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Breathe In

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Stifling a yawn, Iker watches the AOD haphazardly moving across the screen. He is supposed to check for new notifications but there aren’t any and he’s dead on his feet. He volunteered for the duty only because he didn’t want to rouse a suspicion.

“Captain?”

“Yes?” three voices echo as one.

Mario’s eyes slide from Messi to Iker and then settle on Franz. “We seem to have a problem.”

Franz frowns, gets up from his seat and strides to one of the monitors they’re watching. “What is it?”

“Something is tailing us,” Lee Chung-Yong reports tensely. “T2 or B1, I’m not sure.”

Messi swears under his breath, peering at one of the monitors.

Iker looks too, sees a little green dot blinking on the radar. He rubs at his shoulder, trying to ease the twinge of pain that has been with him since the match. “Knew they wouldn’t just let us walk away.”

He still sees the way Lennox’s eyes flashed before he angrily shoved the Hurakan keeper to the ground. The rage and the lack of respect for his teammate has been unforgettable.

“Not after a game like that,” Messi agrees.

Franz and Mario start talking in fast German while the rest of them hover awkwardly, exchanging glances every few seconds. Then Franz clasps Mario’s shoulder and Mario leans over Lee to the control panel and his fingers fly swiftly over the screen.

There is a slight lag.

An artificial female voice announces, “Engaging – defence protocols. MAFFS – crosscheck.” The voice is irksome, too loud and too high and has no intonation whatsoever. Landon nicknamed the voice Kim and it caught on fast.

“I didn’t know we had any defence,” Messi says tersely.

Target acquisition – completed. Unable – to – identify. HVTs – zero,” Kim, the migraine-inducing voice, summarizes helpfully.

“We have the best defence,” Franz snaps and rubs at his lips with his hand.

“The offence,” Mario fills in when he notices Messi’s confusion.

“You don’t want to attack them fist, do you?” Iker asks.

“No. We’ll wait and see what they do.”

They keep following the Galaxy’s spacecraft. Iker starts sweating because he knows exactly why the aliens aren’t letting them leave. A very tall, muscular and also very unconscious reason that is safely hidden in Iker’s sleeping quarters.

“Let me just check… Fuck,” Messi pokes at the screen forcefully. “It’s not responsive. What’s wrong with it?”

TouchWiz – lagging,” Kim responds in her usual upbeat tone.

“No one asked you,” Messi grumbles. “What do I do with it now?”

Automatic – system – reboot – initiated,” Kim informs them breezily before all the screens go black.

“Right,” Iker says, hiding his smile with a yawn. He ends up yawning for real.

“I’m going to check on the guys in the back,” Mario says, stretching, and Iker is once again surprised by his perceptivity when the German adds, “See if anyone is up and could take over Iker’s shift.”

Iker opens his mouth to protest but Franz cuts him off. “We all see you’re falling asleep. Go get some rest, I’ll make sure you’re not disturbed. We can handle this. We won fair and square, they’d better let us be.” Franz nods towards the radar that is flickering back to life, the green dot still unnervingly behind their spacecraft.

“Okay, thanks.” Iker’s plan worked perfectly. Now no one will be suspicious about why he’s holed up in his room – he made it seem like it was their idea. “Someone should get Sasha,” Iker adds, making a broad gesture to the computers.

“Already on it. Shoo.” Iker is waved off.

Once the control room is behind him, Iker quickens his pace and doesn’t stop until he reaches his room. He moves to his bed and listens for the quiet breathing. It’s still there and Iker lets out a relieved sigh.

He was far from being relieved when he first heard the sound. Back then he went completely still. What he thought was the hum of the cooling systems had a ragged, irregular pattern. It was someone’s breathing – wet and painful.

Iker followed the sound.

On the ground, half-hidden in the shadows, lied a figure.

“Are you okay?” Iker asked, mostly to make sure his approach wouldn’t be a nasty surprise. Nothing like spooking a wounded beast.

The laboured breathing stopped, then started again, soft and shallow. Iker took it as a sign he was allowed to kneel down next to the creature. The darkness obscured most but the eyes that watched him were wild and downright frightened. Nothing remained of the proud stance.

Iker held up his hands, hoping the gesture didn’t mean something drastically different in the other culture. “Acatchz, right?” he asked as he eyed the prone figure. The crumpled position on the ground couldn’t have been comfortable and Acatchz’s right arm was twisted at a weird angle. “Let me just check your arm.”

The extraterrestrial’s pupils dilated at the sound of his name but he didn’t jerk away from Iker’s touch. He held perfectly still. Only the Hurakan keeper’s eyes were tracking Iker’s movements. When Iker’s finger brushed against Acatchz’s skin, it was like plunging into a freezing pond in January. Iker’s skin prickled as he flinched away from the cold.

“Christ, are you supposed to be this cold?”

He jumped out of Acatchz’s view and the big dark eyes tried to follow him, wildly glancing around. Apart from that, not a single twitch, not a single sound.

Iker made sure his voice was calm. “It’s okay, it’s okay. I’m just going to take a look.”
He braced himself against the cold before trying again.

It was a hassle, getting Acatchz’s uncooperative body up from the ground before the guards noticed them. It took even more scheming getting Acatchz onboard but letting the Hurakan’s keeper to his fate was not an option. Iker didn’t doubt that they would have killed Acatchz had they found him. He betrayed them, he allowed the goals, he made it possible for Earth to win and that was unforgivable in the eyes of their leader.

It was sickening to see what they have already done to him. It was probably due to a lucky chance that they didn’t freeze him properly and Acatchz was able to totter to the shadows where Iker stumbled upon him. By the time Iker realized what was going on, the cold was spreading fast.

Alien or not, a life was a life and so Iker had dragged Acatchz along and hid him in his room and prayed for the best.

Now Iker is stuck with the consequences of his ‘heroic’ deed. He moves towards the bed warily. “Hey there. How are you feeling? Is the arm still troubling you?” Iker keeps the steady stream of chatter as he approaches.

He isn’t expecting an answer – Acatchz was comatose when Iker left him – and that’s why he startles badly when the extraterrestrial says in a low grumble, “It’s better.”

“You speak Spanish?”

“Among other Earth languages. It was a requirement when we were selected to monitor the planet.”

“Right,” Iker says, deeply unsettled by the idea. He clears his throat. “So, how are you feeling? Do you want some water? Just give me a sec, I’ll get you some. Can you move your arm? Any numbness? Because man, you were freezing just a couple of hours ago.”

Acatchz blinks slowly, probably overwhelmed by Iker’s inquisition.

Iker lets out a breath and sits down at the feet of his bed. Acatchz scoots over a little to give him more room so Iker supposes he’s recovering nicely. “Okay. I’m just going to check if you’re still running so freakishly cold, all right? It’s not a normal thing with you, is it?”

“No.”

Iker is already reaching out but at the curt reply, he goes very still, hand nearly touching the alien. “Uh.”

Something changes in the extraterrestrial’s features. “No, as in I’m not supposed to be so cold.”

“Oh, okay then. Erm. Here,” Iker tentatively closes his fingers around Acatchz’s calf, wanting to see if the muscles are still running cold and tensing. It doesn’t feel like touching an ice cube anymore and Iker can actually feel the rough texture of the alien’s skin for the first time. His fingers are stroking Acatchz’s calf before he knows it.

Acatchz makes a low growl in his throat and Iker snatches his hand back. “I think it helped, what you did,” Acatchz utters.

“Took you of that ground, put you in a bed and gave you a warm blanket, nothing special,” Iker lists off.

“Most would have left me there,” Acatchz says darkly. “But that’s not what I meant. I think the body heat must have helped.”

Iker shifts so he’s sitting a little closer to the edge of the bed. “You weren’t supposed to be aware of that part. I thought you were unconscious.”

“I was. But I remember the warmth.” Acatchz moves his leg so it’s pressed against Iker’s side.

Iker is pretty positive all his ribs could be crushed with one powerful kick. He doesn’t move a muscle.

“Humans generate so much warmth,” Acatchz says, contemplating. “You don’t seem to accommodate to the surrounding temperature.”

“Yeah, well, we’re not cold-blooded.”

“I noticed. You helped me.”

Rescued you, Iker thinks distractedly but luckily doesn’t say it aloud. Acatchz was in no shape to save himself so Iker intervened.

Iker tries not to think too hard about what is going to follow when they land on Earth. He would need to either somehow persuade Acatchz to stay with Iker and keep hiding from other people or Iker would have to let the authorities take Acatchz in as a war criminal. Which would be only marginally better than the fate Acatchz’s clan intended for him. So, not happening. Spain it is, then they’ll figure things out as they go. If they get that far.

“They are looking for you. We have a ship from your planet chasing after us. They haven’t attacked yet but I’m not sure how much time there is.”

“We aren’t know for our patience,” Acatchz says, smiling wryly. His leg is still pressed to Iker’s side.

Iker slides off the bed and moves a few steps away. He starts pacing in the small space that is his room. It’s better than sitting still and feeling trapped.

“Then we’re screwed. I was kinda hoping we’d reach Earth before they could attack.”

Acatchz looks up from where he’s lying on the bed and for a moment he watches as Iker paces around. Then he gets up from the bed. “I’m sorry.”

His movements are careful but he’s nowhere near as hurt as Iker would expect him to be after nearly freezing to death. “What for?”

“For,” Acatchz wavers, “the whole ordeal. You didn’t have to save me.”

“I couldn’t have left you there for them to find you, realize you weren’t dead and finish you off.”

“Thank you.”

Acatchz’s solemn eyes are unnerving Iker so he turns away and starts pacing anew.

“Thank me by helping me come up with a plan.”

That catches Acatchz’s attention. “You haven’t told your team about hiding me here,” he says flatly.

“No.” He couldn’t have just walked up to Franz and tell him about having brought the alien along for a Sunday picnic.

Acatchz catches Iker’s hand when Iker circles around him in his pacing. It’s a fast motion Iker doesn’t register in time and he takes one more step, with his hand already captured. His shoulder protests at the strain. It’s his injured one and the sharp sting of pain brings tears to his eyes and he gasps. His heart skips a beat because Acatchz’s hand is engulfing his and there is no way he could break the hold.
But Acatchz’s hand is already moving to hold lightly and offer a support to Iker’s back. Iker shivers but this time it’s got nothing to do with cold.

Acatchz probably doesn’t know the difference between a flinch and a shiver because he takes a step back and holds both of his hands palms up. Iker wonders if he remembers the gesture from their first meeting. “I wanted to say,” Acatchz says, “that you could still hand me over to them.”

“Yeah, no. Not gonna happen.” Iker replies quickly.

“But they will tear you to the ground.”

“There is no ground bellow us right now,” Iker points out.

Acatchz gives him a toothy grin.

“You shouldn’t be up on your feet just yet.” Iker says and Acatchz’s grin widens but he settles back on the bed. Iker sits at the same spot as before and he isn’t much surprised when Acatchz prods him with his feet. It’s a gentle, teasing nudge and it makes Iker smile despite their situation.

They sit there in silence for a long moment before Acatchz hesitantly speaks up again. “I can hide my scent from them,” he says in his usual low grumble Iker is becoming very fond of.

“Seriously?! Why didn’t you say so earlier?”

“There is… An unpleasant side effect.”

“Alright,” Iker leans back against the wall and crosses his legs on the bed so he is facing Acatchz. “What would it do to you?”

A quick smile flashes across Acatchz’s face, disappearing as suddenly as it appeared. “Not to me.”

“What is it exactly?”

“There is a scent that we can use to mask our presence from our own species – do you humans have something like it?”

“No. Would be pretty useful.”

Acatchz nods his head slowly, like he knew such camouflaging behaviour hasn’t been observed and was merely curious if Iker would answer him truthfully.

“I’m not even supposed to know about the technique but my mother – well, she was a part of one hush-hush operation and she taught me. They were also monitoring Earth but the project was abandoned because this scent seems to have an unexpected effects on humans. Attracting more attention than desired and leaving the human subjects aroused.”

“Sex pollen,” Iker realizes. He’s heard about the stuff but never considered it to be real. Then again, he never considered aliens to be real either, until their spaceship dropped down from the sky one day and they demanded the match. “How strong it would be?” Iker finds himself asking.

“Unfortunately, it would be enough to affect the whole ship. Unless… unless you can seal me in this room? Airtight?”

Iker grimaces. “Only from the inside. Sasha taught me a thing or two about this ship,” Iker says, hurriedly getting up on his feet and poking at the control panel of his room. He feels adrenalin flood his veins, his heart rate spiking up. He licks his lips. “Ah, there we go.”

Warning – core systems – compromised.” Kim sounds as unaffected as ever.

“So, that’s covered. It’s pretty easy to get her going,” Iker remarks, relieved that this part worked out.

“These mechanisms of your world leave a lot to be desired,” Acatchz says, eyeing as Iker quickly dismisses the warning note from the panel.

“Well, you shouldn’t really be complaining. Me and Kim here are doing our best to save your sorry ass from being pulverized by your fellow aliens.” Iker taps a side panel. “Although, you can’t be all bad. You’ve got football.”

Lockdown – initiating,” Kim chimes obediently.

“Good girl.”

Acatchz watches him, and if Iker didn’t know any better, he’d classify that expression as bewildered.

“Well? Go on. Do it,” Iker urges. They don’t know how much time they have left.

Systems – overheating,” Kim pipes up.

“What have you done?” There is something fragile in Acatchz’s voice.

“Switched the Bluetooth back on. And a few other things,” Iker smirks. “I’ve always been better at picking things apart than putting them together.”

Slowly, Acatchz nods. “The last defence, eh?”

“Exactly.”

They share a look and Acatchz is the first one to look away. “Tell your people to let them search the ship. You will be fine.”

“Sure. We’ve got nothing to declare,” Iker says, managing to sound more sure than he sounds. His heart is beating madly in his chest. They’re really doing this. And it’s going to work. It better.

“They’re looking for my signature and they won’t find it here,” Acatchz reassures him, relaxing his posture, curling a little into himself. It’s a lost case, with his size. Hell, even his heartbeat feels threatening, strong and thundering through his chest. Iker should know, he checked it plenty of times before the ship even took off.

Iker wonders if the slouch is supposed to make him feel better. He finds the sentiment endearing.

“They just need to get a reading on this ship,” Acatchz goes on, “and once you let them get close they’ll realize I’m not here. But I need to ah, hide before they smell me.”

Iker has already sent Franz a notice and he isn’t about to protest but – “How long does it take for the pollen to fade off?”

Systems – overheating.”

“About eight hours. But the effects are notably diluted if the human subject gives in to the temptation,” Acatchz says quietly.

Iker gulps. “Let’s do this.”

Acatchz smiles, wide and pleased. He props himself up on his elbows and beckons Iker closer. Iker doesn’t dare to breathe in just yet.

Systems – overheating.”

Iker’s lungs are screaming, his head feels light. He needs oxygen. “Just a second,” he forces out, tapping a button to disconnect the surveillance.

Finally, he takes in a breath. The relief is imminent.

He wheezes for the first few seconds, then he feels the sweet, heavy scent in the air that has never been there before. It’s thrilling, it’s everywhere and Iker inhales deeply, the effect of the pollen already working its way through his system. He’s getting achingly hard.

He takes a staggering step to Acatchz and two strong arms catch him and guide him down. Iker whines at the touch because it’s exactly what he needs but at the same time, it’s not enough. He yearns for more.

Frantic, he climbs in Acatchz’s lap and he still needs to be closer. He can’t imagine resisting this for minutes, let alone hours. A helpless whimper escapes him.

“Hush,” Acatchz says, catching Iker’s face in his hand, carefully guiding Iker’s lips to meet his own and running his hand along Iker’s back. “Hush.”

Warning – camera – failed,” Kim comments belatedly.

Iker doesn’t hear her.