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a good protection detail is hard to find

Chapter Text

It was making Bobbie a little off kilter, being on the Tachi, or rather the Rocinante, after escaping Mao and his goons. Holden’s crew ran the Tachi through a good scrubbing, but stepping through the airlock, it was like coming home and knowing where all the cracks in the walls used to be, where the christened name of the ship would be etched so deep into its system that it could not be erased without scuttling the ship itself.

Bobbie found herself running her fingers over the aggressively grey panels, and at one particular moment exhaling more slowly as if she could recapture all that was Martian through the circulated air in her lungs. But all that was familiar faded away as she came to stand in front of Avasarala’s quarters, her shoulders braced before crossing that Martian Earth line once more.

“Bobbie.”

Bobbie blinked, and realized belatedly Avarsarala had been speaking to her. Her ears burned. “I’m sorry, ma'am. What did you say?”

Avasarala regarded her silently, her dark gaze piercing. Bobbie clenched harder at the fist she held behind her back and willed herself not to squirm. Just as Bobbie was getting lightheaded from holding her breath, Avasarala released her from the heady thrall of her undivided attention. Bobbie inhaled expeditiously, not particularly caring if the air was Martian or Earth, whilst wondering what it was about this woman that made her both laughably endearing and blood-chillingly frightening. Bobbie felt ensnared, bound and captivated, and most disturbingly, without a thought to escape.

“It’s nothing,” Avasarala said lightly, dismissing her previous words. But her eyes remained shuttered and the tightness around her mouth wavered, barely withholding that singular thought.

Bobbie felt a pressure build in her chest, her limbs tingling to move under the slightest provocation. “What’s wrong?” Bobbie asked, begrudgingly muttering words of semi-obligatory concern, not looking for an order or a call to action, nothing like that.

Avasarala readily leaned forward to speak. Then she demurred, pursing her lips in a forlorn sigh. Bobbie didn’t ask again, but her half perplexed and half eager problem-smashing demeanor seemed to move Avasarala to speak.

“Before you came to rescue us, Cotyar was contemplating a bargain with Captain Malik.”

Bobbie repeated the words deliberately, dangerous as they were, “A bargain?”

“The two of you, for me,” Avasarala finished, with an odd glint in her eyes.

“What,” Bobbie bit out, not so much a question as a truncated expletive. She swiveled about, making sure that the man in question wasn’t already in the room. He wasn’t. Her breath hitched and the pressure in her chest broke into a bloom of adrenaline.

“You’re the boss, he shouldn’t keep you waiting. I’m going to go get him,” she growled the last two words before stomping out.

Later, Bobbie would remember Avasarala didn’t try to stop her.

Chapter Text

“Hey Cotyar,” Bobbie called out innocuously. As he turned, the moment he stood square across from her, she hauled back and punched him in the face.

Cotyar whipped sideways, but not quickly enough to completely avoid the power behind the arm that wrestled mech suits for shits and giggles. Her fist made contact, and he staggered back in retreat, cradling his jaw, fingers flexing like he was counting teeth.

“The next time you want to sell out, leave me out of it!” Bobbie growled, her arms strained with a raw anger that shook her frame. But she stayed back, surprising herself for wanting to hear what he had to say for himself.

Which was nothing. Cotyar stared out at some vague point at the carpet in front of him, declining to say a word. Her lips thinned with a stab of disappointment. “And you asked me about betraying my oath,” she sneered with contemptuous huff.

He shifted his flat gaze back to her and smiled sardonically. “No ‘thank you’ for trying to save your Martian ass?”

“I would have rather died with her,” she spat with such instinctual conviction that she blinked and fell back a half a step, startled at her own vehemence.

Cotyar shook his head at her with pitying tisk. "Exactly how long have you been with us? I told you to let her win, not to swear you can't live without her."

An uncomfortable heat bloomed in her cheeks. Bobbie ignored it. “Fuck you, are you saying she shouldn’t be angry after you tried to sell her out?”

He rolled his eyes. "I was stalling for time. Didn't even know if you were coming back for us.”

Her hackles rose instantly. "I would have never left—"

"And how would I have known that?" he asked softly.

She nearly laughed, and stood ramrod straight, chest puffed. "If you didn't trust me, you wouldn't have brought my armor," she singsonged smugly.

"I suppose," Cotyar sighed, scratching his sore jaw, before gazing at her with a wry twist of his lips, "Too bad the feeling isn't mutual."

Bobbie's eyes went saucer-shaped. She opened her mouth but couldn't find the words. It was becoming a habit with him, bastard spy tricking her into speechlessness.

“She believed you were giving her up,” she finally said, scowling.

All the arid humor drained from Cotyar's face, turning it into icy granite. He sauntered into her personal space, but with a razor edge of temper that had Bobbie coming to stand at parade rest, chin raised. Up close, she could see his nostrils flaring, his eyes glaring at her but not seeing.

"She's still mad about that, is she? She shouldn't have been there in the first place. With or without us, she could have died. So yes, I may have led her to believe I was giving her up, because I was pissed," he snapped, anger rolling off him in blistering waves.

Bobbie blinked at this, shifting her feet. “Hey…”

“You have no idea how hard I tried to talk her out of meeting Mao. Did you think I wanted to lose another Avasarala on my watch?!” Fury or fear, Cotyar was trembling with it, the whites of his eyes bloodshot with remembered scenes of death and debt.

Bobbie shook her head carefully, placating hands stretched out awkwardly in the tiny space between them. “No, nobody thought that,” she tried, the gentle words like marbles in her mouth.

He immediately shot her a snarl of derision.

“Oh. So I did. I. She.”

Martian marines did not sputter. God, she thought, these Earthers and their fucking pathos. What the hell, was this what the enemy had been like all these years? Assholes on the outside and barely holding their shit together on the inside.

“Look Cotyar..." She paused. What was she, their therapist?! Why was she even here?! 

It hit her, the clouds parting. Chrisjen fucking Avasarala, that was why.

Bobbie bristled and clapped a friendly, but all too heavy hand on Cotyar's shoulder. To his credit, he didn't waver, not so much as a flinch. Something strange twisted beneath her chest, and she willed herself not to like it. She drew a smirk on her face instead.

"Does she know how you feel about her?”

Her words came out just a tad too saccharine. Her tone, too mocking. A touch of schadenfreude for the man who deemed himself too smart for a marine, but not smart enough to stay the hell away from that stubborn, conniving, bulldozer of a woman.

Cotyar smiled with feral teeth and provided an equally sweet rejoinder, “You can fuck off along with her.”

He set himself back down on the bunk, arms raised, cushioning his head like he didn't have a care in the world. His shirt lifted slightly, the medical gauze visible on his left side. The sterile white stood in stark contrast with the small black hairs visible above the low hanging waistline of his pants.

Bobbie stared, frowning.

Feeling her gaze on him, Cotyar rolled, his back to her.

Should she feel offended or pleased? Was he turning his back on her because he had enough of her or was he leaving his back open, one of the most vulnerable of all defense positions because he trusted her?

"That means get out, Draper."

Her eyes had meandered down his back and found cause to stop above his muscled thighs. Did he say something? 

Finally, as if he felt her oddly placed gaze burning a hole in him, Cotyar rose with a snap, "What?!" He winced regretfully at the sudden motion and placed a hand over his wound.

Bobbie clenched her fists, but otherwise remained motionless. "Aren’t you spy types supposed to be all fake smiles and dead behind the eyes?”

Cotyar stopped short, before grinning blithely over the pain. “I don’t know what kind of spies you have on Mars, but clearly they need to work on their infiltration skills if you can spot them by their artificial smiles and zombie eyes."

Bobbie straightened and looked down her nose at him. "They are more than adequate, thank you. You on the other hand," she stopped, staring pointedly at his injury, "just barely."

He shrugged. “We're all alive, aren't we? I never try to disabuse people of my inadequacy. That way they’re always pleasantly surprised. ”

"You're a sneaky bastard, that's what you are," she said, giving him a rude once-over.

Cotyar smiled shamelessly, "Well…yes." He leaned back on his palms, as if encouraging her to peruse further.

His shirt raised again, and the words are out of her mouth before passing through her brain. "I wouldn’t mind being pleasantly surprised.”

Cotyar blinked twice and tilted his head, in the universal manner of polite confusion. It was an out and if she was a fucking normal person, she would have taken it.

"Unless you have something better to do?" Bobbie forged defiantly ahead, deftly raising a dark eyebrow.

Cotyar opened his mouth to speak, but seemed to think better of it.

The silence dropped like a bomb between them. The heat of it spread in the air until she felt like the top of her head was steaming, along with other places. Her chest pounded with the force of taiko drums.

Cotyar kept his face impressively straight, until he closed his eyes, and whatever was behind them made his left cheek twitch. His eyelids snapped open and she glimpsed a dark heat behind the widened pupils before he ran a palm over his face. His thumb and middle finger pressed into his temples before he spoke.

"Draper," his voice a low rasp of exasperation, "get out."

She jumped and walked out, her limbs stiff with specific instructions to not flee like a silly girl who had just embarrassed herself by propositioning a guy who couldn't even walk straight yet.

Also, she had just punched him in the face.

Chapter Text

"You could have given me some warning," Cotyar grumbled as he walked into Avasarala's quarters, holding his bruised cheek.

Avasarala's eyes were alight with amusement. "Would it have helped?" she asked, before quickly pursing her lips to keep the curves from stretching upward.

He thought about it. "No," he admitted with a grunt.

There was something truly disturbing about the company he was keeping these days. And as much as his ego and other parts liked it, tossing in Draper's proposition made the whole situation even more maddening. His jaw worked into a mulish tilt as he sat.

Avasarala rose from her seat, a simple and elegant swish that was a grand production in these cramped quarters. A lesser being would have gawked, Coytar was decidedly not going to be a lesser of anything today, refusing to turn as she came to stand at his side.

Cotyar heard a puff of breath that was somewhere between an exasperated huff and a resigned sigh. He was ready for a particularly stern and blisteringly foul-mouthed talking-to, so he started as Avasarala brusquely placed the soft pads of her fingers on the stubble beneath his jaw. She rotated his face as much as he would allow, this way and that, surveying whatever minor damage Draper may have caused. He inhaled loudly with a petulant hiss as her index finger brushed across the spot of black and blue.

Her low pitched chuckle wasn't heard as much as it was felt, so it was only after the light brush of her lips on his bruised skin that he registered the kiss.

"There, all better," Avasarala cooed, the warm amber tones of her voice reverberating through the short hairs of his bare neck.

Cotyar caught her fingers before her hand moved away and looked up at the older woman with an unctuously wide grin.

"You realize you've just given me an incentive to get punched more often."

Avasarala graced him with a spectacular roll of her charcoal eyes, but he caught the subtlest shade of pink across her cheeks and instinctively held on before she tugged her hand back.

They were smaller than he imagined, her fingers. Cotyar knew that many lives were controlled by each gesture and many souls would dance to the tunes orchestrated by them. But in this moment, in his callused grip, her fingers felt fragile. He suddenly remembered what he said to her, back on Earth, how it felt to work for the good guys again.

Cotyar brought her hand in, and placed between her fingers a kiss of his own.

Avasarala considered him with an unreadable look before sighing dramatically, "I was not in a good place when you decided to throw that hissy fit. Can you blame me for being just a little upset?"

He released her and wondered which deity he had angered for him to become beholden to such an infuriating creature. The answer was never forthcoming. He intoned, "Draper's right hook wasn’t very little." They both knew that punch was on her behalf.

She returned to her seat, sitting down prim and straight like a queen returning to her throne. "I meant it, when I said I was sorry."

Sorry for not giving a shit about his opinion? Sorry for getting on Mao's ship in the first place? Sorry for getting him shot?  Sorry for not believing in him?  Sorry that his debit to Charanpal could never be erased until she died of old age, which, considering her Machiavellian shenanigans, was going to be damn impossible to do?

Cotyar drummed his fingers on the armrest. He considered her sorry, his sorry and their general state of sorriness.

"Sorry's not going to cut it," he decided.

Avasarala smiled as he knew she would. Bargaining with favors was familiar territory. "What do you want then?"

"A vacation?" he tried. It was something he heard other people enjoyed.

She waved all around them. "What do you think we're doing here instead of blasting our way back to Earth?"

Coytar glanced around the tiny claustrophobic quarters and the relentlessly dull decor. He shrugged. "I'm pretty sure you're here getting your ducks in a row to hang Errinwright by his balls."

"Yes, he does have massive fucking balls. I look forward to cutting them off. Slowly."

Cotyar unobtrusively crossed his legs.

The lights suddenly changed shade. He stood, frowning.

Draper was in the door before Avasarala finished the invite. The haunted look in her eyes reminded Cotyar of her testimony at the peace summit.

"Holden's crew found a ship."

This was a shit vacation.

Chapter Text

"We don't have a good record with SOSs. Last time we responded to a mayday," Alex paused, his miming fingers flashing open as he mouthed an understated boom.

"Someone called us a shit magnet once," Amos offered. Holden threw him a sour look. Amos canted his head. A second later he amended, "Maybe twice."

"Amos," Holden growled with the chagrin of a man who knew his complaint was destined to fall on deaf ears.

The larger man deadpanned, "He said shit followed you around."

The Rocinante crew went quiet, as if taking a moment of silence. Most likely for the man who was unable to escape the shit tornado that he himself identified. And sticking out among the solemn mourners was Prax, who, while quiet like the rest of them, seemed somewhat bewildered.

It was Naomi who took pity on him and asked the question on everyone's minds. "Do you think Cortazar led Dawes here, another site with the protomolecule? And then something went wrong?"

Chrisjen glanced sideways at Bobbie. The Martian had gone several shades of pale upon hearing what might be lurking on the OPA ship that was calling out for rescue on the unsettled asteroid before them. Still, Bobbie held herself like the sergeant she no longer was, with her shoulders up and feet apart in an ever ready stance. And that actually made it worse. Chrisjen irrationally wanted her to sit down, have some hot tea, and just take a god damn nap until this whole shit blew over. But now was hardly the time, nor would it be particularly constructive for Bobbie or the current situation...unless. She felt a smile stretch over her own face, and caught Cotyar's ever observing eyes. He straightened from a lackadaisical lean as she spoke.

"We won't know until we get eyes in there. Bobbie can lead your team," Chrisjen announced.

Bobbie jerked to face her, though the younger woman's face was otherwise devoid of any resemblance of an emotion.

Holden goggled at Bobbie, then her. "What? With all due respect to your aide, ma'am, this isn't your average spacewalk."

"Uh, hey Chief..."

"Not now, Alex," Holden waved dismissively, though Alex was almost jittery to get a word in.

"Draper's done this before," Cotyar supplied, scratching his neck before adding a vaguely foreboding turn, "and then some."

"And I'd hardly suggest so otherwise," Chrisjen explained in her eminently reasonable you-are-a-dumb-piece-of-shit-if-you-don't-let-me-handle-this-one tone. She surveyed each of the others slowly, as if daring them to say otherwise. She stopped at Bobbie herself, and was inordinately gratified that a spot of color was making a reappearance.

Impressive as it may be, Bobbie's physique failed to convince Holden of her leading his team on his injured behalf. He squinted at Bobbie. "Have you even been on a rock before?"

Alex abruptly doubled over with laughter, "Trust me, hoss, the rock she's from, you don't wanna mess with."

Bobbie gave Alex a flatly measured look.

Alex held his hands up in mock surrender. "Hey, if you want to get in there, my team's gotta know who's watching their backs."

Holden pivoted back and forth between Alex and Bobbie. It hit him with a frown.

"Wait, you're from Mars too?" he asked. Bobbie raised an eyebrow at him, a silent 'yeah, want to make something of it?'

"She's not just from Mars, Chief. Tell me if I'm wrong, but this lady right here is a bonafide Martian marine," Alex drawled.

Chrisjen wasn't the least bit amused when Holden reared back from her with disbelief, "But you're the UN Deputy Undersecretary."

"And you're flying around in a stolen OPA retrofitted MCRN corvette-class frigate that's suppose to hold thirty Martians instead of five contracted ice haulers. What's your point?" Cotyar asked coolly.

Bobbie went a little wide-eyed at Cotyar surgical identification of the ship despite all the subterfuge. Chrisjen suspected Bobbie was impressed despite herself, but it also seemed to have parted the clouds for something that was bothering her.

"Well, he ain't wrong," Amos proclaimed.

"I'm not an ice hauler," Prax pointed out.

Everyone turned to stare at the botanist. Prax blinked at the sudden attention and withered ever so slightly.

The sudden slam of a Martian fist on a solid surface brought everyone up straight. Chrisjen stepped back and shot Cotyar a warning. She did not have a good feeling about this.

"They said the Donnie was picking you up when it was attacked," Bobbie finally spoke, her index finger identifying Holden as the 'you.' Her mouth was curving in a way that was more menace than mirth. "That's the only way you could have gotten a ship like this one. You stole the Tachi and left them with the enemy!"

It happened in less than in a blink of an eye, and yet time seemed to slow as Bobbie leaped over the table on her way to strangle Holden, if Chrisjen read the intent in her eyes correctly.

"Whoa, wait a minute!" Holden staggered back. Having a seething mountain of a Martian marine bearing down on him was perhaps a singularly unnerving experience. His crew immediately circled the wagons around him, in a display of loyalty that was more instinctive than for show.

"You left them to die!" Bobbie howled, as Cotyar, timely as ever, managed to restrain her.

"No!" Holden exclaimed, to the point of being offended, "That's not--Lieutenant Lopez was under orders by Captain Yao to get us off the Donnager before she scuttled it. We were the only witnesses to the stealth ships attacking the Donnager as they did to the Canterbury. We barely made it out as it is!"

Chrisjen was about to speak up to defuse the situation when she noticed how Bobbie was twisting in Cotyar's grip. How odd when it was obvious she had the strength to try to throw him off. When Cotyar emitted a low hiss, Bobbie subsided and that was when it was made clear to her, that Bobbie was wholly pissed off yet somehow being mindful of his recovering wound.

Oh dear, how much did she want to keep Bobbie in her clutches and just never let go.

It was during this intermission that Holden's statement sank in for Bobbie. She frowned and queried, "Lopez?"

Naomi looked around her, seeing the men maintaining a safe distance and a wary silence. She came forward, sympathy gentling her voice, "We couldn't have commandeered this ship in that short of a time. Lieutenant Lopez was the only one left in our escort and he was hurt, so he gave us the ship's controls and that was how we escaped the stealth ships. I'm sorry, but he and his team died completing their captain's orders."

At this, Bobbie unclenched her fists.

"Yeah, the man had dead eyes and a face a mother wouldn't kiss, but he and his team didn't fuck around," Amos added after Naomi.

Alex made a face at Amos, "Hey, have some respect for the dead."

"I just said he and his team didn't--"

Chrisjen slapped her hands on the main console, jolting all of them. "While I'm sure we all have lovely stories of how everything went to shit, we don't have the god damn time! If that asteroid turns into another Eros, who knows who's going to get fucked over next."

"It's supposed to be uninhabited and I haven't gotten any heat spikes from it," Naomi reported softly, covering for the shock of the crew in the aftermath of the UN Deputy Undersecretary's colorful exclamation.

"So it's not going for a run, not yet," Holden muttered as he recovered and started to pace. "I don't like this, we should just nuke the whole thing. One less thing to worry about." He halted and stared at Naomi's profile with a grimace.

"Even if there's nothing in there, maybe the data core can tell us where they went. If we can get Cortazar back, he might help us find Strickland and the kids he took from Ganymede," Naomi said, thinking one step ahead whilst avoiding Holden's gaze.

Chrisjen took note of this exchange. There was something this crew was not telling her, but it would have to wait.

"That's a whole lotta of ifs, Naomi. We barely got rid of whatever the hell that was tearing through her..." Alex ran his fingers over the Roci's bulkhead, until he caught Amos narrowing his eyes at him, "...the ship. I mean. The Rocinante, our ship." Alex slouched a bit and carefully peered up at Bobbie to see if she had any further objections on its ownership. Bobbie pointedly ignored him, which he seemed to take as a good sign. This crew...one must wonder how they survived this long. She suspected the engineer had more hand in that than the captain.

"But the key to finding Mei could be there," Prax insisted. He turned to the newcomers with guilt and distress in his voice, "Please, my daughter, she's only four. We trusted Dr. Strickland and he's a part of this. She must be so afraid." He held on each of their gazes, this time unwilling to back down.

Chrisjen smiled expectantly.

"We're going in there," Bobbie stated, making direct eye contact with everyone in a way that brook no further argument. Chrisjen observed this with calculated delight, and truth be told, a touch of personal pride.

Holden capitulated with an uneasy sigh. "Fine. Airlock in ten."

It was hardly a surprise to Chrisjen when Bobbie, in her power armor with her helmet under her arm, made her way back around in five. Seeing her and Cotyar in the corridor just before the airlock, Bobbie slowed before coming to stand in front of her.

Bobbie took a deep breath, before saying, expressionlessly, "Thank you, ma'am."

"Don't," Chrisjen said. She reached up and gently grasped Bobbie's stony face in her hands, "I may be sending you to your death."

A flummoxed softness flickered in Bobbie's gaze before something bloody and hard returned, "Then I'll go down fighting, just like my team did."

Chrisjen was speechless against this deadly declaration, feeling like her lungs were being squeezed too tight. Bobbie mechanically removed her leadened hands and nodded an acknowledgement at Cotyar before resuming her final destination.

Before Chrisjen could recover, Cotyar stuck out an arm and calmly grabbed Bobbie by the wrist of her armor. In that instant, Chrisjen found her speech and in her most steely voice, declared darkly, "Roberta Draper, if you don't come back to us in one piece, I'll rescind your asylum and ship whatever is left of you back to Mars in perpetual disgrace."

Bobbie stiffened and for a long second Chrisjen wondered if she pushed too far, that is until she saw Bobbie sneaking a glance at Cotyar.

Cotyar responded with a barely perceptible shake of his head. Sidling up next to Bobbie, he muttered, "Watch your six and don't forget to come back for us injured spies..." He trailed off with something that sounded suspiciously like 'old ladies.'

Bobbie gave him a quick and serious nod.

Cotyar squinted at this, as if displeased. Edging closer, he set a hand on Bobbie's shoulder, and spoke right into her ear, so close Bobbie could probably feel the heat of his breath.

"She's got an important assignment coming up that she says only you can accomplish. So, get your ass back here and help us Draper, you're our only hope."

Bobbie snorted, her shoulders shaking with a muffled chuckle. Cotyar didn't give her a chance to lose it, releasing her with a quick squeeze to her shoulder and a push toward the airlock. Chrisjen felt her upper lip twitch. 

Just as Cotyar came to stand beside her, Bobbie looked back at them, tilting her chin back with a faint smile, and left.

The moment after Bobbie was out of their sights, Chrisjen gave Cotyar a sidelong glance and held it a beat longer than what was polite.

"Well, I feel dirty," Cotyar groused, an excuse for the full body squirm that followed.

"Really? Whatever for?" she asked with indulgent benevolence.

His eyes shuttered and a look of nausea overcame him. "Playing the good cop."

He was close enough to elbow so that was what Chrisjen did.

"Ow! Gunshot wound!"

She was instantly contrite, "Shit, I forgot." Her hands fluttered over him before he warded her off with a comically quick sidestep.

Cotyar glared at her. She had a feeling it was for both the continued aggravation to his injury--though this time was inadvertent--and for the cursing. Why he felt the selective need to chide her for it was a puzzle. She supposed he considered it unbecoming her as a highly regarded stateswoman, in which case she'd like him to take a flying leap off a fucking bridge. Or, if she was feeling generous, he just thought it wasn't something a grandmother would do, as Charanpal had once thought.

Chrisjen sighed. She saw beyond the corridor and swallowed dryly before asking, "Did I make a mistake sending her down there after what happened to her on Ganymede?"

"No. And you didn't need me to tell you that," Cotyar answered, annoyingly.

A flying leap was too good for him. Her eyes narrowed, shooting him some blunt daggers. "You are becoming much too cheeky for your own good."

"I'm on vacation, I can be as cheeky as I want," he said, cheekily. "Com'on, let's go see what a Martian marine is made of."

 

Chapter Text

The airlock was empty still.

Bobbie opened an interface to sync the audio and video feeds of her helmet to the Roci's channels. Its chirp of confirmation was nearly instantaneous, far faster than she was used to on the Scirocco or any other ships on her rotations. The Donnager was Jupiter fleet's flagship and it stood to reason that whatever wares it held were some of Mars' best. The wares and the people. Even if her time on the Donnie ended on a sour note, there was never a question that those were the people she wanted to have her back.

Lined up, the stories and everything she'd experienced thus far meant that a bunch of UN and Martian top brass were complicit in Mao's schemes. All the Martian, Earther, and Belter blood spilled on Phoebe, the Canterbury, the Donnager, Eros, and Ganymede were not enough to make them reconsider their unholy alliance. And those with boots on the ground and bodies in the vacuum were just going to keep dying.

No one's going to fucking die today.

Bobbie combed through the weapons lockers and lifted out an assault rifle. She popped the magazine out to check that it was fully loaded, then lifted the barrel up to her eye line. It would have to do, although if this was a MCRN frigate there was a possibility that it was carrying something with more punch. Footsteps sounded behind her, she instinctively swiveled. Amos stared blankly at the weapon aimed at him until Bobbie lowered it. He continued forward blithely, pulling into the airlock a dark gray crate. She had to wonder if he had guns pulled on him all the time.

"Your man Cotyar said to bring these to you if we had them," Amos said, dropping the crate at her feet. Prax came in a little after him with another crate.

Bobbie read the white markings on top. GM munitions. She blinked, the corner of her mouth pulling crookedly upward. The unremarkable containers were each to hold Goliath Mark III rated mini-missile magazines and high explosive rounds. She stopped short of ripping the tops off just to be sure.

The MCRN techs had removed all the ammunition from her armor before turning it over to the UN. She had told herself not to look a gift horse in the mouth when she donned the unarmed armor on the Guanshiyin. It was a fit that didn't sit quite right, a frankensteined suit brought back to life by choices that brought her to this point.

Bobbie managed to open the crates without resorting to anything that could be misconstrued as violence. Inside, the ammo gleamed back at her with a wink of light.

Fucking Coytar. First her armor and now this. He certainly knew the quickest way to a girl's heart. And if this was how he treated a defected Martian marine, it was no wonder why Avasarala kept him around, vanishable bodies be damned, as long as he kept bringing her these things, giving her these feelings.

Sweetly anticipating her need for high caliber firepower. Damn him.

Amos eyed the rifle she'd found, taken, and set down in favor of the new arrivals. "I know they pack a bigger kick, but they didn't load to the stuff we had on hand, so we had to toss them in storage," he offered with a rueful shrug.

They already stole a Martian gunship, was he lamenting the lack of power armors in their loot? Bobbie clamped down the urge to growl and suddenly felt a bizarre sense of camaraderie with Holden. She inhaled a deep calming breath. None of it mattered, all that mattered was that she was getting a second chance, and she was going to be armed to the teeth against the same thing that killed her team. Picking up a clip, she felt the shape and weight of the rounds heavy in her hand. She slotted the it into the empty chamber of her suit, the weight of each armor piercing bullet like another drop of the anchor.

Yet, it was hard not to notice the way Amos was staring, cataloging the procedure in a way that was less curious observation and more mental dissection.

"They're speced for your power armor," Amos confirmed, a pointless statement if not for the apparently non-zero chance he'd cannibalize the gatling gun if she went down.

"They certainly are," she murmured darkly with appreciation, her eyes already on the mini-missiles. If she was going down, she was going to make sure she used everything in her arsenal before it came to that.

"We'll leave you to them then," she heard Prax mumble as he herded Amos away from her immediate vicinity. Good man, didn't think he had that in him.

Naomi was the last to arrive, bearing what appeared to be a rocket launcher. She observed silently as the engineer explained how she managed to rig it to safely catapult a nuclear core to a relatively safe distance--something that was proven to distract the hybrid during their previous encounter. Prax perked up at this non-lethal solution and Amos even cracked a smile--though in his case it was probably his appreciation for Naomi's ingenuity. Dear lord, they were so...scrappy.

Bobbie looked over her team as they finished gearing up and stilled against a visceral ache in her ribs. Amos, Naomi, and Prax were ready to fall behind her, their faces pale behind the vac suits that were rated for ice excavation rather than battle. It wasn't that long ago that Sa'id, Hilly, and Travis were the ones in their place and look what happened to them.

Jesus Christ. They were no marines and their survivability was contingent on her keeping her shit together down there. Yes, she was armed and ready for a fight, but Lieutenant Sutton words of staying on mission, the very same ones that she sneered at, were coming back to haunt her. And besides, it'd have to be beaten out of her, but she did like helping Avasarala unravel all the fucked up protomolecule shit storm. Bobbie remembered Avasarala's hands, soft against her cheeks, her shadowed eyes filled with worry. If Avasarala wanted her back, no, needed her back for the next assignment, maybe she could save the fight for another day.

Bobbie turned to addressed her team and saw in their eyes that she was making the right decision. "All right, our primary objective is assist the survivors and gather intel, or get the data core if all hands were lost. If we encounter a hybrid down there, you are to disengage immediately and haul ass back to the ship." She inhaled a steady breath, "This thing took out six UN marines and three of the best Martian marines I've ever served with. We are not going down that road today."

The deck rumbled beneath their feet and they hear a mechanical hiss beyond the airlock. Holden's voice piped over the comms, "We've got contact. Be careful out there, and keep the comms open in case there's a stealth ship lurking."

"Copy," Bobbie replied, "I'll lead. Noami and Prax, stay on my six. Amos, bring up the rear."

They descend into the darkness of the OPA ship. It was silent, both on the ship and through the comms, but in the absence of sound was a tension held so tight that it was a physical bond, holding them together.

Bobbie was the first to spot the floating bodies that her visor read as cold and gone. The bulkheads were charred with weapons charges. Icy flakes of crimson drifted and spun listlessly as they moved through the corridor.

They came across a figure clad in shimmery silver vac suit stuck to a mangled opening likely made by a breaching charge. Holden broke the silence. "I've seen those suits before, they were the ones that boarded the Donnager from the stealth ships."

"They came looking for Cortazar," Naomi concluded grimly.

They heard a small crash over the ship comms. "Miller was right. We should have killed all of them," Holden snapped.

So the Roci crew were scrappy and apparently more blood thirsty than she realized. Bobbie wasn't sure if that was a particularly good combination.

They came to the threshold of the bridge, the pressure door barring their way. Bobbie sent a small charge to the door's sensors through her armor and read the feedback. "Good seal. Oxygen down to 3%."

She didn't need to spell it out for these people. Three percent was as good as zero.

"Let's hope there's someone in there who got their suit on in time," Alex drawled, "Cause that's a bad way to go."

Bobbie gestured for Naomi and Prax to situate themselves against the hull and called Amos over to cover the other side of the door. With her back to the hull and the gun in her arm raised, she caught his eye and ordered, "On three, you go low, I'll go high."

Amos nodded an acknowledgement. Bobbie punched the release, and counted to three in a silence that was both promising and ominous. They swept in, her armor making her a broad and deliberate target as Amos slinked in.

Bullets didn't fly. Instead, they found a lone figure in a vac suit lying against a console and heard a woman's voice broadcasting wide.

"Fuck me, it's the Mickey patrol."

"Draper, behind her left arm." Cotyar's voice rang out for the first time with a warning.

"I see it," Bobbie bit out, holding up a fist to those behind her. She switched to broadcast, "You got something behind you, lady?"

"Ah, you Inners never like our Belter surprises." The woman pulled out a small brick with protruding wires, her hand deliberately pressed against a glowing red panel. "Surprise..."

"A dead man's switch, that's original," Amos commented on the same wide band, earning a quick swipe at the neck from Bobbie.

"Hey now, that's a dead woman's switch to you," the woman snarked before she coughed wetly with suppressed groan.

Someone swore colorfully on the ship's channel, and surprisingly enough it wasn't Avasarala. Instead, Bobbie could hear her deep rasp, "You said this was Anderson Dawes' ship?"

There was a reply to the affirmative.

"Bobbie, tell her Fred Johnson sent you," Avasarala commanded.

"Shouldn't it be Dawes?" Holden asked hurriedly, fear lacing through his voice.

That occurred to Bobbie as well, but she instinctively did as Avasarala ordered, "You really going to blow us up after Fred Johnson went to all this trouble? I don't think so."

The woman narrowed her increasingly glassy eyes at her, "When did Fred get a Martian on the payroll?"

Amos heaved a sigh and strolled over, down to a crouch next to the woman and her bomb before Bobbie could stop him.

"Lady, you saw us coming." Amos gestured with the barrel of his gun to the working screen above them, where Roci's signature blinked steadily, "We look like a Martian patrol to you? What, Fred Johnson can see the light and join the cause but a Martian can't? That's some prejudiced bullshit and doesn't speak well for the cause."

The woman listed sideways at this, and shot back with a grumble, "I didn't see her at the our last OPA party, 's all, pretty sure I'd remember." She reached down under the console and shoved a black box into Amo's arms before shooing him off. "The fuckers took the drive and whatever was left of Dawes' men. I cloned it before they boarded."

Bobbie kept her right arm trained on the woman as she started lazily tapping out what appeared to be a disable sequence on the bomb. Jaw-clenched with irritation, Bobbie's cheek twitched as the woman multi-tasked, chattering away while death hummed beneath her shaking hands, "Tell bosmang I tried but the ship came out of nowhere, barely got away playing chicken. Cortazar got a message out to them..."

The instant the light turned green, Bobbie came forward to separate irritating woman from deadly bomb, but instead, found herself there just in time for the Belter woman to collapse into her arms. Up close, Bobbie's eyes adjusted to the light of the woman's helmet and recognized the gray hue of the woman's skin. Death wasn't in the cards for her and her team, but it wasn't done yet.

The Belter pulled her down until their helmets touched, and Bobbie could hear her gasping her final words, "Tell Fred to keep my name out of that god damn drawer of his. He don't owe me none, I only die for people who deserve my loyalty."

The woman released her and fell back, her eyes fluttering close, dark lashes resting with finality above a hardworn smile. Her suit chirped a warning as she flat-lined.

"Clear!" Bobbie announced loudly, "Prax, get in here!"

Prax slid in next to her as Naomi re-pressurized the room. They worked on removing the woman's vac suit only to find it already filled with blood that originated from her stomach wound. Prax checked the woman's pulse and eyes as Naomi came over to place her hands over the bleeding. Finding no additional wounds as she flung the vac suit away, Bobbie stared blankly as blood congealed darkly against the metallic sheen of her armor. Prax glanced up and shook his head, "She's gone."

Amos called out from the main navigation console. "She was right, they took the drive. But if she cloned it, we should find out where Cortazar sent his last message."

Bobbie stood, the dead woman laying at her feet, her last words echoing in her head.

"Let's get the fuck out of here."

Chapter Text

Cotyar found Bobbie standing sentinel over the black body bag that held the Belter woman. He rounded to the other side of the table. The solitary silence shed its stiffness, stretching and finding softness in the arc between their two points. Its curvature held and gathered until the silent empty became a quiet full.

He peered into the transparent plastic window of the body bag and saw a lively smile on the dead woman's face. Mourning was for someone who didn't believe she did what she wanted with her life. She died with her cover unbroken and goods delivered. Not an ideal ending, but it was a fine one for a spy who knew the score. He nodded a parting acknowledgement, one colleague to another, for the end that was appreciated if not anticipated.

"All I've ever heard about Fred Johnson was that he was some trigger happy little fish in the UN who decided he'd rather be a big fish in the OPA instead. A lazy and corrupt Earther," Bobbie said, her voice scratchy as if waking from a long slumber. Lines drew over her brow as she looked down at the body. Her next words more like a question than a statement, "Ayumi Khan was loyal to him to the very end.”

"Ah yes, these crazy Belters, so easily duped by someone who obviously didn’t deserve their loyalty,” he muttered caustically as he crossed his arms, the muscles in his neck pulling tight. At times he found the Martian mentality of moral superiority particularly grating, and this was one of them. When his Luna runs were covers for something that went further, he’d come across stranded Belter ships that ran afoul of Martian patrols. What he saw always gave him the excuse he needed to find ways to leave the equivalent of flaming dog shit on the Martian door steps.

Bobbie glanced up, and blinked, looking startled at his obvious annoyance. She seemed to mull over the underlying bite in his response and he wondered if this was going to end in blows. On the one hand, he did feel much more up to it, his wound had completely healed thanks to the efficacy of Mars battlefield medical technology. On the other hand, she’d likely beat him to an evenly distributed pulp if he let his guard down for even a second. To his surprise and non-insignificant amount of admiration, she replied stoically, her collected gaze cool as obsidian, "I've been wrong before."

His left eyebrow lifted and the corner of his mouth pulled crookedly upward despite himself. Cotyar knew he looked much too pleased with himself for her to accept his reaction as what it was: a healthy dose of respect for someone who could admit and learn from their mistakes. In any case, by the looks of how she was shifting her weight to her heels, in all likelihood she was still unused to positive reactions to her that had nothing to do with how many records or bones she could break. And any amount of amusement from an Earther spy probably just made her fists itch on principle.

Cotyar grinned wider.

Bobbie reared back, retreating to hardness. "I'm not an idiot," she snapped indignantly, her chin retreating.

"Good to know," he replied sarcastically, and at her icy glare, he gave back flatly, "I don't run ops with idiots. So unless you're fishing for a compliment--"

Bobbie inhaled audibly and interjected, "Back there, how did she know Khan was a spy for Fred Johnson?"

Cotyar closed his mouth. He answered with a question and a knowing smirk, "Why don't you ask her yourself?"

As if being a Martian marine made her immune to the magnetic draw of Chrisjen Avasarala. He'd seen more powerful men and women fall under Avasarala's thrall, blaming no one but themselves even when she used them like pawns. Hell, they probably deserved it, he mused.

They all did.

Bobbie dodged clumsily, scoffing, "You don't know."

He decided to let her off the hook this time, feeling almost...sympathetic to her feeble resistance. "I don't pretend to know every twist and turn of her mind, but this one I can guess. You want to know? Sure it won't pollute that pure no bullshit mind of yours?"

"I want to know,” Bobbie said, unable to keep the inquisitive tone out of her voice. As if she saw a physical maneuver that she wanted to repeat and enhance.

Cotyar couldn’t remember the last time he was that eager to learn something new. That muscle had been worn out; weary from the passage of time and experience.

"All right then,” he offered, the skin beneath his eyes crinkling, “Khan had a dead man's switch on her, which means she knew the intel was worth life and death. And if she didn't like who was coming to her rescue, she'd just as soon dust everyone, herself included. Agreed?"

Bobbie thought back, and after a brief pause, supplied, "Yes.”

"We're not that far from Dawes' base, Ceres. If it was that important, she could have sent a direct distress call,” he continued.

“It was a general SOS instead,” Bobbie added, picking up on his train of thought, “She wanted to see if she could get someone else’s attention.”

“So, someone on board Dawes’ ship who wasn’t working for Dawes. A spy, but who was she spying for? Johnson, or the two factions from Mars or Earth. If she was working for Errinwright or Korshunov, she could have just gone with Cortazar.”

Bobbie had walked up next to him by now, her eyes bright, “You didn’t send her and she wasn’t happy to see me, a Martian marine. The only one left is…Fred Johnson.”

He nodded appreciatively, "Bingo."

Bobbie glanced down and, more for her own benefit than his, whispered in barely concealed awe, "She just came up with that in a matter of seconds?"

"UN Deputy Undersecretary Madam Chrisjen Avasarala didn't get to where she is now because she looked nice in a sari," he replied dryly.

Bobbie tilted her head sideways, a speculative gleam in her eye. "Oh, so she can look nice then, not just old?"

Cotyar impassively stepped right into Bobbie’s space, breathing her air, before he spelt it out, "She's the smartest, strongest, most stubborn woman I've ever met, and she likes to get shit done without needing to know all the details. So as far as I’m concerned, she’s the most beautiful woman I’ve ever met.”

Blinking, Bobbie breathed, “You love her.”

Cotyar backed off, chortling. "What's not to love? Sure, she infuriates me sometimes, but no one's perfect."

Bobbie frowned, her head turning away with a tiny jerk.

Cotyar observed quietly. She was a damn quick study, but there was still a ways to go.

“Do you know what makes me a good spy, Draper?” He didn’t wait for her to respond, “Once I've gotten all the information I can, I make my move and regardless of the result, I don't keep questioning my own decision. Otherwise I'm just carrying dead weight."

"What's that got to do with anything?" she replied listlessly.

He opened what seemed to be like scars from an old wound, "You knew Lopez on the Donnager."

Bobbie was silent for so long that he thought she wasn't going to answer, but it only confirmed what he’d deduced.

"I did a tour there," she said, finally, her jaw working. "I…knew him." Likely in the biblical sense.

There, he made the surgical cut, "I'm guessing he worked intelligence.”

She hurled back to meet him in the eyes, her demeanor decidedly unfriendly. "What are you trying to say? That I have a type?" she asked with false ease, her gaze sharp and brittle as broken glass.

He ignored the bait. “I’m saying you should practice putting your baggage down if you want to move forward.”

Bobbie snorted, "Like you're the one to talk about baggage. Like you'd be here if it wasn't for your debt.”

It wasn’t getting through. What was he doing anyway? She’d learn soon enough.

"The only baggage I carry is my gun,” he said, all teeth.

"It's not your adorable little gun I'm interested in.” She dropped her gaze suggestively.

"Really?” he rolled his eyes, “You're already on the team, Draper. Stop trying so hard."

She stepped back a little, but instead being pissed off as he had expected, she regarded him with something that looked like pity, "Not everything has to have an ulterior motive. How do you ever get laid?"

He shrugged and answered, "Drunk off my ass."

"What?"

"Only way to turn this off," he added, tapping at his right temple.

She made a face at him, "Are you fucking with me?"

It was hard to figure who was fucking with whom at this point.

"Why would I want to do that?" he asked, all smiles.

She considered his words and smile for a second before she chuckled softly, "You’re telling me you're not interested?"

Clearly there was no lack of confidence in that regard, and that just made it worse, or better, depending on whether he thinking with his head or his dick. For now, his cooler head prevailed.

"I'd have to be dead or playing for other teams to not be interested. I don't have a problem with you,” he came to a halt, mid-sentence, then decided it was pointless to stop there, “It’s how you’re going to handle your baggage that concerns me.”

He didn’t need to get to that point a third time, Bobbie picked it up, and she said, carefully, “You’re trying to tell me something.”

No, he was just, in his unusually circumspect way, trying to make the fall shorter and less painful. As if Martian marine Bobbie Draper couldn’t handle herself. She seemed to have done fine thus far. He was getting soft, that was what it is. He ended it with a terse, “She wants to see you. Now.”

Bobbie snapped to it like the soldier she was, and was at the threshold before noticing his absence, “You’re not coming?”

He scratched a non-existent itch at his side, "You'll see me soon enough.”

Bobbie let the cryptic comment pass, but licked her lips before continuing, “By the way, thanks for the armor. And the ammo. And…I’m glad you made it through, no worse for wear.”

Then she was gone before he could come up with a response.

Cotyar turned back to the body bag, where Khan rested in peace, and allowed himself a soft sigh.

“We’ve got to do what we've got do.”

Chapter Text

“Bobbie. Come in, have a seat,” Avasarala beckoned within. She was already seated and patting the adjacent empty space on the small couch, greeting Bobbie with a smiling countenance despite the crescent of worried lines beneath her eyes.

Bobbie was tall for even a Martian. She trained to carry her body like a honed weapon made of brute strength and razor edges, looming over a battlefield like the namesake of her Goliath power armor. Yet standing there over Avasarala’s softly upturned face, Bobbie felt it inside her ribs, the now familiar ache building to a full bloom. It was no longer an ineffable yearning. She recognized it in its fruition, the seed of it made clear as Avasarala smiled warmly her: the distilled desire to guard and protect superseding that of attacking and seizing, a near antithesis of what she trained for in her entire adult life.

Bobbie saved this woman’s life, this scheming Earther politician whom she once considered her enemy. And despite the roar of quid pro quo from her Martian brain, her all too human heart found itself drumming louder to the rhythm of a primordial grace: to protect what was hers. Whereas she had always resented being on any sort of defensive patrol or protection detail, it took the revelation of saving Chrisjen Avasarala to fully unearth that part of her. And all Avasarala did to set this nascent want to a fiery efflorescence was to simply sit there, gazing up at her with eyes that were somehow both dark and luminous at the same time, like the clearest of night skies.

Bobbie stared at the spot on the couch next to Avasarala and came to the assessment that wasn’t close or far enough. She wanted to be as close to Avasarala as a second skin, made of the strongest armor, to guard against the enemies that Avasarala kept close. She wanted to be as far from Avasarala as an orbiting satellite, armed with searing lasers, to flay the enemies that Avasarala didn’t expect. Bobbie wavered in place, so at odds with herself and her new possessive protectiveness that it was like stepping off a Martian dropship to another Earth, the gravity of Avasarala throwing her off her center.

Avasarala started to look concerned, so Bobbie knew she was probably beginning to turn a little green at the gills. She remembered what that Earther Nico once showed her, feet apart with her shoulders, raising her sightline until her eyes are locked on a bulkhead behind Avasarala.

“I’ll stand if that’s all right with you,” Bobbie managed to say.

“Sit down,” Avasarala demanded tersely, wide-eyed with consternation, likely trying to minimize the possibility of having Bobbie tossing her cookies in these small, minimally circulated quarters.

Bobbie’s gaze flickered back to the older woman, her brows gathering.

“Please?” Avasarala tried again, this time with a cajoling lilt, apparently deciding that Bobbie had taken exception to her tone.

Had it been any other Earther to use that tone with her, Bobbie would have handed them their teeth. Rather, it was just a token resistance to an inconsequential order to demonstrate that she was still her own person, even if she’d just as soon jump out of an airlock without a vac suit than let any harm come to Avasarala. As it was, once Avasarala asked in that low honeyed rasp, Bobbie found herself with her ass on the cushion and Avasarala’s breath nearly on her face.

“Are you all right?” Avasarala inquired gently, her hand coming to a rest over Bobbie’s left temple.

Bobbie swallowed, her muscles clenching as she fought the urge to lean into that hand. She could only nod back at the question. Avasarala’s eyes drop to her lips, as if unaccustomed to a silent answer. There her eyes stayed for a lingering beat. Bobbie parted her lips and inhaled her next breath with thready gasp.

Avasarala looked back up, and with a ghost of a smile, withdrew neatly back to her seat. “You’ll live,” she remarked, before adding smoothly, “Do I have something on my face?”

“What?” Bobbie stammered.

“You were...are staring. Rather intently.”

Bobbie cleared her throat and resisted the urge to pull at the collar of her shirt. Her brain felt like melted butter, so she said the first thing that popped into her mind.

“Cotyar said you didn’t get to your position by looking nice in a sari.”

A corner of Avasarala’s mouth twitched, and Bobbie wanted to veil herself in her own hair.

“It didn’t hurt, but I had been aiming for something better than fucking ‘nice,’” Avasarala finally replied with a mocking glower.

“Beautiful,” Bobbie uttered out loud, before amending post-haste, “He said.”

Avasarala raised an eyebrow. “Well, flattery will certainly get you everywhere,” she intoned, before abruptly regarding Bobbie with the full brunt of her attention, intricate plots weaving behind her eyes. The practiced smile returned.

The cushion pushed back against Bobbie’s shifting weight.

“I never did say ‘Thank you,’ for saving my life. You were rather extraordinary for a Martian marine,” Avasarala said, laying it on pretty thick.

Bobbie made a face. “You’re welcome, and I’m the only Martian marine you’ve ever met.” The mission Cotyar mentioned was starting on an ominous foot. She sighed, “Tell me what you want me to do.”

Avasarala didn’t pretend otherwise and gave Bobbie a hand terminal.

"What is this?" Bobbie asked carefully.

"That depends.” There was no lightness in Avasarala’s voice anymore, “If you wish, it could be a secret communiqué to Private Hillman's parents, Filipp and Emmaly Hillman."

Hilly. Oh god, she'd come back as a banshee screaming her little blond head off and decapitating people with just her forearms if she knew she died for a sales demo.

“Curious how a union president and a CEO managed to come together. The Hillmans really do run the entire terraforming operation, both the man power and the tech,” Avasarala remarked.

“Hilly always said the only thing they ever agreed on was wanting to see an atmosphere over Mars in their life time,” Bobbie remembered, the corner of her eyes crinkling at the memory, before something like ice ran down her spine. With a small hitch of breath, she looked from the terminal back to Avasarala.  “You want me to tell them about Project Caliban? They’ll never believe me. They've got Mars dust down to their marrow."

"You'd be surprised how one's perspective can change when it comes to a dead child,” Avasarala countered evenly, though a brief tightening of her mouth belied her grief.

Bobbie found a sudden interest in the gray pattern of the deck plating.

“Cotyar told you about my son.” It wasn’t a question. Avasarala tisked, “He usually isn’t so loose with his lips.”

Bobbie’s head snapped up, indignant for the ex-soldier for reasons to be explored later, “He wanted me to know that you’re fighting for a bigger cause. That even if I was a Martian, you would be a worthy master.”

“Is that right?” Avasarala supplied vaguely.

Bobbie was in her face now. “He trusted me enough to show me where he can be hurt.”

Avasarala was not one to back down, rather, she pointed out in the most damningly calm voice, “And now you know my greatest sorrow.”

Bobbie started, hunching back. She didn’t regret standing up for Cotyar, but it wasn’t like she sought it out, the high drama between these two. In fact, she wouldn’t have minded being kept in the dark about it.

“Mistakes were made.” Avasarala’s lower lip trembled, but she pulled it back tight as she continued, “We’re only human, after all. We can’t protect all that we love, much as we like to try.”

Bobbie’s hands curled to a hard fist.

After a deliberate pause that involved the avoidance of eye contact on both sides, Avasarala murmured, “Except I’ve ever only seen you making the hard decisions.”  She reached out, gently encasing Bobbie’s fists between her hands.

Bobbie watched with distant fascination as her own pulse raced underneath Avasarala’s warm touch. She could pull back, there was no force behind the contact, only feather light strokes of skin against skin. Her fingers uncurled beneath the spellbinding ministrations, exposing the fleshy peaks of her open palms.

“Will you show me? A soft place underneath the tough exterior?” Avasarala entreated, the pad of her fingers rubbing circles against the deep grooves of Bobbie’s palms, filling in the valleys and blurring the lines.

Bobbie licked her dried lips, her breath surging unsteadily as she managed a sound, “I…” A sting prickled beneath her eyes, but looking into Avasarala’s eyes, they were as hypnotic as her touch, a soporific illusion of a slow rising tide until the waters surrounded to pull her under. Bobbie had always wondered what it was like to drown.

“The ocean,” Bobbie gasped, tasting salt on her lips, “I’ll never see an ocean on Mars.” Her limbs shook uncontrollably as that lump in her throat grew. She was listing sideways when Avasarala caught her in an embrace.

Avasarala held Bobbie, now a veritable vacuum of anguish, and squeezed her tight. Bobbie’s breath broke through in a primal scream, the dam crushed beneath the onslaught of this precipitous release. Caught in the waves, the pain flowed through her unburdened with staggering peaks and troughs, vibrating into each organ and cell until the maelstrom wore itself out. Gradually, it sank back into the depths, leaving Bobbie limp and adrift if not for a pair of anchoring limbs with hands that soothed and stroked.

Panting softly in Avasarala’s arms, Bobbie let her heavy eyelids close and was unable to open them again in the immediate thereafter.

Bobbie slept.

It wasn’t long, when consciousness started to creep back, for her marine training was engrained, and the warm body against her was alluring but unfamiliar. Bobbie stirred, but between the blurred moments of slumber and wakefulness, she burrowed deeper into the faintly enticing scent of jasmine and sandalwood. And as she inhaled, her parting lips brushed against supple, heated skin. Without thinking, she rose up into the spot, placing an opened mouthed kiss. Hints of earthy spices melted on her tongue, her nerve endings crackling at the rustle of body against body with the heady promise of naked skin against skin…

“Ahh…ahem!”

Clarity shot into Bobbie’s brain and she leapt off Avasarala with such speed that it made her head swim. Red-faced against the glitter of Avasarala’s dark gaze, Bobbie stuttered, “Sorry, I fell asleep.”

Avasarala cleared her throat before replying. “You weren’t gone that long,” she said with an octave so low that the long unsatisfied regions of Bobbie’s body quivered with want, like strings tensing, waiting to be plucked.

Avasarala’s cheeks pinked at the unexpected depth of her own voice. And upon seeing that, Bobbie’s lust took a bewildering turn into a helpless adoration.  

“I’ll do it. I’ll tell the Hillmans the truth.”

Avasarala flinched, but this was what she wanted. Wasn’t it?

Avasarala sighed and reminded Bobbie, “There’s a distinct possibility that if the Hillmans believe you and those top shits at MCRN are still determined to see Project Caliban through…”

“That I may have single handedly set terraforming Mars back for another generation,” Bobbie concluded stoically for her. “I understand.”

But Avasarala knew of the storm the churned underneath. She grasped Bobbie’s face in her hands and asserted defiantly, “I have to believe that there are people like us there, that I'm not alone in trying to prevent an all out war. Not like those fucking idiots who would risk our very own humanity just to win.”

Bobbie reached up to cover Avasarala’s trembling hands with her own steady ones.

Avasarala continued, "Besides, whoever setup the scenario on Ganymede was obviously not sound of mind, since they chose your team to do it. You survived and the Hillmans are a force to be reckoned with."

Bobbie offered a stiff smile. "They wanted to test the hybrid against the best. We were the best."

“I don’t doubt it,” Avasarala said, brushing a thumb against the salty remnants above Bobbie’s cheeks.

Their hands still touched, fingers lightly entwined. Bobbie saw herself in Avasarala’s eyes, the pupils a gravity well of shade and shadow, a place to shed her armor and let the tides take her.

The thumb trailed below, until it skimmed the corner of her mouth. Bobbie felt a breath of air from a silent, weary sigh. She straightened and pulled Avasarala’s hands away.

“I should go and make the recording,” Bobbie said, making sure that whatever Avasarala saw in her eyes, none of it was regret.

“All right.” Avasarala stood, the steel back in her spine. “Give the terminal to Cotyar when you’re done. He’ll send it under the radar.”

When the door closed behind her, Bobbie felt like eons had passed, and it took more than a moment to remember the conversation she had with Cotyar. She would see him soon enough.

So that was what he meant.

Chapter Text

Bobbie dropped the hand terminal on his desk with a muted clack.  Cotyar glanced up at her with a steady, assessing gaze. If there was anger or regret in the choice that she made, it was locked down tight. Still, he took his time reaching for that hand terminal, waiting for a sudden course reversal that never came.

He flicked through Bobbie’s recording with a satisfied hum. “You came through quick. There may be hope for you yet.”

Bobbie crossed her arms coolly. “What did you expect? A tantrum?”

“Another punch to even things out?” he said, offering his other cheek.

“You should be so lucky, considering how this could screw over Mars terraforming for god knows how long,” Bobbie growled, waving her right fist. But there was no heat in her words.

“Chasing a dream of simpler times when you’ve already opened your eyes to a complicated world is an exercise in masochism,” Cotyar uttered plainly as he transferred contents of the hand terminal. “Unless you’re into that kind of thing.”

Bobbie had an expression on her face said she was more interested in inflicting pain on him rather than herself.

He raised an eyebrow at other recordings displayed, Bobbie quickly about faced and added, “There are two extra recordings. For the Travis and Sa’id’s families. They’re not as powerful as the Hillmans, but if all of this blows over, I want them to hear it from me. So if something happens to me…”

Cotyar chuckled.

Bobbie, stopped short, snarled, “What?!”

He picked out another hand terminal on his desk and tossed it to her. Upon catching it, Bobbie allowed it to scan her biometrics before opening the security and asset details for one Madam Chrisjen Avasarala.

Bobbie jerked her head up, stopping short of throwing the hand terminal back at him like a hot potato. “I could fuck up a lot of things with this,” she warned quietly.

Cotyar didn’t even bother to look up. “Holden seems to have dumb luck on his side, but keeping her in one piece? That takes a professional. If things go south on me, you’ll have step up and hit the ground running.” His gaze shifted up and he was anticipating her discomposure even as he continued, “Martian or not, you’ve got a good head on your shoulders and you’re a quick study.”

Bobbie grumbled through set teeth, “I’m not a spy. I can’t arrange covert comms—“

He waved at the screen that held her recordings, a convenient distraction from the smirk that he didn’t smother quickly enough. “We all need contingency plans. Not asking you to do everything my job entails, it’s not like there are a lot of other candidates around.”

Bobbie’s lips thinned as she carefully took back the terminal. “Fine, but…” she inhaled audibly before continuing with a startled jerk, like a calf being prodded, “…it’d be better if you didn’t die.”

Cotyar, with a slight nod at Bobbie, murmured quietly, “Likewise.” He turned back to his work with an aside, “Besides, that armor has one name on it and it sure as hell isn’t mine.”

From the corner of his eye, Bobbie rolled her shoulders, preening like he’d just complimented her only child. If only other people were that easy to please.

Bobbie coughed and gestured to the empty chair across the desk. “Mind if I stick around? I may have questions.”

“Be my guest,” he said off-handedly as he continued to process the package they were sending to the Hillmans. Aside from Bobbie’s recording, he’d need to include everything that they’ve gathered so far to backup her testimony. And that was just the content. He still had to line up the transfer points and obfuscate the data packets so that the whole package could reach his Martian asset without detection and make its way to the Hillmans.

“My asylum has been expedited,” Bobbie said as she came to the entry on herself, her voice wavering slightly.

Cotyar stopped what he was doing. He reached for a thermos and poured a generous amount of Martian coffee in a canteen cup before replying, “Yes.”

The rich scent wafted in the air, but not enough to distract her. “It says I’m now a legal resident of Luna,” Bobbie read, her jaw flexing like the words were in an unfamiliar language. But she shot him an inquiring look, “Why Luna and not Earth?”

Avasarala called him in after her meeting with Bobbie.

“It occurs to me that if something should happen to me, Bobbie might be up the shit creek without a paddle,” she said.

He offered a non-committal grunt. Avasarala was running her thoughts through him, not by him. A higher level of articulation was unnecessary.

Avasarala went on as if he said nothing at all, as she wont to do, “I’ve expedited her residency on Luna. If things go to sideways, at least I have people there to see to her particular situation without interference from Earth.” She swiped some details to his hand terminal.

He glanced at it, and muttered deadpanned, “Am I already dead in this scenario?”

“Retreating to Luna is obviously the worst case scenario. If you were still alive and kicking I’d expect more. She did save your life,” Avasarala readily stated without breaking her train of thought.

Cotyar didn’t argue her point. Rather, he made a quick scrolling gesture on the terminal before piping up, “Don’t suppose you planned any contingencies for me?” His fingers keep flicking, though in a slower, leisurely pace.

Avasarala blinked, and then gave him a sharp side glare that was meant to declare him an insufferable human being. He let out a breath he was apparently holding, then let her unwavering focus wash over him, scratching that itch he never had until he met her. Except it was more than an itch now, he wanted to bask in the shimmering heat of her glare and feel the sweet sting of incisors behind those darkly rouged lips. Vaguely, he attributed the increased intensity of these wayward musings to his close brush with death and set it aside for later consideration.

“Don’t be such a little shit,” Avasarala snapped without teeth, “I know you can take care of yourself, I’d only interfere. In fact, I think you’d prefer it if I was permanently out of your life.”

Cotyar clamped his jaw to prevent an instinctual reply that would have only added to Avasarala’s endless supply of self-importance, even if most of it was warranted. But this soon after their kerfuffle onboard the Guanshiyin, some sincerity might be in order.

“Not really. Things were just getting interesting.”

It wasn’t every day that he could help stop bad guys from using an alien life form to wage an interplanetary war. Routine trials and tribulations of the trade this was not. Although the company could stand to be a little less reckless—must he be the only one going prematurely gray? Then again, if he was looking for color, Avasarala was full of it, vibrant and volatile, in all spectrums of jeweled light.

“Can’t say that my Luna runs have all been this exciting,” he concluded with a crooked grin.

Avasarala returned his grin, her eyes a twinkle with shared mischief. A tug of something more than fondness and the like expanded inside him. Perhaps he needed to revisit those later considerations sooner than he thought.

Or maybe, Cotyar narrowed his eyes at the woman in front of him, it was because someone had proposed a less than platonic way to get over their escape from certain death.

“It’s a fair question,” Bobbie said defensively, taking his silence for a reluctance to clarify Avasarala’s decision to make her a resident of Luna.

Cotyar laced his fingers in front of him, tempted as he was to act out his exasperation, his cheek still smarted. “She has people on Luna. Her family is there right now. So if some of us don’t come back, they’ll make sure you get treated right.”

Bobbie’s brow furrowed to a new low and he gave in the urge to flick it flat. She jerked back, rubbing that space above the bridge of her nose. Her eyes rounded with incredulousness at the surprising and yes, juvenile, gesture.

He shrugged, swallowing a laugh at her comical expression. “Don’t worry about it, only the good die young, and she’s no angel.”

“By that measure, you’d both live forever,” Bobbie retorted.

“Perish the thought,” he said sardonically.

Her mouth downturned, Bobbie’s gaze went beyond the bulkhead and, from what he could surmise, over to the single moon that accompanied the Earth on its journey through the galaxy.

"What's he like?" she asked quietly.

Cotyar closed his eyes and drank his coffee, mildly wishing it was something stronger. "Who?"

"Mister Avasarala,” she clarified, though a bit too loudly even by her standards by the pinched look on her face.

He readily provided the dry facts, "He’s a professor of Sufi poetry.”

Bobbie rolled her eyes at that, but didn’t attempt a follow up. Cotyar found another cup under the table and poured her one. She inhaled the rich aroma and gulped it down like a soldier who didn’t know when the next break was coming. And as she set the cup down, he covered that coffee-warmed hand with his. Bobbie started but on the account of him plying her with caffeine, paused to see what he had to say.

“They’re set, but it’s not like she can turn it off. She’ll use whatever advantage she has. So, just hang on and enjoy the view.”

A tell-tale flush graced the Martian’s cheeks along with a flicker of disappointment in her eyes, still, she rebutted, “Is that what you’re doing?”

There was no need for her to go down where he hadn’t already paved a path. Cotyar let his gaze droop in a pantomime of sadness and regret. “You already know what I’m doing here.”

Predictably, Bobbie edged away, in adorably minute motions that were as loud as a full orchestra as far as he was concerned. In the ensuing silence he picked up his work again and set her back on her duties with an ominous promise. “Keep reading. There’ll be a test later.”

Bobbie stared, but he gave no sign of veracity or the lack there of. With a twist of her lips that seemed suspiciously like a pout, she went back to reading.

When Cotyar came back up for air, hours had passed. It was in fact after hours based on the Roci’s internal clock and the subtle tint of red in the cabin lights. He was ready for a bone cracking stretch of his stiffened limbs when he noted the dark tresses spilling across the other half of the table. He bent slightly at the waist to see Bobbie’s relaxed face set against the cool table surface in slumber. Her full lips were slightly open, but each breath was taken in silence, as if even in sleep, she’d learned to do so with cover and stealth. Still, to fall asleep in front an Earther spy?  A corner of his mouth pulled up. He moved to shake her awake, but inches before touching her right shoulder, he halted, his fingers curling inward. A good doze these days were plenty hard to catch already, no point in taking those precious moments of oblivion away.

Cotyar gingerly moved his way to the head, wanting a quick shower to chase the sleep away so he could claim another hour or two of work before heading to bed. No sooner than he stepped under the soft spray of water did a cacophonous racket sounded beyond the bathroom doors. He swiftly wrapped a towel around his waist and flatted himself next to the threshold before releasing the door. From his vantage point, everything was the same except for the overturned chair where Bobbie once sat. He’d taken his gun with him, given that this was still an unfamiliar ship. So, with his gun raised, he cautiously ventured out. There was nothing out of place, until he spied beyond the broken chair, a gasping and shivering shape in the corner.

“Cotyar? What is going on?” Avasarala’s alarmed voice demanded at the door. Given that her room was between his and Bobbie’s, the noise likely woke her up.

With an eye on Bobbie, he set his gun down and opened the door. Avasarala stood before him, different than the one he was familiar with. The dark rouges and coals she favored were replaced with dusky pinks and soft palettes of brown. Her long black hair sat loosely over her right shoulder, leaving the left uncovered. The delicate collarbone traced a smooth line over supple skin before dropping into that bare dip. A shot of heat stirred irritatingly beneath his belly.

Avasarala blinked owlishly at him. It occurred to him then that he was only wearing a towel and there was a woman cowering in the corner of his room. A panicked gasp came from that corner and Avasarala pushed in so swiftly that they would have slammed into each other if not for his quick reflexes to step aside.

Upon seeing Bobbie’s shaking form, Avasarala hurled about to face him, trembling and livid.

“What did you--”

Cotyar waited silently for her to finish, his arms crossed over his bare chest. His skin was tight with a sudden burst of cold.

Avasarala stopped, her eyes growing wide before skipping sideways, chagrined.

“What happened?” she asked lowly with a solicitous mien.  

“Considering the fact that she had a traumatic experience not long ago, additional stressors might have triggered a flashback,” he stated pedantically.  He didn’t bother to say where those stressors could have come from. As a professional lackey, it was his job to take it all, accusations and messes. A flare of temper drew out an additional terse response as he crossed the room back to where Bobbie was still present in body but not in mind. “I’ll take care of it.”

Cotyar was at about an arm’s length when he bent over, squatting and hunched over at Bobbie’s eye level. She was drenched in cold sweat, her hair matted around her face and neck, black tendrils crawling about ashen skin.

“Sergeant Draper,” he called out firmly.

He was rewarded with a single twitch in his direction, but it was enough of a turn that he could see that her eyes were wide as dinner plates and her pupils so large that he could barely make out the irises.

Hunching further and making himself small, Cotyar continued, “You’re having a flashback. It may seem real, but you’re here, on the Rocinante with Holden’s crew and UN Undersecretary Madam Chrisjen Avasarala.”

“He…he’s not wearing a vac suit,” Bobbie whispered urgently, the sounds strangled and hoarse, followed by a trembling gasp, “Can’t breathe, I can’t--“

“Draper! Listen to my voice. Take a breath. In. Out. In. Out.”

She clawed at her throat, pulling at the loose skin, leaving raw marks of inflamed red. The helpless panic in her whined.

Cotyar held back, knuckles white as he clenched his fists. Not yet, not yet.

“Deep breaths, Draper. Look around you. Isn’t this familiar? Haven’t you been on a frigate like this before? You’re not on Ganymede anymore.”

Her blank, far-off gaze shifted. It circled around him like it was chasing the sound of his voice. He spoke again.

“You saved us.”

Their eyes met, the oily film of blood and violence rippling back.

Within the next few progressively longer breaths, Bobbie slumped back against the wall, the coiled-tight tension unraveling and spilling out into her limbs as they went slack. But soon she was shivering again, body cooled as the adrenaline wore off.

Cotyar pivoted sideways and pulled a blanket out from the bunk, tucking it loosely around the neck without touching her. She was staring at him as he moved back, and as he settled back on his heels, her eyes drifted down, all tired and heavy-lidded weariness, except it was making him remember that he was still only wearing a towel.

“My ears are cold,” Bobbie complained gruffly.

A tiny smile lifted his mouth. Cotyar shuffled forward and sets his hands over said ears, kneading the intricate curves and the fleshy lobes beneath the calloused pads of his fingers. Her chin lifted, eyelashes fluttering like a cat’s purr. He was caught as Bobbie swiveled unexpectedly, and all he could do was let himself fall in next to her. By the speediness of how she burrowed into the crook of his neck like a heat seeking missile, this was a premeditated effort.

“I was afraid,” she mumbled into his neck. He felt a wet cheek brush into his hairline. Sweat, surely.

“Just because you were afraid doesn’t mean you weren’t brave,” Cotyar replied, expecting a chuckle or two from the borderline saccharine platitude, but got a weak squeeze on his arm instead. It filled in him familiar unease, this unpredictability. Her head turned, resting against him like she was settling in for a nap, until something caught her eye.

“What...”

Coytar followed Bobbie’s gaze out to the table across the cabin. He was mildly surprised to see Avasarala there, a cheek propped up with one hand, eyes closed in tired sleep. He thought she’d left, leaving the mess to him.

“You made a ruckus,” Cotyar explained half-heartedly.

“She’s nice,” Bobbie murmured fuzzily.

“Nice? You might be first person to think so,” he ground out, but kept his voice low anyhow.

Bobbie took a deep breath and edged closer to him, like she was imparting a secret.

“She smells nice, like…”

“Gin?”

Bobbie muffled a giggle into his shoulder, and he couldn’t help but smile crookedly over her head.

“No, it’s a flower…in a tea,” Bobbie whispered, grasping for the word. She touched her fingers to her lips as it came to her, “Jasmine.”

His gaze followed, dropping to her mouth. When he looked up, her dark eyes were half-mast with a shimmering intent. They didn’t speak, and yet something charged the silence between like a live undercurrent.

Bobbie’s left hand snaked down his right arm, drawing it under the blanket with light touches that left trails of warmth and sweat. Cotyar worked to steady his breaths, hazily aware that actions made after a flashback didn’t exactly come from a crystal clear mind. He just needed a moment to get his head on straight and get up from the floor. But he waited too long.

Bobbie had dragged his hand low, down her taut belly and underneath the waistband of her pants. Breath hitched, Cotyar turned to see if she even realized what she was doing, but she wasn’t even looking at him and that was when the whole thing finally tumbled off the rails.

“Bobbie didn’t have to do the recording for us, but she's doing it and it…isn’t easy for her. So I’d like it if we could do our best to accommodate her requests.”

“Requests,” he repeated, canting his head to one side, checking for another angle of that word.

Avasarala wasn’t known for being vague and yet. There was a new slightly jittery undertone that he couldn’t decipher. He supposed he’ll cross that bridge when he came to it.

“Sure, a lifetime supply of cucumber sandwiches it is.”

In her peaceful slumber, Avasarala’s face was relaxed with an innocence that was incongruent to her persona. Yet it was incandescent, radiant like a halo.

There was an anger bubbling up against that lightness. He was pissed and desperate and hopeless, because he loved her for the cruel angel that she was, because he could never ever be forgiven, because some fucking Martian saw that he was going to hell and decided she was taking the both of them on the scenic route.

Said Martian was panting, rubbing against his lax, unhelpful hand under the covers. With a wry twist of his mouth, Cotyar took a long exhale. Finally, he pressed the corner of his lips against her damp temple.

“You'll have to be quiet.”

Chapter Text

“You’ll have to be quiet.”

If Bobbie had thought that woman asleep before her was an apparition of an oxygen starved mind, it skidded to a heart seizing stop at the orderly male voice that had penetrated the haze of her flashback. She tilted her heavy head to the source. Prickly hairs of an unshaven jaw grazed a rough yet unsatisfying path down her cheek. She caught Cotyar in profile. He looked nearly half asleep, but she knew he was alert and seeing the same Avasarala she was. Or else he wouldn’t have told her to be quiet, because he was first and foremost Avasarala’s spy and head of security, who happened to love the old battle-axe.

Oh.

Avasarala was here and she was real.

Here, she was a soft vision, different from the usual razor edges of light that at times left Bobbie stunned. A slumbering and undone Avasarala cast a delicious glow in the low light of the cabin. This Chrisjen Avasarala felt like a dream, the polar opposite of the nightmare that still clung to her wrists and ankles, dead weights made of monsters, enemies, ranks, and planets. Here and now, Avasarala was untitled and unarmed: lacking the blinding veneer of the UN’s most powerful stateswoman and without the ruthless glint of the Earth’s fiercest guardian. Now, she was just Chrisjen, a beckoning firelight against the frigid memory of a cold and airless atmosphere.

Bobbie leaned toward her, heart aflutter like moth wings. Yet, moving her limbs proved to be a frustrating endeavor. Her over-stressed body seemed to have closed up shop for the day, leaving a few essentials to mind the store. Those remaining alert had determined that the danger had passed. She would live, but what would be the point of living if not for satisfying those primal needs, especially when all the pieces were so tantalizingly within reach.

Trust Chrisjen be the spark to set her aflame, rekindling a ravenous hunger. The heat freed a bone-deep yearning that bubbled into Bobbie’s blood, sending her pulse racing. Gathering in the thick of it was an aching throb between her legs.

The hand that she’d chosen in place of her own had been rather uncooperative. Bobbie was almost numb with want now, panting open mouthed with need, when finally, in a moment of sweet deliverance, the hand moved. With the hard ridge at the heel of its palm, the hand pressed down. It was almost innocent in its lack of specificity, a reciprocating movement set against the brazen undulation of her hips.   And yet her relief was so stark that she moaned from the very back of her throat and had to bite her lower lip to swallow the sound.

Oh.

The order for silence took on a more indecent connotation. A long finger denoted its intent by lightly tracing a path down the entrance of her sex. There it hovered with a maddeningly barely-there touch until she gathered enough wherewithal to claw impatiently at the hand sandwiched between her own and the relief that she sought. In a much obliging instant, the finger pushed into her, her grasping sex snug and slick around the invading member. A dexterous thumb remained outside, circling around a hidden peak. She trembled, drenched with anticipation, her heart hammering in her overheated ears. At last, the callused thumb impressed itself upon that hard-sought discovery, setting off an electrifying shock that charged her spine into a pining arch.

More.

She was senseless with that thought, her throat a vice caught between demand and command.  Her entire body tingled with arousal, pores opening to precious oxygen and yet she couldn’t quite catch her breath. She gasped, writhing and riding against the aggravatingly methodical fingers that kept her on the edge of the precipice. The digits stirred and pumped with the perversity of someone who enjoyed watching a pot boil. She wanted to scream, to let the room fill with the echo of her demand.

More what? Chrisjen would ask, once awake. And when Chrisjen saw them, Chrisjen would leave, because Chrisjen was married and set to fuck only the person Chrisjen married. And when Chrisjen fucked him, he’d be able to lick at those bared collar bones and take Chrisjen’s smooth fingers into his mouth. Chrisjen would not have any calluses anywhere. Avarasala would be soft all over, just like Chrisjen was now, softened by Morpheus’ spell. He’d sink himself into Chrisjen, set his teeth on that thin stretch skin between Chrisjen’s neck and shoulder. And when Chrisjen gasped at the pinch, he’d rolled Chrisjen’s hardened nipples between his fingers until Chrisjen arched those dark tips into his mouth like an offering. He’d lap them alternatively with his tongue, with the same deep pumping strokes below. The space between them would be a hot slick mess. The wet slap of skin against skin would be a lewd note punctuating their shuddering moans and keening whimpers. The sheets would wrinkle and stretch beneath them, the bed, shake and sway as they rode and rolled toward that pinnacle. When Chrisjen climaxed, the room would fill with the spiced musky scent of Chrisjen’s orgasm. And the limp and helpless Chrisjen dying that little death under her would be the last triumphant push she needed to tip over the edge.

Bobbie came, biting down with all her might as she orgasmed, a tidal wave of scalding pleasure crashing through her. Her vision went snow blind white at the edges as she rode out the convulsions.

When the colors returned, she laid weakly against Coytar’s shoulder. Chrisjen was still sitting at the table, eyes closed. Cotyar withdrew his hands, from between her teeth and her legs. One hand was bleeding from her bite, the other wet from getting her off.

Bobbie swallowed, an apology of sorts on her lips.

Cotyar pressed his mouth at her temple before she said the words. Bobbie sucked in a quiet breath, the skin beneath his lips burning. He gently held her chin with those bloody fingers and turned her head so that her gaze rested back on Chrisjen. When he started to speak, she felt his gaze synced hers.

“That’s one way to enjoy the view,” he murmured.

Chapter Text

“You looking for something?”

Cotyar kept rummaging through the cabinets but held out his wounded hand as a concession to acknowledge that the medbay was nominally the botanist’s domain. “Looking for something to fix this.”

“Something wrong with your hand?” Prax asked.

Cotyar sighed minutely, before muttering not so very quietly under his breath, “Something wrong with my head.” Given the life choices he was making lately.

Silence.

Then, Prax offered singularly, “I can help with your hand.” The man stood expectantly with a thin instrument at one of the empty beds. 

Cotyar shrugged without moving his shoulders. He sat on the bed and Prax squinted thoughtfully at him before leaning over his hand. As a healing light scanned over the crescent of teeth marks, Prax’s head bobbed slightly, as if readying himself to broach an uncomfortable subject.

Cotyar’s eyes went half-lidded. A good spy never shows his curiosity without meaning to, or to provoke a reaction.

“Holden’s crew, they try to do good, you know, to help people,” Prax said haltingly, sounding a little uncertain. But his shoulders straightened a tiny bit as he added, “They got those people out of Ganymede.”

Cotyar nodded slowly, though not sure why Prax was telling him this.

“You know, if you’re not being treated well, Holden’s the captain, so he might be able to help…”

Air made a u-turn in his windpipe. Cotyar coughed, “That’s…” He manically scratched his jaw, trying to coax out the words that were eluding him.

Prax looked up from the new pink skin that healed over the broken one. He blinked squarely at Cotyar. “My degree is in botany. It’s best if my medical skills or the lack thereof remain unchallenged.”

Cotyar carefully pulled his hand back. “I’ll keep that in mind.” So the botanist had teeth as well.

As Cotyar retreated, bewilderment flashed Prax’s eyes, as if an internal sequence of events had gone awry by his own hands. His next words came out in a tumble, “But we might not be heading to Io if we hadn’t boarded that ship. Whatever I think of your team, I’m thankful…” Prax glanced surreptitiously at him, a thread of desperation lacing that creaky turnaround.

Cotyar heaved a sigh. “I’m not saying I deserved it,” he said, flexing his hand, “but I could have been less of an asshole.” He added a shrug for effect. Though an actual asshole would have left Prax twisting in the wind instead of besmirching himself to set the man back on his original path of whatever it was.

“Oh,” Prax declared unnecessarily, “That’s a relief.” He made an effort to check their surroundings before imparting, “I’ll only do this once, to thank your team.”

The man came close, his next words a loud whisper in a Cotyar’s ear, “Fred Johnson has a sample of the protomolecule.”

Cotyar jerked, rearing away from Prax with surprise.

Prax jumped away, shaking his head. “Don’t ask me how I know.”

“This just keeps getting better. Excuse me,” Cotyar growled as he leapt off the bed and strolled stridently away. Around the corner, he stopped and sank back into the shadows.

“I’m not sure that was a good idea,” came Prax’s voice.

A woman’s belter drawl answered, “It can’t be mutually assured destruction if no one else knows about it. And Fred Johnson wouldn’t be the first person to abuse a great power, if we have to bring someone into the loop it might as well be someone who can do something about it.” Then after a short silence, Naomi added ruefully, “I’m sorry. I did it for the Belt, but I know the protomolecule—“

There was the loud clack of a drawer closing. Naomi said no more. There was a sigh.  

“I just want Mei back,” Prax sounded resigned.

Cotyar slinked away, having heard enough to determine the veracity of Prax’s statement. The mega shitstorm just grew another cell. Unfortunate, to say the least.

Go be a proper spy again, they said. Help the good guys again, they said. He could have refused to see Avasarala the day she asked him to join her. Would he have come if he’d known it was her? Please, as if he was some amateur who didn’t vet the people he was meeting first. He came because it was Avasarala and if she was cashing in those particular chips, there was more going on than she could handle on her own. He didn’t have it in him to refuse her. Even if he did, she didn’t bring up Charanpal’s funeral just to reminisce. He didn’t begrudge her. Much. It was part of her charm, the knife of ruthlessness hidden under a glittering hilt. Couldn’t really see the blade until it was being pulled out of some gut.

And even as he was shot on the Guanshiyin, he’d have to admire how she stuck a hand in there and got him out. Her entire hand had been covered in his blood. Honestly, he’d always thought it might end that way some day, metaphorically or otherwise, but now that he thought about it, he kind of enjoyed being in the field with her, watching her get her hands dirty, bleeding all over her.

Draper approached Avasarala’s cabin from across the way. The moment she spotted him, her chin lifted, but not so much that he couldn’t spot the rising blush across her cheeks. That seemed harmless enough, amusing even. It was the curled fists that that made him wary.

Oh well.

“No good deed goes unpunished,” he murmured to himself as he stood across from the Martian.

Draper took a breath and started, “Last night…”

“What about it?”

Cotyar wasn’t sure how much she remembered. He had lifted her onto his bed after the incident and taken a lengthy cold shower for all his troubles. In the shower, he had turned the water on max, allowing sound and vapor to escape through the small haphazard gap of the bathroom door. The soap he had dropped in the shower was a loud cacophony against the steady stream of splashing water. When he was done, Avasarala was gone, but Draper had only found a more comfortable position in his bed, her long limbs akimbo.

By then, he was cold, tired, and a touch peeved. So when he woke today, it was in Draper’s bed given that his had been commandeered. Consequently, it was another cold shower to wash off her scent and to subdue the increasing baseline of a frustrated libido. So kindly forgive his tired eyes if they now just happened to fall upon the region of Draper’s softly rising chest.

Draper made a humming sound that was equal parts smug and provocative. He dragged his eyes up to hers. She stepped into his personal space and tugged resolutely at the front of his jacket. He could see the striations of brown in her irises, a freckle on the side of her nose, and the slight pout of her bottom lip, wet as her tongue peeked out with a lick, flushed as her incisors bit into flesh.

“Come to my cabin, after hours,” she said, the invitation clear.

 His gaze flickered to Avasarala’s closed door next to them. A shot of irritation made his reply a flat monotone, “Is that a request?”

The heat in her gaze cooled a few degrees before the grip on his jacket went lax. She narrowed her eyes at him, uncertainty filling the space between them. Inexplicably, his gut hollowed. As someone with a thick ledger of debts and collections, he liked to be clear with the line items. Draper didn’t deserve this, not when it was Avasarala and her holier than thou schemes that set them down this path. And just because he was a spy didn’t mean he kept tabs all the time. Sometimes he just liked being nice, doing a favor here, lending a hand there, orders or not.

“As much as I get out of being Avasarala’s right hand,” he said, graciously biting off the ‘literally’ when Draper’s gaze slid sideways, cheeks hotly flushed, “you don’t owe me anything.”

“Okay, I don’t owe you,” Draper acquiesced with a tug of her right shoulder; her eyes were back on his, steady without prevarication. “Although, I am sorry I bit you…” she continued, nodding down at his hand, the one with the new skin growing over the crescent of bite marks. She smiled darkly, “…there.”

All the blood in his head rushed south. He returned her smile and reached up to trace an index finger against the delicate shell of her ear, the nail scratching against skin like teeth. Draper sucked in a breath as her pupils dilated into liquid pools of obsidian. Quick to cool and quick to heat, and yet when she burned, he wanted to lick the flames.

Cotyar chuckled throatily, “Are you even going to offer me a drink first?”

“That depends. Will you be drinking or will you be getting drunk?” she asked purposefully.

He tilted his head. “The difference being?”

Draper shrugged nonchalantly, but her dark lashes fluttered as she set her intent gaze on him. “Drunks can’t follow directions.”

He surprised himself with a bark of laughter. “I like you, Draper. I do.” He took a moment to appreciate the pleased look on her face before leaning in, letting the stubble brush against her warm cheek before promising with a low whisper, “I’ll make sure we get off at the right stops.”

The door sprang open just as they did.

Avasarala stood there, imperious and impatient. Close but untouchable.

“If you’re both just going to stand there smirking, do it after we’ve stopped the war to end the entire human race for fuck’s sake.”

That may take a while.

He smiled.

Chapter Text

It wasn’t as awkward as Bobbie thought it’d be, meeting the eyes of the people who had a hand in getting her off post freak-out. In her previous sexual encounters, all the participants obtained varying degrees of satisfaction and either planned another interlude or just got on with their lives. Only in this case she was fairly certain she was the only one who got any satisfaction worth mentioning. Hence the expectation of awkwardness. Except these Earthers didn’t care for meeting her expectations. Cotyar seemed to meet most situations with enough weary optimism that immediate satisfaction wasn’t necessary. And Chrisjen Avasarala was just too busy saving humanity to care whether some upstart Martian wanted to jump her bones.

Those bones sashayed back into the cabin, expecting Bobbie and Cotyar to follow like dutifully minions. But it wasn’t anger or irritation that made Bobbie curl her fingers into fists. It was all she could do instead of reaching out and wrap her hands around those flared swaggering hips. She wouldn’t be pulling Avasarala in and tucking her into her larger body until her fevered heat burned through their layers of compression fabric. No, she wouldn’t, no matter how much those hips beckoned her to reach out and dig in.

Cotyar pointedly cleared his throat. His knowing smirk grew into a mocking leer as he gestured for her to proceed ahead. His head readily canted for what would be unquestionably an excellent view of her ass.

Shrugging, Bobbie casually left a middle finger distended behind her back as she strolled in. The low laughter behind her was close enough that her spine instinctively went rigid, but the murmured word that followed was oxygen to flames, setting her insides to a melt.

“Later.”

There were definitely worse ways to spend an evening. Or a day, Bobbie mused as Avasarala made a face at what one would assume to be substandard tea in her bulb. Avasarala sipped carefully and swallowed with a horrified grimace.

Cotyar turned away with an eye roll, but the lines of muscles on his neck were strained as his lips thinned with the effort of containing a grin. The beginnings of envy squeezed in Bobbie’s chest. This wasn’t just a debt being paid.

“I fucking hate space,” Avasarala declared, before setting her flashing eyes on Cotyar, snarling, “Tell me we have Souther.”

“Our asset on the Okimbo got an encrypted line through,” Cotyar replied, pulling out a hand terminal. Avasarala was halfway out of her seat before Cotyar dropped his hand, moving the terminal out of her reach. “You do remember that Souther said you had, and I quote, 'dead eyes and a poison tongue'? Oh, and one of the worst person he's ever met."

Bobbie's eyes grew incredulous. "We’re asking this person for help?"

Avasarala batted her hand in the air. “Once he realizes what Errinwright has been doing, he’ll come around.”

"And he just happened to be in command of the UN Jupiter Fleet?” Cotyar asked. His huff thereafter told Bobbie that the question was rhetorical.

Avasarala’s answering smile was razor sharp.

“Did you…plan this?" Bobbie wasn’t sure if she was afraid or turned on. Or both.

"It's never good to have all your eggs in one basket. And if we’re going to war with that motherfucker Errinwright, Souther is as good it gets. He was formerly the head of the UN Fleet Command. We don't just give that position to some random person on the street."

"No,” Cotyar added dryly, scratching his stubbled chin, “You just give it to the people who are willing to disagree loudly with your suggestions and insult you to your face.”

Bobbie opened her mouth, but all the possible things she could say tumbled against the back of her throat. She felt ridiculous, to be rendered suddenly mute when there were so many thing she could say that would get her a chance at being the head of UN Fleet Command.

Avasarala scrolled through Cotyar’s surrendered hand terminal. Without missing a beat, Avasarala asked smoothly, her eyes still on the screen, “Did you have something to say, Bobbie?”

Bobbie froze. “No,” she relented, before shooting a dour look at Cotyar.

‘So close,’ he mouthed, shaking his head at her.

She flashed him her left canine and snapped back, ‘Bite me.’

Cotyar gave her a thorough once over that ended with a toothy grin. Bobbie glanced away, her cheeks warm. Cotyar turned back to Avasarala.

“Our asset also sent over some strange power readings from Io captured during a sensor array rotation. Could give us a hint of what we’re heading into if we can get a comparison to Ganymede. I could enlist Nagata’s help, given they’ve actually seen the Caliban facility on Ganymede.”

Avasarala narrowed her eyes. “But…”

“Nagata gave Fred Johnson a sample of the protomolecule.”

If Avasarala was surprised, she didn’t show it.

“So she’s OPA? One of their factions tried to kill you,” Bobbie stated solemnly. Her stance subtly shifted into battle mode, muscles and tendons tensing, until the menace of her lethal capabilities stood out like claws on full display. The beast behind her brain opened its red eyes with a yawn.

Avasarala blinked at this transformation, yet Bobbie knew it wasn’t fear that gleamed in her eyes. Blood pounded in her ears. The older woman raised an eyebrow at Cotyar.

He replied with a shrug, adding, “She’s being read in. None of our secrets are safe now.” His expression was sly as he offered Bobbie his bare throat, “We’re completely at your mercy.”

Bobbie growled.

“Bobbie,” Avasarala said, her placating words laced with amusement, “if I treated everyone who has ever wanted me dead as an enemy—“

“She’d have no friends,” Cotyar finished, placing a light hand on Bobbie’s tensed shoulders.

Friends. The beast rolled on to its back, its belly bared. Avasarala’s gaze was soft and fond and the beast was now panting, eager to lick her face. The beast’s memory was ephemeral. It didn’t remember the before, when all it wanted was to snap the Earthers in half and roar with the call of Martian victory. Avasarala’s guard dog looked on warily, its weary eyes never the less alert.

Bobbie glanced over at Cotyar with a furrow between her brows. “Your job sucks.”

Cotyar’s mouth fell open. Before Bobbie realized what was happening, his arms were wrapped around her.

“Finally, someone who understands,” Cotyar sighed.

She stood dumbly as Cotyar’s arms tightened around her with a series of hearty pats.

“Do you need me to step outside?” Avasarala asked drolly.

Bobbie stared at her. She turned her head minutely until her cheek was flushed against Cotyar. Cotyar’s hands stopped between her shoulder blades, his fingers biting into her back. Bobbie held Avasarala’s eyes as she rubbed up against him, cheek to jaw, her lips open with an inaudible sigh.

“No.”

Avasarala’s face flushed.

 

 

Chapter Text

Chrisjen fucking hated space. She knew the air, the temperature, and the artificial gravity of the Rocinante—renamed as such by James Overly Earnest Shit Magnet Holden, why was she not surprised--was regulated down to a ridiculous number of decimal points. If only so the Martians could be assholes about how advanced their ships were. It wasn’t Earth, but it wasn’t some rust bucket, and technically she was supposed to feel lighter. But all she ever felt from being in space was the merciless cold vacuum shrouding her like a veil, and she a bride waiting for Death. Melodramatic, yes, but being in space, it hurt.

Charanpal died in space. On a regular day on Earth, she’d think of her son the moment she woke because she was alive and he wasn’t and how was that possible, and the moment she went to sleep because oblivion was welcomed when the world still rotated but the one person that mattered so much was no longer there. In space, the wound ached persistently like a phantom limb. Her baby, dying in a place where even the mercy of a last breath was robbed from him.

More children will be dying if she couldn’t stop Errinwright and Mao.

So Chrisjen just had to keep her shit together, and try not to think about how her plan of a slow and steady political seduction became road-kill to a Martian marine hell bent on breaking all the rules. She’d also feel less annoyed if her hired gun/spy didn’t seem so terribly amused by it all. He had recently acquired an omnipresent curl at the corner of his smart ass mouth. Granted, it was actually not a bad look since he had the wherewithal to dare such insolence. On a simpleton it would be ridiculous. On someone who knew how to wield his skill set just so, well, had she been younger…

…had she been younger she would have done something about the invitation in Bobbie’s eyes. She was not immune to the ample charms of the statuesque Martian woman, especially when Bobbie held her gaze with such a hungry precision that she felt the answering tug of a hollow ache beneath her. And with Cotyar standing between them, the offer was both tempting and efficacious. Certainly enough for an old woman to blush like a school girl.

But she was so exhausted, knowing that they stood on the razor edge of war, that she must use every tool she had to keep the Sol system from collapsing into a point of no return. All while dealing with space and feeling like her heart had floated up to her throat and made itself home there. Yet apparently as she kept her eyes on the fucking prize, her Martian protection detail kept her eyes on fucking her.

Chrisjen’s lips pursed against a burst of the hysterically tired giggles.

She had wanted Bobbie on her side, not in her pants. Necessarily.

It was how spent she was, that it was almost a second after the giggles when it occurred to Chrisjen that people usually don’t take kindly to laughter when offering themselves. But despite being people shaped, Bobbie didn’t fit into people expectations. There had been clues along the way. The big one being the diplomatic incident Bobbie caused by punching out her Martian superior and asking for asylum from her most hated enemy. Chrisjen should have seen it coming. Instead it knocked both the mirth and wind out of her when Bobbie’s hot gaze turned adoringly concerned, as if she could see the great weight on her shoulders and the little cracks that were starting to appear.

Chrisjen tightened her grip on the hand terminal.

For all that Bobbie was a volatile factor, her steady presence and unapologetic infatuation was a balm to Chrisjen’s chaotic circumstances. It took more effort than Chrisjen liked to center back into herself. The weariest and barest parts of her wanted to lean into the embrace that Bobbie was offering.

Shit.

“Cotyar, how the fuck does this work?” Chrisjen hazarded an old person’s complaint, poking at the hand terminal he’d given her like a troglodyte.  

Cotyar backed away from Bobbie, his gaze unusually low as he approached her. He leaned in close, head bowed, with a hip raised to bring him half seated on her desk. Chrisjen narrowed her eyes, a hiss rattling behind her throat. Finally, Cotyar, with uncharacteristic demureness, looked up at her, at last exposing the silent laughter crinkling the skin beneath his eyes. Heat rose to her cheeks. She forced her chin to remain dignifiedly upright, but her gaze fell elsewhere if only to plot his eventual disappearance. But Cotyar was close enough that she could still feel his amusement through his body heat. His thigh was sitting next to her arm.

Chrisjen suddenly imagined her hand there, kneading upward. His skin growing hot beneath the sure pressure of her fingers until he was a squirming mess, his cavalier smile contorted into a frustrated grimace. She smirked unrepentantly at the thrumming of power flowing back into her veins. If she wanted to, she could bring them all to heel, one way or another. She excelled at giving people what they wanted in the worst possible way. Chrisjen shot a sharp glance at Cotyar, ignoring the way that his eyes gleamed, as if he liked it when she was being an unholy pain in the ass.

“Does she not know that I’m spoken for?” she asked lowly, yet somehow spitting out the last overly florid words like a curse.

“Oh, she knows. You couldn’t help yourself and now she can’t either,” Cotyar answered with a grin and an exasperated roll of his eyes.

Chrisjen huffily glared daggers at him.

Cotyar returned her daggers with a chiding expression of woe-is-you. “You break it, you buy it.”

She didn’t break anyone, much less a Martian marine. Sure, she might have turned Bobbie’s world upside down and gotten a new protection detail out of it instead of a Martian bullet to the head, but it had been for fate of humanity. Besides, Bobbie was young, strong, and malleable. She was old, tired, and keeping her shit together through sheer force of will.

Out of the corner of her eye, Bobbie glanced surreptitiously at them like the last awkward person left out of the picking of teams. Chrisjen’s chest grew tight again, the heart in her throat lodged stubbornly in her airway.

No. She didn’t need this. She didn’t. Arjun was back on Luna, his head full of words and his heart full of poetry. The loveliest ones he reserved only for her.

Chrisjen dropped the hand terminal with a clack. Her pulse raced as if catching up to some invisible point, to stop the inevitable from happening. She ignored it with practiced ease and asked succinctly, “If I have to do everything myself, what do I need you for?”

Cotyar’s lopsided grin faded with a blink. He silently took the hand terminal that would enable her to send a message out to Souther and pressed on a particular spot to open the encrypted recording function. An all too familiar interface hovered above the handheld, blinking its readiness to start. He handed it back to her.

“You’re welcome,” he said, softly.

Cotyar slid off her desk and strode over to pick Bobbie up at her elbow. Bobbie bristled at the strident gesture, but something in his expression made her eyes go wide and her mouth clamp shut. Chrisjen watched as they exited her cabin without another word.

Fuck.

 

Chapter Text

Cotyar was a fairly good spy. First-rate, Avasarala had flattered once. So, at least skilled enough that she had deemed it necessary to wheedle into his good graces with a straight face. The motions that came naturally with those skills, he found it easier to just let ride even if others found them unnerving. Thus, on a ship that was not his own, friendly or not, his gait was one that made little sound.

“So a Martian marine, an Earther bodyguard, and an UN politician walk into a bar…” began a male Martian drawl.

Cotyar stopped beyond the line of sight to the galley. It wasn’t that he wanted to listen in on their hosts, impolite as it was, but since it opportunity so neatly presented itself, who was he to disregard it?

“Where’s the punch line?” the big lug named Amos asked, with a loud yawn at the question mark.

“I just can’t get my head around it,” Alex continued without following through on the joke, letting incredulity take over instead, “I mean, the bodyguard and the politician is easy. But the marine, the Martian marine? That one is a killing machine who uses the UN symbol for target practice. It’s a bit of a head trip.”

“They seem to like each other well enough,” Captain Holden relayed with a melancholy undertone.

“You mean, like like?” Alex’s scandalized murmur was more performance than the minimization of sound. Cotyar still heard him, clear as a bell. The pilot added for gratuitous clarity, “Like a beast with two backs?”

“Isn’t it three backs?” Amos counted, his voice was now more alert for reasons Cotyar would rather not dwell on.

“Yeah, you’re right…wait, what?” Correct on a technicality, but Amos was going in a direction that Alex clearly found discombobulating.

“Madam Chrissie could be doing them both,” Amos speculated. Then he continued, without an outward trace of enmity, reminding Cotyar of a saying about how barking dogs don’t bite, “It’s what bosses do. Screw the people under them.”

Someone who sounded a lot like Holden cleared his throat.

“Um, she’s kind of an old lady,” Alex countered quickly, sounding eager to steer away from that particular topic. “I mean, don’t get me wrong, she convinced a Martian marine to work for her so she can probably get me killed without lifting a finger, or bomb the shit out of a moon with her morning tea, but--”

“You don’t get to her age looking like that and not learn a few tricks.”

Alex choked at Amos’s rejoinder, coughing uncontrollably. And just as he managed a few calming breaths, Amos appended, “I’d do her if she let me.”

The cough resumed, but Alex managed to get out, “You’d do anyone if they let you.”

The galley quieted unnaturally, and Cotyar knew of all the people in the galley, it was more than likely that Amos was the one engendering the hush. He had no doubt the burly mechanic could have that effect on people, should he choose to employ it.

“Not anyone,” Amos concluded, after the surveying silence.

Cotyar could barely make out the exaggerated gasps of offense that followed. He snorted inaudibly. Despite the characters on the ship, they were a tight-knit group who knew where to punch and where to tickle.

There was a dull clap, like a hand against something too solid to move. “I don’t think she can handle you, buddy,” Alex ingratiated. “Not if she’s already got those two on the side.”

Holden spoke up, pedantic but wry with experience, “Well, if they are a threesome and someone needs to bow out for a bit, the other two people can keep going.”

A new voice calmly informed, “Many plants can also reproduce asexually.”

Prax’s ability to kill a conversation dead in its tracks rivaled that of Amos.

“Man, why you gotta bring reproduction into this?” Alex grumbled at last.

A shadow stretched onto the deck. Cotyar didn’t bother to straighten from his position.

“What are you doing?” Bobbie asked, loud enough to be overheard by the people he had been listening to.

“Eavesdropping,” Cotyar answered, in more or less the same decibel.

Her nose instinctively bunched with distaste, but upon what seemed like reflection behind a few quick blinks, Bobbie settled for look of bewilderment. “It’s an open galley. What could they possibly be saying to make that worthwhile?”

Cotyar shrugged, and strolled into the galley. He hid a double take behind a scratch of his jaw at the presence of Naomi, sitting next to Prax. She had been there the whole time. He reconsidered the conversation, then the crew. So, tight-knit, but fraying at the edges. Or the belter woman was just smarter about talking in confined spaces. With strangers on board the ship, conversations should always be more discreet. Although, she didn’t exactly stop the men from expounding on the sexual inclinations of the ship’s new passengers. Both, then. He thought back to the last time he heard her voice, and smiled humorlessly. He would have to agree with Avasarala's impression that the engineer probably had more to do with this crew's survival than its captain.

Bobbie was frowning. None of the men would meet her eyes, aside from Amos, but that was to be expected. If she wanted to intimidate him, it was going to take more than a frown. Bobbie apparently felt the same, because she went back glaring at the head tops of the other men.

Cotyar leaned against the wall, absentmindedly rotating his coffee bulb on the countertop while waiting for his meal tray to warm. Watching with mildly detached amusement.

Holden finally stood up, taking his empty tray and bulb, pretending there wasn’t a Martian marine burning inquisitive holes into his back. At the coffee machine, Holden glanced sideways into the bulb Cotyar had stopped rotating.

“Top up?” Holden offered with a stiff smile.

Cotyar waited until the smile began to falter. He pushed the cup at the captain. “Thanks.”

“Don’t mention it,” Holden replied easily. But the words settled and Holden’s eyes grew painfully plaintive.

In another time and place, Cotyar might have liked James Holden. He reached over for the filled cup and sipped the hot liquid.

“It’s good,” he mused.

As if taking that as a sign, the Roci crew began clearing out en mass, emptying the room. Bobbie took in all of this with obvious displeasure, but didn’t say anything until the last one of the crew, who happened to be Alex, almost cleared the galley threshold.

“You’re not going to tell me?”

The pilot stumbled. Bobbie snickered.

Cotyar shot her an exasperated sidelong glance and tossed her previous sentiments back at her, “You were right. It wasn’t worthwhile.”

Alex righted himself and gave Cotyar a small salute before continuing on his way. Bobbie narrowed her eyes at the retreat of her fellow Martian and turned back to Cotyar, snidely miming his words. He ignored her, but kept smirking into his food. Finally, she doubly flipped him off and left it at that. They made quick work of lunch without speaking further, the lesson of the Roci crew still clear in their heads.

“Wait,” Cotyar called out flatly as Bobbie made the motions to depart.

Bobbie stopped, a brow raised, her eyes glittering. As much as he hated to disappoint, he merely shoved another warmed tray at her. She stared with confusion at the full meal in her hand, until he wrapped her other hand around a tea bulb. The importance of her mission to feed Avasarala made her snap up straight. But she didn’t go. Not right away.

“You still mad at her?”

He clenched his jaw. “One has to keep up appearances.”

“Why?” she asked baldly.

“Because if you give her an inch, she’ll take a mile and figure out how to screw you with it.”

The corner of her mouth twitched. “Seems like you’ve been giving her more than an inch then.”

He smiled nastily. “Jealous?”

Bobbie’s cheeks stained adorably pink. He shoved her none too lightly.

“Go!”

With any luck, Avasarala would get to see what he just saw.

And squirm.

Chapter Text

Bobbie entered the cabin and didn’t miss the way that Avasarala casually looked behind her. The glance whipped away when the door closed unceremoniously. Bobbie felt wise not to mention it as she sat the food and tea down on the desk. Avasarala tilted her head, obliquely peering up at her. The slope of her neck was a long stretch of bare skin, of which Bobbie’s lips had made a sadly very brief acquaintance. Bobbie swallowed dryly.

“Did you run here?” Avasarala asked, her tone gentle and innocuous.

Bobbie blinked away the flicker of recollection. Some innate spider sense tingled. She couldn’t help answering with caution.

“No?”

Avasarala turned away, uncrossing and crossing her legs beneath the desk in one fluid motion. She said to the holo in front of her, “You look a bit flushed. Take a seat for a bit.”

Bobbie followed the command first, but once she sat, Avasarala’s other words penetrated. The cause of said flush came flooding back in a rush. For a second her cheeks burned so hot that she ducked her head. Her jaw set so rigidly she heard her own teeth in her ears. The situation was getting out of control, and if there was one thing a marine valued, it was control. This wasn’t her first crush, but coming down from actual life/death battles and all the protoshit fuckedupness made the craving spiral into an almost unrecognizable intensity. And the two people she was hanging around didn’t so much help as to add reaction mass into the drive that was already running dirty and hot. Bobbie pressed her thighs together, pressure to relieve the thick ache between her legs. The edges of her vision swam with waves of heat. She really, really, wanted to get laid. But first, she had to make sure to complete the mission Cotyar gave her.

Bobbie glared at the untouched food next to Avasarala. “You need a poison taster or something?” she cracked.

Avarasala glanced sideways at her with a look that vacillated between a reproof and a warning.

Right, she wasn’t exactly adroit at playing peacemaker, and this could backfire, but Bobbie felt compelled to try. Her fingers twitched, drumming against her thigh. “I could get him in here.”

In fact, the room already felt too small and warm, what was one more person? Maybe they might even trip over each other and accidentally fuck. She shifted in her seat.

Avasarala turned up her nose. “He’s still got that bug up his ass.”

“You’re the one that put it there!” Bobbie shot up, the volume of her voice increasing, “I don’t even know why you guys are fighting.”

Avasarala scowled at an indiscriminate spot in front of her. “His temper tantrum isn’t my number one priority at the moment.”

Bobbie stared at Avasarala, her jaw agape. If Cotyar was pissed, she was 99% sure Avasarala was at fault. She adored the woman but she wasn’t blind to the fact that Avasarala could be a huge manipulative pain in the ass—whatever gets the shit done. And the fact that Cotyar’s number one job was keeping Avasarala breathing, well, it was impossible not to side with him even if she wasn’t quite sure what was going on.

“He saved your life,” Bobbie reminded Avasarala. Surely that should count towards a reconciliation of sorts.

Avasarala looked up with a faint but fond smile. The outline of her upturned face was a match for the hands that could be there, holding her at that perfect angle for a descending kiss.

“You saved my life,” Avasarala corrected, crooning in that graveled baritone.

All of Bobbie’s harried senses overloaded. Bobbie gasped under her breath as her under-armor automatically flexed, applying smart compression to the points on her body where blood suddenly rushed and skin abruptly puckered. As a standard feature, it wouldn’t normally even register. But when has anything been normal since meeting Avasarala?  Of course the sound of Avasarala’s voice appealing to her ego made Bobbie the horniest she’d ever been in her life. But goddamn it, she had to stay on track. Bobbie’s lizard brain trembled and howled, but she took a deep shuddering breath and a measured step back before meeting Avasarala’s eyes again. Avasalara was all wide-eyed innocence, but within the tiny pout of her full bottom lip was a silken trap. No, Bobbie wasn’t falling for it, even if the stinging pleasure radiating from her chest and hollowing throb pulsing between her thighs strongly suggested that it was a very close thing.

“Did you think to bring my armor on Mao’s ship?” Bobbie mentally high-fived herself for managing to sound coherent and logical. Avasarala was a politician, it was highly unlikely that she gave a second thought to the Goliath III armor left in UN possession when her head was filled with ways to bend people to her will with the right words.

Avasarala’s nose wrinkled. “No,” she answered truthfully.

“Then he saved all our lives. I couldn’t have done half of what I did without my armor.”

It shouldn’t be possible, but Avasarala managed an elegant snort. “You wear it, it doesn’t wear you. I’m sure you would have thought of something else.”

Bobbie flushed, caught between wanting to screw or strangle this woman. The trust and confidence that came out of nowhere and the pure reckless and blatant disregard for her own safety was driving Bobbie nuts. She could see in her mind’s eye Cotyar shaking his head with pity. Her shoulders stiffed with offense at the imaginary slight, and her brain was just too fried to stop the words from tumbling out of her mouth.

“He loves you, you know.”

Avasarala blinked at her. For a second something in Avasarala’s face changed. If there had been an ethereal glow about her when she was asleep, this was the wondrous dawn. But as quickly as the mask slipped, it was back on again.

“I’m a difficult person to love,” Avasarala unanswered, smiling slyly, smooth and practiced.

Bobbie held her gaze, but Avasarala’s smile never faltered. Bobbie suspect it wouldn’t, but she still couldn’t help the raw pang of disappointment. Having seen a glimpse of what was behind the mask, Avasarala’s manipulations tasted like dry Martian dust in her mouth. Avasarala was Mars and Avasarala was the stubborn sands that refused to give up its ability to get into everything and be terraformed back into the rich life-giving soil it once was. It was almost pathetic, how much Bobbie loved Mars.

“No, you're not,” Bobbie countered with an empty laugh, the marrow in her bones aching with hurt, “You make it too easy. And then we’re all scared to death of disappointing you. Some people can’t deal with that. Maybe that’s how your friends become your enemies.”

Avasarala’s eyes flashed, her mouth going stiff.

How was it possible to feel keyed up and exhausted at the same time?  Chrisjen fucking Avasarala, that was how.

“You should eat.” Bobbie pointed her chin at the tray.

Avasarala narrowed her eyes at her. Bobbie narrowed back and crossed her arms. On this, Bobbie was not backing down.

Finally, Avasarala closed the holo screens and set aside the handheld. She made the effort to center the tray and the utensils, and set the bulb of tea in the upper corner within arm’s reach. The items were set as if she wasn’t on a Martian frigate, but at a fine dining establishment. She ate the food with such a deliberate composure that it was like she was showing Bobbie via dining manners who was the bigger, more civilized person in the room.

Bobbie waited stoically for Avasarala to finish, hands clasped behind her back, staring straight ahead until she confirmed Avasarala was done from the corner of her eye. When she reached to dispose of the tray, Avasarala quickly placed a hand on top of hers. Had she looked up, Bobbie would have seen the determined calculation in Avasarala’s dark eyes. As it was, Bobbie just stared at contrast of thin, fragile fingers on top of her own broad, strong ones. She offered zero resistance as Avasarala proceeded to pull, taking in her hand with both of hers. Bobbie knew that her strings were literally being pulled, but seeing herself in Avasarala’s intent, glittering gaze, she just didn’t fucking care. Blood hammered in Bobbie’s ears. Her skin prickled, thirsty for contact, yearning for touch.

“Bobbie,” Avasarala stated, gazing at her the same way she had once looked up at a ‘blue moon’ back on Earth, “You won’t ever disappoint me.” Without breaking their eye contact, Avasarala lifted Bobbie’s hand and placed a soft kiss on top of it.

Bobbie opened her mouth, but no sounds were coming out. She shifted unthinkingly to close the physical space between them, only to be stopped by Avasarala’s right hand. The hand was gentle but firm on her cheek, the mere inches between them now a chasm.

“Thank you,” Avasarala said, warm but distant, her eyes a shade contrite.

Bobbie left Avasarala’s in a frazzled daze. She mechanically dumped the tray in the nearest recycler and stared back in the direction of Avasarala’s cabin.

“Fuck,” she muttered under her breath.

Bobbie’s eyes slid to the door next to Avasarala’s. She fled back into her cabin. Grabbing a tall bottle from a locker, she set herself in front of Cotyar’s door, barging in just as soon as she was allowed.

Cotyar squinted at her as she seated herself and slammed the bottle on the table.

Bobbie flexed her fingers, clenching and unclenching them before the tic registered in her brain and she laid them flat instead.

“You busy?” she asked with false obliviousness, ignoring the multiple holos hovering above his handheld.

Cotyar grunted noncommittally. It was the encouragement Bobbie needed.

“You look like you need a drink,” she commented, and unscrewed the bottle she brought. She grabbed his cup and sniffed at the dense aroma of the cold black coffee that was left. Shrugging, she poured the clear contents of the bottle into the coffee and presented it to him.

Cotyar took it carefully, his eyes tracking her like she was a combustible danger. Bobbie impatiently gestured with her hand, miming a drinking motion. The corner of his mouth lifted before he brought the drink to his lips. He managed to swallow a good sip before coughing, the foul liquid searing a path on its way down.

“I see you found the still,” Cotyar managed to croak out.

“These people used to be ice haulers. I asked Amos where the still was and he asked which one.” Bobbie flicked at the tall bottle. “This one’s the vintage.”

“Thanks,” he replied dubiously, but upon a narrow-eyed consideration at the remaining drink, tossed it back anyway. Bobbie wondered if he figured it out, and tried not to read too much into the gesture.

Cotyar leaned back in his seat, his head slightly askew as he observed her from half-lidded eyes. He turned halfway aside to scratch at a spot on his jaw, but otherwise didn’t hide the knowing smirk.

Bobbie’s left cheek twitched. “Is she always--”

“Yes,” Cotyar answered shortly without letting her finish.

Bobbie fingers curled into fists. There were still a few reflective brain cells working. “How do you protect her if her enemies are her friends and her friends are her enemies?”

Amusement drained out of him. “I just do. Because the alternative is worse.”

The alternative being Avasarala being hurt, gasping in pain, dying somewhere without someone there to make sure that shit never happened in the first place. Bobbie’s chest hurt like pulling multiple Gs.

“Yeah, okay.” She nodded.

“It’s a shit job,” Cotyar grumbled with a sigh. “But someone has to do it.”  He shrugged with a look of exasperated resignation.

Bobbie rolled her eyes. “And that someone might as well be you.”

“She did ask for me personally. And at least I knew what I was getting myself into,” Cotyar snarked pointedly.  He paused, before continuing with a disconcerted frown, “Maybe not about the aliens, that’s new.”

Bobbie snorted a laugh, but in the companionable silence she found she was inordinately annoyed Avasarala made a choice to take Cotyar on even with the unpleasantness of his history with her son. And that Cotyar accepted despite the fact that it was a sore topic with him. They came together by choice in spite of all the reasons not to. Where as she was sort of a happy accident.

Shit, was she…jealous? There weren’t enough functioning brain cells in her brain for this development, not when she was fairly buzzing out of her skin to get naked and get fucked.

“More?” She shook the bottle at Cotyar, and then quickly sat it back down when she realized there was a real chance she would shake all of it out.

Cotyar coughed. “I’m good.”

She waited. And waited. And though it was really only a few seconds, it felt interminable, the lack of action in the silence.

“I brought you a drink,” Bobbie stated slowly just in case he was being particularly dim.

Cotyar gave a dubious smack of his lips to reflect on the quality of said drink, but there was unconcealed laughter crinkling his eyes when he replied, “I was told there would be directions.”

She huffed and began rising to remove her under-armor, growling, “And I was under the impression that forward observers knew how to hit the ground--”

Inside of a single blink, Cotyar leapt from a languid sprawl into a predatory hover, trapping her back into the seat. They weren’t quite touching, but close enough that she could feel the tension and heat of his body stretched out above her, charging the space between them. His indulgent grin was full and wide, but there was a sliver of gleaming intent that had her swallowing almost nervously.

“If there are no directions, I’ll just have to take my time and make sure I get it right, won’t I?”

 

Chapter Text

Cotyar reached out and found the clasps and zippers that held Bobbie’s under-armor together. Bobbie strained to make herself pliant, to make it easy for him to strip her out of the armor. She was letting him undress her, but if he hesitated for even a second, she had half a mind to get naked on her own. Whatever he had in mind to ‘take his time and get it right,’ it was unnecessary given the fact that he pretty much aced it the last time.

Cotyar’s hands kept moving, but it took a disorienting moment for Bobbie to realize he wasn’t taking the most expeditious route into her pants. He was peeling off her suit, section by section, and each time running his warm palms over the newly uncovered skin. His touch was one of deliberation as he massaged oxygen back into the starved epidermis. Unnecessary it may be, but he was getting under her skin in more ways than one. Bobbie’s lips thinned with effort to keep impassive and blinked away whatever moisture that gathered at the edge of her vision. But his fingers burrowed into hollows and nerve bundles, pushing her to the edge of burgeoning pain that dissolved into effervescent bubbles of bone melting euphoria.

“You’re a menace,” Bobbie sighed.

Cotyar laughed, rich and low. “Tried out for the UNMC and couldn’t handle the cramp.” His hands halted briefly and his eyes shuttered. “Don’t know how you guys do it,” he murmured softly.

Bobbie swallowed, forcing herself not to look away. There was little in that sentence, but there was a lot she already knew courtesy of being compelled to read in to all things Chrisjen Avasarala. Her son was in the UN Marine Corp. Her hand came over his. “You grow into it. I’d rather die in my armor than out of it.”

Cotyar smiled a little sadly, as if he appreciated her effort but it wasn’t anything he hadn’t heard before. Nevertheless, he took the hand that covered his and brought it up against his cheek, stubble prickling against the thin skin of her inner wrist. He turned his head until his lips pressed into the center of her open palm.  

Bobbie blinked against the unexpected warmth expanding in her chest, her now twice-kissed hand tingling. “Must be an Earther thing,” she muttered a little too blithely, then immediately let lose her fingers and nails against that scruffy jaw she had been eyeing all this time.

Cotyar’s eyes fluttered close and he all but purred, his Adam’s apple vibrating in a frequency was tuned to charging the arc of her spine. She was about to attack the other neglected side of his jaw when his arm shot out and gripped her wrist tight enough to stop her breath. His gaze lifted and her eyes rounded at the simmering darkness there. The tactical side of her was all admonishment at her complacency. Did she think he could be so easily caught when the very danger of who he is was wrapped up in those sharp assessing eyes. He smiled, feral and hypnotic, and her heart pounded like stilled prey.

“Must be,” Cotyar circled back, as if he knew exactly what Bobbie had been referring to, as if he was in the room when Avasarala did what she did.

A niggling sense of guilt sprouted. Here she was trying to get into his pants when it was Avasarala’s rejection that put her here in the first place. But the thought burned on the vine when Cotyar raised that hand to his lips and slowly licked a hot path over where Avasarala’s lips had been. Something complicated rippled and weaved through Bobbie until her entire torso felt twisted tight, but his tongue was now a wet tug on her middle finger. Lips closed over the end of the digit, and his teeth bit into the fleshy tip like an electric promise, a prelude to something more satisfying to come. She hissed impatiently, but didn’t buck into him with a cry until he sucked at that teeth marked bit. He pulled her up out of the chair towards him, one of his knees positioned between hers so he was steady and unyielding when she fell against him. He was still in his clothes while she was already stripped down to her underwear. She was almost glad of it when she rubbed herself against him, momentarily relieved by the abrasion his clothes afforded, especially the rough denim that covered his hard thighs and the obscene bulge between his legs.

Bobbie wanted to get closer though, under the clothes, under the skin—but Cotyar had other ideas. He grasped her arms and set her away from him with a force that knocked her shoulder blades into the wall behind them. His eyes were bright and fevered as he tossed her chair aside with a crash. The clatter jolted loose moment of clarity. All the underground living on Mars and the close quarters of ship tours had her shoulders tensing at the unnecessary noise they were making.

Cotyar set a fisted forearm next to Bobbie’s head with a thud. He chuckled darkly at her frown and rasped into her ear, “She knows what she did.”

Bobbie’s eyes widened. Her hands flattened against the cool wall behind her, the thin barrier that separated them and Avasarala. Cotyar skimmed a finger over the skin beneath her jaw, where he could feel the rush of blood from her heart, which was slamming so hard against her ribs that she wondered if she was going to be sore in more ways than one. His head lolled sideways, his unshaven jaw slowly and carefully scraping against her cheek like she was seconds from bolting. But she held herself still, her breathless pants notwithstanding. He hummed and drew one of her earlobes into the heat of his mouth with a lick. Sharp incisors bit into the flesh, catching and pulling all at once until there was pain spasming down her spine and into her sex. One of her legs curled up outside of his thigh just in time for him to dry thrust against that inflamed center. She whimpered, wanting to rip his clothes off and get him inside her, but unable to move even an inch away from the wall.

“Left you in a bit of a mess, did she?” Cotyar mused, reaching unerringly into her underwear. Every inch of her skin tinted pink with heat, her cheeks were so scalding they were nearly numb. Her entire body was blushing and he didn’t even have his dick out yet. Bobbie was about to snap something back when his fingers glided into the slickness between her legs. She stood on tiptoe, her mouth openly panting, her hips rocking against his fingers, a silent plea for him to go deeper, harder, and faster, anything but the patient, methodical, and agonizing way he was teasing her, idly rubbing like he was polishing delicate silver. She was insensible as he tore down the scrap of soaked underwear and moved her legs to step out of them.

“Cleaning up after her again,” Cotyar sighed, albeit unsteadily, into her left thigh, which somehow or another became hooked on top of his shoulder. Bobbie blinked hazily, hearing the words, but his mouth homed in onto her sex before she could understand them. And then nothing seemed to matter except the way he licked his way into her sensitized flesh. Something in her split open and the sounds spilled out of her like a song. She moaned low as he swirled and mewled high as he nipped. He gazed up at her between her thighs, looking like he’d cracked some code, his eyes gleaming with flints of black.

Bobbie instinctively wanted to back up, but there was no space left behind her.

His mouth was there again, with his fingers. They went in deeper than before. His fingers were pumping and twisting into her wet heat, her thighs slippery with her arousal. His mouth was on that hidden mound of flesh, sucking eagerly until she was crying out incoherently with the need to go over that edge. She vaguely felt him rise, opening her even further for his fingers and she was tilting over when he licked that spot on her hand again and muttered the obvious with a mild, “You know, I think she can hear you.”

And she was gone.

 

 

Chapter Text

It was a sight to behold. Cotyar could chalk it up to the occupational hazard of always looking for that moment of weakness, but he’d like to think that he was appreciating this for what it was. That Bobbie looked as if he took her apart and put her back together again, without the weights of the planets on her shoulders and the lives of her teammates etched in tight lines under her eyes. Just pure distilled Bobbie Draper, strong, loyal, quick on the uptake, and all in all rather delightful. He couldn’t ask for a better teammate for an op. Or, if she was amenable as she was now, a partner for a romp in the sheets.

Figuratively. There were no sheets involved just yet. Just two people having sex against a wall and pretending there wasn’t another person between them. Not that there was that much pretending to be had. He may have gotten Bobbie off, but turning her on, well, Avasarala always knew where people’s buttons were. Though he wasn’t sure if he was helping Bobbie scratch an itch or just making her crush on Avasarala worse by invoking the older woman’s name while going down on her.

No, strike that, he was sure.

It was both.

He could try to dissuade Bobbie from getting in too deep with a few selective anecdotes. God knew there were enough unsavory need-to-know secrets between him and Avasarala that he had been surprised she let him lose after Charanpal. As head over heels as Bobbie was, he could give it a good try.

He could.

But why would he.

The woman was a tank and tanks were obvious deterrents for people looking to cause trouble. The same people that Avasarala tended to attract like flies to honey. The circumstances were also less than ideal. Whatever proto-shitstorm they were in, Avasarala was too much of a figurehead to get out of it unscathed. He was only one man. Bobbie was a godsend. Even if Avasarala resisted, someone who loved her would almost always protect her better than anyone just doing their job. And if that same someone was strong and smart enough to survive both the protomolecule hybrid and Avasarala’s games, he’d have to be a serious idiot to not take advantage.

Not that it didn’t come with its own perks.

He led a loose-limbed Bobbie out of her bra tank and gritted his teeth against that moment of lightheadedness as he took in the full extent of her nudity. Her body was splayed against the wall like a classical painting. Her warm honeyed skin was a starkly erotic contrast against the cool utilitarian gray, beckoning him to touch and caress every lovely inch until he expired from the lack of oxygen. Oh but what a way to go.

And that was all this was, a perk. He was already shit out of luck extricating himself from one woman. Liking someone well enough to have sex with them didn’t have to lead to anything complicated. Not that his brain was in any condition to do a deep dive into anything that required logic when his dick was being so insistent about executing that particular maneuver for him.

But Bobbie’s newly uncovered curves were an irresistible temptation for someone as tactile as him. Cotyar half circled a dusky areola with his thumb, the sharp edge of his nail pressing into the side of a dark nipple. Bobbie hissed, then gasped with a high whimper as he alternated, brushing the hard knuckle of his index finger under the flushed knot of flesh. She writhed against his repeated ministrations to explore the different textures of smooth and puckered. Her breathless pants grew louder until he couldn’t tell whether it was her or his heart pounding in his ears. Finally, she reached up behind his neck, but finding no purchase in his close cut hair she dug in. Her trimmed but stinging nails raked at the back of his head until he acquiesced, ducking down and placing a lifting hand beneath the soft curve of her breast before capturing a tight nipple into the heated suction of his mouth. With this other hand he flattened his hand over the peaking bud of her other breast, letting it roll and catch under the center of his palm.

The pull and push had Bobbie arching off the wall, bucking shakily against him and making a frustrated whine before blurting out a curse.

“Fuck!  Take off your clothes, now!” Bobbie ordered, her voice a husky growl. Her hands gripped a handful of his shirt.

Cotyar had to straighten or be strangled by the collar of his shirt. “Now you’re giving me directions?” he asked dryly.

“And you’ll follow them if you want to wear that shirt or those pants again,” she casually threatened with a flash of teeth, possibly meant to convey her willingness to rip said shirt and pants off with said teeth.

“She wouldn’t appreciate it if I showed up to work in my underwear,” he replied, shaking his head at her.

Bobbie’s eyes raked him up and down. When her roving gaze caught his, she smiled with such feminine mystique that his throat suddenly felt caught in a vice. “I wouldn’t be too sure about that.”

Cotyar covered the heat in his cheeks by lifting the shirt more slowly than necessary over his head. He sucked in a quick breath when probing fingers touched his most recently healed injury, given to him by Mao’s goons. Bobbie glanced down, tracing over the scar before looking back up with a question in her concerned eyes.

He pinned her with a look. “It’s a bit late to worry about that now, isn’t it?”

Bobbie had the grace to look abashed.

“Don’t worry, I’m more than up to the task,” Cotyar relented, smirking.

He covered her fingers with his own and pressed into the scarred area, letting her see for herself that the injury had healed. After that, Bobbie didn’t need additional encouragement to explore the broad planes of his naked chest.

“Why do you keep them?” she asked, stilted, fingers brushing against barely-there scars, fainter than the fresh one, but visible if one was close enough to see.

Cotyar shrugged. “A reminder of mistakes.”

“It’s a wonder you’re not covered with them,” she remarked without bite.

“There are more in places you can’t see.” He mirrored her tone before brushing a lock of hair out of her eyes, adding quietly, “They remind me to do better, they’re not albatrosses.”

Bobbie stared, her fingers curling back into the palms of her hands.

A frown built across his brow. “Do you have albatrosses on Mars?”

Bobbie narrowed her eyes.

“There’s a saying on Earth, with albatrosses…” he began to explain.

Bobbie abruptly grabbed both of his shoulders and squeezed, pulling at him until they were chest to naked chest, roaring, “We have that saying too!”

He slid a hand down her back, coming to a rest on the curve of her ass as he rocked into her, homing into the wet heat through his jeans. He chuckled a little wobbly, muttering, “It’s a sea bird so I wasn’t--”

Bobbie, with a knee drawn up to his hip, met his thrust with a snap, “Shut up and fuck me, you little shit.”

He grinned at that rude endearment. He chose to think it was due to something similar about the temperament of the women in his life rather than something about him. After all, there was nothing particularly little about him, was there?

Impatient, Bobbie reached down between them and grabbed at the zipper of his fly. Cotyar closed his eyes and tried unsuccessfully to breathe through his nose. When her hand slid in and she finally touched him, he grunted and slammed a steadying hand on the wall next to her head. Bobbie didn’t so much as flinch, but instead seemed concentrated on the hot hard length in her hand, making several passes up and down the root and tip. Her dark eyes were glazed, her breath coming out in short gaps. She had to be thinking about how it would feel inside her, filling her, driving in and out of her slippery sex.

Cotyar groaned deep in his throat, unable to stop the unthinking thrusting of his hips into the moving grip of her hand. He would have to stop her soon, lest he spent himself in her hand when he had the opportunity to ensure that they both enjoyed the mechanics of casual, non-complicated sex.

His brain, as impeded as it was by the elemental drive, was slow to catch up to the meaning of the small blinking light at the corner of his eye. But it caught up just in time. Cotyar bit down, his jaw flexing as he leaned his forehead against Bobbie’s and pulled her hand out from his boxers.

When he made no move to undress the rest of himself, Bobbie blinked in confusion, long lashes aflutter. “Why, why are we stopping?” He wanted to ask himself the same question. Unfortunately, he also knew the answer.

“Bobbie, may I call you Bobbie?” he asked, a calm and perfectly stated question despite the uncomfortably prominent erection that still demanded release.

Bobbie stared at him with a twitch of her lips. “You had your tongue up in me. I’ll allow it,” she proclaimed.

“Well, Bobbie, that light right there,” Cotyar said, pointing at the blinking light on his hand terminal, “is…” He frowned with consternation, “Something I need to look at right now.” Taking a deep breath, he heaved himself away from her.

“What. What are you doing?”

Cotyar took another chest expanding breath and zipped up as much as he could. “Disappointingly enough, my job.”

“How can you even think with that?” she asked pointedly at his crotch.

“Training,” he replied flatly. With a cautious first step, he began moving gingerly toward the table where his hand terminal still blinked.

Cotyar could still feel Bobbie’s eyes at his back and he was not at all startled when there was a hiccup and then laughter as it bubbled out of her.

“I’m glad you find this funny,” he sighed, sitting down just as carefully.

“I was just wondering if that’s how you’re going to move when we’re both old and gray,” she managed between more bouts of laughter.

He blinked in surprise and sent a questioning look her way. “When we’re both old and gray?”

Bobbie reared back, her mouth gaping. “I didn’t mean it like that.”

Cotyar considered her for a long beat, long enough that she was starting to squirm under his stare. “How disappointing,” he murmured.

The rest of her nude body flushed pink. He pinched the bridge of his nose.

“You’re giving me too much credit, Bobbie.”

“What?”

“Could you, put some clothes on, please?” he pleaded, rubbing a hand down his face.

“Oh.” Bobbie hurriedly glanced around and grabbed the nearest and largest piece of clothing. It was his shirt.

He grimaced. “That’s not better. It’s differently worse.”

“Look, I’m not interfering,” she said, shooing with her hands as if telling him to look away while she searched for the smaller pieces of her underwear, “If you can’t do your job, how is that my fault?”

Cotyar quickly mulled this over and replied, nodding, “Fair.” He took another centering breath and once he was able to disregard the discomfort in the region of his crotch as a biological nuisance, he read the details of the blinking indicator. There were two messages coming from the secret relay station he employed.

“One’s for you,” he swiped it over to her without opening the message.

Bobbie, having found her clothing, picked up her hand terminal and gave it a quick glance before scrutinizing him with an odd expression.

Cotyar found that too difficult to ignore. He turned away from his own message and gestured impatiently. “What? Does it say something weird?”

“I don’t know what it says yet. It’s from the Hillmans.”

“So? Read or watch it and see how it could concern us.”

“It’s from Mars. You don’t want to read it first?”

Cotyar flattened his mouth and leaned toward Bobbie. “You threatened to go through me like a door if I burned you and yours.”

Bobbie nodded.

“Is Chrisjen Avasarala yours?” he asked solemnly.

“Yes,” she answered without a second thought.

He smiled over her rapid response, warmth expanding over his chest. “All guesswork stopped the moment you threatened me over her. Stop second-guessing. I don’t have the time or the inclination. Got it, marine?”

“Got it, spy,” she acknowledged soberly before returning to her hand terminal.

Cotyar read his missive from Larson, his contact on the UNN Agatha King. When he finished the message, he found his fists balled up in anger even when the news was predictable. He glanced over at Bobbie, her eyes wide with excitement. She had good news then.

“Okay, bad news first. My vacation’s over. Errinwright just dropped the other shoe.”

Chapter Text

Chrisjen had her eyes closed, but beyond them her mind was racing, trying to put the pieces where they should go. Souther. Errinwright. Nguyen. Something humiliating for bobblehead if there was anything left over, for allowing Errinwright to wreak havoc while she was off planet.

She started when a loud thump struck against the wall between Cotyar’s quarters and hers. Then came the sound of furniture being loudly displaced. Noise was an anathema to the spy trade unless it was meant to be heard.

She growled a warning that in hindsight was perhaps too much of a dare, even if Cotyar couldn’t hear it, “You wouldn’t.”

She was answered by a deliberate thud behind the wall, a knock on her presuppositions, giving way to the increasingly precarious sensibilities of her spy. He would, he really would. Particularly after she berated him like one of her milquetoast administrative assistants out of central casting. She was almost glad for his fit of pique because she wouldn’t be able to stand his indifference if it came to that. For all the things she could have done that would have pissed him off for good, it wasn’t even the worst. The worst was living up to the ‘snake in a sari’ epithet. The worst was how she kept the forged debt her back pocket, marked just-in-case-of-emergency. 

Chrisjen shivered, feeling her blood run cold. The more she didn’t want to think about it, the more she thought about it. Fine. This was a fucking fine time for her conscience to rear its shitty little head. She chuckled humorlessly. If not now, when?

A clean tissue waved in front of her.

Chrisjen took it and glanced sideways at just one of the many men in military dress uniform for her son’s wedding. He had the same bearing and fitness as the marines, but there was something extra non-descript about him, that even she, the person who remembered people and their weaknesses for a living, took longer than she liked to place him.

Chrisjen covered by dabbing at the corners of her still misty eyes and sniffed daintily. “You must think I’m a silly old woman.”

The young man clasped his hands together and leaned out on his forearms, overlooking the balcony at the wedding reception below. He spoke to the open air in front of him, “You’re neither foolish nor geriatric. But if you must be sentimental, this would be the perfect time to do it.”

Chrisjen stilled before rolling the tissue into a tiny little ball. Pivoting her entire body, she turned consider her son’s friend and groomsman.

“Good thing they actually worked out,” he said obliquely, though breaking into a jovial smile when he spotted the happy couple making the rounds below. “When it works, it works.” He turned about to face her as well, his expression fading into an enigma of blandness. “Except it’s not always going to work.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” she replied just as blandly, promising nothing.

He shrugged. “Good talk?”

There was only so much empty posturing she could take. She had been practically giddy with the culmination her subtle matchmaking and manipulated serendipity. Who was this brazen youth to besmirch how she followed through on such good instincts? Her tongue grew thick with direct cuts of expletives, but it was her son’s wedding day so for his sake, she could rein it in a bit. Didn’t mean she couldn’t say what she wanted. And more.

“I’ve had better, honestly,” Chrisjen demurred haughtily.  

His eyes went half-mast as the corners of his mouth quirked. It struck her as having awoken something that had been dormant, lying in wait for the satisfaction of seeing her strike out.

“Well,” he started, his voice lowered to impart an impolite truth, “You have been around longer.”

Chrisjen’s eyes widened a fraction before they shuttered over the tips of his boots. As her eyes lifted, they whispered over the hard lines of his silhouette with a scalpel’s edge until they pierced his oddly anticipating gaze.

“Staff Sergeant Cotyar Ghazi of SIGINT, is it?” Chrisjen sing-songed with a punctuated tisk at the end, smiling sharply.

The quirked lips split into a full mouthed grin, flashing her two rows of pearly whites. “Ma’am, I can assure you I’m still entirely too small fry to warrant that smile, but,” he paused, scratching a thumbnail over a corner of his bottom lip as he peered through veiled but unflinching eyes, “I’ll work on it.”

Chrisjen blinked, her face felt warm. It wasn’t as if no one’s ever tried to flirt with her or insinuate themselves into her pants. Nor was she a stranger to sycophants and star-eyed acolytes. Only this young man felt strangely companionable with his stark assessments and calculated observations. At least, he was well on his way to give as good as he got.

“Oh, and the bride requested your presence,” Cotyar added as an afterthought.

“You could have started with that,” Chrisjen bristled. This was still an important day for her son, whether she had designed it or not.

“Well, since traveling back in time is a non-starter, I guess I’ll just have to make nice?”

Nice came in the form of an offered arm to escort her down to the festivities. Without a glance back at him, Chrisjen primly took the arm and proceeded to dig in with her nails. The bicep she encountered was so hard the effort made her teeth gnash. But from the rude curl of his lips, she might as well have been massaging his balls.

“You’re nothing like my son,” she bit through a plastic smile as they waded into the crowd of imbibing wedding guests.

“You’re nothing like my mother,” he readily supplied.

“Your mother’s dead.”

“I know!” he replied, unsurprised at her knowledge. His unoccupied arm and hand was extended in the manner of ‘shit happens, what can you do?’

“You must have been exhausting as a child.”

“And now I’ve got even more stamina as an adult,” he added with mock apologies and a twinkle in his eye.

Her cheeks were definitely heating. She had overindulged.

“Little shit,” Chrisjen muttered.

“Little?”

Cotyar placed a level hand over his head, then lowered it significantly to the top of hers. She batted his hand away as one would an obnoxious insect. He chuckled with entirely too much exuberance.

Out of the corner of her eyes, a cohort of Charanpal’s unit stared roundly and silently at them as they passed by.

“Ordered and delivered, as requested,” Cotyar exclaimed with good humor, bowing with exaggerated obsequiousness at the newlyweds.

Chrisjen rolled her eyes with her entire head as he noiselessly backed away from her and the family before disappearing into the crush.

“Ma, no bloodletting today. He’s a really good friend,” Charanpal implored.

“Given what he was willing to say, I’d say he’s your best friend,” Chrisjen replied, deceptively soft.

Charanpal’s face went flat like the press of his uniform. For a split second, Chrisjen wished she didn’t push him into this work. But she quickly flashed a mother’s smile and patted a soothing hand over his chest, somehow broader and higher than she remembered. His shoulders relaxed, however minutely, a mother could tell. So she turned and clutched at the hand of his bride.

“How can I help?”

Cotyar didn’t return to her attentions again until much later. By then she’d noted the lack of movement in his rise through the ranks. In contrast with Charanpal, whose last name all but guaranteed at the very least an upward trend. By all accounts, Cotyar served exceptionally well on his assignments. However, he tended to make judgments in shorthand, too quick for some. She found herself rather sympathetic at that point. It was enough to get him into her office one afternoon.

Cotyar leaned against the armrest of her couch, arms crossed. “I’m on leave.”

“Ah, yes, mandatory off time. How would you like to do something that’s more substantial than getting your cock sucked?”

He scratched his five o’clock shadow, looking away from her. “That wasn’t all that I was planning to do,” he grumbled before hedging, “Don’t you have your own people for this?”

“This one’s a little more off the books.”

“I’m not sure why you think I’d do this for you--” He glanced at the dossier she swiped into his hand terminal and raised an intrigued eyebrow. “Okay, I’ll do it. But this seems a little out of your purview.”

“I liked being a creditor. You never know when you may be in a situation to collect.”

“Great, and here I thought you were just doing something nice,” he replied dryly.

Chrisjen let her gaze slice through him. “What’s necessary is almost never anything fucking nice,” she snapped, unexpected anger roiling in her chest.

Those ready-quip lips thinned. His expression turned pensive. She was unreasonably gratified when he responded without the condescension or the pity one often found from the arrogance of youth.

“Yeah.”

She looked out her window, the skies a clear glorious blue.

He broke the silence, waving the hand terminal, eyes crinkling. “This one though, it’s nice. Don’t worry, I won’t out you.” And he was almost out the door when he came back, hands splayed over her desk. “I know when I’m being manipulated.”

Chrisjen kept reading the holo display she’d been viewing. “I wasn’t going for subtle.”

He let out a bark of laughter before leaving with a jaunty stride. A tiny smile tugged across her face.

Cotyar completed the mission with aplomb and there was always another waiting on his hand terminal timed to his mandatory vacations. They were more often than not, cleanups from messes other people made in their haste or stupidity. And whether these missions had anything to do with the restart of his trajectory in rank, Chrisjen couldn’t say with a hundred percent certainty, but it wasn’t long before Cotyar and Charanpal were shipping out on the same assignments.

Then came the shittiest time of her life.

And Chrisjen being who she was, she took advantage of it, of her son’s death, so of course it was the worst by any normal definition. She balled up her hands into fists and exhaled a trembling breath.

The worst, the worst was not telling Cotyar that his faulty intel had come too late to matter, UN Command had already sent Charanpal’s unit into the fight on Callisto. He hadn’t seen through the sociopathic degree of ass-covering by the professional bureaucrats like she had. And she had been too steeped in grief and self-recrimination. By the time she’d thought to clear the matter, he’d fucked off completely from the UN, disappearing from her sight. For someone who no longer wanted to tow the company line, his guilt was her only sure-fire bargaining chip, one that she could cash in without terms or conditions if she ever got backed into a corner. So she let him lose, knowing that single line was enough to him to reel him back in.

So in the grand scheme of things, be it personal, professional, and alien, this, whatever this was, should barely register.

This was not going to derail her.

This was the least of her problems.

This was Cotyar picking the stupidest time to be an asshole.

This was the strained whimper of a distinctly female voice. Chrisjen shifted restlessly in her seat. Though muted by the barrier between them, she had no trouble identifying the woman or the type of activity that would have instigated the sound.

Chrisjen narrowed her eyes at the bulkhead. She was well aware of the trajectories she had set in place. The advancement of such a path was inconsequential but for the resulting destination and the opportunities it afforded. At least, that was the idea. The pointed clamor next door, however, called upon her to pay attention to every salacious burn and thrust of this particular outing.

Thump. Come. Crash. Come. Thud. Come see in your mind’s eye the dance you’ve orchestrated. The naked thighs that you’ve made wet with arousal, grasping for leverage against pistoning hips. The thick cock that you’ve made hard, straining for release inside a wet heat. See how I’ve braced her deliberately upon the altar of our adjoining walls? And because I’m a little shit so of course I’ve told her that you can hear her. So when I lick a stiff nipple with my clever tongue, she moans a little deeper, when I rub my dexterous thumb against that tight bundle of nerves, she whimpers a little higher, and when I drive my heavy cock into the snug walls of her sex, she cries out a little louder, just for you.

Fuck. Fuck him. Fuck her.

Chrisjen bit down her lower lip, gripping the edge of her desk with white knuckles. Beads of sweat gathered at her temples, more trickling down between the valley of her breasts. She drew her legs together, thighs pressing together against her throbbing hollow center. But with each breathless sound from next door, the vicious bite of want only grew, pain and pleasure grazing like sharp teeth against the flushed surface of her overheated skin. Her nipples were straining against her breasts, puckered so tight and hard that they might as well have their own gravity.

Oh, fuck it.

Chrisjen could hear the rasp of Cotyar’s low laughter between her ears, and all it did was make her squirm harder. With a trembling hand, she unzipped, exposing the fabrics made of silk and lace in rich amethyst, underthings every bit as delicate and luxurious as what she wore on the outside, completing her armor. She hissed as she reached into a bra cup, rolling and pinching that painfully aching nub of flesh. Her hips bucked into the press of her other hand as she drew down to touch herself.

She had been biting her lip, but her lungs felt squeezed too tight and her mouth fell open to pant for air. Her brain was fuzzy, reality leaking out like it too much for her skull. Were the pumping fingers in her sex hers, Bobbie’s, or Cotyar’s? She wasn’t sure who was making those desperate, keening sounds, her or Bobbie. She had no idea where the vision of smooth limbs and hard muscles, careening against each other in stop-jerk motions, came from, but she could feel herself becoming slick.

When it finally registered that the sounds had turned into murmurings of talk, her entire body tensed, and a ridiculous, indignant thought pierced through the haze. They were done and she wasn’t, what the fuck.

“We have that saying too!” Came Bobbie’s yell.

That Chrisjen heard, loud and clear. Without additional context it was good as gibberish. Another thump followed and she just hoped to hell that if they were going to fight, they should keep in mind that they were still heading into a possible protomolecule warzone.

In the meantime. Chrisjen sighed, her fingers slowing as the burn of lust petered. Fine, she would just take her own sweet time then.

She was nearly there, a pleasant heat cresting when the knock came.

Seriously?

Chrisjen scowled, her mouth firming into a pout as another knock sounded. She closed her eyes and schooled her breath to less pounding pace.

“Hey, all right in there?” Cotyar asked, tapping lightly.

“Chrisjen?” Bobbie called out.

It was the threads of worry in their voices that made it impossible for her to hold them back much longer. Besides, Cotyar wasn’t going to let a flimsy door hatch block his way and Bobbie would just as soon rip it off its hinges.

Chrisjen got up, her hand dropping to pull up the zipper. She stopped, looking down at herself. There were inevitable wrinkles that every woman her age couldn’t escape, but she kept herself in good shape and the bra expensive in a way that was both flashy and well built for support. Diaphanous lace hugged the gentle swell of her breasts. Strips of jewel toned purple silk stretched across the center of each cup, gleaming softly as she subtly pulled her shoulders back.

Her hand dropped to her side. Chrisjen sat back down, thighs pressing tight as she crossed her legs, her lips drawn up in an enigmatic smile.

“Come in.”

 

Chapter Text

His gun had been out the moment the second knock on Avasarala’s door came and went unanswered. He wasn’t going to put it away now.

“I’ll clear the room. Wait on my signal and take point at her position,” Cotyar stated flatly as he gestured for Bobbie to open the hatch.

“Trouble?” Bobbie rolled her shoulders before putting her hand on the handle.

“With her?” he smiled grimly, “I’m always expecting trouble.” He nodded and they took to their positions with trusted ease and drilled muscle memory. He entered as Bobbie released the hatch, gun in hand and eyes sweeping the corners before quickly assessing Avasarala, seated at the desk, for missing limbs and bodily injury. Upon seeing nothing life threatening that warranted immediate attention, he signaled Bobbie to enter with a wave of his open palm before sliding off, keeping his back to the wall as he circled the room.

Avasarala harrumphed, “There’s no one else here. I was…busy.”

Cotyar ignored her, poking his head into the head while Bobbie slipped in to stand in front of her, facing out, relegating the older woman to the corner with both their backs to the wall. It gave him a bit of room to breathe, knowing that if by chance there was someone or something lurking, they’d have to go through Bobbie to get to Avasarala.

Once he was satisfied that the room was clear, Cotyar found himself gripping the gun too tightly to make any decent use of it. The sum of a strange ship, strange people, and a boss who had a habit of making it damn difficult for him to keep her alive ultimately equaled to a bit of jumpiness on his part. That was fine.

Cotyar tucked the gun back into the waistband behind him, fingers stretching flat to alleviate the coiled stiffness in them. A vein near his left temple pounded as he endeavored to remember the reason he and Bobbie came to Avasarala in the first place. His gaze landed back on Avasarala and then it wasn’t just his head that was throbbing. Considering the amount of abuse he had foisted upon it, there was a bit of relief that his dick was still reacting with startling alacrity. Even if it was the proverbial last straw. Surging waves of hot anger, gnawing frustration, and hopeless want propelled him into a sea of seeing red. It all crashed into him, knocking the all the sensible winds out of him, upending him into the maelstrom. He seemed to have blanked out for a second because the next thing he knew, Bobbie had an immobilizing grip on his arm, fingers biting into muscle.

With her back still to Avasarala, Bobbie asked softly with dry deference, “Should I just zip her all the way down?” As if a word or nod from him and she would turn around and finish what Avasarala started with her little strip tease. To open her up and spread her out for the both of them like some decadent feast to be devoured. Palms and fingers to peel away the intricate purples that encased the swell of her breasts. Tongues and teeth to savor the expanse of her newly exposed skin. Mouths and lips to suck the haughty, stubborn taste of her into wanton desperation.

Cotyar inhaled sharply, his mouth dry and his heart pounding. He wanted to say yes and let consequences and ledgers be damned. He had to force oxygen back into his brain and reset, so that he could think and analyze the situation. These thoughts weren’t exactly new, but their sudden clarity and blistering intensity was a problem in his head and apparently in his pants. Again, it shouldn’t be new to him, how Avasarala spelled trouble even when her life wasn’t in mortal danger. How exactly could he be expected to stay calm and cool and do his fucking job when the most important person in his life kept stirring the caldron?

The grip on his arm showed no signs of letting up and for once he was glad of the restraint. He pushed, and Avasarala pushed back harder. He knew this, why was he even surprised? Bobbie had stopped him before he barreled down a path of no return. Good on her. Who ever thought the Martian marine was going to be the levelheaded one in this situation?

Cotyar blinked and exhaled an even breath. Avasarala was either making a point that she could have done without the explicit soundtrack of their activity next door--even if she all but ensured it would happen in the first place--or she had decided to show him she intended to be more receptive to a certain marine’s amorous intentions.

Either way, he decided he just didn’t care beyond the mission anymore. That it wasn’t jealousy or the greediness for Avasarala’s all consuming attention that was making the sour taste in his mouth. Ultimately it made no difference whether Avasarala had changed her mind about Bobbie. As long as Bobbie could put her whole heart into protecting Avasarala, it was mission accomplished for him.

There was nothing more for him here aside from a job. Whatever infinitesimal and ridiculous possibilities there could have been between him and Avasarala, they died with Charanpal. That was the tacit understanding that he etched into his ribs, an incantation to keep that traitorous muscle in the center of his chest caged and stunted. He was close to hating himself for allowing it to escape for that flash of a second, when Avasarala must have only acted on whatever whims or wins she was after.

Feeling sufficiently steeped in cynicism, he pushed Bobbie’s hand away with a weary sigh. She let him, but watched carefully as he moved behind Avasarala and he couldn’t help but adore her for it. He reached over Avasarala’s shoulder and down to hold the pull tab between his fingers. He paused there, unknowingly creating a new set of realities in the multiverse.

In many of the newly spawned universes, the zipper slid further down until he could reach in between her thighs, to the source where the scent of her arousal had short-circuited the signals from his brain and let his animal instincts into the driver’s seat. His fingers glided in, the walls of her sex a slippery and receptive heat. He rubbed until her legs fell open, hips bucking against his hand and into Bobbie’s fevered gaze. He rubbed until she was squirming and panting into Bobbie’s mouth. He rubbed until she came apart with his hand between her legs and Bobbie’s tongue over the peak of her breast.

There were some universes where he simply abandoned the utilitarian metal tab and reached right into the far more intriguing, exposed v of soft skin, his fingers skimming feathery light across the swell of lace clad curves. He kissed the smoothed line of her bared shoulder as he released the clasp of her bra and watched as her breasts spill into Bobbie’s waiting hands. He kissed the shell of her right ear and growled his shameless appreciation for how desperate she sounded for Bobbie to take that darkly flushed nipple into her mouth. He kissed her right temple, damp with salty afterglow, and admired Bobbie’s work below--open skin brazenly adorned with indented reds where teeth had grazed and puckered pinks where mouth had sucked.

In one universe, the origin of the many, the loud click and close of the zipper’s teeth echoed in the silence of tautly held breaths.

Halfway up, Cotyar murmured from a clandestine but professional distance, “Don’t start anything you can’t finish. You hate cleaning up.”

Avasarala narrowed her eyes at him, the heat of her glare was laughably and heart-achingly familiar.

When the zipper was fully closed beneath her chin, he stood up straight and announced with a halfhearted grin, “Vacation’s over. Time to get back to work.”

Chapter Text

Work?

Bobbie blinked. She might not be the wiliest one here but even she could see that the current circumstances were not conducive for anything she would ever presume to call ‘work.’ From the warm glow of Avasarala’s flush to the flickering embers of heat behind Cotyar’s heavy-lidded gaze, the air was thick with combustible potential.

“Your Mars gambit paid off,” Cotyar continued, all business, doing his best to douse the flames before they ignited.

Bobbie sighed inaudibly. Guess that was why he was running the op. A bit of an asshole in the sheets, but a cool operator in the streets.

Avasarala swiveled pointedly away from Cotyar and nailed Bobbie in place with a raised eyebrow and a small pleased smile, as it was a secret victory between the two of them.

“Um, right,” Bobbie managed, pulling her lips down into a firm line, trying not to feed that already bottomless ego. “The Hillmans are all in and they brought the big guns.”

She flipped the message into a holo display. A blonde with icy blue eyes spoke.

“The MCRN has launched an internal investigation into the Ganymede incident with Project Caliban. They are also dispatching an investigatory unit with two destroyers on maximum burn to rendezvous with you at Io. Given the circumstances and upon my recommendation to Fleet Command, they have decided to forgo impartiality. You have been provided with a temporary MCRN SIGINT consultant status. XO of the MCRN Telesilla is Commander Michelle Yao, sister to Captain Teresa Yao and the captain of the MCRN Wu Zetian is Brian Hillman, Tevy’s uncle. I hope this will answer any questions regarding the trustworthiness of myself and the people heading your way.”

The woman leaned forward, her lips drawing flat before she spoke again.

“Sergeant Draper, I don’t wish to expound needlessly. My husband wished to impart his wish for you to bring the people responsible for all of this, for Tevy’s death, back for trial. Rest assured I have no such compulsion. You can either bring me their names and heads will roll, or you can bring me news of their demise and I will gladly shake your hand.”

Hilly’s mother paused. Her eyes closed tight and her jaw clenched, drawing lines that read of grief and spoke of anger. When she looked up again, that piercing gaze was so reminiscent of Hilly that despite knowing what was coming in the message, Bobbie quickly blinked away the moisture gathering beneath her eyes.

“As she would say, good hunting.”

The message terminated.

Avasarala hummed appreciatively, “I like her.”

“Of course you do,” Cotyar muttered. “Under ordinary circumstances, it’s your head she would be after.”

“But these are hardly ordinary circumstances, are they?” Avasarala replied, still not looking at him.

“No, they aren’t,” he answered flatly, “So you should keep all your options open.”

“Some things aren’t up for discussion,” Avasarala shot back.

Cotyar smiled, a stiff pull of the lips. “Weren’t they just?”

They were fighting in code again. Bobbie wandered back to the message from Director Hillman. The details were sinking in the second time around.

“SIGINT…” Bobbie’s cheek twitched.

They abruptly stopped shooting daggers at each other and faced her. Avasarala smiled serenely. Cotyar chuckled lowly.

“Welcome to the network. I always knew you had it in you,” he teased before his gaze slide sideways to Avasarala. “You planted the idea with the Hillmans.”

It wasn’t a question.

“Of course I did. It’d be a long wait for the Martians to get their thick heads out of their obstinate asses on their own,” Avasarala proclaimed, before adding soothingly, “No offense, Bobbie.”

“Does it even matter if I’m still offended?” Bobbie asked sardonically before drawing up straight, blinking. “Wait, why is involving SIGINT important?”

“Other than being deliciously ironic for the marine who looks down on us spy folk?” Cotyar asked, smirking that know-it-all smirk.

Bobbie growled through set teeth, “Yes.”

Cotyar raised his eyebrows at Avasarala. She merely placed a neat hand under her jaw, above that not-so-innocent curve of her dark lips. He rolled his eyes, and turned back to Bobbie with a long suffering sigh. He was entirely ready to provide the explanation she wanted, all without a word of clarification passing through them. Bobbie wondered, not for the first time, if Cotyar and Avasarala bickered to pass the time because they already knew what the other one was thinking.

“SIGINT is important because after all this blows over, if Mars wants to save face and say they had a hand in bringing Mao and his co-conspirators to justice, all SIGINT has to do is say your defection was the plan all along. Other than a few people in the know, to all the other grunts, you’re going to be the self sacrificing hero who put Mars above her own reputation. They’re all going to beat themselves up for ever thinking you were a defector and prostrate at your feet for forgiveness.”

At her nauseated look of astonishment, Cotyar ended his spiel with mouthy grin, “You’ll love it.”

“That’s crazy,” Bobbie exclaimed wide-eyed.

Avasarala lifted her chin and stated with no small amount of arrogance, “That’s politics.”

Bobbie’s head hurt. Her hands were starting to look unlike her own. The reality she had always known was bending under the gravity of these two conniving assholes. And she had never been so ready to shove both of them up the wall and screw them senseless. She wanted to bite into the flushed pout of their lower lips and claw through their dark hairlines with a grip so she could watch their sharp, calculating pupils blow wide with elemental lust. She wanted to feel beneath her palm their sedate, manipulative hearts thundering uncontrollably as her fingers curled around his hard cock and curved into her slick sex. She wanted to ride them and fuck them in a punishing pace until the only sounds out of their smirking, scheming mouths were desperate gasps and ecstatic moans.

And if she needed a break, the idea of watching Cotyar lose his perennial cool while fucking Avasarala to pleasured speechlessness was oddly satisfying. The uncivilized sounds they would make, throaty groans and keening whimpers. The filthy things they would do to one up each other because they had an audience and someone had to be in charge of the show. Someone would glare at her with hazy half-lidded eyes, just a tad resentful that Bobbie was making them into mindless fucking animals at the mercy of their sexual attraction and that other stuff. And won’t she come back and join them now because this was all her fault and they intended to punish her for it.

Bobbie was hot and achy just imagining it. Apparently this was a thing for her now. Huh.

“Speaking of politics,” Cotyar continued determinedly, unaware of the roles he was playing in Bobbie’s libidinous daydreams, “I hope your ducks are in a row because Errinwright just screwed us, again.”

He flipped open a holo from his terminal. A young woman with the name of Larson spoke into the recording.

“I was able to intercept communications from Errinwright to Nguyen, copied to all of UN Command. It said to bring Avasarala in for questioning regarding evidence of unsanctioned communication with Fred Johnson. She is also under suspicion of a quid pro quo agreement for death of an OPA Black Sky operative in exchange for the UN nuclear warheads lost during the Eros incident. ”

Avasarala betray Earth? “That’s bullshit,” Bobbie exclaimed.

Cotyar paused the message.

The Earthers were looking everywhere but at her.

“I thought you said she was read in,” Avasarala murmured.

Cotyar huffed and replied with heavy sarcasm, “I’m sorry for not leaving treasonous communications on the record.”

At Bobbie’s confused frown, Avasarala helpfully explained, “Only the first half is true.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Cotyar said airily, “Everyone knows you have a bone to pick with Black Sky and the order is evenhanded enough to make it believable. The evidence he has on you talking to Fred Johnson fits his story.”

“Yes, yes, as you said, the OPA leaks like a sieve,” Avasarala mimicked mockingly. “Errinwright kept that in his back pocket. That motherfucker.”

“You could have been in big trouble,” Cotyar admonished. Avasarala waved away his concern.

Bobbie’s frowned deepened. Back on the Guanshiyin, the UN escort ship had been bearing down on them to get Avasarala back to ‘safety’ but after their non-response to the hails during gunfight, that was not a chance they were going to take. After making Theo release the communications lock, Avasarala broadcasted wide some nonsense about tracking down Mao. They skedaddled with a recording of Errinwright’s tirade on the Razorback before whoever was in Errinwright’s pocket on the escort ship could convinced the crew to fire on an unarmed civilian vessel carrying the UN Deputy Undersecretary. It was Cotyar’s dire condition under the Gs they were pulling and the possible pursuit of the UN escort ship that forced them to reach out to Mars. They were damn lucky it was Holden’s crew that answered.

Bobbie had assumed that Avasarala sent the recording back to Earth and they were just sitting tight to make sure all the pieces were in place to capture Mao and Errinwright in one shot. How could a traitor issue an order to all of UN Command? And why were they being so nonchalant?

There was something she wasn’t getting but she couldn’t help asking, “We have evidence of Errinwright colluding with Mao. Why didn’t you send it back to Earth?”

“Because it’s not the treason that matters, it’s the cover up,” Avasarala answered obliquely.

Bobbie took deep, calming breath, before stating dully, “I don’t understand.”

Avasarala gestured for her to wait. “There was more, wasn’t there?” she asked Cotyar, smiling slyly.

“Yes,” Cotyar bit off as he restarted the holo.

Larson resumed speaking in that clinical monotone.

“The other message from Errinwright was sent to Nguyen and a need-to-know distribution list. If Avasarala was caught by UN forces not in the know, they would need to utilize their authority to take command.”

Larson paused, her formerly placid demeanor dissolving, the delicate features of her face turning to a disgusted grimace.

“These dipshits would make sure Chrisjen wouldn’t be making it back to Earth for questioning. You know what, Cotyar, fuck you! When you told me there was some conspiracy going on and you needed my help, you could have told me they were trying to pin all this shit on Chrisjen and then try to kill her. There are quicker and easier ways to get rid of these motherfuckers without risking her neck. You better bring her back in one piece or I swear, I’ll fucking k--”

Cotyar swiped the holo away to cut off Larson’s profanity laced threats with a heave of exasperation.

Avasarala covered up a low chuckle by clearing her throat. She schooled her features into a serious manner, her eyes sobering before asking Cotyar, “The distribution list?”

“It’s not short,” he answered somberly. “You sure Souther can corral this mess without getting a shot off?”

“If anyone can do it, it’s him.” Avasarala turned to Bobbie with an impish smile. “Errinwright and all his allies involved in a conspiracy to kill me to cover up his collusion with Mao. That’s self-evident guilt of conspiracy and murder. No amount of politicking can make that go away. And anything he claimed I did can be explained away as fruit of the poisonous tree. Even my communication with Fred Johnson pales in comparison to that treasonous piece of shit, I’ll get a slap on the wrist at most. I held off so he plays all his cards, and now I can clean the whole fucking house. Do you see it now?”

Bobbie blinked quietly under Avasarala’s expectant scrutiny. “Who’s Larson?” she asked finally, breaking her silence, “She’s not your kid and or a relative. And she’s not just some random spy you planted with Nguyen.”

Avasarala stopped short at the admittedly non sequitur, looking helplessly at Cotyar to pick up Bobbie’s train of thought.

Bobbie understood most of what Avasarala had said, but who the fuck was Larson to be so familiar and make those dumb threats?

Cotyar ran a palm over his face before turning to Bobbie, his eyes telling her that her thoughts transparent. “She did something nice for the Larson years ago, off the record. Now Larson thinks of her as a role model,” he replied, shaking his head ruefully, before muttering with mild distaste, “Though this is obviously her coming to collect.”

“I can also hold grudges,” Avasarala warned.

“Wouldn’t be here if you didn’t,” Cotyar sing-songed with a deliberately fake smile.

Avasarala’s eyes widened for a split second before she came to stand before him, jaw tilted willfully and declaring, “You like working for me.”

“’Like’ is not the word I would use,” he said, bending his head over hers.

Avasarala smirked triumphantly. “That’s not what you said to me last--“

Red lights flickered and the deck beneath their feet dropped.

“Shit!”

Avasarala shot up in a free float and Bobbie instinctively pushed forward her, disengaging from the suction of the gravity boots with force. Cotyar’s arms swooped out and caught Avasarala, tucking her under his larger frame, protecting her from the innocuous bulkheads that could crack her head open under sudden gravity shifts, but leaving himself susceptible to that very same danger. Luckily, Bobbie’s quick reflexes and height enabled her reach up for them, and there was enough force from her initial push off to send the three of them back against a wall. The magnets of Bobbie’s boots clicked on, and she pulled them down into the safe and narrow space between her and the wall until she heard a similar click from Cotyar’s boots.

The lights stopped flashing, so even without the magnetic boots, it was safe for them to depend on the normalized thrust of the Roci once more. But the way Cotyar had his arms firmly around Avasarala kept her feet dangling between them. He didn’t seem inclined to let her go yet. She could feel the muscles of his forearm, tense and hard as a rock beneath the quick rise and fall of Avasarala’s chest. Bobbie decided she wasn’t so inclined either.

Avasarala panted between them, her hot breath landing somewhere over Bobbie’s left collarbone. From the corners of her eyes, Bobbie saw Avasarala setting her arms down. Cotyar’s very sudden and sharp inhale told her that Avasarala wasn’t simply resting her hands over his thighs.

The room constricted, until there was nothing and no one but the three of them, hearts racing from leftover adrenaline, minds jumbled by the closeness of each other, and bodies pressed together so tightly that they could feel the heat of each other through their clothes. It was that intimacy that allowed Bobbie to realize Chrisjen Avasarala was shaken, quaking in fear.

“Hey,” Bobbie whispered gently, “It’s okay.” She nuzzled at Avasarala’s temple, lips brushing over the top of her ear. “You’re okay.”

Avasarala gazed up at her with saucer like eyes. Bobbie smiled and nodded confidently. Slowly, Avasarala’s breath was no longer at the edge of hyperventilation. But that didn’t stop Bobbie from dropping her gaze to those softly parted lips. Even as Bobbie swallowed and licked her lips, her mouth seemed to have gone permanently dry just watching Avasarala breathe.

Avasarala’s shoulders drew down as if lending strength to her hands below. With action came an equal reaction. Cotyar flinched, his hips bucking, pushing one of Avasarala’s thighs up between hers. Bobbie gasped over the snap of relief and grip of frustration, but before she could roll back against that delicious pressure, a strong hand landed over her shoulder.

“Bobbie,” Cotyar called out between clenched teeth, “We need to go.” He punctuated the statement with the click of Avasarala’s boots on the deck, gazing hard at some vague point over her shoulder.

Bobbie growled with the knowledge that he was right. That sudden tilt of gravity felt more like the ship reacting automatically to a close quarter bogey than any of the gradual shifts or elegant turns she’d come to expect from Alex.

“Guys and gals, y’all better get up here cause that wasn’t me,” came the tight drawl of the pilot over the intercom.

At this very moment, she hated being right. Cotyar had an unwavering if slightly pained expression. Avasarala was blinking guilelessly at them. Unbelievable. She would like to hate them both if she could. So she did only thing she could think of and leaned back into the both of them, intending to give Cotyar a brief respite and Avasarala an eyeful of what she was missing.

Bobbie reached out, cupped Cotyar’s scruffy jaw over Avasarala’s head, and kissed him. She set her nails over the short prickly hairs and scratched lightly, the way he liked it. Her tongue licked over his, his mouth tasted faintly of coffee and the bad alcohol from before, and somehow that suited him, the stalwart spy and his non-payable debt. His lips were full and soft, made of flesh that could be bruised and split for himself, but now more for Avasarala. For all his bluster, Cotyar loved Avasarala more than life itself, even with the shadow of her son’s death between them. His heartbeat thumped beneath Bobbie’s palm and an ache settled unlike that of the rush of heat, but of the slow churn of longing and hurt. His, but now hers, and theirs.

When they broke apart for breath, it was a slow and gentle motion of reluctant parting. She sighed, running a hand over his cheek, realizing that she had came to care for the both of them, then now she was coming to care for the both of them together. Cotyar frowned at her, as if her actions were indecipherable. Avasarala herself held a hand almost protectively over his chest, eyeing her oddly.

That was all it took, apparently, to pull one over them. All she had to do was fall in love with them.

 

 

Chapter Text

“What the hell was that?”

The fact that the Roci hadn’t immediately fired back added to the ominous cloud of mystery. Battle-ready frigates weren’t designed to sit still against incoming ordinance.

“They don’t match any weapons configuration we know of and they were almost on top of us before the Roci detected them.” Alex winced as they watched the unidentified bogies flickered into being and sliced uncomfortably across the Roci’s bow on the replaying holo. The drive signatures faded as they flew off en mass, undeterred, until they blinked out all together. “And now they’ve pretty much disappeared from ladar.”

“A stealth weapon,” Naomi murmured, her eyes wide.

Avasarala’s eyes flashed. “Mao.”

Holden stared hard at the replay as if it could be intimidated into giving him the answer. But it was James Holden so of course it worked out anyway, dumb luck or otherwise. Holden sucked in a sharp breath and swiped up a set of blueprints, innocent lines and shapes around an elongated figure that could have been human once. “I’ve been looking into the data core we retrieved from Strickland’s facility on Ganymede. These things aren’t classified as weapons. They’re carriers. The drive signatures match the preliminary designs. Each of these is meant to carry a hybrid.”

They had seen at least 50 dots zoom past and those were the ones that came close enough to light up the Roci’s sensors. If they were meant as an attack the Roci, that was serious overkill.

“So maybe this wasn’t meant for us, we just happened to be in the way. Based on what little trajectory we could gather…” Alex pulled the fading lines out, extending the arcs to draw out the possible paths of the hybrids. The possible destinations stretched wide, and that was assuming there were no course corrections en route. The pilot’s hands splayed out in an angry, helpless gesture, “…the best I can guess, they’re heading down the gravity well.”

Cotyar caught Avasarala’s eyes. In them, he found confirmation of his suspicion. He fought the nausea rising as the images from Eros flooded the receptors behind his eyes. Even as he blinked them away, gray afterimages of bodies piled high floated behind his pupils. Four billion people had no idea what was coming for them.

“Mars,” Avasarala stated into the terrible silence of denial and hope, “They’re heading for Mars.”

“Are you sure?!” Alex cried.

Avasarala’s bloodless lips thinned, unwilling to repeat the horror. Alex spun toward his fellow Martian, desperate for Bobbie to refute Avasarala. But it only took a look at Bobbie’s ashen face to dash his hopes.

Avasarala punched swift commands into her hand terminal. “Errinwright would have to have the transponder codes before he dared to launch those things at Mars. Nguyen could have them as well. I’ll send Souther and Sorrento-Gillis everything we have. They could try to get Errinwright and Nguyen to give up the codes. That spineless fucker Sorrento-Gillis would jump at the chance to secure this for his legacy.”

Bobbie’s wide eyes rounded on him, but Cotyar gave her an almost imperceptible shake of his head. Once they launched the barrage of hybrids at Mars, there was already too much at stake for Errinwright and Nguyen. If there was more time, maybe it could be forced out of them, but time was not on their side. The hybrids were traveling in stealth at speeds that were impossible for humans to give chase. The best they could do was to shore up their chances and roll the dice against the house.

Cotyar grabbed Bobbie’s arm, fingers digging in. “Send the info about the hybrids to the MCRN, they can set up an orbital barricade and get more people into the tunnels.”

“All it takes is one hybrid slipping through,” Bobbie managed, her voice constricted as if the atmosphere was thin.

He had nothing to counter that and he wasn’t going to give her false hope.  Her arm was limp as it slipped out of his hold to message the Martian destroyers were heading their way. They would have to turn back to Mars to join the barricade.

Either way, the Roci was too far away and too slow to give chase to stop the hybrids. There was nothing they could do.

“If we can’t stop something from spreading, we go back to find its roots,” Prax murmured, breaking the silent dirge.

Cotyar blinked, his eyes snapping to where Avasarala was busy abusing her hand terminal.

“Io,” Alex exclaimed with a cry, slapping his hands on his thighs. “These things had to have come from Io.” The pilot swiveled to scramble up to the flight deck.

Before Cotyar could move to stop the man, Holden was already there, his hand shooting out, catching Alex’s arm in mid climb and almost tripping him on the rungs.

“What’re you doing?!” Alex pushed Holden back. He surveyed their still standing figures with a severe frown. “Ya’ll need to go get settled in ‘cause we’re gonna to burn like hell for Io before those things reach Mars. And then Bobbie's going to beat the transponder codes out of them.”

“Alex…” Holden hissed, his eyes motioning to Avasarala.

Avasarala must have felt multiple eyes on her.

“Yes, Io, I heard.” She looked up with an impatient huff. “Mao might even be there. He would have wanted to see this through himself,” Avasarala growled, full of contempt. “Let’s get there quickly then.” She went back to her terminal, making small steps in the general direction of the crash couches.

Cotyar winced at her imperious tone. She was used to being in charge. He caught Bobbie’s equally uncomfortable gaze and tilted his head in the vague direction of the ship’s starboard. A surge of gratification rippled through his chest when Bobbie’s eyes rounded with understanding. She shot to Naomi’s side, pointing at one of the external monitors.

He sidled up to Avasarala and caught her arm, stilling her vague movements but otherwise causing no response, her eyes still glued to the hand terminal. Either his touch didn’t register or she was content to go wherever he led her. He wanted to shake her, or kiss her. These days, it was probably both, if he was being truthful to himself. Either way it would end badly, so he settled on turning her around and squeezing until he had her full attention.

“This ship can get to Io very quickly,” he explained to her, with emphasis on the last two words, “Just not with you on it.”

Everyone was busy observing readings elsewhere as understanding dawned on Avasarala. Almost everyone.

“The juice ain’t going to help much at your age, Chrissie.”

Cotyar glared narrowed-eyed at Amos. The burly mechanic shrugged, muscles flexing carelessly. Before Avasarala could expound expletives on that ridiculous nickname, Cotyar added, canting his head at Prax, “Not to mention the ship’s most qualified medical personnel is a botanist. No offense.”

Prax’s open face was a big question mark.

“Never mind,” Cotyar muttered, though he enjoyed the cold emanating from a particular mechanic’s corner.

“The Razorback is docked,” Bobbie announced, coming to the other side of Avasarala. Avasarala frowned with that same pinched grimace from when they departed Earth and from when they were on the Razorback. The thought of flying anywhere into space inside such an enclosed space was clearly unpleasant for her.

Naomi struck up a holo with the Roci taking the lead to Io and the Razorback following more slowly in its wake. “I’ve programmed it to sync to Alex’s maneuvers, minus the high Gs. If anyone happens to be watching, it will just look like our shadow. I’ve also tethered communications so we can keep the channels open and you can still tightbeam to the UN.”

“Good. Com’on, you can do everything over on the Razorback that you can do here,” he gently coaxed a flustered Avasarala. “Let’s go.”

The three of them moved speedily to the airlock at his urging, with one of his hands on Avasarala’s back and the other on her arm, pushing and leading the way. Before he and Avasarala crossed the bridge, he spared a backward glance at Bobbie.

“Go get them, marine,” he said, smiling with the regret that he couldn’t be there to help, but not at all sorry that it was Avasarala’s life that he was protecting.

Bobbie nodded, her dark eyes wide and searching, as if she wanted to capture the look of them before they separated.

“Stay safe, spy.”

Yet before they reached the threshold, his damned good luck at having an Avasarala who could follow his plans without complaint ran out.

“Wait!” Avasarala twisted around, breaking free from their quick stride and taking a few quick catch up breaths. “Wait a minute. Naomi already said programmed the Razorback to follow the ship. I don’t need a glorified chauffeur when we have no idea what the shit is going on down there in Io.” She shoved him none too lightly back in Bobbie’s direction. “I want you to watch each other’s backs.”

Cotyar and Bobbie stared at Avasarala, then at each other. He inhaled and exhaled without a sound, but his hands were fisted tight as he teased with a lightness he didn’t feel, “You’ll order me to do anything to get a Martian marine on your side, won’t you? And you sure you’ll be fine all by your lonesome in that flying coffin?”

Avasarala’s chin rose, her lips trembling before she pulled it back tight in a flat smile.

“You’ll just have to see for yourself when you get back.”

Quick as a blink, Avasarala flew at him. He could only hold out his arms to break her impact. One of her limbs tightened around him and the other held out at an odd angle. It was with the motion of a tug, and the heat of another body closing in beside him that he realized Avasarala had gathered the both of them into her small embrace. They were both bent over her slight stature, quiet but for their breathing, inhaling her scent.

“You will, the both of you.”

Without waiting for their response, Avasarala flounced, her back straight as iron, and crossed the bridge onto to the Razorback. Her form was tiny against the looming shape of the racing pinnace and he was already taking a step after her before he had a mind to stop himself.

Bobbie cast a worried glance at him.

This was all very logical, but when it came to Avasarala, logic wasn't ever his first concern. He was not just a little fucking terrified that something was going to happen to her because he sent her out there by herself. And that if he had gone with her, he could have protected her, or at the very least, he could have died trying. But she wanted him to help Bobbie and stop the protomolecule from killing billions of people, from turning Mars into another Eros. He wanted that as much as she did. Between a rock and a hard place, he was truly fucked.

Finally, with the seconds ticking down, he gritted his teeth and motioned for Bobbie to go after Avasarala. “Go make sure she’s strapped in and check the internal and external sensors before you head back out. We can’t be blind on this.”

Bobbie started, her eyes soft. “Why don’t you---“

His gaze flickered back to the bridge. Bobbie fell silent, perhaps because his answer was already plain on his face. He stepped back, putting space between the temptation to remake the choice he’d already made. “You’ve done it before. I’ll get geared up and strapped in, let Holden know when you’re ready.”

“Okay.”

Cotyar watched Bobbie take off in a run and proceeded in the opposite direction, away from the unspoken words of his answer.

Because if I go in there, I may not come back out.

Chapter Text

Bobbie scrambled up the ladder, catching Avasarala’s gaze as she came beside the older woman. She looked down, ignoring the tightness in her chest as she pulled and tested the tension of the restraints that held Avasarala’s small form on the crash couch. Next, the valves and sensors lit from yellow to green as she cycled through a quick test.

Avasarala was not exhibiting any of her usual cutting wit, allowing silence to stretch during Bobbie’s inspection. It was only when Bobbie set two fingers beneath her chin that Avasarala took a sharp inhale. Bobbie watched narrowed-eyed as the matching heart rate appeared in the holo that sprang up before them.

“Your stress indicators are too high and we haven’t even started the burn yet,” Bobbie snapped, the suddenness of her rising anger making her ears ring. She was so damn pissed off at the circumstances that were forcing her to abandon Avasarala here, alone inside a ship that had once belonged to a dead woman. Avasarala was putting on a brave face, but the readings from her body didn’t lie. If this was her baseline then the risk of stroke would go from minor to imminent. “Either you calm the fuck down or I haul Cotyar’s ass back here to hold your hand.”

“No, don’t.” Avasarala gripped at Bobbie’s hand from beneath her chin and pulled it down to clutch it against her chest. She closed her eyes and took several long and even breaths. The beats beneath Bobbie’s palm slowed. Avasarala’s fingers unfurled until they settled intertwined into the gaps between Bobbie’s fingers.

Her jaw set, Bobbie pulled her hand away and watched with mixed, tumultuous feelings as the readings from the holo stayed steady. Avasarala opened her eyes, her gaze luminous beneath her dark lashes and her lips curved in a rare self-deprecating smile that was almost shy.

Fuck.

“You’re the worst,” Bobbie growled as she wrapped a hand behind Avasarala, above the slender arch of her neck, and drew a feather-light caress across the hairline. As Avasarala tilted back into that touch, Bobbie forwent her own breath, giving into the urgent need to descend over that perfectly angled face and capture the soft gasp out of Avasarala’s mouth.

The touch of their lips was at first a heated hello, until all that kindling beneath their flesh finally struck into a full flame. The fire beneath her belly was a starved, craving beast. She bit into the flushed pout of Avasarala’s bottom lip and swallowed the low, throaty moan that left her skin tingling and her chest heavy and aching.

With the clock ticking down, Bobbie finally tore herself away from that heady kiss. As she panted for breath, she felt Avasarala cradling the sides of her face. Avasarala placed a kiss over the crown of her head, and somehow that affected her more than the searing kiss they just shared. She blinked back the moisture beneath her eyes and tightened her arms around Avasarala.

“Don’t make me…” The anguished look that Cotyar gave her in the airlock flashed behind her eyes. “Don’t make us regret leaving you here.”

Bobbie pushed away from Avasarala’s arms and leapt down the ladder without looking back. As she tore through the airlock, she took large steady breaths that left her inside clean and open to anything she wanted to put there, anything that would allow her to power through the fight that was to come. It had been the Marines. It had been her squad. It had been two assholes who wormed their way into her heart. But now she couldn’t use any of that. So, all that was left was the anger.

Bobbie smiled.

Anger, she could work with.

As her power armor sealed closed, Bobbie opened its comms to the flight deck.

“Let’s get our asses to Io.”

“Roger that, Gunny.” A few seconds later, Alex broadcasted on the open channel, “Hope y’all are strapped in cause we’re kicking in the burn in 3…2…1!”

The HUD of her power armor lit up as additional power routed itself to the mag locks of her gloves and boots. A green bar at the corner of her HUD faded into yellow as the Roci gradually increased power to its drives. The yellow began to darken into shades of red like the sunsets of Earth and Bobbie flinched as her armor’s secondary collar sealed around her neck and tiny needles shot out to administer the high-G cocktail. The darkness around her vision cleared enough that she could again make out their trajectory to Io, and the tiny dot that was trailing further and further behind them.  

“Entering Io AO,” Alex said, sighing with relief, “Ready for flip and burn deceleration into Io orbit. Madam Avasarala, how’re you doing?”

Bobbie’s heart skipped a beat when there was only silence on the other end. Then, Avasarala’s voice rang out.

“I’d be better if Sorrento-Gillis would stop whining and get those transponder codes from Errinwright! That simpering idiot said Errinwright’s not talking and wants a fucking lawyer. Does he not understand the apocalyptic shitstorm heading down the gravity well?!”

“Erm, so don’t get our hopes up over there, got it. Scanning the surface. Whoa! The hell!”

Holden’s voice sounded low and harsh as he added to Alex’s exclamation, “You guys seeing this?”

Bobbie stared at the new picture that flew up in her HUD. There was an object floating above Io, its body shaped like a bird in flight. Beneath it were long five cables tethering it to the surface. At least, there were five. One appeared to have snapped from the surface, and was floating freely around the platform like a tentacle.

“We should nuke it,” Amos said, his voice flat.

“It’s too low in orbit, the blast zone could cause a collapse of the mining facility belo—“ Naomi gasped. Another tether snapped as they were watching.

Avasarala let out an imprecation. “Why does anyone think these things could be controlled?!”

“There can’t be anything human in there,” Prax remarked in a monotone, “The present radiation levels would kill anyone within five minutes.”

Bobbie vaguely registered the chatter on the channel. The fact that the mysterious object was breaking out against its restraints wasn’t the worst part of the problem.

The worst part was its eerie blue glow.

 

 

Chapter Text

Amos worked on the station’s airlock as the rest of them surveyed the structure above them that was glowing blue with the protomolecule infection. Outside, against the dark of the inhospitable space around them, the pulsing lights were a chilling reminder of the protomolecule’s alien origins.

“Alex,” Holden breathed without taking his eyes off the thing, “the moment it tries to make a run for it, you blow it out of the fucking sky. Never mind the situation on the surface; give us a heads up if you can and we’ll take cover.”

“You got it, hoss.”

Cotyar narrowed his eyes, trying to see the original shape of the structure. If anything the lights were obscuring the outline of it, giving him much less to go on compared to the scans from the Roci’s sensors. It was an exercise in futility, but something about the structure had struck him as familiar, he just couldn’t quite place the memory. He shifted his gaze, over to the direction where Avasarala should be. One of those white specks in the black sky could be the Razorback as it took a more leisurely pace to catch up with them at Io. He hoped she was doing what she does best, politicking to stop the hybrid pods and stop the war, so that she could forget she was all alone up there.

“We’re in,” Amos rose from his crouch as the station doors groaned open.

Bobbie took point as the rest of them followed. Suddenly she stopped, held up a fist, and with distant gaze, she reported, “I’ve got heat signatures, six levels down.”

“Could it be the children?” Prax asked, his voice tight.

Bobbie shook her head. “Can’t tell, but that’s all I’ve got so far. It could be Mao. Although if it is him, his trigger happy goons will be with him.”

Cotyar passed a gloved hand over his gun and smiled. “Good.”

Bobbie turned and graced him with a grin that was just as bloodthirsty. He was inordinately pleased. If the current circumstances were different he would have liked to explore the myriad of happy expressions that Bobbie was capable of. He would draw them out ever so slowly, so that the reward was in the wait, the anticipation of seeing her face light up.

Oh.

Goddamn it. He was in the deep shit of Avasarala’s making, again.

They found an elevator and piled into the cage. It was a tight fit, with Bobbie taking up the most space, head to toe encased on her lethal armor, the makeshift rocket launcher strapped to her back. Yet this didn’t stop him from remembering how her nude body was a tactile map of smooth curves and wet heat, how her hips readily bucked into the suction of his mouth and lick of his tongue, and how her nails drew sparking fuse lines that lit right into his cock.

He shifted his feet at the next rattle of the cage as the elevator continued to descend. It wasn’t the relief he was seeking but then he doubted anything would be at this point.

“Did Avasarala tell you to have sex with me?” Bobbie asked, breaking the bubble of silence.

Her placid tone didn’t stop Holden, Prax, and even Amos from immediately shuffling back and pressing themselves as close to the confining walls of the elevator as they could. The consensus was rather bleak.

Cotyar considered his possible responses and her possible responses to them.

Bobbie continued, perhaps to provide evidence for her theory before he refuted her, “Before we left, you said that she’d order you to do anything to get me on her side.”

The small space would make it hard for him to dodge any sort of violent reaction. Either Bobbie planned it this way or she saw an opportunity and she took it. He grinned despite himself and adjusted himself once more. God, he was so fucked.

“Bobbie—“ Avasarala started belatedly over the comm..

“--not in so many words. She said I should try to accommodate your requests, I assume within reasonable parameters,” he finally answered, cutting Avasarala off. She didn’t have a good track record and he’d like to avoid getting punched in a face again.

“So you were just doing me a reasonable favor,” Bobbie replied, her voice flat.

Cotyar chuckled throatily, feeling strangely extra cheery in the confined space. “Orders had nothing to do with it. Pretty sure I was doing myself a favor.”

The others in the elevator finally added to the conversation with murmured, vague noises of agreement. Should the opportunity to have sex with the statuesque Martian arise, none of them was going to dismiss it out of hand.

“Bobbie—“ Avasarala tried again.

“Wait.” Bobbie turned to face him fully. “Was that what you guys were fighting about?”

Cotyar set a hand on Bobbie’s shoulder. “You really missed your calling at SIGINT.”

“You didn’t want to be following orders.”

He sighed. “She should take some responsibility for her own messes. Especially when she instigates it.”

Bobbie punched him in the arm.

“Ow.”

“You shouldn’t make her do what she doesn’t want to do,” Bobbie said unreasonably, but with just enough righteousness and that all consuming need to protect Avasarala that he didn’t mind it.

Someone was in deep and it wasn’t in Cotyar’s nature to kick them while they were down. Kicking himself was another matter entirely.

“If I had the power to make her do what I wanted, we wouldn’t even be in this mess,” Cotyar groused with a healthy dose of self-disgust. He himself came willingly despite his well-founded reluctance. After all, he muttered, “She’s the worst.”

Bobbie stared.

“We should team up,” she stated, as if it was a matter of strategy.

He raised a questioning eyebrow even if his dick thought it knew exactly what she meant. There was a lot of pent up energy in there, he shouldn’t be surprise that it had developed sentience.

“To do what, exactly?” he sighed, half-heartedly hoping the answer wasn’t going to frighten the natives, or give them ideas.

Bobbie tisked inaudibly, head dipping low with the weight of her eye roll, clearly unimpressed with his manufactured mental density and his attempt at plausible deniability.

“Her.”

Amos laughed, a short single bark.

“Did…did you guys just talk about tag-teaming your boss on an open channel? You know she can hear you, right?” Holden was all incredulousness.

“Our captain here just doesn’t want other people to get ideas,” Amos drawled with a lazy smile, “He prefers we keep it on the down low.”

“That’s not what I meant,” Holden replied with a startled frown.

“You prefer we include you in our ‘tag-teaming the captain’ discussions?” Amos asked, his head cocked and his eyes wide.

Holden blinked. “What?”

“Are you guys hypoxic?” came Naomi’s worried voice.

Prax pointed at the panel next to the elevator doors. “Um, level six.”

As quickly as the situation devolved, they were back on track again with a snap to attention as the doors jolted open. Bobbie shook out her arms and stalked out. Cotyar grimaced as Holden and Amos rushed out behind her. He couldn’t stop them, but he jammed his arm in front of Prax. The botanist staggered, just as Holden and Amos fell back into the elevator cage under the rat-tat-tat barrage of enemy gun fire.

“You guys been on your own for a while?” Cotyar remarked to Holden over the din.

Holden looked up at him from his bent position as they heard Bobbie call out tonelessly, “I’ve got four.”

Cotyar inclined his head at steady step-wise drop in the cacophony outside. “She’s a marine. If she can’t handle the welcome wagon, we’re already fucked.”

A lull quickly descended, only to be broken by Bobbie’s announcement.

“Clear.”

Cotyar gestured to the Roci crew to proceed out. “I’ll bring up the rear, if that’s all right,” he told Holden. 

Holden nodded readily with clumsy approval, “Okay, thanks.”

They crossed over the prone and plainclothed bodies.

“They don’t look like soldiers,” Holden said.

Cotyar surveyed the stilled faces and stopped over one of them. “I’ve seen him before on the Guanshiyin with Mao.”

“So he’s here.” Bobbie’s upper lip curled in a silent snarl. “Let’s move.”

The tunnel they jogged through was dark and quiet. If it weren’t for the welcome committee, Cotyar would have thought maybe they were too late. After all, with that protoshit up there in the open air, this was no longer a viable facility for protomolecule research.

Research. The SIGINT research report on the possible locations of Martian Stealth-C Ballistic Missile Platforms.

Cotyar closed his eyes briefly and let the projected outline of the weapons platform overlay with the shape of the infected structure above them. Every platform had a capacity for ten planet busters, each containing twenty high yield warheads. Two hundred weapons of mass destruction. That could be the number of hybrid pods heading to Mars. Then again, if it was a planet buster platform, there was a non-zero chance that the intel he happened across could be true.

Suddenly, Bobbie stopped and pointed to a smaller tunnel to their left.

“High powered electrical signatures. Could be the command center. Go.”

Holden frowned at Bobbie as she stood with her back to them, looking forward intently.

“Get the transponder codes and the kids. Go!” she inclined her head back toward them and yelled.

The Roci crew finally veered left and away they went. Cotyar paused as he came up next to Bobbie. “How many?”

Bobbie lifted her right arm, readying the gatling gun. “Just the one. I’ll lead it away.”

“Bobbie, don’t be an idiot,” Avasarala called out, “This won’t bring back your dead marines. Cotyar, say something!”

Bobbie turned and stared at him, her jaw clenched tight. If he was still running the op, she would stand down if he ordered it. If he was still a serviceman in his bones, he would understand there was no greater camaraderie than that of your squad. The crushing weight of their deaths made her break her oath. He wasn’t unfamiliar with it, nor with the absolute desire to make it right again, somehow.

Cotyar holstered his gun and pulled Bobbie forward with two hands, his forehead touching the cool faceplate of her helmet. He grinned at her, “Good hunting, marine.”

Light danced in her dark eyes as she grinned back toothily, “Same to you, spy.”

Bobbie took off in a run.

“Cotyar, what the fuck did you just do?” Avasarala cursed at him.

He thought about the radiation levels of that thing outside. His heart pounded in his ears.

“Not everything is up to you, Chrisjen,” he replied, gentle but firm.

He could almost hear her silence, it was so loud.

“Cotyar,” Holden’s voice rang out, “I have a visual on Mao. He’s in the tunnel to your right, D-126. He’s got one man with him. Looks like they’re heading for the transport at Dock 1. I’m depressurizing the bay to stall them.”

“On my way.”

“I’ve also got the Strickland and about five kids en route to Dock 2. I’ve depressurized the bay there as well.”

“Can’t hold any of them if they find vac suits,” Amos muttered.

“Ever try to put a squirming, scared kid into a vac suit?” Prax asked, before stating with stoic determination, “We’ll make it.”

“You find the transponder codes?” Alex asked, his voice reedy with fear.

Holden made a noise of frustration. “I’m looking. There’s a lot here.”

“Use your armor to scan for an open terminal,” Naomi directed, “If you can find a connection, I can log in and look as well.”

Mao might still have the codes. If he didn’t, at the very least he could confirm what that thing was outside.

Cotyar slowed as he reached the end of the tunnel, moving in careful steps as the voices became clearer.

“Sir, the shuttle is on standby, we just need to get to the airlock.”

“Make sure we steer clear of the platform,” Mao replied.

“Yes sir.”

He rounded the corner and saw them, Mao and a bodyguard.

“Stop. Hands up where I can see them.”

The bodyguard was quick, but Cotyar was ready for him. Two shots and the man fell over, a bloody hole in his chest and another one where his face had been.

“I’m unarmed!” Mao cried out, his face dotted, flecks of dark red had sprayed across his cheek.

Cotyar came in closer. There was no recognition in Mao’s eyes.

“You don’t remember me. That’s fine. But you tried to kill my teammate, a Martian marine, and you tried to kill my boss, Chrisjen Avasarala. Either way, you’re fucked.”

Mao exhaled and restarted confidently, “I can pay you. How much do you want?”

Mao probably couldn’t help himself with the offer, but why did all of them think he could be bought? Did he just have that kind of a face? Annoyed, Cotyar drew up behind him and set the gun muzzle down at the base of Mao’s neck, letting the action be his answer.

“Give me the transponder codes for the hybrids you launched.”

“I didn’t launch them. The codes were given to Nguyen. Only he has them now. I only make the tools. I’m not responsible for what the UN and Mars do with them,” Mao said, shirking his role in all of this clusterfuck even with a gun pointing at him.

Tools. The hybrid pods. The stealth ships. The thing that could be a planet buster platform.

“Make them? You stole engines from the Bush Naval shipyards. That thing up there, you probably stole from Mars.”

“I stole nothing,” Mao spat.

Profiteers like Mao always believed they earned and deserved their riches even if they stepped on other people’s necks to get them. They wanted all the glory and none of the consequences. It made sense that Mao wanted nothing to do with the hybrid pods once Nguyen had control. Still, it didn’t hurt to get confirmation somehow, he just needed an in.

“Pick up the data cores and move.”

Mao begrudgingly did as he was told. A man like him was used to getting only what he wanted to get, doing only what he wanted to do. And yet he kept the Razorback all this time, even after Julie’s death.

Cotyar smiled.

“I came here with James Holden. Did you know he was in contact with Joe Miller when he and your daughter Julie crashed into Venus? Do you want to know her last words to you?”

“What?!” Mao tried to jerk around.

Cotyar hummed with satisfaction, pressing the gun tighter into the base of Mao’s skull.

“Do you have a way to stop the hybrids or not?”

“I already told you, I don’t! What did my daughter say?”

“You used that thing up there to store and launch the hybrids, didn’t you?”

Mao’s eyes were nearly wild now.

“Yes! We were supposed to deliver the whole package to Mars, the launch platform with the hybrid pods, so they could position it themselves.”

“Mars was going to sit this thing somewhere close to Earth and Earth was going to just let them?” Cotyar portrayed a look of disbelief.

Mao was quick to add, “It’s a Stealth-C Ballistic Missile Platform. It would be constantly on the move and sensor blinding. The hybrid pods themselves were made with stealth tech.”

Cotyar’s skin prickled with cold. “So you loaded a Martian planet buster platform meant for destroying Earth with stealth protomolecule hybrids.” No wonder Nguyen launched.

All of that was unimportant to Mao. “I’ve answered all your questions. What did my daughter say?” he demanded.

Cotyar chuckled without mirth. “How the hell would I know?  You let a mad scientist experiment on her corpse. If she had any last words for you, it was probably ‘fuck you.’”

“You!” Mao hurled around and Cotyar let him, though with the gun still aimed to prevent the man from advancing further.

Mao’s entire frame shook, and Cotyar couldn’t help but think he touched a particular nerve. Well then.

“Titan of the Sol system. Did you always plan on eating your own young or was Julie just in the wrong place at the wrong time?”

Mao grew several shades paler even as he bared his teeth. “Fuck you.”

Holden jogged up to join them. “We should feed you to that infestation out there.”

“Julie didn’t say anything?!” Mao tried Holden.

Holden’s gaze flickered to Cotyar. Cotyar said nothing.

Holden’s face was grim when he answered Mao. “You’ll never know, will you?”

Mao’s face fell, his breath coming out in short-stop gasps. His accusing eyes were bloodshot. He glared at Holden with a fiery hatred. Holden frowned further before turning away.

Again, in another time and place, in a more perfect world, perhaps he and Captain James Holden could have been good friends. Cotyar gestured to Mao.

“You got this, Captain?”

Holden nodded, even as he asked, “Where are you going? Alex said Bobbie’s up and about on the surface outside, her armor’s damaged so she’s taking her time getting back to the ship.”

“Five scared, squirming kids. I’ve been around a few. Prax and Amos…?”

“Amos,” Holden quickly called over the comm, “You guys need a hand?”

“Can’t hurt,” the man replied quickly.

“Okay, we’ll meet back at the Roci.”

Cotyar waved Holden away. “Sure thing.”

He wasn’t going to meet Amos and Prax and the children. The engineer and botanist may not have tons of experience wrangling a handful of potentially unruly kids but he had bigger fish to fry.

Mao’s transport was right there waiting. Above it was the planet buster platform. A radiating death trap swarming with protomolecule. Yet, according to some random intel that came his way…

This legit? Why would the programmer do that?

Maybe he thought it was bad karma to program for something we call planet busters.

So he left a back door?

Nothing so obvious. He increased the timing between cron cyles after launch, so the transponder codes stay inside the local cache on the platform. When the codes are copied out of the cache, they are encoded as a set of self-destruct instructions.

Self-destruct so the planet busters can’t be sent somewhere else.

Boom.

Local cache, so it can’t be hacked.

You gotta be inside the platform.

How long do the codes stay in there?

No idea.

So, potentially useful and useless.

Pretty much.

Multiple things had to be true for this to work. Mao had to be telling the truth. Mars had to have sent him the same model without discovering the loophole. The programmer had to have actually built in the loophole. His informant had to be telling the truth. The codes had to actually still be in there despite the amount of time that had already passed from the launch.

Cotyar looked out of the window of Mao’s transport. The thrust was negligible due to the small distance of his starting point and his destination. The platform drew closer.

Oh well, since he was already here.

Chapter Text

“Not everything is up to you, Chrisjen.”

Cotyar’s voice seemed to reverberate inside the cockpit of the Razorback, making the racing pinnace impossibly empty and cramped all at once.

And just like that, Chrisjen shivered with an eerie sense of altered foreboding. Whereas she had wanted to crack Cotyar’s head open to see if it was being held together by glue and filled with air for letting Bobbie go after the hybrid, now she fairly certain something else was brewing. The situation was already shit-fucked, and yet Cotyar saw it fit to remind her of her lack of control. She was quite aware that she was absolutely rudderless in her current position, stuck on a ship that was being remotely piloted, hogging the tightbeam that was so time-delayed that she may as well be watching a fucking documentary of how the world went to shit. But to throw that in her face right after he made the decision to let Bobbie go, Cotyar was not one for pointless cruelty. There was always a point. Whether she agreed with it was what worried her.

She didn’t like it. She didn’t like it at all. Before she could pinpoint the reason why, Souther’s somber countenance flickered on the tightbeam display.

“We have the Agatha King in our scopes and are preparing to board. The Agatha’s network is down. We’re working to re-established the uplink and possibly obtain the hybrid transponder codes with or without Admiral Nguyen’s cooperation.”

The heavy footsteps of magboots clattered in the background. “Sir!”

Souther twisted away from the screen, rising halfway. Chrisjen couldn’t make out the chatter. The screen captured only the tensed chords of his throat and the swallow of his Adam’s apple before he uttered tersely off screen, “Stand by.”

With the amount of space between Souther’s Okimbo and the Roci, ‘stand by’ meant staring at the UN logo until whatever alarmed Souther and his response to the threat was already past and done.

On the open channels to the team on Io, Chrisjen had focus hard to not look directly at the live feed coming from Bobbie’s helmet. The inhuman eyes and transmogrified body of the hybrid had once been that of a child’s. But a child could not have risen again and again against the barrage of bullets Bobbie hailed upon it. Bobbie’s movements to both attract and evade included fast sprints and jerky banks. Watching her feed had been making Chrisjen ill. And if the motion sickness wasn’t all that was making her sick, making her heart constrict, then it was damn well a significant part.

Chrisjen pitched forward as Mao’s voice floated through Cotyar’s audio link. She knew as well as Cotyar that the chances of getting the cooperation from Errinwright or Nguyen were slim given the limited time they had, but Mao, Mao could be bargained with. But before she could get her hopes up, Mao washed himself clean of the affair. Her eyes stun. Her hand quickly pressed over her mouth as she tried to contain the scream of fury and fear. All the paths to stopping the hybrids were quickly converging into something horrific, a dead end.

She didn’t know how Cotyar managed not to strangle Mao then and there. Instead he kept talking, calm and almost pleasant, like they were discussing the weather, not wayward daughters and demons. There were unfaltering steps in the rhythm of his thoughts. When he led, she followed, trust herself in his hands until the dance became clear. He was fishing for something, and more importantly, Mao was spilling.

Chrisjen gasped with cold horror when Mao revealed that glowing thing out there was a Martian planet buster and those hybrids were meant for Earth. For one bitterly vindictive moment she had the vicious thought that the Martians brought this on themselves, that Errinwright and Nguyen had been right to launch while they still had control of the platform. But she only had to shift her gaze just a little to see Bobbie yelling as she launched herself on top of the hybrid in a tackle.

“Bobbie!”

Chrisjen would have fallen out of the crash couch if not for the restraints holding her in place. Intellectually, she knew that the armor protected Bobbie from being infected, but the hybrid was strong and worked in ways that no one could understand, not even the people who built it. The visceral dread at Bobbie coming in contact with it had her heart leaping to her throat.

The Razorback interpreted her eye movements and her calling out as a signal to deliver her exclamation to Bobbie’s comms.

“Kinda busy right now!” Bobbie called out.

Bobbie grappled with the monster as she attempted to reach over to its front chest while jamming a cylindrical mechanism into the center of its back. Its focus was on a metal ball in its hands and only haphazardly tried to shake Bobbie off like a gnat. That was until the cylindrical object whirled and its center collapsed inward with a snap.

The hybrid howled in the soundless vacuum and reared its demonic body up to its full height. It dropped the metal ball—the core of a nuclear warhead, Bobbie’s HUD helpfully supplied and warned—and with a 360 degree twist of its arm socket, it reached behind itself and grabbed at Bobbie’s shoulder. The HUD blared a blinking red warning about the unidentified external pressure deforming the chassis. Then with a strength that seemed impossible from its twisted limb, it flung Bobbie out from its back, tossing her away in a high arc.

As Bobbie cried out as she went into the air, the thrusters of her armor hissing on before stuttering off as they gave up their last reserves. Chrisjen gasped in horror and vertigo as the video became that of the ground approaching at fatal speed.

Bobbie hit the ground with a sickening thud. Skinny white cracks flashed through the otherwise stilled video feed like demented snowflakes.

Chrisjen sank back into the crash couch, aghast and trembling.

“Naomi…you, getting anything?” Alex asked almost reluctantly, as if he didn’t want to know the answer.

“I…Yes! I’m getting readings from Bobbie’s armor! She’s…” Naomi paused.

Chrisjen never thought the Belter woman was sadistic, but the time she spent in that nano-second of silence felt like torture. Naomi was probably just trying to make sense of the readings.

Naomi continued, “…badly hurt, but alive. We should go get her, the hybrid should be distracted.”

They hear a moan then. And Chrisjen never wanted to kill Bobbie more, for putting her through this.

“No…I…I need, to detonate the bomb before the hybrid rips it out,” Bobbie slurred between weak pants of breath.

“Bobbie, try not to move. You’ve got broken ribs, multiple fractures, and most likely a concussion,” Naomi implored.

Bobbie made a small noise like a wounded animal. “I’m so sorry, Hilly.”

Chrisjen wished she wasn’t so far away, still floating leisurely toward Io. She wanted to be the one to find Bobbie and get her to safety, to hold her hand and let her know she could let down her burdens now and sleep a dreamless sleep. Instead, Bobbie was alone out there with the thing from her nightmares. So much that she conjured up her teammate to keep her company.

“No, you’re right, Sa’id,” Bobbie spoke to the ghosts, “I’m going to clear Travis’s name and give Hilly’s mom some heads to roll.”

Bobbie began to take deep breaths, painful ones, if the broken groans where any indication. A rumbling noise grew into a full-throated cry and Chrisjen heard a crackle and hiss that must be coming from her armor.

“Bobbie, what are you doing?!” Chrisjen couldn’t stand to just watch anymore. “Your team is not real!” she exclaimed.

“Who are we?” Bobbie gritted out in a thin croak.

Chrisjen clenched her fists. How bad was Bobbie’s concussion?

“MMC,” Bobbie growled.

The audio feed filled with the high whine of metal being forced to go where it didn’t want to go. What was she doing?!

“MMC!”

With that resounding yell, a resonant beep sounded and grew ear-piercingly shrill until it abruptly stopped. A tiny gray plume bloomed on the imaged surface of Io.

The bomb. Bobbie had set off the bomb she injected into the hybrid. Upon hearing Bobbie’s triumphant cry, Chrisjen blinked to keep her own tears from falling. Her body felt like hers again, rather than a mirror for the tension that was in the air. Her shoulders ached terribly, now that they were no longer up by her ears.

“My arm hurts. My everything hurts,” Bobbie grouched  after a hiccup sigh. “I’m going to head back to the Roci now.”

“Are you sure you can walk?” Naomi asked, clearly still concerned about the injuries she listed previously, not mention the ghosts Bobbie had seen.

“I’m going to try.” Bobbie gave a short and mad little laugh. “Not going to start doing sprints though.”

Alex uttered a solemn declaration, “You did good, Gunny.”

Chrisjen could hear Bobbie’s tired smile as she replied, “Thanks.”

In the span of a few minutes, Chrisjen felt like she aged ten years. And that was just one hybrid. On cue, the tightbeam blinked on again. Souther’s face appeared. He looked like she felt, having aged those ten years on his face. Her stomach dropped.

“This is Souther from the Okimbo. The Agatha King has been nuked.”

Bile rose to Chrisjen’s throat. Larson. The codes.

“We managed to establish comms to the Agatha King just as we detected the presence of the protomolecule on the hull of its aft engine room. Admiral Nguyen confirmed they had obtained a hybrid pod from Jules-Pierre Mao as proof of Mar’s involvement and it escaped containment. He attempted to use the transponder codes as a trade to get…the remaining personnel in the CIC off the ship, but upon visual inspection of the video feed, the infection appeared to have spread to the CIC. He was unwilling give up the codes and deleted them when he realized we were attempting to penetrate the firewall. He grew increasingly agitated and fired at us.”

That fucking idiot!  Even she knew that in space, those rounds would keep going until they hit something. Souther appeared to agree with her in real time as he grimaced.

“Given how the infection had spread throughout the ship, even the PDC rounds could be a vector. To contain the infection, we launched three nuclear warheads.”

Souther stared straight into the camera. “The PDC rounds and the Agatha King were destroyed. All hands were lost.”

Chrisjen squeezed her eyes shut.

“We’re heading sunward with the rest of the fleet to secure a perimeter. If there’s any else we can do, please advise. Souther out.”

Nguyen was dead. So that left Errinwright. And he wasn’t going to be convinced by Sorrento-Gillis, not by a long shot. She activated a tightbeam to Sorrento-Gillis, packaged for Errinwright and began to speak.

“Sadavir, by the time you get this, you should know what happened to the Agatha King. I know you did what you thought was right, that Earth must come first. Had Mao delivered the planet buster platform to Korshunov, they could have destroyed us. But these hybrid weapons cannot be controlled, and you can’t punish the whole of Mars for something they haven’t done. You were right, Korshunov had to go, but you need to stop while you're ahead. You know you've always had trouble with that.”

Chrisjen leaned forward and lowered her voice to that just above a conspiring whisper.

“Mars is ready to talk. They want to get to the bottom of whatever Korshunov was planning with Mao. Mao is the devil here, the snake. You can stop this, you can. Stop this madness here and now. I’ll do everything in my power to you get through this. Jodie and Jefferson won’t ever have to know, I’ll seal it all. I’ll fuck up anyone who dares to do otherwise. You know I can. I will.”

She touched ‘send’ with a hand she managed to keep steady and prayed to whatever deities that Errinwright could see the light or just take her up on her offer. 

“Hey fellas, I’ve got a transport that’s heading up to the missile platform,” Alex called out.

“What? Heading to it?” Holden asked in disbelief. His tone shifted as he spoke to his prisoner. “What are you planning? And don’t bullshit me, I’ve personally seen all the destruction you’ve caused. Tell me or I will hurt you.”

“No one working for me is dumb enough to go there now,” Mao snapped.

Chrisjen pressed a hand against her chest. The beats were coming fast and she shuddered like it was ice rushing through her veins. She licked her lips, already cracked from all the artificial air, and asked calmly, reasonably, “Where’s Cotyar?”

“Amos?” Holden called out.

“He’s not with us.”

Naomi added, “There’s no talk-back channel. He must have shut it off.”

“Madam Avasarala,” Holden stated with the stiffness of righteous rage, “If this is your way of getting a sample of the protomolecule--”

“You should stop talking,” Bobbie interjected flatly.

“Bobbie! Is the emergency transmitter in your suit still working?” Chrisjen asked.  She didn’t misunderstand his point of turning off his comms. It surprised her, how much it hurt, especially when she had already braved through more harrowing incidents. She couldn’t make her voice speak with her usual brashness, words sounded thin in her own ears when she expounded, “He’ll answer if it’s you.”

“Yes, it’s still working,” Bobbie confirmed. “I’ll activate it now.”

A shrill beep sounded on the Roci for a second before Naomi deactivate the signal. Then it was so very quiet on all fronts as Chrisjen held her breath for a response.

“Bobbie,” came a voice that seemed very far away. “Caught your whale yet?” A pause, then, “A whale is a marine mammal—“

“Whale’s dead, asshole, and I know what a whale is!” Bobbie exclaimed with a gnash of teeth. Then, more wistfully, “I’ve never seen one though.”

“I’ve never seen one either,” Cotyar sighed.

On the screen looking into the Roci’s command deck, Naomi and Alex shook their heads at each other.

“You ever seen a whale, Mei?” Amos asked, then apparently getting a negative. “That’s okay, me neither.”

“’Marine’ means it lives in an ocean, but it’s not like the fish we have in our aquaponic tanks…” Prax explained patiently, one would assume to the kids they rescued.

“My parents took me out to see them a few times.”

“Hey hoss, enough with all your multiple sets of loving parents already.”

“I will personally shove all of you off on a fucking whale watching tour if we still have an Earth to go back to after this. What the fuck are you doing on that platform, Cotyar?!”

“Confirming some intel,” Cotyar supplied vaguely and unhelpfully.

It didn’t matter. There was really only one reason he could be on the platform.

“What are the chances you can get the codes?” Chrisjen demanded.

When he didn’t answer immediately, that simply confirmed to Chrisjen that it was an impossibly long and permanently lethal shot.

“Let me guess, slightly better than zero. You’re going to get yourself killed over some fucking rumor,” she spat.

“I just didn’t want to put all our eggs in the guys-who-tried-to-have-you-killed murder basket,” Cotyar retorted, as she realized the background hiss was that of an airlock cycling. He was on the platform, inside it.

No, no, no.

“Cotyar, come back and we’ll figure this out without you dying of radiation poisoning or getting infected.”

His next exhalation was harsh. Somehow she was able to feel his impatience at having to put his conviction into words, and his remorse at the cause of said conviction.

“Can’t keep getting good people killed with bad intel,” he uttered in a low rumble.

Chrisjen dug her fingers into the edge of her crash couch. Her secret sat like a massive stone on top of her chest.

“Besides, there isn’t enough time, or did you not notice that we’re down to three cables holding down the platform?” he noted with more volume and quip than necessary, to draw her out of the distressing memories his previous statement would have caused. He just talked about it as if he was pointing out a bird in the sky instead of his graveyard.

She was going to blackout from the lack of oxygen. Her lungs were going through the motions yet failing to its job. She was close to bursting, her body racked with tremors as she yelled, “I am still your fucking employer and I want you stop this suicidal mission!”

“In that case, Sergeant Draper, your orders are to make sure the acting UN Undersecretary makes it back to Luna alive and well. Consider this my notice. I quit.”

Not everything was up to her. Cotyar told her that. She should have listened. She should have known. It was up to him.

“Cotyar, wait—“

He continued as if he didn’t hear her, “Alex, if you don’t hear back from me when we’re down to the last cable, launch the nuke while you still can hit it.”

“Yes, sir,” Alex replied in a weighted hush.

“Cotyar, your intel didn’t kill Charanpal, those bastards already sent him into Callisto!”

The pounding in her ears was tremendous, but the silent comms was greater bellow.

“Cotyar?” she whispered in a tiny voice.

“He’s turned off his comms,” Naomi answered in the careful quiet.

“Did he hear what I said?”  Why was her face wet?  Chrisjen wiped judiciously, as not to leave a trace. She had a hardass reputation to maintain.

Noami was apologetic when she replied, “I’m not sure.”

“I heard you,” Bobbie murmured.

Chrisjen set her mouth into a straight line. Of all the people listening, it was Bobbie who knew the actual meaning behind it. Now she knew that Chrisjen was just another snake in a pit of snakes.

“You did a really bad thing,” Bobbie said, sounding drunk. It was probably the concussion catching up with her. “You should apologize.”

Chrisjen’s lips twitched.

“Did you apologize?”

Chrisjen blinked. “No.”

“You should apologize,” Bobbie repeated her advice.

This was an inane conversation. Most conversations with the concussed were.

“Will he forgive me?” Chrisjen asked anyway.

“Maybe? Probably.”

That was better than nothing and more realistic at that. Because there was always the chance that Cotyar would tell her to fuck off. Though according to an unfiltered Bobbie he probably won’t. If he made it out alive, which was looking less and less likely by the second.

“But why would he forgive me? I lied to him for years. I fucking lied to his face when he was shot protecting me,” Chrisjen countered angrily, sullen.

“Chrisjen,” Bobbie chided with knowing laugh, and sighed. “He loves you.”

Chrisjen Avasarala burst into tears.

 

Chapter Text

Bobbie put one foot in front of the other, in the vague direction of the Roci. The pounding ache in her head was a trial, but it kept her from dwelling on the other unpleasantries of the current situation. Then at times she was simply watching this armored figure toddle on from outside her body. It was visceral then distant, then blindingly clear again, like she was kite caught in a breeze, the strings unspooling madly before tensing and recoiling by some mortal obligation.

The chatter in the open comms pulled her in again.

“We’re down to two cables!”

Bobbie looked up, swallowing a wave of nausea. The cables that had been tethering the protomolecule infected platform to Io were too thin for the naked eye to spot, but the HUD helpfully supplied the confirmation. One more and Alex would bomb that thing to kingdom come, taking Cotyar and the possibility of saving Mars with it. The irony of it, a Martian planet buster platform meant for destroying Earth used to destroy Mars, and the Earther dying trying to save Mars.

She wasn’t sure how far away she was from the Roci. It no longer mattered as much as it did merely seconds ago. Her knees went out from under her and she fell, each section of her collapsing on to the other until she was lying down flat on her back. If she didn’t find shelter when the time came, the shockwave from the nuke would probably kill her. The dark sky above her was more indifferent than usual, no atmosphere or dome to hold her back from turning into the eventual star dust she would be.

Then she heard her voice. Avasarala.

Her heart grew louder still. Chrisjen.

“We need to give Cotyar more time,” Chrisjen stated stonily, the tremors in her voice just moments ago gone.

“He’s been in there long enough to get a lethal dose of radiation,” Prax observed, dejection evident even in his usual placid tone.

“I don’t fucking care. If he’s going to die, then he’s going to die saving Mars and I’m going to make sure all of Mars knows it.”

Chrisjen Avasarala was no atmosphere or dome, but her force of will was a ferocious tug on Bobbie’s melancholic flights. Chrisjen and Cotyar had acknowledged that the chances were slightly better than zero. And yet, to hear her now. If she couldn’t save him, then she wanted his death to mean something, not just another senseless sacrifice. She made Bobbie want to hope, to believe.

The hell with it, better than zero was still something. With a deep inhale, Bobbie shifted her weight, and managed to get on her side. The comms came alive as well.

Amos spoke up first, “Guys, we can try to give it a bit of counter thrust to build some slack on the two cables.”

“Amos, the platform isn’t stationary, it’s practically alive. The Roci doesn’t have that kind of maneuverability,” Alex admitted balefully.

“Yeah, but the Razorback’s pretty nimble, and I’m thinking it’s entered Io’s AO by now.”

Bobbie developed a sudden intense dislike for Amos.

“Um,” she started, trying to line up her words. “Cotyar won’t like this. Leave Chrisjen alone.”

“He doesn’t get a say, Bobbie. He quit,” Chrisjen replied tonelessly.

The acidic bitterness of panic bubbled in her chest. “He left me in charge of your safety and ramming a defenseless racing ship into a protomolecule infestation isn’t safe!”

“Well, it’s not like you’re here to stop me.”

Bobbie’s jaw dropped. The ache in her head worsened as her pulse quickened.

“Alex, will it work?” Chrisjen demanded.

“It ain’t gonna to be easy, I would have to—“

“Do it!”

“Alex!” Bobbie exclaimed.

“Bobbie, trust me,” Naomi pleaded, sounding choked up, “This may the only way things can turn out okay.”

“Bobbie?”

Alex wanted her confirmation. The only thing she could confirm was that Chrisjen was making her and Cotyar regret leaving her alone in the Razorback.

“Fuck!” Bobbie slammed both fists into the dirt. “Do it.”

All the strength seeped out of her. She wasn’t sure how long she stayed that way, bent over in defeat to the creeping helplessness. It was good that Amos chose this moment to show up and not before, she might have knocked him out otherwise.

“Get to the airlock and no funny business or Strickland’s won’t be the only brains I blow out today,” Amos ordered off to his right as he hefted Bobbie up with his left to continue their journey back to the Roci.

What an odd thing to say to a bunch of kids they rescued. But it was Amos and if Prax didn’t complain, she wasn’t going to either.

The journey, once Bobbie focused on the destination, was ten, fifteen steps at most. She was being awfully dramatic in her concussed state. So much that it took the full minute of decompression in the airlock to realize Amos had been speaking to Mao.

Bobbie was trying to decipher the meaning of this when the troubling sound of a wet cough crackled to life over the comms.

“I…found the codes,” came Cotyar’s thin rasp. “Transmitting them now.”

“I’ve got it!” Naomi’s fingers danced over her panel. “Sending out the self-destruct sequence.”

“Cotyar, can you get out?!” Chrisjen yelled over the clangorous noise of the Razorback’s thrusters pitching the ship’s nose against planet buster platform as it struggled to break free.

“I’m tired. I deserve a nice, long…” His words drift into dead silence.

“Jim, hurry!” Naomi called out, “Get him and get out to the Razorback!”

Holden?! Bobbie swung around and caught Amos’s expressionless face.

“He does this,” he offered as an explanation.

Bobbie huffed, trying to stave off the very dizzying possibility of hope, and asked wryly, “How do you put up with it?”

Amos shrugged. “No one else wanted to be captain.”

“I’ve got him! Shit, hang on.”

Bobbie had to stop and hold out a hand to the bulkhead to steady herself.

“I’m giving him all the doses I’ve got left, Naomi. Get the medbay ready to make more. Hey, hey, Cotyar, you with me? You are so damn lucky Naomi makes me carry extra anti-radiation meds. Come on, we gotta go.”

After a mixture of grunts and pants, it was clear that they were on the move.

“Captain James Holden,” came a weak voice.

“Yeah, that’s right. And as captain, I’m responsible for the people on my ship. I got you here on Io, and I’m damn as well responsible for getting you off it. After this you can find a transport and go tag-teaming your boss on your own time.”

“Bobbie’s ‘dea. N’mine.”

“Not judging. Eight parents, remember?”

“Okay.”

Okay, what? Bobbie couldn’t help but smile at his vague response. A spy to the end.

“That’s weird, right? The way the hybrids are just standing there? I was expecting more them to be more violent.”

“I think, they’re listening, waiting for some...”

“One thing at a time. This should be the hatch. The Razorback’s out there, we’ll use the suit thrusters to get to the airlock.”

Bobbie wondered if she imagined the sound of grinding teeth before Cotyar commented benignly, “The Razorback?”

She groaned.

He said, without naming names but to the one person who knew what he meant, “You had one job.”

“Guys, you better hurry, this shit is harder than I make it look,” Alex yelled.

After a few more tense moments, Holden called out, “We’re in!”

“Strap in fellas, I’m going clear the Razorback from the blast radius and then blow that shit out of the sky.”

“Oorah,” Bobbie growled.

The rattle of the explosion shook Bobbie right down to her teeth. The Roci groaned all around her, complaining about the mistreatment. She hoped the Razorback fared better.

“Y’all doing all right?” Alex roll called. Everyone spoke up except for one, understandable, considering the amount of stress he was under, but Bobbie was just about to ask when she heard Chrisjen.

“Is he okay?” Chrisjen asked haltingly, as if she still couldn’t quite believe Cotyar was back with her.

“I think he will be.”

“Thank you, James.”

“Wouldn’t want to mess up what Bobbie’s got planned, that’s all,” Holden muttered with punchy impertinence, before making a sound suspiciously like a whimper. “I’m sorry. That’s none of my business.”

“No, it fucking isn’t,” Chrisjen replied sharply before offering a more mellow, “But it seems I owe you several times over.”

“I’m sure being in the UN Undersecretary’s good graces is already worth its weight in gold.”

“Make that the UN Secretary-General,” Amos piped up.

“What?”

“The old one just resigned.”

“What the fuck?”

“That shit on Venus just woke up.”

 

Chapter Text

Cotyar began to show signs of wakefulness, but it came in waves of stirring and stillness. Bobbie’s eyes were pinballing from the medical display to his still too pale face. She ended up at parade rest just to resist the urge to poke him awake. She could be quick enough as not to get caught, but it seemed rude to the man who was willing to sacrifice himself to save her entire planet from an alien apocalypse.

Patience, however, was never her strong suit.

Bobbie made a concert of dragging over a short stool to sit beside him. If anything, he became quieter, contrary to the last. A light poke was too good for him. A sure swat to his unconscious ass should bring him right out of it. She glared at him, unblinking and willing him to wake, but within seconds her eyes had gone dry and she stifled a yawn. Her muscles were still sore from the battle with the hybrid. Under the low, afterhour lights, her eyelids grew heavy.

Bobbie set her head down against that narrow space on the crash couch next to him, letting her head butt against the solid form of his upper thigh while she stared unseeingly into the emptiness of the rest of the medbay. In the quiet current of breaths between them, she was grateful that he was there taking up space next to her, above her, behind her, all the ineffable dimensions of implicit trust, rather than somewhere out there in the cold. A hand eased into her hair before she crossed that blurry line of wakefulness and slumber. The palm cradled her head and fingertips lightly caressed base of her skull. The tension in her spine fluttered away.

She turned just her head, her other cheek pressed against the soft material of the crash couch. She looked up at him as he was looking down, and they met somewhere in the middle with a small smile stretched across her lips. His thumb brushed against the pout of her bottom lip. Once. Twice. Until her lips parted and gave him a tiny wet lick. His eyes hooded as he drew that thumb down to her chin, hovering above the curve of her neck, and touching back down on the UN logo of her tank.

Cotyar gave her a weak huff of laughter.

“Something funny?”

“A revelation,” he murmured, studying her face, “If this was hell, you wouldn’t be here. If it was heaven, you’d be wearing less and I’d be able to do something about it. So I guess I really am alive.”

Bobbie schooled back her own chortle. She rose and leaned in, fingers drawing a slow and gentle path down the curve of his jaw, before uttering with a sniff, “You stink and you look like shit.”

Cotyar stifled a groan as he shifted to a more comfortable position. “I wasn’t expecting to smell or look like anything,” he managed.

A nuclear warhead from the Roci would have vaporized everything.

A scowl rose to her face. A flicker of uncertainty flashed across his features, suspending his next breath as he queried with false calm, “It worked, right?”

She went to pry his fingers loose from the fist he’d inadvertently made. “Yes, it did,” she beamed, squeezing those freed digits. “And both you and Chrisjen are alive and safe on the Roci, under thrust, burning back to Luna.”

Cotyar exhaled with relief, but seemed to draw back into himself at the mention of Chrisjen.

Bobbie licked her lips, her nerves twisting in a knot. Did he hear that last message Chrisjen shouted out at him? Did he know? But it wasn’t her place to broach the topic at all.

“Hey, you spacing out on me, spy?” Bobbie joked, squeezing his hand once more.

Cotyar gave her a wan smile, “It’s just as well, never thought I’d bite it trying to save Mars of all places.”

She wished she had swatted him in the ass. Bobbie crossed her arms and tilted her chin at him, an eyebrow raised. “Things didn’t turn out so badly while I was in charge, did they?”

“No, you did good. I was being an asshole when Holden suddenly showed up. And what do you know, assholes do live longer,” he replied dryly with a small one shouldered shrug. He let his head tilt sideways with a smirk, “Happy now?”

Bobbie made a point of looking him over. With a firm hand pressed over the most upper part of his thigh, she drawled into his ear, “Get your feet back under you and I’ll show you how happy I am. It’ll be just as if you went to heaven.”

She squeezed at the hard muscle beneath her hand and was gratified when his breath hitched and a spot of color rose to his cheeks.

Half-grinning, she pulled out a hand terminal. “I’ll let her know you’re awake.”

Cotyar put a hand on her arm. “Leave her be. It’s afterhours, isn’t it?”

Her brows drew together. “Well, yes, but—“

“And she knows my prognosis?” he interjected sensibly.

That question of what he knew was on the tip of her tongue again. What he deemed reasonable read like avoidance to her. Then again, it was just a day. Maybe she was making herself crazy, seeing things that were not there.

“Okay. Tomorrow. If she can find time out of her crazy schedule,” she hedged wryly.

Cotyar raised an eyebrow. “Crazier than usual?”

“While you were dozing, Chrisjen Avasarala just became the acting UN Secretary-General.”

“Oh.” He blinked at that piece of unexpected news. “That’s a disaster and a half.”

Bobbie sighed. “That’s what she said…”

“…with more swearing,” they both added in tandem. They rolled their eyes each other. Then Cotyar released a jaw cracking yawn and Bobbie followed.

“When she has the time, then,” he mumbled, his voice already thick with sleep.

Bobbie gave his arm a final squeeze.

“Soon.”

Soon turned out to be a later. And then a much later. And then maybe not at all. The Roci wasn’t even that big of a ship, and the way they managed to avoid seeing each other was bordering on miraculous. The bags under Chrisjen’s eyes were growing worst day by day as she tethered herself to the tightbeam. And Cotyar’s hair had gone more gray even as he steadily recovered from his irradiation. At this rate, they wouldn’t be able to recognize each other getting out of the airlock on Luna.

“What the fuck?” she exclaimed upon entering the medbay.

He understood her shorthand. “I quit.” He made a face. “She has no patience for quitters.”

It was driving her a little mad that neither of them was mentioning that huge secret and was still being so logical and reasonable about the whole situation. The newly christened UN Secretary-General was so incredibly busy being the most powerful person in the solar system. Cotyar was so incredibly busy being not dead and medicated. She crossed her arms and sputtered, “And you can’t go see her?!”

He was being incomprehensibly blasé about this maddening situation.

“I’m still in treatment most of the time,” he motioned at the med cuff. “And I can hardly barge in on the UN Secretary-General when she’s conducting official business.”

She pointed accusingly at his hand terminal. “What the hell have you been doing if not her official business?”

“Making sure her next head of security doesn’t get handed a pile of shit.”

Bobbie gaped at him. “And who would that be?!” she demanded.

Cotyar canted his head. “I’m looking at her.”

Bobbie looked behind her before realizing what he meant.

“This is stupid,” she declared with a growl.

“You saying you won’t do a good job?”

“Of course I’ll do a good job!”

“You saying you don’t care enough about her to do the job?”

“If I cared any more, she’d be locked up somewhere safe and begging us not to give her more orgasms!”

The picture she painted left him momentarily dazed and speechless.

“Anyway,” Cotyar prevaricated, his voice gone husky before he cleared his throat.

Bobbie started coming at him in a sauntering swagger, her question mocking his, “You saying you’re done keeping her safe?”

“You’re a fine replacement,” he stated.

“You saying you don’t love her?” Bobbie stood over him now, and before he could answer again, she bent at the waist and rasped into his ear, “That you don’t want to touch her, make her squirm and moan under you? Set her off with your fingers and fuck into her with your cock?”

Cotyar gaze darkened, his mouth set to a thin line as she tilted the crash couch and straddled over him.

“You do.” She clawed her fingernails down his chest. His thin shirt catching as she scratched, “I know you do. I’ve seen the way you look at her, just like you’ve seen the way I look at her. Remember how I said we should team up to do her? I meant it, I imagined it, I got myself off on it while you two are still playing games. And could you come in your own hand watching me and her touch each other? I’ve done it, coming with just my hand imaging you two together. And I can’t wait to see the real thing.”

The medical display trilled a warning for Cotyar’s erratic heartbeat. He winced as extra tiny needles stuck into him from the med cuff.

“Oops,” Bobbie said, unrepentant as she got up and away from his narrow eyed glare.

His pulse evened out as the sedative rushed in. Sighing, he told her, “I’m going to take a nap. Please go away, as you can see, you’re being detrimental to my health.” He muttered under his breath, “The both of you.”

This could all be some childish negative feedback loop. She wasn’t coming to see him so he wasn’t going to see her. Or. Bobbie gnawed on her bottom lip before she gritted out the question. “Is there, some other reason why you won’t see her?”

He smiled with polite if impatient curiosity, “What other reason could there be?”

Bobbie wasn’t going to stomp her foot like a child, but it was a very close thing. By the time she turned back to him, he was very deliberately snoring.

“You gave a planet full of Martians a second chance. Why can’t you give her one?”

 

Chapter Text

On the dark side of Luna, starry flickers of light strung about its surface, giving off only the hint of bustling cities beneath its cratered exterior. But beyond it, the jewel of Earth, in all its swirls of gossamer clouds, ripples of cerulean seas, and palettes of verdant greens, was at once mocking and apathetic to humanity’s attempt to both escape its confines and recreate its image. 

It didn’t matter that they were still a few minutes away from Luna orbit. There was already a tug in his chest that was like the embrace of home. He had gone away, learnt the lessons, bore the scars of a cynic, and yet all it took was seeing those iridescent colors to become entrenched once more. Or perhaps he was just that old man, incapable of escaping that invariable gravity.

“Amos said you’re a marine.” Mei craned her neck up, up. With glittering awe-filled eyes, the little girl asked Bobbie, whilst pointing to the Atlantic on the display, “Do you live in the ocean?”

Bobbie had the eyes of a small trapped animal. “Um.”

Cotyar’s lips curved.

“Mei-Mei, come sit next to nana.” Avasarala patted the empty space next to her on the bench. With a nod of approval from Prax, Mei scrambled over. Taking the child’s hand, Avasarala held it between two of her own.

“A long time ago, before humans come out to Mars, to the Belt, to Ganymede, there was only Earth. People did their best to live in peace, as they do now. But there were bad people who hid in the wide open spaces of the ocean. They want to hurt others and take what wasn’t theirs…”

“Pirates! Earth pirates!” Mei exclaimed.

A frown flicked between Avasarala’s eyes. The modifier was innocent but spoke of a road untraveled, a life unlived. For Mei, Earth was merely a concept in history, in a land that was before too far away to fathom. It was not the birthplace of humanity’s greatest achievements, lowest failures, and everything in between—pirates included. It was not the living, breathing place that still nurtured and sustained billions of humans. It was just a quintessential fairytale in the imagination of Belter children, something that they would grow out of, without the gravity to pull them down.

As wrong as Mei was, Mei wasn’t. Avasarala’s smile was wry and tinged with sadness when she continued.

“Earth pirates, yes. And marines were the soldiers who signed up for the dangerous work of protecting people from the Earth pirates. We don’t all live on Earth now, but marines still protect people, just like Bobbie protected us.”

Mei spied back to Bobbie with a shy smile. Bobbie acknowledged her with a stiff lift of her chin.

And as Avasarala began again, her hand brushed over Mei’s smaller hand with feather light strokes, as if she were touching a fresh bruise.

“They risk their lives all the time. Sometimes when they go, we don’t even know if we’ll see them again.”

The words had one meaning but the sentiment was numerously pointed. Worry, anger, bitterness, and manipulation all wrapped up in a sentence fit for a child. This was par for the course for him, but those sharp arrows found a softer target. Bobbie pinched the bridge of her nose with a sigh. He would be lying if there wasn’t a bit of schadenfreude in it for him.

“Do their daddies not look for them?” Mei asked, her thumbs worrying the edge of her tunic, her eyes wide with a burgeoning sense of guilt that came with having than have not.

He might have saved the Martians, but in this moment, he was glad to have taken a part in reuniting Prax and Mei, to have fulfilled her belief that her daddy would be looking for her. Not all fathers would have kept at it.

Avasarala held Mei’s hands very still and tight. She spoke at a diminished volume meant only for Mei, but he was close enough to decipher the words.

“I always look for them.”

The air inside the departure hold seemed to thin in an instant. His chest clamored in protest. But it wasn’t air he was lacking. He knew it was all in his head, bound by insistent tantrum of his heart. He didn’t want to want what was never, ever, going to be his. But he wanted anyway and every time he managed to stray from that intoxicating sphere of Avasarala’s influence, she would say something to pull him back into her orbit. And he’d be waiting to be summoned back down to the surface, but knowing the only way down was to crash and burn.

“All right?”

Cotyar squinted down at Avasarala’s upturned face. The first words she said to him since he woke up and today of all days, he thought they’d be more caustic. Instead there was hesitance behind a steely straight back, as if she was bracing herself for an onslaught. In theory, he should enjoy that she felt the necessity to have her back up around him, but in practice he’d rather have her knowing smiles and sly glances. He decided to settle somewhere in the middle.

“Had worse,” he offered with a nonchalant shrug.

The expression on her face became terribly unamused. “Worse?”

The deck rumbled beneath their feet. Behind the airlock was surely a squadron of UN security detail and gaggles of assistants all waiting for the new UN Secretary-General to descend. Or, if he had played his cards right, maybe a respite that she didn’t want but most certainly needed.

When he spied the familiar figure at the terminal, he motioned for Bobbie to stay back a step. Bobbie stopped, but glanced a question at him, wondering where the UN personnel were now that their rightful boss had finally returned.

“Katrina?” Avasarala stopped at the lone woman standing before her.

“Chrisjen.”

The Governor of Luna approached with a glad smile and air-kissed Avasarala’s cheeks.

“Finally back from your adventures to take the throne,” Katrina Cervantes commented with wry humor.

Avasarala narrowed her eyes at Cervantes, skipping all niceties. “Then where are my subjects?”

“I might have told them Archangel won’t arrive until tomorrow,” Cervantes said, waving off Avasarala’s glare. “You can have today.”

“I don’t need a day,” Avasarala snapped, “I need to unfuck this mess Sorrento-Gillis left me.”

“You don’t need a day,” Cervantes agreed, but undaunted, she continued, undoubtedly familiar with Avasarala’s ways, “but today, think of Arjun.”

That brought Avasarala up short.

“He’s here?”

Cervantes glanced over at the terminal doors just as suit clad security personnel propped them open. “If you keep leaving him with me, I might not give his poetry loving ass back.”

Avasarala’s lips twitched. “He is quite good, isn’t he?”

“I’ve wasted precious governing minutes staring at the beauty he managed to find in my compost bin and gained five pounds just from his damn flan,” Cervantes muttered before she closed her eyes, squeezing Avasarala’s arm. “Still worth it.”

Avasarala managed a huff of laughter.

Avasarala’s husband came rushing through the open doors in a blur, encasing Avasarala in a fierce hug that brought tears to her eyes. Funny, she looked every bit her age then, her mask sloughed off, but then he found her soft as compelling as her hard.

Cervantes placed a hand on Avasarala’s small shoulders and ushered them out toward the doors. Avasarala was pliant in Arjun’s arms as they strolled through the main terminal gates. “Go, I have people to take care the Roci crew and the Mengs. I’m sure your security detail wouldn’t mind the break either. I’ll be sure to follow Your Excellency’s directives to the letter.”

The governor spared a second to look back at him, quirking a quick smile.

Bobbie had been watching Avasarala with Arjun, her face a stoic pensiveness. But being situationally aware meant she caught the interplay between him and Cervantes.

“You set this up,” she remarked, not quite a question.

“With whose authority? I quit.”

Bobbie looked askance at him.

He relented. “I might have made a suggestion to the governor. Whether she acted on it or not was out of my hands.”

Bobbie knocked her shoulder into his, hard. His knee bent and he slipped sideways into a stumble. With surprised inhale, she caught him in the elbow, attempting to hold him steady with both hands. But he straightened too fast for her liking and she growled in contempt, wiping those helping hands clean of him on his shirt sleeve. She hissed, though her eyes were shining in that indelible softness, “You’re hopeless.”

With a grunt that came out too much like an admission, he started strolling to the side exit, away from the drama.

“Wait, where are you going?” Bobbie asked.

“To get a stiff drink,” he called back.

“Hey Cotyar, if you ever need a pilot, I will drop everything to be there,” Alex yelled out as the rest of the Roci crew exited the ship.

He thought back to the considerable skills of the Roci pilot and turned halfway around. “I’ll take you up on that.”

The Martian’s chest puffed. “You do that, brother, you do that.”

Before he started off again, he heard Bobbie’s footsteps shuffle, then fall behind him.

“I think I’ve got you Martians figured out,” he said.

“Oh yeah?” Bobbie couldn’t wait to hear it.

“We just need to give you an impossible job and watch you make the impossible possible or die trying.”

She tilted her head sideways and admitted with a thoughtful pout, “That’s not too far off, but I’ve got you Earthers figured out too.” She didn’t wait for him to muster a dry retort. “You’re just a bunch of homebodies who’d rather stay in your place than explore the possibilities that are right in front of you.”

He ran his tongue over his front incisors and rolled his head back to pin her with a sobering stare and an even more sobering axiom. “Seems like every time we went exploring we just found new and different ways to fuck up.”

“Yeah, I kind of got that after all of this. Things are always going to be fucked up. We just have to find the fucks that make it all worthwhile.”

Cotyar stilled, blinked at her and the mess in front of him, and then resumed on a resolute path. “Well, right now, I need a fucking drink.”

They stopped at a small establishment across from a row of utilitarian apartments. It was dim and low ceilinged, with several displays of news and sports on display over the lighted array of alcoholic bottles. Bobbie surveyed the bar, lingering longer at the entrance before catching up as he seated himself at the other side of the bar, curved around the corner with the wall to his back.

Cotyar caught the sliding shot glass as Bobbie came up next to him. He raised it and nodded a ‘cheers’ before gratefully knocking it back, swallowing again at the burn. Pavlichenko offered a pretty smile, slid over another shot, and then asked with the unblinking eyes of a sharpshooter with a target in her cross-hairs, “What is with the Red, Ghazi? She the good sort?”

“Draper. Pavlichenko.” He punctuated the necessary introductions by finishing the shot before continuing, “Draper here is the best sort.”

But nothing was more convincing than hearing it from the person herself.

“You going to make trouble, Draper?”

“I don’t make trouble. I end it,” Bobbie replied with one foot on the ground, in case she needed the leverage for her fists. She wouldn’t need it, but then she probably didn’t think he would bring her to a bar tended by a former UN soldier with probably cause to dislike Martian Marines.

Pavlichenko gave Bobbie an assessing once over and found the capable truth in her statement. “Good enough.” Her unsmiling countenance flipped into the role of a friendly bartender, a purveyor of liquid therapy.

Another shot appeared in his hand. He smiled into it. The buzz was building and pretty soon, he’d be chasing it all the way to the end.

“Hey, ease up.”

He didn’t know who Bobbie was talking to and he didn’t care.

“You want to slow down, Ghazi?”

“Hell no.” He gave Pavlichenko a grin as wide as the empty heat in his chest, “You know I’m good for it.”

“Yes, yes.” She slid over another. The shots kept coming and if the last few were coming in less than hot, he no longer had the wherewithal to complain. It was strange but familiar, to be afloat and yet to have his head so heavy he couldn’t raise it from the worn wooden surface of the bar. He heard the women talking as if his head was in a fishbowl, the words that reached him were garbled and resonate at the same time.

“…I assume you are his designated minder this year,” Pavlichenko said to Bobbie.

“…does this every year?”

“…save me the trip of hauling him back... It is the left corner one across the street, first floor.”

They stopped talking for a while, or maybe he just dozed off, but when he was aware again, he could hear the even tone of the news anchor growing louder.

“…the anniversary of the Callisto Insurrection…”

There was a weighted sigh beside him. A hand landed on his shoulder and there was pressure. The heat in him was for once warming. Then the pressure went away but his body was too insensible to chase after it, no matter how much he wanted to.

“He’s done. Charge it to me.”

“He did all the drinking,” Pavlichenko demurred.

“I told him I’d buy him a drink first.”

Pavlichenko laughed after a short pause. “Well good for you both, but since he owns the bar, I do not think that counts.”

The hand returned. This time the pressure was unpleasant. He relished it anyway.

“You’re such an asshole.”

The sun was warm on his skin as he blacked out.

Chapter Text

Bobbie woke in an instant. Without so much as a twitch, she took in the unfamiliar surroundings with steady even breaths. She recalled sequence of events that led them from point A to point B just as she spotted Cotyar lying next to her in the bed, still in his clothes, sleeping off his own expensive booze. Yesterday she had managed to get his drunken ass into his apartment and bed before collapsing into said bed herself. Still, it wasn’t the worst sleepover she ever had, although her mouth tasted rank and she definitely wanted a shower. Not the worst but she wasn’t exactly apologetic when she kicked Cotyar’s shin as she stretched. He made nonsensical still-asleep noises and rolled away from the general direction of her foot. If her foot had been a knife or a gun, he’d be in big trouble.

“Some fancy spy you are,” she grumped, getting up to find the bathroom.

Bobbie found the space right quick in the spartan apartment. With a speed that was indicative of her Marine-trained regiment, she striped and chucked her clothes into the laundry machine. A quick look around and she was glad she had to foresight to take the small kit she scrounged up on Roci. There didn’t seem to be extras. There was even just the one towel. It was hers now.

A glance at the water rationing gauge had her thanking Chrisjen for what must have been a surprise conscription and monopolization of Cotyar’s time and mental resources because he had forgotten to suspend his water rations. There was enough water there for her to take thirty showers. The idea her fingers could prune before the water stopped made the little girl inside her grin. But the moan she emitted when the hot water hit her hard and fast could probably be considered adult.

Not that there was anyone around or awake to appreciate it.

Steam filled the shower until she was cocooned in pleasant warmth. She pivoted around the showerhead, letting the stream rain down over her body as her mind wandered inside the watery blanket of white noise.

Being unprepared for company wasn’t Cotyar style, but the alternative was that he worked the solitary spy profession and lived that way as well. Did he miss his friends and his colleagues when he left SIGINT and the UN? The way she missed hers?

Killing the hybrid had quieted the persistent thrum of rage and fear fueled by the sacrificial killing of her squad. But when she was alone, when there was nothing but an oppressive silence around her, the lack of those primal beasts inside her was eerie, like a house that had survived the tornado but lost the people inside. Even whatever woke up on Venus no longer triggered that instinctive gasp of dismay, that leap of horror in her throat. Her pulse may have kicked up a notch but the thought was a banal, ‘this shit is fucked up but I guess this is life now.’

To say that she was eager to return to last moments when she had been most herself was putting it mildly. Being in awe of Chrisjen and all her brilliant political shenanigans and working with Cotyar to make sure she stayed alive and well to see those plans through. Coming from his dexterous fingers and aching to continue that ill-timed kiss with her. But how likely was that now? When they were at this impasse? The both of them certainly had the stubbornness to simply maintain the status quo, no matter how much she, the person in the group voted least likely to sit down for a chat, wanted them to try to talk it out.

It figured being cooperative wasn’t something they excelled at in their line of work. In the bedroom, though, she wondered if their skills of observation and fucked up levels of cunning would have made them effortlessly in-tuned and insufferably smug.

Probably.

The way he met the roll her of hips.

The way she licked into her mouth.

Definitely.

Despite the heat, every inch of her skin drew tight, puckering at attention, so parched for touch that the spray of water was a phantom caress, dipping into hidden valleys and trickling over hard peaks. Bobbie sighed, heavy and unsatisfied. She had called him hopeless, but so was she.

Cotyar came into the bathroom, beyond the clouds of steam. She spotted his silhouette, padding into the bathroom and relieving himself. Toward the end he seemed to be peering into the shower stall, long enough that it conveyed his hungover-addled confusion at the blur currently occupying his shower. She managed not to jump when he reached over and jerked open the stall door.

He blinked at her. She blinked back. His bleary gaze started to venture downward, following the wet trail of matted hair down her face, past her mouth, and over her bare shoulders. Then, as if she and her wet, naked self were really too much to handle in his current condition, he reared back, hand to face, and made a noise recognizable to anyone who has ever had a blackout bender. Without a word, he shut the door, careful and quiet, and staggered out.

Bobbie shut off the shower. Squeezing the excess water from her hair, she wrapped the towel around herself and glanced at her drying clothes. It needed a few more minutes. She went out, stomach growling now that she was clean and refreshed.

Cotyar was leaning against the kitchen counter, addressing his cup of coffee with a look of discontent. The coffee smell only made her stomach protested further. Her hungover host ignored the loud complaint, so she began opening cabinets. Coffee, tea, and some other powdered things. Even by Martian standards this was pathetic.

She came around in front of him, arms crossed, making no attempt to lower her volume. “You have no food here.”

He winced at her declaration before managing to lift his head several centimeters. “Still growing, are we?” he muttered to her chest.

She bent down to his eye level. “I’m hungry,” she stated, this time loud enough for the people in the back.

Cotyar raised a useless hand in front of his face after the fact. Or perhaps it was a sign of surrender. “Got it. Just…less?” A plea and a bargin.

Bobbie straightened. “Fine,” she said, a softer turn this time, not because he was pitiful, she told herself, but because she got what she wanted and could afford to be generous. She turned about heel to the bathroom to get her clothes.

Cotyar took a quick turn in the bathroom himself and emerged less blackout bender and more lost-a-bet hungover.

They walked a block and ended up in some diner with seats that were patterned in spots of black and white, lunar puns for every item on its menu, and plates covered in pictures of craters. Three broken crayons were in a shallow container at the edge of the table. Bobbie considered picking the red one to use as a projectile for Cotyar’s head but that would be playing into his hand. Instead, she chose some breakfast foods that she deemed difficult to fuck up.

Their drinks came first. Bobbie blinked at the burst of tart and texture from the OJ. “This is, like, fresh juice.”

“What other kind of juice is there?”

For someone who was hungover, Cotyar was surprisingly spry at ducking her red crayon.

“You’re better off saving that energy for the long debrief,” he noted helpfully.

Bobbie scowled at him.

When the rest of her food came, the scent alone made her mouth water. When she dug in, the multitude of textures told her this was no reconstituted, flash frozen, or vat grown meats and produce.

Bobbie stabbed a fork into the air between them, swallowing quick before opening her mouth. “This is good,” she accused.

Cotyar took another sip of coffee, his mouth curling around the lip.

“Don’t tell me, you own this place too?” She’d roll her eyes if the scrambled eggs weren’t so light and fluffy in her mouth.

“The bar helps me avoid surprise visitors with a grudge. This place has no strategic importance, but I do know the owner/chef. He has his supplies shipped directly from Earth. His taste in décor is just…”

“Perverse?”

“Eccentric.”

“If he can make scrambled eggs taste like this, he can paint the walls in blood for all I care.”

Cotyar inclined his head, watching her eat with gusto. “Exactly.”

But when he held his cup out for a refill from the waiter, Bobbie set her fork down with a forcible clink.

“You know, your cancer meds work better if you’re not actively sabotaging yourself with a liquid diet,” she admonished, tight-lipped.

“I wouldn’t put too much stock in a botanist’s medical advice.”

“I didn’t ask Prax.”

An odd expression flickered across his face. It wasn’t confusion. He got that she took time to look up the info on his condition. Perhaps he was surprised that she did it.

Bobbie crossed her arms. “What? You’re handy with a gun and you’ve had my back.”

The thin lines around his eyes crinkled.

“Can’t have you keeling over on me when the shit hits the fan,” she muttered.

Cotyar was outright grinning now, his dark eyes watching her with a mellow gleam that made her cheeks grow warm. She let her gaze drop before meandering back up his torso, stopping briefly at those slight dips of his broad shoulders beneath his collar bones, perfect for gripping— handlebars for staying on the ride and leverage for getting off.

She raised her glass and took a quenching swallow before leaning over the table, capturing his full attention.

“Also need to make sure you can keep up.”

He coughed, steadied then set down the cup that had been halfway to his mouth. Leaning back, he chuffed at her blatant flirtation, but there was a banked heat in his eyes as he considered her. That had unnerved her once, that cold deliberation where he seemed to see through her and situated her place in his schemes. Now her blood ran hot with the need to blow his measured expectations away.  

Bobbie made no effort to hide her triumphant smirk when Cotyar added actual solid proteins to his order. In fact there wasn’t much use for verbal conversation after that. They ate in silent anticipation and quiet lust.

It was all a blur, the food, the walk back to his place. Her hands were trembling when she managed to proceed through the threshold of his apartment first. The lights remained dark as she heard the soft click of the door behind her. Her breath sounded reedy and harsh in the murkiness. From behind her, his fingers gently brushed her still-damp hair from her nape. The newly exposed skin made her shiver in cold, but the subsequent brush of his lips made her hot all over, molten heat flaring beneath her abdomen. It was almost unfair, how turned on she was already. But then as if he read her mind, he circled an arm around her waist and snapped close the remaining millimeters between them. There was no hiding the hard bulge notched between her buttocks. She threaded her fingers over the hand at her side and pushed it down and in as she grinded herself back against his cock.

His breath hitched as his fingers touched bare skin, and he inhaled sharply as he glided into her already slick entrance. She gasped in carnal delight, her head rolling back. Her cheek pressed into the rigid line of his unshaven jaw, the short hairs prickling her skin with a static hiss. She welcomed the sting and imagined how it would feel across her chest and between her legs. Her insides clenched around his fingers in a wet deluge.

“This all for me?” he murmured against her ear, breathless with something like wonder.

Knowing he was taking it all in, she unzipped her top and tore off her her bra tank. With a quivering sigh, she circled her thumb over a stiff, neglected tip. The motions were languid, light, and teasing even as she, panted, arching into them, gasping, greedy for more. She whimpered, catching his ever observing gaze, whispering in a desperate rasp, “No.”

His eyes narrowed until she could barely see the darks of his pupils. Spellbound by the direction of her erotic imagination, his nostrils flared with hunger and want, his field of vision unfocused by the person they both wanted to be here but was not.

That person would be touching her as he pressed their bare bodies together, fingers rubbing and lips kissing until she would be slick with sweat and more when he sank into her. That person would drive them over the edge with stinging nails and a brazen mouth, and they would in turn return the favor twice, thrice over. That person’s eyes would be hazy with the soft fondness and spent lust, with lips smiling that sly smile to imprint this occasion for later, when a quirk of those lips across a too-large room would have them trembling with anticipation once more.

Cotyar came back to himself with a hot glare that made her insides twist tight and a cock that may have been hard enough to hammer nails.

“You’re going to pay for that,” he grated out, his finger rudely pressing into the spot that made her knees quake and her eyes cross.

“Promises,” she gasped, “promis—ah!”

He pushed her into the wall, the surface a cool shock until he swept in behind her, trapping her between fire and ice. The teeth of his vindictive grin was razor-edged against her neck. His fingers glided back into her wet heat as he rocked against her. Each dry thrust pushed her into the hard ridge of his palm, his fingers curling inside. His other arm was gathered over her torso, just beneath her breasts, lifting them just so that her hardened nipples would catch the wall with each roll of his hips, sending pinching flares of heat to the sensitized tips. Pleasure surged through her like lightning, curling her spine and her toes. She could come, just like this, but he wasn’t finished taking his due.

He withdrew, and despite her whine of protest, only nipped and licked the delicate skin behind her ear with a low rasp of laughter until she snapped around, chasing after that mouth and seeking relief for the aching emptiness that pulsed between her legs. She removed her boots without looking down and shoved her pants and underwear off in one swift movement. Unencumbered, she slid her leg up until her thigh bracketed his. She worked herself in increasingly frustrating circles against his still encased erection until he could likely feel through the fabric just how wet she was. He wasn’t laughing anymore. His shuddering hands gripped her waist and maneuvered them across the short distance to his bed. She fell back into bed but flipped back up to her knees to claw open his pants as he tugged his shirt off. He stiffened, grunting, when she palmed his exposed cock and squeezed.

“If we stop for anything this time I will kill you,” Bobbie growled, his life twitching in her hand.

“Threatening to commit homicide is exactly what a guy likes to hear when he’s got his pants down,” Cotyar muttered, shaky but sardonic, before carefully easing her hand away. He sat with his back to her, methodically removing the rest of his clothing, inhaling and exhaling laboriously until he managed even, measured breaths.

Bobbie smirked before her explicit thoughts were led astray by the play of muscles and faint scars stretching across his back. Where her thoughts went, her hands followed, and then she was mouthing over hard worn sinew, across and down over his arm. Her fingers brushed against the cold medical implant. With a start, the tiny voice in the back of her head came roaring back with righteous fury. The fact that he made the arrangements for Chrisjen’s return and drank himself stupid meant that he still didn’t know.

Cotyar hurled around with a guttural noise in his throat, snatching her hands and holding them down over her head. They were now both naked in his bed, his eyes nearly black as he took in the sight of her and his body coiled with tense urgency. She could have tried to ignore the voice had he been quick and greedy about it. But in the heady thralls of lust, he insisted on having goddamn feelings.

Bobbie swallowed with difficulty as Cotyar reached down, his thumb brushing over the corner of her eye, against the flutter of her eyelashes.

“You are,” he sighed plaintively, a begrudging smile turned admiring, gaze gleaming with tenderness, “lovely.”

“Ugh,” Bobbie groaned, clapping a hand over her eyes. “Fuck you.”

His chest rumbled and he grinned wide as he flipped over, taking her along so she sat astride over him. “If you insist.”

She leaned forward and gripped his shoulders, locking her elbows. It was all she could do to keep herself from taking him inside and just fucking each other’s brains out until there was no more thinking.

“I need to tell you something,” Bobbie uttered miserably through her set jaw.

Cotyar blinked, and brushed a thumb over the ridges of her frown, his grin fading. “What?”

“I didn’t…I didn’t tell you before because it wasn’t my place.”

“If this is about her.” There was only one ‘her’ between them. He exhaled wearily, “There isn’t much you can say that would surprise me.”

Somehow that made it worse.

Bobbie licked her dried lips, and opened her mouth to speak. Nothing was coming out.

“Look, this doesn’t have to be a thing.” Cotyar shifted her off him and slid off the bed, reaching for his pants. “You’re going back to her and I’m not. If this is going to make you uncomfortable with her, then don’t do it.”

“No,” Bobbie exclaimed, her fists curled, “You deserve to know. It’s just…she should tell you, not me.”

He stopped in mid zip, and canted his head at her, his eyes silently probing.

“I could make you tell me,” Cotyar said, his fingers drumming at his sides.

Bobbie blinked. “Make me?” It came out as incredulous, offended even, then salacious as she glanced down at his cock.

He chuckled, humor empty from his gaze. “No, not like that.”

Cotyar came back to her around the bed, his limbs moving but with a stillness about him that caused gooseflesh to break out all over her. She shivered. Untucking the sheet from the bed, he wrapped it around her shoulders. Kneeling, he gazed up at her with a wan smile and rubbed her hands in both of his until they felt warm and loose again. Then, with a quiet sigh, he took her hand and put it over the med implant, the permanent reminder of what he did to save her planet, her people.

“What do I deserve to know?”

Bobbie slowly withdrew her hand, eyes searching for the man who had told her she was lovely only moments ago, but finding only icy calculation in his flat eyes. The dichotomy should disturb her, and it did at first. But in the way one was only good at something when they’ve gotten a chance to practice the skill, he must have encountered too many fucked up situations to count.

“You’re right though. I should probably hear it from her,” he said, a dull curve of his lips. He glanced at the dimly blinking light by the bed side and flicking open a holo.

From the bar’s vantage point across the street, they could see four figures exiting a transport. Two heavily armed and casing the street while the other spoke to Chrisjen.

“Ma’am, this place hasn’t been cleared.”

“If he can’t secure his own damn apartment, I’d be dead already, not standing on the street making an open target out of myself because you want to micromanage my every move.”

“But—“

“Do you want them to come to a debriefing or not? They already missed the scheduled one this morning. They’re not official UN personnel, so if they decide to fuck off, there goes the eyewitness intel of the shit they saw on Io.”

“But you don’t have to personally—“

“They already ignore the appointment I sent them, you think they’ll give a fuck about the rest of you? It’s as if you wanted to force them to come in under duress and be as uncooperative as possible.”

“No, ma’am, that’s not—“

They received no notice of a debriefing from Chrisjen this morning. Bobbie glanced at Cotyar and he shook his head.

“Then go away and don’t come back until the next scheduled debriefing. If I can’t talk them into it, then you can do whatever you want.”

They could see the cowed head of the security officer on the holo before he capitulated and ingratiated himself to Chrisjen, “I’m sure that won’t be necessary.”

Chrisjen flounced off, her elaborate wrap flowing behind her, and rang the chime.

Cotyar opened the door and immediately replied, “We didn’t receive any messages.”

Chrisjen was not surprised he was listening in. “That’s not important,” she declared, sweeping in.

Cotyar’s lips thinned, but from the still open door, he nodded to the security officer outside, accepting the pass of the baton. Chrisjen was their charge now.

Bobbie told herself there wasn’t enough time to gather her clothes and dress before Chrisjen came in, but in truth she was just hopeful that this visit was going to be clothing optional. As it was, she sat across from Chrisjen with the bedsheet minimally covering her bits and no more. She was the Secretary-General of the UN, some decorum was needed.

Cotyar kept his shirt off, though his motivation seemed to be general impertinence. He remained standing, arms crossed over his bare torso, until the silence stretched to a point where he couldn’t stand it anymore.

“Are we just going stare at each other?” he asked, running a rough hand over his scalp.

“I can think of other things we can do,” Bobbie supplied airily as she crossed her legs. One knee over the other, but the outline of her thighs remained sharp, the muscles clenched tight.

Cotyar pinched the bridge of his nose. Chrisjen shot her a stern look, but the flush in her cheeks made Bobbie more hopeful than not. It wasn’t as if she wanted to be this keyed up, her libido had not been this oversexed until she met them. This was completely their fault.

“Did you come here to tell us about the debriefing we missed because of the message we never got?” Cotyar asked, his tone dryer than Martian dust.

Chrisjen rolled her eyes. “Don’t be an idiot.”

“Then why are you here, Chrisjen?” he asked softly, waiting for whatever terrible truth that Bobbie had prepared him for.

Chrisjen’s lips flattened. Her gaze went to Bobbie, and Bobbie remembered seeing that look, the whites of her eyes looming large over her face. Chrisjen was scared, scared that she may not have lost Cotyar on Io, but she could lose him all the same after this. If she said it out loud one more time, then none of them could pretend anymore. Chrisjen glanced away, her small hands gripping the cushion of her seat with white knuckles, and Bobbie knew, she just knew, that Chrisjen was contemplating, maybe, possibly, not saying anything at all.

Bobbie shook her head vehemently, catching Chrisjen’s wide eyes with a determined set of her jaw. Chrisjen asked her about this once, and Bobbie still believed in her answer. Bobbie made a hurrying, propelling motion of her arm, beckoning her to start, so that they could seek out the conclusion that may bring them all back together again.

That seemed to thrust Chrisjen forward, where she was once rudderless with indecision. With a quick twitch of her lips, she released her grip on the cushion and sat forward, gazing up unflinchingly at Cotyar.

“I’m sorry.”

He cocked an eyebrow.

“I lied.”

Cotyar snorted. “You’ll need to be more specific.”

Chrisjen cracked a smile. Evidently Cotyar had seen her lie through her teeth more than once and was still living to tell tales—though of course he wouldn’t. His obligation might have began with her son, but his loyalty and love, surely they were all for her. Chrisjen swallowed hard and Bobbie held her breath. This was it. Bobbie squeezed her eyes shut and hoped she was right about him, right about them, because otherwise her heart might just break.

“They sent Charanpal into Callisto before they received your intel, not after.”

Cotyar went as a still as a statue.

Chrisjen kept her chin up, her jaw squared. “I’ve always known, but I never told you. Because—“

“I have the skills which you thought might be useful someday,” he finished for her.

“Yes,” Chrisjen answered plainly.

Cotyar’s jaw worked, his eyes unseeing. Finally, he blew out a quiet breath and flicked a glance at Bobbie. She winced at his blank look.

He turned to Chrisjen. “Is that it?” he asked, flat and toneless.

Chrisjen’s lips trembled but she didn’t reply.

He moved on. “When’s the debrief?” When Chrisjen didn’t say, he sighed, running a hand over his face, fishing out his terminal. “I’ll call in myself.”

Chrisjen shot up from her seat. “You get to be angry with me!” she cried, her voice hoarse with emotion.

Cotyar stared at her. A vein throbbed over his left temple. “No, I don’t get to be angry with you. I lost my friend, but you lost your son,” he replied, stiff.

Chrisjen gasped into her hand, tears gleaming in her grief-stricken eyes.

“You told me once, we all do the shit we do because it’s necessary and it’s almost never anything fucking nice. And you were right.” He smiled at her, all teeth. “If you thought it was necessary to hold my failure over me, I’m not going to give you shit over it. How I feel is not your problem.”

He went into the bedroom. Chrisjen stood looking shell-shocked. This was not going the way Bobbie thought it would.

Cotyar returned with a shirt on and a jacket in hand, obviously deciding to head out. “Don’t worry, I’ll be at the debriefing,” he told them, jerking on the jacket as he headed for the door.

Chrisjen’s hands shot out and clutched at his arm as he passed her, stopping him.

Cotyar glanced from her hands to her eyes, frowning.

“The last time I let someone go like this, he died,” Chrisjen muttered.

Cotyar huffed, his head rearing back, “Are you trying to save me or curse me?” He tried shaking her off, but Chrisjen was not having it.

Bobbie rose, her pulse ratcheting. Chrisjen might represent a great force, but physically Cotyar was stronger and emotions were running high enough that she might need to step in.

“Chrisjen,” Cotyar snapped, before he took in Chrisjen’s pale, obstinate expression. With a heavy sigh, the look in his eyes softened, and he leaned in over her. “Let go. You’re going to hurt yourself.”

“No,” Chrisjen replied, mulish.

“Listen, I used those skills you said I had to get you out of this jam. I thought owed, so I paid. Unless whatever the hell the protomolecule’s doing out there turns out to be a time-machine, it’s done. What more do you want?”

Chrisjen’s fingers curled, her nails to his flesh. “Is that all I am to you, a debt?”

Cotyar glanced away, grimacing. With an audible exhale, he admitted, “No.” He reluctantly continued, an almost imperceptible ruddiness over his cheeks. “No, you’re not and I think you know. You can ask Bobbie over there if you need third-party confirmation.”

Bobbie needed to sit down again. This was starting to be a bit much.

Cotyar straightened, clear-eyed and a spy for hire once more with just the dull facts, as if he believed that was what Chrisjen wanted from him in the first place, to know that he won’t hold a grudge, “I’m not angry. I’m disappointed, but I know my place. If you ever need my skills again, I won’t make myself scarce. Good enough?”

Chrisjen smiled beautifully and released him. Bobbie’s stomach dropped. That couldn’t be it, did she have this all wrong? Even Cotyar was starting to look relieved.

Stepping back, Chrisjen pulled at a thick strap over her waist. And like some sartorial magic, her iridescent wrap unspooled from her shoulders and fluttered to her feet in a shimmering pool.

She was completely bare underneath.

“Your place is here with me.”

 

Chapter Text

Cotyar stared, blinking once, the mirage still in effect for him to appreciate the spellbinding image before him. Then surely but regrettably, he blinked once more, which should have caused the ephemeral to dissipate as all fantasies must. Yet she continued to breathe before him like temptation realized, the depths of her eyes echoing with the whispers of a siren’s promise to fulfill his most secret desires. His gaze flickered to Bobbie, taking her slack-jawed gasp as confirmation that Chrisjen Avasarala was indeed standing buck naked in front of him.

“Wha—“ he started, a huff of incredulous, tense laughter escaping, “What are you doing?”

Recovering rather admirably, Bobbie muttered in a stage whisper, “I should think that’s obvious.”

Cotyar shot her a dirty look. Bobbie’s upturned gaze snared his before raising her arms in a mock surrender, the tucked sheet around her chest stretching precariously; strong enough to hold on, but thin enough for the outline of her nipples to protrude, the rotund shapes ripe and lush, ready to be plucked and sucked.

With a great and concerted effort—and balls that had to be asphyxiating, they were so blue--he turned back to Avasarala. While that was technically a logical course of action, given she was between him and the exit, unsurprisingly her effect on him had not decreased with Bobbie’s interruption. If anything, the shallowness of her breaths told him that she was similarly affected, and all the pie-in-the-sky fantasies became several steps closer to reality.

If he could let himself close the mere inches between them, he would feel the delicate softness of her bare skin, the smooth curves arching into his palms. If he could let himself lower his gaze, he would see the quickening rise and fall of her breasts, the dark tips tightening over the sensitive of nerve endings. If he could let himself kiss the very center of her, he would taste her on his tongue, the scent of her blatant arousal drawing him up like a fist over his cock.

She was at once that irreversible constant and volatile catalyst. All he had to do was react the way every physical cell in his body wanted to. He figured a while back that working for Avasarala would include moments where he would be miserable and ecstatic all at once, he just didn’t realize it would occur in such a high frequency. Giving people what they wanted in the worst possible way was completely in her repertoire. His sense of self-preservation warred with that grasping, clawing, and all-encompassing need to quench himself on those dark, dangerous lips. He could die and kill for her but taking this step was akin to surrendering himself over the event horizon. There was no backing out.

“If this is your way of apologizing…” he managed through clenched teeth.

Avasarala’s eyes narrowed to thin slits. “I’ve already apologized.”

“I don’t need to be appeased,” he kept going, his mouth running, his voice steady even if his hands were not.

“Cotyar!” Bobbie hissed as she shot to her feet, wide-eyed.

Avasarala advanced, snarling like she could spit nails, “I’m the fucking Secretary-General of the UN. I don’t need to appease anyone.”

She was naked and angry and if she hit him right now with her tiny fists he might just come because she was alive and beautiful, and he could see himself in her eyes. He could endure any and all pain—if, if it was for her. Anything for her. Even if it meant being used again and again until he was no longer useful.

The roar between his ears was a thunderstorm and something like panic seized in his chest cavity as he felt himself losing grip, getting sucked in.

“No,” he croaked, the choking word tumbling out.

Color drained from Avasarala’s face. Before she could react further, he fell against her, his head over her shoulder. His arms remained limp at his sides. That was as close as he dared, to hover and not touch. The thunder was growing distant, the water on the ground going still.

His eyes screwed shut, the frigid cold of finality soaking into his veins. “I can’t do this and pretend it doesn’t matter.”

Avasarala’s shoulders deflated as she exhaled audibly.

If things were different, if he could just be satisfied with what she could give and not want more. Just use and be used. But he couldn’t, not if he wanted his sanity. “Not like this,” he gritted out.

Avasarala froze. He could almost hear her thinking, pieces falling into place, but what pieces? Was he missing something? What possible way could this be worse?

She began shaking beneath him. It took him a long second to realize she was laughing, rather joyously at that. Her hands rose, cupping his jaw, her thumbs rubbing across his stubbled cheeks as she gazed up at his forlorn mien with bright, twinkling eyes.

“Like what? What do you think I’m doing? For someone so smart, you can be such a fucking idiot. This matters. We’re going to matter to each other for a very long time. Here.” She grasped his hand and held it over her chest, her other hand pulling his head down to her as she rose to the very tips of her toes, their foreheads pressing together like the pages of a book from the olden days. Heart and mind, hers pressing to his like a promise, her next words, a vow, “Always.”

All the air punched out of his lungs. Reeling, he searched Avasarala eyes, his heart racing in his throat. All the fondness and affection he recognized from before, but now there was a limpid glow of peace, what had been missing, found.

Cotyar inhaled, deep and steady, and found a smile rising from the middle of himself. Avasarala grinned back, wide and carefree.

“Finally!” Bobbie fell back to her seat in a slanting sprawl, arms hanging limply at her sides. “I’m so tired.”

They glanced at Bobbie, then at each other. Avasarala smiled a tiny smile. He hummed a response, eyes at half mast.

“How tired are you?” he politely inquired back at Bobbie.

Bobbie sighed a long-suffering exhale before sitting up. She stopped short, her eyes rounding in a hot instant as Avasarala swiped a heavy-lidded glance over her naked shoulder, and swung her equally naked callipygian figure back into the bedroom.

“Not tired enough,” Bobbie returned, swallowing hard.

Cotyar gave her a once over, his sheets coiled about her nude body, her long limbs ensnaring. “We’ll see about wearing you out then,” he stated baldly as he took his shirt off for the second, and god willing, the final time today.

Bobbie blinked, face heating prettily but still seated.

He raised an eyebrow. “This was your idea,” he said, offering a hand to pull her up. “Did you need a formal invitation?”

Bobbie’s lips twitched. Looking up, she replied, droll but carefully light, “I wouldn’t want to presume.”

He smiled. Inclining his head in the direction of the bedroom, he mouthed a quiet ‘come on’ and beckoned her with his fingers drawing forth into his open palm.

With something like nerves, though Cotyar wondered exactly where she happened to find them after all this time, Bobbie licked her lips and after a slight hesitance, placed her hand in his. He tugged sharply, hard enough that Bobbie yelped in surprise, colliding against his bare chest, her free hand trapped between them. Staring into her wide, dark eyes, he slid a hand up her back, holding her to him, her chest heaving against the thin barrier between them.

“You won’t need this,” he stated, low, yanking the sheet away in one smooth motion.

Bobbie shivered, her skin prickling at the sudden cold and at the mouth he set at her nape. The length of her hair fell forward to one side at his direction, covering half of her chest as he circled around and tongued the place he kissed. She inhaled audibly, arching her back, her breasts an erotic juxtaposition, one smoothly bared and one playfully obscured.

From behind, Cotyar gripped the curves of Bobbie’s hips and walked her, artfully naked and panting, forward into the bedroom, into the realm of Avasarala and her heavy-lidded gaze. A frisson of anticipation pounded between his ears and beneath his abdomen. His cock was straining, hard as a lead pipe, rubbing insistently against Bobbie’s backside as they proceeded. Stopping at an arm’s length, he tightened his arm around Bobbie who unthinkingly continued, swaying toward Avavasarala. Bobbie whined at his impediment, moaning when he tipped his still covered cock in between her legs. Her aroused heat—he could feel how fucking wet she was through his jeans--was making his jaw clench uncomfortably as he asked Avasarala with a squint, “When’s that next debriefing, by the way?”

Avasarala was, if he somehow had a brain aneurysm and could unsee the nudity, seated primly over the edge of the bed, legs crossed. Upon his question, her dark eyes lifted to his with a demure smile. “Tomorrow morning.”

He cocked an eyebrow, unable to stop himself from grinning like an idiot. “Now who’s being presumptuous?”

Avasarala shrugged a bare shoulder, drawing his eyes to a taut nipple, making his palms itch to take it between his fingers and pluck, playing until she sang deep in her throat. “Hope for the best and plan for the worst,” she replied, smirking.

Cotyar lips curved up as that smirk turned into thready breaths. “And is this everything you hoped for?” he asked, Avasarala observing as he did to Bobbie what he wanted to do with her, rolling the flushed peak of the uncovered breast between his fingers and pulling at the sensitized flesh. All under the flinty black heat of Avasarala’s gaze until the only thing holding Bobbie upright was her death grip on his other arm and her Martian pride.

Avasarala reached out with her hands, one on each of their hip, closing the gap between the three of them with her arms.

“This,” Avasarala began, her grip on them soft but possessive like her gaze, in a way that was all Avasarala, “is everything I hoped for, and more.”

Cotyar’s eyes fluttered shut, warmth like the sun flaring through him from her grip as he released Bobbie from his arms. Bobbie slipped through Avasarala’s hand and dropped to her knees, strong fingers greedily massaging up and down Avasarala’s naked thighs until Avasarala trembled a sigh and uncrossed her legs. Bobbie gripped the knob of Avasarala’s knees and pushed out, spreading Avasarala’s thighs wide. Bobbie sucked in an awe-struck breath, taking in the swollen and glistening lips of Avasarala’s sex, breathing in the heady scent of her arousal. But like an unspoken agreement, Bobbie began slow, with a kiss to her knee, painstakingly nipping and mouthing her way up her inner thigh.

Cotyar stretched out his fingers, willing them to steady before he touched Avasarala.

“I just can’t quite believe it,” he said, leaning down, murmuring against the corner of Avasarala’s mouth, the back of his fingers brushing carefully against her cheek. Avasarala cupped his jaw, turning and capturing his lips against hers. They tasted each other, until he had the flavor of her on his tongue, until he had a part of her inside him as she had always been on the outside. The hole she created in him, just for being her brash, brilliant self, she was filling with her love, and he had never felt so utterly complete.

Bobbie piped up from below, between them. “You should take off your pants.”

Cotyar’s mouth twitched. “Some of us have dreamt of this more times than others,” he remarked to Avasarala with a crooked grin.

“Some of us have gotten off more times than others,” Bobbie retorted, looking up with a mocking leer.

He blinked, conceding quietly she had a point.

“Really?” Avasarala ran a hand up his bulging front zipper.

He shifted with a grunt. “Not for the lack of trying.”

“By all means, let’s give it another good try,” Avasarala exclaimed, unsnapping and unzipping with alacrity, humming appreciatively when she discovered he hadn’t bothered with underwear in his previous rush to escape.

“There’s no try,” he grumbled, helping Avasarala when his jeans bunched at his knees, kicking off his shoes and pants. He felt Bobbie’s glittering gaze on him, her head resting between the junction of Avasarala’s hip and thigh, her lips pressed thin with suppressed amusement. He retraced his words in his mind, and considered leaving it at that, but a look at her expectant face and he found he was all too happy to make Bobbie happy, so with a wry huff, he uttered, “Only do.”

Bobbie’s shoulders shook with muffled laughter, her hands latching over Avasarala’s thighs.

Avasarala’s gaze met his, eyes bright with fond exasperation and disordered arousal at everything that led up to the three of them naked and a Martian marine laughing between her legs. He climbed onto the bed behind her, kneeling with thighs bracketing hers, lips over the shell of her ear.

“Unlike Bobbie here, I can keep my eyes on the prize.”  He took her arms and set them behind his head, her chest pushed out in a poised arch. Reaching under her ribs, he lifted her breasts up further, until she could feel his breath blowing over them, the dark peaks ripening as she jerked helplessly, griping the contours of his skull.

Bobbie’s head shot up at Avasarala’s full body shudder, heat hazing over the laughter in her eyes.

“Do all that needs doing,” he sighed with feigned reluctance, hands pushing up further, fondling the plump flesh of Avasarala’s breasts, fingers pinching and pulling the tender tips. She cried out, gasping, grinding against him, and desperately trying to fill that empty ache with his cock. Yet, without his help, she couldn’t see or reach behind her with enough accuracy to seat herself on him.

“What you need to do, is fuck me. Now,” Avasarala demanded hoarsely, nails raking the side of his neck.

“As you say.” He bit into the skin where her shoulder curved into her neck. She bucked and he leaned into the momentum, bodily raising her above him as he stretched out beneath her. She whimpered deep in her throat as he lowered her on to his leaden cock. He grimaced at the unbelievable heat gripping his dick, gravity and the slickness of her walls making it difficult to be gentle and slow. All the tension behind his eyes from that rapidly firing hind brain simply wanted to fuck into her like an animal in heat.

Avasarala keened brokenly as his cock seated fully inside her, gripping him like a white hot and slippery wet glove, fluttering muscles squeezing every available surface. He surged against that heat, honing in on the spot that made her gasp anew, his core tensing as Avasarala rocked back against him, her breasts rising and falling with every movement. It clawed at him, like an itch, those ripe tips, flushed like they might just burst. But he needed to keep his hands on her hips, gripping her tight so she could grip him slow. White dots flashed across his vision and he grappled with a teeth grinding effort to not bury himself deeper than deep and shooting off.

He looked down and saw Bobbie in a trance, her irises thin against the black of her fully blown pupils, her face slack with lust watching them fuck. Chancing their balance, he palmed the back of her head, bountiful silks running between his fingers as he led her, unresisting, to a woefully neglected nipple. Her lips parted, automatic, her cheeks hollowing as she sucked.

“Bobbie!” Avasarala gasped out. That snapped Bobbie out of her trance, a predatory intent flashing across her eyes as she laved the other nipple with her tongue and shoved her hand down over Avasarala’s sex. Cotyar released Bobbie’s head, given her own faultless initiative, and slid that hand down to join Bobbie’s working fingers. Avasarala panted, her head falling back, mewling high and moaning low against the slide of bold and deliberate fingers, rubbing hard and circling light over her clitoris. Bobbie stretched up, locking her gaze to his, pressing her own hardened nipples over Avasarala’s wet ones, made gleaming and supple with her tongue and teeth.

He exhaled, open-mouthed and untidy with Avasarala still riding him and their fingers still entwined below, playing with Avasarala. Bobbie surged forward over Avasarala’s shoulder, slanting her mouth over his, teeth almost knocking together as they lip-locked, moaning from the back of her throat when he licked and nibbled at the luscious pout of her bottom lip.

Their loud mess of a kiss next to her ear sent Avasarala reeling. The thick head of his cock was drenched with a scalding heat as she came with a guttural scream, her insides gripped him in blinding spasms. His orgasm hit like a gut punch, his cock seizing with the blunt force of his ejaculation. He groaned, his body held rigid as he continued pulsing into her, filling her with his copious come. Avasarala fell back into him, going limp as his own sensations returned, his sweat covered skin prickling as Bobbie panted with her own need unfulfilled, whimpering against him, against them.

Cotyar’s chest constricted at the needy sound and managed to flip them over to the bed, Bobbie spread out beneath Avasarala and him, letting gravity assist against the languid satiety of their limbs. Avasarala breathed and nipped at Bobbie’s ear, her hands clutching a breast, her thumb toying with the plump tip. He shimmied down, kissing as he went, feeling her full-bodied shudder when he kissed the slicked entrance of her sex, tonguing the hard ridge on top. Gathering her knees, he pushed out and up, spreading her thighs obscenely wide. Swiping a heated look at Avasarala was all it took for her to grab two pillows and tuck them behind Bobbie’s head, so Bobbie could look down and see him going down on her. Avasarala leaned against the crook of Bobbie’s neck, the both of them watching him work.

“His mouth may be as clever as mine if he puts his mind to it, don’t you think?” Avasarala murmured as he applied suction over Bobbie’s sex.

Bobbie’s answer was a reedy moan, louder when Avasarala idly dragged her marauding palm over Bobbie’s breasts and he slid two fingers into her wet heat. Bobbie swallowed oxygen in large gulps, her hips chasing his touch as he pressed further in and up. Upon seeing her eyes clouding over, he added another finger, rubbing with his thumb until she was fluttering around his long digits.

“Come for us, Bobbie,” Avasarala ordered softly, biting down on an earlobe.

Bobbie came beautifully, arching off the bed with a high pitched wail. Avasarala’s eyes were soft as she brushed sweaty tendrils of hair away from Bobbie’s temples. Bobbie’s limbs twitched one last time before going lax, but she was able to turn her head, placing a tender and protective kiss over the crown of Avasarala’s head.

Cotyar looked up at the two sated women, basking in post-coital bliss, and smiled that secret smile himself as his eyes drifted shut.

Chapter Text

Bobbie shifted awake, staring up at the white ceiling. The dull silence in her head started feeling oppressive until Bobbie focused back on the two Earthers in bed with her. Her body’s vigorously well-used condition, fading scratches and sore muscles, evoked vivid images of heated skin sliding over skin and white-knuckled grips on bed sheets. She was following the lines of her soft curves and his hard contours when Chrisjen’s eyes fluttered opened, blinking away the haze of shallow sleep. Making herself very still, Bobbie observed as Chrisjen noticed Cotyar first, a faint smile gracing the older woman’s lips. That smile faded as her eyes settled over the implant on his arm, her hand reaching out but not quite touching. In the end, Chrisjen sighed with resignation of a consequence she couldn’t un-do and rolled over to see Bobbie watching her.

“Hi,” Bobbie whispered, mirroring Chrisjen’s sigh as her eyes glanced over at Cotyar.

Chrisjen ran the back of her hand over Bobbie’s cool cheek. “If we keep dwelling on unpleasantries,” she said, her mouth thinning with determination, “We may never get to focus on happier things.”

Retracting her gaze, Bobbie sucked in a silent breath as Chrisjen ran her thumb back and forth over Bobbie’s lower lip. A heat flared within, simmering heat rippling to the ends of her fingertips. Bobbie let her eyes drift down between them, where she could see a coyish hint of rounded flesh peeking through a veil of inky tresses. The corners of Chrisjen’s lips drew up as she gathered that long, overflowing hair and twisted it back, revealing her pert, naked breasts to Bobbie’s intent gaze.

Chrisjen was asking her something. Bobbie struggled mightily to focus, while wondering, a bit peeved, if she was doing it on purpose, demanding that she think and reply coherently when it was nigh impossible with her so close and so damn delectable.

“Sorry, what were you asking?” Bobbie asked, continuing before Chrisjen could finish her preening smirk, “I was thinking about kissing you here.” Licking her lips, Bobbie scratched her thumbnail against the edge of a dark areola, willfully inattentive to the flushed knot at the center.

Except Chrisjen did end up smirking at her. She pulled Bobbie’s hand away by her wrist. Eyes locked, Chrisjen reached up with her own fingers and tugged at those hardened tips, arching gracefully under her own ministration.

Bobbie, her mouth going dry at Chrisjen’s little show, surrendered almost as an afterthought, wrenching Chrisjen toward her, crushing their nude bodies and their opened mouths together. Bobbie rose and fell sinuously against Chrisjen as her too clever tongue licked into her mouth, tasting every inch like she couldn’t get enough, robbing her of all thought. Bobbie’s pulse dropped beneath her abdomen, awakening a savage, throbbing ache. All the colors in front of her eyes became luminous again, jewels sparkling in the sun, lively and new.

When they came up for air, Bobbie muttered, wry, if a bit out of breath, “How is it that I feel more like myself again when I’m with you two Earthers?”

“Because we love you and we make you happy,” Chrisjen answered, succinct and sure, even when her eyes grew shadowed upon brushing a thumb beneath Bobbie’s eye. Bobbie grinned blithely over what she suspected were matching dark circles of fitful sleep. Chrisjen’s expression grew unreadable. With a tiny twist of her mouth, she glanced over at Cotyar’s slumbering form and asked, “Are you sure you want to spend what little time we have left pretending to be asleep?”

Cotyar’s lips stretched crookedly, lazy and slow before opening his eyes. “No rest for the weary.”

Chrisjen slid a hand past his hip bone, the heel of her palm pressing down, firm against the long and hard ridge of his cock.

“You don’t feel weary,” she declared, rubbing her index finger back and forth over the protuberant tip. He made a sound of protest, his hazy dark eyes equal parts accusing and aroused.

Bobbie squirmed as Cotyar hitched his hips to catch the motions of Chrisjen’s roving digit, clenching down with vicarious expectation as Chrisjen hooked a leg over his thighs, going astride. With an exultant grin, Chrisjen impaled herself over his jutting cock, her cry of pleasure quivering as the full length bore into her glistening sex.

Chrisjen rocked against him, slow and steady like she was savoring him, small fingers spreading over the flexing muscles of his stomach, dark nails clawing when their sweat strewn bodies collided at a particularly satisfying angle. Bobbie could see the chords of Cotyar’s arms and chest straining to hold himself still as Chrisjen held court over him, her eyes bright, taking what she wanted and only what she wanted. She could have been sitting in a war room, the UN bigwigs arguing around her, smiling that sly, baiting smile as she had already plotted how she would squeeze them for result she wanted, the way she was squeezing his hard cock inside her.

And despite the whipcord tension thrumming through him, Cotyar was gazing up at Chrisjen like she hung the moon and the stars, proud and looking every inch like he would be die a deliriously happy man if they could stay this way forever. He would be inside her as she manipulated, lied, and did whatever was necessary to keep the Earthers, Martians, Belters, and whatever the protomolecule was, from killing each other. And Chrisjen Avasarala would do all of that with a well-fucked smile on her face.

Bobbie was struck breathless by the perfectness of the scene. It was only through the imp of the perverse, that desire to push all of them over the edge, out of equilibrium of deliberate wants and into the chaos of primal needs, that she snuck a hand between them, nails flicking over slicked hardness and fingers rubbing into Chrisjen’s wet folds to unravel that hidden bundle of nerves. The stoked heat between them burst into a conflagration. Chrisjen cried out, her hips rolling against Bobbie’s fingers with mindless urgency. Cotyar inhaled many a trembling breaths, Chrisjen’s reaction eliciting a ruddy flush over his cheekbones as he set his hands over her hips, no longer contented with being driven, his cock thrusting up and driving home, again and again.

Despite being the spark, Bobbie was beside herself watching them burn, immobilized by the molten lust coursing through her. She could only stare when Chrisjen reached down, one hand clutching behind Cotyar’s neck, the other grasping at Bobbie’s fingers. Cotyar rose at her prompting, his lips parting, tongue licking out as she set Bobbie’s wet fingers over his mouth. He sucked at them, and Bobbie whimpered at the mirroring tug between her legs.

His hand reached over, caressing down the side of her waist, settling above the curve of her buttocks, until something Chrisjen murmured in his ear spurred its descent between the cheeks. The ridge of his thumb hooked against the crease where her thigh ended and her pelvis began, the rest of his fingers biting hard into the flesh of her inner thigh. The hard knuckle of his thumb teased at her entrance. She wanted to grind down, chase that hint of pressure against her sensitized flesh. But his iron grip was unyielding until it wasn’t, and he was already thrusting up into her, her inner muscles fluttering against the thorough fullness of his cock, before she caught enough air in her lungs to gasp out loud.

Bobbie’s eyes flickered open to see that Chrisjen had turned around between them, watching her face as Bobbie rode Cotyar, the blunt head of his cock pumping in and out of her with a honeyed ease. Chrisjen cradled Bobbie’s jaw, moaning a little when Bobbie nuzzled into her touch and sucked in her thumb. Eyes narrowed, Chrisjen began moving that digit to the motions of Cotyar’s thrusts, in and out between Bobbie’s lips. Moaning at the dual intrusion, Bobbie bore down as her tongue swirled over the pad of Chrisjen’s thumb. She felt full and decadent, sweat and heat pouring out because there wasn’t enough room, the surface of her entire body tingling as if there was new skin breaking out beneath.

Chrisjen’s other hand drew down, tracing the messy seam of their joined bodies, tugging at the base of Cotyar’s cock, rubbing herself, and grinding against Bobbie, her multitasking hand covered with the slick essence of all three of them. Bobbie’s head fell back, openly panting as Chrisjen’s thumb slipped out of her mouth with a pop. Bobbie whimpered helplessly, suspended by the twin flames of pleasure burning her at both ends, consuming what was left of her oxygen. Chrisjen’s pleased smile pressed against the shell of her ear, her freed hand delving into Bobbie’s skull, hair pulling where fingers closed into a loose fist. Bobbie was already shuddering as Chrisjen parted her lips to speak in that rough, gravelly voice, “Can you feel me inside with him, fucking you?”

“Ah!” At Chrisjen’s lewd words, Bobbie’s sex clamped down tight. Cotyar stammered a discombobulated breath, shaking with the effort to keep himself from coming. When he moved again, it was in halting jerks, as if he couldn’t help himself from wanting to rut into her, like the way she couldn’t help herself from listening to Chrisjen as the politician continued her line of rhetorical questioning.

“Were you already so wet, watching us, that you didn’t realize he was covered with me when he went inside you?”

Whimpering at the lurid picture Chrisjen drew, Bobbie writhed as if she was going to come out of her overheated skin. Chrisjen synched her movements with Cotyar again. This time when he drove in, she arched up, grinding herself, her dexterous hand still between them, against Bobbie until Bobbie didn’t know where Cotyar began and Chrisjen ended, his cock, their cock, thrusting deep, so deep inside her.

“I wish you could have seen how you took him,” Chrisjen mused, the individual words themselves innocuous at first, but she added further, her low voice rasping, “I helped, of course, made him slippery as silk, so you could just slide down like you belong there. All those other times when he got you off, did you wish I was there?”

“You were,” Bobbie gasped in a rush of breath, mewling, “You were always there.”

Cotyar made a strangled noise of agreement.

“What was I doing?  Pretending to be asleep so you would get off on his fingers, watching me?  Touching myself while you gasped on the other side of the wall?”

 “Please…” Bobbie managed in a plaintive keen. Stop talking, keep talking? Was she too embarrassed at being caught or was she too turned on to focus and just wanted more? She couldn’t decide. Chrisjen’s grip in her hair abruptly twisted tight and that only made her arousal that much sharper. The apex of their slicked thighs was a noisy congregation that would belie any denial she would have to offer.

Cotyar sighed with something other than pleasure and nipped behind Chrisjen’s ear, seemingly forewarned by the direction of her thoughts, but that only fired Chrisjen up some more, pressing down against them, their heat shaking loose her next words in a growl.

“Was I there when you decided to fight that hybrid all by yourself? Was I there when you dropped in on that infested hellhole?!”

Cotyar looped his arms around Chrisjen’s waist and dotting gentle kisses beneath the curve of her jaw, a small repentance. Bobbie mirrored him on her other side, her heart twisting tight at the raw emotion in Chrisjen’s voice, her fingers soothing over the taut chords rippling down her throat.

“I’m sorry,” Bobbie murmured against a shaking Chrisjen. She would do it all over again, but knowing how much Chrisjen cared for them, feared for them, she felt at fault over being the source of her powerless distress.

“Yes,” Cotyar added. His hand rose to Chrisjen’s chest, cupping a breast, worrying the dusky tip. “We’ll make it up to you. Repeatedly. Anything you want,” he promised, his voice gruff.

Chrisjen reached back, snaking around Cotyar’s neck, the black of her pupil-widened eyes locked on Bobbie. In a sibilant drawl, she demanded, “I want to keep fucking her with your cock. I want her to come with the both of us inside her. I want the both of you to remember this when I’m long gone.”

Bobbie shook down to her bones, paralyzed by the onslaught of roiling lust and the impotent need to hold, to protect Chrisjen against the ravages of time. Bobbie wanted to press against Chrisjen until she melted into her bones, until Bobbie could wrap herself around the tiny infuriating woman, safe inside her the cage of her ribs until they turned jagged with age and crumbled to dust.

Cotyar clutched at Chrisjen, a curved breast in his hand, squeezing so tightly that the soft flesh puffed between the spaces of his fingers. His unshaven jaw razed the delicate skin of Chrisjen’s neck, his lips coming to a stop at her ear. “We can do that,” he remarked, calm if not for the squared set of his jaw, the censuring bite of his incisors at her earlobe.

Chrisjen bucked with a harsh laugh. Glowering, Cotyar followed in a flash, snapping Chrisjen against that aching nub over Bobbie’s entrance and pistoning his Chrisjen-smeared cock into her. He held fast over the violent urge of Bobbie’s hips so he could direct the targeted angle of his re-entries and the thrust of Chrisjen’s fiery landings, stroking Bobbie's thrumming, impotent fury until it hardened into a possessive, overwhelming need to fuck and be fucked by this aggravating woman until time ceased to have meaning.

Bobbie cried out, again and again, moaning at the knowing, devastating use of her body, rendering her mindless with pleasure. Again and again, fucking her so perfectly inside and out, taking her into their arms as if they were always meant to fit together in this way, to be fused like this so that lightning would rush into her veins and radiate out of her skin. Chrisjen was diabolical, adding rocket fuel to the fire as she fondled Bobbie’s breasts, tweaking those engorged peaks until Bobbie was a live wire, becoming the combustible spark that had set them off, her vision began going fuzzy at the edges.

The two Earthers had captured their Martian prey, and they held her captive in their embrace as they tormented her, toying with her until she was an incoherent mess, needy and greedy for their touch, helplessly, hopelessly, and utterly head over heels.

Before the towering waves of her orgasm threatened to suck her under, she was desperate to tell them, with actual words, the overwhelming emotion bursting through every one of her pores. She cupped Chrisjen’s jaw in one hand, and Cotyar’s in the other, intent on speaking, but entranced at the way they were pressing kisses into the center of her palms in nearly flawless synchrony.

I love you, she mouthed, her voice already gone.

Their smiles were the last images she saw before a shimmering blast of heat swept over her, whiting out all colors and burning any and all thoughts. Except just the one that made her everlastingly content in her surrender.

They knew she did.

Chapter Text

“Turn on the heat lamps if it gets too chilly,” Arjun called out over the kitchen sink as Cotyar and Bobbie walked out to the small dock over the lake.

Cotyar raised the hand holding the two beers to signal that he heard him, though he could think of more interesting ways to keep warm. His cheek twitched at the low sound of mixed laughter floating out of the house. There was a non-zero chance Avasarala just shared his exact thoughts with her husband.

He doubted this was new to Arjun, the extra people in his wife’s bed or the loving but exasperated fondness for Avasarala’s antics. It was all, in fact, a little too familiar…perhaps dinner had been less of an introduction into the fold and more of a graduate course in advanced commiseration. They were all in that liminal space of wanting to absolutely protect Avasarala from all dangers and to give her all the support in her endeavors. Needless to say, with Avasarala, those two objectives were frequently at odds. No one knew better than the man who had stuck to her side through thick and thin. It would certainly explain the extravagant buffet of home cooking and Ajun’s insistence on piling more onto their plates. They could take it and good food was always a balm. Looking back his pats on the back seemed less about encouragement to eat more and more like preemptive sympathy for the struggle ahead.

Which, with his experience of their last outing, he could…sympathize. But given Avasarala new status and that protomolecule doing whatever the hell it was doing, he better appreciate all of this calm before the shitstorm while he still could.

The planks on the well-maintained dock was not quite gleaming but smooth, its length equally marked by the aforementioned heat lamps. Bobbie had already relieved herself of her flip flops, going barefoot, making her legs appear miles long beneath her shorts. With every other step or so, she paused, twisting her heels to brush against the soft grain of the wood beneath her feet. The polymers on Mars weren’t quite up to the task of imitating the real thing, he gathered.

Bobbie stopped at the very end, where a small ladder led down to a square floating dock. From the slight sway of her silhouette, she could be considering whether it was worthwhile to risk its unstable foundation to get closer to the water beneath their feet. It wasn’t all that surprising when she went for it.

Bobbie sat with her long legs dangled over the edge, observing the water gently lapping over her ankles. When he reached her side, she beamed up at him, her eyes glowing softly in the lambent moonlight. Her delight was a tangible warmth in his chest, and he felt his own mouth curve, lips parting as he bent to capture that grin with his own matching one. She tasted tart and spicy, like the mango chutney that she devoured as-is over dinner. Their tongues slid over one another, slow and wet, the heat between them warming to a simmer.

“What was that for?” she asked huskily as he sat down beside her, handing her the other beer.

“For being so easy to please,” he teased, exclaiming with muffled ‘oof’ when she elbowed him.

They sat and drank the beers in companionable silence, though once in a while Bobbie would lift her feet out of the water and dunk it back in a lazy splash.

Bobbie broke the silence with a relieved sigh, “That wasn’t as awkward as it could have been.”

He raised an eyebrow. “What were you expecting?”

“I don’t know.” Bobbie made a face at him. “You told me they were set.”

“Aren’t you glad I was wrong?” He continued before she could answer, giving her half a grin, “Avasarala just couldn’t resist your Martian charms.”

Bobbie rolled her eyes at him, though her lips quirk. She glanced back at the house. They were too far out to make out any details of the married couple inside. But the house itself was as much a history of them as it was their home, with stories within that only they could tell. He and Bobbie were as intimate with Avasarala as anyone could be, but the house was a reminder of how much of who Avasarala was came from a shared past with Arjun.

He should have given in sooner, to make their own memories and create their own history together, before the next looming crisis that could have any one of them out there risking their necks. Even with this new thing between them, Avasarala’s lackadaisical attitude toward her own safety and Bobbie’s predilection of running straight into danger weren’t going to change. He would just have to be with them when he could and hope that he could brave through it all if the worst came to pass.

Bobbie glanced from the house to him, her eyes imparting a much too familiar capitulation to the circumstances, her lips smiling a wry smile.

He clinked his beer bottle to hers and together they took a long, long swig of liquid courage.

“Look,” Bobbie exclaimed, “a second moon.” She pointed to a gleaming white circle in the middle of the lake.

He canted his head at the moon in the water.

“That one’s a little harder to reach,” he considered.

He could hear Bobbie debating whether to roll her eyes at him. Instead, she kicked her feet in that direction, the sound of splashing water crisp in the quiet night. The ripples subsided before reaching the reflection. It floated calm and undisturbed in its ethereal glow. She sighed, “It’s beautiful all the same.”

He hummed his agreement.

Leaning into him, Bobbie placed two overlapping hands on top of his shoulder. She rested her chin there, her breath tickling his ear. “I’m glad he’s here. Otherwise we would have never gotten to see the side of her we saw today. The one where she wasn’t already one of the most powerful person on the planet. The one where you didn’t still refer to her as Avasarala because she’s not just Chrisjen, she comes with a title you’ve been trained to honor. The one where I didn’t still love her in spite of it.”

Cotyar glanced at her from the corner of his eyes, smiling. “I meant it, you know, when I said you missed your calling at SIGINT. It took more than training for you to cross that line.”

Bobbie twisted over his chest to catch the full attention of his gaze with a puckish grin. “Don’t deflect. You were worried about me jumping ship, weren’t you?”

His lips twitched under her scrutiny. “I knew you’d get there. Just wasn’t sure if you were going to get lost along the way.”

She snickered dubiously before her eyes sobered. Running her tongue over her teeth, she asked quietly, “And you?”

He took another sip. “Hmm?”

Bobbie gripped his chin and forced him back to face her, her action at odds with the gentleness in her inquiry, “Are you really okay with what Chrisjen did? Not telling you about Charanpal?”

He had been a cog in the UN mechanics, whether he could have done something different to change the outcome at Callisto, he would never know. Avasarala’s omission stung, but he knew the happiness the three of them shared was rare. He wasn’t going to let that go without a fight, much less give it up for a past he couldn’t change. Still, his reply ended up being testier than warranted, “You mean am I going to suddenly backstab Avasarala and perform a soliloquy about how I was just lying in wait to get my revenge?”

“Yeah, that,” Bobbie answered, flat and wry, before setting her gaze back to the lake.

He winced, scratching the back of his neck. With a sigh, he placed a hand over hers on the deck and squeezed. “Sorry.”

She gave him an epic side-eye and didn’t look away, eyebrows raised, expecting more, deserving more.

He nodded, exhaling a controlled breath. “As you can tell, I’m not perfectly okay with it.”

Bobbie’s eyes went soft and after a pause her hand turned up into his with a clasp, their fingers entwined.

“Just like I’m not perfectly okay with every crazy and dangerous scheme she comes up with,” he added, grumbling.

Her hand tightened on his. He rubbed over her whitened knuckles and raised their hands to his lips. “But I’m not going to let that get between us. Not be a long shot,” he promised with a kiss over the back of her hand.

Bobbie knocked her shoulder into his, her way of saying ‘ditto’ if he read her broad grin correctly. He returned a slow, sly smile. “I’ll just have to try harder to get her to see things my way. You can help.”

Bobbie yanked her hand back, scoffing, “I can do more than help.”

His gaze slid down her delectable curves, pausing at those strong, one might even say, magnificent, thighs. “That you can,” he murmured.

Just days before, those thighs had more than assisted. In fact, they played a rather prominent role in their night time activity.

Avasarala returned home seething with the way she had been stymied at a meeting about the protomolecule. She cursed a blue streak and started tearing at herself, raging at the utter lack of progress into deciphering its alien intent. All this power and she couldn’t plan or protect against what was to come. Colorful fabrics and glittering jewelry began flying until he and Bobbie came for her, enclosing the manic woman between them and using the best way they knew how to channel that anger into something more beneficial for everyone involved.

After coming for the third time, Avasarala begged off, citing the fact that she couldn’t lift so much as a finger anymore, not even the middle ones for those dumbfucks at the meeting. But Bobbie kept her trapped with those strong thighs bracketing his waist, holding Avasarala prisoner between them, determined to defuse every last bit of that corrosive anger. And Avasarala was too spent to stop them.

Over and over, Bobbie pitched an insensible Avasarala onto his cock, one arm bound tight over Avasarala’s chest, a hand kneading one of the bouncing breasts. Her other hand was out of sight, but his imagination helpfully stitched together the viscous slip-dip sound with the image of her touching herself as she panted shamelessly in Avasarala’s ear. He forced himself to recall all the guns he stashed around apartment to keep it together, catching Avasarala with heavy thrusts into her snug, slippery center. Those clenching walls grasped greedily at him even when she could only moan and jerk as they maneuvered her like a puppet, tugging at her strings and never letting up. And inevitably Bobbie would rock forward again while he was still in deep, grinding Avasarala’s hypersensitized clitoris over his pelvic bone, drawing out yet another hoarse and helpless scream as they propelled her into another orgasm.

Bobbie fucked Avasarala on him until Avasarala tensed for the last time with a muted gasp, her voice too fried from use. Her eyes rolling back, she went utterly limp between them.

They had fucked Avasarala until she blacked out and she rose the next morning with a guttural growl that made all those recalled to her meeting tremble with hair-raising fear and unbidden lust. And that was certainly an appropriate reaction because revenge had come for those treacherous thighs the very next night.

Because he had a healthy, however imperfect, sense of self-preservation, he knew whatever Avasarala planned for tonight, he was better off following her lead.

Bobbie was actually sleeping when he and Avasarala returned to the apartment, her limbs akimbo on the enormous bed they shared, the guilelessness of youth on her sweet slumbering face. With more experience like his, she would have better prepared herself. Maybe greeted Avasarala at the door, already gloriously nude with a sheepish and apologetic smile, ready to prostrate at Avasarala’s feet and be at her beck and call.

Bobbie was a quick learner though, and maybe this lesson was all she needed.

He sighed sympathetically at her sleep-laden confusion as he moved behind her in bed. Her eyes widened as she caught the sight of a very naked Avasarala seated at the foot of the bed, watching as she allowed him to lift her long pajama t-shirt over her arms, exposing her bare breasts to the air. The dark tips puckered as Avasarala stared, her eyes black with heat, slowly licking her dark red lips. As Bobbie shuddered with anticipation, Cotyar snapped the band of her underwear against her hip. She shot him a glare, but readily cast the last remnants of her clothing off when she caught his fingers drawing light circles above the wet spot, her burgeoning arousal already darkening the thin fabric.

A dangerous glint flashed in Avasarala’s eyes. And perhaps that was when Bobbie’s sense of self-preservation kicked in, because she glanced back at him with an unsteady look.

Cotyar flashed her a quick grin and bit into the soft skin beneath the crook of her neck. Her previous thoughts were scattering as she moaned deep in her throat, her arms rising to hold him close, to grind back against him. He took the opportunity to slip his hands between her mile-long legs, spreading her open, her knees locked over his. He inhaled deeply, the musky scent of her aroused sex, the taste of it tingling on his tongue. Bobbie twisted back, squirming against indecent width, but his hands soothed over those clenching thighs until they relaxed beneath his firm, massaging fingers. Sensing greater possibilities, he stretched her out further, gripping and kneading as he went, until she laid completely exposed, the thick lips of her sex gaping and glistening in the low bedroom light.

Wearing nothing but a lecherous smile, Avasarala veered left, air puffing through her softly parted lips as she breathed her protracted way toward the center, over the length of Bobbie’s inner thigh, the private expanse of skin blatantly bared before her.

The suspense was palpable, the both of them tracking Avasarala’s progress, waiting for her to go to town with that mouth of hers. He could feel Bobbie’s nails digging into his neck, and he could see Bobbie’s pulse pounding through the sheen of sweat covering her throat. And when Avasarala reached her destination with the tiniest peek of pink tongue licking out, Bobbie nearly came off the bed, her hands snapping down to reach for Avasarala but missing.

Avasarala ducked and withdrew with a chiding huff, and it took all his strength, his hands clutching Bobbie’s thighs, to keep her off balance, enough to prevent her from lunging after Avasarala. Bobbie whimpered, loud and desperate even as she shoved her fingers into her own slick, her eyes imploring Avasarala to set her wicked mouth back over her throbbing flesh. Avasarala raised a haughty eyebrow at Bobbie’s working digits, silently imparting the rules of the game. And somehow that got through the thrall of her lust, because Bobbie pulled her fingers out and settled back into him, shaking but subdued. But with a fierce set of her jaw, Bobbie reached back for him with both arms and arched her back, thrusting her entire naked body out and open like an erotic challenge.

Avasarala’s dirty smile returned, and thankfully for Bobbie this time she immediately set her mouth over Bobbie’s center, lapping slow and noisy. Bobbie bucked, whimpering and gasping at the one single point of contact, sounding like it was at once too much and not enough. His teeth gritted with the need to hold himself still, even if he wanted to bend Bobbie right over Avasarala’s mouth and thrust his cock between those perfectly rounded butt cheeks and pump into that wet, blistering heat. The same wet heat that Avasarala was working with her mouth, licking and nibbling and making him watch and making him complicit because she was never this easy. He groaned, his dick throbbing against Bobbie’s backside. What did he ever do to deserve this?

Beneath his hands, Bobbie’s thighs tensed as Avasarala’s cheeks hollowed, suction ever so precisely applied if his experience had anything to say about it. Bobbie cried out, wound so tight and so close to coming that frustrated tears sprang to her eyes when Avasarala slipped away again.

He held on, leaving Bobbie clenching at the empty air while he rubbed contrite circles over the flushed, sweat covered skin beneath his thumb. Her lovely thighs were definitely going to bruise. Catching Avasarala’s black gaze, he implored her to give Bobbie some relief. Avasarala smirked and leaned right, breathing over Bobbie’s other thigh, taking the opposite path to the same destination.

Bobbie stilled, her fingers stretching out slowly and carefully on the both side of his head, prepping her motions like a predator lying in wait. When Avasarala reached her mark again, this time Bobbie captured her, her quick hands delving into Avasarala’s voluminous hair, tightening on the thick strands when Avasarala gave her a good congratulatory lick. Bobbie shuddered, then whined, tugging and begging Avasarala to go deeper, just a little more.

His arms might be sore tomorrow but as far as his dick was concerned, the explicit view and the haunting sounds were all relevant to its interests. He watched as Avasarala obliged Bobbie with her entire face and listened as Bobbie came with a broken sob.

And while the shudders were tearing through Bobbie, Avasarala inhaled a harsh breath and re-fastened her lips to Bobbie’s pulsating center, the sinuous slanting of her shoulders spoke of an indefatigable tongue being extra rigorous and thorough in the depth and width of its plundering. Bobbie thrashed at the added onslaught, fisting the dark masses in her hands. But there wasn’t enough hair pulling in the world to deter Avasarala from what she wanted. As Avasarala picked up where her last orgasm left off, Bobbie came again then once more, powerless and succumbing to the ruthless demand of Avasarala’s stupefying mouth. Somewhere between the numerous orgasms, Bobbie’s arms went lax, her hands dropping from Avasarala’s dark mane. Eyes glazed and limbs splayed, Bobbie cycled through tensing, twitching, and going utterly slack, the control of her person whittled down to the single shattering point where she was being fucked by Avasarala’s mouth.

Well. He did warn Bobbie about Avasarala holding grudges.

Finally, Avasarala looked up from her handiwork and set her black, glittering gaze on him, her hands reaching out to join his. He held a wrecked Bobbie out to her like an offering and Avasarala was graciously triumphant in her acceptance, threading her fingers with his over those surrendered thighs. And as if that offering was a t-bone steak, she leaned back in, making precise cuts with the slice of her teeth, and proceeded to suck the marrow out of this particular bone.

Bobbie had been walking a little funny after that.

Heat suffused his limbs, his cock growing uncomfortably hard with an immense and dedicated enthusiasm to repeat those debauched scenes. Repeatedly. Perhaps with room for some creative differences and diversifying combinations.

Unaware of his wayward thoughts, Bobbie fell back flat on to the deck with a resonant sigh, arms spread like she was embracing the night air. “There are so many…” Bobbie frowned to herself, struggling to describe the experience of Earth with Martian vocabulary, “…alive sounds.”

Cotyar supposed there was, if he listened more intently over the heated thrumming of his pulse and the heavy ache in his dick. There was water lapping against the dock and the sandy shore, the varying buzzing and chirping of the insect nightlife, and the wind rustling against the overhanging trees. Life, ordered and chaotic, singing in the night.

Glancing back at Bobbie, he murmured, “It’s nice out here. None of that droning inside the concrete jungle.” He held her eyes and continued, “Helps you get out of your head.”

Bobbie pinched her lips, glancing away.

“Hey.” Cotyar leaned out next to her on his side and cupped the hardened line of her jaw, coaxing her back, rubbing the tight seam of her lips until they parted under his thumb.

“None of us are inter-exchangeable to each other,” he murmured, placing a soft kiss at the corner of her mouth, where her smiles began.

“You are irreplaceable,” he stated with a press of lips over the apple of her cheek, where her prettiest pink bloomed.

“So take care of yourself, Bobbie,” he entreated at last, his mouth brushing the cool skin above her dark eyes, wherein a wondrous universe of white and gray matter made the Bobbie he and Avasarala loved, even the parts that were not quite recovered from the ordeal with the protomolecule, from Ganymede to Io.

Bobbie shifted quietly, ducking a little under his chin. The abbreviated length of her silence filled with the night song before she mumbled, “I wouldn’t mind sticking around for another day.”

Cotyar smiled, another kiss to her temple. “Arjun’s off to Luna early tomorrow morning. You’ll have the whole to place to yourself. The rest of the UN security detail and I will try our best to hold down the fort until you get back.”

“You better,” Bobbie hissed with a playful yank on his shirt collar. Plans made, she continued eagerly with a derisive snort, her eyes alight, “Maybe I’ll check out the trails under that sore excuse of a mountain we saw on the way in. I’ve seen taller hills in children’s sandboxes.”

Cotyar’s eyes were caught in tiny hook at the corner of her full lips, a curl of heat resurfacing.

“Granted we have nothing as grand as your Olympus Mons,” he allowed, a hand stroking up her thigh, slipping under the cuff of her shorts, “but I’d say smaller peaks have their own...” His gaze dropped to the intriguing fall and rise of her chest, “…attractive qualities.”

Her lips twitched, parting with a swift inhale when his other hand skimmed beneath her shirt. “Like what?” she breathed as he pulled and freed a breast from her bra.

“Easier to scale, for one,” he listed, drawing a fingertip up the curved flesh. The tip puckered below the stretch of fabric across her chest. He licked his lips, his mouth dry, his cock protesting heavily in his pants. There was an obvious solution for that.

“But it might be better for you to figure it out on your own,” he deadpanned before rising to his feet.

Bobbie blinked, her eyes rounding as he shucked off his clothes. She yelped indignantly as he dove in naked, splashing her in his wake.

The cold shock of the lake briefly dulled Cotyar’s ardor. He swam a few laps to get the blood pumping again, but nearly pulled a muscle and drowned when he spotted Bobbie lifting off her shirt. An ample breast leapt softly into view, already bared from when he copped a feel. The other one bounced free as the bra fell to the deck. Soon she was nude, the moon shinning in the water and above them, a goddess bathed in the crystal clear moonlight.

Bobbie eyed the dark ripples beneath her, her hands balling up to a fist. He treaded closer to shore at her left until his toes drew lines in the cold sediment. She narrowed her eyes at him, but tossed him a firm smile before diving in.

Cotyar cocked his head at the tranquil waters when Bobbie didn’t surface immediately and got caught flatfooted when she leapt up behind him with a jubilant yell. He coughed out a mouthful, going still when Bobbie wrapped her arms around his neck, her bountiful peaks pressed up against him, two stiff points imprinting into his chest.

“What’s two?” she asked, swaying lightly into him with the current of the undertow.

“Two?” he parroted, too busy processing the wet dream in front of him.

Bobbie reached under the water, sliding over his clenching abdomen and down between his legs. “The attractive qualities of smaller peaks. You only mentioned one,” she reminded him, stroking the semi-erect cock to a jutting, hard length, a fingernail drawing maddening circles over the sensitive head.

Groaning, he stilled her hand and replied between set teeth, “Two is that you would have enough strength to go down after you’ve reached the top.”

He held out his hands, fingers hovering close over that gleaming, perfectly rounded skin and letting the next wave of the current nudge her breasts into his palms. Twisting the darkly flushed tips between his index fingers and thumbs, he bent and licked the valley between her breasts, mouthing over the dribbling drops of water. Bobbie arched with a sigh, her legs wrapping around to enclose his, but just missing him as he sank beneath the surface. Under the murky darkness, he hoisted her thighs over his shoulders and dipped his mouth over her sex.

Her above-the-water sob reached his below-the-water ears after her thighs began squeezing tighter, her hands clutching the back of his skull for leverage as she rode his face. Consequently, he may have forgotten to breathe if not for Bobbie jerking him out of the water and mounting herself on him, all in one smooth motion. Blinding white spots flashed in his vision. He grabbed at her shapely buttocks, gripping tight to regain some resemblance of control.

“Ah!” she gasped, clawing into his back, sending another electric shock of heat down his spine and straight into his cock. He drove hard and harder into her, going deep and grinding slow against that swollen nub, her walls contracting and swallowing him whole every time.

They grappled under the moonlight, the lake churning around them, the water a resistance that only prolonged the sweet drag of skin against heated skin. With a shout, Bobbie orgasmed and threw her head back, exposing a pale column, the sheen of delicate skin. Cotyar buried his unshaven face there, rough tearing through smooth before he seized, coming hard and fast in her wet heat.

As they caught their breaths, Bobbie groaned and bit his shoulder, muttering “I’m never going to look at mountains the same way again.”

Chapter Text

Weary from getting her brain picked by the R&D engineers at the newly formed Earth & Mars joint task force for extrasolar defense, Bobbie rolled her shoulders as she exited the simulation chamber. Given she was the only person who went one-on-one with a hybrid and lived to tell about it, she couldn’t exactly blame them for breathing down her neck as she endeavored to recount the details of the fight. Ideally the best and brightest brains of Earth and Mars could glean some insight from her experience and design a new power armor that would last longer than all of three minutes with a hybrid. From all the times they winced as she took the simulated beating, she gathered that she was more than lucky to be alive, it was a damn miracle that she still remembered how many pascals the hybrid had exerted on her Goliath armor.

Bobbie took a small pebble out of her pocket. It was worn down by a passing river to a shiny smoothness. She had picked it up on a lark during her solo and all too brief trek into the semi-wilderness within a daytrip’s distance from Chrisjen’s picturesque home. The loud pounding behind her eyes receded to soft murmur as she breathed in the memory of the cold, crisp air, smelling of pine trees and wet soil.

“Sergeant Draper.”

Her limbs snapped to stand at attention. Bobbie stared, stoic and silent, as Captain Sandrine Kirino dismissed her aide and approached. Under Kirino’s orders, the MCRN Hammurabi lead a fleet to help some of the injured and stranded UN crews left over from the UN infighting. That she was part of the Mars delegation was meant to show that both sides had their own angels and demons. But Kirino couldn’t have known that when she gave the orders. She took a risk and the admin ran with it. Bobbie already heard from the scuttlebutt that a promotion for the Captain was in the works.

“At ease, Sergeant.” Kirino considered Bobbie, her countenance unsmiling but her eyes not unkind. “I understand you were part of the Io contingent that stopped the attack of the hybrids.”

“Yes sir, I was, along with Holden’s crew on the Rocinante,” Bobbie replied as a matter of fact, “Madam Avasarala’s head of security retrieved the self-destruct codes on the planet buster.”

A defector, a taker, and an enemy walked into Io and saved the whole of Mars from being destroyed by its own weapon of mass destruction.

A ghost of a wry smile flickered across Kirino’s face. The irony was not lost on the captain.

Bobbie’s tensed shoulders lowered along with her quiet exhale. She would have loathed to see the same discomfort of lost face she had observed from a non-insignificant number of the Mars delegation. Even those who had obviously been sold her SIGINT undercover story seemed conflicted by the motley crew of antagonists while congratulating her on a job well done. But that crew had her back and in particular, the two Earthers had her heart, so she wasn’t keen to see any disparagement for what they managed to accomplish.

“Sometimes we’re so busy putting up a defense we lose sight of the ideals and the people we’re protecting,” Kirino mused, her eyes somber, taking full ownership of Mar’s role in the incident, “and sometimes we luck out with someone who can see still straight when we’ve gotten lost.”

The coiled tension in Bobbie’s gut unraveled further. Kirino had been read in, Bobbie didn’t have to obfuscate by omitting certain details. That and the captain was definitely on the fast track up the MCRN if she was in the need-to-know circle. It was as if world she grew up in was making sense again, where righteousness and bravery won against amorality and adversity, and those who risked it all to do the right thing were no longer made contemptible.

Kirino struck out a hand. Bobbie took it, blinking against the sting in her eyes.

“Good job, Sergeant,” Kirino said, her grip unsurprisingly firm. It was her other hand, closing over their handshake with a light squeeze, that had Bobbie sucking in a steadying breath for the fear that she might just lose it in front of the captain. The actions and words from Kirino meant more to Bobbie than the commendation from the Prime Minister.

Bobbie automatically went back to parade rest as Kirino nodded a goodbye. She watched as the captain’s aide rejoined Kirino and the duo made quick work to cover the lengthy corridor before turning the corner. There wasn’t much on this level except for the joint task force. Bobbie allowed herself a small smile.

A throat cleared next to her. Startled, Bobbie had her fists halfway up before she caught the grinning face of a very familiar spy.

“Do I need to put a bell on you?” she growled.

“You could do that,” Cotyar answered, carelessly, in that it wouldn’t make much of a difference. And he kept grinning.

She heaved a sigh. “What?”

He motioned to the departed Kirino with his head and quirked an eyebrow.

Bobbie huffed. “What could you possibly have gotten from that?”

“They teach us stuff at spy school.” Cotyar shrugged.

“We spoke like three sentences,” Bobbie retorted against the absurd heat rising beneath her shirt collar.

As if he could hear her subconscious thoughts, his eyes drifted down beneath her neck, and Bobbie fought the urge to cross her arms over her chest. Those dark eyes rose back up to hers, with heat and amusement, reminding her of the fact that he had seen her in much less. It was possible that clothing was no longer an obstacle to laying her bare.

“What can I say, I’m gifted,” Cotyar said with a crooked smile. “And you have a type.”

Bobbie raised both eyebrows. “A type?”

“Yes,” he confirmed, drawing it out, as if pointing out something super obvious, “Tiny dark-haired women in charge who don’t take any bullshit.”

Opening her mouth to protest, Bobbie shut it instead, her mouth pinched, a trace of pink above her cheeks.

Cotyar patted her on the shoulder in consolation of her late self-discovery.

“I have another type, remember?” Bobbie said, narrowing her eyes.

“Do you?”

Bobbie stepped back into an alcove of an unused doorway and gestured for him to follow with a crooked index finger. Cotyar sauntered in, unperturbed by Bobbie’s sudden need for privacy, even as Bobbie yanked him in over the last few steps.

“Asshole spies,” Bobbie hissed, holding Cotyar in place with his collar in her fists, his back pushed up against the wall.

He canted his head, smiling, unrepentant. “I can’t help that we’re full of insights to the human psyche.”

“You’re full of something, all right,” she bit out.

His lips twitched. “Dare I say…” Cotyar reached up to her hands and pressed into a spot that made her fingers fall open. He gathered her hands behind her back and pressed a hard thigh between the cradle of hers, hitching up into the apex of her legs as he chuckled roughly into her ear, “…just the way you like it.”

“That was terrible,” Bobbie groaned at his awful double entendre. “You should be ashamed.”

Though it didn’t stop her from rocking back against him, riding against that muscular thigh, breathing in his distinct male scent. He claimed to have ice in his veins whenever push came to shove, but to her he always ran hot, a lava flow beneath disparate terrains. And somehow she and Chrisjen had managed to get under those facades and she revel at constant, unfaltering heat.

Cotyar's limbs stilled, locking her in his embrace. Looking beneath his hooded eyes, he caressed her cheek with the knuckles of his hand, gentle and lingering. Bobbie canted her head, leaning to his touch.

“I know,” Cotyar murmured, touching his forehead over hers.

Bobbie peered questioningly at him, the pensive crescents of his eyes evident with their close proximity.

With a rueful smile, he drew back into a more professional distance and procured a hand terminal from his back pocket. “Look at the time. Duty calls.”

Within the space of a bewildered blink, Cotyar was gone. One second he was there and the next Bobbie couldn't even hear fading footsteps. Instead it came almost as an afterthought that her arms were free and she lurched away from the wall. That was weird, even for him.

Since Bobbie reported straight to the joint task force after leaving Chrisjen’s house, this was the first time in three days she saw him or Chrisjen. Three nights wherein their absence ached like a phantom limb, and in the mornings she had woken up to a cold empty bed. Was it completely out of the question for her to have spaced out and imagined everything?

Bobbie shook her head. No, she hadn’t gone off the deep end just yet. At the very least, she would have conjured up the both of them and ended their encounter in a more satisfying way. It was just Cotyar being Cotyar, he couldn’t help being a shady spy. And a fucking tease, her libido griped.

Bobbie bounced on her feet, overriding the dull throb between her thighs by activating every sore muscle that the simulations wrung out of her. But she was still looking forward to returning home to Chrisjen's townhouse in a few hours and having her way with them, and fall asleep knowing they were next to her, as close as they could possibly be, next to her beating heart.

Unfortunately it would be late in the evening before Bobbie managed to drag herself away from the ever-determined task force engineers. As tired as Bobbie was, she found herself glad to be of help, to witness this cooperation of minds, Martian and Earther, against a greater foe. Give them a common enemy and suddenly they were resolute and hopeful, speaking the same language of human ingenuity again.

Upon reaching the townhouse, Bobbie could tell from the number of guards on rotation that Chrisjen was home, but when she entered, it was quiet, the lights low and subdued. She dropped her bag off in the spacious but empty bedroom. It was easily ten times her own room on Mars. The high ceiling and glass walls made the view of the city and the bay below breathtaking no matter how many times she looked, but this time she had more urgent priorities to find the occupants she shared the room with.

Finally, turning a corner, she saw the light coming under the door of the equally enormous master bath and knocked.

“Chrisjen?”

She heard a small splash.

“Come in,” came Chrisjen’s familiar voice in a languid drawl, sounding like she had managed to shed the mask for Leader of Earth for the night. That hadn’t always been the case, but when Chrisjen brought her work home, Bobbie and Cotyar always made sure she could at least sleep without grinding her teeth down to bits. A few times Bobbie got the feeling Chrisjen didn't need to finish reading or reviewing that latest outrageous report.

Bobbie ducked in and saw through a veil of heated mist, Chrisjen with her chin set over her folded hands against the edge of the tub. A no-doubt expensive bottle of red wine and a nearly empty glass sat nearby on a small table.

“Aw, alone for the night?” Bobbie teased with mock pity.

Chrisjen pouted, her eyes large in her unadorned, dewy face. She leaned back, drifting until she had her back to the tiled wall. The clouded water between them had a jasmine scent, with a hint of something fruity that started with a ‘p.’ Pineapple, pear, peach, or mango, who the fuck knows with all of Earth’s embarrassment of riches when it came to fragrant fruits. All Bobbie knew was that it made her want to lick it off Chrisjen's expanse of naked skin.

“You could always join me,” Chrisjen invited, magnanimous, as if she didn’t already know what an enticing picture she made, the seduction a foregone conclusion.

Bobbie's eyes narrowed. “I see what you guys are doing.”

“Pardon?” Chrisjen raised an eyebrow.

Bobbie waved over the gigantic tub, over her. “The whole naked in the water thing.”

Chrisjen blinked once before she smiled, sly and proud, as if she had orchestrated the encounter, as if she had been the moon, watching over them as they moaned, panted, and gasped against the lapping waters of her lake. Bobbie shivered at the lucent memory of that clear night.

“One can hardly take a bath fully clothed,” Chrisjen replied pointedly over Bobbie’s still clothed form and very deliberately took another small sip of wine, licking her lips.

“Yeah, yeah, I’ll be quick to let you lead me to my doom,” Bobbie muttered over the smile she couldn't control as she disrobed.

“Doom is bit much. La petite mort is better suited,” Chrisjen suggested, coy, batting her dark lashes.

Bobbie stood naked in front of the tub and crossed her arms under her heavy breasts, the dark tips beading. “Just the one?” Bobbie remarked huskily.

Chrisjen gave Bobbie a slow once over, pausing at enough strategic spots that it was meant to make Bobbie squirm under her avid, sultry gaze. “To start. It's a long evening.”

Bobbie swallowed, her mouth dry and her sex wet. “Ambitious,” she croaked as she climbed into the tub, the air momentarily cool against the dampness between her thighs. But she as lowered her body into the heated bath, she realized the tub was big but shallow, and it wasn't as easy to maneuver as she liked. She swallowed again at the gleaming light of Chrisjen's ever so watchful eyes and the devilish twist at the corner of her mouth.

Chrisjen easily turned Bobbie's submerged body sideways and slid behind her, her lips at Bobbie's ear. “No just ambitious, a promise. Especially when I have you where I want you.” The victorious woman laughed throatily, the sound so harsh with desire that Bobbie wanted to grind down over that mouth to feel those vibrations over her sex. But the surface beneath her feet was slippery, leverage precarious. She couldn't see behind her, but felt the dastardly smile stretch across Chrisjen's lips. Her heartbeat ratcheted. It was a fucking trap and she was in for it now.

With a distracting nibble at her ear, Bobbie jolted as Chrisjen reached forward from behind her, her nimble fingers plucking Bobbie's hardened nipples, sending a sizzling current down into her throbbing center. Weak with aching lust and befuddled by the humid heat, Bobbie drifted along as Chrisjen ushered her into an adjacent wall, where a large spout of hot, steaming water gushed out and poured over her sensitized peaks, the rounded flesh of her breasts flushing pink.

Bobbie gasped at the sting of liquid heat, then bucked as Chrisjen reached down and rubbed at the pulsing nub at her entrance with one hand and thrust two fingers into her slick sex with the other. Trembling, Bobbie whimpered as Chrisjen's mouth joined the assault on her senses, kissing and licking its way up Bobbie's arched spine. Bobbie panted, her hips undulating against those twisting digits, overheated blood and flesh thrumming under the smooth skin of her breasts, against the phantom caress of the steaming waterfall.

The edges of Bobbie's vision began to sparkle white, closing in minute millimeters until Chrisjen bit the tender flesh beneath her neck, the prickling pain bursting the pressurized bubble of pleasure that had been building. Bobbie cried out, an overwhelmed and helpless sob, as the euphoric sunburst of her climaxing body engulfed her rational mind in a calamitous conflagration. What little returning awareness was further bombarded when Chrisjen withdrew Bobbie from the water spout and set her teeth against the dark ring of her heat-stung nipple, her tongue laving the painfully tight knot before her lips sealed over the tip to suck. Bobbie gasped with a cry, her breath quickening, the pressure building once more as Chrisjen pumped into her, filling her with the stretch of an additional finger.

While Bobbie was sure Chrisjen would have no trouble fucking the last remaining brain cell out of her head--there was an unforgettable precedence--she wanted to see Chrisjen's face, wanted to see Chrisjen's eyes glittering with hungry adoration before she came again. Bobbie's hands dove into Chrisjen's dark hair and pulled her up.

Bobbie found an unreadable but oddly familiar emotion roiling in Chrisjen's upturned face. Reaching inward, Bobbie cradled her face, thumbs brushing against the damp cheeks beneath her shadowed eyes.

“What's wrong--”

Chrisjen cut her off with a deep kiss, her tongue plundering, stealing all the breath out of Bobbie lungs. One of Chrisjen's hands clutched Bobbie's breast, firmly plucking and pinching the turgid nipple between the water-wrinkled pad of her fingers. Her other hand cupped Bobbie's sex, the hard ridge of her palm grinding determined circles over Bobbie's pulsating mound. Tension spiraled tight under Chrisjen's merciless ministrations until the unforgiving blowout of bliss tore through her like a hurricane, unraveled the thread of Bobbie's thoughts.

Chrisjen was working shampoo into a lather in Bobbie's hair when the gears in Bobbie's brain started up again. “Finally returned to the land of the living, have we?” Chrisjen teased, light and smug, with no trace of the melancholy from before.

Bobbie had to blink several times before she connected the question with Chrisjen's previous words. Chrisjen had kept her promise at not just the one little death.

“I know French too,” Bobbie managed, her voice hoarse from exclamations, “ménage à trois. Speaking of which?”

Bobbie definitely did not imagine the sudden rigid set of Chrisjen's shoulders, even if she masked it by dunking Bobbie's head back for a rinse.

“Oh, Cotyar's out there skulking about, engaging in all sorts of skulduggery, as us Earthers wont to do.”

Sensing there was a point coming, Bobbie kept her mouth zipped, having learned first-hand from Korshunov and Martens that it was better to let Chrisjen get to it than interrupt her. Chrisjen had been magnificent against those traitorous, two-faced fucks. Bobbie could kiss the foul-mouthed institution of a woman if her limbs weren't still rubbery.

Chrisjen continued silkily, “Not like your Captain Sandrine Kirino. Such a decisive and upstanding leader. Overdue for a promotion, certainly.”

“Damn it, Cotyar,” Bobbie swore under her breath. Over her shoulder, she explained, “I only met Captain Kirino once a long time ago. She came to give us a talk in class when I started at boot. It was a good talk, that’s all.”

“And you still remember the time and place.”

“Okay, I may have had a crush,” Bobbie surrendered. She was so going to kick Cotyar’s ass. Spinning around, she ran a thumb over the pout of Chrisjen's bottom lip and gave her crooked, appeasing smile. “But there’s no need to be jealous.”

Chrisjen's tongue slipped out, giving Bobbie's thumb thorough lick. “No, there isn’t. All your crushes will subsume by me.”

Dragging Bobbie's hand down between her legs, Chrisjen breathed in her ear, “Whenever you see a petite woman with dark hair, you'll think of me, and how wet I get when your fingers are inside me.”

Bobbie groaned, her said fingers twisting in Chrisjen's slick, in and up to the spot that made Chrisjen tremble and gasp. The palm of her other hand pressed against the tiled walls for leverage as Chrisjen surged against her hand.

Chrisjen went on to inculcate the completeness of her subsumption, “Whenever you hear someone with a no-bullshit, commanding voice, you'll think of me, and how I tell you to fuck me harder, faster.”

Rubbing hard and pumping fast against Chrisjen's swollen sex, Bobbie persisted against the burn in her arms, caught in a maelstrom between Chrisjen's words and the renewed ache between her legs.

“Ahh!” Chrisjen cried out as Bobbie gave into the visual temptation and capture a bouncing ripe nipple into her mouth. But Chrisjen managed to continue, halting but obstinate, “And whenever you think of me, you'll, ah, you'll remember, how, ah, how my mouth kept you coming and coming all night long.”

Bobbie mewled against Chrisjen's breast, writhing and clenching her thighs against the now thick and thundering throb of need. Panting heavily, Chrisjen yanked Bobbie back up by her hair, in the older woman's eyes, a ray of tender, unguarded affection breaking through the hazy cloud of lust.

“And you'll remember how much I love and adore you,” Chrisjen stated, ending her declaration with a heart-stopping kiss, spilling the sweet shaking sigh of her orgasm into into Bobbie's mouth.

With a hiccuping cry, Bobbie withdrew her slicked fingers from Chrisjen and set it upon herself in only a whispering touch, tumbling into oblivion with the woman she loved in her arms.

They laid languid and weak over the edge of the tub, with only the sound of their breaths being caught, until a male cough interrupted their aftermath.

Bobbie blinked, trying to decide whether she was annoyed at herself for not noticing an entire person in the room with them. But she was too sated and content to care, especially when that person was Cotyar.

Bobbie wrapped an arm around Chrisjen, pressing their naked bodies close under his heavy-lidded male gaze.

“When did you get back?” she asked, her words innocuous and light, her actions the opposite. She held his eyes as she inhaled the scent of the fragrant bathwater on Chrisjen's skin and traced over the woman's delicate collarbone. Chrisjen grasped her roving finger and licked it. Bobbie gasped, her lips parting into a small smile. From the provocative smirk she spotted on Chrisjen, Bobbie knew they were on the same page.

The lines beneath Cotyar's admiring gaze wrinkled with mirth at their overt display of seduction, meant to enthrall any man in a relationship with two women. But Cotyar didn't seem particularly entranced. Sure the physical signs were there, but as far as Bobbie could tell, he wasn't about to lose his cool for it.

“A while ago, actually. I thought I'd let you guys know but you were...” Cotyar paused in his explanation, that cool smile gone and in its place was all that viscous heat and tenderness, the black of his pupils blowing wide and a ruddy tint rising to his cheeks as he recalled, “...preoccupied. Rightly so.”

It was as if he got off more on seeing Chrisjen and her fuck each other with a single-minded dedication. That the joy they shared was his happiness, and the pleasure they sought from each other was also his to appreciate as well.

A rare flush of a familiar adolescent self-consciousness rushed to Bobbie face, her limbs again too long and gangling even as a Martian. It had taken additional years of growth spurts and grueling work in the MCRN and the MMC to grow into her body, to make it into a single responsive and capable unit within a variety of Gs. She had been trained to be a soldier, to strategize, to fight, even to kill and she had pushed herself every bit of the way. Bobbie had no qualms accepting when others feared or praised her for those hard-won skills.

But seeing from Coytar's face that she had done it right, that it wasn't just Chrisjen and her getting each other off, but getting so lost in each other that nothing else registered--it brought back those times where she had been awkward and unsure, when she had flushed at the signs of approval. It wasn't a madness of lust and it wasn't a dereliction of duty. It was how he wanted Chrisjen to be completely and utterly loved. It was almost too perfect, the three of them, that emotion swelled up and Bobbie ducked her head into Chrisjen's chest.

Bobbie could feel Chrisjen's arm coming around her, a soothing hand drawing down her back. To Cotyar, however, Chrisjen retorted with mock annoyance, “I’m sure you thought long and hard about it.”

They were also terrible but they were hers, Bobbie thought as she sneaked a peek at his reaction.

Cotyar shrugged with one shoulder. “Just the way I am,” he deadpanned.

At Bobbie's snickering, Chrisjen sighed with fond, if melodramatic exasperation, untangling herself from Bobbie with a motion to rise.

Cotyar tugged loose a towel from a nearby rack and set it over his forearm, solicitous. “Need a hand?”

Chrisjen raised her hand and her chin at him, her nudity only adding to her haughtiness. He let it roll off him, like the water he was drying off Chrisjen with edges of the towel he had draped over her back. It still amazed her, how Chrisjen could be wearing a towel and look as gorgeous as she did wearing her most expensive saris. Objectively Bobbie knew that she—they--were besotted, but it felt as true as the glowing moon and the sparkling stars in the Earther night sky.

Chrisjen's lips twitched as the path of Cotyar's hands meandered. “If you’re trying to get me dry, you’re going about it in the wrong way.”

“Really?” The late shadow of his jaw grazed against the delicate, luminescent skin beneath Chrisjen's ear. “Where are you still wet?”

Bobbie watched wide-eyed as Chrisjen's nipples puckered in an instant. And she bodily jerked when Cotyar rubbed a corner of the towel over those sensitive tips, rubbing conscientiously over one before moving to the other, making sure they were to be equally dry, testing the results with the pad of his index finger.

“Not there,” he stated, traveling further down to Chrisjen's belly button.

Chrisjen gathered her fingers into fists as Cotyar dabbed the towel over the soft curves of her stomach.

“Not--”

Yanking the towel off her shoulders and away from Cotyar's hand, Chrisjen grabbed his freed hand and placed it over the dark curls between her legs. “There! I'm wet...” she moaned, tipping her head back as his fingers swirled, “...right there.”

Chrisjen was pliant against Cotyar as long as his fingers were busy. When he moved her forward, closer to the tub again, she said nothing. When he placed a hand under one of her thighs and lifted it so her foot rested on top of the tub's edge, she said nothing. But when Bobbie rose to her knees, leaned in to breathe the aroused scent between those opened legs, and joined Cotyar's fingers with her mouth, Chrisjen let out a colorful expletive.

“I want you inside me, now!” Chrisjen ordered, panting, reaching behind her between their bodies, hers nude and his still clothed. Bobbie could see Chrisjen's arm tensing and un-tensing, no doubt making her case for her demand.

Cotyar grunted sharply. “I'm still thinking,” he muttered drolly, but before Chrisjen retaliated he unzipped with startling speed, the waist of his pants barely escaping his hips before he thrust forward.

Bobbie could feel her spine melting at the erotic image in front of her. Chrisjen swallowed Cotyar whole, her sex wet and grasping as he set a steady rhyme. Bobbie leaned in further and licked the two of them where they were joined and joining. She could feel their trembles over her taste buds, the flavor of their excitement sweet and distinctly them. Tilting her face upward, where Chrisjen's breasts swayed under Cotyar's powerful pistoning motions, where Chrisjen's eyes were nearly engulfed in a glassy black, Bobbie ran a tongue over her arousal stained lips, declaring as a matter of fact, “I can taste the two of you...on his long and hard cock.”

They could be terrible together.

Chapter Text

It was still dark when Cotyar woke, privacy on the windowpanes making the outside world an unfocused opaque. His training had bred out any inclination for deep sleep, but it was a few more hours before he would have awoken naturally. With the leftover satiety of last night’s vigorous fucking, however, he was able to get out of bed without complaint. Their footsteps were quiet as he followed Avasarala out, leaving Bobbie still fast asleep, safe and naked as the  day she was born, in the warm, cocooned bedroom.

Avasarala stopped at the well-stocked bar situated in a side of the living room. She paused to consider the various crystal shapes and liquid shades of the decanters. Too many choices make and too many temptations to indulge. With a dramatic sigh, she asked, “Is it too early to start?”

He was quick with pouring the club soda, pushing out the glass with an indulgent wave. “Time’s relative.”

She shot him a plaintive glance, but accepted the non-alcoholic drink anyhow, raising it to her lips to hide the beginnings of a quirked mouth that he found himself mirroring. Setting the glass down without the usual clink, Avasarala raised an eyebrow.

“Well?”

Cotyar gave her a wry look. “The Martians were the ones who gave us the heads-up, what did you think I would find?”

Avasarala's lips thinned. “Something that wouldn’t make it worthwhile for Bobbie to go back.”

“That’s not for us to decide,” he said, mildly reproving. There was a part of him that wished he did find what Avasarala was looking for. “The backdated data trail is solid, listing contacts with SIGINT handlers and orders from internal investigations. Records of recommendations for a promotion after the operation. It's all set. They’re not just giving her cover to save face. They want Bobbie back in all her deserved glory if she’ll have them.”

Avasarala’s chin rose. Yes, at least the Martians finally recognized Bobbie's worth. Though Cotyar had expected the Martians would give Bobbie a commendation, let her keep her rank, and when things calmed down slap an inconsequential liaison position on her. The possibility of Bobbie returning to the MCRN rank and file had been too distant to contemplate. With the small population of Mars, defections all but warranted the gallows, but he hadn’t considered the other side of the coin, that Mars knew someone of Bobbie’s caliber was hard to come by. Bobbie may profess to love the both of them, but she also loved being a Marine for Mars.

Mars was defying their expectations as their Martian did once, heedless of the fact that they might be creating another diplomatic incident if Avasarala’s displeasure manifested. She was already on her way there, asking with a hard glint in her eyes, “And Kirino?”

Avasarala might wield her skills of manipulation on to others but for others to do it to her and hers, that wasn’t going to fly. Come at her and she could be a sleek scalpel, considerate of the still useful flesh around the gangrene. Come at hers and become a protruding nail to her glittering hammer. Hypocrisy was only a dirty word to those who haven’t walked the devil’s path. Their soles were worn straight through.

But Kirino’s tête-à-tête with Bobbie hadn't read like manipulation to him. And as much as he would like to give Avasarala the ammunition to undercut the Martians, just because they were in a relationship didn’t mean he’d become a yes-man. “Didn’t look like psy-ops to me,” he testified soberly.

Avasarala shifted, steeling her back, looking ready to argue. But a glance at him and whatever she saw, she decided to take him at his word. “Pity,” she grouched.

He added as an airy aside, “Kirino seemed genuine.”

Avasarala glared balefully him. Much as she would like to think it was a matter of principle, Kirino being Bobbie’s old crush triggered a dislike that was more personal than professional. Cotyar gave her a teasing grin, though it felt more perfunctory than for amusement. They were both in their own ways bracing for the very real possibility of Bobbie returning to Mars. The more tightly it wrung in his chest, the more he forced himself to hang loose, to find an equilibrium could absorb the shock of heartache. By the shrewd look in Avasarala's eyes, she caught on to that loose thread.

With a small hand on his bicep, she tugged herself close. The warm press of her body was soft against his hard. Her other hand came up to curl at his nape, thumb easing small circles like a lockpicker’s caress into his hairline--all to unravel him until he was unbearably bare.

“Aren’t we genuine too?” she whispered up at him, her eyes shining, casting light into his shadows.

“Some might argue otherwise.” An understatement. No, they were not genuine. They were petty, petty fuckers and they may not have actually cared exactly that much about Mars’ fate if Bobbie hadn’t been around to shame them into it. Hell, they each had their own agendas coming into this. Avasarala pretended he owed and he wanted his debt paid. They screwed with each other in petulant, vaguely unsatisfying ways until Bobbie made them literally screw with feelings and everything.

Expelling a breath, he murmured, his voice low and thick, “We wouldn’t be here, like this, if it weren’t for Bobbie.”

They owed Bobbie the space to make her own decisions. Even if it would take her away from them. Even if without the steadying presence of Bobbie in their relationship, calling out their blind-spots, things could tip over between him and Avasarala.

Cotyar suppressed a shudder and wrapped his arms around Avasarala. She huffed, like he had squeezed all the air out of her. His grip was too fiercely tight, but he needed to have her against him, needed to have her in his embrace, without the constant call of responsibilities that were liable to beckon her away at any second. She was here, her touch sinking into his skin, the osmosis of a powerful narcotic. He nuzzled against her, placing a press of his lips over her head, inhaling the faintest fragrance of jasmine.

“We can make her stay,” Avasarala stated tenaciously, her fists clenched tight against his chest.

Yes, there were ways. “We could.”

She pursed her lips. “But we won't?”

“No,” he said, wincing at the finality of the word.

Avasarala bristled, but she didn’t argue so much as she thought two steps ahead. “The Martians might be sincere now, but what if they decide to pull a bait and switch later on? Keep using her as some lowly peon when we all know she could run circles around their best people?”

It was his job to make sure the third step ahead was laid out and the two steps back were still available should retreat be necessary. Good thing he enjoyed a challenge, given Avasarala’s non-linear thought process. There were exceptions, this being one of them, laying out the map for a destination that would irrevocably dampen the ferocity of the connection between them.

“By now they know Bobbie's got friends in high places...” He paused, tilting his head in an exaggerated manner to look down at her, brushing his thumb over the small dip beneath her pout. Avasarala’s mouth twitched at his arch compliment. He continued, raising his eyebrows for effect, “...and low.”

Avasarala growled, “So if they fuck with her in any way--”

He smiled sharply. “Then they'll have to answer to all of us. Bobbie included.” Even if Bobbie left, even if everything went to pieces, he and Avasarala would make damn sure she knew there was still a place for her on Earth.

“I almost wish they would be that stupid,” Avasarala bit out, lips curling in a vicious smirk that was as half-hearted as his teasing. She knew as much, dodging his knowing gaze. Instead she turned and burrowed into him, ear to his chest, small fingers clutching his shoulder until he bowed over her like an awning in a rainstorm. Going quiet, she held her breath like she was listening intently to the drumming of his heartbeat. It was as if he held a hummingbird in his arms, one that was unfalteringly ethereal in impossible motion and devastatingly radiant in preternatural stillness. All that drive and energy compacted into cunning curves and svelte softness, perched beneath him, drawn down at rest, at home.

The weight of her untethered him to everything else. His ribs were too small for the illogic of love, an uncontrollable madness going beneath them, his nerve endings lighting up with rioting directives that were too jumbled to categorize and contain, his control ceding to the fears and desires Avasarala inflamed. Should, could, would. This should have been a simple assignment. It could have gone the way they expected. He would be waving good-bye to Avasarala, his debt on its way to being paid. Instead he was drunk with the simply possibility, the ability to cup her face in his palms, to kiss her with crushing, reckless abandon. His bared angst and greed were met with her ferocious teeth and tongue, marking him hers with pain and pleasure.

Losing Bobbie would be akin to losing a part of this, the gravity of them irrevocably altered.

“Let’s go back to bed,” Avasarala moaned, bucking against him, teeth sharp against the curve of his ear.

Blood rushed between his ears, a cacophony so loud the room spun. He was unaware of how they made it back there, it was less of a decision and more of an imperative. Somehow, he fell backward with such a hard bounce on to the mattress that Bobbie jerked awake, blinking blurrily at them. Before he could tug Avasarala up between them, Avasarala’s hand dipped beneath his boxers, curling over his hard cock. Gritting his teeth, he screwed his eyes shut, trying to tap an already desiccated reserve of control. That was before he felt the hot swipe of her tongue over his extended length. Bobbie’s low gasp told him it was not a remnant of a fevered dream.

His eyes snapped open and he almost lost it right there. A sinful smile grew beneath gleaming dark eyes, those flushed, kiss-stung lips parting to take him.

“Fuck!” he breathed, his hips snapping.

Avasarala tasted him inside the wet, wicked suction of her mind-fucking mouth. He felt that velvet vise all the way up his throat, muscles stretched too tight for oxygen to pass through. Her hands were spread above and below, sharp nails ghosting against his sweaty pelvic skin and nimble fingers squeezing his heated flesh—an attack on all sides for what was left of his obstinate self to fully surrender. Bobbie joined her by scraping two fingers down his neck, over the convulsive bob of his Adam’s apple and the small circles of his nipples. Her bare hips undulated beside him, her beaded nipples brushed against his arm, her panting mouth whimpered into his ear. He was barely holding on, fingernails cracking on the edge of that delirious, wonderous chasm.

“Cotyar.”

Cotyar clenched white-knuckled at the loose sheets beneath him, unwilling to be that person who comes at the call of his name, however filthy Bobbie sounded, her rasp rough with potent desire. She said his name again, and this time, his last functioning braincells imparted that she wanted what was left of his attention, as if he wasn't already on a knife’s edge, ready to blow, to be made into a useless putty in Avasarala’s hands.

Evidently, he was too slow for her because Bobbie grasped his chin and turned his mouth into hers, her tongue licking nimbly against his until he managed to shift focus and truly see her. Bobbie’s full lips stretched into a teasing, triumphant curl, but her eyes were soft and knowing.

“Let her win.”

All the tension inside of him snapped, the pleasure of release ripping through him. He gave out a blinding shout, coming so hard and fast there was no time to warn Avasarala.

Not that she needed it because once lucidity swam back and his vision cleared, she was grinning like a Cheshire cat, wiping the last of his ejaculate off her bottom lip and licking it clean off her thumb. His stomach clenched at the sight and kept clenching when Bobbie rose from beside him and reached across him to cradle Avasarala’s face in her hands, descending decisively into a needy kiss—as if she wanted to taste him from Avasarala’s mouth.

Their mouths dueled as they drew closer to each other. Even though Bobbie outsized and outweighed Avasarala, she was still outwitted when they spilled over to one side of him, with Avasarala on top.

“You enjoyed that,” Avasarala stated, quietly surveying the naked spread of Bobbie beneath her, the expanse of skin flushed pink and quivering with want. She reached down and in, making a wet sound as Bobbie arched with a low moan. Her hand drew back up slowly, leaving a glistening path up Bobbie’s torso, between her breasts before Avasarala clutched a breast and pinched the pebbled tip with her slicked fingers. Bobbie whimpered, writhing against the sheets as Avasarala idly twisted the nipple between her fingers, reiterating in a detached murmur, “You enjoyed that a lot.”

“Please…” Bobbie pleaded.

“What more do you want?” Avasarala leaned forward, parting the sweat dampen locks of Bobbie’s hair from her face, her voice rough next to her ear, “We already gave you a show.”

Avasarala’s steady gaze caught his, possessive and heavy-hearted. He licked his lips, his mouth gone dry with understanding of her intent. With silent stealth, though Bobbie was hardly paying attention, he rolled up to his side next to them.

“Me,” Bobbie answered, her hands gripping Avasarala’s hips as she rocked up to grind against her. “I want you to fuck me.”

Avasarala hissed before harrumphing, “greedy,” pushing Bobbie’s wrists back into his waiting hands. Her dark mood was infectious, his hands clamped down, holding Bobbie all but immobile between them. He pressed up against her naked back, his cheek against the crook of her neck, taking measures of her response. Bobbie wasn’t struggling as much as she was trembling with anticipation. The pulse beneath her chin was quickening to a hammer, and her breathy pants were growing short and untidy. The thigh he pushed up between her legs grew increasingly drenched with her arousal, making his cock twitch with renewed interest. Bobbie’s openly erotic response to their moodiness made it hard to breathe, and he nipped at her earlobe when Avasarala added herself into their tangle of clenched thighs, trapping Bobbie between them.

“You do look like you want to be fucked,” Avasarala observed darkly, as if it was a severe punishment, as she set a thumb set over the full pout of Bobbie’s lower lip, a hand working in the heated space between them.

Not that he could see much from his angle, but with a full-throated moan erupting from Bobbie’s lips, he hazarded a guess that went straight from his big head down to his small, only comparatively so, head—which did not need further encouragement to perk up.

“You’re already wet and sensitive…” Avasarala alternated her hands, wiping her slicked fingers over Bobbie’s lips, rolling her palm over Bobbie’s taut nipple. Her head tilted at Bobbie’s needy whine, considering. “I could just get you off with my fingers. It’ll be quick,” Avasarala stated in a monotone.  

Bobbie swallowed convulsively, “What?  I don’t understand…” She turned to him for help, her confused gaze in a lust-laden haze. What exactly were her choices? A quick orgasm from the woman they loved, or?

“Or his cock can fill you up and my mouth can eat you out. If you’re ours,” Avasarala chuckled to mask the catch in her voice, “Ours to fuck in all the ways we want.”

It took someone with a clear head and experience with all manners of scheming to hear the obvious omittance in the new offer.

“Yes!” Bobbie cried out, shaking, “I’m yours. Please!”

He stared at Avasarala, feeling the same heartache hidden in her beaming smile. The curve grew mischievous as she reached over Bobbie and gripped his ass. Her knee bent to nudge Bobbie’s thighs, and the scratch of nails over his tailbone communicated her intent for him. His now throbbing cock was more than eager to oblige, and he made an inarticulate sound as he slid home into Bobbie’s wet hot heat.

Bobbie whimpered, choking as Avasarala set her mouth over a nipple and sucked, her fingers worrying over the other of the pair. He took care, taking long teeth-grinding strokes against the snug walls of her rippling sex. Any attempts from Bobbie to increase the speed was met with a simple and instant stop. And when he did, so did Avasarala, whether it was her lips suckling over Bobbie’s breasts or her tongue licking circuitously over her mound.

After a few fits of starts and stops, Bobbie began thrashing between them, having chased a climax within reach before they pulled back. With her hands still trapped behind her and their thighs bracing her open, there was no alternate way to get there on her own.

“Please,” she sobbed, “Touch me…there, I can’t.”

Avasarala’s smile had an edge of viciousness that made his hair rise and his dick twitch. “Of course you can’t. We’ve ruin you for other people, for yourself. You’re ours now and we’re going to take our time fucking you, and you’re going to come harder than you’ll ever come in your life.”

So they did.

That was the morning of the day the Martians made their offer.

They were at home early that night, waiting for the verdict when Bobbie returned.

“Welcome back, Bobbie. Hungry? Tired?” Avasarala asked from the bar, the drink in her hand making a small splash as she swung her hand in greeting. Cotyar leaned forward inside the bar, wondering if indulging Avasarala with a strong drink on this particular day had been a mistake. He looked down at his own potent drink. Well, needs must.

Bobbie didn’t exactly seem pleased coming home to two drunkards. Her cheek twitched as she replied, “I’m not tired.”

“Hungry then,” Avasarala exclaimed, hopping off the bar stool and sauntering over to the statuesque woman, her hips swaying. She pulled on Bobbie’s shirt and murmured lowly, “What are you in the mood for?”

Sighing, Bobbie looked down and ran a finger down Avasarala’s cheek, stopping only when she reached the bold cleavage of her chest. “You.”

Bobbie pressed forward and descended on Avasarala’s mouth. Avasarala moaned under the onslaught and Cotyar fought to remain unmoved, as this may be a kiss goodbye. Avasarala stumbled a little when they broke for breath, and he watched with as much dispassion as he could muster when Bobbie picked her up and sat the both of themselves down on the living room couch, Avasarala safely situated in her arms and lap.

“They want me back in the Martian Marine Corp. I’ll have a promotion but I’ll still be out there in the field.” Bobbie paused, before quietly adding, “It’s pretty much everything I could have wanted.”

Cotyar gave her a salute with his tumbler. “Someone up the ladder at MCRN has more than sand for brains and they’re not afraid to use it, congrats,” he said, smirking emptily.

Bobbie shot him a glare, retorting, “Do you want me to get you an autograph?”

He shrugged carelessly.

She looked down at Avasarala, who was leaning against her chest, uncharacteristically subdued.

“But then you guys knew this already, didn’t you?”

Cotyar said nothing. Avasarala said nothing.

Bobbie gritted her teeth before starting to speak again.

“Do you guys know how cold it gets on the surface of Ganymede?”

They blinked at her.

“My armor was broken and leaking oxygen. I remembered seeing red snowflakes, which must have formed from my blood.”

Avasarala’s lips thinned to a white line as she clutched at Bobbie’s shirt.

Bobbie continued, her voice sounding farther and farther away. “It was so cold. The coldest I’ve ever been up to that point.”

She reached down to tip Avasarala’s chin up. “That was until you told me how my squad were sacrificial lambs and I realized you were telling me the truth. I felt so cold, like my heart was turning into solid ice.” Unshed tears glittered in Bobbie’s dark eyes. “They broke my heart, Chrisjen. I love Mars, I want my people to thrive, I want to see a Martian ocean, but I can’t ever forget that cold.”

Avasarala reached up and embraced Bobbie, placing soft kisses over her shuddering form.

He walked over and squeezed Bobbie’s shoulder. She reached up and entwined her fingers over his. Bending his knees, he came to eye-level with that hand and kissed each finger that was not lost to frostbite, pressing his lips over the live pulse beneath her wrist before murmuring against that delicate, translucent skin, “You’re staying.”

Bobbie nodded, but she was solemn when she asked him, “Can you promise me one thing? If anyone, Earther, Martian, or Belter needs to put on that new armor to fight whatever the protomolecule cooks up next, I’ll be in the front lines with them.”

“Bobbie!” Avasarala exclaimed.

Cotyar smiled at Bobbie, admiration and love warm in his chest. “All right.”

Avasarala hissed, distraught, “No. Once--twice is enough!”

“We’ve all been doing our jobs, Chrisjen. That’s how we ended up here together, like this,” he said, grateful, “Let’s just keep doing what we do best, come what may.”

Scowling, Avasarala snapped, “Fine, but if anyone of you die first, I’ll come for you and make your afterlife a living hell.”

He and Bobbie grinned at the contradictions in that statement.

Avasarala bristled, twisting away from them, muttering, “Rest in peace my ass.”

Bobbie slapped said ass in her lap.

Avasarala jumped, indignant. “I am the most powerful human being in the Sol System!”

“We’ll try not to hold that against you,” Cotyar replied, dry.

“Nowhere to go but down,” Bobbie deadpanned, “Ever thought of early retirement?”

“I’m starting to regret this,” Avasarala said into the palm of her hand.

Cotyar grinned.

“Hey, you started it.”

"I don't like this."

"As you've already said for the millionth time.” Avasarala waved off his concern again, but the skin between her eyes wrinkled just a little.

There, an opening. Cotyar tried again, meeting her halfway with a plan that required only her acquiescence. "I'll stop if you let me bring in another set of hands for your security detail. Just one more, I doubt Mao even notices the help."

"Are you sure any one of them won't sell me out to Errinwright?  Maybe they already have."

Cotyar brusquely ran his hand over his skull, and drawled, "How do you know that I won't sell you out?"

Avasarala merely rolled her eyes at him.

"I'm not sure that was a compliment," he growled. "Fine. Non-UN. I know some freelancers."

"Freelancers you can find within the next hour who wouldn't sell us out to Mao when we get to his luxurious space yacht?"

His left cheek twitched. She wasn't wrong and he knew it.

An idea flickered, quick like a flash, solidifying only when Avasarala suddenly sat up and beamed at the brilliant idea she just had.

"Ladies first."

Avasarala's eyes were bright, too smug for her own good. He failed to school his own smile, cautiously offering, "Draper?" as she blurted out, unable to contain herself, "Bobbie."

He narrowed his eyes at Avasarala's overly familiar use of Draper's favored name.

"She hates the UN on principle, me being the exception. And she lost her teammates because of Mao, she would rather chew off her own arm before giving him anything," Avasarala crowed, "I'll message her to meet us at the spaceport."

Scratching his jaw, Cotyar imagined the Martian. Tall, strong, a good head on her shoulders. A third-party witness in case there was any shenanigans to be had. Deadly if the occasion called for it. He sighed, requesting an amendment as he stood.

"Tell her to meet in your office at HQ."

"What for?"

"I need to swing by R&D and I’ll pick her up on the way."

"We're cutting it close as is,” Avasarala argued.

"If we're going to bring a professional gunhand, I’m going to make sure she's got a professional gun. Let's just hope she's not going to turn around and shoot us with it after she's done with Mao. Marines are trained to kill, not protect," he replied, before uttering pointedly, "Chrisjen."

Avasarala blinked, then smiled slyly over her shoulder. His chest fluttered.

That was a misstep. This whole thing was a misstep. He shouldn’t have accepted.

Sensing his twinge of dismay, Avasarala quickly added, "After the sacrifice she made for her squad, I'm inclined to believe she's feeling more protective than homicidal.”

He rubbed his fingertips into his temple and grumbled, "She hasn't gotten to know you yet.”

Avasarala continued with a confidence in Draper that he wasn’t sure was warranted, "She defected to us because she knows we're on the same side. The right side. We’re her people now, and you’ve seen how she protects them, even in death."

He worked his jaw, staring at the tiny, infuriating, scheming, brilliant woman. This was what she wanted and she was going to do it with or without him. Damn if he was going to let her do this on her own.

“I hope you’re right, because a good protection detail is hard to find."