With a gasp, the Klacso male woke up.
Where am I? How did I-
He was a soldier, and henceforth had been deployed alongside his pack-platoon. He had gotten separated from the rest whilst heading to the combat zone (and nearly vaporised on the process). He had turned around to look for a way to meet up with them, only to encounter a dead body moments later dropped from a cockpit. Then… and then…
He had… met someone? She had offered him to pilot?
That's- that's right.
It was coming back to him in full now; that mysterious female had indeed offered him the choice to pilot (okay, well, maybe he had maybe-kinda-sorta forced it onto her), but she had accepted, and…
He couldn't remember. He could here the sounds of battles and glimpse the flashes of combat in his mind, but the full narrative was withheld from him. Why couldn't he-
"Thank the Meviath, you're awake!"
The familiar voices instinctively made Ghirim shift in their direction, and he was greeted with the sight of both Neptun and Tazlin sitting by his… hospital bed?
Sweet Meviath, what happened to him?
Ah, he was in the sick-bay. That made sense, considering he was sore all over, no doubt from piloting without properly connecting to the Lehta.
"H-hey, guys. Glad to see you're alive, too." Ghirim gave a tired, albeit genuine grin, and they smiled back.
"We're happy to see you're alive too, dummy," Neptun ruffled his hair gently, and Tazlin nodded in agreement. "Yeah, when we heard you'd been brought to the med-bay we feared the worst. But, since you're still breathing, I guess you pulled through."
Ghirim hummed acknowledgement, but Neptun frowned. "What happened, Ghirim? You went to go find your way back to us, but then… you got injured and ended up here. How? Did you run into a enemy patrol or something?"
"No, not that," Ghirim shook his head. "Besides, if I did run into a enemy patrol that snuck into the fort, I doubt I'd have gotten off as lightly as I did."
"Then what happened?" Tazlin pressed, and Ghirim shifted, sitting up in his bed and stretching his sore muscles. "I... ran into a Lehta pilot, I think?" The memories were slightly hazy, but he certainly remembered that part.
And her eyes. Her bright, beautiful eyes.
Why, of all things, were her eyes the thing he remembered without fail?
"She let me pilot."
And by the Meviath, it had been glorious. It was probably as close to orgasmic as one could get without, well...
Neptun blinked. "...Oh. Wait, how come?"
Ghirim clenched his fists slightly. "Her partner had just died, and she was going out alone. I was the closest male nearby, so it only made sense. I couldn't just… leave her to pilot alone, could I?"
Neptun frowned, but nodded in understanding. "I think she was the one who brought you here, but whoever you were piloting with must've been high op in the pecking order. It took us an hour just to get permission to see you, y'know."
Ghirim blinked, then sighed. "A mystery for another time, guys." Shifting upright, he took Tazlin and Neptun by hand. "Now, any of you wanna tell me what the hell happened?"
His friends were quick in filling him in on the events that had occurred upon after his separation. Apparently, the Lehtas that had arrived with the supply ship had deployed alongside the garrison's own, helping defend the fort while the ship docked in the underground bay. It had been one of those Lehtas that had delivered him to the field-medics after the defense-sorti had ended, Ghirim's mystery partner staying long enough to ensure he received priority attention before disappearing to… wherever, apparently.
"We came as soon as we heard," Neptun grimaced. "When we heard you'd been hospitalized, I nearly went mental." Besides her, Tazlin snorted. "I'd saythat's an understatement, Neptun. You hardly sat down while we were waiting!"
Ghirim huffed a laugh at that. "Nothing to worry about, Nep. I feel better already, actually." He rotated his wrist experimentally to prove it. "Come to think it, when am I getting released?"
Tazlin opened his mouth to answer, only for the hiss of the door sliding open stopping him. Both of Ghirim's friends shot to attention when a senior officer strode through the admitting door. Said officer returned their salute, before ordering them "at ease," and they returned to their seats.
Ghirim had been feeling apprehensive as is, but that apprehension only grew when the officer zeroed in on him. "You, you're Ghirim, yes?"
"I- yeah, that's me," Ghirim acknowledged, sitting up in his cot. "What is required of me, ma'am?"
The officer snorted. "Don't call me 'ma'am', it makes me feel old," she joked, and Ghirim stuttered out an apology, which she waved off. "Don't worry about it. I'm Niani, one of your new commanding officers."
The three friends blinked.
"I… my new CO? Was my other one killed in action?"
"No, no. Fernuk survived the defense-sortie, as your friends can no doubt attest to. No, you're being resigned to the Will of the Apallex. Congratulations!"
Ghirim's thought process ground to a halt
Which was understandable, seeing as he had just been told he was being rotated onto the flagship of one the Apallex's children, holy Meviath! The hell did I do to deserve this?! It wasn't that the reassignment was unwelcome, no; his wish to get permanently assigned a Lehta and partner would all but be fulfilling itself, but the fact was that he had absolutely no idea why it was him being rewarded with such a prestigious position. What did he even-
"The princess was adamant on you joining her in future sorties, and seeing as the Will of the Apex will be leaving as soon as the rest of our reinforcements break the siege here, it only makes sense to reassign you with our battle-group."
Silence. No words were spoken in the room as the three friends let Niani's words sink in, something which obviously made Ghirims new apparent superior uncomfortable, as she fidgeted on the balls of her feet. "...Do you three need some time alone, or…?" When she received no response, she simply shrugged helplessly. "I'll just… be outside, should you need me." With a nod, she backed out of the room, and the door slid closed, leaving them in silence.
The silence reigned for several more moments before a strangled noise emitted from Naptune's throat. "Ghirim, you rode with the princess?! What the hell?!"
"What d'you mean, 'what the hell'?! Was I supposed to not pilot with her and leave her alone?!" Ghirim shot back, vindicated at his friend's abrupt change in tone. Standing up from his cot, he glared at her. "Do you have a problem with me piloting with a princess?"
"I have a problem with you risking your life piloting with someone you didn't know! You know what happens to untested partners!" she glared back. The tension in the room only grew colder as the two glowered at each other. Tazlin remained uncomfortably silent as well, an odd look on his face as if realizing something unwanted and unwelcome.
Then Neptun sighed, anger deflating. "Ugh. Sorry, Ghirim, I'm just… stressed. You really worried us, y'know?"
"And we literally just emerged from our first sorti," Tazlin added with a mild grimace. "Nearly half the pack-platoon were amongst the casualties."
Ghirim's shoulders slumped, anger also gone. "Shit, I… Half the platoon? Really? Who..?"
"Urasli, Kain, Woten, Longari, a couple of others…" Tazlin gritted his teeth. "A third of our trainee corps is all that's left."
Ghirim lowered his head slightly, eyes closed. "Damn it. Maybe if I had…" he trailed off, going silent. After a while, he gave a shuddering sigh, then straightened up. "If we're all that's left…" He shook his head. "I'm not leaving."
That statement apparently threw his friends for a loop, as they zoned out for a moment before processing it.
"You- you'd give up a rotation to the Will of the Apex?!" Tazlin's eyes nearly bulged out of their sockets. "The fucking Will of the Apex?! The battle-group led by one of the Apex's own children?"
"That's the most prestigious assignment one can get this early on!" Neptun gaped. "And you'd just- not accept?!"
Ghirim shrugged, ignoring the well of guilt building up in his chest. "Yeah. I'm not leaving you guys alone, not if I can help it. You're my friends, damnit."
Neptun was silent for a moment, before cracking a small grin. "Your buddies-"
"Chums-" Tazlin joined in, and Ghirim let out a laugh, the others soon joining in.
Stars above, inside jokes like that'll never get old. At the very least, the joke worked to deflate the tension in the room, something that they had needed rather desperatly.
Unfortunately (from a certain point of view, at least,) having heard the laughter emanating from the room, Niani had deemed it safe to enter the med-bay again, this time looking a tad bit more composed. "I trust you've sorted yourselves out, Ghirim?"
The mentioned male thought about it, then nodded. "Yeah, I'm good."
"Splendid!" the CO grinned, and made to turn around. "I was informed that your stuff is being moved as we speak, so you might as well come with me now so we can get you settled in-"
"Ah, about that. I'm going to have to decline."
Niani faltered, stopped, then turned on her heel. "Excuse me?"
...Oh gods, this was a terrible mistake, Ghirim panicked inwardly. Taking a subtle breath, he calmed his nerves. "I'm grateful to be offered this chance, really, it's just… I can't leave my friends behind. You understand, right? They were with me during training, and a little while before that, and I can't just leave them here! So, if you could convey the princess my apologies-"
"That's not necessary. You can convey them to me yourself."
Everyone in the room froze, Niani included.
Slowly, the CO stepped aside, out of the path of the door, and sure enough, there was indeed someone else standing behind her that had most certainly not been there three minutes ago.
The princess (for who else could it be?) entered the room, looking for all intents and purposes like a warrior queen come to life; still adorned in her battle-scales as if just emerging from a sortie, helmet tucked in the crook of her arm, sharp eyes darting around the room then focusing on-
It was as if he had suddenly gained tunnel-vision, everything else in the room became irrelevant; not his new CO, who stood at attention, Not his friends, who had knelt in the customary salute befitting of her status. Not his mildly-painful injuries, made slightly worse by him being up and about.
A strange silence permeated the room as the two stared at each other. Neither mad any move towards the other, at least until Ghirim took a tentative step forward, and broke the air.
"That battle… it wasn't a dream, was it? I don't remember much of it, but… I do remember something. Your eyes. And you called me your..."
It was only then when the princess broke her silence, stepping forward to meet him, and those eyes that Ghirim recalled to vividly roamed up and down as if searching him for something.
"Hello, Ghirim. I believe I called you my Darling."
A/N: I'll update this chapter later, methinks.