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Stone loved the soft melody of Pepper’s voice, these days he didn’t even notice when she switched from English to her native tongue, the Song of the Wisps. It always helped him fall asleep, helped the stress of the day melt away. When they met, he was already too old for bedtime stories, but the others weren’t and so he participated. Now, he wouldn’t know how to sleep without them.
“Ross took one look at the ship and engines and started making a list of supplies he would need to just get started.” Her voice picked up again so Stone tuned back into the story, mildly interested in how else this author interpreted his life story in their fiction.
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Stone’s heel clicked against the deck plates outside of his berth once again, barely two hours since he had guided Ross around the ship. He turned to the boy and handed him a few credit chips for parts and started towards the bazaar himself to get food for the galley. He didn’t notice Ross disappear into the crowd, but the look of joy on the kid’s face when he saw The Stormrise made Stone trust him to return with the required parts.
What he didn’t know, however, was where he was going to get the funds to stock the galley. Stone had been bouncing between ships for the last several years as a mercenary and trying to save up for a ship of his own. The capture of his last ship at a different stop accelerated his plans, however, so he didn’t quite have enough. Stone put on the charming smile that got him a deep discount on The Stormrise purchase and strutted through the station.
By the time that Stone had made it to the market, his past as a cutpurse had come in handy several times. Not many unaffiliated stations used anything other than hard currency, but too many visitors were unused to the weight and how to carry it. Stone, for instance, had a series of pockets throughout his armored chest piece and pants as well as a ceramic blade in each boot. Anyone watching him walk and shop would be hard pressed to see where he kept his money.
The first table he came to in the bazaar had something that greatly interested him, but instead of something to purchase it was a Wisp. She (presumably a “she”) was probably about five feet tall with pale, mint green skin. Her leaves were folded back along her head like hair and her lavender petals brushed the floor like a tulip shaped skirt. She was shopping for a wrap, the one on her torso matched her skin, but she was looking at more vibrant patterns at the table.
“This one matches your petals.” Stone said, handing her a wrap that she wouldn’t have been able to see from her side of the table.
“Thank you,” She blushed and nodded, taking the wrap from him and looking at the price tag. Wisp expressions were hard to read, but Stone sensed that she was disappointed.
“My treat.” He insisted, handing credits to the proprietor and draping the wrap around her shoulders. “I would love to have the company as I shop for ship’s rations.”
The Wisp grew darker in what Stone could only describe as a blush and thanked him again, taking his offered arm.
“My name is Stone, Captain Stone.” He said. “What is yours.”
“Unpronounceable to humans.” She laughed. “I keep meaning to take a—how do you say, “nipped-name”—to use, but I cannot think of one.”
“Well, may I call you My Lady for now?”
She seemed to blush again and nodded.
Stone passed up several tables of spices and food oddities before the Wisp stopped and pulled him to a halt as well.
“Do you know how to cook?” She asked him.
“No idea.” He smiled and she mimicked the motion. “I was just going to get dehydrated meals for the crew.”
She paled and shook her head. “That is a horrible thing to do to your crew, your cook should fire you.”
Stone laughed. “I don’t have a cook yet, would you like the job?”
The Wisp shook her head again. “I am a medic, but I do know a little cooking. I will show you some things in exchange for the wrap.”
“Excellent trade!” Stone exclaimed, letting her turn him around to the tables that they had passed.
By the time that Stone and the Wisp had returned to the ship, Stone had purchased a hover cart to carry all of their purchases and managed to have more credits than he had before he hired Ross that morning.
“Captain,” They heard Ross’s voice float around the corner as they entered the berth. “I managed to get everything on the list, but I had to haggle pretty strongly so it might not all work.”
“I am sure that you will figure it out after dinner.” Stone called to him, “Come help us stow all of this food.”
“Us?” Ross asked, popping from behind some crates left by The Stormrise’s last owner. “Oh!”
“Ross, this is our new friend with the unpronounceable name, she will be manning the galley until we can find a cook.”
“I am a medic, and I haven’t accepted your job offer yet.” The Wisp said.
“Nice to meet you.” Ross said, sticking his hand out awkwardly.
“And you.” She said formally, shaking his hand with an equal awkwardness.
“Excellent!” Stone said, clapping his hands together. “Let’s get to work.”
The two men got to work storing everything according to her instructions as the Wisp started cooking. Once the food was put away, Ross went back to his parts with a promise to be called when the food was done.
Stone stepped behind the Wisp and put his arms around her, leaning his head against her hair. It was softer than it looked, the leaves covered with a soft fuzz. She smelled like peppermint.
“You are what Earth women call ‘a sly one’, are you not?” The Wisp asked with a curious lilt to her voice.
Stone laughed. “I have been called that before, yes.”
“Wisps and humans are not sexually compatible.”
“I know.” He replied, settling around her more comfortably. “I will admit curiosity, but I just really like holding beautiful women. Besides, you smell like peppermint.”
“I do not know what peppermint is.” The Wisp replied. “I have been studying human biology for some time now and I believe that there are safe ways to satisfy your curiosity if you would care to experiment later.”
“Now who’s the sly one?”
“You, or you would not have approached me in the bazaar.” The Wisp tuned to look at him and lifted up to briefly press her lipless mouth against his. Stone’s lips tingled from the brief touch and the area of her face where his lips had touched were slightly blue now.
“Definitely peppermint.” Stone breathed.
“Then that will be my name.”
* * *
Pepper stopped reading when she heard Stone’s breathing pattern change and felt his head grow heavier on her lap. He was asleep now. She briefly wondered how much of that last bit he had actually heard and how much of it would follow him to his dreams. She stayed still, enjoying this contact for as long as she could, but eventually he rolled to his stomach and off her lap.
Pepper slipped off Stone’s pillow and brushed her mouth against his cheek in a kiss before pulling the covers over his shoulders. Her room was accessed through a ceiling ladder from Stone’s room, right up against the radiation shielding from the engine. It was warm there and the lights made it almost feel like home as she curled in a ball and shifted her leaves and petals to the rays to sleep.
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