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Using Fejo: Chapter 17

Even after he’d returned, changed the bedding, and forced another dose of medicine down her throat, Vanessa still tossed and turned for hours. Not knowing what else to do, he just held her, wiping her hair off her face and whispering calming assurances to her. Boshie slime was always a pain in the ass. He’d been touched by one once before, but the Boshie in question had been a young male and not as potent as the adult females of the species.

Normally, their slime had no effect, but if a Boshie was taken by surprise or frightened, the slime functioned as a paralytic. Vanessa had run straight into an unsuspecting full-grown female. No wonder she was having such a bad reaction. And she was human. He didn’t know if the effects were worse for her kind, but he imagined, based on her soft groans, that they were.

Eventually, when he returned after a few minutes away to retrieve fresh food, he found her awake and sitting up. She still looked a bit bedraggled, her mussed hair stuck out at odd angles, and her skin was paler than normal. She peered down at him as he arrived, and her eyes widened slightly before she glanced away. He saw some color returned to her cheeks and forehead.

“I brought you food,” he tried, treading cautiously since he could practically feel the tension radiating off her stiff form.

She stood, glancing around and patting the enormous shirt he’d covered her up with in the middle of the night. “You didn’t have to do that,” she said under her breath.

The tone of her voice was so withdrawn and choked. He could see her teeth grinding from here.

Had he done something wrong? Was she angry about her failed escape? Or was this an additional effect of the Boshie’s slime? She walked down to the lower level and tried to pass him, heading toward the bathroom, but he blocked her way. “Are you alright?” he asked, gripping her chin and bringing her gaze to meet his.

She tugged her face away, her cheeks growing an even brighter shade of red.

“Yes, I’m fine. You don’t have to coddle me. I made a stupid mistake, and I got what I deserved.”

Fejo’s hand fell to his side.

He wanted to tell her how much her revelation had meant to him. He’d seen how painful it’d been to talk about, and he couldn’t imagine how much guilt she must be feeling.

“Last night—” he began, but she interrupted him.

“I didn’t mean to say those things last night. The slime was doing something to my head, and it just spilled out. Forget about it. I don’t want your pity.”

His brows drew together, and he studied her face. She still wouldn’t meet his gaze, instead looking down at the ground with red cheeks, clenched fists, and a tight jaw.

“I don’t pity you,” he argued. Had it really just been the slime talking? He’d hoped she was opening up to him of her own accord, but apparently, he’d been wrong. His chest tightened with the knowledge.

“Pity, revulsion, whatever you want to call it, I don’t want to hear it. I just want to wash off and never speak of it again.” She tried to step around him again. He blocked her way once more.

“Vanessa, I don’t think any of those things.” He reached out to touch her shoulders, but she shook him off, stepping back, her eyes glassy.

“Well, you should think those things.” She crossed her arms over her chest and worried her bottom lip. “I appreciate you being there for me last night, but all I want right now is to be alone. Can you please let me by?”

The weight on his chest grew heavier as he stared at her. He nodded, turning to walk out the door. What else could he say to her right now? She didn’t want him around, yet all he wanted to do was to be around.

He knew she was embarrassed about what had happened the day before. How could she not be? She’d been exposed and vulnerable in more ways than one, and she’d revealed something to him that clearly caused her so much shame and heartache.

Still, a small, ridiculous part of him had wished she’d be different. That she wouldn’t regret telling him her secrets. He stood outside of his room, not sure where he should go. With a deep sigh, he decided it might help his scattered mind to see to some work on the ship.

They’d set off from Innaka Port hours ago, so he first went down to the cargo bay to see how Maladek and Capra were getting along. Though Capra only scowled at him and Maladek acted as if nothing at all were amiss, both males were making decent headway reorganizing the long-term cargo he kept on hand in case he needed to trade with something other than money. He’d need to find a new job for them soon.

After another two laps around his ship, he found all his normal tasks were taken care of. The crew were all working hard and didn’t need him. What now?

He couldn’t go back to the room. As much as he wanted to be near Vanessa, he worried he was already far too attached to her. Maybe it was better for her to push him away. His irrational side already bellowed at him to take her back to Earth, despite the risks involved in entering a restricted galaxy. It was clearly what she wanted, and her admissions the night before weighed on him. He had a particular soft spot for the child named Mia.

Both he and Vanessa knew what it felt like to grow up without family, though she’d had her sister. He wouldn’t wish that loneliness on anyone, but especially not an innocent child. Yet he didn’t see how he could manage a trip to Earth right now. Not with the extra security measures or the current missions he was on for both Klinara and the Queen.

He passed the space-viewing room on the left and paused, taking a few steps back. Perhaps some quiet contemplation would help. As soon as he’d cleared the door, his veins pulsed with anger. Uja sat inside, stretching his wings in the empty space.

They locked eyes, and all the fury and frustration he’d felt since finding those letters raged through him. Before he had a moment to think better of it, Fejo pounced, pinning Uja to the ground and slamming his fist into the male’s jaw.

Wings were an advantage Fejo had been cognizant of since childhood, so when Uja’s wings flew at him from both sides, Fejo dodged, leaping to his feet and sliding out of the way.

Wiping a trail of blood from his nose, Uja spat and crouched into a fighting stance. “So, this is what you want to do? Over that female who’s done nothing but lie to you?”

“It’s more complicated than that,” Fejo rumbled, circling the male. “This is about you betraying me. You had no right to send my wife off alone. She could’ve been hurt or kidnapped. Who’s to say Sulo would’ve even taken her back to Earth?”

Uja lashed out with a wing. Fejo dodged, but not before ripping a few feathers free for good measure. With a wince, Uja’s throat clicked with his building growl. “She’s not worth the misery. This mission is too important, and she’s the worst kind of distraction. Besides, it’s what she wanted.” He batted his wings, sending a gust of air strong enough to force Fejo to stumble back, then struck with his left wing and sliced into Fejo’s temple.

Fejo caught the wing, wrenching it toward him, then twisted down. Uja stumbled forward, and while he was righting himself, Fejo leapt, then rolled under his right wing, popping up behind Uja’s spine. With his back to the male, he hooked an elbow under each wing close to the shoulder blades and dropped his body weight, so Uja was forced to fall to his knees.

Wings. Though they were powerful and deadly, they’d always been a disadvantage during ground combat, and with nowhere to fly on the ship, Uja’s must’ve also been stiff from disuse.

The male let out a snarl as Fejo leaned forward, bending the wings backward. “I didn’t want to see you go back to Klinara!” Uja yelled.

Fejo stilled. “Why would I ever go back to her?”

When Uja didn’t answer, Fejo flexed his arms forward again, bending the wings at an unnatural angle. With a grunt of pain, Uja answered, “Because that’s what you do. Whenever you ventured outside of Huvuita, you’d always crawl back. You lose sense when you’re lonely. She knew it. She waited for it to happen. You were doing fine before that female got here, but now? You’re moping around the ship. You have the same look you always had right before you sought Klinara out.”

With a snarl, Fejo flung his arms away from Uja and paced forward, hands on hips. “That’s not going to happen,” he assured through deep breaths.

“Is it not?” Uja massaged his shoulders, stretching his wings while wincing.

He now knew why Uja had acted out. In his past, he’d done what his friend had described. Whenever he’d been spurned by the winged inhabitants of Huvuita or pushed too far by Dawten, he’d always sought Klinara. She’d been kind at first, or so he’d thought, and he’d clung to the memory of that kindness for far too long.

Fejo turned to stare at Uja. He waited until the male held his gaze, then with an unspoken promise in his voice said, “It’s not.”

Uja studied him for a moment, surprised by his certainty. He rolled out his shoulder again, then his brows lifted. “Oh.”

“What?” Fejo frowned.

“I thought you were just attached to her as a wife, but…” Uja let out a long sigh and shook his head. “I’ve seen that look in the mirror. You have deeper feelings for the human, don’t you?”

Fejo’s jaw tensed. Uja knew what it was like to want a female you couldn’t have. He’d been carrying on a secret tryst with a Clecanian female from Mithrandir for years now. The relationship had been doomed from the start. Uja, as a criminal, was not eligible for marriage. And his female, Ziritha, was slated to become the next queen of Mithrandir. When that happened, she would not be allowed to be in a relationship either.

Fejo peered down at the floor, the truth too idiotic to acknowledge. He shouldn’t care for Vanessa as much as he did in this amount of time, but…he couldn’t help it. If anything, her unwavering loyalty to her friends and family only served to make him want her more. “So you see,” he muttered, “even if I can’t have Vanessa, I’d never go back to Klinara.”

“Fejo, she won’t be happy here. You know that,” Uja urged, stepping close. “I’m sorry. You’re right. I shouldn’t have sent her off, and if I’d known how you felt, I wouldn’t have, but…I saw it on her face. She won’t stop.”

“Turns out, I love that about her.” Fejo looked up with a miserable grin.

Uja’s brows drew together, and he placed a heavy palm on Fejo’s shoulder. “What are you going to do?”

Pain lanced through his chest. He knew what he was going to do. Deep down, he’d known since he’d first found those letters. “I’m going to take her back.” He straightened and shrugged off Uja’s palm. “But I need your help to do it.”

Without any further argument, Uja nodded.

Though it was good to have his friend back on his side, Fejo still couldn’t dampen the ache in his heart. Forcing out a weak excuse about seeing to the work he’d already seen to, Fejo left Uja and wandered toward the pool. Sitting in the deep, cool water always made him feel better. Maybe the pressing silence would squeeze out all the dark thoughts clamoring for attention in his mind.

He took care arranging his clothing on a nearby rack before sinking into the water. A harsh sting on the side of his head reminded him he had an open cut. A deep one, judging by the amount of blood flowing through the water. He couldn’t seem to care at this moment. Besides, head wounds always bled a lot.

He’d go use the portable healer stowed in each of the rooms on the ship soon. For now, he closed his throat and let the water filter through his gills. The exhaustion of lying awake the entire night tending to Vanessa pressed on him.

His lids slipped shut, and he reclined onto the pool floor, happy to disappear into blissful sleep.


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