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Aberrant: Infinite Earth - Cosmos Nova - The Big Plan [Complete]

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Shortly before the DSA Christmas Party

Karrie had code-named it the Margarita. First, she loved the drinks, when she was already drunk. Second, she didn’t want to type its real name in her computer. She knew that Horst did spy on her projects. He considered it to be a preventive measure to the Apocalypse. Karrie considered it to be both an annoyance and a challenge. So “Project Get Connor Back” needed a code name.

Nervously, Karrie applied her lip stick; not too much, just an accent. Too much make up would make her look whore-y, and from the text messages Inga was sending her, the whores were thick at the party already. Karrie needed to stand out, to be different. She needed to get Connor to realize that while she had fucked up, she was the better choice than Ms. Mega-Lips and the woman you could actually be allergic to. Besides, she’d done her fucking research on Ms. Mega-Lips, and she knew that girl was the Queen of Whores. She was practically the Whore of Babylon, and only the fact that the Anti-Christ hadn’t arrived saved Ms. Muse from being humped to death by Satan.

Karrie had a few opinions about Ms. Muse. Those opinions had formed after learning that the woman was spending a lot of time with Connor; the research she’d done had only backed her opinions.

After she had it on, Karrie decided it was too garish. Grumbling to herself, she pulled off some toilet paper and removed it. She did a quick check of her outfit again; the black skirt, silky red blouse and black boots were all clean, unwrinkled and lint-brushed. She could have whored it up; she was taking the high road.

She was dressed. That left only The Perfume.

Karrie held up the test tube, peering at the amber liquid inside the vial. Months of research, experimentation and resources had gone into making The Perfume. Karrie had fretted and worried that it wouldn’t be ready in time for the party, but the monkeys she’d tested it on had fucked for six hours before collapsing of exhaustion. It was as ready as it got.

“This is it.” She looked at her eyes in the mirror. “This is the night I get Connor back.” Her stomach curled in anticipation and delight as she considered that in just a few hours, she could have the man of her dreams.

Pulling the cap loose, Karrie used an eyedropper to collect a few drops of the perfume. The smell of her favorite scent, sandalwood, filled the air. It was an unusual choice for perfumes, but she’d needed an oil base and this smell calmed her. The scent masked the super-pheromones that she’d infused into the oil, pheromones that would be activated when warmed to body temperature.

Something nagged at her, and Karrie stopped before application, peering at herself in the mirror. Something wasn’t right. Rather than assume that her conscious was warning her against trying to manipulate people by effectively drugging them, Karrie’s mind focused on what if it didn’t work. What if it has the opposite effect? What if it made her sick or she broke out in a rash? She’d have to test it.

Karrie dragged the glass rod across both sides of her neck, then dipped it again and applied more of The Perfume to her wrist. She was supposed to meet Rob before the party to plan hijinks; she’d ask his opinion. Feeling as nervous as a girl at prom, Karrie capped the vial and slipped it into her purse. The night was almost electric with anticipation and hope for her, and she went to Rob’s lab with an eager smile.

The Perfume
Innovation
3 Mega-Appearance[12 xp]
1 Enhancement: Seductive Looks [3 xp]
1 Enhancement: Blind Bewitchment (Scent) [3 xp]

Quantum 3, Quantum Pool 21
Die-pool: Perception + Awareness
Damage: N/A

Cost: 10 NP/18 xp :firedevil:

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It was a masterpiece.

,,

Rob stepped back from the worktable in his private lab area and regarded the shard of crystal with an expression akin to awe, mixed with fatherly pride. The informational matrices were perfectly aligned. The crystal fairly hummed with potential - a cyclotron's-worth of quantum energy stored in looping, precise geometric shapes of staggering complexity. Maybe Karrie could sort through them all to decipher everything he'd done here, but to many lesser minds it would be nothing short of magic.

,,

"Go on, you can say it." Rob told his infinitely-refracted reflection in the shard's surface.

,,

"You're awesome." his omni-reflection answered. Both Robs grinned, then squirted some Cheez Whiz onto a cracker and ate it. It was time to get ready for the party, and though Rob would like few things more than to stay here and tweak his magnum opus some more, he never missed a party if he could help it. Part of that was his low boredom threshold, but another part was the fact that there were a lot of new faces joining the DSA these days, and Rob was basically a people-person. He sealed his lockdown room and exited into the main portion of the lab, whistling as he tossed the empty can of Cheez-Whiz the length of the room into the bin by the door. There was no need to change, really. It was a mixer, and Rob was dressed to party in his white lab coat, faded and torn jeans, sandals and a t-shirt bearing the slogan "I'm No Gynocologist, But I'll Take A Look." He headed over to the fridge and pulled two more cans of Cheez-Whiz out, tucking them into the deep pockets of his labcoat before turning...

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...and seeing Karrie walk into the room looking HOT.

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Not cute, not 'cleaned up nice', but H. O. T. The part of Rob's brain that was always analysing and commenting told him that he was staring, only to be told "Shush, I'm staring here". He was aware, painfully so, that his heart had just jumped a few notches. She'd been avoiding him since the convention fiasco, and another part of his brain sardonically remarked that this was probably for Connor's benefit, which acted like a glass of cold water on the lap.

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"Wow, lookin' good." he said after only a slight pause. Being a nova brain had some advantages, after all. He smiled his usual smile, trying not to let his gaze do the talking for him. "I didn't know it was a dress-up event. 'Course, I probably wouldn't have dressed up anyway, but now I'll have to hang out in the shabby nerf-herder corner while you swank with the big dogs." He swallowed as she approached him - why was his mouth so dry?

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Karrie had been watching Rob’s reaction when she walked into the room, and it was most gratifying. The look that had crossed his face was one she would pay real money to see on Connor’s—
Her brain sidetracked that thought immediately, before it took root and went somewhere bad. Some part of her was uneasy with the look, another part was confused by that faction-of-a-second look of mixed desire and surprise and there was a third part that had noticed his look and liked it. Karrie was both pleased and unsettled by her reaction to his reaction and she felt on suddenly unsteady ground. “So I did good work—oh, my god! What is that?!
Few things could sidetrack Karrie faster than a new shiny, and Rob’s crystal certainly qualified as both. Without waiting for an answer, Karrie tossed her purse onto a desk and walked over to the worktable, her eyes wide. “Rob is that…?”
“Yep.” His smile was somewhat smug as he moved to her side.
“By the power of Grayskull.” The whisper was as reverent as a prayer. The native woman glanced up at him, able to tear her eyes away for a second. “And you made it?”
“Yeeeep.” This time, he was positively superior as he found another cracker and applied more cheez whiz, then offered it to her. Karrie took it and ate it without removing her gaze. Rob made himself another cracker and they studied the matrix in companionable silence. Finally, Rob said, “Are we going tonight?”
“What? Oh, yeah.” Karrie tore her eyes away and took a good look at him. “But not like that, you aren’t. C’mon.” She grabbed his free hand and dragged him toward the door, diverting only long enough to grab the straps of her purse.
“Karrie, this is what I wear to all the parties.” Rob didn’t whine, but his voice was petulant. “It’s tradition. If I wore something nice, Horst would actually have a heart attack and die. For the good of the DSA, I can’t dress up.”
“Bullshit. I owe you for the convention.” Karrie’s voice was tinged with embarrassment as she pulled him back to her workarea. “I know what it means when you pick up a chick, and I interrupted that.”
“You needed a friend.” Rob’s voice was careful, as if he wasn’t sure what to make of a self-aware Karrie.
“Yeah, but I didn’t have much consideration for you.” Karrie looked over her shoulder at him, looking apologetic. “I mean, it was bad enough that it took me six weeks after to realize what I’d done. And I know I haven’t been around. So I want to make it up to you. So you’re going to look nice, and I’m going to get you laid.”
“Oh, please,” Rob begged as she punched in the code to her lab, “please do not help me with that. I prefer for someone with better social graces to help me, no offense.”
“I’ll just follow your lead, be your wingman.” Karrie pushed open the door and drew him into the room. “Knock contenders to your chosen lady-sheep aside with a shove of my birthin’ hips.” She grinned and shoved her purse at him. “Hold this while I get your clothing.”
As Rob automatically grabbed the purse being pushed at him, Karrie hustled over to a cabinet and opened it, pulling down the clothes hanging on an inner hook. “I picked something hot out for you to wear,” Karrie said, holding up the shirt and looking at it to make sure it was as nice as she remembered. It was blue, and the slacks were black; she had shoes and socks for him, too.
“Your perfume is leaking.”
“Hmm?” Karrie lifted her eyes to Rob, distracted by her thoughts of clothing and not immediately grasping what he’d said. Thoughts of perfume were knocked out of her skull when she laid eyes on Rob, who was showing her his oil-wet fingers. The smell of sandalwood filled her senses, making her head reel. The pheromones ripped the friend-goggles she always wore around Rob and showed her a sexual being. And Rob wasn’t just a sexual being, he was a really hot guy. Karrie’s eyes widened and she whispered, “Oh, fuck me!”

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It wasn't quite how his fevered imagination had presented the scene to him before.

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It would be in the labs, sure. They both spent lots of quality time there and Karrie's profession of desire and the subsequent torrid scene(s) would certainly happen in the labs. This felt wrong, though. Through the pink haze of sandalwood-scented lust, Rob's overactive brain hinted strongly that Karrie would hardly be looking shocked/amazed/horrified as she whispered "Fuck me" to him.

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Unfortunately, Rob's brain wasn't the only thing that could currently be classed as 'overactive'. This was Karrie, looking gorgeous and wide eyed and vulnerable as she met his eyes. He could see her pupils dilating and hear the hitch in her breath, detect the warm rush of blood to her skin. He gritted his teeth slightly, feeling the earth shift beneath him in a way his powers couldn't emulate, and brought both hands to his forehead. He rested his palms there for a moment, then smoothed back his hair in a two-handed nervous gesture, feeling the slick oil on his hands tingling against his scalp.

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Then he stepped forwards and wrapped his arms around Karrie, her waist fitting perfectly into the curve of his embrace as her body pressed against his, her face turned up to his expectantly and a little nervously. His lips came down to hers and, for a moment, it was perfect. She tasted a little of lipstick and mouthwash, but also something sweeter than honey as his tongue gently teased the tip of hers. It wasn't a chaste kiss by any stretch of the imagination: it was lusty and heated and hungry every bit as much as it was loving and tender. She whimpered slightly in the back of her throat, a sound of nervous desire as her arms hooked around his neck, feeling the unyielding warm solidity of her friend, lab-mate, partner in crime and absolutely the most perfect, sweetest, funniest man she had ever met. He was like a tall, sexy rock she could wrap herself around. He was kissing her so gently, so well, drawing her own inexperience out of her so easily that it felt like she had been kissing him forever.

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Then the moment ended... kinda.

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They broke the kiss, both novas panting a little, and Rob's warm dark eyes regarded Karrie with want, with love, and now also with a tinge of suspicion.

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"Karrie..." he breathed (somewhat unfairly sexily), still holding her against him. "What was in that perfume?"

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Kissing Connor had been fun and electrifying and made her body tingle everywhere. Kissing Rob was utterly different. His lips pushed lightning down her spine and sent arcs of pleasure over her skin. The weirdness of kissing her best friend lasted less than a second before the delight of kissing her best friend took over her senses. The pheromones in the perfume had left her almost dizzy; Rob’s kiss finished upsetting her vertigo, leaving her struggling to think.
Well, to think anything other than, How the hell can he kiss better than Connor?
It wasn’t fair to compare them, but Karrie’s experience with men was so limited that she was basically dealing in binary: Rob or Connor, Connor or Rob. The question was which one was the one and which was the zero?
The crazy romantic in her didn’t know the answer, and the self-obsessed scientist didn’t have a clue. But there was a tiny part of Karrie that acknowledged reality. Karrie didn’t listen to it much; it was a downer. In one notable example, it insisted that further attempts to get Connor was a waste of both her time and his patience and so had been largely ignored. To affect change, that part of her waited for a moment of revelation, when it could slip in and administer a dose of reality. As Karrie struggled with the impossibility that Rob was better than Connor at kissing, it slapped a virtual sticky note on her forehead: Because your emotional connection with one is based on subterfuge, fantasy and fanfics, while you already love the other one. Then that rational bit of her was sure to add, And Rob is the latter, by the way.
Their kiss ended and she stared at him, holding tight to his neck. Karrie’s world was rocked to the core as she finally, totally, really got the memo the universe had been trying to deliver for years. Now that the first connection had been dragged into the light of her awareness, the rest of them clicked: the little signals Connor had given her, Horst’s careful words, her mother’s advice on dating and most of all, every little thing Rob had done for her. It was quite a list, because he’d done everything for her. Anything she’d asked him to do, he’d done with a smile—or helped her refine her plan into something even more awesome. When she allowed her brain to connect the dots, the pieces all fell into place. Rob lov-
“Karrie… what was in that perfume?”
For a second, she didn’t have a clue what he meant. The revelations she’d uncovered in the depths of her mind had knocked all other thoughts out of her head. When it rushed back in, she flinched, just a little. Ohshit. There was no way to spin this into something Rob was going to like but Karrie had to try. “I can explain.”
“Mmmhmm. Please do while I nibble your neck.” Rob matched action to words, leaving her gasping at the quicksilver jolts of pleasure his lips and teeth caused. It took a second to relearn the process of speaking while under the assault of her body experiencing a make-out session.
Karrie opened her mouth, but with her newfound awareness, she found that everything she had to say was hollow and lame. “Okay, I can’t explain. Not really.”
“Try.” Rob’s voice was soft and coaxing, and his warm breath across her neck made her shiver.
Karrie sighed and rested her forehead on his shoulder. “Pheromones.”
Rob stopped mid-nibble, his breath blowing out of his nose in a tickling sigh. “To get Connor.”
“That was the original plan.” Karrie’s confession caused Rob to lift his head, and her heart sank at the look on his face. It was a sober and sad look, like she’d given him a gift and taken it away. Even Karrie could figure out what he was thinking. “Original plan,” she repeated.
“So what’s the plan now?” Rob asked her, his dark eyes becoming intrigued, even as that sad look remained.
Karrie swallowed hard before she made a move that was bold, for her. She released the death-grip on his neck to run a finger along the line of his jaw and trace the edge of his stupid goatee. “I thought,” she murmured in a shy voice, “that you might kiss me a few more times.”

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That sounded like a majorly awesome plan, and Rob was only too happy to oblige. He lowered his lips to hers for a gentle touch, followed by a firmer, more passionate kiss. Then another, and another. Karrie tightened her arms around him, molding her body to his as she made happy "mmm" noises. They lost a few minutes that way, saying nothing, doing nothing except making out like teenagers.

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"Y'know," Rob breathed a few minutes later, "This is kind of risky for me. Suuure, you want me right now when I'm doused in your super-roofies. But what happens after I wash? Hmm?" He kissed her again. If this was only a one-time-right-now-thing, Rob told himself, then he wasn't going to miss out.

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"There... There's a chemical shower just over there. Full decontamination." Karrie managed once she'd recovered her breath, her head spinning. She tried to be objective, to separate the feeling of Rob kissing her from the sensation of instilled lust from her concoction. "Go ahead and wash if you want." she told him before blurting out "Want some company?" Her hand clapped over her mouth, a blush turning her face crimson as brown eyes widened to the size of soup-plates. Rob took a half-step back, smiling that little smile he got when he was about to start laughing. His eyes, Karrie noted, contained a hint of wariness, betraying that fact that Rob was steeling himself for a disappointment.

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"Yeahhhh, I really should wash." he said reluctantly yet firmly. "That's gotta be your Love Potion No. 9 speaking." Karrie dropped her hand to protest, but Rob leaned in and kissed her one more heated, passionate time. "One for the road." he said with a grin as he headed for the decontam shower, leaving her lips and body tingling. "It was kinda nice being a sex symbol for ten minutes." he winked over his shoulder, then was gone. Karrie sighed and waited, despite the urge to go and 'check' on him...

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Rob didn't waste any time, turning on the shower and stepping in fully clothed. Both his and Coyote's private labs as well as the communal lab area had these NBC grade showers, at Horst's insistence, ever since an incident involving radioactive isotopes. He felt the chemical wash soak his clothes and then stripped off, leaving them in the cleaning bin as he scrubbed himself down. It took five minutes, then he rinsed himself under a cold spray of clean water and stepped out from under the showerhead, shivering a little as he toweled himself off. The wet towel went into the laundry bin as well, and Rob grabbed another white one, wrapping it around his midsection and heading out into the lab.

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"There." He told Karrie as he came out, his damp hair in disarray over his smiling eyes. "Much better..." He saw her and his voice died away, then he swallowed as the Margarita took effect again. "Uh, that is at least one of us doesn't want to ravish the other, right? No strange urges over there?"

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When Rob disappeared into the shower, Karrie slumped onto a work stool. With a groan, she folded her arms on the table and dropped her head on them. “What have I done?” she whispered to the treated tabletop, her brain whirling a million miles an hour. She could keep up with that kind of speed, but the emotional turmoil was a different story.
Rob loved her. She’d known that, but not how he’d loved her. On the surface, it shouldn’t make a difference. Rob’s feelings were Rob’s business, and intellectually, she knew that until he chose to tell her, it was his problem. But he was her best friend. Wasn’t he obligated to share this with her?
“I asked him!” Karrie’s head snapped up as she stared through the wall at the running shower. “I flat out asked him and he totally side-stepped the question! That rat!” As she probed her memory, she realized he’d already told her: “You are a real woman: down to earth, brilliant, funny as hell and able to turn a vacuum cleaner into a WMD. You are seven shades of awesome, Karrie Dineh.”
Nervous energy poured into her system and Karrie hopped to her feet, pacing in the room. “He should have told me!” she hissed, getting angry with him as she remembered how he’d said nothing while she’d gone on and on about Connor—
Karrie stopped in mid-stomp, her anger melting away. “Oh, Rob, you’re an idiot.” He’d smiled and encouraged and damn-near pushed her into Connor’s arms, all the while wanting her himself. He’d read her fictions, listened to her moon over Connor; he’d taken all that crap and smiled the whole time.
She was biting her thumbnail. With a grimace, she stopped, staring at the mauled nail. She’d worked hard to grow them out for the party, and here she’d just shortened one. Grumbling to herself, she went to her desk and dug out her clippers. In truth, she was so out of sorts that by the time she had all the nails the same length again, she had decimated them down to a sliver of white.
The shower shut off and Karrie leapt to her feet, pacing again. It seemed to take forever for Rob to come back out, and when he did, Karrie stopped, staring. That hot, razor-sharp feeling of need was gone, but only the sharp edges of desire. Rob was handsome; he always had been and she could see that now. He was no Connor, but he didn’t need to be. The perfume had permanently removed the friend-goggles; it was like she was seeing the real Rob, every part of him, for the first time.
“You’re wearing just a towel.” She didn’t really hear his questions; she was beyond that. “You’re half-naked, we just made out and you come out of the shower in a towel.”
“I cleaned my clothes just in case. You brought me more.”
“Yes, I brought you pants, a shirt, socks and nice shoes.” Karrie blushed hotly as she crossed her arms. Her anger surged and she frowned at him. “I didn’t realize you’d take a shower and need underwear. You shouldn’t be running around without underwear, Rob.”
Rob stared at her before he spoke. “Karrie, you’re not mad about the underwear. What’s wrong?”
“I’m pissed because my best friend chose to keep something from me, and let me hurt him over and over, every day.” Karrie walked up to him, sorrow and anger fighting to be the dominant expression. “I’m socially blind, Rob! You were my social-eye dog. You just let me walk off a curb into a bus!”
Rob started to speak but Karrie cut him off. “Nuh-uh, not done! I’m pissed at you. You should have told me. Yeah, it’d be awkward, but do you know how shitty I feel about all the stuff I said and did in front of you that had to hurt? Do you know how much it hurts to know that I basically stabbed you in the heart, over and over?”
“Karrie-” Rob reached up to touch her face; his thumb came away wet with a tear.
“You thought you were being some kind of martyr, didn’t you?” Karrie shook her head, slapping at her eyes. “Selfish jerk! And all the while, you were smiling your little smug ‘look at me suffering so much for her’ smile, and you probably enjoyed the burn in a sick way.”
“I wouldn’t—”
“I trust you. Completely. You’re my best friend in the whole world.” Karrie scowled as Rob flinched a little. “Stop that. I wanted so much for Connor to become my funny, sexy best friend so I could marry him and have my happily ever after that I didn’t realize I already had the heart of guy I was looking for.”
Rob blinked. “Can you say that again? I don’t think I heard you right.”
“No. First, I have a theory to test.” Karrie grabbed Rob’s head and pulled it down for a kiss. His wet hair brushed against her face as she pressed her lips to his. Time to see if the lightning from before was from Rob or from the Margarita.

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He was surprised for a split second, but then relaxed into the ardent kiss and Karrie felt *it* again, that lightning sensation as his hands slid around to her back and held her against him. It was different on the surface - the Margarita definitely added some flash and sparkle - but the deep electrical jolt that made the whole world jump into high-definition was still there. The engineer in her tried to quantify whether it was because Rob was a really good kisser, or whether it was because he loved her, or whether it was because she loved him. A compound of the three, she decided before dismissing the thought and wrapping her arms around his neck to stop him getting away.

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Rob wasn't going to try and get away, of course. This was Karrie, at long last. Ever since she'd first bounced into his life, he'd known that here was a woman not merely on his wavelength, but on a parallel wavelength that picked up on his, as he picked up on hers, and so together created a harmony far greater than the sum of it's parts. A synergistic relationship, whether working or playing, agreeing or arguing, kissing or redecorating Horst's office by putting all his furniture on the wall at 90 degrees to the floor. And he realised he had been stupid, which was a harsh realisation for a brainiac nova to come to. He had been so fixated on seeing Karrie happy that he had taken himself out of the running rather than try to compete with her fantasy man. But that didn't matter so much now, did it? The lost time was just that, lost, and they both had plenty more. Rob decided there and then that for at least the next 3 hours he would spend his time kissing her, but this worthy thought was interrupted.

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"Well, it's about damned time!" a gruff voice said from the lab's doorway. The red-faced pair glanced round to find Director Horst leaning against the doorpost, coffee in one hand as he watched them with his customary stern glower. From the looks of things the Director of Superhuman Affairs was working late, his shirt sleeves rolled up and his tie loosened, and his gold-rimmed reading spectacles hanging on the end of his nose. He peered over them at the two novas, weary eyes sparkling slightly as he looked at Rob. "It's a little early for the after-party, Lehnsher. You two characters are supposed to be out there at Fontenot's gathering, both inspiring and keeping an eye on our younger novas. Not playing tonsil hockey in a sterile lab environment."

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"Sterile?" Rob protested. "Chief, she's got old sandwiches in the toolbox over there. And don't ask about the buffalo hide." Karrie repressed a grin and poked him with a finger.

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"You're not supposed to tell him about the hide! That's a religious item."

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"Well it's unsanitary."

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"Snitch!"

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"Slob!"

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"Enough!" Horst pointed at Rob. "Get some damn clothes on, Lehnsherr. Wear your super suit if you have to. Those kids need adult supervision, but you two will have to do."

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"Yes, chief!" Both novas chorused, holding up their left hand in a passable parody of Native American custom.

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"And stop calling me chief." Horst stormed out, not smiling to himself until he was down the corridor. About damn time indeed. Now maybe that boy will keep his head in the game.

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When Horst had left, the two novas contemplated each other for a moment. “I guess you should get dressed.” Though she’d said it casually, her face warmed again. Her hands slipped from his neck to rest against his chest. It was a very nice chest, she noted, wondering if she’d ever stop blushing again.

“Hmm. I could wear my suit.” Rob smiled down at her, his arms tightening fractionally around her waist. “Not sure how the pants will look with the shirt and shoes you brought, though.”

“Indecent. I know, I designed them that way.” Karrie’s confession was unrepentant. “I could make you underwear.”

A faintly alarmed look crossed Rob’s face, and he took a second to give her a light kiss before asking, “Out of what, dare I ask?”

“I have that buffalo hide.” Karrie kept a straight face as she tried to increase that alarm. “I could make some underwear… well, it’d be more like a loincloth.”

“Thanks, I think I’ll make do with the suit.” Rob kissed her again, another light but thrilling touch of lips. “I may not be able to wear what you brought.”

“I only had that stuff so you’d look nicer and get laid.” Karrie kissed his jaw before trailing a line of pecks up to his lips. “That’s not happening tonight.” Some men might have pouted or started the sales pitch to get what they wanted; Rob just smiled as he reached up to brush her hair back from her face. His gentle kiss told her that he understood what she meant and he wasn’t upset about it. Sex wasn’t what he wanted from Karrie—well, not just sex. Just thinking about that made her blush again. She covered by kissing him one more time. “Go get ready, sheep-fucker.”

“You know, you’re going to have stop calling me that at some point,” Rob said as he untangled himself and began to walk away from her to dress.

“I know, I have to make a man of you sometime.” Karrie grinned despite the heat in her face. Was she ever going to stop blushing? “You’ll get a new nickname then.”

It was love, not the one she'd planned, but love anyway.

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