Freebie Mondays: The Legend of the One Armed Commander – Part 3

Freebie Mondays: The Legend of the One Armed Commander – Part 3

Here’s the third and final installment of the story I started a few weeks ago. If you missed the first installment, it’s over here and the second installment is here! Please leave a comment and let me know what you think!
. . .

Domerin paused outside the door to dispel a small swell of doubt. Despite his reputation among his company, he always got the odd impression people were happier to see his backside. It was true he tended to cause more trouble than he solved, at least on an individual basis. But he had written assurance that the man on the other side of the door was interested in connecting with him any time he was available.

He drew a deep breath and knocked, waiting for the call to enter before he waved his fingers in front of the keypad, which caused the door to swish open.

Lieutenant Vesvertan had obviously been expecting someone else. The moment he caught sight of Domerin in the doorway he stopped slouching on the couch and shot to his feet. He almost lifted his hand to a salute but stopped short, perhaps remembering that they weren’t on one of Domerin’s ships and he wasn’t even wearing his uniform.

“Can I come in?” he asked, barely concealing the amused smile that briefly brushed his lips.

Vesvertan forced his shoulders to relax, though he didn’t return to the couch. He nodded, seeming at a loss for words, and finally managed to indicate the available furniture. “Make yourself at home,” he said.

Domerin passed through the doorway but stopped just inside, waiting for it to hiss closed behind him. His eyes swept the room, noting the general disorganization. This was a habit he had never quite been able to shake, a desire to know exactly where a room’s exits were and what nearby objects might be useful as weapons. He made no comment on the state of disarray, since his own quarters wouldn’t be much better without help to keep them tidy, and instead focused on the man standing across from him.

“It’s good to see you up and about.”

Landon Vesvertan swallowed hard before he answered. “Yeah, I suppose the last time we spoke in person, I was still in a hospital bed.”

“I stopped by a few months back, but you and evidently just gotten out of surgery. I didn’t know if you’d appreciate company while you were still high as a kite.”

“Probably wouldn’t have remembered,” Vesvertan replied, finally allowing a hint of humor to slip into his voice. His lips formed a slow smile and, again, his tension seemed to ease.

“Well,” Domerin prompted after a brief moment of silence, arching one midnight eyebrow expectantly. “Let’s see it.”

The soldier seemed almost shy for a moment, twisting his right side away from Domerin, grasping his right hand with his left as if to keep it concealed. But then he caught himself, straightened and lifted his arm. A moment later he peeled the fabric of his sleeve back to reveal the skin – both biological and artificial.

Instantly, Domerin recognized the muted blue glow beneath his elbow. It seemed to radiate like thunder a few inches into the upper and lower portions of his arm before disappearing beneath a more solid, less translucent skin.

“Robin managed to save most of it,” Landon said softly, his voice infused with awe. “I mean, most of the bone is artificial now, but she somehow sewed the rest of my arm around it.” He wriggled his fingers as if to emphasize how wonderful it was to have them back and Domerin had to swallow a sharp tinge of jealousy.

“She’s good at her work,” he said softly but not without pride. It was nice to see his daughter build something new, something unfettered by the poor quality that had gone into his original limb replacements.

“She’s gotten several resounding reviews from me,” Landon agreed, grinning. “What about you?” he added after a moment, extending his bionic arm in Domerin’s direction, reaching, imploring.

The commander hesitated for a second before he slid his right hand free of his left. After so long without it, it still felt slightly odd to have it back. Odder still when he remembered how it had been returned to him. But that was a different can of worms all together.

He lifted the arm slowly from behind his back, spun it and pressed his fingertips to Landon’s. Only two of the fingers on his right hand remained organic. The rest were artificial, illuminated by the dull blue glow beneath the thin, waxy skin.

But Landon didn’t shy away from the touch. Instead he leaned into it, until their palms were pressed together. Many would have considered this bold and perhaps unprofessional on Landon’s part, but Domerin didn’t mind. Those hands were kindred in the same way the spirits of the two men were. It seemed appropriate that they should both celebrate the rejoining of the missing pieces with the rest of the body.

“Siebel says you’ll only need a few weeks before you’ll be ready to return to active duty. For drills and sentry, anyway, if not for combat.” Domerin dropped his arm back to his side as he spoke, finally accepting the invitation to settle into one of the empty chairs.

Landon chuckled and plopped back onto the couch. “He’s been beyond helpful through all of this. He seems to have this odd way of knowing when you’re about to falter and he just appears at your side to pick you up.”

Domerin couldn’t help smiling. A warmth filled his chest to hear Seibel described that way by someone else. “He has an uncanny knack, yes. Got me through more than my fair share of darkness.” But his fondness for the station master was another matter, one he preferred to indulge in private.

“It’s good to see you got your arm back.” Landon nodded to the limb resting on the right arm of the chair.

Domerin curled his fingers reveling in the sensation of movement along the rough fabric beneath his hand. “It’s taken a fair amount of time to rebuild the muscle mass but a weak arm is better than no arm.”

Landon smiled, understanding in a way few others would. He nodded, perhaps agreeing that nothing further need be said about this matter. “Are you on the station for long?”

“A few days. Robin had some matters to tend and I thought it might be good to check in with my physical therapist in person. Just to make sure the recent ordeal is behind me.”

“She threaten to crack your skull with her lecture?” Landon asked, a hint of a grin splitting his lips.

Domerin laughed. “Practically chewed my ear off. But I told you, I’m a stubborn man. I throw myself into the fire without really thinking about it.” He flexed his fingers again. But his arm was back up to full strength now, whether he had done it the proper way or not. And he was rather hoping to keep it with him from now on. No more spanning the galaxy chasing it down.

“We’re putting together a card game,” Domerin ventured after a moment. “Thought you might like to come.”

The brightening of Landon’s eyes was enough to give Domerin his answer. But before the man had a chance to answer he added, “Thought you’d also like to come with us when we leave.”

It was sooner than Landon had expected; Domerin didn’t need to ask to know. But he knew his words carried more than a little weight with the people in charge of Landon’s care.

He also knew what it was like to feel cooped up when you were ready to go again, and he’d rather like to let Landon out of his cage.

From the eager fire glowing in Landon’s eyes, he was more than happy to accept both invitations.

*   *   *

Landon lifted the heavy pole and braced himself for imminent impact. Less than an hour ago, when he first lifted the sturdy wooden weapon, it seemed lighter and easier to maneuver. Now his muscles ached with the effort as a fresh impact reverberated through both his organic and cybernetic arms.

Still, he caught and held, applying counter pressure to the weapon that impacted his, once again repelling the commander, forcing him to take two steps back so that Landon could shift before he attacked again.

Domerin was a formidable foe, even when he was holding back. It was Landon’s understanding that he often sparred with three or four people at a time. That he was still willing to attend these one-on-one sessions though Landon was long since past the point of needing to rebuild muscle mass was a testament to the kind of man he was.

Landon had always assumed that learning Domerin’s fighting style and getting a feel for his tactics would make him an easier opponent to manage. But Domerin was slippery; he seemed to adjust both his style and his tactics on the fly according to the challenges facing him. Which forced Landon to do the same.

And was ultimately why he enjoyed these sessions. He learned something new every time he fought the man.

Sweat poured down the side of his face, neck and back, pooling in the small indents beneath his shoulders and where his arms met his torso. He forced deep breaths into his burning lungs, but fatigue was starting to catch up with him.

Before his strength gave out completely, he darted to the side, narrowly avoiding the commander’s latest strike. Then he spun and unleashed a quick flurry of blows. Right, left, then right again. But each of them bounced off a different portion of Domerin’s defending staff. Then the commander swung, finally breaking through Landon’s defenses, bouncing a blow off his left shin.

It wasn’t a hard hit, but it wasn’t a light one either. Landon grunted and dropped to one knee before holding up one hand.

“Mercy!” he pleaded, laughing as he shook his hand. “I yield!”

Instantly, Domerin Lorcasf lowered his staff to his side and bowed his head.

Both men were breathing heavily by the time Landon dragged himself back to his feet. Their sides seemed to heave in unison and Landon thought Domerin even leaned slightly against his staff as they abandoned the sparring mats for another day.

As one, they leaned their staves against the rack on the far wall, then lowered themselves carefully onto the waiting bench.

“You’ve gotten good at this,” Domerin said. The obvious fatigue in his voice was all the praise Landon really needed. He heard rumors that most people gave up after their first sparring match with Domerin, despite the rampant desire to be invited into the man’s presence for personal things.

“I had a good teacher,” he replied between inhalations.

Domerin laughed. It was a rare thing. Landon  hadn’t realized just how rare during their first few meetings. It had seemed to him the commander laughed with ease while they spoke of their mutual injuries. But now that he had spent so much time in the man’s presence outside that specific circumstance, he realized how guarded and careful he tended to be. That he remained comfortable enough to laugh and joke with Landon warmed the lieutenant’s heart.

He would like to believe there was friendship between them now, of a sort. Domerin had to be careful not to show too much favoritism to a lower ranked member of his mercenary company, and Landon understood that. The fact that the man had honored each of his promises from paying to his bionics to returning him to his previous position within the company was more than enough for Landon. But the fact that he still stole time for him, allowed him to participate in sparring matches, and even sometimes snuck him into the officer poker games made Landon feel like the two of them had truly connected in their times of need.

He certainly would never do anything to put that at risk.

“Thank you for taking the time,” he said when the two of them were both breathing a little easier. “I know you’ve been busy lately.”

The officers had been reviewing the command staff lately. Which meant people were about to be promoted. Landon hadn’t held his breath when he put his name in for consideration. He had only been back on active duty for eight months, and only six of those had included combat duty.

But he had done his best to live up to the lofty ambitions Domerin once spoke of. He kept his team fighting fit, he strove to make the best possible decisions on the battlefield, he emphasized results rather than glory – something Domerin was particularly stringent about – and he always made sure every one of his teammates came home in as close to one piece as possible.

Losses were part of mercenary life and no one understood that better than Landon. But more than once he had carried a dying man back onto the ship so he could breathe his last among friends. He thought Domerin might even have appreciated that, even if he never said as much.

“I’m always busy,” Domerin admitted with a smile. “But the madness you speak of has finally ended. The announcements go out tomorrow.”

Landon tried to keep his smile from faltering, but met with only limited success. His stomach dropped and butterflies momentarily filled it. It had been foolish to think he should be considered.

“I’m kinda looking forward to the next one,” he admitted, “though I’m sure you’d rather not think about it.”

An odd sort of amusement quirked Domerin’s lips into an expression halfway between a smile and a grin. “Think you’ll be ready for another so quickly?”

Landon frowned, uncertain what that might mean. “Well, between this and medical leave, I’ve already missed two-“

“You put your name in,” Domerin interrupted. “Don’t tell me you’ve got regrets.”

“No,” Landon admitted. “I knew it was silly, but I didn’t think it could hurt.”

“Not when you’re the top of my list,” Domerin replied, giving Landon’s shoulder a hearty smack.

The slap seemed to reverberate for several seconds before Landon broke free of his stupor. “I’m sorry?” he said at last, certain he had misheard.

“You heard me,” Domerin crowed as he swung to his feet. “Enjoy your last night as Lieutenant Vesvertan because tomorrow you’re Major Vesvertan.”

“But I… haven’t even been back to active duty for a year!” he protested. He hadn’t really expected to receive any response to putting his name in the pool.

“Yeah and you’ve worked your ass off,” Domerin replied, emphasizing the word ass. “Every time I need an extra hand, suddenly there’s Lieutenant Vesvertan. Every time I check the numbers for drill results, there’s Lieutenant Vesvertan’s team in the top five. Every time I get a mission report, there’s Lieutenant Vesvertan with another commendation. Fucking Rilan wants you on his ship and if I’m not careful at the next poker game, he might try to get a transfer out of me.”

Landon’s mouth fell open. He didn’t know what to say. He had been working hard. He wanted to repay the commander for the kindness of replacing his arm basically for free. And not only that, reserving his job for him while he was recovering. He wanted to live up to the man Domerin spoke of while he was in the hospital, to the potential represented by getting his arm back.

But never in his wildest dreams did he think he had already done it.

“I… don’t know what to say. I didn’t think you’d actually consider me.”

“I consider every name that gets entered,” Domerin said with a shrug. “Some for less than five minutes, but I take this entire process seriously. And I mean it when I say you’re one of the hardest working mercenaries I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. You might still have a lot to learn, but you learn it, and with vigor. I’m actually sort of worried I might lose you to another company if I don’t give you a pay raise.”

“I’d never!” Landon insisted, surging to his feet. “I don’t know of any other company that would have given me paid medical leave and replaced my arm!”

Domerin shrugged. “I didn’t write it in your contract that you had to earn any of that back, you know.”

He hadn’t, but it was duly noted.

“C’mon,” Domerin added, lightly slapping Landon’s chest with his fingers, “celebrate! You earned this. And you know I wouldn’t have given it to you if you didn’t.”

Landon swallowed hard, a lump the size of a baseball suddenly lodged in his throat. “It’s just… a year ago, I would have said you were crazy if you told me I’d get this promotion today.”

“I’m pretty sure you did,” Domerin replied, narrowing his eyes playfully. “I think the only reason you didn’t tell me to fuck off is because I’m the head of this company.”

Landon laughed, slowly regaining his bearings. “When I lost my arm, I thought it was the end of my career. And I didn’t know what I could be if I wasn’t a mercenary. I… know it’s probably silly to say that because you know exactly what that feels like.”

“Not silly for exactly the same reason,” Domerin interrupted, then motioned for Landon to go on.

Again, he swallowed, forcing the last of the lump free of his airway. “Whatever you think, you didn’t actually owe me anything when you came to see me that day. And you’ve given me more than I ever expected after our first meeting. I… I can’t say how flattered I am that you let me keep in touch and train with you and… Well, what I’m trying to say is, thank you, sir. I don’t know where I’d be without you.”

“Don’t thank me,” Domerin said softly. He took hold of Landon’s shoulder and squeezed it firmly. “I didn’t give you anything you didn’t earn. And I wouldn’t be standing here right now if someone hadn’t done the same for me. You deserve this promotion. I’m just glad I get to be the one to give it to you.”

Domerin patted Landon’s shoulder again as he released him. “I hear rumbles, you know,” he said as he turned toward the door, motioning for Landon to follow him. “The newer recruits keep hearing stories about this guy with just one arm. From the sound of it, everyone wants him as their commander. Something about how he’s fierce and fair and never leaves anyone behind.”

“I heard the same stories,” Landon said, a fond smile splitting his lips. “Everyone likes to talk about you like that.”

Domerin grinned and leaned toward Landon, lowering his voice to a conspiratorial tone. “I’m pretty sure not all those stories are about me anymore.”

Landon didn’t imagine it; Domerin Lorcasf winked before he turned away.

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