her bright startled eye wide in the dim room. Fingers unlaced slowly and he moved them out to the side, so that she could see him and not bolt.
Joanne leaned down a little further and her tongue nervously ran over her bottom lip as she moved her hand from his chest to take his hand in hers. She didn’t pull, just stood, and he followed. She looked scared, nervous and excited all at the same time as she took a step backwards, his hand still in hers.
Theo let her lead him down the hallway to his original quarters, which he had given to Joanne. Her hands were clammy and he had to squeeze occasionally so that his hand wouldn’t slip from hers; he wasn’t sure how she would take that.
Her eyes flicked nervously up to his and she chewed on her lip, her nostrils flared with her tension. Theo stood immobile against the door frame; this would be her, every step of the way. Her hand shook as she opened the door and entered. He stayed until she reached out for his hand again and followed her inside.
He closed the door behind him and turned back to her, as she stood nervously at the foot of the bed, her hands in knots. She hadn’t spoken, and Theo wasn’t sure if she could, if she even knew what to say. It didn’t matter; she had decided, as plain as day.
Theo crossed the space between them, surer now. A firm hand stayed her hands as they twisted against each other. He held her wrists apart until she couldn’t hold her hands anymore, and he backed her up until her knees hit the bed and she fell backwards across it. He raised her hands until they were at a level for her to slip them around his neck. Her actions were wooden and stiff and the tension radiated off her in waves, as their bodies pressed together on the bed.
A knuckle raised her chin, as she tried to close her eyes. He knew that she would try to hide at some point, to just let happen what would happen. Maybe out of fear and maybe because it was all that she had known, but he wanted her here, with him. His voice was hoarse, authoritative, when he spoke to her. “Look at me.”
Joanne swallowed and squeezed her eyes shut even more tightly, before she opened them and looked up at Theo. There was fear in her eyes, because fear was what she was taught, but there was also heat. “I won’t ask again, but I want you to tell me. Is this what you want?”
He didn’t want to think about how he would feel if she gave in to her fear and fled the room. It would be worse if he found out later that she didn’t really want to be there at all. Her panted breaths had stopped, because she held her breath, frozen in that moment of decision. The smallest of nods, as she watched his eyes. It wasn’t enough for him, and he leaned down to kiss her forehead to repeat the question, his lips against her skin. “Is this what you want?”
Her voice was small and trembled, as though she would cry at any moment, but the heat flared in her eyes nonetheless. “Yes.”
Jack sweated everything at first, when Theo had gone back to his own quarters. Twice she had made to go recheck the charts. Both times Riddick had looked up from the book that he read and without a sound, shook his head at her. She didn’t have to look. Riddick knew it, Theo knew it. Shazza slipped the final piece into the machinery that she had tinkered with and Jack knew that if she asked, Shazza would know it too.
It was early evening when she first saw the faint outlines of the village far ahead of them, exactly where she expected it to be. ‘Not bad, Jack.’ They had given the forest a wide berth and now a gentle hill hid their passage from the Company men that would likely stay in the cover of the forest to move. In another hour or so they would pass the village and then a slow gentle turn as they followed the course of the river, to come up on Duncan’s ship from behind.
Unable to stifle the yawn any more, her jaw gaped. Theo rested his hand on her shoulder as he moved up to take over the wheel. “Go get some sleep.” Jack’s face contorted a little more with the force of her yawn; she had been keyed up for a while, and she was exhausted. Theo waited until Jack was nearly at the corridor to the lower quarters when he turned to look over his shoulder at her, a devilish smirk on his face. “You’ve got your roommate back, Jack.”
Copyright © February 2007 xxxevilgrinxxx