Fandom: Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back
Characters/Pairings: Original characters only
Warnings: Some amount of tenderness and resulting smut, and TG overdosing on her own character(s)
Disclaimer: They're my characters but it's not my universe and it's not my genius... that's George Lucas all the way baby. And I'm very happy not to get paid for it!
Summary: Another chapter in the life of Tala, the failed Jedi Healer. Just how long can I draw out his experiences? You'd be surprised! This one is set on ice planet Hoth at the Rebel Alliance Base and involves two members of the alliance there.
Feedback: Pretty please with yumminess on top after I go to all the trouble to actually write one of these header thingies? J email@example.com
Tala sighed, pushing the blood samples to the side; they were never going to get done at this rate and he didn't trust the droids to handle ones as crucial as these, not even the more skilled ones. He leaned to the side and pushed the button on the com panel, "Yes, this is Healer Tala."
There was a long pause. Had he pressed the wrong button? The base was always terribly dimly lit, for to light it more required extra power they were not willing to sacrifice from other needed devices. The halls were the worst, dark and dank and as cold as any you'd expect on the galaxy's ice planet. But it turned out he had indeed gotten the button right.
Fuzzy and electronic, the droid that finally answered still managed to sound annoyed at having to call him, as annoyed as Tala felt to be called at that moment perhaps. "You're needed in exam room five, the patient is heading there now." A report flashed onto his screen, overriding his sampling work. After swearing, he slammed his fist down on the print button and a data pad popped out with the information he needed.
"Fine, I'll be there in a second." That second was used to lock the blood samples and data away. Scanning the record as he walked, he thought to call out, "Time?"
Another electronic voice, one softer and more feminine replied, "Ten-twenty standard."
"Thank you." The door to the fifth exam room was cracked open, so he backed in with a plain, casual, usual smile, lowering the chart. "Another victim of a Hoth hole?" he asked the two who were just walking in and turning to face him. One supported the other almost entirely as he was hurt and stood like a lame dog with one leg bent, raised off the ground, and leaning on the other man. The hurt one was young, soft skin, probably a fighter pilot from the look of concentration and the depth of his eye. His hair was buzzed short, with the front long, dirty blond, and flopping over the top right side of his face, so that one of his bright purple eyes was hidden. The other man looked slightly older, gray eyes, short black hair, and looked tremendously concerned. While the hurt one was dressed in uniform, he was in a black tank top, showing strong, muscular arms where one wrapped around the other's waist.
"Yup. Fell through one on patrol, though we're getting close to having them all marked now. Think his leg is broken?"
"Barker! I can talk for myself..." sighed the young man with a bit of hurt in his voice.
The other, Barker he seemed to be named, turned his head, rubbing his nose against the other's. "I know... I'm just worried, Love..." he was tough, but his voice was soft and uneasy in what was probably intended to be a private whisper.
Tala cleared his throat. "I'm Healer Tala D'Marke and you are... Jean Ali-Parst?"
"Jean," Barker corrected the pronunciation, sounding like 'zsh-on' rather than Tala's 'Gene'.
"Barker!" Jean snapped, flinging his hair back and rubbing his gloved hand and wrist beneath his nose. "And this is Barker Fitz. He's my--"
"Friend," Barker answered for him quickly. He eased the man's gloves off, setting them down on a chair. "You ok?"
Jean's face was twisting up, nose wrinkling rather cutely. He rubbed his bare hand beneath his nose with the same sort of strokes as before, then tugged at the bottom of Barker's shirt. His answer was a very weak whisper. "Do you still... have those...?"
Nodding, "O'course I do." Barker dug a tissue out of the pocket of his cargo khakis and handed it over with a gentle nudge of reassurance. "G'bless."
Jean lifted the scrunched tissue to his nose, his hand covering his mouth. "ahhoo! ahhsheo! Ahhshhh! Sniff, sniff!" He sniffed into it then balled it up into his fist. Barker patted his arm comfortingly.
Tala smiled, plucking the tissue box and placing it on the end of the exam table. "All right. Barker, would you help me get your friend," said so tactfully, "up onto the table?"
"Sure, can you take--"
"Ow! Not there Barker!"
"Maybe his arm..."
"No, get his--"
"He has a bad back so be careful."
"Gently hold the back of his leg."
"All right!" Jean grunted, pushing Barker back. "Give me a hand, Healer." Tala did and with it, Jean pulled himself up onto the table. Then he reached over and ran his hand over Barker's head, through the short black waves, then patted the spot on the table beside him. "Sit with me?"
Barker, who had been looking a bit dejected smiled and hopped up, rocking the table a moment under his weight. His arm wrapping around Jean's shoulders, his other hand resting on Jean's thigh.
Tala, putting the pen lengthwise between his teeth, chewed away as he pulled up a stool. He gently eased the boot and sock off Jean and rolled the pants leg up. "I'm going to touch you as gently as possible. Please let me know when it hurts."
"Now!" Jean exclaimed almost immediately, wincing. He grabbed Barker's hand instinctively and squeezed very tightly.
"S'okay," Barker whispered, squeezing back.
Jean bit his lip with another sniffle. "Now... now... don't feel you touching- ow! Now..."
Tala ceased with the touching and used a small scanning devise, holding it just above the man's foot. "All done," Tala said after a few minutes, making a note on the data pad and looking up just in time to see Jean pulling tissues from the box.
"ahhshhh! atchhh! aahshhoo! ahhshishh! sniff, sniff! ehhh... ahhhChishhh!" He sneezed weakly, rubbing at his nose boyishly afterwards. "Excuse me," he muttered as the others chimed in.
"G'bless." With another squeeze of his hand.
"Arnup'tchow." Tala continued with his assessment, "Definitely broken, but doesn't look bad. You'll need a cast for a few days, but we can make it heal quickly without much problem. You're lucky. The last patient to fall into a Hoth hole broke an arm and collarbone, which takes much more time to heal, and they weren't very clean breaks like this one." He rolled the pants leg up one more roll. "You sit tight, and I'll be right back with the equipment."
Tala had only to go as far as the storage closet across from the room, and to collect a med droid for assistance. He paused outside a moment, hearing sneezes echoing in the small bare room.
"ahhshoo! akchishh! Sniff... ahhchishh... ahhhShhhh! ahhSheoo! Sniff, sniff!"
"Blow your little nose, Love." Jean apparently did so, and made a small whimpering sound. "There now, much better." There was another whimpering sound indicating that perhaps Jean did not feel altogether much better. So Barker continued, his voice soothing and calm. "We'll get you back to your quarters and in bed all warm and feeling better in no time."
Entering, Tala found Jean leaning back against Barker, with Barker's arms wrapped around the man, down over the shoulders and against the chest, holding him securely. Jean looked startled a moment, but Tala only smiled and nodded, the med droid beeping behind him. Tala attached a small device to his ankle, and another further down on his foot. "These will make sure they heal properly as the process is speeded up... Now for the cast I'm going to need you to lie back." They shifted him around carefully, his head in Barker's lap, his leg propped up on a wire contraption of some sort. The droid assisted in the bindings, fitting a small container of some sort over his foot and lower leg and running instruments around in.
Barker held his hand and rubbed his cheek gently, watching Jean's face rather than the leg. Jean was sniffling again, not daring to move to rub at his nose, simply wiggling his nose around with its tickles. "Hold still now, I've got you," he whispered, taking a tissue out of his pocket and holding over his nose and mouth. "There you go. Just relax now."
Jean did, closing his eyes for an almost immediate, "ehhShahh! ahhhShhhhh! ahhSheoo! ahhshhhhh!"
"G'bless. Go on... blow your nose, too."
Jean did, trying to concentrate on that task while his foot stung with numbness.
After tucking the used tissue away with the others in his other pocket, Barker turned his attention to Jean completely. Barker gently brushed the flop of hair out of his face, holding it back a moment, to look down into the man's violet eyes. "There, see? I've got you." Jean nodded, closing his eyes until it was finished, while Barker continued the gentle caresses and reassuring whispers.
After a few minutes, it was over, and the container was pulled away to revel a hard gel of some sort covering his lower leg and foot completely. "Very nice. You can sit back up again." Jean was again helped to do so. "Not too heavy is it? Good. And now for a small injection. Please roll up your sleeve for me." Jean was a bit hesitant in doing so, so Barker took that initiative, rolling up the man's sleeve gently. Tala did his best to make it quick, and Jean looked away, turning his head into Barker's shoulder as the big man put his arm around his friend once more.
"I can blow up ships and I'd give my life in a fight against a Sith any day... but needles are a little hard to bare," Jean explained with a meek smile when the needle was finished and out of sight, Barker rubbing his back to assure him that he'd done well.
Tala looked on sympathetically as well. "You wouldn't believe how many men feel that way." But now it was back to work. "Don't put any pressure on that foot today, but you should be able to walk on it tomorrow. And it will be off by the end of the week. If anything down there starts beeping, call the med center for me and then head on over, got it?"
Jean nodded, wiping his hand beneath his nose. Barker reached over and gathered some fresh tissues, handing them over just as Jean sneezed. "ahhChishhh! ahhhShooo! Ahhhshhhh! ahhhshhh! Sniff, sniff, sniff!" He gave his nose a tiny blow as they echoed again with sentiments.
"Arnup'tchow." Tala stood just as Jean was starting to get down, placing a hand in the center of his chest. "Not quite yet. I want to check out the rest of you."
"Oh! No need," Jean replied, snuffling into the tissues a bit more. "The droids in the hanger said only my ankle was injured, and my rump's a tad bruised."
With a nod, "I'm sure the hole did you no further damage. But I wanted to check out that case of the sneezes you've got there. Now open wide and say 'ahhh'."
"Really, I'm all right. Just a bit of a tick--le... " He raised the back of his hand to his nose and mouth, cupping it into a fist while he sneezed, "ahhShhh! ahhShoo! ehhChishh! ahhSheoo! Ahhhshhhhhhh!" It had been a wet round, and Jean seemed glad that Barker was there with a tissue ready.
"Arnup'tchow. Still say it's nothing?"
Jean, sniffling, nodded.
As stubborn as a sick Jedi this one was. "Well, I don't and I'm the healer. Soooooo... open wide, my lad."
He looked like he was ready to protest again, but opened his mouth anyway with a soft, "ahhhhhh..."
"Thank you," remarked Tala, continuing to examine with ears and eyes and nose. After sliding a small thermometer into his mouth, Tala laid a hand briefly on the man's chest. After working so long with the Jedi, used to their walls and heightened reflexes, it was a pleasure to examine those with much smaller doses of the force within them. With Jean for example, it took only seconds where being able to sense a virus within Obi-Wan or Qui-Gon had taken minutes at the least with their cooperation. He pulled out the thermometer, giving it a look over. "How long have you been feeling sick?"
A shrug. "Just since this morning... sniff, sniff, why?"
"Just being a good doctor in asking. Combined with your leg I'm going to need to suspend you from duty for the rest of the week." He entered it into the data pad. "Besides, the cold Hoth temperatures shouldn't be very conducive to that cast, or to the sneezes."
"This is just a cold, isn't it?" Barker asked worriedly, tightening a grip around Jean protectively.
Tala nodded slowly, in thought. "That is indeed what it appears to be, but you'll need to keep a close watch for complications. You've a light fever, which suggests more than a minor cold, or at least more potential. If you start displaying any additional symptoms, if you feel nauseous or if it settles in your chest- anything like that and I want you to get right back here and see me. And I'll do my best to keep it at bay. Something like this spreading through the base at a crucial time like this is not what we need, got it?"
Both nodded back in agreement, Jean sealing the deal with a sneeze or two, "ahhEhshhh! ahhShhhhh!"
After supplying him with another tissue, Barker jumped down and eased Jean down, letting the man lean on him almost entirely.
"And you," Tala said, poking Barker in the stomach, "you take very good care of your friend. And make sure he stays well off that foot today. Bed rest would be ideal."
Barker smiled. "I will." He didn't look so very tough with a smile like that. No, not at all. They got back into position with Barker's arm around his waist and Jean's arm around Barker's broad shoulders. The two hobbled out of the medical center and down the thin halls to the quarters.
"Look!" Hissed Jean as they passed by the conference room. Where it was usually empty aside from general alliance meetings, it was now occupied by a small group of alliance leaders, generals, and figures, including Princess Leia. But this time, the group had another member of interest in its midst. "Isn't that Skywalker?" He pointed excitedly to a figure just beyond the glass.
Barker's reflexes were quick, pinning down the pointing hand, then leaning in for closer inspection. "Damn, I think you're right Jeanie. And it looks like he's back to stay for a while."
Jean rubbed at his nose roughly. "Barker... can we... can... ahh..."
Barker turned his head to see Jean struggling with a sneeze and knew he didn't want them found peaking into the great conference room unauthorized. "Yes, let's." He quickly guided Jean back down the hallway and pulled two tissues out of his pocket; this was going to be a big one for all the holding back Jean was doing.
"ahhhchishhh! ahhhHishhhhh! ahhshhhhhh! Sniff, sniff!" Jean's sneezes were sounding weaker now as each moment passed by, requiring more and more effort from him, effort he didn't have after a long morning on patrol. And sick on patrol at that. His good leg was getting quite tired as well from hopping along so much. Twice they were forced to stop and rest, Jean taking both opportunities to give his nose much needed blowings. On their third stop, Jean leaned against both Barker and the wall as he sneezed strongly. "ahhhChishhh! AhhShhhh! ahhShhhheoo!"
When he was done, Barker gently encouraged a blow of his nose, then swooped him up in his arms. Jean looked started for a moment, then relaxed in Barker's strong arms, melting against the strong chest. "That's right, relax now. You'll be home soon enough." Jean did relax, snuffling and rubbing his face against Barker's arm, then closing his eyes and falling asleep to the gentle rocking and swaying of Barker's walking.
~ * ~ * ~ * ~
Jean woke sometime later, cradled in warmth against Barker and beneath several layers of standard issue gray blankets. It was such a familiar feeling that he was tempted to go back to sleep immediately, but his nose felt rather stuffy and he owed someone a thank you. Barker, awake, smiled down at him, and without words Jean nuzzled his thank you affectionately. "Sorry, I didn't mean to fall asleep on you like that."
"S'all right. You needed it." He pushed the patch of hair back away from the young man's face, getting a glimpse of both eyes at the same time before the hair flopped back over in place.
"You didn't have to stay with me, though."
"Yes I did." For as worried as he acted, he would never admit it as the reason. "You heard what the healer told me." One large, callused hand stroked the young man's arm peacefully. The young man was still fully dressed, as he had not wished to wake him up to change. He, himself, was still in pants, but had shed his top in order to cuddle Jean against his bare chest and give all the warmth he could while the weak man slept. "Warm enough, Love?"
A yawn overpowered the answering nod. "Mmm, very." He closed his eyes again, draping an arm over Barker's chest to hug the man who was already hugging him back. "So tired..." he muttered.
"Then go back to sleep, Jeanie."
But Jean did not get the chance, his nose tickling enough for a quadruple, "ahhIhshh! Ahhshhhhh! ahhshooo! ahhsheooo!"
"G'bless," Barker whispered, with tissues at the ready from a box he'd brought to the bedside. "Lie still," he instructed the man who was trying to pull one arm out from the warmth to tend to his own nose. Baker gently wiped his nose for him, then held the tissues secure for a blow. "Come now, give me a good blow. There you go." Barker was the most tender man Jean had ever met, and while Jean always felt safe in his arms, he knew Barker only felt safe when they were like this, together in bed with arms wrapped around each other. Though Barker had many years of not being safe to make up for. More of those types of years than even Barker wished to admit to. "Better, Love?"
Jean nodded, closing his eyes. "Much." Then he sighed deeply. "This never seems fair, Barker."
Barker bent his head down and kissed the top of Jean's head, pausing to take in a deep breath of Jean's fragrance: shampoo, sweat and shaving cream. "What's that?"
Sounding sad, dismal, "Being so very happy with you when the whole galaxy is being shot to pieces."
Barker cradled him closer with a tight hug. "I hear wartime loves always carry such guilt. But no one would deny you happiness you're so clearly deserving of."
"But I'm not des--"
"Yes, Jeanie... yes you are. You've a pure heart, and a kind manor, and such skill and smarts as anyone could wish for." He hugged again with a good, strong squeeze. "Believe me you are... and g'bless you." He guided the tissues to Jean's nose, sensing and seeing the sneezes ahead of time.
"ahhChishh! ahhShhhh! ahhShhh! sniff, sniff, ahhshhhh! ahhSheooo!"
"I can see how your cold is getting on. How's your foot feel?"
"Feels fide," he replied, sounding somewhat stuffed in the nose.
Barker helped him blow his nose again and by the time they settled back down, there came a knock on the door.
"Who is it?" called out Barker with a hand on the blaster he always kept at the bedside.
A second or two later, Tala snuck through the door, having used his medical override. "It's Healer Tala," he said kindly, softly, causing Barker to utter a relieved sigh and lower the gun. But having anyone seeing them together in bed was another thing. Both men made to move, but Tala held up one hand. "Stay. Please don't get up." He looked at them both strongly, convincing them they had nothing at all to worry about in him. "Bed rest is the best thing Jean can get right now." He held up a cup in his other hand. "But this is the second best, and I'm afraid it's the best I can do to help you kick this cold. It's a special tea, and it's pretty hard to come by these days as supplies are running low. It's good for warming the chills and soothing your nose enough to let you sleep well."
Barker took the cup for him, then helped him sit up, pulling the blankets up to keep him warm. Then he lifted the cup to Jean's mouth for him. Jean gently caressed Barker's hands, brushing soft fingers over the knuckles to the cup. Barker whispered, "You got it?"
"Mmmhmmm." He took a quick sip, then a longer one, smiling. "This tastes marvelous."
Tala sat down at the empty foot of the bed. "Be sure to keep drinking that or--"
"ahhhsheooo! ahhchishhh! ahhshooo! ahhhhShoo! Ahhshhh! ahhhshhhahhh!" The young man bent forward, hair flopping forward and then back against his face, eyes tightly closed, mouth opened wide beneath a cupped bare hand. While he sneezes sounded weak, his look was worse, barely having the energy to right himself between sneezes. "ahhshhhhh! ahhhshooo! ahhChishooo! Ahhshooo!" He dared not sniffle, lest his nose tickle again so madly as just then.
"G'bless." There again with the tissues, Barker held the cup which Jean blew his nose. And he shot Tala a mean look.
"Arnup'tchow. Sorry, you need to keep drinking that, taking sips every few seconds or it'll set you off sneezing like that." Jean quickly took back the cup and sipped it regularly. "That's good. So, how are you feeling?"
Jean, not wanting to answer, nodded with a smile from behind the tea cup, and nudged Barker.
So the tough one answered for the weaker, "He's doing all right. Thank you for the tea. I'm sure it will help a lot."
"I do what I can. This is a crucial time and I think we'll need ever man we can get to stand with us and fight."
Jean raised an eyebrow.
Being his voice as Jean continued to drink, "Crucial? Skywalker had returned to the base. The fighting will be soon, then?" he asked with concern and interest both.
Tala shrugged. "I'm merely a medic." And yet, how well he understood what no one living knew. He'd had the suspicions of course, the way Obi-Wan had fought for them, and given his life for them. Above all others, the great Jedi Knight Kenobi had understood what a life sacrifice was. But it wasn't until seeing the blood samples that he was certain about it. And certain, too, that these were indeed the most crucial times since the rise of the siths so many years ago. Tala pushed it back in his mind out of habit, then continued, "But I do know Luke is back at the base. And I've recently felt a great disturbance in the force."
"The force!" Barker exclaimed, and Jean nearly choked, spitting his tea. "You're not a Jedi!"
What a brilliant observation. With a head shake, "No... but I was raised in the academy many, many years ago. I could have been a Jedi. Though I'm afraid my abilities which were once already limited are all but gone now as the power of the force has fallen like the old ways." He smiled. "But I can feel it growing stronger... readying for confrontation."
Tala nodded. It had to have been Yoda. Most thought he would be the last when they scattered... but Tala did not imagine he would outlive Qui-Gon's student, let alone the powerful Master Yoda. "Aye, but do not trifle yourself with that." He leaned forward, reaching out and ruffling their hair, first Barker's and then Jean's. "You're good men, you are." He gently pried the empty cup from Jean's fingers. Jean was nodding off, sitting up still. Turning to Barker, "You'd best get him back down. He may be asleep quite a while."
Barker nodded, lying Jean down as Tala pulled the covers up. Then Barker slid out of the bed and came round to pat Tala on the back. "Thank you, Healer."
Pleasantly smiling, "I am not skilled in fighting as you both, but I serve my part here while I still can. Call me if anything arises, and keep care of him. Oh, and see me in a few days time to remove the cast.
Barker nodded again, trusting the healer implicitly now. "Thank you." After seeing Tala out and locking the door behind, he returned to bed, but again not to sleep. Rather, to warm his friend and watchfully care for him. The gentle lamp light make Jean's pale, smooth skin glow. So peaceful, so serine. Men were always the most precious when they were asleep.
Maybe Jean had been right about the guilt. But if anything was to win the war and strengthen the force, it was not self doubt and it was surely not evil. It had to be love. Love and courage and truth.
Barker leaned over and gave him a small, light kiss on the check. The man lay on his side, slightly curled as normal, and he dared not lean all the way over to kiss his lips and risk an accidental waking. No, best stay where he was. His hand grazed over the blankets, feeling the arm beneath, then the chest as it breathed in heavily from the cold's stuffiness. His head sank into the pillow sideways, behind Jean's so that Barker could again smell that unique, familiar scent. His body curled to match, slightly taller, they fit well like this as he leaned into Jean's back. With no guilt, and no worry, he whispered, "Sweet dreams, Love. Feel better soon."
There was an unnerving sort of quiet to the room when Barker entered the next afternoon. The lights were off, making the dim room unusually dark. He put down his things, kicked off his boots, and lit the candle by the wall. It fluttered, then glowed, filling the room with light and a sweet, soothing scent. As the light danced in the cold room, Barker could see the bulge beneath the covers; covered up completely by the blankets was Jean. The lump rose and fell just barely as gentle, slow, deep breaths could be detected. He pulled off his dirty, sweaty shirt, then his grease-stained pants, tossing them on the floor in front of the bed with the rest of the clothes from yesterday.
He stood a moment, in white tank top, with matching white briefs tightly concealing his package, staring down at the bed. Should he try to lie down and comfort Jean, and risk waking him? Or should he take a shower to warm himself and then go make some dinner? Or should he take a blanket and curl up with a datapad on the other side of the room?
"Barker?" came a meek, muffled voice.
"I'm here," Barker replied, sitting down on the edge of the bed. Apparently, the decision had been taken out of his hands before he'd had a chance to make it. One large hand rubbed the higher parts of the bulge, which he knew to be Jean's side, hip, and back. "Just got off duty. How are you feeling?"
He sniffled, then a nose, followed by a head, poked out from beneath the covers, then a hand to rub at it. "Ill," he answered miserably.
"I'll say." Jean looked dreadful. His purple eyes looked tired with big bags beneath, and were streaked with red veins. His face was pale white, the color drained out so much that he almost glowed here in the darkness. His nose was red and chapped at the nostrils and just beneath. He wore his sleep clothes that Barker had dressed him in the day before after being forced into a sonic shower. His hair, or what he had of it, was tangled and unruly. And yet, he was still the most handsome man Barker had ever laid eyes on. He reached over, taking two tissues, and rubbing them against Jean's nose to catch the runs. "Ill... but as adorable as that day back at the flight academy when I first fell in love with you."
Jean smiled, closing his eyes. It looked as if the man wished to sleep, but instead his face scrunched up. Barker folded the tissues and held them in place. "ahhhChishhh! AhhShhhhhh! Ahhhsheoo!"
Pulling his hands out from beneath the warmth, the took the tissues and blew his nose a few times, wincing at the pain it caused him to do so.
"You have such a wonderful bedside manner, Barker," his voice was tired, weak. "I wish you could stay home with me and take care of me when I'm sick."
Barker beamed at the compliment, nodding his head. "I wish I could, too, Love. But just because my mate gets duty suspension doesn't mean I do. Besides, I am the best mechanic on the base."
"Mmm," Jean smiled, rubbing his hand against his nose. "Show off."
With a shrug, "Eh, but an honest one, who cares about you very, very much." He reached over and pulled the strands of hair from his eyes, smoothing them out, trying to comb them with his thick fingers. "And who hurts whenever you're unwell." He bent down and kissed the man's forehead. "Whatever can I do for you, Love?"
Jean pushed back the covers with a yawn, crawling over to him, dragging the heavy cast along. The younger man curled up in the tough one's lap, fitting almost entirely in between the strong arms. "ehhChishhh! AhhhCheshhoo! ahhhChishh!" His body shook with each, but Barker held him close, tight, not letting him go. And afterward, he handed over tissues, and took the used ones back.
"G'bless you. Don't you worry about anything, now, I've got you." He held the man in his arms, a ball of smooth, pale skin and silk clothing, warmed not by any blankets but by his own body heat. The candle danced over them both, as Jean drifted back to sleep. "No matter what happens to this galaxy, Jeanie... no matter what, I've got you."