Sequel to Expedition 63 Book 2: Dark
Yakecen Sinohui can see the end in sight for the stranded crew of the Station. Each breath is a countdown until they’re able to return to Earth, until the poison clouds have cleared enough to leave. Though it’s a bad idea, Yakecen is drawn into the orbit of their resident biologist, Eli, someone who has kept Yakecen’s head in the game with his sunny presence.
The universe, however, has one last middle finger to give the weary crew.
Eli Palamo doesn’t object to Yakecen’s covert attention. He’s pined for his friend from the first moment they met, and isolation has strengthened their bond as the hardships forced them lean on each other completely. Yakecen is all he’s ever wanted. Nothing will be enough to tear them apart, if Eli has anything to say about it, not even Yakecen’s own demons. Definitely not the end of their disastrous mission and their fight for survival.
"Tight space, with nowhere to escape." Nothing clicked for a second, and the frustration rippled across Saito's smooth calm. "Come on Eli, you know the problem."
When it sparked, the elusive explanation Eli was looking for, he groaned. Stupid! "He hates being crowded. Makes him nervous. How could I forget that?"
"You were thinking about other things, inappropriate I'm sure," Saito answered. There was a sharp edge of reprimand in the words. He deserved it.
The worst part was Eli couldn't even apologize. Yakecen had an aversion to apologies when someone stepped over his boundaries, and it didn't matter if it was on accident or on purpose. If the notion wasn't absolutely ridiculous, he thought Yakecen was pretending his boundaries didn't exist to try and appear like everyone else. They did, oh yes, and what strange boundaries they were, in Eli's opinion.
Yakecen had a severe aversion to casual contact and despised loud noise. Crowded spaces made his friend sweat. The personal bubble for Yakecen spread out to an eye-popping five feet and he jumped like a scalded cat when a stranger came too close.
Eli found the effort to keep Yakecen's boundaries worth it in so many ways.
There was a sweet, thoughtful side under all that emotional armor and the whole of humanity, past and present and future, could be lined up in front of him and Eli would still take Yakecen hands down. So what if there was a little more worked involved?
One of the reasons he'd fallen so hard for Yakecen was for that exact reason. All the best people in his life were difficult to befriend. The sweetness was a surprise, when Yakecen had decided to allow Eli in. He was beyond beautiful to look at too. All that glowing bronze skin he wanted to get his hands on and the dark brown hair was straight as a razor blade when Yakecen left it down. Eli itched to know if the long waterfall he kept braided for safety reasons was softer than it looked. Yakecen was tall and strong and sharp and gentle in a way that made Eli think every movement was a deliberate dance to rein in his innate strength.
Yakecen had brought him coffee from a secret hole-in-the-wall, plopped the hot cup in his hands without a word, and kept on to his destination. After that, Yakecen was half glued to his side most days. Well, sort of. That five foot personal bubble was no joke, even now.
"Maybe I should just go apologize to him anyway, whether he acknowledges it or not." Eli crossed his arms and his face fell. Under normal circumstances, he'd give a sincere apology by way of a large box of cookies. Coconut ones with chocolate stripes across the top. The name escaped him; it'd been so long since they've had luxuries like that.
"Perhaps make an effort in finding another gift he would like, to ease his nerves," Saito said, the rebuke hidden under layers of politeness. "He's used to us responding to his needs and our inevitable missteps in certain ways."
Eli squinted his eyes at his fellow scientist. Saito had a point. Their friend hated the unexpected or to be surprised with new things. "You have any recommendations?"
The question visibly brought Saito up short. Yeah, that's the same problem Eli had. No matter what he went with, some aspect of his standard apology had to be out of the ordinary, and might bother Yakecen more. The frustration buzzed in the back of his mind, a solitary bee.
Discontent rumbled around his belly and tightened his chest. "If I knew what the core problem was, I would just fix it. Then an apology would be moot."