Chapter Three: The Time Between
Paige woke to a soft knocking at her door. She stretched and rose. “Just a minute.” She called as she shrugged on a clean flight suit. She zipped it up and opened the door. Cien stood there smiling at her. “Morning, brought you breakfast!” He said triumphantly, holding up the plate he was carrying. Paige eyed the food hungrily. She had skipped supper the night before in favor of rest and the smell of it made her stomach growl. She smiled her thanks. “That looks good and I’m famished.” She took the plate and sat down at her desk to begin eating. Cien sat across from her on the bed and smiled as he watched her. “So you’re from Australia?” Paige asked. Cien grinned and shot back teasingly “Oh! How could you tell?” Paige chuckled. Then the alarm sound. Both pilots were on their feet in an instant and Paige reached around Cien, pulling her gun from under the bed. Cien had out a pistol and when she looked back up at him he nodded. Paige opened the door and they walked warily out into the hall together. Christina was already out there and walked over to join them, as did Michael and Crix. Jester came up the hall. “They’re on the runway and coming down into the base. We need to nail them now.” Jerund came down the stairs from the mess hall. “Everyone else is in the mess hall.” He said. Jester looked around at the pilots. “Alright, you heard him, up to the mess hall.” Together they all jogged up the stairs. Crix and Michael walked over to their squadron and stood there as the rest of Jester’s wing walked over to group together. Paige looked up at Cien, anxious. He smiled and squeezed her shoulder. “I’ll be right behind you love.” Jester and Jerund conferred together briefly, then Jester turned to his pilots. “Get into pairs and fan out to protect the base and for Christ’s sake watch your partner’s back!” Paige and Cien headed up the passages toward the shack. Paige heard voices, speaking softly and roughly in a language she didn’t recognize. Paige stopped with Cien at the landing in the stairs, around the corner where they would be hidden until it was too late. Cien was peaking about the corner and listening and when he pulled back and nodded Paige knew it was time. She stuck the muzzle of her M-16 around the corner and let out a stream of bullets. There were screams and the sound of a few sets of boots retreating up the stairs. Cien advanced carefully around the corner but the remaining soldiers were gone. Paige followed behind him, looking down suddenly at a sound. One of the soldiers she had thought dead was alive and holding his gun up weakly, to point it at her. Cien turned with her and noticing the soldier he pushed her to the side and stepped in front of her just as the dying man fired. The shot pushed him back into the wall, with a bitten off cry, blood soaking the shoulder of his flight suit. More gunfire came from the top of the stair well and more screams. Paige looked down at the man who had shot Cien. He was too far gone now to even lift his gun but Paige kicked it away just in case. The blazing hatred in his eyes chilled her and she turned away as the light behind them faded and checked the others, making sure that they were dead also. She looked back at Cien. He was sitting against the wall, his face pale and his breathing shallow. Paige knelt by his side. “Damn man…” She said softly. “I had to protect you…” He said softly. Paige gave him an odd look but he had closed his eyes against the pain. Paige heard footsteps on the stairs and she raised her gun, putting herself between Cien and whoever was coming down the stairs. When she saw it was Jester walked down she dropped her rifle and studied the man. He was already blood covered, she guessed from the other injured. He knelt down at Cien’s side, probing the around the wound gently. Cien opened his eyes and grabbed his hand, his eyes blazing. “Don’t…” Came a soft low voice from the top of the stairs and Jerund walked down. Cien released Jester’s hand and lay back, watching as the dark man came and knelt beside him. “Good, it’s not too serious.” Paige looked down up at Jester. “How many did we loose?” “We just lost one, Bill out of the Cowboys squadron. There were several other pilots wounded, several of Jerund’s group.” Jester gave a quick glance at Jerund but the man was busy wrapping a quick bandage around Cien’s arm. He looked up quickly as Crix came up the steps from the mess hall. “Come on, let’s get him to the medical ward before he bleeds to death.” The three men lifted Cien between them as gently as possible but his eyes rolled back in his head as the unintentionally jarred his shoulder and his head lolled to one side. Jerund shook his head slightly with a sigh but directed the others as they carried Cien quickly down the steps toward the medical ward. Paige followed behind quietly. Christina was waiting at the medical ward, holding the door open for the three men to carry Cien inside. She gave Paige a reassuring smile. “He should be fine.” She said as she closed the door. Paige bit her lip and turned, nearly running into Michael. The man gave her a cheerless half smile. “Come on, lets go help clean up.” They walked off together into the base.

Cien woke suddenly to see Christina standing beside his bed checking his vital signs. She smiled at seeing him awake. “Do you know where you are?” She asked. “Either in the medical ward or in hell,” Cien croaked. “Either way the décor needs work.” Christina chuckled. “I knew you’d be alright. I’ll go get Paige, she’s been waiting on you to wake.” She shook her head with a grin and walked out and a few seconds later Paige hurried into the room. Cien smiled weakly at seeing her. “Hey there.” Paige smiled at him. “How’re you feeling?” “Well I’m alright I guess.” He looked down at his arm in the sling and sighed. Paige reached out and squeezed his uninjured arm gently. “It didn’t fracture anything. You’ll be okay in a few weeks.” She looked away. “Thanks.” She said gently. “For what?” Cien asked looking at her inquisitively. “For my life. I never would have gotten out of the way in time.” Cien just waved her off with his good arm. “It was nothing. Do you know if I can leave or not?” Paige nodded. “Christina told me that as soon as you were ready I was to help you home.” “I’m fine…” Cien said, jumping off of the bed too hastily. He turned white and started to sink to the floor but Paige caught him carefully before he had sunk too low. As he got to his feet, leaning on her for support he chuckled. “Never thought anyone would support me back to my room again!” Paige grinned at him as they walked out of the medical ward and back down the hall to his room. Cien noticed that at some point new doors had been installed with number pad locks. Paige smiled. “What do you want your code to be?” “Six one six two.” Cien replied and Paige typed it into the number pad and the door beeped, sliding open. Paige helped Cien over to the bed. “You rest now you got it?” She told him as she pulled the covers up around him gently. Cien just smiled up at her as she peered down at him and pushed himself up on his good elbow, giving her a gentle kiss on the lips. Paige blushed deeply and fiddled with the covers for a moment before standing up straight again. “See you in the morning.” Cien said as she walked toward the door. Paige turned her head as it opened at her touch and smiled back at him. “Yea, see you.” The door closed softly behind her and Cien lay back smiling until he yawned. He decided to follow her advice and closed his eyes and falling swiftly to sleep.

Paige walked up to the mess hall in a daze. As she ordered her food from the meal computer she smiled and hummed a little to her self before sitting down at the table. She knew she needed to eat but she only picked at her food, her mind on Cien and his kiss earlier. Christina sat down across from her with a knowing grin. “So, how was Cien?” she asked. Paige looked up suddenly. “Huh? What?” Christina smiled and shook her head. “I asked how Cien was doing.” “Oh! He’s fine. He went right to sleep.” Christina shook her head. “ You’ve got it bad!” She said chuckling. Paige cocked her head. “Got what bad?” She asked.  “You’re in love!” “I am not!” Paige said, but even as she said it she knew it was not true. She blushed and looked quickly down at her plate picking at her food again. Christina shook her head with a smile as she rose from the table. “Do try to eat, Paige. Like I said, he’ll be fine.” Paige smiled back still slightly embarrassed and nodded, eating a few bites of her food. Just as she finished eating Michael walked in. “Hey Paige! Do me a favor?” “Sure, what do you need?” “Would you show Blake here around?” Paige nodded and turned to the obviously nervous younger man. “Hi Blake, I’m Paige as I guess you figured. Just let me throw my plate away and I’ll be right with you okay?” Blake nodded and stood right where she left him until she returned. She smiled at him. “Now for the grand tour. This is obviously our mess hall. You can get your meals here whenever your hungry.” She lead him through a side door and down the corridor to the hanger. “This is our hanger. As you can see we have a good number of planes here. The pilots under Jerund fly the F-15’s and F-14’s. The ones under Jester fly the F-16’s right there most of the time.” She pointed to the ramp that lead up to the surface. “That ramp there will allow planes out onto the runway when it’s opened. You’ll be receiving a key soon is you haven’t already that will give you access, but please don’t open it without permission.” “Yes mam.” Blake said. Paige grinned and shook her head. “You don’t have to call me mam, alright? We’re a little loose here on regs like that.” Yes-“ Blake cut himself off with a sheepish grin. Paige nodded and lead him down to the pilot’s hall. She stopped in front of the door to Bill’s old room across from the medical ward. The lock and room had been cleared for their new occupant. “This will be your quarters. Everything you need should be inside. And thus concludes our tour.” Blake gave a shy smile. “Thanks.” He said softly, then blushed and hurried into the room. Paige shook her head with a slight smile on her face and walked over to Cien’s room and knocked on the door. There was a stir of activity from inside, a half bitten off curse, and then the door opened. Cien was squirming around trying to get his flight suit on one handed. As Paige watched he sat down on the edge of the bed and gave a frustrated sigh. Paige grinned and walked over, helping him up and into his clothing. As she did so she giggled slightly. “What’s so funny?” Cien asked inquisitively. Paige pointed to the puppy dog patterned boxers he was wearing under his flight suit and Cien blushed, zipping it closed quickly. Paige helped him carefully resettle his injured arm in the sling. “Thank you.” He said softly. Paige blushed. “It was nothing really. Now you should probably get something to eat. It’s pretty late and I’ve already had supper.” “It’s already that late?” Cien asked surprised. Paige nodded. “Alright, I will. I’ll see you in the morning.” Paige smiled and nodded. “Yea, in the morning.” She started to leave but Cien caught her around the waist with his good arm. “You’re not leaving without a good night kiss!” He said with a grin, and then pulled her against him, kissing her lips gently, drawing it out. It seemed an eternity and an instant to Paige and all to soon he released her, giving her a slight push out the door with a grin. Paige walked out and into her room in a dream. She fell back onto her bed with a sigh and kicked off her shoes. She smiled and reached down, pulling the sheets up over her body. Then she curled up and fell quickly asleep.

Paige woke and stretched just as her pager went off. She picked it up and saw a message from Jester on the screen. ‘Come up to the hanger.’ was all it said. Paige shrugged and stretched again, quickly donning a fresh flight suit and headed up to the hanger. When she got up there Jester was directing the loading of six planes and four other pilots were already there, Christina, Blake and Duke from their squadron and Crix from Jerund’s pilots. Jester walked back over. “Alright, now that everyone is here, here is our mission. There is a supply train the enemy is using through the mountains. We are to destroy the pass and the train that should be going through it when we arrive. Nothing difficult.” He glanced back and seeing that the loading was finished, he stepped to the side. “Alright, here are your wing assignments, Blake, with Duke, Christina, you’re with Crix. Archer, you’re on my wing.” All the pilots donned their flight gear and climbed into their jets that had already been started for them. Since Paige was on Jesters wing, it meant that she was second in command for this mission, which flattered her. Most of the other pilots had more experience than she did. She smiled and followed her CO up. When the rest of the wing was up, they fell into proper formation around Will. “Took you kids long enough. Now follow me. He turned off to the northwest and kicked it up to full military. Paige and the others followed suit. Jester was quiet for the whole flight there. When he finally radioed out again Paige jumped in surprise. “We’re nearly over the target site. There should be maybe one, two guard planes. Be ready, here it comes.” Two blips showed suddenly on her HUD. Paige smiled in anticipation as they came closer. She dove over them, following Jester’s lead. She spotted the supply trucks in the deep canyon between hills. The two guard planes dove suddenly for the six attackers. Paige noted they were MiG 31’s as she dove at one that was trying to lock onto Jester’s tail. She released a sidewinder quickly and watched as the pilot broke off his attack twisting his plane about in an effort to avoid the missile. It crashed into his engines despite his efforts and his plane disintegrated in air, pieces raining down on the landscape below. She heard and exclamation over the radio and turned to see what was happening. The other fighter had locked onto Blake’s tail and his plane was smoking. Even as she watched, though Duke’s fire took it out. Christina and Crix were strafing the trucks below. “Archer, your jet was loaded with two five hundred pound bombs. You take the right cliff side and I’ll take the left, got it?” “Yes sir.” Paige flew over to her side, looking down at the trucks still in the ravine. She carefully released her payload and watched as the walls collapsed down onto them. As she turned back, she saw that the rest of the planes were grouping back together, though Blake’s was still smoking. As she fell in on Jesters wing, he spoke. “Alright children, time for us to go home.” They turned together and headed off to the base.

When Paige set her plane down finally and jumped out, she found Cien waiting on her. He smiled at her and waved and she walked over. “Hey, how’re you feeling today?” Cien shrugged. “I’m alright I guess. How’re you going?” “I’m fine. It was an easy mission. The new kid, Blake, he got his plane a little messed up but not badly.” Paige’s stomach growled suddenly and she blushed. Cien frowned. “Did you not remember to eat breakfast before you left?” Paige shook her head with a sheepish grin and Cien took her hand. “Well we’ll remedy that problem promptly.” He lead her down into the mess hall and sat her down at a table, walking back into the kitchen and returning shortly with a plate of spaghetti and silverware. He set it in front of her. “Now what would you like to drink?” he asked with a smile. “I can get it myself Cien.” Paige replied. “It’s no trouble, you eat.” Paige shook her head. “Stubborn man!” Cien grinned. “So? Now what do you want?” “Tea, sweet if you would.” “Coming right up.” He wandered into the kitchen and returned in a minute with a tall glass of tea. Paige smiled her thanks and he sat down across from her watching as she ate. When she finished, he smiled and yawned, causing Paige to frown. “You okay Cien?” He nodded. “I’m fine. Just the pain medicines getting to me I suppose.” Paige stood and threw her plate in a nearby trashcan then took his hand, pulling him to his feet. “Come on, you should be in bed resting. Cien allowed himself to be pulled to his door and unlocked it. “Now you get some sleep, alright?” Paige ordered. “Yes mam.” He replied teasingly. Paige rolled her eyes and he pulled her into a kiss, leaving her breathless. He released her lips and pulled back grinning at her. Paige grinned back and pushed him playfully away. “Get some rest you stupid kangaroo.” Cien chuckled and went into his room, shutting the door behind him. Paige shook her head and headed to her room to pick up a flight suit and her bathroom key so that she could shower.

Paige woke to a knocking at her door. Two weeks had gone by now and Cien was out of his sling and she hoped it was him. She rose and opened the door. Cien was leaning against the doorframe and he grinned at her. “Did I wake you love?” Paige nodded and yawned. “That’s okay Cien. I needed to be awake anyway. Want to come in?” Cien nodded and she stepped aside to permit him to enter her room. He pulled her into a kiss as the door closed and when he finally released her, Paige was grinning. “What has you in such a good mood?” “Say you’ll go with me to the dance tonight Paige!” “There’s a dance tonight? Of course I’ll go with you silly Aussie!” Cien kissed her again, spinning her around happily. Paige giggled and he fell back suddenly onto the bed causing her to yelp in surprise. He chuckled as she rolled out of his grasp and punched him in the arm. “Wanker.” She teased him. Cien grinned. “Nutter.” Paige stuck her tongue out at him and he grabbed it in his fingers. “Ag!” she exclaimed in surprise. Cien released her with a mischievous grin as she sat up and pretended to pout. “Come on, you know you love me!” She tackled him suddenly, knocking him back onto the bed and kissing him firmly. “How did you guess?” she laughed. He held her close against him in a hug for a moment before rising. “I have no idea!” He kissed her cheek lightly. “I have to do some lock repairing around the base. I’ll see you later today, alright?” Paige nodded and with one last quick kiss Cien walked out into the hall. Paige smiled and stretched as she rose from her bed, grabbing a clean flight suit out of her closet. As she opened the door to head up to the bathroom Blake was standing in the doorway with his hand raised as if he had been about to knock. He blushed. “Hi, Paige. I was just wondering... if well maybe…you know there’s a dance tonight right?” Paige smiled kindly at the young man. “Cien already asked me Blake. I’m sorry.” The young man sighed and nodded, a crestfallen expression on his face as he turned away. Christina, who had been watching from her room down the hall winked at Paige and walked over to Blake. She spoke softly to him and when she finished, he walked away with pep in his step and a much happier expression on his face. Paige smiled her thanks at Christina and headed up to the bathroom to get her shower.

Paige looked into the mirror and ran a brush through her hair again. She wore it down tonight, for the first time since they had come to the base. Civilian dress was permitted, for the party, which had been Jerund’s idea. The war had been starting to wear on everyone and with horizons clear for once he had scheduled the much needed relaxation. She looked up at a knock on her door and turned to open it. Cien was standing there and when he saw her, he stepped inside and quickly closed the door, taking her into his arms gently. “Are you still the same one who loves me?” He asked breathless, studying her face with gentle loving scrutiny. Paige smiled. “Of course you silly kangaroo. I will always love you!” He smiled, a sad look in his eyes and kissed her gently. “Never stop, please Paige.” She looked at him questioningly but he turned and held up a bouquet of flowers smiling. “I brought the for you.” “They’re beautiful! Where did you find flowers out here?” Cien just smiled. “I have my ways woman.” He leaned close and kissed her cheek. “But now, before we are late we best get to the dance.” Paige laughed and followed him out the door. They went up the steps into the converted mess hall. Cien smiled spotting Christina and Blake standing off to the side and he lead Paige over. Christina smiled. “We were wondering when you two would get here. What took so long?” Her smile said that she could probably guess and Paige blushed. “We’re not late.” She protested. “We’re right on time.” Christina smiled and glanced at Blake who just grinned. A young man in a black pilots flight suit walked over and slapped Cien affectionately on the shoulder. Cien turned and smiled. “Hey Paul! Nice to see you around again.” The shy looking young man smiled only slightly. “Nice to see you sober again.” Cien nodded and chuckled. “Well it took a strong woman, but now that I’ve found her I’m not letting her get away!” He pulled Paige gently against his side and kissed her cheek and Paige blushed. Paul smiled shyly. “Nice to meet you Archer.” He said greeting her with her Callsign. Paige nodded and smiled at the young man, making him look away blushing. Paige chuckled and he looked back with a sheepish grin. “I don’t bite Paul…at least I don’t bite hard that is.” Paul laughed and seemed to relax a bit. Paige glanced toward the dance floor and smiled pulling Cien toward it. When he hesitated, she glanced back at him. He rubbed his neck. “Love, this may not be the best time to mention it, but, well I’m not a very good dancer.” Paul laughed. “There’s the understatement of the century. The man has two left feet, and then some.” Cien gave her a sheepish shrug. “I never really had a chance to learn.” Paige smiled. “Well I’m willing to try to teach you, if you want to learn.” Cien shrugged and Paul chuckled softly as Paige lead him out on the floor. “Good luck!” He told his friend softly and Cien chuckled in reply. Paige spent the rest of the evening teaching him to dance. He really was horrible at first and they laughed at his mistakes. By the time the dance ended however he seemed to be beginning to get it. He had always had slow dancing down however. He held her close as the last dance played, her head resting lightly on his shoulder. As the song, ended Paige had the uncomfortable feeling that she was being watched and as they broke apart, she turned to face Jerund’s direct gaze. She met it and held it, surprised when the stern general looked away, guilt flashing through his dark eyes. She glanced at Cien to ask him if he had seen it also but he had turned to talk to Paul. Paul smiled and walked out heading down toward his quarters. Paige walked up and gently took Cien’s hand. He smiled down at her and led her back down to their rooms. They stopped in front of her door and he looked down at her. You know you’re beautiful to me right?” He asked gently. Paige nodded. “You’re the most handsome man I’ve ever met.” She replied. He smiled. “I’m nothing special compared to you, love.” He leaned forward and gently kissed her lips. His gently restrained passion left her breathless and he broke this kiss with a smile, stroking her hair for a moment, then turning and entering his room without another word. Paige sighed and smiled slightly, turning after a moment to open her door. The door flashed an invalid code message and she typed it again slower. When the message flashed, again she sighed. That was the one downfall of the new doors. They malfunctioned often enough that Cien had been assigned the task of keeping them all in working order. She turned and knocked softly on his door. When it didn’t open, she typed in his code. The door slid open to reveal him already sleeping on the bed. She knew he wouldn’t mind her bedding down here until morning. She slipped out of her flight suit, keeping the t-shirt and shorts she always wore beneath it. The floor was hard and if she slept there, he’d have a fit in the morning, so she carefully slipped in beside him. He slept on the edge, facing the door, leaving plenty of room between him and the wall for her to sleep. She lay down with a tired sigh and pulled the covers over her. It felt good to be close to him and she smiled as she quickly fell asleep.

Cien woke suddenly from a jolt and a sharp pain in his back. He picked himself up from the floor. As he did so, he noticed the bed held and occupant he had been unaware. He smiled, pleased but surprised, wondering what had brought her into his room. He lay down, studying her peaceful sleeping features. With a last satisfied smile and a slight happy sigh, he fell back to sleep.

Cien woke again to a pressure on his arms. He looked up, smiling as he saw Paige suspended above him, her arms locked and holding her up. “Morning.” He said. “Finally awake hmmm?” She asked with a grin. He chuckled. “Yup.” She lowered herself gently to lie across his body and he wrapped his arms around her. She chuckled and her eyes took on a mischievous glint. “Oh you’re defiantly awake.” Cien blushed and she rolled off him with a laugh. He followed her and pulled her close against him, kissing her passionately. She returned his eager kisses with passion and fire of her own, then pulled gently away to sit beside him. She removed her shirt and Cien gasped, his eyes roving over her lithe form. She gently pulled his face toward her, but he resisted slightly, looking up into her eyes. “Are you sure you’re ready for this love?” He asked softly. Paige opened her mouth and started to nod, but then shook her head. “No…I’m really not…” She pulled away and curled up facing the wall. Cien curled around her gently for a moment, and then leaned away to grab her t-shirt. He handed it to her and she shrugged it own with a sigh. “I’m sorry Cien…” She said softly. He kissed her cheek. “Think nothing of it love. I want us both to be ready, okay?’ Paige smiled her silent thanks and Cien chuckled. “That’s better. Now what brought you into my quarters anyway love?” “My lock is malfunctioning, I need you to repair it for me sometime today.” Cien smiled. “As good as done.” He shivered, and then walked over to his closet. Paige smiled watching him move about his room and dress, and then dressed herself. He smiled as she pulled her hair back and started to pull her into a kiss when both their pagers went off. Paige glanced at hers. “Come to the hanger- Jester” Cien shrugged and kissed her quickly anyway before walking to the door and opening it. Christina was in the hall and she grinned as she was both of them walk out together and winked. Cien just shook his head and chuckled. “Not yet.” Christina glanced at Paige. “Are you depriving the poor boy?” Paige just grinned. “The best things come to those who wait.” Christina chuckled and headed off to the hanger. Cien took the chance to kiss her gently again, before they too headed upstairs to the hanger.