John walked down the gangway and into the world. He was put off by Keith’s scolding in front of new folks, but John couldn’t fault him for it being his doctor and the captain. If he had been in a better mood it would have been nothing, but at the moment it was the last thing he wanted to take quietly.
He didn’t like being set so fully into his ire. This wasn’t like him, and he knew it wasn’t really anger. He just felt sad that he saw so many people he cared about in spots where he couldn’t help them. He wasn’t going to beg people to be someone they’re not, and sometimes paths diverge. Wasn’t anything wrong with that. He felt bad that he had asked Vanya to consider walking with him a while when Keith had wanted her so badly for so long. His brain knew that there wasn’t anything serious between them, but it felt like he had given a punch to his friend’s hopes and dreams only to come up short of nothing for the trouble. At the end of the day he had nothing to justify doing it and it was gnawing at his gizzards.
John was off to find the Shepherd that the stranger had talked about, but he had no idea where he was going. In truth, he welcomed the time to walk about and get some fresh air. The place wasn’t too big to hide what he was looking for indefinitely.
Copper crossed through the cargo bay with a brisk stride. He reached the spiraling stairs on the far side and gave a quick look back. Against the sun the silhouette of Vanya Jahnatt had wrapped her arm around the hydraulic arm of the cargo door. “Joe?” he called up the stairs, taking them a few at a time with the railings assistance. Coming around the corner at the top of the stairs he called for the young ship’s electrician again. “Joseph, we’ve got a ourselves a guest.”
“Gun or drink?” The boy answered back, poking his head into the hallway. “And my name’s not Joseph!”
The old man laughed, “Sorry, son. Joe.” He looked over the kitchen and adjusted the worn hat on his head. “And I’m hoping guns won’t be necessary… I’m thinking tea.”
“You are lucky, I picked up some oolong while I was out.” The sound of pots followed his head disappearing under the counter. “I’ll get some water on to boil.”
“It’s the girl, Vanya,” he said, opening one of the cupboards that held cups and mugs. He took three of them down and set them on the counter. “She seems to have found us while the boys are out looking for her.”
“Funny how the world works.” Joe put the teapot, now filled with water, on the burner. “I am sure the guys’ll be happy to see her when they get back.”
“I hope so,” he nodded, “Cause I fear they might be just as right they think.”
“Aw, come on Copper.” He adjusted the pot some, hoping to speed up the boiling. “Maybe it’s nothing.” His voice sounded less optimistic than his words tried. “Maybe?”
The old man spooned the oolong into the mugs. “I hope you’re right, son.” After few moments the quiet was broken by the slow whistling of the kettle. The preacher took one of the frayed towels and wrapped it over the handle. He carefully tilted the spout over the mugs and filled each of them most of the way. “Well,” he set the kettle back on a cool burner on the stove, “what say you and I find out a little more about this Miss Vanya Jahnatt?” He gave Joe that kindly old man wink that made it so easy to forget he was a preacher.
“Whatever you say.” He pulled a large plate from under the counter and arranged several biscuits for their guest. Together the two of them carried the pair of trays down. They found her just where the Shepherd had left her, lingering in the opening. Copper lifted the tray toward with the misty cups of tea toward her. Vanya crooked her fingers into the handle of the mug and held the steaming liquid to her mouth, blowing on it for a moment before taking a sip. Joe could hardly contain himself, “Well? What do you think?”
“Well, what do you think?” Tyler asked. He sat behind Vanya, who had just taken over the Rabbit’s pilot seat. They were drifting outside Alice in what would be the first of many ‘flight-school’ sessions.”Beautiful, isn’t it?”
Tearing her wide-eyed gaze from the window, Vanya glanced down at her hands for a moment. “I’ve never felt so small,” she admitted with a soft throaty chuckle. “It’s… humbling.”
“Bah,” Ty grunted, waving a dismissive hand, “you’re looking at it all wrong. It’s not for you to feel small, or humble.” He leaned forward, arching his hand across the view port, “That right there… that’s freedom. Freedom to do with whatever you please.”
The fire in his eyes was unmistakable. This was the very soul of the man to be out here in the black, flitting from planet to planet, always happiest once they broke atmo and were back among the stars.”So,” Ty said after a moment, “the flight controls are pretty simple. Easy enough for one person to handle once they get a feel for things. Your navicom is here, where you lay in your course,” he pointed at a section of the control board, “and over here, is the communication system, vidscreen and all that fanciness.” He tapped another section of the board, “This here gives you your engine status, fuel levels, and life support and such.”
“And what’s this big red one?” she reached a hand up above her head.
Ty grabbed her by the wrist, “That’s the emergency eject. You only need to worry about that when you’re in atmo and things start to get hairy.”
Her first instinct was to be angry. Laughing inwardly at her own vanity, Vanya took a moment to remind herself where she was. Tyler was her teacher; nothing about his job required him to placate her with pretty words or treat her like she was breakable. “So what do I do first?”
“Well, since we’re not actually going anywhere at the moment, we’ll save the navicom lesson for another time. Go ahead and grab the yoke-”
“The yoke. The steering-wheel looking thing in front of you,” he smiled. “Most of your basic flight controls can be handled from that, thrusters for steering, mostly.” He shifted around to the other side of her seat, “Over here is your main throttle control,” indicating the T-shaped lever to her left.
“And what does that do?”
Ty had to remember that Vanya’s area of expertise was far from the cockpit of a shuttle, while at the same time try to keep any innuendo from creeping into his voice due to the areas she was experienced in, “It’s what makes us go forward and backward-”
“Really?” She watched him from under her long lashes, reaching out to slowly run her hand along the lever he had just indicated. “It’s awfully big.” For some reason she felt he deserved that.
“Well, yeah it-” He suddenly realized that she might not be as inexperienced as he thought. A slight blush rose to his cheeks as he smiled, but his eyes spoke volumes of mischief, “Oh, we’re gonna get along just fine.”
“It’s just fine.” Vanya’s smile turned somewhat wistful, the simple taste bringing back memories of countless other cups. Still holding the cup to her lips, she studied the pair before her. Age and youth, experience and… her violet eyes took in the boy carefully. Though she trusted her brothers to be anything but naive, they were still men and less observant about things that seemed off. Shaking her head inwardly, she took another long drink. Or maybe she was just on edge today, her judgment a little impaired. Just like last time.
“Thank you very much for the hospitality. It’s comforting to see that some things about Alice never change.”
“Oh yeah,” Joe sloshed his drink around in his cup. “Alice is so welcoming.” He snorted and took a drink.
Copper’s smile seemed sad. “Joe’s time with us has been,” he paused a moment, “eventful.” He leaned on the hull of the ship, his eyes drifting up to where the sun hung over the tree line that separated them from town. “I’ve been flying with the brothers a spell now, though not as long as you seem to had, Miss Jahnatt,” he said with a tip of his mug to the companion. “Ty and Dru mean well, even if they forget how they show it.”
“They do mean well; you just have to be able to see it.” Making a sudden decision, she sank gracefully to the ground, her skirt spreading out over the dust and flattened grass. Then, seemingly comfortable, she took another drink and looked up fondly at the ship. “Eventful is simply part of their charm.”
“So I’ve noticed.” He emptied his cup and stood, carefully dusting off his almost clean pants, and nodded his head towards their guest. “More tea miss?”
Burgundy curls touched her face as she shook her head absently. “No thank you.” Violet eyes a mystery, Vanya looked past the mismatched pair to the town that sat so quietly a little ways off. There were no figures in the distance, no soft clouds of dust from footsteps and she had to wonder if it was only these recent warnings of danger that made the absence disturbing.
He hadn’t followed her. Of course both gentlemen were perfectly capable of making it back to Repose on their own. It was unbecoming, but it would have been nice. The empty cup sat unseen in her hands, her thumbs absently rubbing along its smooth surface as she stared out beyond the moment. It was hard to remember a time when she hadn’t been wrapped up in him, even before her search. Even back on Shinon, when everything had been so new, even then she was falling. It was part of the reason she’d said no.
“Why did you ask about Sterling?” she asked suddenly, looking up to the Shepherd’s lined face.
Copper held her gaze with sympathetic eyes. “As I said before, I’m not so sure what’s my place.” He raised the cup to his lips and took a sip. “The Brothers are of a mind that he’s got a fair amount of ill intent in your regard.”
A puzzled frown knit her flawless brow. “Sterling? We’re talking about the same person?” But it wasn’t his place to tell her. And she knew her brothers wouldn’t get worked up over anything but a credible threat. “You said they went to Repose to find me?”
“That they did,” he nodded and set down his cup. “Had some words with your captain earlier, I gather. Thought it might be best to go right to the source.”
In the distance John Wright came around a corner into view from the ship. He had been quietly strolling through town as he sought out the other ship that the twins had mentioned. He looked up and saw the Looking Glass. He walked casually that way as his long purple coat flapped in the gentle breeze and his black hat kept the warm sun out of his eyes. He walked quietly up the hill and saw the small group sitting outside the open cargo bay door, and he saw Vanya was there and suddenly felt like he was intruding. He paused a moment looking on and considered turning back.
She’d known the approaching figure long before he’d reached the base of the hill. It wasn’t just his walk, or the coat; there was something about John’s presence that was distinct. Vanya watched his steps slow, holding her empty cup firmly in her hands as if to keep herself from waving. Her gaze flicked once to the Shepherd by her side, giving a small nod to reassure him that this was someonesafe.
John saw her notice him. It was slight, but he could tell the feel of her eyes. He couldn’t leave now. It would have been rude to turn his back to her without at least saying hello in passing. He continued up the hill toward Alice. As he approached the group sitting outside drinking tea John reached up and removed his hat cupping it to his chest and bowing slightly saying, “Mornin.'”
Those violet eyes flickered with the faintest sense of disappointment. “Good morning, John.” She could be polite too. “Would you like to meet my friends?”
John nodded in greeting to the shepherd and the young boy. “Hello.”
“Out for a morning stroll?” Her lips curled in a small smile. “This is Reverend Jones, Joe and…” Her tone grew softer as she raised her hand to the imposing ship behind them. “This is Alice.”
Copper stepped off the plank and raised his hand to Wright, “A pleasure, John.”
John shook Copper’s hand. “Good to meet you, Reverend.” John looked back over at Vanya and answered, “Yeah, a walk sounded nice. Some young men stopped by the ship and told me the shepherd was in town. It’s been a while since I have gotten a chance to attend a service, and things lately have been a bit… unusual. I didn’t expect we’d cross paths here, but it’s a nice surprise.”
Rising from her comfortable seat, Vanya slowly brushed the dust from her skirt then looked up at him through long lashes. “And were these young men disreputable looking twins?” she asked with an almost teasing smile.
John didn’t step back as she stood, putting them very close as she looked up at him. He found himself caught staring down into her eyes from under his brown hair that needed a trim. He slid his fingers around the brim of his hat close to his body thinking about times before. He felt foolish, but there was so much that could be said that in his guts he knew wouldn’t be, and that the moment he spoke she’d step back and walk off. Finally, he said, “Yes, and another fella too. Seemed they were given Keith an earful when I left. Kinda feel bad about that, but he shoulda let me finish my beer.”John cracked a small smile as he passed the half-joke to her.
Her eyes sparkled at the sight of his smile, leaning in toward him in a move that with any other man would have been a calculated motion. But with John it was simply his gravity that pulled her in.”Serves him right,” she chuckled softly. “He should have known better.”
He couldn’t help but be drawn to her. As she leaned close, he lowered his hands and slowly began leaning in as well. Before either of them knew it they were a breath’s distance apart again and lost in a moment.
A cough in stereo, deeper on one side and higher pitched from the other, helped them find themselves. John blinked and looked up slowly. He took a step back and composed himself.”Pardon me.” He said.
Copper tipped the brim if his hat back with his thumb. “Well, son, if you’re in need of a Shepherd, I’d be happy to lend you a service or even an ear.” The old man’s lips settled into that comfortable smile that had wrinkled his face over the years. He turned to Vanya, that same warmth in his presence.”And perhaps, if Ty and Dru are camped out at your ship… Perhaps it would be best for you to find them there before they give your friend more than an earful.”
Her smile masked any further disappointment. “Thank you very much for the tea, and the memories.” Handing her empty cup back to Copper, she gracefully moved out of Alice’s shadow. “I’ll see you back at the ship.” Her fingers brushed John’s shoulder as she passed, curling for just an instant as if to grab on. But that moment had passed. “Thank you again for everything.”
“Even so, if you’ll forgive an old man his concern, I should think that it might be best if you didn’t return alone.” The preacher stood upright. Once again his eyes scanned the surrounding trees. “I’m sure there’s nothing to be worried about, but a little safety in numbers wouldn’t be such a terrible idea.”
Looking from the preacher to the pair from the Repose. “We leavin’ the ship by itself?” He looked back to Alice, unsure if it was a good idea.
“No,” Copper put his hand on the youth’s shoulder. “I’d like you to accompany Ms. Jahnatt back to her ship.”
“Me?” His unsure look became more so. “But you said there might be trouble. . .”
“I said I’m sure there’s nothing to worry about.” He gave the boy a kindly smile. “You’re a sharp young man. I have every confidence that you’ll be fine.”
Vanya knew when it was useless to argue, even if she would have preferred otherwise. “I’m not worried. Though if the good Shepherd insists, I’d be grateful for the company.” Her smile came to rest on John for a minute. “But I am unarmed, and I know better than to try to use someone else’s gun.”
“If you need someone to escort you back, then I’m sure the Reverend would wait for me. Your safety is still technically my responsibility you know.” John commented already suspecting her answer.
Sure enough, the companion shook her head. “You came looking for Copper, not for me. I’m sure Joe and I will be just fine.”
John watched her and smiled softly before he spoke. “I was never looking for you, but it seems I’m always meant to cross your path just when you need me. But, it’s not my place to tell you where you’re going, or who you should go there with after you have been waiting all this time. I’m sure this young man will take good care of you for us.” John looked down and thought a moment before reaching behind his back and pulling out an ornately crafted golden pistol, her pistol. “Mason gave me this to return to you. I told him I would hold it till he decided do it himself, but I would rather you carry it in case there’s trouble.”
She didn’t look at his face as she took the gun from his hand, feeling the comforting weight once again. “My brothers gave this to me.” Suddenly her arms were around him, the hard pressure of the gun contrasting sharply with her tight hug. “Thank you.” For returning her weapon, for always finding her… for being unshakably John. Without another word she pulled away and inclined her head to Joe, ready to begin the walk back to Repose.