I make no disclaimers, because they would be meaningless. Fox Network knows what they own, I know what I own, and if they want to sue me for admiring their work, they're welcome to try.
Take no prisoners, ask no mercy. Semper Fi.
This thou perceiv'st, which makes thy love more strong; To love that well which thou must leave ere long.
--William Shakespeare, Sonnet LXXIII
When she first set eyes on Ty McQueen, he looked like bloody hell. It was one hour into Genevieve Bowles' shift in the Saratoga's sick bay when the door to the ER burst open and a young Marine, supporting an older one, staggered in.
"Medic! We need a medic!" he yelled.
Genny was beside him in a moment, supporting the man's other side. His head was hanging low, but she could tell from the weight under her hands that he was a solidly built man; his short-cropped, graying hair told her he was older than his helper even before she saw the insignia at his collar.
"Get him to this gurney-left. No, left!" she barked at the young lieutenant on his other side. "What happened?"
While he babbled a tale about Chig snipers and a routine drop and recon mission gone wrong, Genny methodically assessed the wounded man. There was considerable blood on the uniform. She drew her bandage scissors out of her pocket and started cutting away the uniform even as the man sat heavily on the edge of the gurney.
"Help him lie down," she ordered the younger man. "Then I'll need-your name is Hawkes? Lt. Hawkes, I will need you to record his name, rank and serial number on this coded bracelet and put it on his arm. Can you do that for me? Thanks."
Experience had shown Genny that giving non-medical personnel something simple to do helped calm them down in trauma rooms, and took their focus off the blood and pain before them. She wanted the young man close by; she might need to move this patient again and didn't want to use an orderly when she had this strong young Marine to hand.
All this was going through some part of her mind, while her professional side was estimating blood and fluid loss from underneath the uniform she was cutting away. Carefully she peeled the soaked layers off the skin underneath, ignoring the soft grunt of pain from the patient.
She touched her mike button at her lapel and dictated as she worked. "Patient is McQueen, Tyrus Cassius, Lt. Colonel, US Marines. Considerable blood loss to upper torso puncture wound, possible lung puncture upper left dorsal. Shrapnel injuries to soft tissue biceps, upper quadriceps." She continued for a few more minutes and then shut off the recording. By now the patient was bare from neck to waist. Genny summoned a nurse.
"Clean and debride his wounds and prep him for OR immediate-"
The nurse interrupted her. "I'm sorry, Doctor, but I'm needed on another case urgently." And she walked away before the stunned Genny could stammer a response.
"You get used to it," Hawkes told her, peering up through black hair. "They don't want to touch us."
"Tanks." He spat the word at her defiantly.
"To hell with her, then," she said vehemently, embarrassed for the medical service. She grabbed a tray and began cleaning the wounds herself. She was searching for a vein in the heavily muscled arm before her, hoping to start an IV, when the patient spoke for the first time.
"Doc, try the left arm, please. I may need my right arm."
She looked up, startled by his unexpectedly deep voice, and met for the first time the blue-white glare of Ty McQueen's eyes.
This is a live one, she thought with relief. No man with eyes like that was going to die on her, not even with a punctured lung.
"Soldier, you're not using either arm for at least a week if I have anything to say about it," she said smartly. "You're going to be in surgery in about fifteen mikes, and then you're going to be flat on your ass for a while."
"No, I can't. I have to-"
"You have to obey orders, Colonel. In this outfit I am the straw boss and you are the donkey. Now tell me if this hurts-"
He grunted in surprise.
"Good," she said with satisfaction.
"Good?" he said, with a faint note of amusement under the pain. "What kind of doc are you?"
She looked up and found a hint of a smile at the corner of a tough mouth. "The kind who doesn't want to see permanent nerve damage to a patient," she said. "If it didn't hurt, I'd be worried. Pain is a sign of life."
"Coulda fooled me," he said, blinking sleepily as the anesthetics swept into his blood stream. "'Night, Doc."
Genny smiled in spite of herself. "Good night, soldier."
Ten hours later Genny stepped into the physician's lounge and pulled off her greens.
Sighing with exhaustion, she tossed the clothes at the cycler and stepped to the sink. She scrubbed thoroughly, including under her fingernails, even though she had been wearing the spraygloves for the entire shift. She still missed the old latex gloves, that provided such a solid barrier to germs. Despite the cheerful reassurances of Navy Medicom, she still didn't quite trust the invisible shield she sprayed on every day. And working out here on the edge of Chig territory, with God knows what bacteriological infestations just waiting for a chance, didn't help her state of mind any.
But she was too tired for that. A bowel resection, a punctured lung, and one desperate battle to save the shredded arm of a young Marine caught in Chig crossfire had drained her. As she dried her arms under the blower, she caught sight of herself in the mirror.
God, she looked awful. When had those wrinkles appeared at the corner of the blue eyes? At least her hair wasn't gray yet, although Genny was willing to bet that by the end of her tour on the Saratoga she might be snowy-haired. Or bald, she smiled to herself.
Without further ado she stepped into her off-duty jumpsuit and grabbed her waist pack. One more thing to do, then she was off for a good ten hours sleep.
Although regs did not require it, from her residency onward Genny had made a practice of looking in on all her patients before checking out. She stayed just long enough to see that the bowel resection was stabilized in ICU and that the young man with the shattered arm was comfortable. Then she made her way down to officer territory, to where the individual beds had privacy curtains, a small concession to rank and privilege in the midst of war. Nodding to the on duty nurse, she stepped to number five and peeked around the corner.
"Hi, Doc," he said immediately. He was propped up a little in the bed, and the nightlight played over the prematurely graying hair, the chiseled mouth, the shoulders heavy with muscle. He was not a big man, not even as tall as the young man who had helped him into the ER, but he gave the impression of solid strength and towering presence. He seemed to loom over her even when he was lying down. A strong man, she thought. A survivor.
She came around the corner quietly. "I thought you'd be asleep."
"I was. I woke up when you came in. You walk too quietly. It makes me nervous." His voice was lowered to avoid disturbing the other patients, but it still resonated with a rich timbre.
"That's what I get for training in a veteran's hospital," she laughed quietly. "They taught me to step lightly." Genny stopped at the edge of the bed and reached for his bandaged chest.
"How are you feeling?" she asked, checking for seepage. "Any trouble breathing?"
He shook his head, his eyes still on her. "I didn't say thanks. For saving my life."
His intensity was a little unnerving. She had put it down to the stress of his wounds, but now she was wondering if maybe it wasn't a part of the man himself-intense focus, a strength that spoke more of will than of flesh. She felt a little uneasy under that stare. It was as if it concentrated the entire man into his eyes, a spotlight illuminating her right down to her core.
"You're welcome, Colonel," Genny said formally. "It's the least I can do for men who are risking their lives for mine."
He said nothing, but his eyes did not leave her as she checked the monitors above his bed, satisfying herself at last that her patient was as stabilized as could be expected.
"How long will I be in this bed?" he asked in that low voice.
She looked down and was caught in that blue-white stare again. "I...I think about a week. We'll have to see how it goes."
He shook his head. "I can't. We have a mission in three days. My people need me." His voice held such authority that for a moment she was on the point of nodding her affirmation. She caught herself.
"I can't promise anything, Colonel," she said firmly. "And I'll remind you that while you are in sickbay you are under my authority. You will stay in that bed as long as I see fit."
He scowled ferociously, but she met his gaze fearlessly. "Goodnight, Colonel. Get some sleep. That's an order."
He started a mock salute, but winced when the movement jarred his arm. She raised an eyebrow at him and left.
But for the next hour, while she worked out on the treadmill and the weights, she could not get those eyes out of her mind.
The next time she saw him he was surrounded by young men and women, a quintet of Marines guffawing and talking. Since the rest of the ward was in its usual semi-uproar, she said nothing, but shouldered her way between a young black woman and the Marine who had carried in his Colonel. In passing, she noted with no interest that the young Marine had an in-vitro scar on his neck.
"Step away from the monitors, please," she said firmly to a young man with dark, haunted eyes. "They are not well secured and could fall over."
"We were just leaving," a young woman with long dark hair answered her. "Will Colonel McQueen be all right?"
"Of course he will," the in-vitro (Hawkes, she remembered) said quickly. "He'll be out of here and chewing us out tomorrow."
"Not quite," Genny replied firmly. "Now excuse me, but I must see to the Colonel. You may come back in an hour if you like."
Smiling and giving the man in the bed a thumbs-up, the group moved off. As they left, the drop in ambient energy levels was nearly tangible. Unthinking, she sighed.
"They sometimes have that effect on me, too," said McQueen.
She found herself reluctant to meet those eyes, so of course she made a point of it, just to show herself she was not afraid of him. "You're looking well today, Colonel," she said briskly. "How was your night? Any pain?"
"Not much. I mostly lay here thinking about the mission. We could have-"
"None of that," she interrupted him. "You lie there going over and over it in your head and you'll go nuts. Just relax. I can get you some reading material, if you want. Sun Tzu's 'Art of War' not included," she added with a dry smile.
"Thanks. No need to bother your staff. I'll ask Vansen or West to bring me some books."
He was talking about his people, people who would not refuse a request from an in-vitro, thought Genny. "What am I, chopped liver? I insist on vetting your books before you read them, Colonel. No military history, no tactical manuals, no weapons specifications."
"How about Shakespeare?"
She was reaching across the bed to tilt the monitor so she could read it, and his question took her totally by surprise. She glanced down into his face.
"Shakespeare? 'Henry V', maybe?"
"The Sonnets, actually."
He seemed almost embarrassed, although Genny was sure this man never blushed.
For a long moment, she stood there, half-leaning over him, hardly aware of the un-doctorly nature of her pose as she gazed into those searing eyes. There's so much life in them, she thought distractedly. My God, what must he have seen and endured, but here he is, so alive and so sure of himself .
She straightened slowly, feeling a curl of warmth creeping down her back. Definitely this man was getting through her professional armor, she thought. Gotta watch this one.
"I'll see what I can do." She turned abruptly.
He caught her wrist in his good right hand, and it was like steel shackles on her wrist. "Wait," he said quickly. "Please."
She came when he drew her back to his bedside. She stood still as he let go of her wrist and reached upwards, her heart suddenly pounding as his hand rose towards her face-and then fumbled at her breast pocket. He drew out a pen and turned her hand over. She felt the tickle as he wrote in her palm.
"This is the pass code for my quarters. I've got some books in there. If you can bring me one or two, I'd appreciate it. I'd rather you didn't let anyone else know the code."
No doubt, she thought as he closed her fingers around the pen and released her hand. It felt warm where he had touched it. His eyes might be ice-blue, but the rest of him was hot, she thought. Not fever hot, just the warmth of a human who burned from the inside. She felt a flutter in her stomach.
Genny cleared her throat. "I'll get them for you after my rounds," she said quietly.
"Thanks." He sank back into the pillows, watching her as she walked away.
It took her only a few minutes to find his quarters on the ship's computer; he was on the Gamma levels. Genny walked down the corridor quickly, aware that in her lab coat she was a little conspicuous. She came to his quarters and quickly keyed in the pass code. When she stepped inside she locked the door. He was a private man, she guessed, and would not appreciate it if she left his door wide open for all to see his personal domain.
Ty McQueen's quarters were Spartan, almost cold. One or two photographs of military planes hung on the wall, along with a couple of framed letters of commendation. Otherwise, there were no photos, no art, hardly any personal objects at all. His standard issue laptop lay next to his bed. At least, she thought, he didn't have to sleep in a bunk like his men. That would really aggravate his shoulder and lung after he was discharged from sickbay.
She slid aside panels, searching for the books. And books she found-not the type of object readily found in military quarters. There were plays, poetry, and classical music. She found military literature, to be sure-Julius Caesar's "Conquest of Gaul", Homer's "Iliad", even Bruce Caton's history of the Civil War. Genny found herself going over his collection, fascinated by the mind revealed here.
Passing footsteps in the corridor brought her abruptly out of her reverie, and she scolded herself for wasting time poking through someone else's private life. She turned her attention to the bedside table drawer, which held only a lamp and a chess board. Here were photographs: of McQueen in formal military dress (and she had to blink a minute to clear her mind of the image of him lying bleeding and half- naked in her sickbay), of McQueen posing for a formal portrait with the same squad of youngsters who had surrounded his bed that morning, and finally of McQueen, much younger-looking, posing with several other black- uniformed officers under a banner that read "Angry Angels". That was it. No other portraits, no photos, no trace of home or family life.
Of course, there was the inevitable half-empty bottle of scotch. She smiled when she saw it. McQueen would not be a Marine if he didn't drink at least once or twice off duty.
Ah, there it was. Her hand drew out a red-leather covered small edition of the Sonnets. It was an antique-she turned to the flyleaf and saw the date: 1998. Handed down from his family? But no, she remembered he was an in-vitro. No family to hand it down from. This had to be either a gift, or something he had sought out personally. Either way, it was something he cherished enough to keep next to him.
Reluctantly, Genny turned over to the title page, searching for a dedication-and was faintly relieved to find none. She frowned to realize that she had half-expected to find that it was a lover's gift to him. Instead, the scrawl across the page read, "T. McQueen, USMC".
The book fell open in her hand to one dog-eared page, and she read:
What loneliness, she thought to herself. What gulfs of despair. In the context of McQueen's life, this was surely a bleak appraisal, a melancholy judgment on a life he expected to leave at any moment, which by all the signs held no comfort, no love, and not very much hope. Heavy hearted, she turned and left the room, locking the door behind her.
She thought McQueen was asleep when she got back to sickbay, but as soon as she stepped up to the bed his eyes opened and he looked directly at her. She held up the little red book and his gaze softened.
"Thanks," he murmured.
"Quite a romantic choice for a military man," she said.
Immediately his face closed up and he seemed to retreat into the pillows. "Actually, I find the sonnet form a good discipline for the mind."
She looked straight at him. "Bullshit, Colonel. But if that's your story, you stick to it. In any case, your quarters are sealed again. Let me know if there's anything more I can get you."
His look softened a little. "Thanks again."
After her shift was over, six hours later, Genny looked in on him again, expecting him to be asleep. Instead, he looked right at her as she came around the corner.
"Right on time, Doc," he said. Was there a hint of warmth there? "Last night you checked in at 1831 hours, and tonight at 1832. I wish all my people were as punctual."
Was he lonely? It occurred to her that, apart from his squadron, perhaps he'd had no one to talk to all day. His neighbors on the ward were either asleep or sedated, and he himself was confined to bed while his lung healed. For an active man, it must be murder.
She drew out her stethoscope and smiled at his look of surprise. "Yeah, I know, it's an antique. But on some matters I prefer to trust my judgment rather than the computer's. Breathe in..." She placed the earpieces in her ears and bent to listen to his chest. She listened carefully as he breathed regularly and slowly for her. There was no tell-tale gurgle of edema, no hesitation in his breathing, just a slight catch when he moved too quickly and his wound hurt him.
But his heart was hammering like a wild thing in his chest. Was he reacting to the drugs? Could he be allergic? It was highly unusual in in-vitros, but not impossible. Quickly she reviewed the most common allergic reactions between in-vitros and the newer antipathogens, but came up with a blank. She looked up at him with some concern, and caught his eyes before he looked quickly away. She realized immediately that there was nothing at all wrong with his heart. A bubble of laughter rose in her, and she fought it. McQueen's heart was racing because a woman was leaning over him, nothing more. She could not have asked for a more natural and healthy reaction from him. She completed her assessment and smiled at him.
"You're doing well, Colonel. I think I might relent and let you go home a day early."
"Home." That word fell from his lips like lead, and for a moment, Genny saw an immeasurable and empty place in Ty McQueen. But he pulled himself together and nodded to her.
"Thanks, Doc. It'll be good to get out of here."
"Call me Genny," she said suddenly.
He was startled, and his guard fell for a moment. "Genny?"
"Short for Genevieve," she said. "My grandmother's name. She was French." Instantly she regretted saying it. Such commonplaces were another reminder to McQueen that he had no mother, no grandmother, no nation.
But he took no offense, merely smiling slightly. "Call me Ty."
"I have a feeling not many people call you that," she said quietly.
"Just two," he said. "Commodore Ross, and now you."
"Pretty high-flown company for a lowly medic," Genny said. "I hope I can stand the altitude."
"I'm sure you can, Genevieve," he said, and when he said her name she wanted to hear it again. And again. It was transformed on his tongue, from a stale mumble to a rich and luxurious descant that sang in her ears. She'd always hated her full name, but not when Ty McQueen said it.
She said a hasty goodnight.
Half an hour later, she was standing outside McQueen's-Ty's-quarters in Gamma country, punching in the pass code. She caught a peculiar look from a passing lieutenant, and concluded that not many people visited the colonel.
At least, she let herself think, not many women.
As the door closed behind her, shutting her in his quiet, orderly room, she let herself examine the implications of that thought. Genevieve Bowles was not stupid, she had seen her share of shipboard, wartime romances come and go. Invariably someone got hurt-dead or pregnant or just broken-hearted. It was a loser's game, a last grab at something real and personal and warm when you faced the cold dark death in space most had waiting for them out there. She understood, and even sympathized, but had no intention whatsoever of complicating her life that way.
"Tyrus Cassius McQueen," she whispered to herself. "Ty." The name seemed as light as air, a brief sigh on the lips, too light and simple for a man so secret, so private, so...solid. She flashed briefly on the feel of muscle under her hand when she examined him, and immediately put it aside.
So what the hell was she doing here? What business did she have in a strange man's quarters?
Because she was drawn to him. Face it, Genny, she said to herself. You like him and you find him attractive. Better to acknowledge it and deal with it; no point in pretending otherwise. He's good-looking, he's smart, and there's a soul behind those eyes. In other circumstances....
But there were no other circumstances. Her circumstances were simple and clear-she was a doctor, he was a patient, and they were on a ship of war. No time for the delicate dance of courtship here. He might be dead tomorrow, or all of them could become random energy glowing between the stars if a Chig stealth ship got past the lidar. So forget it, she told herself angrily.
Still, they could be friends...
She stepped swiftly to the bedside table and took what she wanted.
It was past midnight, shiptime, when she tiptoed up the ward. She was not surprised to come around the curtain and find him awake.
"Do you ever sleep?" she said, her smile wobbling nervously.
"Only behind locked doors," he said solemnly. "Aren't you off duty, Doctor?"
"Genny," she reminded him, and brought out her hands from behind her back. "I brought you this. I hope you don't mind."
She set the chess board down on the bed beside the hump his knee made in the sheet.
"Do you play? Genevieve..." he added.
Again she felt her stomach flutter when he said her name like that.
"Not well, but I'm willing to learn," she said.
He reached for the swing-down table beside the bed, and the light from the nightlight slid along his bare arm like oil on water, highlighting the muscles, the soft blond hairs on his forearm.
"I haven't played against a human for a long time," he said. "I'm probably pretty rusty myself."
Genny drew up a stool and pulled out her thermal container. "I thought a mild stimulant couldn't hurt, either," she said. She poured a half cup of coffee for him and his hand curled around hers as he took it.
"Thanks," he said, and his resonant voice vibrated through her. "Why are you doing this?"
His look was so piercing, she could not meet it, sure that he could look inside her and know what she had been thinking in his quarters. Could know, even, what she refused to think.
"You look like you could use some company. And I need some company, too," she said. "It's not a charity call, if that's what you're thinking."
He raised his cup to her in a silent salute, his eyes never leaving hers. She set out the pieces and the board.
"Take no prisoners, Colonel," she smiled at him.
He smiled back. "And give no quarter. Your move."
For the next couple of nights, while his shoulder and lung healed under the quiet influence of the bioengineered steroids and antibiotics, Genny played chess with Ty McQueen. He invariably beat her, but then would relax and talk. She told him about her work in emergency medicine, and her ambition to get into research after the war. At first told her nothing of his private life, but talked about ships and men and battles he had seen. But after a while he unbent a little, telling of her his early years in the mines after his decanting, of his feelings of pride and independence when the Corps took him in. And they talked about books. His knowledge of literature was deep and wide, revealing a breadth of interest and intellect not common among military men of her acquaintance.
"You should have been a scholar, Ty," she said to him one night. "I can see you as a professor at a college. Professor McQueen, the terror of the English department."
His lips moved, and for a moment he almost smiled. "Nobody would hire a tank to teach humans. They'd rather learn their poetry from a computer."
"Then they're fools," she said fervently.
He looked at her curiously. "You don't like the way they treat us, do you? Why?"
It was not a story she'd told often, or wanted to, but McQueen's compelling eyes drew it out of her. "When...when my mother died, my dad was too busy at the labs to take care of me on his own. He didn't want an AI, so he pulled some strings at the biolabs. We had one of the very first in- vitros, assigned to us...to me...as a personal assistant. A nanny, actually. Helen was...." Genny broke off and looked away, feeling the pain gather in a knot in her throat. "Helen was like a real mother to me. She took care of me, read to me, rocked me at night when I cried."
There was a small silence while Genny struggled to keep her composure.
"What happened to her when you grew up?" McQueen asked.
"She was one of the first to be killed in the AI wars. They came looking for my father. She hid me and refused to tell them where he'd gone. It took her...a long time to die. Afterwards, Dad wanted her buried next to Mom in the family plot, but they wouldn't let an in-vitro be buried there. I hated them for that, for thinking she was less than human..."
Since she couldn't look at his face, she was looking down at the board, and so saw the small, convulsive movement of his hand. He'd started to reach out to her, and instantly quelled the motion, but she had seen it. Sympathy lay buried deep in this man, she thought.
"It's a sad story, but in a way, I envy her. Tanks...we don't usually get to be so close to humans."
Genny nodded. "There'd probably be less misunderstanding between humans and tanks if you could. But you can see why I would never treat a tank as non-human."
His jaw set and he looked away. "But we're not human."
She didn't care if he was a colonel, he was also a man. "Bullshit," she said strongly. "You're as human as any man I've ever known. As human as Helen, whom I loved like my own mother."
"Love..." he trailed off, and his jaw muscle rippled where he clenched his teeth. "Tanks can't love, either."
She stood up and gathered the coffee cups. "You're wrong there, McQueen. Dead wrong. And someday you're going to find out just how wrong you are."
She looked him up in the ship's computers. Thirty eight years old, served in the mines for years after his decanting, joined the Marines, fought in the AI wars. She'd read enough medical and service records to know that, first of all, McQueen had earned a lot more medals and recognition than he'd received, and secondly that he should have been dead twice over from some of his injuries. She scanned the record of the disastrous battle that cost him his combat readiness, the burns he received when the 127th was wiped out, the long and painful healing he had gone through. She could imagine him, suffering the scraping and the medication and the grafting in stoic silence, refusing to show his human weakness by crying out.
He was so determined to be SuperTank, she thought. But what was under the hard outside of him? She no longer stopped herself from thoughts like these. She thought about him, their long quiet talks, and the look in his eyes when he thought she wasn't watching. As she shut off the computer, she noted her trembling hand. She knew very well what it meant.
"Oh, damn," she said softly. "Oh, damn. What am I going to do about you, Ty McQueen?"
But she might not ever get a chance to find out. The next day the chief surgeon came on rounds with her, and agreed with her assessment that McQueen was ready for light duty. McQueen's eyes were on her the whole time, but he said nothing. She smiled at him, but he did not smile back as she coded his chart for "Conditional Release". She'd expected to come back and talk before he left, but at the end of her shift she went to his bed and it empty. The sickbay computer confirmed that he'd logged out and had been discharged to his quarters.
So that was that, she thought a little sadly. What were her chances of running across one man again in a ship carrying 15,000 souls? And besides, he had moved on to his mission, his young Marines, his life. She was being foolish and naive to think they could have had more than a couple of quiet conversations.
But as she turned to leave she saw the chess board sitting on the bedside shelf. He'd forgotten it, she thought. Then she caught herself and smiled. Ty McQueen forgot nothing. He'd left it behind, which was a different thing.
She stood outside his quarters, hesitating. Perhaps she should just hand the board and pieces to one of his subordinates-but she knew instantly he would not want that, would not want that part of his life exposed to the people he commanded. So she knocked.
"Come," his answer was abrupt and immediate.
She stepped through the door. McQueen's back was turned, he was putting on his uniform jacket carefully.
"I brought this back to you," she said, and he whirled to face her, his jacket flying open.
Face to face with him, she willed herself not to flinch or look away from that megawatt stare. She had never seen him standing, and realized he was not as tall as she'd thought. Maybe it was because his presence alone was so commanding, but she was surprised to find she was almost his height. His face was so close, his expression such a mixture of surprise, fear and something else-desire? She tossed the game board onto the bedside table and looked him in the eye.
"I'm not stupid, Ty," she said quietly. "You would never have gone off and left that chess board behind by accident. You knew I would bring it to you. Why be so devious?"
A tiny lift at the corner of his mouth was as much of a smile as got past his defenses. "I used to be a better strategist than that," he said. "I don't usually telegraph my moves."
Genny stepped closer to him. "Why didn't you just say you wanted to see me again?"
"Because I didn't think you'd want to."
She looked down at the board. "So this was a test. If I didn't bring it back, you'd know I hadn't noticed how you've been looking at me, what your eyes have been saying when your mouth could not....but I did bring it to you, Ty. So what do you think that means?"
They were standing almost chest to chest, his face so close she could still see the faint burn scars, the scars along his jaw no surgeon or grafts could hide. His eyes burned through her.
"I know what I want it to mean," he said, and his voice was a rumble in his chest. His hand came up, and stopped halfway, as if he were afraid to touch her. "But I know how easy it is to fool yourself. I know how bad you can want something, and still know there's nothing in the world you can do to make it happen."
She put her hand on his shoulder and slid her hand deliberately down his arm, coming to rest with her hand in his. Her heart was pounding, she was sure he could hear it, but she was determined not to let this moment die in ambiguity.
"Ty, what is it that you want to make happen?"
He was as still as a statue, and she knew that if anything broke through this moment, it would have to come from her. She leaned forward, hesitantly, and pressed her lips to his.
She had forgotten how warm he was. The ice-blue eyes fooled her, she thought distantly, as she tasted Ty against her mouth, felt a tiny tremor go through him. But his mouth was softer than his eyes, and warm. At first he did not respond, but after a moment, he leaned in to her mouth and she felt his response.
It was like kissing a tidal wave. A bursting dam could not have held more power behind it, more relentless drive and sheer animal force. His hands came up to cup her head and hold it against his as he devoured her mouth. The big hands tangled in her hair, hurting her a little, but she had no thought for that as his mouth demanded, insisted, even pleaded for her response.
Dams broke in Genny, too, as she felt her response matching his, and when she opened her mouth and felt his tongue against hers she closed her eyes and gave her whole attention to the feel of it, soft and wet and hot and wanting, wanting, wanting....
Then he was backing away, leaving her mouth wet and her breath coming short.
He sounded almost frightened.
"Don't what, Ty? Don't kiss you? Don't be attracted to you?"
"I...we shouldn't..." He swallowed and looked away. "I'm a tank. You're not. We can't..."
She caught his wrist, and it was like holding a block of wood. She marveled anew at the tension coiled in every movement. "Ty...forget 'should' and 'ought' and 'can't'. Forget the rules, for a moment. Look at me..."
He did, open and honest as ever in his gaze, and she leaned closer. "Ty, I don't care how you were born, whether out of a vat or a woman or a cabbage patch. I look at you and I see a man, a strong man, a man I respect, and admire, and...want. Just answer me one question...do you want me?"
"Yes." His answer was immediate and uncompromising. He opened his mouth to speak again but she cut him off.
"Then that's all that matters, surely. I'm no child, Ty. And I'm not under your command. I'm certainly not the enemy. What prevents you from taking what you want, when it is freely offered?"
"Because...because I might...."
It was remarkable, watching someone so self-possessed struggle for words, she thought. "Because you might feel something? Because you might not be able to put me out of your mind, after?"
"I haven't been able to put you out of my mind since I saw you," he said.
"Nor I you," Genny said. "What are you afraid of?"
He was silent, and his answer when it came was low and forced. "I'm afraid you'll leave."
She reached out to take his hand. "Ty, please. I want you, and you want me, and we're together in a lonely place. Can't that be enough, for now?"
His answer was a kiss that bent her backward, that assaulted her senses, that unleashed the furious, pent-up need behind the pale mask of his face. His mouth was all over hers, hot and imperious. She found herself backed against the wall of his quarters, with his taut, strong body pinning her against the bulkhead, molding her to him. His tongue danced with hers, relentless. When he broke from her, it was to climb her neck with kisses, to mount siege upon her cheeks and hair with a rain of kisses. His breath against her ear and cheek was warm, human, quick with life. She closed her eyes and smiled as his hands slipped down her sides, exploring her shape as if he had never felt a woman before.
She laid her palms against his chest, feeling his heart hammering there, the hot skin sliding beneath her fingers. His tongue on her neck was wet fire, and his hands slid up her body, smoothing, cupping, rounding, as though sculpting her out of rough clay. She slid her arms around him, feeling the great smooth muscles of his back bunching and flattening as his arms moved. He flinched when she touched his shoulder but said nothing.
"Genevieve," he whispered in her ear, like the breath of life itself.
She was suffused with desire now, feeling her skin growing tight and hot and sensitive, so sensitive. She let go of him, and reaching down pulled off her hospital surgical smock with one movement. She wore nothing underneath, and his mouth trailed a line of wet, hot kisses down her neck, past her shoulder, to her breasts. Suddenly he locked his hands beneath her bottom and lifted, until she was leaning against the wall, her breasts at the level of his mouth while he nuzzled and kissed and devoured. She felt the sweat on him but he was rock-steady, no quiver of exertion going through him. Raised in his arms, she felt a delicious shudder go through her as his mouth teased her left nipple.
"Ty," she whispered. "Put me down."
He complied instantly, his eyes locking on hers, boring through her with that laser intensity she knew so well. She knew he was expecting her to change her mind, to push him away, and it hurt her to see him ready to accept that, one more insult among the many layered on his life.
So she met his eyes even as she slipped her hands under the waist of his trousers. His only reaction was a widening of the pupils, a catch in his breath, but he kept looking straight at her, accepting her challenge. She slid her hands down, feeling hot skin, stretched tight over belly and thigh and groin, and finally came to his erection, so hard it must surely be painful to him. When she wrapped a hand around him, he blinked but refused to look away from her, his look going through her. With her other hand, she slid his pants down, then hers, until they were standing naked against one another, thigh to thigh with her back to the bulkhead. She let go of him, leaning forward to kiss his chin softly, then one cheek, then another, and finally his mouth.
It was a quiet kiss, full of peace and promise and comfort, and it broke the last wall between them.
"Genevieve," McQueen breathed against her mouth, and once again gathered her up in those wiry arms, lifting her and settling her against the wall.
Genny smiled at him. "You're going to kill your back," she said.
"Then take me now," she whispered. "Don't hold back."
Slowly, watching her the whole time, he took her bottom in both hands, positioning her, and impaled her on himself, his passage made easier by the slickness of her own arousal. He filled her and left her skin tingling. Lifting her legs, she wrapped them around his waist, settling onto him and transferring her weight from his shoulders to his hips.
A long, shuddering sigh escaped him as she enclosed him, and his head fell forward onto her breast. Rocking them both in a strong, deliberate rhythm, he thrust against her, his fingers digging into her soft bottom, bringing her up against the wall, driving deeply into her. She wound her arms around his shoulders, burying his head between her breasts, feeling his five o-clock shadow rasping against her nipples and loving it. He was panting now, with desire or exertion she didn't know which, and she could feel him tensing, tensing, tensing....
Until he threw back his head, his whole body stiffening in one prolonged shudder that swept him from head to toe. He made no sound except for a gasp, but she could feel a sudden wetness on her thighs and smiled. She stroked his head where it lay against her chest, and after a moment he let go of her, letting her slide down his body to stand facing him again.
He kissed her long and deeply. He smelled of sweat and sex and something else...Scotch? She smiled under his mouth and he broke away. He looked away and then back at her, and she could not understand the look on his face. Embarrassment?
"I don't know what to say to you," he confessed.
"'Thank you' is always nice," she said.
He did smile then, and it took her breath away. The years fell from him as the dimples she had suspected came out like the sun from behind a cloud, and his face transformed.
"Thank you, Genevieve," he said. Slowly, he reached out and swept his hand from her waist to her breast, letting it come to rest with his thumb over a nipple.
"I'm not used to this," he admitted. "It's so rare for me to be with a woman who didn't want to leave as soon as...as soon as it was over."
She closed her eyes and leaned her head back against the wall, concentrating on his hand and the warmth of it on her breast. "Ty, you have been ill served by womankind, then," she murmured. "I apologize on behalf of my sex. And I'm not going anywhere."
He leaned forward and kissed her shoulder, kissing his way very slowly up her neck, lingering to taste her skin under her ear. His heat burned through her, making her shiver where her back touched the colder wall of the cabin. She slipped her hands behind him and slid them down his back in a long, slow, sensual caress, feeling his chest expand against her, feeling the muscles in his back ripple with the movement of his shoulders.
She felt him stirring against her, felt his breathing deepen and quicken, and let him pull her away from the wall and into his arms. This time it was a slow embrace, a lingering caress that took her in not just as a woman, but as Genevieve. His hands swept down and across, roving everywhere, a flesh-to-flesh semaphore that scanned every inch of her into his brain forever, she was sure.
"Ty, take me to bed," she whispered.
McQueen said nothing, swinging her up into his arms. He stepped across to the bed and laid her softly on it, then bent to lie beside her.
"Wait," she said, putting out a hand.
He stopped. "What is it?"
"I just want to look at you," she said.
He said nothing, standing quietly while she took in the compact, solid body, the scars, the bruises. "If you want someone to ogle, you should go down to Hawkes' quarters," he said. "I'll never win any beauty contests."
She shook her head, reaching for him. "I'm not interested in boys," she said. "I want you, Ty, not some kid. I want the warrior who plays chess and loves Shakespeare..."
He slipped into her arms, his weight coming down on her. She closed her eyes to concentrate on the feel of his slow caresses, his hands exploring, examining, testing, discovering where she was most sensitive. His mouth slid down her stomach, tasting her, his tongue flicking out to mark his passage. He was learning her as thoroughly as years of Marine training in mapping new territory would let him, she realized. He was learning Genevieve.
She welcomed him with wet kisses, feeling him rousing against her, feeling the need in him again, and opening gently to him when he sought her. He thrust into her quickly, deeply, already familiar and welcome. She arched under him, feeling the tension dissolving into a liquid softness where they joined, feeling the hardness of him sliding deliciously in her, with his breath on her cheek and the scent of him surrounding her. When the tension broke and sent her shuddering and moaning into delight, she heard a laugh in her ear, low and soft, and laughed with him for sheer joy, in perfect counterpoint.
His laugh turned to a gasp when she tightened her inner muscles, and then he was shaking, coming hard in her, his muscles going loose and slack on his frame as he settled slowly into her arms. But then he pushed himself up on one elbow to look into her eyes.
She stroked his cheek, ran her fingers over his lips.
"Dead wrong, McQueen. I said so, didn't I?"
"About being able to love. Tanks can love."
His eyes bored into her. She saw something very new and quiet there, and said nothing. That look was so open, so naked, that she knew his last fortifications were down, that his heart was open to her and lay helpless before her, defenseless and raw.
"And be loved," she whispered.
Slowly, his fingers crept in between hers, intertwining. She closed her hand in affirmation, and felt his indrawn breath. She leaned into him and felt his arm come around her, drawing her in tightly, more tightly than ever before, as if he would drive her through his chest into his heart. She didn't need him to speak, his hands were saying it to her: stay with me. Stay forever.
Arching to press herself more closely into his warmth, her eye fell on the chess board lying on the bedside table.
Mated in one, she thought to herself, and then turned in to the embrace of her own Black Knight.
© California Coyote 1996