“Where are you going?” Rejali spoke in a hushed voice as she sat up in bed.
Dim light entered the room as illuminated ripples through a broad sea-view window in one wall. Respiring visitors to the ocean-covered planet of Loluloon enjoyed gazing into the fathomless depths, and the aquatic inhabitants accommodated this desire by providing ambient lighting around the perimeter of the underwater complex.
That allowed her to see Colmac hesitate in the open doorway. As he drew in a long, slow breath, she noted his tan and olive travel clothes and the knapsack over his shoulder, and her stomach clenched.
“You’re supposed to be asleep.” His voice was calm and quiet.
“After four years of marriage, you should know how lightly I sleep.” But she doubted that was what awakened her. Colmac’s very life depended on a lifetime of avoiding detection, and she knew he wouldn’t have made any noise to betray his intended departure.
But why would he leave like this? For the past five days since they’d fled here, he’d never left her side while she recovered from the trajector wound on her upper left chest. The body armor she wore absorbed the worst of its effects, but at the point of impact her flesh had still been ripped and charred.
“I thought the medication would help.” He remained in the doorway, which only stoked her agitation.
“I skipped the medication tonight.” Rejali swung her feet over so she could sit on the side of the bed. “Come in here and close that door.”
This time she watched his long, slow exhalation as Colmac stepped back and the portal barrier slipped into place as silently as its earlier retreat. He slid the knapsack off his shoulder and held it clasped before him. But he didn’t turn toward her, and she continued to gaze at his profile while her insides writhed.
“Now answer my question.”
His attention remained on the satchel. “I’m trying to keep you alive.”
“By doing what?” Her sensation switched to a tightening in her chest. “You’ve already helped me heal through the worst of my injury. How does leaving me alone in the middle of the night benefit me at all?”
“Because then you’d be away from me.” His gaze rose to the shut doorway. “You’d no longer need to act like a shield between me and the Voratene, taking the shots aimed at me. The only reason you’re alive now is because you were wearing your breastplate.”
“That’s why we wear out breastplates.”
“Exactly.” He turned to face her. “I had mine on, too, but you still decided to take the shot. This isn’t how a marriage is supposed to work. Four years ago I thought it sounded like a grand idea, but now that I’m older and wiser … the body count surrounding me is already too high. I don’t want you added to that number.”
The tightness rose to her jaw. “You weren’t about to go do something stupid, were you?”
She recognized that flash of a smirk before he replied, “That depends on what level of stupidity you want to assign to me this time.”
His words settled on her chest with a weight that pressed an ache from her wound. Yes, she had to admit that had been the pattern of their relationship. Although she didn’t entirely dismiss his lifetime of experience, she did place more value on her near-lifetime of formal tactical training. She was the warrior. He was just hunted because of some asinine prophecy that he threatened the continuation of the Voratene Dominion.
But when the blast from the trajector compromised both her physical and mental capabilities, she still managed to notice how effectively Colmac took charge. He got them to Loluloon and nursed her through recovery without her contribution. Except now that she was healed enough to take care of herself, he seemed to decide that was too much responsibility.
Her muscles tensed as Rejali growled, “Your solution was to slip away into the night.”
“It’s my only choice. Your sense of duty will never allow you to agree with this.”
“And it was my choice to be at your side. You’re bound to the same duty. But you’re ready to break it because you got shaken up over my injury?”
“No.” Colmac held his gaze steady with hers. “I just want to keep you alive.”
She stared back at him, his undaunted composure throwing her response off track. They had been warned that marital bliss would not spontaneously emerge, especially if their pattern of interaction was focused on avoiding or evading the Voratene. She barked orders and he obeyed. Their system worked.
Yes, she had a duty to fulfill … but it wasn’t sense of duty that swept over her now.
She had misread his action. Colmac hadn’t tried to leave because of their shortcomings or reality becoming too tough. He wasn’t trying to spare himself of whatever anguish or inconvenience her demise could bring.
Even though walking away from her meant losing companionship and security, even though striking out alone placed his life at greater risk, it was a sacrifice he was willing to make if it kept her alive. The hunted was becoming a warrior.
His action was still wrong, but Rejali also realized that it could only have been grace that awakened her to stop his leaving. Normally she would point out his mistakes in order for him to not repeat them. But this wasn’t time for instruction. This was an opportunity to allow that grace to cover them now.
All tension evaporated as she got to her feet and stepped over to him to place her hands on his shoulders and gaze into his face. Their system might have worked before, but it had become apparent how much it needed improvement.
“Please, let’s sit down together.” The tremulous rays appeared to dance in defiance of the surrounding darkness. “I’d like for us to talk.”
So here is this month’s submission to #BlogBattle, and this time the prompt word is Shield. Ooh … great word! All kinds of possibilities with playing around with some deeper (pun somewhat intended) symbolism. Be sure to check out the other Blog Battler stories!
If you’re wondering, this story is a long-afterwards sequel to Delivered, which you can check into if you haven’t read it already.