The usual: The character of Honor Harrington is the property of David Weber. I just took her out for a day on the town. Constructive criticism or just a friendly note is very welcome at email@example.com.
A big thank you to L and L, both of you were a tremendous help in keeping this story on track and correcting my grammar and spelling snafus. This story is a direct result of a challenge offered to me by Nic, who I hope enjoys reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. As always dedicated to my Angel.
The dream came, like it still often did.
This time though, instead of the people she was supposed to be leading to safety, she was leading her Lady through the streets of Haven. Desperately she kept on trying to tell her Lady to not trust her.
No matter how she kept on trying to tell Honor that she should flee, her Lady kept on following her.
Then they were through the city streets and into the park. The snow was falling, and Aeris watched in horror, unable to change the course of the dream. Leading her lady through the woods as she had the refuges.
Right into the waiting trap.
The marine's flowed out of the shadows, looking like bloodthirsty demons.
She stood paralyzed, unable to move, wanting to try something anything to stop what she knew was going to happen.
The General stalked forwards towards them. Aeris screamed in her mind for her Lady to run, to flee, to fight, to do anything, something. Instead her Lady stood there, trusting in her, as the General raised his pulse pistol.
Her Lady's body fell backwards, the blood splattering across the snow, crimson and white.
Aeris woke up shuddering and sobbing, holding a trembling treecat in her arms. Deciding that trying to get more sleep was useless at that point, she sat the slightly grumpy Sam aside and made her way for the shower.
Standing under the shower nozzle and letting the hot water wash away the remnants of the dream she forced her thoughts back to the day before. After talking for a good half an hour with Patrick Moor the senior partner had offered to take her out to the small ground station that the shipping company used. While the merchant ships were hopelessly too big to even consider entering an atmosphere, every shipping company needed a warehouse somewhere. Orbital or planetary, either way they needed a place to store merchandise.
One look around the carefully controlled environmental dome and the way that Moor had been very careful about which areas he showed her, and she knew she was on the right track. Now all she had to do was find a way to get inside without an escort and take a look around.
Ten to one that's how Joseph's getting his personnel and equipment on planet.
Rinsing her hair she smiled grimly.
I'm not going to let you get a chance to hurt my lady's brother, or sister, whichever Allison and Arthur decide on.
It was another three weeks before she had a chance to put her plan into action. Her commitments at Harrington house were steadily growing, and to her surprise she found herself taking pleasure in making certain that the people in the House were well guarded. That there were those who still wished harm to this, the newest of the Steadings, was still quite evident. It helped that the Church of Humanity Unchained, the official religion of Grayson, officially supported Honor and the changes she had brought to the planet.
Grayson itself was not a planet on which humans were ever supposed to live. The atmosphere was toxic, and the ground contained so many heavy metals that farming had to take place on carefully detoxified soil. No one in their right mind went outside if they could avoid it.
Which was exactly what Aeris was planning on.
"Sorry Sam, you can't come on this one."
The 'Cat obviously didn't like it, but she seemed to understand. Aeris would have to look into getting a suit of some sort for the 'Cat. Like Honor had for Nimitz.
The aching lonely pain slammed into her with little warning, and the blonde guard closed her eyes. Swallowing against the urge to cry and forcing the terrible grief deep inside of her. She'd have to pay for that sometime, but it worked for now.
"Be good Sam."
She pressed a kiss to the top of the treecat's head and smiled as the cat rose up on its rear paws to place both true hands on her shoulders. Intelligent eyes met hers and she stroked her fingers through dappled gray fur.
"Don't worry. I won't do anything stupid. This is purely a recon mission."
Considering what had happened on other recon missions that she'd taken part of in the past, the purely skeptical look the 'Cat was giving her was justified.
Taking the duffel bag that was stuffed full of her newly "liberated" environmental suit she headed for the docks, barely managing to avoid both Allison and Victoria. To her surprise, her Lady's mother had become one of the few people that Aeris could call a friend over the past few months. She knew that Aeris was off today, and was probably going to try and drag her along on one of her shopping trips.
I'll have to come up with a really good excuse by the time I get back. She'll know that I didn't take Sam with me.
Victoria had gone right past the charmingly impish impression she'd first made to become thoroughly annoying. Lately it was as if the other woman was everywhere that Aeris went and her thinly veiled suggestions were starting to drive Aeris a bit insane.
She's getting a bit obsessive here.
So it was with a lot of relief that she ducked out of sight of both of them and into the waiting air car.
"Where we going this time?"
Since the driver who had taken her to the Mueller Steading had turned out to be fairly decent and hadn't asked any questions, Aeris had hired him again.
"Here, these coordinates."
The thin balding man did little more than glance at the coordinates.
"There's nothing there."
A quick tap and a hundred credits were downloaded from an account she'd set up into his reader.
"There's an emergency shelter set up there. Any problems?"
The driver accepted the credit transfer in the same move that undocked the car from the dome.
"Didn't think so. Keep your mouth shut and you'll get more when we come back."
The emergency shelters were scattered across the surface of Grayson for anyone unfortunate enough to either crash or otherwise get stuck out on the surface. They were small bunkers with life support and a com system to call the nearest rescue squad.
Aeris left the air car parked next to one, and went around the bunker. Telling the driver to come back in twelve hours for her if he wanted another large tip. She'd given him another hundred credits to make certain she had his attention.
From there, it was a long trek across the blasted surface of the planet that few, other than the workers who maintained these installations and repaired the domes, saw. In a strange way it was kind of fun to be walking across the surface of the planet alone. If she ignored the occasional beacon or transmitter tower and the habitat domes, she could pretend she was all alone.
Like Samantha and the Harrington's weren't just a few short hours away by Aircar.
Suddenly imagining she was alone wasn't fun anymore, and she concentrated on her destination. Getting a hold of geo survey maps, it had been fairly easy to plot a course towards the Moor Shipping dome that that would keep her out of sight. As long as she avoided any sensors that they had set out she should be able to get to the Dome itself without being seen.
Then came the fun part.
Her course took her through some low meandering trenches, through which water heavily contaminated with mercury flowed. The rocky outcroppings along the sides gave her shelter from any prying eyes from the dome itself. There were, however, more sensors planted around the dome then she'd expected.
She had a home made little trick that they weren't expecting though. The rather heavy pack she carried contained a recorder and a mini computer. It had taken her two months of scrounging, but she'd managed to build it almost entirely from spare parts at Harrington steading. The black box, as she called it, would pick up the remote sensor's signal and override it with a signal showing nothing unusual. Unfortunately she only had about three hours of battery power, and the range was rather limited.
"Come on, come on, where are you... ah, tricky bastards."
Ever so gently she twisted the cover off of the remote sensor that she was crouched next to. A quick adjustment inside, being careful not to drop the slender illegal tool she'd brought with her, and the sensor wouldn't show her passage. Whoever had set up the sensor net around this dome had known what they were doing.
Slightly clumsy in the heavy suit she moved on towards the next sensor. The thick gloves of the suit made it hard to handle the delicate connections that had to be made in order to rewire the sensors. Turning what a walk that she had expected to only take an hour into a three-hour ordeal. The last sensor she was working on was proving even more problematic.
The soft beep in her left ear alerted her to another problem. She had five minutes of battery power left on her black box.
"Shit. Come on, why won't this work."
The adjustable screwdriver in her hands felt awkward through the suits gloves, and more than once she dropped it onto the ground. Swallowing she focused on the job, ignoring the steady beeping which counted down the last five minutes of power. As quickly as she dared work she rewired the sensor to show everything as normal and mentally crossed her fingers as she closed the box like sensor's cover. Her black box went dead a second later.
She'd just have to pray she hadn't overlooked anything. Constructing most of the equipment she was taking with her on this little sojourn and getting her hands on the environmental suit had taken quite a bit of effort over the last three weeks.
Now to see if the next gadget in the line up works like I want it to.
The handmade box that she detached from the suits utility belt had almost been as difficult to build as the black box. It attached directly to the entrance keypad next to one of the air locks spread around the ground level of the dome. Impatiently she waited for the single indicator light she'd built into it to go from red to green, praying it would work. If it didn't her entire trip out here was a waste.
So when the green light lit up and the heavy external door clunked open, Aeris felt like dancing.
Weee, now we're getting somewhere.
Now as long as no one wondered why the airlock was cycling when the box still attached to the outside keypad would be assuring them that no one was inside it. The hiss of air rushing past her was all she could hear outside of the suit and she forced herself to remain patient and let the airlock cycle. When the inner door automatically opened Aeris skinned out of the environmental suit and hung it up inside. There were already rows of other suits hanging there and she hid hers among them. Then, slipping into the shadows, she set off down the maintenance corridor, hunting for information.
Unlike the holo novels the air vents were far too small for her to go climbing around in.
Of course if this was a holo novel I'd know what I was looking for. Come on, there has to be something here to give me a clue.
Nearly an hour of sneaking and hiding in shadows had only gotten her a bruised elbow and covered her in smeared grease. Hiding under the heavy machinery hadn't been her first choice, but there hadn't been anywhere else to hide from the two technicians.
After a half hour of huddling under machinery that leaked oil on her, Aeris had almost been tempted on giving up. She'd held a mental picture of her lady and Samantha close though, and cautiously moved further into the dome, staying to the maintenance passages.
She was starting to get discouraged though; nothing so far had indicated that this place was anything other than a warehouse and launching platform for Moor shipping.
"Hey, wait a second, I won that hand!"
The voice echoed from further down the hallway she was moving down.
"Oh, right, you had a flush."
The second voice sounded familiar somehow and Aeris narrowed her eyes.
Where have I heard that voice before?
She edged forwards, staying plastered against one side of the pipe lined access hallway as she did. Not that it would help her any if someone started moving down the hallway, but it was the best she could do.
"Come on, ante up."
The second voice again, the one she was almost positive she'd heard before. Licking her lips, she moved towards the open doorway staying well clear of the light that was shinning out of it. Getting down on her stomach she inched the last bit forwards, and took out the small mirror she'd brought with her.
Surprising how useful mirrors are.
Licking her lips she looked into the small room beyond, through the reflection on the mirror. It wasn't much in the way of size, just a small ten by fifteen foot hole in the wall. A single table, strewn with cards, chips, and empty bottles, was in the middle of the room.
Three men were clustered around it, studying the cards that they had been dealt.
She recognized all three of them.
"Where to now?"
"Back to Harrington Steading."
After another hour spent getting back to the rendezvous she'd had the driver, who she was starting to call the Thin Man, drive her back to the spaceport. There she had rented her room at the Refuge, ignoring the slimy desk clerk once more, and left all her equipment.
Her mind, for the first time since she had come to this planet, was in overdrive. Spinning with the hints and fragments of clues that she had before her. It was like putting together a puzzle with only a fraction of the pieces.
She loved it.
It was the one thing about her former life she'd liked without reservation. Trying to put together the entire story without knowing all the pieces.
Watching the land blur by under the air car she considered what her scouting mission had revealed. She hadn't been able to place the face that went with the voice she'd heard until she looked into the mirror. Then Aeris had realized where exactly it was that she'd heard that voice before.
The three men that were attacking Victoria in the alleyway, I knew I had heard that voice before.
The man who had been yelling at Victoria, the one that Aeris had put a tazer to the back of the head, had been there. Along with the two men who had been holding the beaten woman upright, to be pummeled.
What does it mean?
It can't just be a coincidence can it?
Unless they were hired after being released by the police?
Nibbling on her lower lip she ignored the occasional curious looks she was getting from the driver.
I need more information.
As much as she loved trying to put the pieces together, she was enough of an expert to realize when she didn't know quite enough to draw anything resembling a solid conclusion.
Distractedly she nodded and rose as the driver slid the car into its dock at Harrington steading.
"Thank you, here's another hundred credits. I may need transport at unexpected times in the next little while."
Shrewd brown eyes watched her as she stepped out of the cab. The thin balding man smiled, slightly.
"If you keep paying this well, I'll be at your disposal whenever you want, just call."
Then she had her arms full of a treecat that was feeling neglected and rather upset with her adopted human, and showing it. Faintly aware of the airlock door closing behind her she hugged Sam tight.
Aeris was so occupied with reassuring the 'Cat that she wouldn't leave her like that again soon, and planning her next step that she failed to spot Allison Harrington approach.
"She missed you."
Startling, Aeris whirled, and sheepishly smiled. She'd had a few hours on the way back to think about what she was going to tell the Harrington's.
"I had to go visit a friend, and I didn't want her to be away from her kittens for so long."
It should have been a warning to her, that Allison accepted the explanation so easily. The normally sharp woman would never have let her get away with what was, admittedly, a rather poor excuse, as excuses go.
Instead the shorter woman grabbed both the excited 'Cat and startled guard in a fierce hug.
"You missed the most wonderful news!"
Happiness and joy practically radiated from Samantha and Aeris could no more resist the smile that appeared on her face than not return the hug that Allison captured her in.
"What is it? What's happened?"
Allison Chu drew back, and held both of Aeris's cheeks in her palms, eyes bright with unshed tears of happiness.
"She's not dead. My daughter is coming home."
Her lady was back.
Honor, her Honor, was back from the dead.
Had never been dead in the first place.
The Republic had decided to fake her death; you could do a lot with computerized graphics these days, and send Honor to Char. The prison planet that even Aeris had only heard rumors of. A place where it appeared the Republic had stashed those prisoners that it thought it might have further use for in the future.
Including someone else that Aeris had never thought to hear from again.
The only sign of her turmoil was the way that Samantha refused to sit still on her shoulders. Other than that she stood perfectly straight next to both Allison and Alfred, along with the rest of the household. The shuttle that was approaching was no normal shuttle.
It had her lady in it.
Swallowing against the sudden ache in her throat, Aeris kept her eyes straight ahead. She didn't know what to think, what to believe, what to feel.
The low drum call that Grayson protocol called for a returning Steadholder saved her from the wondering that had kept her awake these last few days. Her excitement, merged with the excitement flowing through her still new bond with Samantha, only serving to amplify it.
Then they were there, the crowds that had gathered raising a cheer as they saw the Steadholder. Their Steadholder had come back from the dead, and the cheer raised higher and higher, seeming to echo from the top of the dome itself.
Andrew Lafollet was with her, Aeris saw, and she smiled ever so slightly at the older guard, who returned the slight smile. Then she returned to staring straight ahead, as Samantha swarmed down her shoulders and headed for Nimitz. The two Treecats reassuring each other that they were safe and together. She half feared, half hoped, about what she might see in her lady's eyes, so she avoided them. Uncertain now that she was back, that the second chance she had hoped, cried, prayed for had come.
Her lady came to stand right in front of her, and Aeris had to meet her lady's eyes.
There was a new weariness in those hazelnut eyes, but there was a joy in them that made Aeris's heart contract painfully.
It felt like a dream, and Aeris desperately didn't want to wake up.
It seemed like a lifetime since she'd sat in this chair. It had been nearly a year, almost exactly, since she'd sat in exactly the same chair. Nimitz, mostly healed from his ordeal, sat curled up in her lap. The Republic State Sec goons had removed the cybernetics in her hand and eye, and then had crippled Nimitz.
She had an entire new set of memories to keep her awake now.
The time spent at Camp Charron had not been pleasant. At least she hadn't been alone though, most of her command staff had been with her, sent there together. They'd escaped from the ship that had brought them there, blowing it out space to hide their escape. From there they had progressed, gaining the confidence of the local prisoners. Charron was actually a series of small villages, totally dependant on the central Republic held camp for food. Humans could digest nothing on the planet, something to do with the protein structure native to all the native organisms. From there had come the desperate bid to over through the central camp. Once that had been accomplished, through a brief but bloody uprising, they'd gained control of the orbital defenses. The next Havenite task force that had come to pay a visit had been forced to surrender or be blown apart.
Honor had taken her people home in the ships of the very enemy who had supposedly sentenced her to death. A sentence she had been horrified to find out had been supposedly carried out. The digital images of her death, she had to admit after watching them, were surprisingly convincing.
The Treecat purred in her lap and she turned her thoughts from the past.
They both had a lot of healing to go through, but they were back.
It was her first night here, and she luxuriated in the simple quiet of the library, the crackle of the fireplace. In a few days there would be a formal party celebrating her seeming return from the dead. It was going to be a long day and night she was certain, with everyone from Whitehaven to Benjamin the Ninth already scheduled to be there. For now though, she was going to rest and enjoy the quiet of the night.
A faint smile edged her lips as she stroked Nimitz's fur, the 'Cat purring in response to her happiness. Her reunion with the staff at Harrington Steading had been joyous and bittersweet. It hadn't really struck her that she was back, home, until she'd hugged her mother. Then, to her consternation, she'd almost burst into tears. Honor was thankful for the way that Aeris and Samantha had quietly intervened, giving her the seconds she needed to get herself back under control.
"It's good to be home Nimitz."
The 'Cat fairly buzzed in agreement.
Miranda had already discreetly let her know how much mail she had to go through, and it seemed that being dead did not save one from forms. Coming back from the dead was even worse, just trying to undue some of the things she'd given away in her will was giving her lawyers stroke's. It would probably take her months to sort through everything.
She knew the instant that Aeris entered the room. Nimitz still wasn't showing her Aeris's feelings, but he did raise his head and look towards the door. The fact that Samantha streaked through the darkness to join Nimitz, who jumped off Honor's lap, helped a bit of course.
"Come to make certain I'm still here, Aeris?"
"I wanted to make certain you were alright, My Lady."
Honor smiled gently, watching Samantha and Nimitz as they curled up together near the fire. She could feel the two 'Cat's contentment and sheer pleasure at being together through her link with Nimitz. It spread through her like a warm glow.
Maybe that's why she kept talking, going where she knew she shouldn't. She didn't know anything about the woman that stood before her, not even if her feelings were returned. It might have been why, or it might have just been that she was so desperately weary of being alone.
"Do you always have to call me that Aeris?"
"What My Lady?"
The fact that this was the same conversation they had before Honor had left on that ill-fated mission was not lost on either of them. She raised her head to meet green eyes so deep that she could loose herself in them.
"Don't you think you could call me by my first name now?"
The question was asked innocently enough, but they both knew what Honor was asking. She couldn't believe she was daring this, couldn't believe she'd even asked the question. It would be a line crossed, and suddenly she desperately wanted to see what, if anything, might wait for them on the other side of that line.
Neither noticed the pair of Treecats that watched them intently from near the hearth.
Aeris's mouth was dry, and she couldn't seem to follow the part of her mind that was screaming at her to leave. To get out before... before what exactly she wasn't certain, but she wanted to find out.
Slowly she knelt by the chair, her right hand on the armrest, looking up into the shadowed face of her lady. The light from the fire licked at her features, making them even more alluring then usual. Aeris could feel her heart race as she met Honor's eyes, swallowing at what she saw in them.
"I'm your Guard."
The last vestige of training from her prior life managed to get her to say.
"Your more than that."
Her lady's voice, a voice that had commanded thousands into battle, lead fleets of ship to victory, was low and throaty.
Honor, for her part, was waiting for Aeris's answer, willing, for once, to toss caution to the winds and hope that the beautiful woman who knelt by the side of her chair felt the same. Her fingers, without conscious thought, raised and gently tucked a stray blonde lock behind a perfect ear. Her fingers grazed Aeris's skin, and she sighed in pleasure at the warmth radiating from the other woman, whose eyes fluttered shut at that touch and her features softened.
In that moment Honor was struck by how much of what Aeris projected during the day was just an act. The tough exterior and almost total lack of feelings, for before her was a woman who's soul was laid bare to her.
Her name from Aeris's lips was a promise, a plea, a benediction all combined into one. Then she moved, or maybe Aeris did, she was never quite certain, but they were kissing. Soft warm lips melded to hers, and strong arms wrapped up around her shoulders, a hand slipping around the back of her neck, urging her closer. She was warm and soft in all the right places, and Honor moaned, urgently tugging the woman closer. With a moan of her own Aeris slipped up onto Honor's lap, never breaking their kiss. The Steadholder opened her lips and lightly stroked the blonde woman's lips, which opened immediately in response.
How long they kissed neither knew. It was a kiss that went on and on, a trading of light nips and deep sensuous heated kisses that left them both gasping for air. Fingers trailed along fabric, learning the contour of the flesh beneath. Honor had just managed to get her fingers underneath Aeris's jacket to feel the warm flesh of her stomach when there came a discreet cough from nearby.
Aeris nearly flew out of her arms, face red as she saw who was standing nearby.
Honor craned her neck and groaned as well.
"Honor, I was going to come and keep you company but I see someone beat me to it."
The wicked smile her mother was giving Aeris made even Honor's cheeks redden slightly. Aeris started backing towards the doors, taking a wide path around Allison Harrington.
"I have to, I mean, I just, I'll see you later, sort of, well, later yeah."
Then she made her escape, hurrying out the doors.
"Don't you Mother me, Honor. She likes you, and it's good to see that I raised you right."
Honor grinned at that, and watched her mother take a seat across from her.
"You like her?"
"She's a good girl, Honor, and yes, I do like her. So does your father by the way. She had some really rough times when you... when we thought you were dead."
Honor reached across the space between them and squeezed her mother's hand in response to the slight tremor in her voice.
"I'm not mother, I'm alive and alright."
Allison's grip was surprisingly strong for such a small woman but she returned her daughters hold with a more or less normal smile.
"I know my dear, just try to stay that way. Now, how about we talk about your love life?"
Honor groaned and wondered if she could run out after Aeris.
Aeris didn't stop running until she reached her room. Ignoring the startled looks she got as she pelted past them, her cheeks on fire.
What the hell do I think I'm doing?
She couldn't believe what she'd done; she'd kissed her, her Lady, the Salamander. Her lips were still tingling from the sensation of Honor's lips pressed against hers, and her entire body thrummed with pleasure and need.
Oh God, I want her so bad...
The blonde stripped and ducked into the shower as quickly as she could, standing under the warm pulsing spray. Which didn't help at all, and Aeris turned down the temperature until the water was just a shade away from being sleet.
I can't, I just can't do this. She's my lady, she's a Steadholder, and what do I have to offer her? Nothing but a past she'd kill me if she found out about.
Her heart rate slowly returning to normal she tried not to remember how nice it was to feel her lady's lips on her own.
It would be best if we both just make believe that never happened.
Swallowing against the pain in her chest at that thought, and the tears that threatened, Aeris ended the shower and reached for a towel. No matter what, Honor Harrington deserved better than what she could offer. She had no doubt that her lady would figure that out by the morning.
We just let the moment take advantage of us, yeah, that's it.
Half distracted by dreams of her lady she paid little attention to the information package that was waiting for her in her com unit. Sending it with just a bare cursory scan of the material contained inside of it. Aeris couldn't force herself to read the reports that her contacts had sent her. She was busy trying to come up with reasons why becoming involved with Honor was a bad idea, and coming up with a rather depressingly long list.
No matter how she tried to explain it away, the feel of Honor's lips, the way her lady's eyes had sparkled, stayed with her long into the night.
The morning that followed was an odd one in Harrington House. Comparatively of course, since things were seldom what would be considered normal on the rest of Grayson. The entire household was in an uproar, the Steadholder was back and a party the likes of which Grayson had not seen in a while was in the planning. Miranda Lafollet, on top of having her brother Andrew back from the dead, was in charge of planning the entire thing. Andrew, on his part, was busy reviewing everything he had missed, and had quietly put Aeris back onto the household guard. Which was just fine as far as she was concerned since that gave her more time.
In all of this chaos and bustling activity that had not been seen in Harrington house for months, Aeris and Honor held their own dance.
The entire day they spent trying desperately to avoid one another, and finding themselves in the same area with an alarming frequency. Then both would find some utterly inane excuse to leave, or an excuse for why they were there, and repeat the entire process again and again.
Aeris had the impression that most of the Household was quite aware of what was going on, and most of them were either laughing at them or taking bets as to why the two of them were acting so strange. It was rather childish, she knew that, but she just couldn't help it. If it was childish it was still fun, and she found herself smiling as she wandered through the House on her rounds, looking forwards to her next run in with the Steadholder.
All the while trying to ignore the voice in her mind that kept on pointing out that this was a horrible idea, that it would never work, and she should run away as soon as the opportunity presented itself.
By nightfall the mixture of being alternately happy and stomach churning nervousness had taken her toll and she desperately needed to release some stress. Even Samantha had given up on her adopted human and had spent the day with Nimitz and the nearly grown Kittens.
Both 'Cats thought that their adopted humans were out of their minds.
Which, Aeris thought, might not be too far out of the question. She was far too keyed up to go to her room, didn't want to leave the Household, and wanted to work off her nervous energy.
It was at times like that when Aeris was very glad that there were the workout rooms in the security building.
A few hours of workout should do it. I want to actually sleep tonight. Maybe I can get so tired that I won't even dream, that would be nice.
Although dreaming of her lady could be pleasant...
The gi was actually a relief to get into after the imagined restrictive uniform she'd worn all day long. Stretching she slowly started her kata's, using them to focus her mind, something she'd been unable to do all day long. From there she advanced, moving through the more complex forms until she was sweating lightly and had resumed as much control as she could.
She knew the moment that she wasn't alone. The warm feeling spreading across her skin could only mean one thing and she finished her last Form with a flourish that verged on showing off.
Honor was already dressed in a Gi of her own, Aeris noticed with a quickening of her pulse.
"I thought we already talked about you calling me that."
Honor circled her, and Aeris swallowed, feeling almost like the prey as she stood in the center of the workout room. She kept on turning to keep her lady in view as she paced along the edge of the room.
"We did, you're right Honor."
Aeris turned to keep her lady in view and couldn't help but smile in response to the low tone in Honor's voice.
"I had too much energy to sleep."
"There are so many ways to work off energy, Aeris."
Her throat dry, Aeris could only manage to nod in response, swallowing as her mind helpfully supplied images about other ways to work off energy.
"Did you want to?"
Aeris had never heard her voice squeak like that before, and she would have been mortified if she hadn't been so busy keeping Honor in view.
"Work off some energy?"
The teasing smile on her lady's face was not lost on her. Since she seemed to be considerably behind in this new game they were playing, Aeris tried to get back in the game.
"I'm rather sweaty though."
"It's better when you're all warmed up though, don't you think?"
Aeris was rather certain she'd just lost another point to her lady on that one.
"What did you have in mind?"
She might as well find out what they were playing for, she reasoned. While a part of her mind watched in horrified fascination, occasionally screaming at her.
The wicked glint in her lady's eyes left no doubt to what she was really thinking about though.
That sounded innocent enough.
Honor stepped smoothly forwards, took a firm hold on Aeris's Gi, and hungrily claimed Aeris's lips. It was over nearly as soon as it started, and Honor stepped back with a wide self-satisfied smile. Aeris's legs were none to stable and she had to take a few breaths to keep herself upright.
"Ah, that's, an interesting way to spar."
"I think that point was mine."
Oh, so that's how you want to play it.
"Really? Well then."
Now that she knew the rules, she stalked towards Honor, who danced backwards. Her lady's agility keeping her out of reach and Aeris had to maneuver her until she had the Steadholder backed into a corner.
"Do I get a point yet?"
Licking her lips she pressed forwards, feeling the heat that seemed to radiate from her lady as she spoke. Honor smiled and slowly shook her head.
Tilting her head upwards until her lips just barely touched Honor's, Aeris smiled slowly. Loving the feel of her lady's body pressed close against hers, even as their breaths mingled.
There lips were brushing when Honor groaned and tangled her fingers around the back of Aeris's neck, pulling her close. Where as the first kiss had been teasing and gentle, this was passionate and open-mouthed. Tongues dueled and hands explored, with a twist Honor turned them both, so Aeris was pressed up against the wall. A long strong thigh fitted between her legs and Aeris gasped into the kiss as it made contact with her mound. The rough fabric of her gi only serving to inflame her desire and she arched into the touch.
She wasn't certain which of them spoke; she barely knew her own name at the moment. A tug and she was able to undue Honor's belt, sliding her hands up and under her gi to the skin beneath. Her lady was wearing a sports bra and she gladly explored the hard stomach under the parted fabric. Honor for her part was holding Aeris's hips, rocking her against the thigh she pressed between the blonde's legs.
The name was whispered into her ear on a hot breath as her lady explored the side of her neck and nipped at an earlobe. Shuddering in answer Aeris tried to think, for some reason it was important she didn't let this happen. The wall was behind her and her lady seemed to be all around her, supporting her and urging her onwards. Her fingers were slowly making their way down the base of her stomach and she knew with crystal clarity that if Honor's long strong fingers dipped just a bit further she would feel her wet heat.
The name was low and urgent and Aeris's body reacted, urgently demanded release. Her mind though reacted to that name coming from her lady.
Aeris isn't my name.
It wasn't a thought she'd had since coming to Grayson, and the blonde stiffened in shock. With a desperate shove she tumbled to the side away from her Lady. The look of surprised pain on Honor's face cut through her, but she couldn't stay. Barely stopping the tears that threatened she stumbled backwards, backing away from her lady.
"I'm... I can't!"
Then she turned and fled, leaving Honor Harrington alone in the room, staring at the empty doorway in confusion.
Gasping Aeris entered her room, ignoring the tears that streaked down her face. Samantha barely managed to slip through the door before it slid shut behind her. The 'Cat swarmed up into her lap the instant she sat down on the bed, and Aeris clung to her, her shoulders shaking as the sobs that had threatened burst forth.
"She thinks I'm someone I'm not Sam!"
Her lady might feel something for her, but she felt something for a person who had never existed. No matter how hard she tried to pretend she was Aeris, that wasn't who she was, not really.
"Oh god Samantha, what am I going to do?"
The 'Cat purred so hard it's body seemed to shake as she tried to comfort her human. She might not understand why Aeris was so upset, but she tried to comfort her as best she could.
Honor nearly snarled as she pushed past the startled woman and into her personal quarters. Nimitz trailed behind her, and she could feel his confusion with her actions. It perfectly mirrored her own confusion with a certain blonde guard, although a thread of hurt at the rejection supplemented hers.
She'd seen the copy of the report from ONI that Whitehaven had sent her in her mail last night. She hadn't been awake enough at the time to pay attention to it though and had set it aside to read later. The report had required a high level of security clearance to even access, and had sat in her personal mail storage for months while she was believed dead. The steadholder supposed she had to be thankful that the mail hadn't all simply been deleted.
"Where is it?"
Scrolling through the tons of mail that still awaited her attention she found the secure file and opened it. A few passwords and security clearance checks later the file opened and Honor sat down to read about everything that ONI knew regarding one Aeris Thornson.
Aeris paced back and forth, fully aware of her audience perched on the bed.
"Ok, so what should I do?"
The 'Cat clearly thought her adopted human had lost it. Aeris was starting to think that the treecat was right.
"Right. So I go and tell her everything."
Stopping in front of the mirror she nodded.
"I can do that. I'll just go tell her that I'm actually... What am I doing? She'll probably try to kill me!"
The 'Cat began preening her fur.
"Well, maybe not kill, but she'll hand me over to ONI!"
Samantha yawned and wondered if her human was going to keep this up all night long.
"Maybe she wouldn't though."
The sound of her door chime cut through what was undoubtedly going to be another round of attempted reasoning with herself. Aeris hesitated a second, then went to open the door, half fearing and half hoping that it would be her lady.
The smaller woman was not high on Aeris's list of people to talk to at the moment.
"Hi Aeris, the Steadholder wants to talk to you."
Taking in the hulking form of Marcus behind the smaller guard, Aeris suddenly understood.
She found out somehow and now wants to talk to me.
Figuring that was the only reason she would have the two guards come to fetch her, Aeris nodded and stepped outside. Samantha following after her as she was escorted by the two guards away from Harrington House.
"Victoria, where are we going?"
The smaller woman kept on leading the way, while Marcus brought up the rear. When she failed to answer, Aeris frowned.
"Vickie? Where are we going?"
"Honor wanted to meet you down by the aircar docks."
If she hadn't been as emotionally keyed up as she was, Aeris might not have followed. If she hadn't been so newly bonded to Samantha she might have felt the 'Cat's unease and known something was wrong.
She didn't though.
It was a mistake she should have known better than to make. It wasn't until she was at the empty air car dock that she knew something was wrong though. Carefully keeping an eye on Marcus behind her, she watched Victoria.
"Where is she?"
"I gotta say Phoenix, your no where as intelligent as Joseph said you were."
She started to move at that, but the cold muzzle of a pulse pistol pressed against the base of her neck from behind stopped her. Marcus had move surprisingly fast for a man of his bulk.
"Come on Aeris, we're going for a ride."
Gritting her teeth Aeris allowed them to lead her into the waiting air car and kept a close hold on Samantha. She didn't want the 'Cat being shot just because one of them felt threatened.
"Where are we going?"
She snarled, feeling like an idiot for having fallen for the rather obvious ploy.
"To see some old friends Phoenix, some old friends."
Andrew Lafollet looked up from the reports he was patiently sorting through and stood as he saw who stood at his door.
"Where is Aeris?"
His brows drew together slightly as he observed his lady's stance. She never looked that nervous and agitated, not for as long as he had known her anyway.
"Her room I would imagine."
She shook her head and he could see that even Nimitz was agitated, the treecat's tail twitching.
"No, I just stopped by there."
"On a walk then My Lady, I think that..."
"Andrew, she's not anywhere in the Household."
He raised an eyebrow at that, never having known Honor to interrupt him before.
"I'll start searching for her My Lady."
Honor watched him go, knowing that something had happened, just not what. Nimitz had gone almost berserk a few minutes before she had come here, and she knew, with a horrible certainty that Aeris and Samantha were in trouble. Turning around she headed after the head of her house guard. Following him into the security headquarters and watching as he punched up the security logs for the last few hour.
Both Steadholder and Guard frowned at the same time at the result.
Honor nodded, she saw exactly what he did.
Someone had deleted all the images for the past thirty minutes for the entire Household.
"They'll know you're behind this."
Victoria and Marcus stayed quiet, and Aeris felt a tendril of fear curl its way through her gut.
"Whatever your planning won't work, too many people know what's going on."
Victoria turned at that, and smirked. The perky image, and Aeris realized now that it had been nothing but an image, dropped.
"Do they? Do you know that your precious lady never interviewed me? Huh? Neither was Marcus here, it was easy to pull of when you know what your doing."
Marcus said nothing, but she was deadly certain she saw the large man smirk. Samantha was fairly thrumming with tension as she kept the treecat in her lap. The aircar banked sharply and she caught a glimpse of where they were headed out of the armorplast view port. She was less than surprised to find herself watching the Moors shipping dome that she had visited only a while earlier draw closer.
I should have been following Victoria, but no, I had to go and nearly make love to My Lady in the middle of the workout room. My classmates must be rolling over in their graves.
"No my lady."
Honor resisted the urge to pace, and waited as patiently as she could. The entire household was roused and Andrew was doing a search of the grounds. While he was doing that Honor had stayed in the control room, hopeful that the technicians would be able to find a way to recover some of the missing video feed. Unfortunately that was beginning to look less and less likely.
The young man shook his head and turned to face her, helplessly gesturing towards the banks of computers.
"I'm sorry my lady, but it's going to take days, if not months. Whoever did this knew what they were doing."
She nodded in understanding, even as her mind raced. Something was going on, and she was not going to rest until she got to the bottom of it.
Reaching over she flicked on the com channel and nodded slightly in recognition to the man in it.
"What is it Andrew?"
"We haven't found any sign of her, but both Victoria and Marcus are missing as well."
"Keep looking Andrew, there has to be some thing, some clue about what happened. I'm going to make a few calls."
"Yes my Lady."
With a shove Aeris was sent sprawling into the chair. Her natural reaction, which at that point was to try and snap Victoria's scrawny little neck, was kept in check by the pulse rifle that Marcus had aimed at both her and Samantha. The 'Cat they shoved into a cage near her, and it was obvious that the intelligent 'Cat let them only because her Human would have been hurt otherwise.
With a slap of restraints, Aeris was secured to the chair and she felt her lips pulling back.
"What do you think your doing Vickie?"
Tugging uselessly on the clamps that had been put around both of her forearms, securing her to the chair.
"That my dear Phoenix is an excellent question."
Joseph looked exactly the same as he had when she'd spotted him at Harrington Steading. The slim man's graying hairline had receded a bit more perhaps, but he still exuded the same sense of total self control that she had come to associate with him. Both Victoria and Marcus looked nervous as the turned to face the newest arrival to the little party.
His perfectly controlled tone's belied the anger that Aeris saw lurking in his cool gray eyes as he studied the two Harrington Guards.
"We brought her hear like you asked."
The pulse pistol came up so quickly that even Aeris barely followed it. The explosive tipped dart that its tiny powerful gravity coil spat out slammed into the bridge of Marcus's nose. The back of the large mans' head exploded off almost in the same instant and nearly three hundred pounds of muscle and bone slammed into the wall and then the floor.
The room was deathly quiet afterwards, both Aeris and Victoria watching Joseph warily as he returned the pulse pistol to its sheath at his side.
"I will ask you again, why is she here?"
Victoria's face had gone white, and Aeris couldn't help but grin viciously.
"Just figure out your playing with the big boys did you little girl?"
Joseph smirked at that.
"I am still waiting for an explanation Victoria."
Aeris almost felt sorry for the girl, almost.
"You said to bring her, so we did."
"I said to bring her tomorrow morning, just before the guests arrived for the party. Not tonight."
Aeris listened closely in slowly dawning understanding.
"It was the perfect time, she'd just had an encounter with Honor, and we just couldn't pass up the opportuni..."
Victoria's last word was never finished as the pulse pistol dart took off most of her head. The body, dead before it hit the floor, crumpled down next to the still body of Marcus. Aeris had been expecting it, but she jumped nonetheless. Tucking the pistol back into its place for a second time Joseph watched her emotionlessly.
"It is such a bother getting competent help these days."
Aeris wondered if she should respond, but instead just returned the even look he was giving her.
"So sorry to pull you away early Phoenix, I hadn't expected you for another few hours. As you can see we're hardly even set up for you yet."
As he spoke two of the three men whom she had seen assaulting Victoria in the alleyway all those months ago came in and began removing the bodies. It took both of them to drag Marcus's corpse out, while only one was needed to drag out Victoria's body. They left red wet stains on the cement floors behind them, only adding to the feelings of dread that were steadily building within her.
"What do you want Joseph?"
He smiled faintly at her and turned to watch the third man, the one she had put the tazer to the back of his neck, enter wheeling a service cart in front of him. One of the front wheels was loose and made a horrible rattle as it moved, she noted absently.
"I was going to just take the information in your little brain then set you up to be the largest fall man in history. Unfortunately it seems that my schedule has been moved up. Instead of turning Harrington household into a glowing crater, along with the leader of this accursed planet and that Admiral Whitehaven, I'll just satisfy myself with killing you."
The dread blossomed into something well and truly resembling panic.
Joseph leaned closer and his lips pulled back into what could never be called a smile.
"First though I intend to make it very painful for you."
"I'm sorry Lady Harrington but I don't know if I can do anything for you."
Honor's jaw twitched as she stared at the all-together too evasive man being shown on the com screen.
"Commander, I need to know why half of this information packet is missing!"
"I assure you Lady Harrington I have no idea what you are talking about."
Grabbing a hard copy of the file she had printed out Honor Harrington held it up into the video pick up.
"This file that was sent to me on Aeris Thornson. Most of it is completely useless!"
The Commander, a member of the Manticoran advisory personnel who had been assigned to Grayson was being frustratingly elusive with his answers. That she had the terrible feeling that what she didn't know about Aeris's background had something to do with the woman's disappearance was just adding to the Steadholder's frustration. Whitehaven's report had turned out to be almost useless. All but small bits had been deleted and marked restricted. Her attempts to get information through the Grayson intelligence agencies had already proved fruitless.
"I'm sorry Lady Harrington I will have to forward your request for more information to my superiors. Is there anything else I can do for you this evening?"
"No that will be all Commander."
She slammed her hand down on the disconnect button and messaged her temples.
There had to be a clue she was missing.
A clue that would give her an idea of who Aeris Thornson was. Since it was quite obvious from the little evidence she had been able to read from the folder that Aeris was not her real name.
"Honor, what's going on?"
"Dad? Mom? What are you doing up?"
Her father and mother glanced at each other before entering the room. Neither had seen her this visibly upset in a very long time. Arthur Harrington took his wife's hand in his and squeezed reassuringly as he answered.
"Miranda came to get us, she said that something was wrong."
When Honor didn't answer, her eyes taking on a distant look, her mother touched her shoulder and gently called her back to them.
"Honor, what's wrong?"
"Aeris is gone."
"Gone? What do you mean gone? Where's Samantha?"
Honor resisted the urge to sigh at her mother's questions.
"I don't know mother, we're trying to find out what happened. She's just gone."
Arthur laid a hand on his daughters shoulder as well, both parents becoming more concerned at the unusual near desperate tone in their almost always well-controlled daughter.
"What about her room, did you look there?"
"Yes mother, but I didn't find anything and the security logs were blacked out."
"Did you find anything in her messages maybe?"
Honor looked up sharply at that, and her father nodded.
"Maybe she got a message that could give you an idea of where she went."
Honor wondered why she hadn't thought of that before and she was through the door in a heartbeat, calling out a thank you over her shoulder as she went. Nimitz was hard on her heals as the Steadholder rushed back through the dark gardens and to the security building.
"Your plan isn't going to work Joseph."
She gave a halfhearted tug at the clamps that held both forearms down. Both were at least a half-inch thick steel, there was no way she was going to break through them.
"My primary plan may not work, Aeris is it now? That doesn't mean this has been a complete waste of time."
An old man who reminded Aeris quite a lot of her own grandfather entered the room pushing a small hospital cart. Judging by the array of instruments and syringes that were laid out on its top she could easily guess what it was for.
"What do you mean?"
She was delaying, and they both knew it. Anything to avoid what she knew was going to happen.
Josephs smile was as filled with happiness as she'd ever seen it.
"Why my little Phoenix, you haven't figured it out yet? Killing Harrington was going to be a bonus, that's true, and blaming it on Manticore was going to be very sweet indeed. Her untimely demise put our plans back quite a few months, but you see..."
He leaned down next to her chair, his hot sickening breath washing over her face.
"What we really want is what's in here."
Gaunt fingers caressed her temple and she jerked her head sideways, wanting nothing more than to wash away his touch. Preferably while watching him die. Instead she impotently glared at him, frustrated and scared.
"I don't know anything."
"Oh but you do, Aeris, you do. You used your family connections to smuggle out quite a few people during the purge."
An image flashed through her mind, one of many she had tried to bury these past few months.
Michele coming to her in the night, terrified. The others were only a few minutes behind her. There wasn't time to grab anything but the essentials and leave. That had been the easy part.
Something of what she had been remembering must have shown in her eyes because Joseph chuckled, a sound devoid of pleasure.
"Yes, you remember Phoenix. All those families of Legislaturalist and Naval officers that you smuggled out of Haven, the one's that you gave new identities to? You must remember them, there was at least a couple dozen of them besides the one that General Garrak caught."
Her silence was her only weapon now, and she used it gladly.
"Well, there are still quite a few people who want to talk to them. State sec among others, and I am going to give them there locations."
She said nothing, staring straight ahead at the dull gray wall on the other side of the room. The old man was near her now, carefully setting up the tray that he had brought with him and testing the electrodes on the various equipment. Most of which she recognized and all of which were designed for only one purpose, to get her to tell them what she knew.
Aeris held an image of her lady firmly in her head as the old man, flanked by two of Joseph's goons, began attaching the electrodes.
"I hope you make us hurt you a lot Phoenix."
"Who did you say did this Lady Harrington?"
"One of the house guards."
All that was visible of the young tech was her legs; the rest of her was under the half dismantled com unit that had been part of Aeris's bedroom wall. The room was a bit crowded with herself, two techs, and Andrew, but she resisted all hints that she could leave and they would get her if they found anything. She wanted to be here, to be ready to act if they found anything at all.
"There's some really funky configurations back here Ma'am. Someone's gone to a lot of trouble to add another channel to this unit and make certain that no one knew about it."
Who are you Aeris? Why am I so certain that you are in trouble?
Nimitz was with her, and the 'Cat also seemed to sense it, his body tense and he watched the technicians with the same look of alertness as his adopted human.
"Can you get access?"
She leaned forwards, as if willing the young tech to be able to give her the answer she wanted.
"I think so Ma'am, but it's tricky. I think they rigged it so that if someone tried to force access the information would be deleted. Huh, hey, Eric, give me that bypass cable will you? The T-40 spec stuff, with the reverse coupler's on both ends, yeah that's it."
Squirming some more the tech disappeared until only her boots were visible. A few tense seconds of nothing and there came a series of beeps from inside of the wall itself. Honor watched closely as the com screen flickered then came to life.
"I think that'll do it my lady."
A bit more squirming and the young tech, Annie, Honor remembered, managed to get back out of the mass of wiring and connections. By then though Honor was too busy scrolling through all the information that had been displayed to pay her any attention.
"Look at this Andrew."
There were gigabytes worth of reports stored in the unit. Many of them she just scanned, but a few she paused long enough to read a bit of. All of them were from inside of the Republic of Haven. Everything from reports on traffic to the reports of local troop and navy movements was held in those reports.
"I see it my lady. The intelligence services would love to get a hold of that."
"They'd kill to get a hold of it."
Honor's jaw clenched as she considered the possibility that perhaps one of the intelligence services had abducted her guard. The thought was quickly discarded though, if they were with either the Grayson or Manticoran governments they wouldn't have had to take her in secret. They could have just come in and claimed everything.
No, that's not what happened. I'm not going to ask why she has all this in her com unit right now. But when I find her she's got a lot of explaining to do.
"Wait, go back."
Andrew scrolled back a page and Honor tilted her head. Nimitz sat up straighter on the bed as he tasted his human's sudden burst of excitement through their link.
"That's here, on Grayson."
What she was looking at was the only bit of information that had been entered that was about a place on Grayson. It looked like a small dome, maybe a warehouse or manufacturing plant of some sort. Marked all around it were the locations of various sensors and a path had been plotted through them using a low ravine as cover.
"Andrew, find out where this is, quickly."
"Yes my lady. What then?"
"Then gather a group of guards, we're going for a trip."
Two electrodes were taped to either side of her face, a third to her neck, two to her chest, and one to each of her hands and feet. Through it all Joseph watched with a sense of detached interest as the old man worked. The three goons who she'd seen with Victoria had gathered as well. It seemed that not only was she going to be tortured, she was going to be the main entertainment for the night.
"When I found Victoria, it was a set up wasn't it?"
"Too bad you didn't figure that out before now Phoenix. Are you ready doctor?"
The old man nodded absently, a specialist absorbed in the details of his specialty. Making some final adjustments to a rather ominous looking piece of machinery he nodded to Joseph and picked up one of the syringes. Tapping the side of the archaic device to clear bubbles. A part of her wondered at that, syringes hadn't been used in ages.
Her attempts to struggle were aborted when two of the goons grabbed her and firmly pushed her down in the seat, holding her still as the old man inserted the syringe. The blue liquid felt like fire as he injected it and she shuddered as the drugs began to course through her system.
Joseph came forwards and nodded to the old man, who flicked a switch near by. The hum of equipment powering up barely reached Aeris as she tried to keep her mind in focus, as she'd been taught those years ago in the academy. The older man checked her pulse and nodded in approval before answering Joseph's question.
"Yes, the subject is prepared."
"Go to it then doc."
The elderly man activated a recording device and kept a close eye on the monitors that would record Aeris's blood pressure, heartbeat, even her brain wave patterns.
"What is your name?"
"That is incorrect."
A click and her back arched, teeth biting down as the fire in her veins was joined by the searing agony of electricity clawing at her body. It seemed to go on forever to Aeris, but probably only a few seconds in reality. When it ended she tasted blood, having bit the inside of her cheek. Swallowing she gasped, trying to catch her breath, her body still shaking, muscles twitching in aftershocks.
"What is your name?"
The voice was dry and almost kindly. Licking her lips she steeled herself for what she knew was coming next. The drugs did as they had been designed to do, making it hard for her to concentrate on anything.
This time the shock was longer and more powerful. She would have screamed if she could have, but her jaw was clenched so tight she couldn't breath. When it ended she sagged against the restraints on the chair, fighting to breath, her entire body still shaking as if she had just had a seizure.
"What is your name?"
"I found it my lady."
Honor finished double-checking the pulse rifle she had taken from the armory and slung it over her now armored back. While she hadn't given in to Andrew's insistence that she wear full powered body armor, she had put on a suit of unpowered armor similar to what a police swat team would use.
"Where is it?"
By the way Nimitz was twitching to go, and the fact that he could almost feel the desire to be moving in his Lady's voice, he got right to the point.
"It's listed as a warehouse for Moor shipping company, based out of Mueller steading. I took the liberty of finding a copy of its layout."
She didn't ask where her head of house guard had found a copy of a building's plans that wasn't on Harrington Steading grounds.
"Your men ready?"
"Lets go then."
None of them said much as they loaded themselves into the two heavily armored air cars. The men and woman had been handpicked by Andrew, and were the best of the house guards. Aeris would have been on the team, Andrew thought as he strapped himself in.
As he reached to seal the door Honor stopped him with a hand to his shoulder.
Twisting around in her seat she regarded the guards behind her. All of them proudly straightened as they met their lady's gaze.
"If any of you want to leave now, I won't hold it against you. What we are about to do may, at the least, get us into trouble."
None of them moved so much as an inch, if anything they straightened more.
Andrew smiled faintly behind his Lady, nodding ever so slightly in approval. Honor smiled as well, a sudden thing that lightened her entire being. It engulfed and encompassed the people around her, almost visibly infusing them with confidence.
"Alright Andrew, let's go."
The two aircars slid smoothly away from the dome and picked up speed, heading northwest towards the distant Mueller steading. It would take them a while to reach the dome that was there destination, and once they did they would have to contend with the sensor net around it.
None of them saw the armed navy skimmers that followed them.
Andrew kept his voice quiet and she barely heard him over the growl of the air car's engines.
"What is it Andrew?"
"How are we going to get in this dome without being seen? You see the amount of sensor's that they have around that place?"
Honor smiled and held up the data pad that she had been studying, handing it over to him.
"Aeris did the hard part. We're just going to follow her path right up to the door."
Andrew studied the path traced out on the pad and nodded in understanding. If the information that they had retrieved from Aeris's com unit was accurate she had effectively blinded every sensor on that path.
"Good thing we all have environmental suits."
Honor smiled at Andrew's slightly disgruntled tone. He always did hate it when she sprang things like this on him by surprise.
"Suit up people, we're all going for a walk outside."
"My name is Aeris Thornson."
Her voice was hoarse, her throat was raw, and her body trembled from the repeated shocks that had been applied. She'd lost track of time, lost track of where she was for that matter. She could barely remember the name she was clinging to, and the life that she was using as a cloak around her soul. Her lady's face never strayed far from her thoughts.
"It will end if you just tell us your real name dear."
The old man's voice was deceptively soothing.
It would be so easy, I could just tell them my name, that's all. Then the pain would stop.
Everyone had a breaking point.
There came a place, when you hit enough pain, after a long enough time, that everyone's spirit would snap. Aeris was getting close to that place. Her mind was starting to stray without her permission, a part of her starting to believe that it would be worth it to stop the pain. Only the image of her lady in her mind and the strength flowing to her through her link with Samantha kept her from folding. The 'Cat was caged nearby; snarling and pacing in the small cage they'd put her into.
My lady, I need you. Help me, please.
"My lady? Are you alright?"
Honor held up a hand, waving away Andrew's concern and moving forwards. There had been... something... that had caught her attention. It had been like a voice in a raging storm, barely heard, only the impression of words surviving the storms fury.
"I thought I heard someone calling my name."
They were all in suits, even Nimitz who made his way alongside her, was in his own specially tailored environmental suit. It had cost her a substantial amount to have it custom designed, but it was well worth it to have the 'Cat along with her now. She didn't even consider asking him to stay behind. Samantha was his mate.
They'd made good time through the network of sensors. The path that Aeris had taken was obvious once they were on the ground, having left the two aircars behind at the emergency shelter. The high ridge to either side of them gave them protection from other sensors, and the one's that were in the washed out stream bed had each been deactivated. The side of the dome lurked ahead, it's sides rising to tower over them.
"Tigawa, get that door open."
The young tech, the same that had rewired Aeris's com unit for her, moved forwards at Andrew's order and started work on the access hatch. Only a few seconds after she'd started the hatch popped with a hiss of air from inside. The ten-member guard unit stepped inside and Andrew pulled the hatch closed behind them. It was a tight squeeze but they made it. At Honor's nod Tigawa hit the control panel activating the air lock cycle, and flooding the chamber with fresh air. Once the amber light blazed green they began shedding environmental suits and opened the inner door.
A newly installed silent alarm faithfully recorded the opening of the inner hatch door.
"What is your name?"
It was a question that Aeris had come to hate, to loath and to fear with her very being. Swallowing blood from her previous round, she'd shattered a tooth gritting her teeth, and spat out a chunk of her rear molar. The question always meant that the pain that had become her entire world was going to start again.
When the pain didn't start up after her refusal to even answer this time, she looked up. Joseph was listening closely to one of the thugs, who clearly looked agitated.
"Doctor, I trust you can continue without us?"
The old man reached over and made a minute adjustment to the equipment he had hooked Aeris up to.
"Yes, of course I can."
Joseph was already moving by then though, along with the three goons, Aeris noted with interest. It wasn't much, but she'd take anything by then. Swallowing a bit more blood she watched the old man fiddle with his equipment.
"Have you been doing this long?"
The white haired interrogator never looked her way, still adjusting something on the console next to her. His answer was absent minded, and she got the feeling that he really didn't care if she existed or not.
A glance towards Samantha showed the hexapedal Treecat to be watching them both intently. She managed a blood stained smile for the 'Cat, knowing it probably didn't help at all in calming her.
"You forgot something."
The old man finished whatever he was doing and leaned back on the stool he had been using. Looking at her with what could barely be called interest. If she had been a bug he would have had her pinned on his wall already.
While Joseph and little band of thugs where there she didn't have a chance, now that they were gone she had a slim opportunity. Now if she could just get him to lean a bit closer her plan might actually work. She didn't know where Joseph had gone to, and she didn't know how long he would be, so she had to work quickly.
"I think the electrode on my arm is loose."
Her interrogator was too experienced to fall completely for that. She hadn't expected him to, but he did lean forwards slightly to peer at said electrode, a habit she'd observed him display every time he had adjusted the equipment. It wasn't more than just a few inches, but it was enough. Her legs, which had not been strapped to the legs of the chair, came up and wrapped around the startled man's neck, her feet locking behind his neck.
"You forgot to tie down my legs."
Twisting her hips she managed to apply enough pressure on her neck that she could feel the bones and muscles strain in his body.
"A little bit more and I'll snap your neck."
Her lips pulled back in disgust at the man who weakly tried to claw at her legs.
"The arm bands, undo them."
He hesitated, trying to struggle against her, until she increased the angle ever so slightly.
"Now! Or you die!"
As a torturer he was pretty good, he never would have made it as a field agent though. Fingers trembling the doctor grabbed the pins that held the clamps around her forearms and removed them carefully.
She owed him pain, hours worth of it. Unfortunately she didn't have hours to repay his previous kindness. Instead she undid her other arm herself, then reached forwards and grabbed his face right after letting go of him with her legs.
"I wish I could strap you down and repay you for some of the pain you just caused me. Unfortunately my time's limited and I have to be going."
A sharp jerk of her hands, a wet crack, and she let the old man's body hit the floor. She couldn't risk him setting off the alarms behind her, alerting Joseph to her escape. Moving quickly over to the cage she unlocked Samantha and gathered the treecat in her arms.
Time to go Sam.
Honor's team moved slowly. Everything in her called out for her to hurry to find Aeris and Samantha, rushing into an ambush wouldn't do any of them any good though. Finding her missing...
What is she to me?
That would have to wait until Aeris was safe. For now though, finding Aeris in this Byzantine labyrinth of service passageways and corridors was going to be a challenge.
"Where do you want to star ma'am?"
They were at a crossing of hallways, and Honor peered down each of them with a frown. They all looked the same, and she shook her head slightly, trying to decide. As she was considering there options Nimitz vaulted off her shoulder and went a short way down one of the corridors. Then stopped and looked back at her expectantly.
"Well, there's your answer Andrew. We got that way."
Somewhere deeper into the dome a thin warbling alarm began to sound.
"So much for being a surprise My lady. We better hurry."
They'd barely gone another hundred feet when a figure stepped out from an access hatch further down the hallway. He turned in surprise at the sight of nearly a dozen armed figures approaching him. The surprise turned to understanding as he spotted the uniform's they wore, and he reached for something at his side.
Honor opened her mouth to tell him to surrender, to tell him that he didn't have to waste his life. Andrew beat her to it though. The explosive tipped dart from his pulse pistol hitting the man in the neck, just below the jaw, and sending the headless body sprawling down the hallway in a gout of blood.
"We don't have time my lady."
She knew that, but she never condoned such senseless waste of life.
"I know Andrew, I know. Come on, let's find Aeris and Samantha."
Aeris looked about her in confusion. This wasn't the way she remembered coming in, somewhere in the twisting passageways she'd taken a wrong turn. Where exactly she wasn't certain, but now she was well and truly lost.
"You'd think that they'd have been helpful and label the corridors, or even marked them, but no, that would be too easy."
She grumbled, keeping a tight hold of the scalpel she'd liberated from the dear Doctor's body. It was her only weapon, and it at least provided a measure of reassurance. The drugs were still flowing in her system, and she was having the hardest time concentrating. Just walking was hard, her legs feeling leaden and stiff.
"Just have to get to an airlock, or a shuttle bay."
Turning slowly, she looked back the way she'd come. She heard something, a sound, faint, distorted by echoes. It was one she was intimately familiar with. It was the sound of combat and of people dying.
A deadly hail of fire ripped the bulkhead next to her into ribbons.
"My Lady are you alright!?"
She waved off the question, making certain Nimitz was still next to her.
Andrew had to scream over the hail of pulsar dart fire to be heard. After the alarms had started to sound it had only been seconds before security forces had descended on them. Honor's guards had been pinned down and they were slowly being forced back. So far none of her people had been hurt seriously, but more than a few had flesh wounds. It would only be a matter of time before someone got killed though.
Firing a quick burst down the corridor, she ducked behind the supporting pillar as at least four weapons returned fire.
"We're outnumbered my lady!"
Honor grimaced in reply, sending another burst down the corridor. Then having to duck once more as chips of the support column were blown off.
"We have to go!"
Honor turned at that, and grabbed a hold of Andrew's arm.
"No! We will not leave her here!"
Andrew grabbed both his lady's arms, forcing her to look at him.
"We won't do her any good at all if we are killed here!"
Honor opened her mouth to deny his words, when she spotted movement down the hallway that they had come from.
"We've got company behind us."
Andrew whirled, bringing up his own pulse pistol, as she aimed down the corridor as well. There was definite movement down there, and quite a few people were heading up the hallway towards them.
Honor raised her pistol, aiming down the hallway, and followed the progress of the nearest individual she could see. Hazel eyes narrowing as she spotted the uniform, then widening in understanding.
Andrew's finger had been on the firing stud, and he relaxed his hold at his lady's command. She knew the uniforms of the people who were coming up the hallway.
Her guards didn't know who they were, but as long as they were on their side, they really didn't care at the moment. The Captain in charge of them took cover behind the pillar that Andrew and Honor were located.
"Madame Steadholder, glad we caught up to you, could you use our help?"
Honor was seriously torn between smacking him and giving the younger man a hug. She'd ask him what the hell he was doing there when people weren't trying to kill them all.
"I will never be without a pistol from now on."
She promised Samantha as the 'Cat and herself slowly made there way back the way they had come. The sound of fighting was growing closer, and she half hoped that it was her lady come to rescue her. How her lady would have found her was something that puzzled her though. If it was her lady though, it sounded like she needed help and Aeris wasn't just going to sit around and wait.
"Or maybe two, two pulse pistols just in case I loose the first one."
In a long line of bad decisions, this was probably one of her worst. She'd been well on her way to getting out of there and escaping. Then, only based on the sound of combat behind her, she'd turned around and gone back towards where she'd been tortured.
"It has to be her, Sam, it has to be."
The 'Cat at least seemed to agree, eagerly moving forwards with her human towards what now sounded like a full out battle raging behind them. The fact that Aeris only had a scalpel to defend herself with wasn't helping her courage.
Plastering her self against the wall she peeked into the large room where she'd been held captive. The chair was still where she'd left it, as was the good doctors body. Nothing seemed to have changed and nothing stirred in the room. With a mental nod she stepped out into the room, heading towards the exit on the other side where Joseph and his goons had gone. The sound of combat was even closer here; she could hear the whine of pulsar darts and muffled explosions. What had sounded like a skirmish was now sounded like a full out battle.
"Let's go help her Sam."
"I think you should worry about helping yourself first, Phoenix."
Joseph emerged from the hatch she was headed for, the pulse rifle he carried, aimed steadily at her, even though he seemed to be favoring his right side. Aeris froze, Samantha a few feet off to her side. The thin man smiled crazily, and Aeris could almost feel the desperation rolling off the man.
"You bitch, you led them straight to us didn't you?"
The pulse rifle hummed as it powered up and Joseph raised it to his shoulder, aiming down the sights. The muzzle looked like the mouth of a cannon as Aeris looked straight down it.
"You think you might have won. But you haven't! I'll get out of here, even if the Fucking Grayson Marine's are here, and I'll get her. I'll be back and I'll ruin her, do you understand me! I'll ruin her! Then I'll kill her, only after I've taken everything she holds precious!"
Aeris shifted her weight slightly, shifting so that she could spring forwards. Not that she would make it very far, certainly not the dozen feet that separated her from Joseph. She wouldn't die without trying though.
I'm sorry My Lady.
Joseph continued, his eyes feverish.
"You won't even last that long though!"
She knew the second his finger started to tighten on the firing stud. Could see the muscles of his jaw twitch, the glee in his eyes as he anticipated her death. She sprang forwards, a wordless scream as she tried to force her drug influenced body to try and reach him, and knowing she didn't have a chance.
Until a gray streak slammed into Joseph's side, five-centimeter long claws shredding his shoulder and left side as he screamed. His finger punched the firing stud even as he twisted away, and the dart slammed into Aeris's shoulder instead of her head. It wasn't the explosive dart that would have removed her entire shoulder, but it was enough to shatter bone and slice through cartilage. The force of it sent her sprawling backwards, picking her up in mid leap and slamming her back to the ground in pain.
It wasn't until Aeris heard the muffled yelp of pain and felt Samantha's pain through her bond with the 'Cat that she forced herself upright. The drugs still coursing through her blood at least let her mostly ignore the blinding pain from her right shoulder. She scooped up the scalpel and crawled forwards.
Joseph had slammed Samantha aside with the butt of his Rifle. The gray Treecat was laying deathly still a few feet away on her side. For one terrible second Aeris thought he'd killed her, until she saw the slight rise and fall of Samantha's flank. Joseph was just raising his rifle with his still good right hand to aim at the Treecat when Aeris tackled him.
The rifle went scattering away along the steel floor and she drove the scalpel into his neck, twisting as she did to rend as much flesh as she could. Joseph's eyes widened in surprise and pain and he clamped his hands around the wound, trying to stop the flow of blood. Gurgling on blood he still managed to speak.
"You'll never survive. They know about you now, they'll come for you, and they'll kill her to get what information you know."
She wrenched out the scalpel and thrust it home again.
Again and again she stabbed, slicing at his hands the first few times as he tried to defend himself, then stabbing into his neck and upper chest when Joseph's strength failed him. Running from him as he bled out from the wounds in his neck, great splashing arcs that covered her clothes in blood.
His body twitched once more then was still, sightless eyes staring up at the ceiling above. Dropping the blood-covered scalpel Aeris dragged herself over to the still form of her Treecat and gathered her into her arms. Trembling from the difficulty she got to her feet, and somehow lurched down the nearest exit.
Her only thought was to get help for Samantha.
"Not that I'm ungrateful, but who are you and how'd you show up when we needed you?"
Honor moved down the corridor besides the newly arrived Grayson Lieutenant, watching him curiously. With the arrival of the marine's there had been a brief, if ferocious, exchange of fire before the resistance had been wiped aside. The Marine's heavy weaponry doing a great job of clearing the corridors for them.
"We've actually been keeping tabs on Harrington Steading for quite some time now Ma'am."
She nodded, having thought it might be something along those lines. What she wanted to know was why he'd been keeping an eye on the Steading, although she had a few ideas about that as well. Most of which centered on a certain blonde guard.
Andrew came jogging down the corridor towards her.
"I think you better come see this."
The room was a twenty-foot wide storage area. There was a steel chair bolted to the floor in the center. A dead man in a lab coat was near its base. That wasn't the most disturbing thing though. The equipment set up on the table next to the chair was covered with implements of torture, some quite archaic. Another body lay a few feet further away, blood covering the ground around it. Whoever it was had died a very messy death.
The lieutenant glanced at the body by the chair, then made his way to the one laying in the pool of blood. Grunting as he checked the man's face.
"We were hoping to catch this one alive, Lady Harrington."
"Who was it?"
"He has a list of alias's as long as my arm, we think he was the head of a Haven spy ring though."
Honor's eyes narrowed. So it was official, somehow Aeris was mixed up in all this, and Honor was afraid to find out how.
"Lady Harrington we're going to secure this entire facility. Please just wait here?"
Honor ignored the Lieutenant's half order, half plea, and headed for one of the nearest exits. Following Nimitz at nearly a dead run as the treecat led the way, she trusted him to lead her to Aeris and Samantha. She ignored the yells behind her, knowing one of those voices was Andrew's and she was going to catch hell from her head of security when this was over.
First she had to find a very important someone.
At first she wasn't certain that Nimitz was leading her the right way, since there wasn't any evidence of Aeris's passage. Then she realized where the Treecat was taking her and picked up her pace a bit more. It was obvious that Aeris was heading for one of the airlocks; hopefully she could beat the woman to her destination.
Aeris was so tired.
She couldn't stop though, not when she had to get Samantha to help, to get them both out of there. The sudden pain through the link she shared with the treecat, followed by the treecat's fall into unconsciousness had thoroughly confused her. The drugs added to the haze that covered her mind, making it nearly impossible to concentrate. All she could think of was to get them both to a shuttle.
Clutching at her ruined shoulder, she leaned heavily against the smooth steel wall behind her. She could feel the blood soaking through the heavy fabric of her blast vest, and dribbling down her now useless right arm. Her fingers were numb, so she didn't feel the blood dripping from them. The bundle she held tightly against her chest with her still good left arm barely stirred.
"Not much further now."
She whispered to the deadly still form she was carrying. Biting her lip against the pain until she tasted blood again, she forced herself to stand upright and stagger forwards. Just a little ways further and she'd reach the shuttle. From there it wasn't that far to the hotel, and then she could disappear. Leave this world behind and all that it represented. After she took care of Samantha that was.
Stumbling she nearly went down, the blood loss making her weaker than she'd thought it would. Her shoulder brushed up against the bulkhead, and she gasped in pain, nearly doubling over.
She was so very tired.
There was nothing that she wanted more than to lay down, cradle her shoulder and weep, waiting for death to come. It would be welcomed after all this time, a release from this pain that had been a constant companion for so long. There was a part of her that refused to give up though. Joined to the part that those long dark years of training had created in her psyche, was the concern for the wounded being she held to her chest.
Somehow, she wasn't certain where the energy came from, she got moving again. Ignoring the hot bitter tears that left clear trails down her mud and blood covered face. It had all gone so wrong.
She was a dozen feet from the shuttle doors when the figure stepped between her and her freedom. Her heart lurched as she recognized the tall slim body, dark hair, and angry brown eyes. The pulse pistol aimed at her was remarkably steady.
"Stop right there."
Since there hadn't been much other than forward momentum that was keeping her on her feet, she sank down to her knees. To tired to even fight gravity on what suddenly seemed like a minor issue. She at least managed to cushion the fall for the injured 'cat she carried.
The part of her that had kept her going quietly lay down and surrendered.
When the darkness came she welcomed it.
Time held no meaning in the darkness of her mind.
Sounds and stimulus from the outside penetrated only occasionally, interspersed with small snapshots of consciousness.
A group of Marine's carrying her stretcher while a medic worked on her even as they walked. Trying to staunch the flow of blood from her shoulder. The medic's hands were as gentle as he could be, but even his light touch was too much and agony flared once more, the darkness claiming her again.
Longer, she wasn't sure how much longer, she woke again.
The air smelled faintly of antiseptic, and the white ceiling above her gave the feeling of a hospital. She felt week, even the effort of opening her eyes draining her. Her right arm twinged with pain, and Aeris was glad that it was still there. Her lady was nearby, sitting in a chair drawn up next to the bed. Her hand holding Aeris's left hand tightly, as if afraid to let go even while she slept.
Aeris had wanted to stay awake, to tell her lady to go and sleep in a bed. Her lady had looked so tired there and she'd wanted to tug on their joined hands, drawing her lady down into the same bed. This time the darkness didn't seem so deep or endless, and more like a deep sleep, not nearly as frightening with her lady to watch over her.
She came awake finally with the feeling of being watched. Her mouth was so dry it was painful and she groaned as the bright lights above made her eyes water.
The ice chips at least soothed the desert her mouth had become and she sucked on them greedily.
"Shh, my daughter will be back soon. Just rest."
Aeris managed to focus on the slightly worried woman leaning over her and grinned slowly. Which turned to a wince as she shifted her body moving the injured shoulder.
"Don't make me hurt you Aeris, you know better."
"There you go, much better. You better not pull stunts like this often Aeris, or Arthur and I are going to have to rethink making you the godmother."
Someone Aeris was certain she'd lost the thread of the conversation, if she'd ever had it in the first place.
"Godmother, you know, for Honor's new sister?"
The gently teasing tone managed to coax another wane smile from her and Aeris shook her head slightly, careful not to jog her shoulder again.
"Have you decided on a name yet?"
The voice came from the door to the small room, and Aeris knew it as well as she knew her own.
Eyes locked across the room and Aeris wish she could understand what the feelings were that she saw swirling in Honor's eyes. Then she caught a hint of motion at her lady's feet and smiled wider.
The treecat moved gingerly, but was still quite capable of jumping up onto the bed next to her and purring, a gray banded tail tickling the skin on her arm. She desperately wanted to stay awake, to ask what had happened, why wasn't she in military custody, was her lady all right? But her eyes closed of there own volition despite her fight to stay awake.
The last thing she remembered was a pair of gentle lips pressed to her forehead and a whisper.
The days passed slowly for Aeris after that. She'd wake up, eat some of the universally bad hospital food, manage to stay awake to talk with Honor's parents for a while, the slip into yet another sleep. That her lady wasn't there after the first time she'd woken up began to worry her though, and as each day passed she became more and more convinced that Honor had decided to distance herself. Ignoring the feelings of hurt she slowly started to recover. The doctors had explained that they had spent nearly fourteen hours putting her shoulder back together and repairing the damage done to her by the drugs. It would take weeks of physical therapy to regain full use of the injured limb, and even then they couldn't guarantee anything.
It was her fifth day after waking up in the hospital that she awoke to find herself alone except for Samantha. Every time before her lady's parents had been there, either Allison or Alfred, or the two together. Samantha was a constant companion as well of course.
"They all abandon us Sam?"
Rubbing the gray head while the Treecat quietly purred. She stared up at the ceiling above, surprised by the feeling of tears in her eyes.
"I guess I shouldn't be surprised."
Swallowing against the lump in her throat. After all, who in their right mind would want her around? She had been a member of the Republic, and recent events had shown just how much trouble she could attract.
She could go to the Silesian Confederacy she supposed. Or maybe head to Old Terra where her father was going? Her thoughts shied away from that though, she hadn't had time to consider what it meant that her father was back from the dead. Dealing with Honor resurrection had been more than enough to through her soul in turmoil. Setting thoughts of her father aside for later consideration she experimentally moved her shoulder. The physical therapy had started a few days ago, nothing more than passive movements so far. It didn't ache quite so much now though, and she wondered if she might not be able to get up and get out of the hospital. Surely she could be gone before someone else came looking for her? Or worse yet, her lady handed her over to ONI?
Sitting upright didn't take too much doing, and ignoring the disapproval from Samantha, she even managed to scoot over to the edge of the bed. Letting her legs slip over the side of the bed she took a breath and gingerly stood upright.
The world spun around her and she instinctively reached out to steady herself, screaming in pain as she put weight on the injured shoulder. She hit the floor hard, squeezing her eyes shut against tears of pain as she tried to cradle her injured arm, just hoping for the pain to end.
She barely registered her lady's voice and the sound of people entering the room. Then strong arms were under her and gently she was lifted back up into the bed. Doctors and nurses were right behind the Steadholder and a quick and thorough exam showed no permanent damage to her shoulder. After several stern reminders not to get up alone the small crowd left her alone with the one woman she'd been thinking the most about. The taller woman had been silent throughout the examination and Aeris avoided looking at her, keeping her eyes on the bed sheet.
The tone was low and soothing and Aeris once more fought tears that sprung to her eyes.
"If you're going to hand me over, just get it over with."
"What are you talking about?"
"You know, hand me over to ONI. Just get it over with."
Aeris stared at the blanket, idly tracing a pattern on the white sheets as the silence stretched. She couldn't meet her lady's eyes, didn't want to meet them and see her lady's feelings written clearly in them.
Honor's voice, when it came, was surprisingly low and close by.
"Why do you think that I would do that?"
The blonde laughed, a short bitter sound.
"You must know I'm not who I claimed I was!"
"I know that. I'm not handing you over though, Miss Parnell."
Time slowed to a stop, as Aeris's head jerked up and she met Honor's eyes. It stretched onwards, Aeris able to do little other than stare at her lady in shock. Until Honor sat down on the bedside, a tender smile for the injured blonde.
"H-h-how did you know that?"
Honor reached forwards slowly, as if she were approaching a wounded and cornered animal. Every so gently tracing the guard's cheek with her finger tips.
"Your father sent you a letter."
Aeris's thoughts blazed in a whirlwind. Her father, Admiral Amos Daughty Parnell, had once been one of the most powerful admirals in the Republic of Haven. During the Purges that had happened after the assassination of Sidney Harris, and the revolution against the Legislaturalist class. Those had been dark days and even now her thoughts tried to shy away from them, like a wounded horse.
Her lady was watching her with sympathy, letting her sort out her own thoughts, but keeping a hold of her left hand. For that Aeris was thankful, not certain what to think now, or even what to feel.
No, that's wrong, I know what I feel for her.
Aeris closed her eyes, trying to organize her thoughts. When she opened them she started to speak, green eyes distant, as she remembered.
"My name is, was, Jessica Madeleine Parnell, daughter of Admiral Amos Parnell. My father wanted me to go into the navy; it was a family tradition you see. Unfortunately it became obvious that I had no ability to lead people into battle, or even an aptitude for being in the navy."
Her constant problems with parts of what she had then considered an out of date system, occasional blow-ups with superiors, and the never-ending politics had nearly driven her to give it all up. Even now thinking about the Naval Academy brought with it a sense of nausea.
"Thankfully I got an offer from the intelligence department. My profile fit what they were looking for and I eventually got transferred to the Dragoons."
At her lady's blank look she smiled slightly.
"We were specialized in infiltration, information gathering, and sabotage."
Aeris waited for Honor to nod before going on.
"When the Purge's started, after the assassinations, I was under suspicion. My father disappeared on the way back from his last battle against Whitehaven, and many of my friends were starting to disappear as well. I was given a chance to redeem myself. In exchange for not being disappeared I gathered up the families of several prominent legislaturalists that were in hiding, and brought them to a rendezvous site. I know it was stupid of me, but I believed the reassurances I got that they wouldn't be harmed."
The young body twitching as the pulsar fired.
Swallowing against the ache in her throat Aeris forced herself to continue.
"They were slaughtered."
She was surprised at how steady her voice sounded.
"After that I got the others and got them out of there. They came for me soon afterwards, it was obvious I'd helped the rest of the families escape."
The desperate flight through the streets of Haven, the security patrols just a few steps behind.
"I changed ID's, went through the Silesian Confederacy, and ended up here. I wasn't sure what I was going to do, but then... I got into that fight in the ally, and you know the rest."
She didn't know she was crying until her Lady gently wiped away the tears and brushed her lips against hers.
"When I found out you had left I went to your room. We found the modifications you made to your com unit, pretty tricky by the way."
Which earned her lady a watery smile.
"We found the data you stored in it about Moor shipping and I grabbed Andrew and came after you. I didn't know what was going on, but I had a feeling it wasn't good. They had a lot of people and firepower though, more than I expected, and we were going to have to pull back."
Her lady's tone showed how difficult that would have been for her to order, and Aeris drew Honor closer, comforting her as her lady had offered her comfort.
"Then a good sized division of Grayson marine's showed up out of nowhere."
Aeris blinked in surprise at that, and she was about to ask how they'd known to show up when Honor answered the question before she asked it.
"You made a mistake. Two actually."
Samantha watched in amusement as her human blinked in surprise.
"What do you mean I made two mistakes?"
The Steadholder smiled.
"You sent your father's letter to them with all the rest of the intelligence reports."
Aeris's groaned in sudden understanding.
"I was so out of it I just sent the whole thing to them and didn't read it. I still haven't read any of it."
"Well they got some information out of it, called up everything they had on one Jessica Parnell and started hunting. No Jessica Parnell had showed up on Grayson recently, but almost a year ago an Aeris Thornson had come home, and she looked an awful lot like this Jessica Parnell."
Aeris groaned, knowing what her teachers would have told her about that kind of screw up. The temptation to rest her head on her lady's shoulder was overwhelming, and truth be told, she really didn't put up much of a fight.
"So they tracked down this Aeris Thornson, who had become a security guard at Harrington Steading. You can imagine what they thought of that. So they kept a watch on you, right up until you disappeared under their noses. Then when they saw the Steadholder bolt out of her steading armed for war, they decided to follow and call up some reinforcements. Apparently they were sure I was going to lead them right to the trouble."
Aeris's softly muttered "Imagine that" went ignored by the steadholder in question.
"They put everyone in the place under arrest. Mueller of course says he has no idea what was happening on his land and is just as shocked and outraged as everyone else. Unfortunately there's no way to prove otherwise."
"And what was my second mistake?"
"Remember your aircar driver?"
"The bald guy?"
"Yes, the bald guy. Guess who he works for?"
"Let me guess, Grayson Intell?"
They were both silent after that, both reveling in the closeness of the other. If she angled her body just so Aeris could rest her head on Honor's shoulder and her shoulder didn't hurt, well, it didn't hurt much.
Aeris was loath to speak, wanting only to keep the closeness she felt with her lady and never move again. She had to know though.
Honor smiled and pressed a kiss to the golden haired head.
"You get better. Then you come home."
Green eyes opened and peered up at her lady a tad uncertainly.
"But what about ONI?"
Honor smiled a bit more widely.
"They've decided that you are worth much more to them where you are, as long as you continue to supply them with those reports that you get. You do realize how big an information coup that is for them right? They've never had that much in depth information about conditions inside of the Republic before. Some of them would paint themselves blue and streak through parliament for that sort of information."
Aeris could feel the siren call of sleep once more starting to draw her away, but she fought it for now.
"They would huh?"
"Well, not quite. But I sorted it all out with them."
"That's where you were?"
"Someone had to talk with all the higher ups, so I took care of it."
Aeris closed her eyes once more, this time in gratitude.
Strong gentle fingers tilted her head up.
"Just don't do that to me again."
"Deal. As long as you don't get yourself killed again."
Lips met once more in a promise, and a new beginning.
"What do you think?"
"I think I should kiss you some more."
"Hmmm I think I agree."
The kiss, which started out as nothing more than a brush of lips, quickly progressed deeper. Tongues touched, stroking, and learning the texture and taste of the other. Skin was bared, and clothes were removed lovingly before being tossed aside. Skin slid against skin as the two found one another, Honor and Aeris, fingers stroking, urging the other higher. Fingers slid into wet heat at almost exactly the same moment, drawing low groans of pleasure from both.
Thrusting, hips churned as each sought to bring the other higher, to show their love. Hazel eyes met green as they both soared, lips crushing together at the last second as there body's stiffened then shuddered as waves of pleasure roared through them.
They both collapsed against the bed, covered in a sheen of sweat and happily holding each other.
"That's not quite what I meant sweetheart."
It took Aeris a while to figure out what Honor was talking about, but when she did she smirked and pressed a kiss to an inviting nipple.
"Oh? What did you mean?"
"Oh god, if you start that we're never going to get to that dinner tonight."
Mumbled around an already stiffening nub of flesh.
The blonde rolled her eyes and placed one last, unfortunately chaste, kiss to the smooth curve of Honor's breast.
"Fine, I'll be back soon."
"Are you talking to my breast?"
"No." Aeris smiled innocently and happily tucked herself around the Steadholder's lanky form. Grinning at the snort that her answer brought.
"What were we talking about?"
Aeris prodded her taller companion in the side, drawing a surprised gasp from the dark haired woman.
"You were asking me what I thought when it all started?"
"Oh yeah, what do you think of the plans?"
Aeris contentedly closed her eyes, listening to her lady's voice reverberating through her chest. Her right shoulder was aching again, but she really didn't feel like moving, so she put up with it. The doctors had told her that she would most likely suffer some sort of ache and pain for the rest of her life from the injury.
It was Honor's turn to teasingly poke her lover in the side, drawing a surprised yelp.
"For the communications room?"
The steadholder pressed a kiss to the brow resting on her chest and laughed.
"Yes, that multi million dollar credit thing."
Aeris snorted, twisting in her lover's grasp to meet her eyes.
"Your not paying for it, remember?"
It had been a shock when Benjamin had offered to pay for what he had described as, a communications center. Aeris had been thrilled, after being reassured that she would hold complete control of the center, and would be able to receive every report that her people sent her from inside the Republic.
"I think they'll do nicely."
Ignoring Honor's statement completely.
They both relaxed, and when Aeris yawned Honor reached down and snagged one of the sheets that had been kicked off. Drawing it up over both their naked bodies and closing her eyes as well, it had been a long few weeks. Filled with nearly endless meetings and debriefings. ONI had indeed been overjoyed to find out the depth of Aeris's contacts, and had very gladly accepted her as a defector. Officially she was being listed as an outside contractor, which suited both sides very well, since Aeris had no intention of returning to that particular lifestyle.
Honor smiled joyfully down at the smaller woman using her shoulder as a pillow. It had not been easy, but Aeris had slowly opened up to her, letting Honor see bits and pieces of her history. Aeris had decided to keep her name as Aeris, since there were far too many people still looking for a Jessica Parnell.
The war with Haven was on hold; there was a cease-fire of sorts in effect. The Steadholder personally thought it was a ploy on the Republics part to buy time, and Aeris agreed, but they were not the one's making those decisions. Closing her eyes she tightened her arms around the dozing woman, smiling as Aeris murmured in her sleep. Never before had Harrington house felt so much like home.
The knock on the door startled both of them out of the light sleep.
Andrew, for the first time in his life barged in without waiting for her to answer, and immediately spun on his heels to stare away from the two naked women. Even if they were covered with a white sheet, the scent in the room gave him a good idea of what they were doing. The head of the House Guard started edging towards the door, when Honor's amused tone's stopped him.
"Andrew, what is it?"
Keeping his eyes fixed well above the bed he relayed the message he'd come to give.
"Your mother says to tell you that it's time."
Honor looked at Andrew oddly, wondering what in the world he was talking about. Aeris leaned up and kissed her gently smiling.
"Time for you to become a sister."
Hazel eyes widened in sudden understanding.
The newest member of Harrington house was on the way. Stephanie Harrington, sister to Honor Harrington, was born a boisterous eight pounds even, and it was obvious from the first that she would be as much a handful as her sister.