“What? Humans don’t bond.” Captain jerked back, and I whimpered at the loss of his touch.
“Who cares about that in this moment? Put your hand back on Kohen right now,” Aparoe ordered.
His hand was even warmer than before and shaking slightly. Or was I shaking? I couldn’t tell. But I could breathe, and the pounding in my head and ache all over my body I’d felt for the last few days started to ease. “It looks like he’s just having a panic attack. He’s had them before.”
“Has he?” Lakshou asked. “Captain Querry, since you brought Kohen on board, I’ve gradually adjusted to the unique signature of his electrical signals. The machinery in his mind has been dormant, and still is, but the parts of his mind that hold alien matter have been changing. I’ve been sensing what I thought were his emotions.
“But I don’t think it’s that simple. Did you ever determine what all they did to him, Aparoe?” Lakshou asked.
“No.” Aparoe’s voice was a quiet murmur behind me. “It’s too complex, and I don’t have scanning equipment that sensitive. Plus, the testing it would require would be too traumatizing.”
I was starting to resent that they were talking about me while I was right there, but when I tried to speak, I couldn’t. My chest was too tight, and all that came out was a strangled whine.
“Captain, there is a psychic connection between the two of you. I can see the mingling happen the second you touched him. He was barely breathing.”
“He’s still barely breathing!”
“I think that’s because you aren’t touching him the… right way.”
There was a choking noise. “I… What?”
“Think about it.” Aparoe held something over my head that beeped right in my head. I flinched. “Good. Good.”
“Think about what?” Captain asked.
“They had him in a suit that deprived him of all sensory contact unless they had him on some sort of test, he said. Things they made him do, even if he didn’t want to. The suit, plus the machinery in his mind, plus the alien biological matter all through his limbic system. That controls everything from emotions, to behavior, to memory, to even the olfactory senses.”
Aparoe was telling Captain to think about it, but now that I wasn’t in danger of passing out and the pain was lessening, my mind was working again and I was absorbing everything they said. The intense need I felt for Captain? The way his scent calmed and drew me to him?
The way the aliens had been able to change my behavior and my memories? Wrapping up most of my childhood in a fog that only cleared in snatches here and there? What they’d done to me had done far more than given me strength and agility.
I wasn’t human. I wasn’t alien. I was something completely other.
And I knew, if Captain rejected me again, I’d die.
“When you took him from his cell, he was in your quarters. In your bed. We did not touch him without gloves on after we took off the suit, since we worried about infection. But you touched him, talked to him. He would have naturally bonded with you. And who better? You care about him, Everett.” Aparoe’s voice held sympathy. “I know this is hard for you, and why, but this young man needs you. Your past is just that. He may be young, but he’s lived enough for several lifetimes. Why not give both of you a chance to be happy?”
“But, if this is because of some weird biology… what if it changes?” Captain’s voice dropped at the end. “What if we get back to the central systems, some government official debriefs him and convinces him to let them study what they did to him, and they can fix it. And, when they do, this bond disappears?”
“Kohen? Let some stranger convince him to let doctors poke around his brain and do surgery? Because removing the alien matter would be the only way to change it. And that would probably kill him because it is literally grafted to his own brain tissue as if it grew that way naturally.”
“Fear, Captain Querry, that’s what you’re feeling. And hope. Try to let go of the fear and hold on to the hope.” Lakshou was using his meditation voice. “I’m not telling you to go to your quarters, or his, and have sex with Kohen. I doubt either of you are ready for that. But both of you need some skin-on-skin contact and some time to come to grips with all this.”
“How am I going to explain any of it?”
“Actually,” Aparoe said, “his brain activity shows that he’s been conscious the whole time. He’s just so physically overcome that he’s incapable of movement.”
“Are you serious?” A hand touched my face, cupping my cheek. “Kohen? Can you hear me?”
I wanted to answer Captain, but I couldn’t. I tried for the second best thing, opening my eyes so I could see him close to me, touching my skin, but my eyelids barely fluttered. I sighed.
“That’s okay, Kohen. That’s enough. Rest.” Captain’s thumb brushed the underside of my jaw. “I’m taking him back to my quarters. Deke, resolve this situation with the Trepharo. I want to know everything it knows.”
Captain grunted as I was lifted into the air. “You’ve put on weight since the first time I carried you,” he said. When he set me down, I was surrounded by his scent, and I knew I was in his bed again, not on the couch. “Skin-on-skin contact, huh?” Captain chuckled, and it sounded off. “Well, here goes.”
Fabric rustled, the bed shifted, and I rolled. Aparoe had cut off my shirt then wrapped me in a covering from Lakshou’s temple, so my skin was bared. Then I was chest to chest to Captain, my head tucked into his neck.
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