Eryx is part of a team of scientists charged with monitoring and protecting relocated animals on a privately owned planet. When sensors indicate poachers, Eryx leaves base to confront them, only to lose his way in a sudden snow. After trudging to a nearby observation station for shelter, he comes across an unexpected intruder.
Smuggler Leander flies an old, sometimes unreliable ship. When the engine starts to fail, he attempts to set down on the nearest planet where he’s stashed supplies, but his descent turns into a crash, and he’s forced to take shelter wherever he can.
The two can’t possibly trust each other, but storm projections show they’ll be stuck together for days. Worse, the poachers aren’t letting a little inclement weather stop them, and they’re armed and ready to kill. Can Leander and Eryx put aside their differences and save the animals -- and themselves -- before something disastrous happens?
How a fold-out was more comfortable than his bed back at home base, Eryx didn’t know. He actually would have slept well if it hadn’t been for the pitiful noises coming from the floor. Eryx had expected having to deal with snoring, not groaning or whining. He rolled over, fell back asleep, woke up again.
“For fuck’s sake, aren’t you used to sleeping on the floor of your ship?” he hissed after waking up for at least the twentieth time.
“No,” Leander hissed back. “Why would I be? I have a bed.”
“And here I was thinking the life of a smuggler was so hard.” Eryx flipped his pillow to get to the cold side, but he’d already flipped it so recently there wasn’t one.
“The only thing hard is this rock floor. It’s uneven. It’s cold.”
“Get up and get yourself another blanket.”
“In pure dark? I don’t know my way around here. Why are we whispering?”
“Because it’s the middle of the night, and that’s what people do,” said Eryx. “Now please, please shut up. I can actually get a good night’s sleep on this bed.”
“That sounds wonderful. A good night’s sleep would help with the crash cruds I got going.”
Eryx was so annoyed, and so desperate for sleep that actually felt good, he didn’t think beyond the need to make the atmosphere quiet and get back to unconsciousness.
“Get your ass up here then, but if you start snoring, I’m shoving you off.” He rolled farther away from Leander as he climbed in. “And stay on your side.”
“Small price to pay,” said Leander, then yawned. “Damn, you weren’t lying about how nice this bed is.”
“Please. Go. To. Sleep,” said Eryx, relaxing only after Leander had been silent a solid ten minutes. Then, finally, he was able to really sleep. He drifted into a satisfyingly dreamless sleep, heavy and deep, until he woke sweating.
Leander was pressed up against his back. Eryx turned and shoved him.
“Sorry,” mumbled Leander, rolling away. “Didn’t mean to.”
Eryx heard his breathing slow again almost immediately and he put his back to Leander, trying to calm his heart, his breath, back to where they had been. He hadn’t been close to anyone in a long time, hadn’t been touched by anyone in what seemed like longer. He didn’t count the last time he’d visited family, not when the hugs, the palms on the shoulder, had been loaded with expectations.
Half asleep, he wondered how interested Leander really was, or whether his pressing now and again was part of the act to get himself free. Eryx wasn’t sure how much he cared. He drifted off to sleep again, woke on his back, shoulder touching Leander’s, him also on his back. Eryx could see nothing in the dark, but he felt Leander roll away from him, up onto his side.
Eryx did the same, kept himself just an inch from Leander’s back. He wanted to hold him so bad he even lifted an arm and let it hover over Leander’s side before pulling back. Fingers grasped the back of his hand, his palm.
“I don’t mind,” said Leander, and drew Eryx’s arm over his side.