Chapter 01: Distress

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Right before Eric's eyes, the man was hit by a mortar round, disappearing into a fine vapor of so much free-flying pink mist...

* * *

Eric gasped awake, snapping straight up, heart hammering in his chest. For a second, he could see nothing at all and he felt his panic begin to rise up and consume him. But then his eyes adjusted and he realized that he was in a room, his room, and a dim light from the time display on his nightstand allowed him to see the familiar landscape of his living quarters. Eric took a deep breath and let it out slowly, trying to relax.

He made himself lay back down, still trembling with adrenaline from the nightmare. Well, not actually a nightmare. A memory, really. As he rested his head on the pillow once more, Autumn shifted beside him. He glanced over. She was facing away from him, the blanket partially off of her, her bare, smooth back looking vaguely alluring in the dim light. For a moment he considered waking her up, asking her for sex, (she almost never declined), but he wasn't sure he could get it up right now. He was too rattled.

For a moment, Eric closed his eyes and simply laid there, trying to relax his pulse. It had been awhile since the war. He'd lived to see its end and had come out the other side intact...well, physically intact, that was. Emotionally, mentally...those scars were still healing. He wasn't sure if they ever fully would. He'd already been in the Marines for a year when the Systems Wars broke out. It had been a hard, three-year slog, but he'd made it through to the end. When it was over, he'd chosen not to renew his contract.

And he'd been drifting ever since then, drifting now for three years.

Autumn shifted again, then rolled over. Her eyes were open. She smiled sleepily at him, realizing that he, too, was awake. Her black, shoulder-length hair was splayed across her face, standing out in stark contrast to her pale skin. When he'd first gotten to know her, she'd been tanned, but being in space so long had turned her quite pale. Her green eyes caught what little light there was available and in the dim glow of the clock panel beside them she looked ghostly and beautiful. She reached out and ran her fingers across his cheek.

"Are you okay?" she asked. "I thought I heard you talking in your sleep."

"Yeah...I'm fine. Just nightmares," Eric replied.

She frowned. "I'm sorry, honey. I know how much those fuck with you." She propped herself up on one elbow and leaned forward, pressing her lips, warm and wet, against his forehead. "Ugh," she said, and he realized she must be looking over the top of his head, at the clock. "It's almost eight. We should get up."

"Yeah, I guess so," Eric agreed. He couldn't sleep anymore if he tried anyway, but he knew Autumn very much liked her slumber and didn't have any of the problems drifting off. She was typically asleep within five minutes of finishing their usual nightly sex. He envied her. He usually laid around in the darkness for at least half an hour before finally slipping into unconsciousness. Eric pulled the blankets back and sat up. Swinging his feet over the side of the bed, he stood up. Shivering slightly, as the deckplates were cold, he moved over to the light switch and flipped it on to its lowest setting. Even still, he winced slightly.

"Ugh, I wish you'd get a carpet in here or something," Autumn complained as she stood up, shivering as her feet touched the floor.

"It helps you wake up," Eric replied.

"Yeah, I guess so," she murmured.

They'd had that exchange so many times now that it was almost as much a morning ritual as brushing his teeth or taking a leak. Eric yawned, stretched and rubbed at his eyes. He followed Autumn, both of them equally nude, into the bathroom. While Autumn moved to get the shower started, Eric took a look at himself in the mirror. He wasn't sure why he did it, though sometimes he thought that he might be checking himself for fresh wounds, since he often had some kind of nightmare related to his time during the war.

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