“You can’t leave,” I declared. I clenched my jaw, narrowing my eyes. “That’s final.”
“Oh stop. He’ll be fine,” Deke drawled. “Totally safe. I’ll be with him.”
I slowly panned my head to the side, blinking slowly. “Did you just suggest that you would be a safe traveling partner for my Chomper?” Half the time Deke still tried to shoot him because Chomper had blasted him with fire or hooked him with a wing and lifted him just far enough off the ground to knock him on his ass from above.
“We have an understanding. Besides, he learned not to blast any fire the last time he was aboard one of Freska’s ships and the A.I. dumped an entire tube of retardant on him that hardened and locked him in place for nearly an entire shift.”
“That was just last season!”
“He’s grown. You can’t keep him here locked up. Have you even seen Sparkles since she left Chomper here?”
“Shh,” I hushed him. I always feared Chomper would feel abandoned by his mother taking off with his siblings from the other eggs, but he’d never said anything.
“I be fine. No fire. No tricks. Just Deke and I travels on the ship to check out some fire blazer gems on Maerico IV and visit Jenezza. I stay with Deke. Not alone. Stay safe.” Chomper stood in front of me. He spent most of his time among other beings in his humanoid form, his wings reabsorbed and his claws retracted. He crooked up one side of his mobile lips, the smile one that humored me. “Gotta let that boy go sometime.”
I gasped. “You were listening at the door last night!” My face caught on fire. If he’d heard that, he’d probably heard… other things. Maybe him going on a trip wouldn’t be a bad thing.
“Cap’n smart. You scared. I be safe with Deke. I be smart, not do stupid things. Not be juvenile.” His smile faded. “Need to go.” He was rubbing his chest.
What urged him to wander, the walks, then day trips, then short hops through the system, and now an even longer trip with Deke was a mystery. But I knew it was real; I caught a glimpse of the feeling, just a tugging in my chest that caught my breath and made me turn from time to time. But I always ended up spinning in circles until I was dizzy and the world tilted, never able to find the right direction.
If that little of the feeling leaking into the bond would do that to me, I could only imagine how Chomper felt. But he was mine; the egg I’d rescued, the infant I’d cuddled, the child I’d loved, and now the being even taller than me who I hated to let go.
“I want vids. Updates on your trip, pictures, you will catalog any and every bruise or space symptom if you get sick. Every single waking shift. Without fail. Or I will send people after you.” I glared at Deke who was rolling his eyes. “Like Danie. Or Freska and Danie.”
That shut him up.
Captain strolled up and put his arm around my waist, tugging me into his body. “All ready?”
“Yes. I ready. Deke ready. Kohen finally ready to let go,” Chomper said. His dark skin grew darker as he snickered, they laughed, and I glowered.
“I’m not letting you go, I’m just letting you wander a little farther than before.” I turned and hugged Captain around the chest and back. “I don’t let go of the people I love.”
“Awww,” Deke said.
I growled, but Chomper scampered close and put his arms around me and Captain. “I see you soon. Send you vid. You send vid back. I home soon. Ish. Soonish.” He glanced at Deke over his shoulder. “Soonish.”
Deke had already disappeared onto the ship and he waved frantically. “Come on!” Chomper squeezed us one last time, let go and took off, his muscular legs eating up the distance.
“Wait. Soonish? You have a return date. It is soon. Not soonish. What ish? Deke! What did you do?” The door spiraled shut without an answer.
I glanced at Captain, but he looked away. He knew too. It was a conspiracy!
Captain cupped my face, stroking my jaw with one rough thumb. “He’s going to be fine. I sent more than just Deke, and I know every step of their journey. He just needs some freedom. The itch we keep feeling means something, I just know it. Deke will update us the second they deviate from the plan.”
“Well, I made him swear on pain of worse things than siccing Danie and Freska on him, so yes, I feel safe to promise that.” Captain’s hand had slid down my neck and he was squeezing my shoulder now. His other hand cradled my waist. “Now, we haven’t had a truly private moment in the three seasons since you saved my life and renewed our bond. Even that was a bit… crowded.” He towed me toward another small ship, this one just a three-seater.
“I thought we might go on a short trip ourselves. A little R & R. Maybe a clothing optional vacation on a planet with a spot where it’s just us. After all, I am retired now, and no one has come after us in all this time. I think we are finally safe.”
We settled into our seats, the cockpit of the small ship a cozy affair that had our bodies pressed tight together. “Is it far?” I put my hand on his thigh.
“Nope, not far at all.” His breath hitched.
“This ship have autopilot once we leave atmosphere?”
“Yes.” The one word came out strangled.
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