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Jaal’s room was still, just as Ritika had hoped.  The Pathfinder peered around the glass barriers that lined the left wall then glanced over her shoulder.  Clear coast.  Perfect.  Whistling, she approached an open container at the room’s furthest reaches, just under a workbench, and shifted through its unmarked canisters.  It's many, many unmarked canisters.

“He told Peebee he was making a new batch,” she grumbled.  “So where is it?  Everything looks the same, even the Nutrient Paste.”

“Why not ask me yourself?”

Riti lifted her head so fast, it clipped the work bench.  She cursed, rubbing the new bruise while addressing her lover, “Can’t you knock?”

“It is my room,” Jaal countered smoothly.

Riti opened her mouth to protest, but she couldn’t, could she?

“Darling One,” the Angara started, “what are you looking for?”

“Nothing.  Just—“  The young woman shrugged as she stood.  Then, she made the mistake of catching Jaal’s large, blue eyes.  “You know, with you I feel like I’m constantly on trial.  ‘I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth’ sort’a thing.”

“That is a reference to”—Jaal stopped within arm’s reach of Ritika and waved a hand—“Human law, yes?”

“Ugh.  Did you actually read that shit at the Cultural Center?”

“Their docs are very enlightening.”

“Whatever floats your boat.”  Riti chuckled, mainly because of the way Jaal’s thick eye-ridges creased together.  “Yes, Dear.  That’s an idiom.”

The Anagara huffed, subtle yet strong enough that the Pathfinder felt assured of his hate for Human slang in any form.  “Do not think you have dissuaded me, Riti.  You have yet to answer my question.”

“What?  This?”  Riti nudged the open container with her foot.  “That’s just—“  She groaned.  “Fine.  I’m here for curiosity and a dare.”

“A dare?”

“Mira didn’t have to twist my arm or anything.  It was supposed to be one little experiment.”

“An experiment with my oils?”

Oh, God, did Riti’s face feel like it was on fire.  But was that because she had been caught or because of her guilty, girly pleasure?

“It’s a little unfair,” the young woman added.  “You got all these nice scents and don’t even offer to share.  Meanwhile, I’m running around smelling like a rotten onion baked inside a suit.”

Cue Jaal’s chortle.  It rocked his broad shoulders, and Riti folded her arms as his glee ebbed.  ‘Bet he doesn’t even know what an onion is.  The jerk.

“Seriously, Jaal.  Your alcohols and plant essences beat out an Ocean Breeze scent any day.  Which is all I have, by the way.”

“Interesting,” Jaal said, voice trilling.  “How can one capture the complex layers that drift across a sea breeze?  Your kind must be masters of—“

Ritika held up a hand.  “Not really.  Ocean Breeze smells nothing like the sea.  And it lasts for all of five seconds.”

“Then…it is a lie?”

“Pop culture fact about humans, Jaal.  We like to name everything.  Weirdly.  Things like ‘Alliance Ready Cologne’ and ‘Vorcha-Be-Gone Spray.’  I won’t even go into detail about the crazy crap companies back in the Milky Way sold.  Some were…disturbing.  But through it all, I, uh, kept looking for something to help my…”

Was she really going to say it?  Damn Jaal and his curious gaze!

“Mira dared me to test if your oils could mask my onion smell.”

“Is that all?”  Jaal laughed again, albeit with less mirth than before.  He pulled his lover close by the hips, a half-smile on his pink lips.  “I have never found your smell off-putting.”

“But I do smell.”

“Like an alien.”

Riti made a face.  “Ha-ha.  S-so…even though Angaran scents might react differently with human physiology, would you…?”

Jaal’s smile morphed into a smirk.  “Oils are very personal.  Mine is crafted with only me in mind.”


“But”—the Angara leaned down and whispered into Riti’s ear—“I would gladly experiment on which essences suit you best.  And where.”

The Pathfinder smiled like the Cheshire Cat.  She liked her lover’s proposal.  A lot.  Madeira, on the other hand?  Judging by the disgusted look on her tan face, the idea held less appeal for her.

Well, it served her right for spying.  And Ritika held no qualms with shooing her away as Jaal’s hands wandered.