They could have all crammed back onto the Tempest and slept the night there like usual, but no one wanted to get back onto the ship now that there was a real, true-blue colony up and running. There were only a handful of settlers so far—maybe twenty or so—and only a few buildings had been set up inside the safe zone, but it was better than breathing recycled air on a ship again. Even Kallo left the deck and paced around Podromos, stretching his limbs and kicking up sand.
That was how they ended up fitting the whole crew—everyone from Lexi to Jaal—into the prefab on the lake. Everyone was bunking up like this. There had only been five buildings established so far, and everyone was taking turns in sleeping bags and cots. It was only fair that the Tempest crew bunk together.
There were only a few cots, though.
Vetra staked her claim first, setting a datapad down on the pillow of a cot against the wall. No one dared move it. Drak caught wind of that and holed up in the corner of the second floor room, which was half full of boxes and to-be-assembled furniture. Lexi snagged the side room that overlooked the water and set up against the window. Kallo and Suvi followed, and when Cora noticed them snagging spaces, she grabbed for one of the fold-up cots and dragged it over to join them. The four had set the room up like an Alliance dormitory—a bed in each corner with sheets tucked so tight you could bounce a credit chit off them. Jaal made camp in the middle of the room. When Cress asked about it, he shrugged and told her that most Angaran families shared big common spaces together. Fair enough. Peebeee stumbled in late and saw that all the cots were taken, so she called dibs on the bathtub. That just left her and Liam, who had been too busy struggling to assemble the brand-new coffee maker and turned back around to find that everyone had already situated themselves.
Looks like they’d have to share a couch, then.
They ate dinner outside with the rest of the settlers, like one big picnic. It didn’t get dark on Eos, but everyone disbanded at around the same time. Body clocks and all that. Settling was hard work, and everyone had spent the day pitching in and getting lab equipment set up. Lexi seemed to be the deciding factor on bedtime for the Tempest crew, but if anyone disagreed, they didn’t argue. She activated the window dimmers as they entered the prefab and bid everyone goodnight. Peebee said she was going to a walk for a bit, but most everyone else decided to change out of the day’s dusty clothes and hunker down. Like one big pajama party. Cressida changed into her sweats and climbed the stairs to the second floor. She must have beat Liam up, because it was just her and a snoring Drak. Out light a light, the poor old man. She stifled a giggle. Grandpa Drak watching over the two youngins. Make sure no one gets into any mischief.
Not that they would, of course.
Liam? Her? No.
Not that she didn’t think Liam was attractive. Not that she did find him attractive, necessarily. Well, he was very attractive, but that didn’t—
She tamped down the thought and stretched out on the couch. Enough of that. She was the Pathfinder for the human Ark, not a middle-schooler at a dance. The door across the room slid open and she nearly jumped out of her skin.
Just Liam. Take a deep breath.
Just shirtless Liam. She forgot. Liam slept without a shirt.
Well, if she looked like that, she’d probably walk around everywhere without a shirt, so she really couldn’t blame him. The windows had been tinted to darken the room, but she was probably blushing so hard her face looked like a nightlight.
Liam’s eyes were still adjusting. He half-tripped over Drak’s duffle, and then dropped onto the couch, sitting on her shins.
Cress curled up right as Liam jumped back to his feet, and at the same time, they both whispered “sorry!”
Liam pat the couch before sitting back down, and even in the dark she could make out his grin.
“Looks like we’re sharing, eh Pathfinder?”
“Yeah, I should have known no one would want to stay on the ship.” She tugged at the blanket she’d pulled around her and offered Liam a corner. His fingers brushed hers when he accepted. She shivered. “First night on Podromos is one big sleepover.”
“Makes me think of being at a really intense summer camp. Like in a movie,” he whispered.
“Camp Deadly Radiation?” She wrapped her arms around her knees and leaned forward.
“Something like that.” He pulled the blanket up and tucked it in around his hips, feet stuffed under the couch cushions. The air was sill. The prefab had clean plastic smell about it—everything was fresh out of the box. At least the couch wasn’t half bad. Her bed was better, but it was nice to spend some time groundside without dodging bullets. Building instead of shooting. She started to get comfy, but accidentally kicked Liam in the shins. He shifted a little.
“We should head to—”
They both stopped and Liam laughed quietly.
“Right,” Cress whispered. “So we can sleep like this?”
She stretched her legs out so they could sleep head-to-foot, but accidentally kicked Liam another two times in the process. When they were finally settled, they were both trying so hard not to touch each other that he was half on the floor, and she was sinking into the crack between the seat cushions and the back of the couch. She rolled a little as she started to fall asleep, but woke herself up kicking Liam yet again. Fourth time? He was going to wake up with bruises and everyone would think she’d clobbered him. She heard a quiet chuckle in the dark.
“Yup! Yeah, totally comfortable.” Her arm had disappeared into the couch, probably never to be seen again. “Just like home.”
“No. Sorry, no not at all. You?”
“I mean, it could be worse.”
She sat back up at around the same time he did.
“Ryder, I’m not being fresh, but it might be easier to...ah.”
“Snuggle up?” She really hoped that was where he was going with this, because otherwise she was the one being fresh. She shot a glance over at Drak, but their whispered conversation didn’t even make him twitch.
“Yeah. Just for tonight, I mean. Since there’s not a lot of space.”
“Okay. Yeah.” She got up on her knees and tried to climb over as best she could without planting her hand somewhere she shouldn’t. She finally got herself comfortable, tucked into Liam’s side. For a bit, they tried sleeping back-to-back, but she kept pushing him off when she started to doze. It wasn’t her fault she was kinda a selfish sleeper. In her defense, she wasn’t used to sharing, and her room aboard the Tempest had a queen-sized bed. Pretty luxurious for space. She had gotten used to spreading out.
Liam rolled over and she could feel the heat of his chest against her back. He slipped one arm under her head, and let one drape over her side. Nested together like that, they fit perfectly. Better than perfectly. She was more comfortable than she’d be back on the ship. Maybe it was just that she had gone a while on her own, without anyone to snuggle up to (but, if she was being honest, it wasn’t really that). His knees curled behind hers. When she stretched out her toes, she could brush the tops of his feet.
This was perfect.
She liked this a lot more than she should. There were probably logical, non-crush, non-awkward reasons why. There had to be. She was definitely just a little touch-starved. She was a huggy person, and most of her crew was not, and she was under a lot of stress. That must have been it. Just needed a hug. A nice, platonic hug. But then he shifted, and his hand was on her side, and she wanted to lace her fingers with his and turn back around and plant a kiss on his lips. Did she kiss people platonically? No. Had she ever, in her life? No. Nope. Never had the urge to kiss Kallo or Drak. Not platonic. Definitely not platonic. Oh no.
This was bad.
Liam had worked in crisis response, right? Maybe he was just used to sleeping in make-shift camps and wouldn’t notice how she was practically melting. People probably melted all over him all the time. Ugh, that thought went somewhere gross. She pushed that down before realizing that shit was she getting a little jealous thinking that someone else might have had a crush on him too? Why even think about that?! Stupid brain!
“Ryder?” His breath traced across the back of her neck and wow. She shivered head to foot and had to take a deep breath to regain control of herself.
“Is this alright? You seem really tense.” Still whispering, of course, because people were sleeping, and it would be rude to talk at full volume. But he was whispering right in her ear, and her mind went a thousand places it definitely should not have gone.
“I’m fine. Are you alright?”
“Yeah, I’m good.” He paused for a second, and she could feel his arm twitch under her head. “You sure you’re alright? I can move if you want.”
She should definitely tell him that they should move.
“That’s okay, Liam. I’m comfy.” Shit.
“Right. Night then, Ryder.”
If he could see her now, Scott would be laughing so hard he’d probably bust a rib. He’d always been more of a Casanova; he’d pat her on the back and say he didn’t know she had it in her. Then he’d probably wink and say something gross about how if he’d managed to get Liam into bed, he wouldn’t have wasted time panicking. She blushed to her hairline and resolved to never ever tell Scott about this ever. She’d never live it down. They talked about everything, but he would never hear about this.
Well, she hadn’t done this on purpose. But she also hadn’t suggested setting up another one of the couches, and not just because it would be a massive pain in the ass.
Liam’s breathing leveled out. He was probably really asleep now, but oh no that was worse. Asleep, he was completely relaxed. She could feel the soft whoosh of his breath against her skin, and his hand slipped down onto her stomach, palm flat and fingers stretched out. He had big hands, with warm palms. She could practically feel those fingers pressing into her hips, pulling her in close, tracing down her skin…
No. Stop that.
Professional. Be a professional.
She shifted and her hips brushed his, and she felt something move against the back of her thigh. Oh. Cress bit down on her lip. Sweatpants, not armor. Right. Was it getting hot in here? She was feeling really warm all of the sudden. She started to move again, but Liam’s arm locked around her waist, and he buried his face in her shoulder.
What would he do if she kissed him? Not while he was asleep, of course. She wasn’t a creep. But when they woke up? If she rolled over and kissed his cheek?
In the morning, they’d get up, brush their teeth, and get dressed. No kissing. Besides, she’d have morning breath, and no one liked to kiss with morning breath. And in the morning, she would go back to being his Pathfinder. Was that harassment? Was a Pathfinder like a Boss? She still hadn’t figured out the rules on that. Oh no, did that mean that she could only date other Pathfinders? They hadn’t found any other Pathfinders. No, that was silly. She pushed the thought back down and noticed that her hand had twined with his over her stomach. How had that happened?! She slid her fingers from his and jammed her hand under her side. There. Safe.
Liam slept pretty soundly, wrapped around her. Her thoughts buzzed like a kicked hornets’ nest trapped in her skull, but eventually, the stress and heavy-lifting from the day finally settled over her. After a while, she started to drift to sleep.
She was very comfortable when she woke up. Rested, cozy, soft and safe. This was the life. She burrowed down into the warm, giving herself a few more minutes in bed before Button woke her up for breakfast. Pyjaks woke up early; she was surprised he hadn’t crawled over onto her before now.
Then she remembered. No pyjack. She wasn’t aboard the Tempest.
She opened her eyes to see Liam, hands behind his head, lounging with his shoulders propped up on a pillow. She was plastered to his chest, completely on top of him with her legs on either side of his hips and her arms around his waist. Her cheek had been rested on his sternum.
She scrambled to get up, but just ended up sitting on his lap which was worse. He shot up and grunted when she tried to disentangle herself; she must have kneed him. She tried to get her leg clear so she wasn’t straddling him (oh god she’d been straddling Liam), but overcorrected and threw herself right off the couch and onto the floor. She blinked a couple of times. Floor. Ow.
She glanced over at the corner, but Drak was already gone for the day. Which meant that he’d probably seen her all over Liam. At least he hadn’t just seen her make a complete fool out of herself, but this was bad.
Liam laughed quietly, stretching out a hand to help her up. She accepted, pulled herself onto her feet, and sat back down on the opposite end of the couch, knees curled up to her chest. Taking up no more than one cushion, so that there was no chance of them touching.
“You alright, Pathfinder?”
She thought she would die. This was it. This was what killed the second human Pathfinder. On her tombstone, it would just say “Liam Kosta’s Smile.” Or maybe “Liam Kosta’s Dumb Face.” She pulled the blanket up to her chin and fidgeted with the strap of her Blasto tank top. Oh even worse; she’d forgotten she’d worn the Blasto tank top of all things. Like a ten-year-old. Great. Icing on the cake.
She glanced back over at Drak’s abandoned cot. “So where did he—?”
“Gone before I woke up, I think.” Liam stretched and grabbed for the window remote on the coffee table. The dimmer faded, letting bright sunlight stream into the room. “Woke up early. You know how old people are about sleeping in.”
She should just say it. So about last night…? But Liam looked so relaxed, arms folded over his stomach, yawning. She still wanted to kiss him. Yup, lean right over and plant a kiss on his cheek, and maybe then his lips, and maybe also his shoulder. Maybe everywhere. Part of her thought she’d be back to normal in the morning, but nope. It was too late now; she wanted Liam Kosta. A lot.
“Sorry,” she blurted out. “For. Uhm. You know.”
“What?” He blinked for a second, but then grinned. “Aw, that? That’s alright. Hard to share without getting a little close, right?”
“Besides, the old man didn’t wake me up to give me any shit, so I think we’re alright. We’ll know we’re in trouble if he starts giving us the birds and the bees talk.”
“He wouldn’t.” Her cheeks burned up.
“I don’t know, Ryder. Seems a little like he’s adopted you.” Liam yawned again through a chuckle. “Wouldn’t be surprised if he corners me in the cargo bay and asks my intentions.”
She buried her face in her hands and groaned.
“Don’t worry. I’ll tell him I’ll have you home by ten.”
Yup. She was dying. She was probably blushing so hard the heat would incinerate her. She’d burn right up. She felt the couch cushions shift and when she dropped her hands, Liam was right there in her space, warm brown eyes staring into hers.
“Ryder, it’s alright. I don’t think he noticed. Besides, we’re adults.” He pulled himself up off the couch and when the sun touched his skin, she thought she was dying all over again. “You’re not uncomfortable, right?”
“No.” She should be.
“Then we’re good!” He ruffled her hair as he crossed the room to grab his overnight bag and head down stairs. Warmth bloomed over her skin, eking down her scalp and over her shoulders, pooling in her gut. There was a giddy bubble in her chest, growing out until she thought she’d pop like a balloon. That was when she realized she was in more trouble than she’d thought. She didn’t just like Liam Kosta. Oh no.
The door slid shut behind him. She pulled the blanket up over her head, sank down into the couch, and decided to never speak of this to anyone ever.