Notes: So…you’re going to read this and then you’re going to want to strangle me, because…bit of a cliffhanger. Just a little one. Teensy. Weensy. Little cliffhanger. And still no sex. WHYYYYYY????? Well, because, lovers. But enjoy it all the same.
Part Nine: Listen Up
Jealousy. It was an ugly word. It was a word that Garrett had heard thrown in his direction by far too many people to completely discount. Garrett knew, he was perfectly aware, of his tendency to be proprietary towards people and things. He played and he tasted and he sampled, but when he found something he wanted to keep, he sank his claws in and clamped down tight. He had tried to break that mold with Robbie, and look what that affair had turned into: history.
Jealousy was indicative of all sorts of other less than savory emotional and physical habits, like clinginess, a sharp tongue, a complete disregard for personal privacy…in short, it meant Garrett acting like an asshole. So he tried to reel it back, tried to consciously prevent himself from behaving like an ingrate for Jonah’s sake. It was hardly his fiancé’s fault that he was too polite to tell Kilroy Whoever-the-fuck-he-was to take his overture of friendship and shove it. The man wanted to “talk.” That was fine, Jonah could talk with whomever he wanted to. Garrett knew, he did, that nothing the man could say would persuade Jonah to go back to that life, so there really wasn’t anything to worry about.
Plus, he was too busy to worry. Garrett had let his work schedule slip those first couple of weeks, and after a firm discussion with Martina over the com, he threw himself into the backlog. That, plus tutoring Cody for four hours a day, plus helping Claudia decide between cream colored or ecru linens, daily conversations with Wyl and occasionally Miles and Robbie, and doing his damndest to exhaust his lover every night meant he was completely played out. There was no time for indulging subconscious fears.
Well…that wasn’t completely true.
“You want a what?”
“A slimdisc. Just for listening!” Garrett emphasized. “I don’t need visual, I just want to be able to hear what they’re saying.”
“Gare…” Robbie looked as close to floored as Garrett had ever seen him. “You do realize that you’re asking me to help you spy on your fiancé. You don’t think that’s overkill? You could just ask him about his talk once it’s over with.”
“Jonah’s not going to tell me the things he thinks will upset me, though.”
“And that might be smart,” Robbie rejoined, “given the way you’re acting now.”
“Oh please, as though you aren’t just as interested in finding out what those Drifters are up to,” Garrett scoffed. “You’d have him bugged yourself if you thought he’d agree.”
“But he won’t. I know that, without even having to ask, which is how I know that Jonah isn’t going to appreciate this from you.”
“He doesn’t have to know.”
Garrett slammed his hand down on the desk between them. The noise startled both of them. “I’m coming to you with this because I need this, Robbie. It’s ugly and it’s stupid and it’s unworthy, but surprise! That’s me sometimes. I can’t sink any lower in your estimation of me, you’ve known me for too long. I’m trying to preserve Jonah’s illusions for just a little bit longer, so please, help me with this. Or I’ll risk what’s left of my reputation by asking around on the open market.”
Robbie looked honestly bewildered. “What…Gare, I don’t think badly of you.” He narrowed his eyes. “You’re sweating. What’s really going on? Are you sick?”
“I’m fine.” And he was. Completely fine, except for this strange, tugging ache inside of his chest. It felt like someone was hammering, very gently, on his heart, trying to pry it loose from its attachments. Anxiety. It was just anxiety. “Are you going to help me or not?”
“Fucking hell.” Robbie made a face, then stood up and turned to one of the in-wall cabinets. One touch opened the drawer, from which he took a small plastic container. He pulled something out of it, resealed the drawer and came back to sit on the desk beside Garrett. “Slimdisc,” he said, putting the transparent circle in Garrett’s hand. “The transponder number can be read by and synced to your com. It’s got a very limited range and it’s very fragile, so don’t get it wet or run it into anything. Take the tab off the back and it’ll stick to his clothes.”
“Thank you,” Garrett said fervently. He stood up and hugged Robbie, enjoying the way it made the hammers in his heart slow down for a moment.
“Just don’t make this into a slippery slope,” Robbie grumbled. “And if you hear anything about bugging us, I want to know about it immediately. That’s the justification for me giving you this tech, got it?”
“Got it.” Garrett pulled back and tried not to wince as his chest began to hurt again. “I’ll be good. I promise.” He left, and tried not to let the irony of his last statement get the better of him as he brushed his com against the slimdisc, then went to find Jonah so he could attach it to him before his meeting.
Jonah and Cody were at the family breakfast table, along with Miles and Claudia and Renee. Cody was eating, but all Jonah had was a cup of coffee in his hands. He stared at it pensively, brows drawn together, but he perked up when he saw Garrett. “Hey, darlin.” He reached an arm out and pulled Garrett into a kiss. It was almost too easy to slip the slimdisc under the hem of the front of his shirt, and as soon as he did a wave of guilt wracked Garrett, so strong that he felt weak in the aftermath. He covered it up by sliding onto Jonah’s lap and turning their kiss into something deep and long and almost overpowering. Distantly he heard Claudia giggle and Cody make a gagging sound, but he didn’t care. Everything was fine as long as Jonah didn’t push him away.
The kiss finally ended, and Jonah looked at him starry-eyed. “What brought that on?”
“Oh, nothing in particular,” Garrett said easily, waiting for his legs to stop trembling so he could stand up. “Just indulging a whim.”
“Try to hold off on indulging like that until you’re in the bedroom,” Miles said dryly from across the table. He had Renee in his arms and was feeding her a bottle. “The rest of us are trying to eat.”
“You’ve seen worse.”
“Oh, I know. That doesn’t mean I want to relive your teenage years.”
“You’ve done worse yourself,” Claudia reminded her husband, coming in on Garrett’s side. “I think it’s sweet. And hot.”
“Ooh, naughty step-mommy!” Garrett grinned. He felt his legs steady and got to his feet, resolutely not staring at the spot where he’d left the slimdisc. “What are you two doing today?”
“I’m talking to the caterer at three,” Claudia said. “Will you be here?”
“I should be. I’ve got a ton of work to catch up on.”
Cody’s face fell. “Does that mean you still can’t come look for salamapedes with me and Thérèse?”
“Sorry, Cody.” Garrett squeezed his shoulder gently. “But you’ve got the container I made you to put one in, right?” Cody nodded. “When you guys get back, we can look up the taxonomy of it together, okay? Your teacher will be so impressed with your biology study when we get home.”
“Can Daddy help too?”
“If Daddy is home by then.” Garrett arched a brow at Jonah.
“I should be,” Jonah said. “Can’t imagine my meeting with Kilroy’ll last more than an hour or so.”
“Lovely. And you’re taking Kelly?”
“I’m taking Corporal Kelly,” Jonah agreed, rolling his eyes. “Anything else?”
“Not a thing.”
They went their separate ways after breakfast, and Garrett retreated to his ship, where he did all of his work. Also, there he could copy the transponder onto the ship’s com, which would make for easier listening.
Really, at first it was pretty boring. Garrett calculated out climate modeling equations, modified his various programs and tried not to feel relieved when the minutes passed and all that Jonah and Kilroy talked about was common acquaintances, shipside issues and various ports they’d visited. Maybe his paranoia had all been for nothing. Maybe everything really was fine. Maybe…
“Can’t get a permit to land on Ostria anymore,” Kilroy griped over the line between noisy sips from a mug. “Can’t get permits on half the planets in the Fringe these days, not for the big ships, and our little shuttles just ain’t big enough fast enough, y’know? If we had an emergency and had to land, some places would as soon shoot us out of the sky as look at us.”
“That’s rough,” Jonah said, and he really sounded like he meant it.
“It is. Havin’ to resort to other options, these days. Lotsa people don’t like Drifters, but tell ‘em you’re something else and they can’t welcome you fast enough. I came into Gregoryville broadcastin’ a Federation signal and they rolled out the red carpet.”
“Broadcasting another ship’s transponder code is illegal.”
“We don’t use ‘em more than once,” Kilroy said placatingly. “Not lookin’ to get pinched by the Feds, or ruin anyone’s reputation. It’s not a charade we can keep up for long, you know, pretendin’ to be Federation. Independent merchantmen, they’re a better bet, but a little harder to get codes for.”
There was a long silence. “So you do have a skimmer.”
“How’d you know that, Jonah?”
“It’s how you found me, isn’t it.” His voice was angry. “You’re skimming ships as they land here. God damn it, Kilroy, do you know how much trouble you’ll be in if the Feds can confirm this? Your whole clan could be brought in for questioning, they could arrest people…hell, even if they don’t, the fines would cripple you. You can’t do this any longer.”
“No other choice,” Kilroy said softly, but he was just as angry. “You don’t see it anymore, do you? Their constant disdain. Their classist bullshit. Like we’re nothin’ to them, like we’re not even people just because of how we choose to live: free, not tied to a single planet. You used to care about this, Jonah. Used to get you riled up, how people would disregard us, lie to us, ignore us. You used to be a fighter. Then came a pile of shit about your kid and your momma and your man—”
“Don’t talk about Cody to me.”
“And you gave up. Gave up on the life you love, the life that made you the man you are, because your little feelins got hurt. Well guess what, boy? The wound don’t vanish just cause you slap a bandage over it. You ain’t seein’ it now, but us, we’re livin’ it still. And if I gotta steal a few codes to get my people fed, to get them care and support them, then that’s what I’ll do.”
In the sudden silence, Garrett realized he’d just typed over a thousand zeros in a row because he wasn’t paying attention. He began to repair the code, slowly, captivated despite himself.
“I don’t see what you want from me,” Jonah said at last, sounding tired. “I won’t tell anyone you’re skimming,” Garrett bit his lip as he heard that part, feeling guilty about Jonah and Robbie now, “but I’m just a guest here.”
“But you have friends in high places. If you heard the right things, got into the right places…maybe left a microskimmer here and there—”
“I am not helping you spy on my fiancé’s family!” Jonah hissed. “That’s a military facility as much as a residence, and when—not if, when—they found the skimmers, you could go down for treason. They could hang you for that, Kilroy.”
“Not if we were already gone. I’m that desperate, Jonah.” And determined, from the sound of it. “Figured I might not be enough to convince you, though. Soon as I heard you arrive here, I sent word to a mutual acquaintance of ours. Someone you might be more willin’ to listen to than me. Someone with personal business with you.” There was the sound of a chair scraping back, and a moment later Jonah’s breath caught in his throat. Another chair scraped, then there was the sound of breaking pottery, a cut-off swear word—
Then nothing. The slimdisc went dead.
“Oh no.” Garrett checked the transponder signal, then tried his com. Nothing. “Oh no no no…”
Shit. The connection was gone. From the sound of things, it had probably gotten wet when the zawhatever-it-was broke. Shit. Mutual acquaintance? Personal business? If it was someone Kilroy knew, it couldn’t be good.
Garrett’s first urge was to call up Jonah and tell him to come home immediately. His second urge was to drive into the city, track Jonah down and bring him back in person. Neither of those options worked if he wanted to keep his bug a secret, though.
He’s okay. Physically, Jonah had to be fine. Corporal Kelly was with him, and if anything was wrong, he would have sent an alarm back to Robbie before diving into the fray. The kid was a brutal fighter, Garrett had seen him exercising with the other marines. He could handle a Drifter; hell, he could handle a dozen of them. So Jonah was fine.
But that sound, oh…that choked sound of surprise and shock. That hadn’t been good. Garrett’s own throat tightened just to remember it. But there was nothing he could do. He had to wait for Jonah to come home. He just had to wait.
Garrett stared at his program but didn’t see it, and clenched his hands in time with the painful hammer of his heart. He just had to wait. That was all he could do now.