Using Fejo: Chapter 12


Fejo tried to distract Vanessa from her worry as he guided her through the final corridor of his ship. Though his instincts screamed to lock her up in their room whenever he had to be apart from her, he forced himself to reassure her that she could explore the ship on her own when he was working. Mostly. He made certain to explain the cargo bay was unequivocally off limits. He didn’t trust the two Tetran males, and he hadn’t yet made them afraid of the consequences of breaking his rules.

“Would you like to eat in the room or the cafeteria?” he asked, praying to the Goddess that she’d choose the room. It grated against his nerves every time other males looked at her. Especially since he hadn’t yet been able to claim her. He knew wives were supposed to be harder to please than females looking for temporary companionship, but learning how to impress Vanessa was turning out to be far more taxing than he’d imagined.

He’d despised revealing the details of his birth, but he’d been surprised at her reaction. She’d actually softened toward him. He could see it in her eyes.

There was so much more he hadn’t revealed yet. Klinara, for one. Klinara’s father, for another. Was that what it would take to win her over? Cutting himself open for her to see and revealing how weak and unworthy he’d been as a young male?

“The cafeteria,” Vanessa said, brows furrowed.

He cursed inwardly, plastering on a fake smile.

The knot in his shoulder grew tight as he guided her to the cafeteria, where half of his men would likely be eating. At this time of day, they would’ve just changed shifts. He mentally tried to place which men specifically would be there. His steps faltered as he realized the two Tetran males would be eating at this time.

As they always did when Vanessa entered a room, all eyes turned and landed on her. He smothered a smile when her back stiffened and her chin raised. She wouldn’t be cowed by anyone.

“What would you like to eat?” he asked, leading her to a small table on the left side of the room that was less crowded than the long community tables in the middle. His gaze locked on the two Tetran males, who continued to watch Vanessa, though most of the other men had turned away. He’d need to deal with that.

Fejo had learned early in his life that empty threats made for a weak leader. If he wanted any respect from these males, he’d have to show them he’d accept no disobedience or disrespect. His arm brushed against Vanessa’s, sending a ripple of sensation through his birth line.

Tonight. He’d deal with them tonight once Vanessa was tucked away.

“I’m not sure. Whatever you think,” she said absently, scanning the room. She kept her chin raised and her jaw set, but from the purse of her lips and the slight dilation of her pupils, he could tell she was ill at ease. He waited until she was seated, letting his hand linger on her shoulder for longer than necessary, then walked over to the specialty food synthesizer he’d had installed prior to her arrival. It was an expensive model, but since the kitchen had fallen into disrepair from lack of use, he hadn’t seen another option.

Most males in Tremanta knew how to cook. He’d never learned. At least not well enough to cook for a wife. He programmed the machine to make a few of the pastries she enjoyed, along with a variety of other foods he hadn’t yet given her.

One downside of this synthesizer was it was slower than the rest. He kept glancing over his shoulder, the knots in his shoulder clenching and pulsing. With a jolt, he realized Capra, one of the two Tetran males, had risen from his seat and was staring in Vanessa’s direction. She was dutifully staring at her hands.

Fejo shifted on his feet and ground his teeth together. Capra grinned toward Vanessa and leaned down to whisper something to Maladek, the larger of the two Tetrans. The weight of the blades strapped to Fejo’s torso cooled the flaring anger building in him.

Capra was acting as if Fejo wasn’t even in the room. Ogling his wife as if she were available to any male. He said something else to Maladek, but the male grimaced and shook his head, refocusing on his meal. Fejo’s lines heated, scorching him as he watched Capra shrug and saunter toward Vanessa.

Sliding his eyes shut, Fejo turned to the food synthesizer and took a deep breath. He didn’t want to have to do this in front of her. He didn’t want to have to show her the kind of male he had to be. But the pishot Tetran was giving him little choice, challenging him for everyone to see. He grabbed the food that had been produced and left a platter to catch the rest.

A low murmur broke out from the tables nearby. He locked eyes with his friend Uja, who gave an almost inconspicuous shake of the head. Fejo ignored him. If he were a smarter male, he’d let it lie. These weren’t normal crewmen. They’d been sent by Klinara. But as he saw Capra sit in his seat and begin speaking to Vanessa, he no longer cared. Especially since Vanessa, who was frowning, turned and caught his eye.

A surge of pleasure flew through his body, fanning the flames of the rage directed at Capra. She’d sought him out when she’d been uncomfortable. Had looked for him. Capra suddenly reached out and grabbed her hand, pulling her attention back to him.

Fejo’s insides turned to ice.

***

What was this fucker doing, touching her? Vanessa tugged her hand away and glared at the man across from her. He’d introduced himself as Capra, but the name didn’t quite match his appearance. He was chilling, from his long, spiraling horns that shot up from his head and ended in sharp points to his scar-covered grayish-purple skin and yellow eyes. His grin set her hair on edge.

He wasn’t quite as terrifying to look at as his friend a few tables over, who was larger, more heavily scarred and had blood-red eyes, but this man was being pushy. And she didn’t like pushy.

She scanned the room for Fejo again, hoping he’d return and do his dominant-man stare-down thing, and found him sauntering over. Take your time, why don’t you?

She was surprised this guy had even come over to her in the first place. Most of the men in the room wouldn’t make eye contact with her.

“Do you like the ship, little human?” the man said, eyeing her necklace and her breasts instead of her face.

“Yes. I like the solitude. Of some parts of the ship anyway.” She tried to tug her hand away again. Fejo was only a few feet away now. Her relief turned to annoyance when she saw the smile on his face. Was he not going to do anything? Well, she could handle this herself, she supposed.

The man grinned up at Fejo as he arrived at the table but didn’t rise from his seat across from her. Finally, he released her hand. “Hello, Captain. I was just speaking to your lovely wife.”

Fejo shot her a heated look, then turned his easy grin back on Capra, who’d thrown his arm over the chair and leaned back as if he were planning to stay awhile. Vanessa frowned. Her gaze turned to the other people in the room, and she found them staring warily at Fejo.

Her brows drew together. She turned back to Fejo and saw he was as easygoing as ever. He set the plate of food down in front of her. Something wasn’t right, though.

“Yes, I saw you were talking and also touching.” His grin stayed in place, even widening a fraction, but Vanessa took a second look at his eyes and noticed they’d gone hard and dead. Ice slid down her spine. Something was very wrong.

Capra rose from his seat slowly, taking his time to look at Vanessa again. “Well, I didn’t smell you on her, so—”

Capra never had the chance to finish his sentence. At lightning speed, Fejo shot toward him, gripped his horns, and slammed his head down into the table with an echoing bang. Using the corner of the table, he angled Capra’s head to the side and used his body weight to crack off the tip of one of his horns.

Vanessa winced and covered her mouth, trying to push her chair away from the table.

Having his horn broken must not have hurt much, though, because Capra was still groaning and clutching at his head with one hand. He tried to raise himself off the table with the other. But then Fejo used the long, sharp tip of Capra’s broken horn and stabbed it through the man’s flattened palm on the table, impaling it.

Capra screamed then, body becoming alert all at once, his muscles bulging and his gaze wild and livid. He stared at his impaled hand. His fingers flinched and quivered as though he didn’t know what to do.

Vanessa stared in horror at the scene before her. She couldn’t take her eyes off Capra, but then Fejo drew out a long blade from under his coat and held it to the man’s chin. “If you ever touch her like that again or ever show me that level of disrespect, I’ll chop off your hand altogether.”

Vanessa’s stomach gurgled, and she started shaking. Scooting back from the table, she sprinted for the door.

She ran but had no idea where she was going. Her ears ached from trying to listen for steps behind her, but she heard none. With a hand clutching her stomach, she peered around, looking for evidence of anything familiar.

The man she’d just seen didn’t match Fejo at all. He’d turned so fast and been so brutal. Capra hadn’t done anything more than touch her hand, and Fejo had done…that. She now knew why the men looked at him the way they did. Why they averted their eyes whenever she was in the room. And now, more than ever, she realized what a stupid, stupid mess she’d gotten herself into.

Heart still racing, she skidded to a halt at a scratched piece of artwork she recognized. The space-viewing room was near here. With a shaky glance behind her, she hurried down the hall. After trying three separate doors—one leading to a stocked closet, another that was locked—the third took her into the space-viewing room. She hurried to the corner, collapsing into a large pillow, and pulled her knees to her chest. Suddenly, the bleak view of space before her wasn’t the most terrifying thing anymore.

***

Fejo’s heart shriveled in his chest as he watched Vanessa sprint out of the cafeteria, terror and disgust clear on her pale face. He turned and spotted Velusi, one of the medics, standing and staring with a tight jaw. None of his crew looked surprised. They’d all known what would happen, and now the Tetrans would as well.

Maladek stared at Fejo, his large body rigid. He hadn’t come to help his friend, and Fejo wondered if he was being smart or if he didn’t care. With a roar, Capra removed the horn from his hand and held his bloody palm to his chest.

Fejo caught Velusi’s eye. “Heal him in seven hours. Not a minute before.”

The medic nodded, and he knew his orders would be followed.

Fejo slid his knife back into his coat and walked out of the cafeteria, sniffing the air. He picked up on which direction Vanessa had traveled, but his feet couldn’t seem to follow. What was he supposed to say? This was how things were done in his life. This was how you taught others.

If he hadn’t been ruthless with his crew, he’d have been killed or usurped a long time ago. His reputation wouldn’t be nearly as formidable, and he would’ve stopped receiving jobs from Klinara.

But he hated it. He hated how everyone looked at him with fear and uneasiness.

One foot after another, he followed her scent, dragging his feet with the excuse that it would give her more time alone. He didn’t know if he’d be able to come back from this. Not with how her face had looked. Her scent led him to the viewing room.

Why had she come here? Did she think he wouldn’t look for her here? His heart sank a bit more. He argued with himself, yet he knew he’d done the right thing. Tetrans respected power and dominance. They fought almost daily. And if he’d done nothing, Capra would’ve continued to disrespect him.

Even so, he knew he’d been harsher than necessary. He’d only meant to stab Capra through the hand with a knife, but when the male had pointed out the lack of his scent on Vanessa, he’d lost his last bit of control. The comment was a clear dig at his fitness as a husband and had hit a deeply buried nerve. So, he’d dishonored the male. Broken off a piece of his horn, which was something Tetrans prided themselves on. It would grow back, but it was a slap in the face.

He tied his hair up at the back of his neck and placed his hands on his hips, then stared at the door. He exhaled through his nose and entered. The sight of her huddled in a corner, her eyes wide and uncertain, had him stopping after only a few steps.

“I’m sorry,” he said, hoping that was a good place to start.

She let out a small laugh. “Sorry for what exactly?”

Good point. He wasn’t really sorry for hurting the male. “I’m sorry you had to see that.”

Her lips pursed, and she gripped her knees to her chest a little tighter, staring at him. “Do you do that a lot?”

He held in a sigh and stepped toward her. He took in the way her body stiffened further at his approach, and his jaw clenched. A few minutes ago, she’d sought him out when she’d been nervous. Now she tensed at his presence. He was such a pishot.

He didn’t stop his approach, though. They needed to get past this—or rather, she needed to get past this. It was unlikely they’d make it through three months on this trip without her seeing him do things like that. Possibly worse things, though he’d try to shield her from it as best he could.

He knelt down in front of her. Her gaze was unblinking as she followed his movements. “He’s a new crew member, and he needed to learn how things work here.”

“What does that mean?” she asked a little breathlessly. “How things work here. Does that mean you hurt people every time they don’t do what you ask?”

He just kept his hands from balling into fists as he spoke. “No, but if their offense is grave enough, then yes. You’re my wife. He touched you in front of an entire room full of my crew. And it was clear you didn’t want him there. It was an insult for us both. I couldn’t let it lie. If I did, there would be others who’d think they could get away with coming and doing the same thing. Maybe worse.”

Her brows furrowed as she took in what he was saying, and he thought he saw a glimmer of understanding light her features, though her hazel eyes were still hard and unforgiving.

He forced her hands apart and gripped them in his own. “I don’t claim to be a good person. There are certain things I have to do that I don’t enjoy doing, but I can promise you I’ll be a good husband. You’re safe with me, and if that means I have to harm a few males who’ve threatened your safety, I will do it. Without question. Every time.”

Her fingers twitched in his, and she studied his face. Almost too quietly to hear, she whispered, “What if I do something you don’t like?”

He doubted she could ever do anything he’d dislike, but he gave her a small smile. “If you ever did do anything, it wouldn’t matter. You’re my wife, and I don’t believe there’s anything you could do that would cause an insurrection. I’m hard on them because I have to be in order to keep this ship running smoothly. I would never hurt you, Vanessa. Never. No matter what you did.”

He held his breath and waited. She wouldn’t get past this. His chest grew painfully tight. It’d been too much of a shock. He should’ve waited and dealt with Capra later.

She opened her mouth to speak, then closed it again. Finally, she nodded. “Okay.”

“Okay?” he asked, his mind buzzing. Was she forgiving him? That easily?

“I understand. I got scared, but I get what you’re saying and I believe you.”

Fejo was lost for words. Only a few moments ago, his wife had literally fled from him, and now she was calmly forgiving him? He was still staring at her, a bit dumbstruck, when she leaned up and kissed him. It was brief but enough to have his whole body singing with pleasure.

“I just need a few minutes alone, and then I’ll meet you in the room,” she said gently, pulling her hands away from his.

Alone? He didn’t understand her. But he was learning that was a good thing. She wasn’t like any other female he’d met. She wanted honesty. She respected it, and the few times he’d been truthful and vulnerable with her, she’d reacted in the most wonderful way. She continued to stare at him expectantly, and with a jolt, he nodded. “I’ll see you in our room,” he said, rising.

He felt awkward standing over her. She didn’t speak, and he knew she wanted him to leave, but he didn’t want to go. Yet he couldn’t find any good excuse to stay, so he walked out the door and mindlessly maneuvered himself back toward their room. Once inside, he stilled.

He scanned the space, not knowing what to do. Vanessa had been so understanding. She deserved something. A show of affection. A gift. Something. He walked to a hammered metal cabinet he’d purchased at the Scaper Port and fished out a large arm bracelet that extended from shoulder to fingertip. The piece of jewelry was delicate, crafted from the same Askait metal as the ship and dotted with inky-black gems. It would look marvelous on her slender, pale arm.

He went to her bed, found her belongings lying neatly folded in the center, and took it upon himself to put them away for her. He straightened the covers, then laid the bracelet on her pillow. He spent another moment reveling in the intensity of her scent here. He could smell her all over his sheets. His own scent, still lingering in the bedding, mingled with hers in the most divine way.

He was about to tear himself away, but then he paused, leaning down to smell her sheets again. She was there, sweet and intoxicating as ever, but he thought he smelled other people…other women. Many other women. Ones he didn’t recognize.

He’d picked up a few items in his time that smelled like other people, but they’d faded, and he’d recognized all of those. This was new. He walked around the room, isolating the area that smelled odd until he focused on the long, low bench placed against his windowed wall.

Fejo didn’t store many items in there. Maybe she’d packed away some of her things and they smelled like the women from the Temple. He opened the drawers but couldn’t find the source. The knot in his shoulder tightened and his jaw grew rigid. Whatever he was smelling was here.

Hidden.

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