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Unintended

Chapter Text

Aric Jorgan was not a sentimental man. He didn’t dwell on his emotions—hell, half the time he didn’t even acknowledge them. He was also not indecisive; he believed in taking action, taking responsibility, and getting results. And so it was doubly incredulous, not to mention galling, that here he was, coming up on an hour of sitting on his bunk with his fists clenched, trying to decide what to do and feeling as anxious as he ever had in his entire life.

This had seemed like a good idea at first. It was entirely reasonable to want to congratulate the captain on her promotion, and a gift seemed like the sort of thing one ought to do for a friend. And they were friends, he had realized, after all the time they’d spent together, all the missions they’d completed. It was almost impossible to rely on someone as completely as they did in the field and not become something more than acquaintances, but it had surprised him nonetheless. The circumstances of their first meeting, his subsequent demotion while she was made his CO—all of that had stung, and at first he didn’t think he’d ever feel anything other than a seething dislike for her.

But Lieutenant—now Captain—Phila Evander was not the entitled, arrogant brat that he had thought she was, and she had proven it many times over in the hunt for Tavus and the other former members of Havoc Squad. Jorgan had come to admire and respect her over the months they’d been a team, and more than that, he even liked her.

Back to the problem at hand—a gift was a good idea, he was sure of that still, but why did he have to go and pick this particular gift? He hadn’t been able to think of anything that seemed right, until one day he was digging through his locker in search of something—he couldn’t remember what—when he found a box of assorted junk that he had accumulated over the years. Inside was a jewel he had bought from a trader on a whim years ago and had then thrown into the bottom of his pack, having no use for gems.

He wondered, now, if he’d had some sort of premonition, because it was the exact same blue as Phila’s eyes.

Before he could really think it through, he had found a Theelin jeweler on Nar Shaddaa and sent her the gem, commissioning a setting for it. It had arrived via courier while they were taking leave on Coruscant, and Jorgan had to admit that the jeweler had outdone herself.

The deep blue stone was now the centerpiece of a lovely bronzium pendant. It was shaped like an elongated diamond with thin strands of the metal woven in intricate designs that reached up to enfold the gem. It looked amazing, and in his mind he could clearly see it hung around Phila’s neck, even though he’d never seen her wear jewelry before.

The problem, though, the thing that kept him holding onto it even now, more than a month after receiving it, was that the more he looked at it, the more it felt like—well, like a lover’s token.

That was definitely not the message he wanted to send. Was it?

It was true that he was attracted to her, had been for quite some time, truth be told, but lately it had been getting worse. He couldn’t stop thinking about her, and everything reminded him of her—the Balmorran sunsets were the same deep red as her hair, a smooth sip of Corellian whiskey was her voice. And the dreams—it was a miracle that he could meet her eyes after the dreams he’d had, and thank the stars Cathar didn’t blush noticeably or he would have been in real trouble. He didn’t know what was wrong with him, but either way, Phila—he had to start thinking of her as Captain Evander again if he was going to get through this—could not find out. What would she think if he gave her jewelry?

Jorgan sighed and shifted his weight, pressing a hand to the sore spot on his lower back. That’s what he got for sitting in the same position for so long, along with a raging headache that he was pretty sure was going to require finding Elara to give him some painkillers.

Finally, with a disgusted snarl he pulled himself up and retrieved the pendant from its spot at the bottom of his locker. He had never been a coward and he wasn’t about to start now—if she got the wrong idea (or, more accurately, the right but absolutely not ever admitted idea), he would just make it perfectly clear that it was a congratulatory gift from a friend, nothing more.

*~*~*~*~*~*

Phila was pretty sure military datawork was a clever ploy by the Sith to keep soldiers from having time to come after them. She ran a hand through her hair as she finished one report and flicked it off the screen before pulling up another, wishing that this was something she could delegate.

That wasn’t fair of her, not really—Elara already did all of the datawork she could; the crazy woman enjoyed it, which was something Phila was eternally grateful for. But there were some reports that only a CO could file, which was why Phila was wasting an evening onboard the Thunderclap instead of continuing the hunt for the elusive Tanno Vik.

Technically, she could have done the work at the base in Bugtown, but she hated that place. She always felt like colicoids were going to burst through the walls at any moment—even after she and Jorgan had helped to cull the population, they were still crawling all over the place. It wasn’t like it was a big deal for her to get to the ship anyway; the shuttle ran back and forth to the orbital station several times a day, so it was just a matter of catching a ride. Besides, it would be nice to sleep in her own bed again.

Taking a big gulp from the mug of caf beside her, she was mentally fortifying herself to dive into the next report when she heard footsteps behind her. Turning her head, she saw Jorgan enter the room, clutching something in his hand.

“Hey, Jorgan,” she greeted him, turning back to the work in front of her.

“Captain. Do you have a minute?”

“Of course. Anything to get out of this datawork,” she answered with a small laugh, shoving the datapad out of the way as he pulled out the seat across from her.

The corners of his mouth twitched up, about as close as Jorgan ever got to a smile. She noticed that his hand was still curled tightly around something as he sat, but she couldn’t tell what it was.

“What’s up?”

Jorgan cleared his throat before he spoke.

“I never properly congratulated you on your promotion. You’ve come a long way since Ord Mantell.”

He paused, and she opened her mouth to say thank you, but he continued before she had the chance.

“We—we should celebrate.”

He looked vaguely sick as he said the last part, as if he had said it only because it was expected of him but actually found the prospect rather nauseating. It wouldn’t surprise her if that was the case—her XO wasn’t exactly a social flutterplume—but it meant a lot to her that he would make the effort.

Her response was designed to tease, to perhaps loosen him up a little. She couldn’t forget that day she’d come back to his inquiry about weapons malfunctions with a flirty little quip about going through her things—how his voice had dropped lower than usual when he asked if she had something to hide, the almost feral way his lips had curved in a rare smile.

It was impossible to deny she was hoping for a repeat performance when she said, “You could make me dinner.”

“You wouldn’t enjoy that. I’ve spent the last ten years living off field rations.”

His eyes danced, just a little, and told her that he was enjoying their exchange. Her smile widened—it was nice to see him joke for a change, even if it wasn’t that husky, mind-melting tone she’d been hoping for.

“Well, I guess it’s ration bars and caf again tonight,” she sighed in only half mock sorrow.

“Sorry, Captain,” he said. His voice turned serious. “But, uh, I got you a little something…”

She really had to stop smiling at him. He couldn’t think when she looked at him like that, all bright-eyed and positively glowing. It was hard enough to resist the pull of her lips normally, but when she smiled the battle tripled in intensity.

She was looking at him expectantly now, curiosity shining in her brilliant blue eyes, and since his brain was being decidedly unhelpful he simply held out the hand that clutched the necklace, waiting for Phila to mirror the gesture before he dropped the gift into her palm.

Phila gasped and immediately drew the piece closer to her face for inspection. The pendant was quite possibly the most beautiful piece of jewelry she’d ever seen, and she’d seen a lot. Even though she didn’t own much of it, Phila had always admired the pretty pieces she saw other women wear. It was too bad it wasn’t really practical in her line of work.

And Jorgan was just full of surprises tonight—not only had he given her a gift, something she never would have believed if she hadn’t seen it with her own eyes, but he apparently had fantastic taste in jewelry as well.

She became vaguely aware of Jorgan talking in the background, and she forced her mind to focus on him.

“Bought the stone off a trader a few years back. Had a Theelin jeweler fit it for me. Thought it’d look nice on you.”

He sounded slightly awkward again. Phila didn’t know if he wasn’t sure if she liked it or was just uncomfortable giving gifts in general, but she hastened to reassure him.

“It’s beautiful,” she said, raising her eyes from the pendant to meet his. “I love it. Thank you.”

He held her gaze for a moment in silence, and Phila felt a shiver run up her spine at the intensity in his eyes. She found that she couldn’t look away, and the pendant felt warm in her hand.

Finally Jorgan broke the silence. “Anytime.”

The moment faded, and Phila found herself wrapping her fingers around her gift, trying to recapture the warmth.

She really shouldn’t say it, she thought, about two nanoseconds before she opened her mouth.

“Will you put it on for me?” He looked slightly startled, like he’d never considered that as a possible scenario, and she continued. “I’m hopeless at clasps.”

That wasn’t strictly true, but she would have to go cross-eyed to do it on her own without a mirror. Close enough, right?

It took him a moment, but Jorgan finally nodded and pushed up from the table, walking around to stand behind her. Phila swung her ponytail to the side so it didn’t get in his way and held up the chain over each shoulder so that he could take it.

When he had the ends of the chain in his hands she lowered her own, trying (and mostly succeeding) to suppress the shiver that ran through her at the soft brush of his fingers against the sensitive skin of her neck. It was probably her imagination, but it felt like his touch lingered there, just a second longer than necessary, before he released the necklace and stepped back. She missed him instantly.

Jorgan cleared his throat again. “Anyway, I should get back to my duties, and let you get your reports done. Congratulations again, sir.”

Phila shook her head and twisted in her seat to look at him. “You know you don’t have to call me sir when we’re off duty, Jorgan.”

He gave what passed as a smile and simply said, “I know, sir.”

Phila laughed softly as he walked out. “Stubborn man,” she said to herself as she pulled the datapad back in front of her. She glanced down at the necklace lying against the front of her t-shirt.

“Sweet man,” she whispered, and then got back to work.

 

Chapter Text

The search for Tanno Vik dragged on. At this point, Phila’s main objective for catching up to him was to get the satisfaction of punching him in the face. She was furious over the scam he was running on the resistance, and she hated Balmorra. The two things the horrible planet seemed to have in spades just happened to be two of the main things she could live without: bugs and Imperials, and she was ready to get the hell out of there.

After patching up Phila and Jorgan after a particularly nasty clash with Imperial forces, Elara requested—with the use of sixteen separate forms—temporary leave to head back to Coruscant and stock up on more medicinal supplies, as the squad was going through her stores at what she termed “an alarming rate.” Since Phila had been the one to donate a portion of their medical gear to the resistance when she learned that there was a severe shortage, she agreed. Besides, this cat and mouse game with Vik didn’t seem likely to end any time soon.

Before Elara left, hitching a ride on a military transport headed back to the capitol, Phila pulled her aside.

“Can you do me a favor while you’re on Coruscant?” she asked.

“Of course, sir. Anything you need,” Elara replied crisply.

Phila shook her head. “It’s personal, Elara, you can drop the sir. I just need you to pick up something from a friend of mine, if you have the time.”

“I would be glad to, s—“ at Phila’s warning look she broke off. “I mean…Phila.”

Phila grinned. Elara was still hesitant about using her name, but at least she did it. She couldn’t get anything but “sir” or “Captain” out of Jorgan or Forex to save her life, and Ceetoo insisted on referring to her as Master, which kind of freaked her out.

“Thanks. I really appreciate it. Let me get you the details.”

 *~*~*~*~*~*

In the days that Elara was gone, Forex ran missions with resistance cells while Phila and Jorgan followed Vik’s trail. Several nights they were forced to camp near colicoid nests, and Phila’s urge to knock Vik’s teeth in grew by the hour. Jorgan was right there with her, and his hatred of the bugs might have surpassed even Phila’s after one of them spit on him and covered him in thick green mucous.

Phila fired the shot that felled the insect and turned to her XO, who seemed to be fine, if slimy and a rather nauseating shade of green. The look of utter horror on his face when he pulled off his helmet to survey the damage had her pressing her lips together to avoid a smile, but she couldn’t completely control the twitching around her mouth.

Jorgan definitely noticed her expression and was just as definitely not amused. He narrowed his eyes at her in a fierce glare but said nothing as he stood with his arms held slightly out from his body, looking entirely unsure of what to do next. The muscles of his jaw were tight, and Phila thought it was probably a miracle that any sound was able to escape from behind his clenched teeth.

“It’s leaking through the seals.”

Oh, stars, this shouldn’t be funny—it wasn’t funny, she admonished herself, pushing her mirth away as ruthlessly as possible, even as a small part of her continued to giggle inside her head.

“Here, let me help you,” she said, keeping her face neutral as she approached her second-in-command, digging into her field pack to produce the small blanket she carried in lieu of a bedroll. She did her best to wipe the ooze off of him quickly, but the stuff was thick and sticky and remarkably resistant to her cleaning efforts.

“This thing is going into a biohazard incinerator the second we get back to civilization,” she grumbled as she finished. The blanket was somehow stiff and slimy at the same time, and she cringed as she folded it, containing the mess as much as possible, and shoved it back into her bag.

That first encounter seemed to set the tone for the entire day; they made almost no progress as far as Vik was concerned, and after dealing a long afternoon of endless colicoids and Jorgan’s even more irritable than usual disposition, Phila was just about ready to say kriff it and become a damn demolitions expert herself.

All in all, it was not a happy duo who received the message that Elara was back in Bugtown with new supplies and real food. The idea of a meal that wasn’t field rations lifted their spirits somewhat, and as dusk fell they rendezvoused with Forex before dragging themselves into a shuttle that would take them back to the Republic base.

“This stuff is never going to come out of my fur,” Jorgan grumbled under his breath as they took off. Phila shot a sideways glance at him—the hours since the fight hadn’t done much to help his situation, and the majority of his armor was still slimy and green.

“We have officer’s quarters reserved in Bugtown. You can have a proper shower there,” she said.

Forex, having managed to wedge his considerable frame into the shuttle behind them, chimed in with an exuberant tone.

“Lieutenant, it truly pains me to know that I cannot assist in cleansing you of such a vile beast’s spittle! If only my circuits were better suited to spending prolonged periods in water, I would gladly comb through every inch of your fur—“

Even in her dark mood, Phila couldn’t hold back the laugh that burst out of her. The image of Forex grooming Jorgan was just too funny to ignore; the scene unfolded clearly in her mind as the droid cheerfully narrated the process.

She could feel Jorgan’s glare on her before she turned to him, a smile still playing about her lips. Good old Forex, he could make even stars-awful Balmorra bearable sometimes.

Under the weight of Jorgan’s disapproving stare, Phila gave a helpless little shrug. “I couldn’t help it,” she murmured to him under the jubilant drone of Forex’s lamentations.

He just kept glaring, saying nothing, and Phila was about to leave him to his surliness when his hand shot out, too swiftly for her to react, and suddenly she had a line of sticky green slime smeared down half of her face.

“Jorgan!” she yelled indignantly, trying in vain to wipe it away from her hairline before it got into her bangs.

Now it was her turn to glare as the corners of his mouth quirked up in a smug little smirk.

“Thought you might like in on the fun,” he answered, lifting a brow at her.

A surprising jolt of heat shot through her as her mental image suddenly changed: Forex was nowhere to be found, but she could practically feel Jorgan’s hands on her, warmer even than the spray of the shower, as she ran her own through the short fur that covered his back—

Phila pulled herself back to the present, desperately hoping the warmth she felt wasn’t betraying her by showing itself in a blush. She cast around for something, anything, to respond with, but was unable to come up with anything even remotely clever, so she settled for a muttered, “I should have you court martialed for that.”

Jorgan’s smile widened, just barely enough to be noticeable.

“You can’t get rid of me that easily, sir.”

If it hadn’t been for the colicoid spit now covering them both, she might not have been able to stop herself from kissing him then. As it was, she had to remind herself firmly of all the reasons that was a very bad idea before she could speak again.

“I could just let it slip to Forex that the showers in Bugtown are sonics.”

His eyes narrowed. “That’s uncalled for, sir.”

She laughed again, holding up one hand in front of her when Jorgan’s face relaxed and he joined in.

“Truce? You keep your slime to yourself and I won’t smuggle anyone into your shower.”

“Fine,” he said, “but if you need help with that—” he gestured to the streak of mucous on her cheek, and Phila’s breath caught in her chest. Was he going to offer…?

“I’m sure Forex can be persuaded.”

                                       

Chapter Text

Phila was just finishing up her after action report on the retrieval of the null cannon when the howling started.

She jerked with surprise; she had never heard anything like that before, something that was a mix of a manka cat’s roar and the whine of an engine.

The technician working at the data station next to her chuckled.

“Haven’t been on Hoth long, have you, Captain?” he asked cheerfully.

Phila shook her head.

“Not really.” It felt like she’d been there forever, but it had only been a few weeks, nothing compared to the people who had been stationed there for years now. “What is that noise?”

“I’d say it’s one hell of a blizzard blowing in,” replied the tech. “It’s the wind you hear. We’ll probably lose comms within the hour, and maybe sensors. Good thing is nothing can survive out there in these conditions, so we don’t have to worry about an attack.”

“There was a blizzard when I was at Aurek,” Phila said. “It didn’t sound anything like this.”

“It wouldn’t. Aurek gets pounded same as any of us, sure, but the storms are more intense out here.”

Great, Phila thought bitterly, her heart sinking with every word. She wanted to head out immediately, now that they had the last piece of the umbra encrypter, but it seemed that was going to be impossible.

“How long do they normally last?” she asked, her voice weary.

The technician shrugged. “Sometimes a couple days, sometimes a week, sometimes more. You can go check out the weather displays over there,” he gestured to a set of screens across the room. “Ensign Hart can probably give you more info.”

Phila thanked him, sent off her report to the appropriate parties, and went in search of Ensign Hart.

She found him right by the displays the technician had indicated, along with Jorgan. The two were speaking as they watched the screens but turned to face her as she approached.

“Bad news, sir,” Jorgan said. “Based on these scans, it’s going to be short but brutal. We won’t be able to leave until tomorrow afternoon at the earliest.”

Well, that was better than being stuck here for a week, at least, but it still wasn’t what she wanted to hear.

Phila ran a hand through her hair, a common gesture when she was frustrated. She didn’t notice the way Jorgan’s gaze followed her movement, his green eyes darkening a shade.

Ensign Hart spoke up. “Lieutenant Gudrun—he’s the quartermaster—can get you some uniforms, find you a place to sleep. That’s him over there.” He pointed to a tall Zabrak officer a short distance from them.

Lieutenant Gudrun proved to be very helpful. In almost no time at all he had procured them each a set of two spare uniforms, although there were no boots to fit Phila’s ridiculously small feet. She didn’t mind; she was happy enough with being able to change out of her armor.

Their uniforms acquired, the lieutenant pulled out a data pad and began typing. After a moment he frowned at the display.

“Sorry, Captain, but I only have one officer’s quarters available,” he said. “There’s not even any room in the enlisted barracks.”

Phila shrugged. They’d definitely slept in worse conditions than having to share one room between them.

“It’s alright,” Phila assured him. “We can bunk together.”

Gudrun nodded. “I’ll get you a bedroll and some extra blankets for the floor.”

They stopped at another supply room to get those items and a few other necessities before the quartermaster led them to elevator, which took them up a floor and opened onto a short hall with several closed doors. Their escort showed Phila and Jorgan to the farthest door from the elevator.

“I’ll transfer the entry code to your datapad in a second,” he said, typing in the code and stepping back as the door slid open. “It’s small, but it’s warm, and you’ll have your own fresher.”

Phila shot the lieutenant a wry smile.

“Trust me, it won’t be the worst place we’ve ever slept.”

Behind her, she heard Jorgan chuckle softly in agreement, and she wondered which of their previous accommodations he was thinking of.

Gudrun returned the smile. “No sir, I bet it’s not. If you need anything else, you can find me downstairs.”

Phila and Jorgan thanked him as he took his leave, then stepped into the room.

It was small, even more so than her cabin aboard the Thunderclap. There was a bed against the far wall, with a plain metal nightstand by the side that was open to the room. Farther along the same wall was the door to the fresher. The only other furniture in the room was a tiny desk with an uncomfortable looking chair and a storage locker.

As soon as the door closed behind them, Phila began undoing the clasps on her armor. She’d been wearing it for far too long, and besides it being heavy and cumbersome, the bodysuit she wore beneath it was itchy with dried sweat.

“Mind if I take the shower first?” she asked, opening the locker to stow her armor.

*~*~*~*~*

This woman was going to be the death of him.

She was speaking to him, but he had no idea what she was saying. Her words flew by in a blur of sound that he couldn’t manage to concentrate on; all of his attention was focused on the sight of her, clad only in the form-fitting black bodysuit she wore under her armor, bending over to place said armor in the locker.

He was pretty sure there was no blood left in his body above the waist.

She wasn’t supposed to know that he felt this way about her—not just the blinding lust that came over him at all the worst times, but also those bubbly feelings in his chest, which were problematic because Aric Jorgan did not do bubbly—but it was getting harder by the day to hide it, especially when she did things like that.

Really, no living man could pay attention to anything else with such a sight before him.

With great effort, he pulled himself together enough to realize she was repeating herself. The irritation in her tone told him that much.

“Jorgan.”

He grunted in acknowledgement. It was the best he could manage.

“Do you mind if I shower first?” she asked again, each word stretched out with exaggerated emphasis.

Stars, she was still bent over, but now she was looking back at him over her shoulder, that fiery hair falling into her gorgeous blue eyes, and all he wanted to do was—well. He’d better stop imagining it or he was going to do something he’d regret.

“Go ahead,” he croaked, and thanked the Force when she straightened up. That bodysuit was a danger to his sanity.

*~*~*~*~*

Phila exited the fresher a quarter of an hour later, clad in a fresh uniform, barefoot, with her wet hair around her shoulders.

It had taken Jorgan almost the entire time to regain his composure, but he did feel capable of speaking like a rational being now, which was always a good thing. He’d begun gathering his things when he heard the water stop, and now he finished the task and turned, catching sight of the captain for the first time.

He couldn’t help the smile that spread across his face as her looked at her. The uniform was slightly too large on her, and it bunched in a few places, especially around her wrists and ankles. With her wet hair and bare feet, she looked like a little girl playing dress-up in a parent’s uniform.

“What?” Phila asked after a moment, her voice full of suspicion. Her XO didn’t just go around smiling at people.

Jorgan shook his head. There was no way in hell that he was going to tell her that he thought she looked cute.

“Just thinking,” he answered instead.

Phila didn’t look like she was buying his explanation, but she didn’t press the issue.

“I’m going to call Elara before we lose comms altogether,” she informed him, “and let her know that we’re stuck. I’ll have her make sure everything is prepped for takeoff so that we can leave for Coruscant as soon as you and I make it back.”

She waited until he closed the door before she sank down onto the bed and pulled out her holocom. After a short conversation with Elara, she ran a comb through her hair, pulled it back into her customary ponytail, and put on the thick socks that had been included with the uniforms. She was stuffing her feet back into her armor boots when Jorgan returned.

“Nice look,” he said, nodding at her feet. His own were encased in regulation boots.

“Shut up,” she returned, but without any heat. He grinned at her.

“I talked to Elara,” she continued. “She’ll have everything ready for us, and Yuun will be aboard by the time we are. Everything’s taken care of. I’m going back down to see if there’s anything I can do.”

That didn’t surprise Jorgan one bit. Phila hated to be bored.

The base was quiet when the two of them arrived back in the main area. The blizzard had shut almost everything down—communications had gone out a few minutes prior to their arrival downstairs, and sensors shortly after that. As soon as the conditions lightened, teams would be dispatched to repair the grids and arrays, but until then there wasn’t much to be done.

Most people found themselves in small groups, catching up on routine work that had fallen by the wayside. Jorgan naturally gravitated to the armory and Phila followed, and they spent the next several hours preforming weapons checks and maintenance with some of the base’s soldiers.

The auxiliary heat went out sometime during the evening. Their group didn’t notice, as the armory was heated solely by the main array, but someone stuck their head in to mention it. Everyone except Jorgan and Phila gave a collective groan.

“What does that mean?” Jorgan asked.

“It means the barracks are going to be kriffing freezing, that’s what,” a sergeant replied, and the others muttered in agreement.

The other soldiers were right, as Phila and Jorgan discovered when they made their way back to their room a while later. While they certainly weren’t going to freeze to death, it was going to be an uncomfortable night.

They would be plenty warm, Phila thought, if they shared the bed. A blush spread over her cheeks at the thought of Jorgan’s body pressed up against her own, and she quickly busied herself with putting away her boots so he wouldn’t see.

It really would make more sense—the floor in here was metal, the same as the rest of the base, and that bedroll Gudrun had given them wouldn’t do much to keep out the chill of freezing durasteel. If they shared the bed, they’d have body heat as well as more blankets to keep them warm.

The problem, she thought, was that she wanted to do a lot of things in that bed that didn’t involve sleeping, and wouldn’t that be something to proposition Jorgan with: “Hey, let’s both take the bed and then we can have sex to warm up.” She nearly snorted at the thought, at the look of disdainful horror she imagined on his face. There was nothing like the surety of rejection to keep a girl in line; she would just lay with her back to him and pretend he was Elara. It would be fine.

Behind her she heard Jorgan begin to lay out the bedroll. She couldn’t look at him yet; she could still feel the wash of heat across her cheeks and no way in hell was she going to bring this up with a blush on her face.

She went through a short mental exercise in her head, something they taught at the Academy to deal with stress in the field. Phila didn’t know if it there was something special about the exercise that made it work, or if her body was just conditioned to calm down when she did it, but either way, at the end her face no longer felt flushed and her heartrate was steadier.

Turning, she leaned against the locker as she watched him lay out a thermal blanket on top of the bedroll. “It would be warmer if we both slept in the bed,” she said, trying for casual and praying she pulled it off. She glanced over at the bed, assessed the size. “Might be a tight fit, but we could manage. Still’d be more comfortable than the floor.”

Jorgan wasn’t sure he’d heard her right at first, but Phila continued in a way that said he was exactly right.

Stars have mercy, the woman was trying to kill him.

It would be torture to lie next to her and not be able to touch her, but then again, every day he battled moments where all he wanted to do was reach out and brush her hair back from her face or take her hand. This wouldn’t really be all that different—and she was right, it would be warmer.

“Sure,” he answered curtly, sounding surlier than he intended. Well, at least she wouldn’t think he was excited about the prospect. He grabbed the two thermal blankets he’d been about to pile on top of the bedroll and strode to the bed, spreading them over the standard coverlet already there.

Phila came to his side and together they straightened the blankets out to cover most of the mattress, which looked to be only slightly wider than the standard bunks in the enlisted barracks.

“Look at that, an extra ten centimeters for officers. Isn’t that thoughtful,” she deadpanned, and Jorgan couldn’t help but quirk his lips up just a bit.

They both kept their uniforms on to sleep in—they weren’t exactly comfortable, but they weren’t terrible, and it was an extra layer between them and the chill of the room, which seemed to get colder every minute. Phila climbed in first, laying on her side facing the wall with her back to the middle of the bed. She scooted over as far as she could go, wanting Jorgan to have enough space and also trying desperately not to touch him. He slid in after her, reversing her position so that his back was against hers.

She felt him reach up to swipe the palm plate that controlled the lights; it was a good thing there was a switch by the bed, because as soon as the lights went out the windowless room was plunged into unrelieved darkness. It was quiet, too—silent really, an odd circumstance for Phila, who was used to the hum of a ship lulling her to sleep.

The bed was just too small to keep them from touching, but as he settled in Phila found the solid weight of his back against hers more of a comfort than anything else. It didn’t hurt that he was ridiculously warm; she thought she remembered reading somewhere that Cathar had higher body temperatures than humans.

“Night, Jorgan,” she said as she snuggled deeper under the covers.

“Goodnight, sir,” he replied, somehow managing to sound like he was standing at attention even as he lay next to her.

Phila snorted. “Jorgan, our asses are literally touching right now. I think you can call me Phila.”

She probably wouldn’t have heard it if it hadn’t been so unnaturally quiet, but as it was her ears picked up a surprised huff of laughter from behind her.

“Alright. Goodnight…Phila.”

*~*~*~*~*

It was surprisingly easy for Jorgan to fall asleep with Phila next to him. Maybe it was just the long day catching up to him, but the hours that he expected to suffer in sleepless frustration actually passed in deep and restful slumber. When he woke, the room was still pitch black and the air against his uncovered face was cold to the point of pain, even through his fur. He might have been worried about Phila’s far more unprotected skin if not for the fact that he could feel her face pressed into his shoulder in such a way that very little of it could have been exposed; the rest of her was similarly plastered against him—body tight against his side, one arm thrown over his torso, her legs tangled up with his. He sighed with pleasure and tightened his grip on her waist, not even caring about the prickling tingle that shot through his arm when he did so.

Even though there was no chrono visible, his internal sense of time told Jorgan that he still had several hours before the alarm dragged her from his arms and he resettled himself against the pillows, prepared to fall back asleep and continue this wonderful dream—

Wait. He was awake. He wasn’t dreaming, and Phila was wrapped around him like a lover…the last fuzzy edges of sleep cleared from his brain.

Shit!” The word burst out in a ragged whisper, just loud enough that Phila whined in her sleep before burying her head deeper into the crook of his neck. Jorgan waited, holding himself perfectly still, not even daring to breathe until she quieted, the slow, rhythmic movement under his hand reassuring him that she still slept.

He definitely did not want her to wake up now, not before he had a chance to figure out what to do. His mind whirled; Phila must have turned to him for warmth; humans were more susceptible to the cold than Cathar, and his higher core temperature would have made him the perfect heat source for her. As inappropriate as it was for him to be holding her like this, leaving her to the frigid bed on her own was unthinkable when his mere presence could ease her discomfort, no matter how awkward it made him feel. And if he felt awkward, when all he’d wanted to do for months now was have her in his arms, he couldn’t imagine how uncomfortable it would be for her to know he’d been aware of her completely innocent advances.

The best course of action, he thought, was to pretend to sleep and let her extract herself when she woke up. That would avoid any embarrassment on her part, and he wouldn’t need to pretend to be wholly unaffected by the ordeal, since he was certain that she would never bring it up.

Besides, Jorgan was unable to deny that he wanted to stay wrapped in Phila’s embrace for as long as was possible. It occurred to him, as he stared into the darkness and tried not to shiver at the feel of her breath against his neck, that this would probably be the only chance he ever got to feel her like this; the breathtaking reality of her by his side would be an experience he could never hope to repeat, and he knew without a doubt that his dreams would never compare.

He’d been trying to dismiss his feelings for her as simple desire for months, but there was something about the dark, cold, lonely room that made him understand how ridiculous that was. Even as she burrowed against him for warmth, Jorgan ached for Phila; not her body, but her company—her eyes, her laughter, the chatter that used to drive him half crazy but now just made him smile. He might not know exactly what it was he felt, but it was clear that it wasn’t just lust.

With another sigh, this one almost sorrowful, Jorgan lifted his free arm and brought his hand to rest atop the fingers Phila splayed against his chest. This one night was going to have to last him a long time, to see him through the ache of losing this remarkable woman that had never really been his to start with. As painful as it was, he was going to savor every second.