posted on 4-Nov-2001 1:56:36 PM by RosDeidre
page 16 part 47 and epilogue 12/31
page 14--Part 46 12/30
page 13--Part 45 12/29
Page 12--Part 44 12/22
Page 10--Part 43 12/20



Author's NOte:
Here is a link to parts 1-35 on the repost board, so now it's all finally up!! The rest continues on this thread.

viewthread?forum=repost-fan-fiction&id=15963

Hugs to all of you--you guys are the best.


PART THIRTY SIX

Golden light leapt and receded along the white stucco of Tess’s bedroom walls, replaced intermittently by looming shadows. She’d found three candles in her dresser drawer, and had manipulated them with her powers, until there were some fifty tiny flames illuminating her bedroom with shimmering light.

She wasn’t sure why she’d been so compelled to fill her room with candles, to mirror what she’d seen in Riley and Anna’s room earlier. But somehow she’d simply known to do it, that it was necessary, urgent even.

And then she’d curled into a tiny ball on the small loveseat beneath her bedroom window and waited. Waited for sleep to seduce her, for her near-mate to hold her…for his love to claim her.

She’d felt his essence penetrate her own as keenly as an arrow earlier on the trail, and his energy had radiated through every part of her body in response, leaving her flushed and soothed all at once. But the warmth of his presence had quickly faded, just as the desert cooled with the setting sun, so that now there was only the faintest heat remaining in her hands and face.

After their brief connection on the trail, she’d been forced to sit through a lengthy group meeting, when all she’d wanted was to sequester herself, to bathe in the glow of Marco’s love. Instead, there’d been planning and strategies, and the insistence that she contact him as immediately and concretely as possible. So many questions, too much to remember in her sleep, so that Liz had finally suggested she make a list and take it to bed with her.

Tess had to laugh at the idea, not because it wasn’t a good one, but because as she’d explained after seeing Liz’s confused expression, it was just such a Liz Parker thing to do. Liz had smiled grudgingly, until Tess had rolled her eyes in playful exasperation, which had elicited a true grin from her friend. What she hadn’t shared was how sensual her dream meetings always were with Marco, how imbued with passion and sensory experience. The idea of simply thrusting a list of practical questions under his nose at such a moment was nearly absurd, no matter how necessary.

So now Tess sat staring out her window into the black mountain sky, watching the full moon track its path slowly upward, all too aware that sleep seemed like a distant acquaintance when she needed it to be the most intimate of friends.

The problem was, her spirit was far too restless, just as it had been all day. She was awash with new sensations and emotions, but more than that, she couldn’t stop the keen anxiety that kept assaulting her about Marco.

And she had no idea if she should warn him at all. Riley had given her no clear answer on that point. It seemed that by joining her powers with Marco’s, she’d traversed into a cloudy realm she couldn’t quite understand. Decisions and knowledge were suddenly based on such shady impressions, dim prescience.

Yet she was certain that the way her inner terrain was continuing to transform, making her like Marco, was a more beautiful place to inhabit. A more powerful one, too. Frighteningly powerful. Which was what unsettled her the most about Marco’s position within the enemy camp. In the past twenty-four hours, as she’d battled sensations and waves of empathy from all those around her, she’d understood Marco more clearly than at any point in the past year. What he’d lived with all his life…and how an enemy might crave his rare and exotic gift.

A man like Khivar might want to twist it, manipulate what resided inside Marco’s pure heart for his own dark purposes. While Tess wasn’t sure exactly how that might be accomplished, she couldn’t shake the sense that Marco’s Empathy might have something to do with her sinister premonitions about him.

So all she could do was try to calm her spirit, to woo sleep a bit closer, in the hope that Marco might come with it. And in some way that she couldn’t fathom, the candles seemed important, a pivotal part of their meeting this night. The idea had first occurred to her on the trail, as images had begun flashing through her mind while she connected with Marco.

Candles, flame…light and dark, midnight and sun…dark hair, blonde. Marco and Tess…power…knowledge…alluring seduction…light to dark, day to night…

Tess felt her eyes grow heavy as she remembered how compelling the candles had been once she’d seen them in Riley’s room—and how much more she’d needed them after feeling Marco touch her hours earlier.

Not just candles, she thought, staring into their dancing majesty. Something more important, unnamable…flickering, twisting…

And then shadow overcame her, followed by sleep.

“How did you know?” She felt the question before she heard it really. His rich voice, deep and soulful, beckoning her closer. Again he asked, “How could you have possibly known?”

And then she felt his warm hands on her bare thighs, large and sure, instantly electrifying her, even in sleep.

“Know what?” She asked sleepily, her eyes fluttering open. And he was there, kneeling on the floor just in front of the sofa, staring up at her with his moody dark eyes.

Lsasthre nie,” he whispered, staring at her meaningfully, as if she’d understand. She touched his face gingerly, not quite certain he wasn’t an apparition from her dreams, yet his jaw line was shadowed by scratchy beard. She drew in a breath at the confirmation that the moment was genuine, even in her sleep.

“Marco,” she cried, propelling forward into his arms. Instantly, he enfolded her, caressed her hair as he kneaded it within his hands.

“Sweet Tess,” he murmured. “My love, m’lasthre.” And then again, “How did you know?”

“Know what?” She nearly cried, just feeling his strong arms surround her, his muscled chest. Everything about Marco McKinley was like a fortress, always had been from the moment he’d first touched her. Held her. And now more than ever, she felt hidden away within his embrace.

“The candles, did someone tell you? Riley? Anna?”

“I saw them in their room this afternoon,” she explained, confused by the intensity of his questions. “For some reason, it seemed important to light some myself.”

“I’m sure it did.” Marco sighed softly, running his hands down her back, touching her all over. She had the distinct impression that he was trying to absorb her somehow, was taking part of her within himself just by caressing her. In response, she pressed her face against his shoulder, smelling his strong earthy scent, as she closed her eyes.

“Why are they important?” She asked quietly.

He hesitated a moment, shifting his weight slightly, yet he never let go of her. “They’re part of the Antarian…” his voice faded a moment, and Tess pulled back, needed to look into his eyes. He dropped them instantly, his long lashes fanning downward. “the…Antarian…mating…”

Tess couldn’t help smiling at how suddenly shy he seemed, as he stammered quietly about something so innocuous as candles. Or maybe they weren’t? She thought briefly, as she ran her fingers through his short hair. She loved the feel of it now that he’d cut it, the way it prickled her fingers a bit, and how unmanageable the soft curls were, even this closely cropped.

“The Antarian mating… what?” She pressed him, and slowly he raised his eyes again to lock with her own.

“Ritual,” he finished, his deep voice edged with emotion. “The candles are ancient, Tess…they signify the power of a bonding… our bonding, in this case,” he added, glancing quickly around the room at the lights.

“Wh-what are you saying?” She asked, cocking her head sideways as she tried to follow what he really meant. “That we’re bonding…now?”

“No, no,” he rushed to explain, as he continued to stare deeply into her eyes. “But a part of you knew instinctively that we’re getting so close to it…it was primal your need to do it, wasn’t it?”

Tess nodded her head slowly, swallowing hard. Primal. That was the exact word…she’d been compelled, had known some kind of strength and mysticism would reside in their simple flames.

“Yes, power, Tess,” he finished her thoughts. “The power of our union…the power that is to come when our souls finally join.”

“I-I don’t understand,” she whispered, tracing her fingers down the nape of his neck. “We’re not bonded yet, so…”

“You’re summoning the potential of what we will be,” he said simply. “You’re invoking a future that belongs to us, claiming it to be so by this act, Tess. And in that, releasing the power of our future union.”

Tess chewed on her lip, trying to digest what he was saying. Marco rocked back on his heels, dropping his hands from her thighs as he gazed around the room at the shimmering glow that surrounded them. “In this,” he explained in a hushed voice. “You’re commanding what we are meant to be, and that…empowers us just as surely as Riley and Anna recreate their own mating time in order to synchronize their energy.”

“Yes!” she cried, clasping her hands together. “That’s exactly what they said they were doing with the candles! I forgot that…”

“And yet you have synchronized our energy in just the same way.”

“Without our being…mated.” She stumbled on the last word because it always sounded so surprisingly blunt, so honest when things were still so relatively chaste between them.

“But you are my near mate, Tess,” he explained, gazing up at her again. “And this is Llasthre nie…what you have done.”

Tess nodded silently, noting Marco’s attire for the first time. He wore black jeans and a thick black turtleneck, not the army fatigues from the night before. They made him look like a beat poet, or some other equally romantic figure. That combined with his naturally dark features, and she had to draw in a steadying breath. Maybe it was all the mating talk, or maybe the affect of Marco’s smoldering dark looks, but suddenly she needed him with sharp intensity. The urge was so keen, she shivered softly, feeling quite chilled in just her t-shirt.

“I want you, too,” he smiled, leaning forward again. He planted his hands firmly on the sofa around her, so that she was framed within his forearms.

“How do you do that exactly?” She giggled, feeling suddenly carefree and girlish, not like a warrior in the midst of battle. “Read my thoughts so clearly.”

“I hear them,” he answered with a light shrug. “They pass right through my mind as if you speak them. But I feel them too, like a vibration…”

“You feel the words?”

“I feel your heart as you think them,” he said, chewing on his full lower lip thoughtfully. “It happens with most people, but never so clearly as with you.”

“Did that…change? Lately, I mean?” She asked, feeling her heartbeat quicken at his words. He hesitated a moment, just studying her from where he knelt, then finally shook his head.

“Not really…maybe a bit,” he said. “It’s always been more intense with you, Tess. It was part of how I knew.”

“Knew?”

“That you were my soulmate,” he answered in a hushed voice, reaching to slowly stroke her hair where it fell across her shoulder.

“But…but…” she couldn’t think clearly enough to answer, the thoughts came so quickly. He’d insisted for so long that they couldn’t be together, that he wasn’t allowed to mate because of being a royal protector.

“I was stupid.”

“No, no…stubborn maybe.”

“I was stupid because I fought what was so obvious, because I almost let it happen again,” he continued, his voice rising a bit sharply. “I almost pushed you away in a second lifetime.”

“You know?” she cried incredulously. “About Marek and Ayanna?”

“I’ve been dreaming of Ayanna for months, Tess, you know that.”

“B-but…”

“My waking self doesn’t remember, but my dream self does. You’ll have to tell me when we meet outside this twilight realm. Explain.”

“Does your waking self know that I’m your soulmate?”

“Ah,” he smiled softly, his single dimple suddenly appearing. “I knew that for a long time. That’s why I say I was stupid.”

“I love you,” she whispered quietly, and his eyes snapped to meet her own. “More each day. You must know that.”

Slowly, he nodded his head, stroking her hair with his fingertips. “Love is such a powerful, and yet inadequate word for how I feel about you, Tess. At times, I think my feelings for you transcend that word altogether…and I can only imagine what will happen once we bond.”

“An explosion,” she laughed, yet she didn’t miss the sadness in his black eyes as he stared at her. And that’s when she remembered all her earlier apprehension. “What?” She cried, clasping his hand within her own. “What aren’t you telling me?”

“You already know. I feel it within you,” he answered quietly.

“The danger…you sense it, too.” She tried to modulate her voice, to mask the panic that instantly escalated within her.

“For the past day, it’s in the wind, it’s in the air around me, thick and heavy,” he admitted.

“Then leave,” she urged, planting her small hands on his shoulders. “Tonight. Come back to camp now.”

“You know I can’t, sweet Tess.”

“But you can,” she cried, her voice cracking. “Of course you can…you can just leave, and tell me where you’ll be, and we’ll pick you up. You can be with me tonight…with us.”

“Tess,” he chided softly. “We both knew from the beginning that I took a vow, a vow to protect Max and Liz.”

“To hell with that!” She shouted, jumping to her feet so suddenly, she half stumbled over him. “You’ve served them and served them…”

“And shall serve them yet longer,” he finished quietly. “As will you. You could have it no other way.” He rose slowly to his feet, until he towered over her like a beautiful shadow, a mountain obscuring moonlight.

“We all sense the danger…you, me, Riley…Anna,” she stormed, stomping her foot in frustration.

“I must stay,” he repeated, and this time his voice was more strong and commanding. “We always knew it could come to this. It’s what I’ve been prepared for all my life. Khivar comes soon…I must be there to fight for the resistance. It’s not just Max and Liz, it’s the Antarians…it’s Earth.”

“I know,” she answered weakly, dropping her head.

“Remember what you laid claim to tonight,” he urged her. “With the candles. You proclaimed out our future and said it would be so.”

She nodded again, still staring down at the floor, until she felt his fingers graze her chin and lightly tip it upward. “We have such little time, Tess,” he said. “Let’s not spend it this way.”

She remembered the list, lying on the sofa. “There are questions, things I’m supposed to ask about Khivar.”

“First us,” he said quietly. “Then we will deal with the others.”
She nodded solemnly, gazing up at him a moment. They stood only a few inches apart, and she could feel energy emanating from his body. More than that, though, she felt nearly unsteady from the strength of his emotions, which were washing over her faster than she could identify them. She stumbled a bit, and he caught her by the arm.

“I-I’m not used to…it…yet,” she explained as he held her firmly within his hands, concern flickering in his eyes. “The Empathy.”

“It was too much this quickly, especially without me to guide you in it,” he agreed, nodding thoughtfully. “But you’re handling it fine, Tess.”

“How can you be so sure?”

“Because I know you, how strong you are,” he explained. “Or I never would have allowed us to join our powers the way we did.”

“It scares me,” she admitted softly, feeling childish.

“Do I?” He asked, and she couldn’t miss how vulnerable he sounded. “Scare you, I mean?”

“Of course not!” She cried, shaking her head in brisk denial. “How can you even wonder that?”

“Because what scares you is the greatest part of me, Tess,” he explained. “It pulses in my blood, is what I am.”

“It doesn’t frighten me inside of you, Marco,” she whispered. “It never could.”

Marco drew her close against his chest, and she felt the soft wool of his sweater brush against her cheek. Beneath it, she could feel his tautly muscled chest, and the soft hammering of his heart.

“I have changed you Tess, you’re right,” Marco said, kissing her lightly on the top of the head. “And the transformation is only going to continue in the coming days and weeks. But what I’ve given you isn’t some wild, untamed thing. You’ll control your gift, just as I do.”

“That’s what Riley told me this afternoon.”

“Well you should listen to my brother,” Marco laughed softly. “If you wont listen to me.”

“Oh, yeah, right,” Tess complained archly. “You have such a hard time getting me to listen to you, McKinley.”

“I suppose you really should be the one raising that complaint, not me.”

“Well, listen to this, then,” she breathed seductively, staring up at him. “I’ve waited all day for you to come to me, to kiss me…” Her voice trailed off, and she licked her lips, feeling suddenly daring—and she tried to ignore the fear that kept edging in on her about Marco’s safety.

He reached large hands to cup her face, and bent low to kiss her. His lips brushed against hers, soft and full and slowly he urged her mouth open. Every time he touched her was a slow caress, an act of obvious worship. She closed her eyes tightly shut, as their tongues began to twine rhythmically together, and his salty taste instantly filled her mouth.

His hands tangled through her hair, and she rose onto her toes to deepen the kiss. She always forgot that he was more than a foot taller than she was, and when they stood like this, she craved more of him than she could nearly reach. Her own hands threaded through his bristling black hair, drawing his dark head closer down to her. He moved quickly, guiding her backwards toward the sofa, until he eased her onto her back. She was so lost in the swirling impressions that were sweeping over her, that she hardly noticed when he lowered himself on top of her until suddenly she realized they were lying flush against one another. She felt his strong arousal through his jeans, pushing hard against her own bare thigh.

“Ahh,” she murmured in his ear, nipping at his throat. In reply, he buried his dark head against her breasts, pulling her t-shirt upward. Only this time, she felt warm hands against her ribs, then her very bare breasts. He gasped softly in surprise when he realized she wasn’t wearing a bra, his fingers stilling a bit for a moment.

“It’s okay,” she urged with a smile as he looked up at her in question. Only, Marco, she thought. Only my gentle Marco would even wonder if I minded something so innocent.

He answered by kissing her again, a slow, searing thing that felt like a brand right down to her soul. She literally sensed something shift inside of her, as he began stroking her nipples, as if he were doing something to her in the unseen realm.

“Wh-what…are you…doing?” She managed to gasp.

“Going deeper…inside.”

And that’s what it was, she realized as she felt his kisses move from her skin to her soul. To her Empath’s soul. This was something unique to them now, a particular way they would open to one another, different than a bond, though that would come for them soon, too.

She gasped as she felt him penetrate her more deeply, sensed him stroking her from the inside out, felt his kisses graze her heart. “Oh,” she cried out softly, arching back onto the pillow as he raised her t-shirt, revealing her breasts. “More…please,” she nearly begged. “Go deeper…even more…”

She felt him answer when a cascade of colors and sounds showered across her skin that could only be described as exotic and utterly alien. He’d never shown her this side of himself before, never taken her to this realm. “This is what I am,” he whispered again. “Different…than others, like I’ve always told you.”

“I…see…now,” she acknowledged, barely able to speak as the sensations and sounds began moving inside of her. “Beautiful…just beautiful.”

In response, he slipped the t-shirt over her head, until she lay nearly naked in his arms, nothing but quiet moonlight outlining her every curve and line. He sat up and stared down at her, his eyes roaming over her in unmasked appreciation. But she was surprised when she saw his eyes water a bit at the sight of her.

“What?” she asked, feeling suddenly exposed.

“I have always known you were beautiful, Ayanna…but nothing prepared me for this moment. Would you…sit up for me? That I might see even better?” he murmured the words tentatively, dropping his eyes downward.

She drew herself up, so that she knelt before him on the sofa. She wore only her silken panties, and was otherwise completely nude before her near-mate. She gave her head a quick toss, so that her long hair cascaded across her shoulders like a waterfall.

His mouth fell slightly open as his gaze traveled down the length of her, resting momentarily on her breasts then moving down to her hips. Every place his eyes traversed burned with his energy, seared just by his simplest glance, until finally his gaze fell upon her hair.

“I grew it for you,” she admitted. “All the months when I wondered if you were alive, if you’d ever come back to me, it was a promise I made to never give up on you.”

“I could spend all day just stroking your hair, feeling it in my hands. That there is more of it, only means there’s more of you for me to touch.”

“I knew…you liked it…long,” she gulped, feeling her throat tighten at his words.

He reached admiring fingers to stroke the ends of her hair. “Exquisite,” he murmured quietly. Almost as if in response, thick curls spilled over her shoulder, covering her breasts, and he slowly eased them away. “As are these,” he added, stroking her nipples beneath his thumbs. They instantly sprang to life, answering his soft touch.

“Oh, Marco,” she sighed, throwing her head back. “Why do we have to wait? Mate with me tonight, please.” And she wanted all of him so badly, that she ached with her need for him. Waiting seemed impossible, unreasonable in light of the danger she sensed all around him. She might never have the chance for him to make love to her again after tonight, and even if only in their dreams, at least they’d be bonded.

“Whatever happens, Tess,” he said, cupping her hips in his palms. “You will always have part of me now, don’t you understand?”

“No,” she whimpered at his implied refusal to her plea. “Not at all.”

“I’m inside of you, a part of me is now entwined with you, it’s what it means that we’re near-mates. We’re partially joined…the lovemaking will only complete that.”

“And if you die?” Her voice broke on the question, as tears burned in her eyes.

“If I die, a part of me lives on within you.” His dark eyes grew hooded, unreadable, and she pushed close to him, determined to read his expression. But she didn’t even need to because she felt his melancholy roil through her spirit.

“Do not die, Marco McKinley. Promise me.” Her jaw was clinched and her voice tight. “Promise me that you will live, no matter what.”

“No man has ever had more inspiration to live, than to return to you, Tess. To make love to you, to make you my wife, my lifemate…what more could I want to live for than that?”

“Live for me, then,” she said, her voice breaking painfully on the words. “And come back to me when the battle is done.”

The battle,a quiet voice prompted. You must show him the list now.

“The list,” she cried, feeling around for it on the sofa with sudden urgency. “There are things we need to know about what’s happening in Khivar’s camp.”

He nodded, as she found the crumpled paper poking out from beneath his jean-clad thigh. She pulled on it, prying it free and handed him the small piece of paper.

“Ah…Liz,” he smiled appreciatively, as he read over the list, which was printed in her neat handwriting. “I should have known the list was her idea.”

And Tess couldn’t help laughing giddily at his assessment, at the way their minds tracked so naturally in the same direction. He glanced up at her quizzically and she shook her head. “Just that I thought the list was such a Liz thing to do, too.”

“You’re more like a warrior, interested in action and resolution.”

“And Liz is more of a strategist,” Tess finished, feeling suddenly inadequate to her role as Max’s chief advisor.

“You balance our king and queen well,” he assessed softly, continuing to read the list, and Tess’s insecurities vanished instantly at his gentle praise.

He was silent a long moment while he read, until he folded the paper closed. “Alright then,” he pronounced. “We have much to discuss, and not long to do it. Let’s give you the information that will turn the tide of this coming battle.”

Tess reached for her t-shirt, feeling suddenly ridiculous sitting in front of Marco nearly naked. They were warriors now, ready to fight beside one another, not lovers. His role as a protector had to come first, of that she’d always been certain from the beginning. And what Serena had said was true, too—that when they mated, she’d take her place beside him as a warrior and a protector in her own right.

“I’m sorry,” he said, his voice more throaty than usual, as he watched her dress. “As a man, you know what I want.”

“But as a protector, R’thasme siet falne.” She recited his vow reverentially, and his eyes widened in surprise. “I haven’t forgotten, Marco. ‘Dying to self, in order to protect those most worthy.’”

“My vow’s a part of you now, too, just as my gift is.”

“I know that, I feel it,” she admitted quietly. “I may fight it sometimes, but I do know your vow must come first…even above me. That part’s never changed.”

He nodded slowly, drawing her hand to his lips. He pressed soft kisses against her knuckles, with lips that were warm and soothing.

“I love you, Tess,” he whispered, his dark eyes flashing with a nearly supernatural light. “I love you and I am coming back to you.”

Tess smiled, because she felt his determination shiver right down her spine, it was that definite.

And at least that kind of strength made a powerful enemy to the whisper of danger that she sensed shifting all around him.




[ edited 28time(s), last at 1-Jan-2002 7:54:50 PM ]
posted on 5-Nov-2001 8:54:09 AM by RosDeidre
Author's Note:
Thanks for the fb, guys!!! Kath--it was wonderful to hear that nobody will forget this fic, because sometimes that's what I get afraid of. But I can only write as quickly as I can during this pregnancy, which has had a lot of complications along the way. As you can imagine, triplets always will!! :-) So, Kath, those were mighty encouraging words!!

And thanks to the rest of you for the lavish praise on this section. It really inspired me to keep on plugging!

ABOUT GRAVITY...many, many keep asking for repost. I have put the first four chatpers or so on the repost board here. The problem is that I wasn't able to save the html version off of jenn's old vault thread, so I have to go through and do all the italics and stuff myself on each part. My computer won't just "HTML" the fic, so there's the problem. But I AM workign on it and will try to speed it up. I finally finished HTDC the other day!

many hugs, Deidre
posted on 11-Nov-2001 5:31:19 PM by RosDeidre
Author's Note:
Still working on reposting this whole story on the repost thread. I think I'm up to about part twelve...Like I said on the CRAZY thread yesterday, it's been an incredibly difficult week for me. So, I decided to write as the ultimate therapy. I hope you guys enjoy this part!!


PART THIRTY SEVEN

Max stormed from one end of their small bedroom to the other, raking his hand through his hair in obvious agitation. It wasn’t storming, exactly, Liz thought as she watched his movement, more like he was stalking back and forth. It was a rare event for him to be quite this angry with her, especially since it represented such a wild pendulum swing from their earlier lovemaking out in the woods.

She guessed that his body still coursed with energy from their earlier joining, since her own certainly did. Her skin tingled and she thrummed with the alien power Max had left resident deep inside of her. She even burned a bit low in her abdomen, which she couldn’t recall happening quite so distinctly in their previous mating seasons.

Something had definitely been different about this union, not least because of the impending battle. It had been more than that, as if they’d pressed to a deeper place within their relationship, their bond. Afterwards, they’d lain breathlessly on the large rock, just staring into one another’s eyes, and she’d thought she might never be able to break from the moment. But then Max had nestled his face against her breast, sighing so heavily, her heart had ached with the sound. And she’d known that like she, he wished they could remain just like that, in one another’s arms, shutting the world out forever. Denying the existence of their enemies, the battles…Khivar.

Now all their earlier intimacy had dissolved in the face of their current argument about whether she’d accompany them on tonight’s mission. But Liz couldn’t back down because as she watched Max’s jaw twitch in anger, she realized something more was at stake here. It wasn’t just his unwillingness to let her accompany them. He was holding onto her as if her very life depended on it.

“Max, look, I know you’re just trying to protect me,” she began and he raised his hand to silence her.

He stopped pacing just in front of her, his amber eyes flashing hot with anger. “Liz, no way,” he blurted. “I’ve thought about this long enough. You’re staying here.”

“I am not!” She cried defiantly, clinching her fists by her sides.

“Are you going to just…slap me in the face like this?” He demanded, stepping even closer to where she sat on the edge of their bed.

“I’m not slapping you in the face at all,” she exclaimed in frustration. “I’m trying to do my job here, Max.”

“Which is to stay back from the thick of things,” he concluded hotly.

Liz jumped to her feet, and moved away from him. “No, it isn’t. It’s to fight along with the rest of our unit.”

“You’re not part of the unit.”

Liz’s entire body stiffened, her head snapping in his direction. She saw him bristle visibly, almost as if he knew what irretrievable words he’d just uttered.

“Excuse me?” She asked with forced calm, moving to where he now stood facing away from her. “You didn’t just say what I think you did, Max Evans.”

She noticed that his hands still shook with tiny tremors, and recognized that part of their problem were all the hormones and alien urges still careening through their bodies. It had left each of them tense, on edge. But also ready to fight.

“You heard me,” he ground out, spinning to face her. “And if it keeps you from getting killed, I don’t care if it hurts.”

“Max,” she laughed sarcastically, tossing her hair over her shoulder. “I’m as much a part of this unit as you are. There were five of us.”

“You were only sent as my wife.”

“Fuck you.” The words were quiet, but smoldered in intensity. “Absolutely fuck you, Max.”

He didn’t flinch, and folded his arms smugly across his chest. “Go ask Serena if you don’t believe me.”

“No thank you,” she declared bitterly. “I know who I am, and what you would have said about my place at any other time.”

“You’re not going, Liz, and that’s final,” he announced quietly.

“I don’t have to listen to you.”

“Yes, you do,” he said, his voice hushed in its intensity. “I’m the king.”

“Fuck you again!” This time she shouted it, and didn’t care if the words echoed through the entire house. “I will not be dominated by you, Max, just so you can get your way on this. You may be king to the rest of this household, to a whole planet or whatever. But you’re husband to me, and you’re not going to order me around!”

He stared at her for one endless moment, his chest heaving with uneven breaths, and Liz tipped her chin upward defiantly, never allowing her gaze to waver from his eyes. Finally, a hopeless sigh escaped his lips as he sank onto the edge of the bed, burying his face in his hands. “I can’t lose you,” he admitted in a heavy voice. “God, please just don’t come tonight, Liz.”

The anger and harshness instantly dissolved from around Liz’s heart. Her soulmate had crumpled before her eyes, and she wasn’t sure, but she feared he might be crying.

“Max,” she whispered softly, settling right beside him on the bed. “You can’t hold onto me like this, otherwise I’m your downfall. Don’t you see that? If you keep me here, you weaken the unit.”

He was silent for a long moment, and an expectant hush fell over them both. Liz wondered if he would still try to deny what she was to them all, just to win with her—or if he’d acknowledge what he would ordinarily admit quite readily.

“You’re our fifth.” His statement was simple, matter of fact, as he dropped his hands away from his face. “You complete our unit, but more than that, you’re their leader, too. I was out of line, Liz.”

“You’re scared.”

“Only for you. When we made love, everything else faded. I’m ready…but not to lose you, Liz.”

“We’re in this together, Max,” Liz encouraged quietly, slipping her arm around his shoulders. “We always have been.”

He nodded silently, placing his hand on her thigh. She felt his hand trembling, and eased her own on top of it. “You’re still…shaky,” she observed.

“And horny as hell,” he corrected, with a faint smile, yet his eyes still showed strain.

“Well, see, my husband and king, let’s go win this battle together, and then come home and perform Antarian mating rituals all night long.”

Max laughed softly, nodding in acquiescence. “That’s the best plan I’ve heard all night.”

“Just think how…tight you’ll be afterwards,” she coaxed, running her fingers through the hair along his nape. “How much you’ll want to lose yourself.” She pressed a soft, lingering kiss on his neck and was surprised by the fiery warmth of his skin. He was still in the thick of the mating urge, that much was evident from the heat of his skin and the soft tremors shaking his body.

“It won’t distract me,” he explained, answering her unspoken question. “Being…in season.”

“How’d you know what I was thinking, Max?” She asked, running her palm down the length of his back. “We’re not connected…” Her voice faded, since she didn’t have the heart to discuss their absent bond at the moment.

He shrugged lightly. “I just knew, Liz. I don’t need the connection to know your heart. Never have.”

“I love you, Max,” she whispered, turning his face to kiss him fully on the lips. “You will defeat our enemies tonight. I know it. And…I also know you’re not distracted by me.”

Max nodded, cupping her face within his palms, as he deepened the kiss. Finally, he bowed his head, leaning his forehead against hers as he gasped for air. “No, love, I’m empowered by you…by this.”

They sat like that, breathing heavily, trembling against one another in silence for several moments. Finally, Max pressed a soft kiss against Liz’s cheek and whispered, “Come, my lovely queen. Come with me…complete me, empower me…” Liz’s heart thundered as he murmured the soft declarations of love, uttered even as he led her into war. “Fight with me…beside me.”

“Yes,” she agreed softly, nestling her face against his neck. “Together.”

“And when we return,” he sighed in her ear, sending light shivers across her skin. “Make love to me, complete me, empower me again.”

Liz closed her eyes and memorized his words, allowed them to etch across her spirit. And tried to ignore her own fears for her husband and king as they prepared to enter the heart of the enemy’s lair.

*****
Serena sat in the back cab of the Suburban, staring out the rear window with keen eyes. It was her job to make sure they weren’t followed by anyone, since they were the secondary vehicle, following closely behind the first team.

In her Suburban rode Max, Riley, Anna, Tess, Isabel, Maria and Michael, and in the first car rode all the others. She’d wrestled for months now about involving the humans, about their place in this revolution, but in the end she had to admit that they’d all trained as hard as the rest of the two units—sometimes more so.

Kyle, for instance, had shown himself incredibly adept at the weaponry, which apparently came from a lifetime of exposure to guns--whereas Michael was far too impatient, and tended to resort to his powers rather than weather the arduous training and discipline necessary to master the M-16. Well, and he was also very fond of the K-12 Luminators and the ease with which they tore into any target.

That had led to her decision within the past week to form a third unit, one comprised solely of humans, as they’d prepared for this confrontation. She’d placed Kyle in charge of what she now referred to as Unit Three, and the choice had not been without risk, given how he tended to chafe against orders and command. But she’d trusted her instinct and not regretted the decision, as he’d pulled the other humans together quickly tonight, rising with ease to the position she’d placed him in.

The other Suburban rode just ahead of them, and her only unease about that was not having Liz under her own careful watch. Yet splitting the royal couple had been the only condition under which she could allow them both into the fray, otherwise it was too risky. If by some horrible twist Max should fall tonight, it would be imperative that Liz survive. And vice versa. So she’d separated them immediately, placing one in each Suburban.

Tess sat just beside her, shifting a bit uncomfortably and Serena cast a quick glance in her direction. Her golden hair hung in a thick braid down her back, and Serena ran her hand down the length of it in quick gesture. Tess looked at her in surprise, as the golden color shifted instantly to black.

“What?” Tess asked, tugging at her braid. “Is something wrong?”

“Only the color,” Serena explained quietly, waving a hand over her own hair. “Blonde is too visible at night…shows up on the night vision goggles. Now you have black.”

Tess touched her hair tentatively and Serena noticed that her large blue eyes were even more luminous against the dark color. “Like Marco’s,” Serena added with a soft smile, and Tess dropped her eyes instantly. Serena didn’t miss that a shadow passed over her features at the mention of Marco’s name, and she knew Tess worried for him.

Serena surveyed the other soldiers within the automobile, just as any good general would. Not that she was that by a long shot—no, that had been her husband’s role, not her own—yet circumstances had placed her in something of that position while here on Earth. And now her unit had trained years for this night, she thought as she watched Riley slip a bulletproof vest over his head. If only their enemies’ weapons were mostly human, not alien in origin, she thought apprehensively, as her eyes drifted shut for a passing moment.

“Riley,” she called quietly, and he glanced over his shoulder. “Hair,” she prompted, tapping a light hand against her own darkened braid. In one easy gesture, his hair transformed from its usual sunny gold to a dark ebony.

Serena exhaled heavily, her gaze sweeping around the vehicle for any other forgotten details, anything they might have overlooked. The hardest part about tonight was her fear for them all, her overwhelming desire to protect them from what lay ahead.

And like Tess, she couldn’t help worrying for Marco, despite her efforts to center her energy. She felt concern for Riley, of course, but there was something unsettling about Marco that she couldn’t dismiss. Something that kept bringing the death of her son Rasme to mind, even after all these years.

Serena shook her head, wishing she could clear away those haunting memories from the past, and reached low around her waist to strap on her K-12 Luminator. Rasme had been as different from Marco as Antar was from Earth. Where Marco was careful and methodical in his warfare, Rasme had been wild and unrestrained. Before his death, Rasme’s own father had ceased speaking to him because of the reckless compulsion that had advanced him so quickly through the Antarian military ranks.

So why had Marco always brought Rasme to mind, Serena reflected, slipping a pistol into her holster.

Because he’s more like your son than any of the others, even more than Riley
, a soft voice answered. Because his heart is so gentle, even though it resides within a mighty warrior.

Serena grew perfectly still at the realization, even as her eyes searched the darkened terrain beyond the Suburban’s back window. How could she have only just now understood? After so many years?

Rasme had been just that way—wild and unrestrained in his warfare perhaps, but in his quiet moments, he’d possessed such a surprising gentleness. Even as alien as his black eyes had been, sometimes she saw something of them in Marco’s dark human ones. Something similar and deep flashing in their moody depths.

She refused to believe that any harm would befall Marco tonight. She wouldn’t lose another son to Khivar, wouldn’t watch as he struck another of her beloved down, even if she had to give her life to prevent it. Not Riley, not Marco—nor any of those she’d been sent to protect for all these years.

Serena rubbed her eyes, tossing her long braid over her shoulder as she surveyed the others around her. Everyone was in full battle gear, dressed completely in black, with weapons at their sides. The air around them was literally shimmering with electric expectation, and had been ever since Marco had given the go-ahead for the attack through his communication with Tess earlier in the evening. He’d confirmed their suspicions—that Khivar would be in camp late tonight, and so now was the time to strike.

This was the window of opportunity that she’d anticipated for more than sixty years. That the resistance had.

It was time for war.

****
Marco lifted his night vision glasses and surveyed the terrain behind the train tracks. He’d been patrolling for more than an hour, and for most of that time, had battled the unshakeable sensation that someone was watching him. An enemy, not his own people.

He’d been assigned, rather randomly, to guard the area along the railroad tracks tonight, which was his least favorite perimeter to patrol. The landscape was eerie, littered with the shells of abandoned automobiles and equipment, and winding far off into the darkened night. It was the sort of place where one might easily vanish, even in the most peaceful of worlds--might simply disappear only to be found further down the tracks, days or even months later…lifeless.

And it was worst when the trains came careening through, their shrill whistles keening like banshees in the winter night. That’s when he hated it the most, felt unsettled down to his marrow. At those times he focused on Tess. Kept his senses clear, his eyes open, and thought of his soulmate. Otherwise, the sensations threatened to overrun his spirit, his mind—so he used his lifelong trick for mastering his empathy, forbade it from making him feel edgy and unstable.

Control was always his key, had been for years now. So long as he mastered his gifts, they would never control him.

And tonight was an ideal chance to perfect his discipline, Marco reflected dryly, as the sensations kept pressing heavily on his spirit. Someone was out there watching, someone who wished him harm, and he felt it tugging at him like a deathly undertow, seductive, tempting. But he couldn’t succumb to the feel of it, had to remain the one in control of the sensations…until he discovered the location of his invisible adversary.

He paced the length of the tracks, feeling around him with his intuition like so many tendrils into the darkened winter night. But the impressions circled him, closing in on him…more than one enemy, he thought, as he lifted the night vision glasses again.

Nothing, so he began his pacing again, feeling the stiff crunch of frozen earth beneath his hiking boots. His own unit wasn’t due for hours, so he knew he wasn’t sensing their presence, mistaking them as his own enemy. No, his intuition told him that something sinister was heavily in the air around him and not just Khivar’s eminent arrival.

This was the danger he’d sensed all day, what Tess had tried to warn him about—and now he feared it had come upon him.

He heard the distant squeal of metal against tracks, as a quiet rumble began low in his chest. He could see just the barest pinpoint of light form a long funnel in his direction. It was strange that he should hate these night trains so much, when he and Riley had always loved the trains that tore through Santa Fe. The two of them had made a hobby of pressing pennies along the railroad tracks there, keeping the flattened copper pieces in a small shoebox that Serena had given him.

But these night trains were different, left him feeling as unsettled as their high pitch screams, he thought, as the sound of the engine neared.

Enemy, closer now…closer, his heart hammered with the train, warning him. Marco searched the darkness around him frantically, spinning around as a white hot flash of light exploded before his eyes--right before it ripped straight through his chest, piercing him as he collapsed to the frozen ground. Everything moved in slow motion as he fumbled desperately for his M-16. His arms flailed at the air, and there was another white flash, tinged with blue as more shrill pain tore into his heart.

Marco screamed, but it was a noiseless sound, muffled by the hammering train that thundered only a few feet away. He collapsed backwards, hitting the ground hard as he raised his M-16 with trembling fingers, hoping to get a round off before he was hit again.

The enemy appeared. Not one, but four advanced upon him from the velvet night, and he fired until the white light exploded through his body yet again.

Ayanna, he cried out noiselessly. Ayanna…
And then the darkness enfolded him, fading to an even deeper black.
****
Serena dropped the night vision glasses when she heard a muffled cry beside her. She turned quickly to find Tess clawing at her chest with both hands, her eyes wide with terror. Her whole body was taut like a rope, her mouth opening and closing soundlessly.

“Tess!” She cried, scrambling to her side. “What’s wrong?”

Tess didn’t respond, just kept staring at some unseen place ahead of her, grasping desperately at her chest. A small cry escaped her lips, but otherwise she struggled soundlessly. “Tess!” Serena cried again, clasping at her hands where they were drawn tightly over her heart.
Just ahead of them Riley scrambled over the seat into the back of the cab, landing nearly on top of them both with a thud. Yet in all that time, Tess’s wide blue eyes never focused, never turned toward any of them.

“Should I pull over?” Anna shouted from her position in the driver’s seat.

“No!” Serena called, clasping Tess’s face within her palms. “Keep going!”

“Tess, please,” Serena reasoned quietly, trying to get her to focus. “What’s wrong. Tell us.”

“I’m coming back there,” Max cried from the front, and Serena knew that they needed him. Tess seemed to be in some sort of cardiac arrest, or perhaps worse. Max struggled over the tops of seats, moving their way, yet Tess remained completely catatonic.

Her clear blue eyes watered and she began shaking uncontrollably, and Serena knew she’d never seen anything quite like this, not in all her years with the resistance. Why now, now that they were entering the thick of the battle? It made no sense…unless.

“Tess, is it Marco?” Serena asked, her voice tight with tension. “Is something wrong with him?”

Tess’s mouth opened momentarily, and a soft whimper escaped her lips as her eyes watered a bit more, yet no reply came. Max landed practically on top of them all as he catapulted across the back seat.

“Let me try healing her…” he said, wiping his brow with the back of his hand.

Serena stroked Tess’s arm, wanting to comfort her. “It’s her heart…I think,” Serena instructed uncertainly, and Max placed his palm squarely over her small hands, where they were drawn tight across her chest.

Instantly, as if in response, Tess’s entire body stiffened, her head arching backward. Her lovely blue eyes suddenly widened even more, then rolled backwards into her head as she clutched wildly at her chest.

And then she crumpled to the floor of the cab, utterly lifeless.






posted on 27-Nov-2001 4:40:24 PM by RosDeidre
Author's Note:
Hi, guys!! Many of you have already seen this part of GRAVITY over on the old site (I posted just before the holiday). But I wanted to be sure it was posted here, also.

I hope everyone had a marvelous Thanksgiving holiday.

Hugs!
Deidre

PART THIRTY EIGHT



Tess ran through a dark, abandoned warehouse, guided only by Marco’s distant cries as she staggered blindly toward him.

“I’m coming!” She called out in reply, feeling her way along the cold walls. “Marco, I’m coming!”
She needed him to hear her, to believe that she would find him. But everything was so murky and difficult to see, so unlike their usual dream meetings.

Was that even what this was?

Tess wasn’t sure, and the sharp ache in her chest only confused her more. At first, she’d felt explosive pain right through her heart, but it had dulled once she’d entered the dream state, chasing after Marco as he led her into the darkness.

Corridors led to more corridors, but still she couldn’t find him. It seemed she’d been searching endlessly, her only compass his deep, familiar voice as he periodically called for her. Sometimes she heard Tess, other times Ayanna…yet she couldn’t seem to grow any nearer to him.

And he was suffering. She felt it in every part of her spirit, her body. They were hurting him and she felt thoroughly powerless, as she stumbled through the dark recesses of his mind.

Finally, she found a turn in the hallway, something that marked a change in the interior of the warehouse, and saw a faint beam of light flooding out of a doorway. She quickened her pace, her chest aching so sharply that she had to clutch it with both hands. Anything to stop the pain from invading again.

Follow the beam of light, she coached herself. Stay on target.

The pain intensified, exploding and she pushed through it toward the open door, where a slim red light spilled into the hallway. There were people in her way, strangers, and she shoved past them, needing to see…

And found Marco lying on the floor of a small, dirty cell. His wrists were lashed high above his head against an old steam pipe, and he slumped forward, unconscious. His feet were bound tightly together, rendering him immobile. But it was his hands she focused on. Wire had been used in tying them against the pipe, so tightly that now his dark wrists bled from his struggling.

The people gathered around him were snickering, mocking him as she spun to stare at them in disgust. “What’s wrong with all of you?” She demanded. “Let him go!” She shoved at one girl, who didn’t even react and then Tess recognized her as Lonnie.

“They can’t hear you, Tess.” Marco’s voice was weak, as she pressed toward him. Slowly he raised his dark head to meet her gaze. His eyes were bleary and bloodshot, as she dropped to her knees beside him. “They don’t even know you’re here with me,” he explained.

“What have they done to you?” Tess asked softly, stroking his face with her fingertips, needing to soothe him somehow. “What’s happened?”

“You’re with me,” he mumbled quietly, by way of explanation. Tess had the strong impression that the words made sense to him.

“I know, sweetheart. I know,” she whispered, pressing soft kisses against his temple. “But what did they do to you?”

“Ambush,” he murmured, his black eyes fluttering closed. “On patrol…found out I’m...traitor…waiting for me.”

Her gaze moved quickly to his chest, as she remembered the terrible pain she’d felt at what must have been the moment of his attack. There was no blood, and she exhaled heavily with gratitude.

“The disruptor?” She asked, placing a palm against his warm chest. She could feel his rapid heartbeat, even through the thick wool of his turtleneck sweater.

He nodded silently, dropping his head again in exhaustion. “Over and over,” he finally added. She settled her hand against his heart and pain instantly ricocheted within her as she absorbed it into her spirit. She hadn’t even intended to do it, but she was always so open to him, so connected even without yet being his bondmate.

His head snapped upward as she collapsed onto the cold warehouse floor. “Tess, don’t,” he begged. “Don’t try to take the pain on yourself.”

“I-I…” she gasped, struggling for her breath. “Didn’t even…mean to.”

He closed his eyes at her words. “Be careful, sweet Tess,” he whispered. “You’re so vulnerable with this Empathy still…be careful tonight.”

She nodded, swallowing hard as she crawled to his side again. “Are you…asleep?” She asked, glancing around them at the group of their enemies. This time she saw Nicholas. There were four or five of them, just staring down at Marco with derision.

“Unconscious,” he corrected quietly. “And they’re waiting.”

“For what?” She asked, kissing him again on the forehead, drinking his scent inside of her.

“To mind rape me when I wake. And then they’ll know everything.” His voice was thick as he struggled to meet her eyes. “Tess, they’ll know about the mission tonight, about you, me...everything. And Khivar comes quickly. I feel it…him. Even unconscious I can feel him nearing.”

“Am…I…unconscious, too?” She asked, burying her face against his chest. “Or just bound to you somehow? I’m so confused.”

“Think back, love, and you’ll understand,” he instructed in his usual gentle way. In the way he’d been guiding her so much with her gifts lately—even now, that he was captured and in such pain. “Think…”

“I was in the car,” she offered, wanting the rest to be a lie. Wanting the only truth to be the feel of Marco against her. “On the way here. And then…pain…terrible pain in my chest.”

“Yes, when I was attacked,” he offered softly. “You must have passed out.”

“I think I did,” she agreed, nodding her head. “I think I needed to join you like this.”

Marco sighed wearily, shifting a bit beneath her in obvious discomfort. She raised her head and stared into his eyes, and for the first time realized that he was still completely bound. She’d been so focused on talking to him…on making sure he was alright that she’d overlooked releasing him.

“Oh, Marco!” She suddenly cried, leaping to her feet. “I haven’t freed your hands!”

“Tess,” he interrupted, as she stood and began fumbling with the wire that tied his wrists together against the pipe. “It doesn’t matter…it won’t change the way things really are.”

“It matters to me!” She disagreed, needing desperately to free him. She lifted her hand to use her powers, but they were useless. And the wires were so tangled and enmeshed around his skin, rendering it an impossible task, she realized as she worked to free him.

“Tess, please,” he said, gazing up at her. “I just need you. Don’t waste our time together on something this… futile.”

She knelt beside him, and stroked his hair slowly. He closed his eyes at the gesture, swallowing visibly. “How can I help you?” she asked, feeling tears burn her eyes. “Tell me, sweetheart.”

“Just love me,” he answered huskily. “And then warn the others. Can you do that?”

“Of course,” she nodded, biting her lip in an effort to stave the tears. “I will find you again once I wake, Marco. I promise.”

“Good,” he murmured weakly, his eyes drifting shut again as she stroked his cheek. “Very good, my love.”

****
Marco wanted to stay with her. It was all he’d ever wanted, just to be loved by her, touched by her. To drink in the golden mystery that was his Tess.

But she was fading fast.

Instead, murky figures were emerging from the thick darkness around him, circling like vultures. Insistent, unwilling to wait any longer.

“Wake up, you hybrid freak!” A familiar voice taunted. He sought the owner’s identity in his mind, then remembered. Nicholas. The remark was followed by a sharp kick in his ribs. “I’m talking to you, McKinley.”

Nicholas was whispering in his ear now, urging him to open his eyes. But the lids were just too heavy still. Other voices crooned quietly from the fog. He recognized Lonnie and Aaron.

“Either wake up, or I can arrange to have you woken,” came a command from an unknown male voice. Threatening, far too self-assured. Cocky even.

Marco tried to open his eyes, but they were simply unwilling to respond. He felt cornered, and in desperation, he sought Tess with his Empathy, felt all around for her. But she’d vanished, replaced only by the dim figures surrounding him in the darkness.

And Marco was stone cold, especially his chest. All the warmth of Tess’s tiny body against his own was gone, replaced instead by the frigid air of his cell.

“McKinley!” The foreign voice commanded. “Wake, now!”

Something about the authority in the voice compelled him to obey, and his eyes slowly opened despite their heaviness.

“Yes, very good,” the man answered, and Marco realized he had squatted down beside him. He was tall, probably almost tall as himself, with long, blonde hair and piercing blue eyes--not beautiful as the water, like Tess’s. No these eyes were cold and lifeless.

“How kind of you to join us, protector,” the stranger continued, glancing quickly in Nicholas’s direction. “And how very convenient that you revealed your betrayal at last.”

“Khivar,” Marco whispered through parched lips. He was answered by a smug smile, as icy blue eyes narrowed like a cat’s.

“Indeed, protector,” he answered, rocking back onto his heels. “We meet at last. How very unfortunate that the circumstances are so…shall I say, inconvenient.” Khivar glanced meaningfully at where Marco’s wrists were bound above his head, then back down again.

Marco met his piercing gaze without allowing his eyes to waver. He knew the intense visual examination was meant to intimidate, to send him into mental retreat. This was the way with the skins and their leadership. They thrived on power and dominance, and often used it as a prelude to a vicious mind rape.

Marco didn’t break the gaze, as moments spun out eternally. Finally, Khivar tilted his chin upward, blinking almost imperceptibly.

“So, Marco McKinley, you know why you are here, do you not?”

Marco didn’t answer, though his heartbeat quickened in reply. He prayed that he could somehow cloak those he was sworn to protect within his mind. And those he wasn’t. Tess.

“Ah, so very defiant,” Khivar assessed, glancing again at Nicholas. His unspoken command was answered by another sharp kick into Marco’s ribs, and Marco couldn’t suppress a soft cry at the impact. He dropped his eyes and for the first time it occurred to him why he was so unreasonably cold. They had stripped him from the waist up. He wore only his black denim jeans now, and his boots. His sweater and parka lay in a crumpled pile on the floor.

Another tactic he was familiar with--strip the enemy to lower their defenses and leave them vulnerable. He wondered when they’d taken his sweater, since he’d been wearing it moments before with Tess.

Khivar knelt closer, splaying a palm across Marco’s bare chest. His fingertips were surprisingly cold, even with as cool as Marco’s skin already was. “You will reveal everything, protector. Including the plans of your feeble king.” His voice was little more than a sneer, as he settled another hand on the side of Marco’s head.
Marco understood that Khivar was beginning something even worse than a mind rape, something deeper and more invasive. It was the reason he’d positioned his hand over Marco’s heart as he began it.

Marco felt the sharpest pull suddenly within his mind, answered by a similar jolt through his chest. He cried out at the visceral impact on his spirit, right as Lonnie slapped him hard across his other cheek. Marco tried to create a refractive barrier, something meant to shield his thoughts, but it was instantly overrun by Khivar’s forceful entry.

“I will know everything,” Khivar whispered as the mind rape took a darker, more sinister turn. “Understand that I will know it all this night, protector.”

Marco closed his eyes, desperate to fight, but had no ground left to hold.
*****
Tess opened her eyes and wondered why Max was leaning over her, his hand placed squarely across her heart. She coughed, trying to breathe, which had suddenly become quite difficult. Her lungs burned with every breath and she glanced quickly around her.

“Wh-what?” She tried to speak, but her mouth was thick, as she saw not only Max, but Serena and Riley surrounding her in the back of the Suburban. “What happened?”

Marco. What had happened to him? Why was he suddenly gone and instead she was here?

“I was hoping you could tell us,” Max answered in his soft voice, dropping his palm from its position over her heart. “You went into some kind of…trance.”

“Trance?” she asked in confusion, struggling to sit up. Her chest felt like someone had used a vice to crack it open. “Ah…” she cried out sharply, as she doubled over in pain.

“We believe it may have been some kind of cardiac arrest,” Serena offered, steadying her with her hand.

“No,” Tess managed to choke, still feeling a sharp burning all through her lungs.

“Then Marco,” Serena supplied with surprising confidence and Tess met her steady gaze with a soft nod. She didn’t miss the intense worry that flickered in Serena’s brown eyes, or the way she blinked rapidly in response to Tess’s confirmation.

“He’s…they’ve…” Tess struggled for the words, pressing her eyes tightly shut. He’s all that I want, all that I love. They’re hurting him…

“He’s been captured,” she finally answered. “By Nicholas and his men. Somehow they found him out. He’s been hit with the disruptor repeatedly, and he’s very weak.”

“Hit in the chest,” Serena nodded, her eyes darkening. “Which is why you had the intense pain in your heart.”

Tess felt her lip quiver, as she saw a mother’s love in Serena’s alien eyes. A bond wove between the two women in that moment, something that hadn’t existed before, as Tess understood that while different in quality and kind, Serena loved Marco very deeply herself.

“I know the way,” Tess supplied quietly, wrestling to sit up straight. “I can lead us to him once we’re there.”

“Tess, have they…” Riley averted his eyes as he wrestled to speak. “Has he been…”

“They haven’t mind raped him yet,” Tess answered with a new strength. “He’s been unconscious since the attack.”

Serena glanced to the front of the vehicle, “Anna, how much further?”

“There in five,” came her reply.

“Perhaps we can reach him before they find out our plan,” Serena assessed.

“But if they do, we still go in,” Max answered forcefully. “Nothing changes about tonight.”

“No, nothing changes,” Serena agreed with a brisk nod of her head. “Everything rides on tonight.”

******
Khivar dropped his hand from the side of Marco’s head, and immediately the rushing sound diminished, though a blinding headache remained in its wake. Marco felt violated, painfully probed within his soul and mind. His body nearly hummed in the aftermath of Khivar’s invasive plundering, as he wrestled to steady his trembling arms.

Khivar squatted beside him, silently observing Marco, as he sucked in burning draughts of air. He was ashamed that he couldn’t harness his body more effectively, that he couldn’t still the violent tremors wracking his entire frame.

Finally, Khivar spoke, breaking the intense silence that had enfolded them. “Do you know how long I’ve waited to find one such as yourself?” He asked in a voice filled with reflective awe. “Your kind doesn’t exist on our planet anymore. I saw to that.”

“My kind?” Marco asked shakily, uncertain why Khivar’s blue eyes had narrowed so keenly.

“There wasn’t a sane one of you on Antar,” he explained, rubbing his jaw as he studied Marco closely. “Which is what makes this all the more remarkable.”

“What do you mean, sir?” Nicholas asked in an obsequious voice. “We know he’s protector to the king…”

“No, more than that, Nicholas,” Khivar breathed, his cat-like eyes narrowing again. “Far more. This royal protector is also an Empath.”

“What? There’s no way!” Nicholas cried in disbelief, and then seemed to remember himself when Khivar cast a withering glance in his direction. Nicholas shifted uneasily on his feet, bowing his head subtly. “How is that even possible, sir?”

“I believe our captive can explain that,” Khivar answered, rising to his feet. Marco stared up at his looming figure, unaccustomed to such a physical disadvantage. He was always the one who towered over others, the one who caused them to stand just a bit taller. Now Marco could only lie on the floor and gaze up at his captors and pray they’d show mercy.

“I…I don’t know…what you mean,” he stammered quietly, his eyes sweeping the room until his gaze fell briefly on Lonnie. It was eerie how like Isabel she looked in the near darkness, yet her face was lined with pure malice, not the goodness he always saw in Isabel’s warm eyes.

“Oh, you know well, McKinley,” Khivar roared, tossing his long hair arrogantly as he began to circle him predatorily. “I felt your struggle during the mind rape, how you’ve honed the gift. The years it took you. And now it’s fully ripe for my taking…”

“You can’t do that,” Marco managed to spit, even though his mind had begun entertaining an unthinkable possibility.

“Oh, yes, I can,” Khivar smiled, folding his arms across his chest. “You’ve imparted your power to another, to an Antarian female. And you’ve left her unmated…ready for me.”

“No, no…” Marco wrestled against his bonds, arching his back as he struggled to free himself. The wire scored his skin with deep marks as he twisted frantically.

“Oh, yes, Empath. You’ve given me more than I’d ever hoped to find tonight. Not only the one gift I lack, but a royal match with the house of D’Ashani…the closest I could ever come to mating with the house of Zan.”

“I’m begging you,” Marco growled possessively, feeling something ancient stir in his bones. “She’s my…”

Khivar raised a hand, and instantly cut him off. “Ayanna D’Ashani is nothing to you, Empath,” Khivar announced acidly. “You’re not even in the same class as her royal bloodline. But I can have her, and in the process lay claim to your gift.”

“Please,” Marco whispered hoarsely. Please don’t hurt her, take me instead. Kill me. But don’t hurt my nearmate. “I’ll do anything you ask, just don’t…”

“Don’t what?” Khivar replied with feigned innocence. “Explain your request, McKinley.”

Marco stared up at his captor, the man he’d fought against for most of his life and understood. He’d been beaten, and in the most disgraceful of ways. He couldn’t protect the woman he was nearly bonded to—could do nothing to save her from what their greatest enemy now had planned for her. And he couldn’t hide tonight’s mission from Khivar, not when he obviously knew all their plans for attack.

Khivar cocked his head to the side, studying him. “Don’t mate with her, Empath? Is that what you’re asking? I’m Antousian and we don’t take lifemates. Only you Antarians are disposed to such monogamy. So I can easily bind her to myself tonight, and meanwhile she’ll be lost to you forever…mated to me for the rest of her life.”

Suddenly, Marco felt the madness come upon him in a way that he couldn’t recall in more than fifteen years. His head swarmed and his body seemed to explode on the molecular level as he fought the onslaught of emotions crashing over him. For he knew what Khivar was really saying. He would rape Tess in order to have her, to lay claim to the Empathy now resident in her spirit, and in the process possess a bloodline Marco didn’t even know about it.

House of D’Ashani. The words were hauntingly familiar and caused a painful ache in Marco’s soul that he couldn’t explain--as if the very utterance of them, divided him from Tess in some primal way. Instinctively, he despised the words, yet understood that they were to be respected.

From deep within him, a guttural cry emerged, roaring off the ceiling and cold, stone walls. He twisted against his bonds, and began shouting in Antarian, desperate to be heard by the one man who now held his beloved’s fate within his hand.

Khivar knelt beside him, yet kept a careful distance as he raised a finger to his lips. “Shh, Empath. It does nothing for you to struggle.” Marco settled a bit, gasping for air. “Nothing.”

“You feel nothing for her,” Marco argued, though he knew it was in vain. “She means nothing to you.”

“Power,” Khivar explained quietly. “That’s what she means to me. Power. And I will be waiting for her as she comes tonight, ready to take what is already mine.”

“Tess will never belong to you,” Marco shouted, feeling the suffocating hostility of his enemies close in on him emotionally. “Nothing you do can ever make it so!”

“Oh, yes, Ayanna D’Ashani will definitely belong to me. All of Ayanna will,” Khivar rose to his feet with an air of studied regality and moved toward the door. He paused a moment as he opened it, looking over his shoulder at Marco with a smug grin. “As will this throne that I already possess. Killing Zan tonight will only ensure that fact once and for all.”

And with that, Khivar exited the frigid cell without so much as another glance in Marco’s direction.











posted on 3-Dec-2001 12:12:20 AM by RosDeidre
Ah, Nina!
You are so sweet. I'm doing okay and really focusing on the little girl I'm carrying. She's given me a few scares, but now that I'm feeling her more regularly am more excited...plus the doctors are starting to be more confident in their assessments. They were positive but cautious at first. Now they're more just positive!

As for the story...I am SOOOOO close to being done with the next part...but I might hold it to write the one after and post together. Haven't decided on that one, but it will be soon either way.
hugs, d
posted on 3-Dec-2001 1:29:26 AM by RosDeidre
Author's Note: A HUGE thanks to Anne B for feedack and thoughts on this section. I'm hoping to get the next one up before too long! Thanks for being tremendous reader, all of you! PART THIRTY NINE

Marco stared into the dark space ahead of him, his eyes flickering between the cell walls, and the high, exposed ceiling of the warehouse. He wasn’t sure how long they’d left him like this—alone, half-naked and still stunned from the disruptor. A low humming sound dulled his thoughts, making focus beyond difficult, and the ache within his chest was a constant reminder that his powers were still utterly useless.

But not his Empathy.

No, he hadn’t been able to temper it, not even at the height of Khivar’s assault, when he’d felt that blackest of souls as if it were dwelling in the midst of his own. And without his powers, he’d been unable to shield himself, which meant every dark emotion coursing through Khivar’s heart had pressed in on him. That alone had left him feeling violated, even before the mind rape had begun in earnest.

Now he could only stare ahead, grappling through the void around him for his near-mate…his unit. And he was beginning to feel Tess’s heartbeat, pulsating rhythmically toward him like a homing beacon. He was tuned to her perfectly, and even as he moved in and out of consciousness, like ocean waves lapping the shore, he never stopped feeling her…or Max and Liz who were only slightly further away.

He’d tried connecting with Tess, but was too weakened to successfully manage it—and he knew it would have been a tenuous proposition under the best of circumstances without their being mated anyway.

Instead, every time he reached his energy toward her, there was only the recurring image of her cloaked in danger, wearing it like a mantle. He clenched his hands into tight fists where they were bound above his head, shaking his head to dislodge the horrid image, but still it remained firmly imprinted. And his struggling bore no better result--he could barely feel his arms, much less free them.

And what of Max and Liz, he wondered, sagging forward in frustration. His arms fell limp above his head, useless to him. He longed to be Antousian at that moment, able to shape shift into ether, to move undetected among his enemies in the way they were told of doing. Not that he’d ever met a true Antousian—only the hybrid variety like Khivar, Nicholas and the others. But full-blooded Antousians were reputed masters of the night, of the atmosphere even; shifting and mutating like the wind.

Marco’s head dropped low, his chin resting against his bare chest as he remembered that even Antousians were affected by the disruptor. Which meant that a better man would have proved stronger, more equipped for protecting the king and queen than he evidently had. And certainly would never have left his lasthre susceptible to such a ravenous enemy.

Marco’s eyes drifted shut, and he floated a bit, feeling only Ayanna pulsing through his body, whispering in his ear.

Ayanna…the most beautiful name he’d ever heard, like a royal jewel, rare and precious.

Ayanna…the whisper of the Antarian wind across the sea, mystery and seduction…yet soothing all at once.

And then she was there, within him, surrounding him. Piercing straight into the heart of him like the sharpest of arrows. He jolted to consciousness, feeling her soft hand caress his chest like a lover.

Marco jerked his head upward, expecting to find Tess kneeling beside him—and yet he was completely alone. He knew she was connecting, even though no true union existed between them yet. She was working with the fragments they already owned, piecing them together into a tentative bond.

He pressed his eyes tightly shut and fought again. This time not against the wire that bound his wrists so painfully, nor against his circumstances. He battled to open his soul to her, to hear what she would say.



Tess crept along the back edge of the warehouse, the part that ran flush against the railroad tracks and felt adrenalin course through every part of her body, straight down to the molecular level. She followed Serena and Devon, with Anna and Michael bringing up the rear of their recon squad. It was their job to lead the other teams in, to scout out the landscape surrounding the warehouse and within. Anna would then communicate with Riley through their bond, giving the signal to move the other teams into the building.

Tess’s hand trembled slightly around the short barrel of her K-12, and she worked to still her fingers—even as she grappled with her newfound empathy, trying to detect their enemies’ locations. From her dreamwalk of Marco, she knew how the skins would feel, so deathly cold and void of emotional form.

At the same time, she catapulted her energy toward Marco, sought a temporary bond with him, so that he might tell her where he was being held. She feared that the images from their earlier meeting had been too unclear to be of much use in their search for him.

She sensed him a small distance ahead, like the center point of her compass, but that wasn’t enough. She needed to open communication with him…And between her team and the inside. It was their best chance of assassinating Khivar tonight, as well as for Marco’s survival.

With that thought, she lunged at him, hurtling her energy toward him like a power burst, just as she had done on the trail hours before. There was an answering crackle of electricity between them, as something vital and alive opened. Small shivers shot across her skin, even beneath the bulletproof vest and other clothing, as she sucked in a tight breath.

Serena paused a moment just ahead of them, signaling them to stop with an urgent wave of her hand right behind her back. Immediately, Devon responded by crouching low against the wall of the warehouse and Tess did the same. The gravel crunched softly beneath their boots, but otherwise there was only silence. That, and the raw, ungrounded current of the connection opening between her and Marco.

She felt his breath on her neck, his energy pooling around her waist. It was like nothing that had ever happened between them, far more intimate, yet she couldn’t even revel in it, couldn’t stop and drink it in.

In fact, she couldn’t question the logistics of precisely how it was happening without their being properly mated—she could only assume that it was because he was her lasthre.

His fire shot down her backbone, wild and ungrounded and she leaned back on her heels, steadying herself against the stone warehouse wall with her hand. Tess watched with widened eyes as Serena lifted night vision goggles and studied the dark terrain around them, and wondered how she might bring the erratic connection with Marco under some sort of control. She glanced back at Anna, wishing she could ask for her help, or at least for some explanation, but Anna only raised a questioning eyebrow.

Serena squatted low in front of their squad, still as a statue, as moments spun out eternally as they waited for her all clear sign.

Marco, she breathed within her spirit, wondering how this might even work. How they might possibly communicate beyond simply feeling one another so very intimately. Marco…

His throaty rumble of a voice vibrated within her center. Tess, where are you? Are you alright?

How is this happening? She asked, her spirit-voice tremulous and uncertain, even to her own ears. Is this a connection?

Yes, my love. Tell me where you are.

We’re coming inside now,
Tess explained. I’m in a team with Serena, Anna, Devon, and Michael. Tell me how we can find you.

You mustn’t come, Tess. Khivar knows about our near-bond…he will… hurt you.

Marco, I have to come, have to lead them to you. I’m the only one who saw your location in the vision.

Leave me!
His voice was almost a roar, causing her to shudder a bit with its intensity, yet she knew his heart. The warrior within his veins had awakened, rising to protect her, as well as the others.

You know I can’t, Marco. I can’t leave you…and I can’t not fight.

Tess,
he argued forcefully. He will hurt you…if you come, that’s how it will end.

And suddenly Tess realized that the tables had turned. That just as she’d begged him to leave Khivar’s camp earlier, now he begged her to do the same. Each of them would give their lives for the other, would die if necessary—yet each understood the truth. The king and queen came first. The vows came first. Because the vows were part of Tess now, as surely as they were imprinted on Marco’s heart and spirit.

Marco, I must come. For you…and for Max and Liz.

He was silent for a long moment, and there was motion from Serena as she lifted two fingers over her shoulder, raising her pistol with the silencer. Tess braced herself against the wall, knowing that the two fingers meant two of their enemy approached.

Leave me, he whispered quietly within her. All of you must do the same. I am only a trap for you now, left to draw you out of hiding…and then Khivar plans to have you, Tess. And I mean truly have you.

Why?
She rasped. What’s special about me?

Marco’s energy jolted powerfully, causing her whole body to shake in response. The emotions were unstoppable that swept over her as she watched Serena aim her pistol in slow motion…flash of light, soft scuffle, muted sounds. Then silence. While Marco’s heart pounded crazily inside of her own chest, drumming with self-accusation and agony.

I did it to you, he admitted quietly. Because of what I’ve made you.

Shh,
she soothed. Not even possible.

It’s what he wants, Tess. My gift…the Empathy. God only knows why, but because it’s controlled, disciplined…now he craves it. And means to take it from you.

Marco, that’s not—

Yes, Tess, it most definitely is possible. You’re unmated. I gave you the gift, yet you’re still wide open.

More silence followed as Serena raised her weapon to shoulder height again, studying the ground ahead of them.

I’m sorry for what I’ve made you, for how I changed you, Tess. If not for me…

She finished his words without hesitation. I’d be lost, Marco. Completely lost.

Serena rose silently, cautioning the squad with her hand to remain where they were. Yet Tess felt each of them tense, readying to make their entrance into the warehouse.

Shh…no more, sweetheart, she whispered. Lead us in…we’re coming. Either way, we come now.

I don’t know where Khivar is…I feel him here still, but I don’t know…

Lead us to you first then,
Tess coached gently.

Tess sensed Marco’s internal debate, how he warred with his emotions for a moment, then softly he spoke within her mind, his voice so deep and familiar.

You’re on the backside, along the tracks?

She didn’t question how he knew, simply understood that he did. Yes, by that rear door. We’ve just taken out two of their men.

The duty guards,
Marco agreed quietly. Then enter that door, and follow the corridor almost to the end. I am there…second door from the last on the right. I am there.

Tess lunged forward, tugging on Serena’s jacket sleeve. Serena dropped immediately to the ground, her scowl visible, even in the darkness. Tess mouthed Marco’s name silently and Serena shook her head in confusion, glancing quickly around them in concern. Tess pointed toward the door, then in the direction that she knew Marco had indicated and mouthed his name again. This time, Serena blinked quickly in comprehension, her gaze darting wildly around the darkened compound as she calculated how to proceed.

Finally, Serena rose to her feet and waved the rest of them onward, as she began to move stealthily toward the backdoor of the warehouse.



Marco had begun shaking uncontrollably from the moment Tess’s energy started its erratic motion across his skin. Between his weakened physical state and his exposure to the frigid warehouse temperatures, he wasn’t strong enough for such an alien tempest. Yet even in the midst of battle, such tender intimacy had been a stolen pleasure, as he’d lost himself in the sensation of her spiraling electricity. She’d careened crazily inside of him, all light and color, and moved over his body like the Aurora Borealis.

How he’d yearned to remain like that, just savoring the scent of her, the taste of her…he could have ignored the war, tonight’s battle, and lingered in that place forever.

But warfare aside, his body was far too weakened and now he wrestled to breathe, his entire frame quaking from the intense explosion of alien power that Tess had inadvertently unleashed within him.

He was grateful that she’d never know the affect her power had wrought within his body, as he softly guided her toward him, down the halls, through the dark caverns of their enemy’s lair. And he prayed that the squad’s approach would go undetected, even as he felt their movement toward him.

Tess, where are you now? He asked, feeling restless and disconcerted about their approach.

Next hallway…probably twenty feet away. Clear so far.

Marco exhaled softly, but his relief was short-lived, interrupted by a sudden rattling sound at his cell door, as it clanked open loudly. Nicholas entered, flanked by Nathan and then Khivar. An outside guard immediately closed the cell door behind them.

Khivar folded his arms across his chest, and studied Marco quietly for a moment. He tilted his chin upward, sniffing the air a bit, and then he stared down at Marco again.

“What sense you, Protector?” he asked coolly. “In the air around us…the energy?”

Marco dropped his gaze, the tremors shaking his body even more violently than before. “No-nothing. There is nothing.”

Khivar knelt low beside him. “Look at me, Protector.”

Marco yearned to resist and closed his eyes, shutting out every sensation that accompanied Khivar’s vacuous presence. “Look at me!” Khivar commanded again, and Marco felt Tess’s energy escalate low in his abdomen.

Marco? Marco, what’s happening? I feel something changing with you. Her voice was urgent, yet filled with love, as Marco slowly turned his head to meet his captor’s icy blue eyes.

“I asked what you sense,” Khivar explained with feigned patience, tossing his shoulder-length mane of blonde hair.

“And I sense nothing.” Marco replied flatly.

Marco? Tess cried, her energy gyrating frantically within him. Tell me what’s happening?

Marco’s gaze never wavered from his foe. In my cell…Khivar…if you come now, the unit, you can kill him. Now, Tess!

Marco’s body quaked hopelessly with tremors, yet he remained perfectly collected within his warrior spirit. This was the moment they’d waited for, and they held Khivar within their crosshairs, ready for destruction.

There was an answering jumble of emotions and words from Tess’s end, nearly unintelligible. Marco had no choice but to ease away from her momentarily, as Khivar continued studying him with measured coolness.

“Then I shall mind rape you again,” he smiled. “Otherwise I cannot know how your Empathy guides you.”

Marco swallowed hard, as suddenly Khivar planted a chilling palm across his chest. “Ah, your heart betrays you, Protector. It beats like a mad man.”

“I do not relish being raped.”

“Mind raped,” Khivar corrected, centering his palm a bit more squarely over Marco’s chest.

“Not a distinction I care to make,” Marco rasped, feeling his breath hitch painfully. There was a lurch in his near-bond with Tess and he felt her grasping for him urgently. His eyes fluttered shut and he released her, allowed their bond to grow instantly cold, his only choice in protecting her from what Khivar obviously planned within his mind.

“It hardly matters,” Khivar whispered, cupping Marco’s face within his palm. “And you matter even less.”



Tess pressed her eyes tightly shut, ready to fulfill her part of the mission, as she sustained an image within her mind—the hallway, empty and quiet, dark as it currently was. It was a simple illusion, the kind she could manipulate and maintain for quite a while if necessary—much less demanding than projecting individuals or action. Yet, as she felt the other squad members move past her like a waft of air, fear began choking her heart, especially without her tenuous connection to Marco.

She’d understood immediately, that he was laid bare to the enemy and had no other choice than to break off their bond. But it hadn’t kept her from feeling him, just beyond her physical reach.

They were doing something to him. Again. And while it took every bit of Tess’s willpower, she focused her energy away from him, because otherwise the mindwarp would falter. And right now, what he needed most was the covering her warp would provide as the recon unit raided his cell.

What if he’s killed? What if he’s shot in the crossfire…he’s bound, unable to move…

The voices taunted her, rising up in her consciousness uncontrollably, and she determined to silence them. She stood perfectly still against the corridor wall, feeling someone move past her, yet refused to look, even though she sensed an enemy presence. Her only focus could be the warp, the projected image of the hallway as her team made their way to him.

She heard shouts, gunfire…muffled cries.

And her eyes flew open, right as Anna slid on the floor outside of Marco’s cell, her M-16 raised as she moved in slow motion. Two of Nicholas’s men advanced on her, weapons raised and Tess took off running…saw the door to Marco’s cell careen open, slamming against the wall.

What had happened? She’d kept the warp in place, so how could their enemies have possibly observed their approach?

Tess tried to maintain the warp, at least cloaking herself as she ran toward the end of the hallway, where the gunfire was suddenly being exchanged. Everything was exploding so quickly, she had difficulty grasping what had gone wrong, despite how her mind clicked through the relevant details. When Marco had warned her only moments before, Khivar was entering his cell. With that knowledge, the unit had immediately advanced under the cover of her mindwarp, and now they were being fired upon just this quickly.

Nicholas came running into the hall, throwing up a shield with his hand, as Anna raised her weapon. Michael…where was Michael? Tess wondered breathlessly, falling on her knees as she drew her K-12. She saw another skin approaching from a different hallway, and fired off two rounds before he glimpsed her. He immediately collapsed to the ground, lifeless.

Tess jumped to her feet and took off running toward Marco’s cell, and heard more gunfire from that end of the hallway. She managed to conceal herself around the corner of an adjoining corridor, dropping low to the ground. She drew in burning draughts of air, and tried to formulate some kind of plan, a mindwarp that would protect them. Anything at all.

She caught sight of Michael inside a doorway across the hall, hunkered low against the frame. No sooner had she located him visually, than she saw that one of the skins was about to ambush him from behind. Without hesitation, Tess raised her weapon, immediately firing over Michael’s head and taking the skin down.

Michael nodded in quick appreciation, and then suddenly his eyes widened as his gaze moved behind her.

Tess was about to spin on her heel, but a pair of strong arms suddenly clasped her around the chest, lifting her straight off the ground. She kicked wildly, struggling to fight against her unseen opponent, as she was pulled backward from the battle. Whoever restrained her was a giant of a man, with arms that held her in a deathly vice.

“Still!” Her attacker commanded in an unfamiliar voice. She wrestled with her foot, trying to plant a swift kick in the man’s groin, but was unable to raise her boot high enough. She thrust her feet frantically within the air, never making contact with so much as his knee or leg, and she couldn’t turn her head to see him because of how he’d pinned her against his chest.

A small door flew open to another cell, dark and vacant—obviously her captor had utilized his powers because she never saw anyone else open the door. She was thrust roughly inside, and tossed hard on the cement floor, where she landed on her hands and knees. She couldn’t help the soft cry that escaped her lips as she rolled onto her back, feeling a strong force pin her to the floor.

“Wh-what?” she managed to cry, staring into the surrounding blackness of the frigid cell.

The door remained open, spilling dim light across the floor, and yet she saw no one.

Despite feeling her captor’s heel planted squarely against her abdomen, there was only a rippling energy, the sensation of a presence before her.

“Ayanna D’Ashani,” the male voice shimmered in the air around her, seemingly from nowhere at all. “At last we meet again, my lady.”



posted on 8-Dec-2001 9:37:06 AM by RosDeidre
Jennfer:
I'l do it tonight! I'm trying so hard to catch up. But its also on the repost of jenn's OLD site, too! All of it is there...
posted on 9-Dec-2001 10:29:05 PM by RosDeidre
Author's note: I finally have GRAVITY repost all caught up on that board, I think, so you can read it there and finish here.

There's a lot going on in this part, which made for interesting writing LOL! But rest assured that a huge part of the next section is already finshed too, so there won't be a long wait this time!

PART FORTY
Max paced back and forth, staring at Riley anxiously as he waited for some kind of report. This had been their dance for the past thirty minutes, as Anna had maintained her connection with Riley from her position deep within the warehouse, and Max had waited with the other two units at the checkpoint.

Only now Riley’s demeanor had taken a dark turn, his features tensing visibly—Max could see it even in the pale moonlight.

“What?” Max demanded, stopping short in front of Riley, but he lifted a hand to silence him.

“Just a moment…please.” Riley’s eyes darted about him, and he began shifting restlessly on his feet, causing the frozen ground to crunch beneath his boots. He grew suddenly still, and then without warning, slumped against the Suburban, folding his arms tightly around himself, as if for protection.

“They’re…Tess is using her mindwarp and they’re…going for it, but there’s…problem. Problem.” Riley’s eyes assumed a trance-like quality, and it was almost as if he was channeling a spirit, the way he transcribed the action unfolding within the distant warehouse.

“Anna is…Anna…” Riley stepped forward, reaching a hand out, unaware that they watched. “Baby? Careful…Who?”

Max rubbed a hand over his eyes, swiftly calculating how fast they could make it to the building. Probably in less than ten minutes, he assessed, watching as Riley’s brown eyes widened.

“Gunfire! Confusion…someone’s down,” Riley cried in a wavering voice, his eyes searching the darkness all around. Liz stepped beside Riley, placing a steadying hand on his shoulder as Max continued listening to his commentary.

“Anna’s running…running…gunfire.” Riley’s eyes narrowed and he began swaying softly. “Baby! Be careful! Careful! God, more gunfire…Anna?” Max sensed that Riley could no longer separate between the words flying through his mind, and those he was meant to repeat to the rest of the unit.

“Anna?” Riley repeated, his voice shifting to a desperate whisper.

Max caught Liz staring at him, concern shadowing her features as she stroked Riley’s shoulder in an effort to soothe him. Max could nearly hear her unspoken questions, her fear for their comrades battling within the enemy’s fortress.

And the silent questions flashing between them emboldened him, readied him for the necessary course of action.

“We go in now,” Max announced resolutely, his gaze sweeping the group that had gathered like a knot around them. “All units in now!”

Because Max Evans would be damned if he’d let Khivar win again this night, much less allow him to hurt anyone else that he cared for.

****

Serena had pushed her way into Marco’s cell, taking only a small hit in her right arm that left her bleeding through her sweater sleeve. She found Marco slumped forward, seemingly lifeless and her heart nearly stopped at the sight. Frantically, her eyes searched the tiny room, yet he seemed to have been left completely alone.

She lunged to his side, dropping immediately to the floor, her hands shaking uncontrollably as she felt for his heartbeat, praying that he still lived. Beneath her fingertips she felt the faint hammering of his heart, and moved to free his bound hands.

Serena felt a lump form in her throat when she saw how badly the skin of his wrists was torn and bleeding. This was all so damned familiar, and she had to press her eyes shut to stop the images that came rushing back of Rasme’s body in the morgue years before. How he’d looked, so pale and lifeless, save the deep wound in his chest—yet she’d insisted on seeing him, couldn’t rest until she did.

And had never forgotten that haunting vision for the rest of her life.

She waved a hand quickly over the thick wire that lashed Marco’s wrists together, and it dissolved, as she took hold of his arms, easing them down to his sides.

“Marco,” she whispered hoarsely, as he fell forward against her. He was freezing cold, and bare except for his jeans and boots. They’d stripped him of his other clothing, all in an effort to reduce his defenses, she reflected in disgust.

She clasped him by the shoulder, shaking hard. “Marco! Please wake, son.”

He stirred slightly, as she used her powers to warm his icy skin, stealing quick glances at the doorway as she prayed he’d gain consciousness. In the corner of the dingy cell, she caught a glimpse of his black parka and raised her palm so that it catapulted onto her lap. She wrapped it around his shoulders, and frantically sought some solution as she tried to rouse him from his deep state of shock.

“Ah, Surinah,” a familiar voice chided from the doorway, sickening her instantly. Nicholas stepped into the cell, and without hesitating Serena turned all of her rage about Marco onto him, sending him flying against the wall with a crash. For a moment he was stunned, and she lost no time, pouncing on him in an instant, as she used her powers to bolt the cell door.

Before she could strike him again, Nicholas hit her hard with a power blast that rocked her backward, but she was undeterred, and lunged on him without thinking. She was frenzied, almost in some kind of berserk state of warfare as she straddled him hard, planting her luminator beneath his chin before he could move.

He wasn’t just Marco’s captor, or even her own once before…at that precise moment he was the murderer of everyone she’d ever cared for and lost. Rasme, her husband, her king and queen…his hands were bloodied by every sordid and painful event she’d endured during the past eighty years.

“Tell me where he is,” she hissed, pressing the weapon hard into Nicholas’s throat. He stared at her coolly, and with some satisfaction she realized he’d completely underestimated her—otherwise he would never have come upon her without using the Disruptor first.

Nicholas leaned his head against the warehouse wall, just studying her in assessment. She refused to let him stare at her like that, not after how he’d captured her months before, and held her naked for hours, taunting her while she was trapped in her natural Antarian form. Never would he look at her that way again.

“Answer me!” She roared, picturing Marco’s still form behind her on the floor, utterly battered. “Or I will use this so fast, you won’t have time to think of options.”

“Now, now Surinah, this rage does not become you…”

“Shut up, you scrawny little shit!”

Nicholas shook his head in derision. “A human insult.”

“D’yalesthat.” She hissed, spitting in his eye to punctuate the word. “Better?”

Nicholas blinked, his eyes narrowing. “Now that hurts, Serena.”

“Tell me where Khivar is, and I might spare your pathetic life,” she jabbed her weapon into his neck more forcefully. “Though doubtful after how you’ve tortured my son tonight.”

Your son?” Nicholas cocked his head to the side quizzically. “Wait, I thought we killed him a long time ago.”

Serena rankled at his words, momentarily disconcerted by the wicked smirk on his face. But she allowed rage to fuel her action, to empower her.

“Bad timing, Nicholas,” she roared, blasting him hard with the Disruptor, which she’d slowly reached for with her left hand. His head knocked backwards from the force, slamming hard against the wall.

“I meant how you’d tortured Marco, and you know it.”

Nicholas wrestled with her, clasping her wrist hard, and she cocked the Luminator, which made an audible sound as it uploaded power. She pressed it into his temple and he instantly released her other wrist.

“I will use this if you do not tell me where Khivar is.”

“Down…the hallway,” he coughed. “With Tess.”

“With Tess?” Serena asked, confused as to why Khivar would have Tess.

Suddenly, behind her she heard Marco gasp softly. “Why?” He asked thickly, and as desperate as Serena was to ensure his well being, she kept her full attention trained on Nicholas.

“McKinley, you know precisely what Khivar is doing with Tess,” Nicholas sneered and suddenly Serena felt herself wrenched off of Nicholas by a pair of surprisingly strong hands. Before she could drop her weapon from Nicholas’s face, Marco had seized it and slammed the heel of his hiking boot hard into Nicholas’s chest.

“He will not have her!” Marco thundered, his voice echoing off of the rafters, as Nicholas flailed at Marco’s leg uselessly. Serena watched the scene unfold from a surreal distance, as if observing from a seat in a movie theater, mesmerized by the unreality of the moment.

Marco, pulling Nicholas to his feet…Marco towering over him, even in his weakened state…Marco with the butt of the M-16 jammed hard into Nicholas’ side, so that he collapsed onto his knees…

Marco cocking the Luminator against Nicholas’s forehead, his hand trembling visibly…

“This is for Max and Liz…and Serena…and Tess,” Marco rasped in a hushed voice.

“I’ll take you to him,” Nicholas promised breathlessly from where he now knelt before Marco. “I’ll help you find him.”

“I’m done with you,” Marco pronounced, his black eyes shimmering even in the dim light of the room. “You won’t hurt anyone I love again.”

And for a moment, there was the familiar report of the Luminator, an almost incandescent humming sound, not like a gun. Then, the sound was followed by a fiery blast that seemed to implode, as Nicholas was evaporated in a thick cloud of smoke and ash.

Serena stared, her mouth hanging open in disbelief. She’d seen death dozens of times over the years, yet nothing quite like this. Never had she witnessed a skin simply disintegrate before her like that—or any other creature, for that matter. Slowly, she turned to face Marco, and couldn’t believe the ashen color of his normally dark face.

“Serena, help me, please,” he begged, his voice suddenly plaintive and weak, as he collapsed to his knees. “Help me find Tess…before its far too late.”
****

Tess felt the invisible boot heel move away from her abdomen and immediately sat up, hand raised for battle. She braced for a disruptor blast, while throwing her shield up as a safety barrier.

“Who are you?” she cried, her voice tight with fear, as her extended hand began trembling. “What are you?”

There was a shimmering of energy just in front of her, visible even through the purplish hue of her shield—and then suddenly the ripple moved straight through the protective barrier.

“My lady.” The deep voice was surprisingly gentle, not nearly so rough as before. “We have no time…for explanations.”

Tess dropped the useless shield and began backing away from the presence, anything to escape, yet he pursued her easily. “Who the hell are you?” She cried again, this time growing more frantic, as she tried to scramble to her feet. A strong hand immediately clasped her shoulder, pressing her into the ground.

“I’m here to help you…the others. Not an enemy.”

“You grabbed me,” she shouted, struggling within the masculine entity’s grasp.

“Because you were about to be shot…worse. You don’t know Khivar and you should have trusted Marco’s warnings.”

“How the hell do you know about that?”

“Because Khivar knows now,” the eerily disembodied voice pronounced. “He has mind raped t’lasthre a second time.”

“You’re Khivar,” Tess whispered hoarsely, suddenly understanding. Antousian. This being was a full-blooded Antousian shape shifter.

There was a surprising rumble of laughter, an oddly golden feeling that swept through the room. Not cold and empty as she’d imagine Khivar to be.

“Hardly.” He pronounced the word with extreme distaste, as if even entertaining the notion revolted him. “We’ve no time for this, Ayanna, not if I’m to help Marco, Serena and the others.”

“Okay,” she whispered softly, feeling suddenly overpowered by the strength of his presence. He dropped his hands from her shoulder, his strong grip suddenly turning gentle as he ran what felt like open palms down her arms. She closed her eyes, trying to sense him better, to know if he were truly her foe.

And was suddenly encompassed by a surprising wave of goodness, combined with the awesome strength of a warrior. One word accompanied the sensation, something utterly alien that she’d never heard before.

A’dhan.

“Ai…dan?” She asked softly, as his fingertips grazed down her arms, her spine. “Is that your name?”

He halted the action, his hands stiffening against her backside. “I have no name.” His voice was instantly dark, and the energy before her shimmered a bit more visibly in reaction. “I am known only as The Silent One.”

Just as suddenly, the presence moved like a mist around her, swirling until she felt chilled as if by the winter wind. “I have cloaked you, my lady. You will know the time to fight again. Until then remain, and you shall be unseen. But know this,” he paused a moment, as if he’d turned back to face her. “For tonight, my gift has become your gift. I trust you to be wise in it.”

With those words, she felt him depart like a vapor, leaving a decided lack of physical presence, even though she’d never glimpsed more than a bit of energy.

The Silent One, she repeated in her mind, listening to the battle rage just outside her doorway. That’s when she realized that while with him, she’d heard nothing, had been aware only of his hushed presence.

Was he an angel? A spirit? She shook her head, wondering what he possibly might be, because she couldn’t imagine that a rogue Antousian would actually be fighting among them.

****
Max followed Riley’s lead into the center of the warehouse, where there was intermittent exchange of gunfire and alien weaponry. Fires blazed within a couple of steel drums, apparently having been the means of warming that large vacuous portion of the warehouse.

Now the rising flames gave the interior of the building an apocalyptic atmosphere, as everything danced in exaggerated shadow and light, and the battle raged uncontrollably.

Max and Riley had separated from the others in a bid to gain ground, and Max wasn’t sure where their comrades had even taken position. He focused only on Riley and following him closely, especially since he knew Liz remained outside the building with a third team being led by Kyle. Their plan was to radio Kyle when and if it was time for that unit to enter the fray, and Max prayed it wouldn’t come to that. That his beloved would remain at a safe distance from the horrors he was witnessing unfold.

Max’s heart was in his throat, as Riley hurled a grenade at a small band of skins huddled on the opposite side of one of the bonfires. The drum exploded, and the soldiers flew into the air, as sparks cascaded downward in slow motion. The fire erupted wildly as it made apparent contact with a flammable substance, shooting across the floor like a tidal wave. Max stared at the lifeless skins for a moment, unable to admit that Riley had just killed three men.

Riley glanced briefly at him and nodded toward a hallway, then took off running as Max followed closely. There was the rapid staccato of gunfire, and Riley spun on his heel, thrusting Max to the ground. Riley covered Max with his own body, pinning him in a maneuver reminiscent of Max’s wrestling team days, as he began firing his M-16 in response.

“Stay down!” Riley commanded forcefully. “Use your shield!” Max obediently raised his hand and unfurled a protective cloak over his chest. He allowed Riley to remain free as he continued firing on two skins who had flanked them from the rear.

Max watched the action through the eerie shimmering of his shield, as Riley took one of the skins down with a direct hit to the chest. Riley had a clear shot on the second one, when he was suddenly catapulted hard off of Max.

Before Max could react, his shield dissolved and he was lifted off the ground effortlessly by a strong force, something supernatural almost. It hurled him through the air like a dagger, slamming him against the far wall so hard that he couldn’t breathe. Yet he didn’t fall to the ground.

Instead, he remained suspended against the wall, caught as if in the gossamer threads of a spider web, his hands pinned out to his sides and his legs in a vice-like grip below him. He was spread-eagled, prepared like a banquet for his enemies…and utterly unable to move a muscle.

That was when he saw the tall stranger on the distant side of the large room, his features dancing in the flames that now engulfed the darkened warehouse. The man advanced slowly, hand still raised toward him as he tossed long golden hair over his shoulder with a cocky air of authority.

“Zan,” the man pronounced slowly, licking his lips. “At last I meet the erstwhile Antarian king.”

He smiled as he spoke, a twisted thing, even in the dark. “And at last you shall die, King Zan.”

And Max had no doubt as to his captor’s identity.
****
Tess stood in the corner of the main warehouse room, her entire body pulsating with silent energy. She’d quickly realized that no one could see or sense her, and that this state was like a mindwarp, only effortless to pull off while fighting. She’d moved like a specter past their enemies, through the fighting, completely undetected.

So that now she watched in horror as a man she could only assume was Khivar advanced upon her king. Her friend. Who was pinned to the wall like a diaphanous butterfly, completely bare to their enemies. He hung there, unprotected, as the tall blonde man stalked him easily.

She felt within her heart, needing to be sure, and sensed Marco’s residual energy all over the man, vibrating around him. He’d violated her beloved and recently.

He was their sworn enemy, the one they’d taken oaths to kill at all costs. He was Khivar.

On the far side of the warehouse, she glimpsed Marco, Serena and Anna, nearly hidden in their position behind an overturned drum. She might never have spotted them, if she hadn’t felt Marco’s heartbeat, insistent in her own ears. If her gaze hadn’t been drawn undeniably to him, just by feeling his lovely energy so nearby.

And there he knelt, weapon raised…but he looked so pale and weakened, that Tess had to swallow hard. For a moment, he glanced in her direction, and Tess had the eerie sensation that he could see her.

He senses you, feels you, just as you do him, her mind whispered.

Marco’s gaze lingered briefly in her direction, his black eyebrows drawing together in confusion before he turned his full attention back to Khivar, who’d cloaked Max and himself within a large barrier shield.

The perimeter enfolded only the two of them-- meaning that Max was powerless and unprotected before their greatest enemy.

And they were on the outside of that barrier, staring within.
****
Max felt Khivar’s hands close tightly around his throat, stealing all his breath in one crushing gesture. He was much larger than Max could ever hope to be, and the power emanating from him was overwhelming, particularly the blackness of it. His tight fingers closed hard around Max’s wind pipe, and Max instantly felt dizzy as the room spun a bit out of control.

He couldn’t speak, could only rasp, as Khivar cocked his head to the side, studying him.

“And you are the one who has confounded me at every turn?” He observed, almost as if dumbfounded that such a worthless opponent had inconvenienced him so greatly. Max gasped, tried to speak, but the fingers only tightened around his throat.

“No matter,” Khivar smiled faintly. “It ends now…rather unspectacularly, I might add. I’d been hoping for a better match, a bit more entertainment.”

Max strained hard against the wall, desperate to free his hands or legs…yet grew weak in his struggles, as he realized he was frozen just that way.

His eyes drifted shut, his brain swimming, as oxygen became a precious commodity. His thoughts floated to Liz, as he reached for their bond, needed to feel her one last time more than he needed his dwindling breath.

Yet felt nothing, only coldness, and had to remember that Nicholas had killed their bond. For eternity, it now appeared, Max thought, allowing his thoughts to move into the past.

He was holding Liz in his arms…their apartment in Las Cruces, just feeling her warm, bare skin against his smooth chest. “I love you, Max,” she whispered in her hoarse, familiar voice. “You’ll always take that with you, no matter where we go.”

No matter where I go, he thought, feeling his life ebb away like the tide.

For a moment, he was only aware of the memory, until something unnamable caused him to open his eyes. Weakly, they fluttered open, and he saw Khivar’s vicious grin as his eyes flared with raw alien energy. Directly behind him, though, Max witnessed something else, something Khivar seemed unaware of…

The energy shield surrounding them flickered a bit, wavering in intensity, opening briefly. Max tried to gasp, wrestled for more breath, as he watched the energy fold inward again, the anomaly seemingly over.

Then suddenly, Khivar stiffened, his head thrown back and his fingers loosening their grip around Max’s windpipe. Max gasped desperately, using the moment to draw in burning draughts of air. Khivar’s hand slipped lower, as he seemed to struggle with something unseen, staggering backward a bit.

“What?” Khivar choked, his hands now flying to his own throat. “What is…this?”

Khivar’s protective perimeter vanished, and suddenly he stood just like that, struggling for his own breath, and Max felt himself suddenly freed from the wall. He fell to the ground hard, collapsing onto his knees from the sudden impact. He coughed uncontrollably, trying to gaze up at Khivar, as he cocked his pistol within his hand. Khivar’s eyes had grown wide as silver dollars, as he rasped for air just as Max had done only a moment before.

Yet there was no assailant, no one behind him at all, as Max staggered to his feet, pistol aimed dead center at Khivar’s heart.

Along the perimeter, Max was aware of quick skirmishing, men moving in his direction and he didn’t care if they killed him now. Not as he watched Khivar lunge forward toward him, hand extended, and he aimed his gun, cocking it hard.

Not as he heard his gun’s staccato report, felt it’s strong kick, followed by Khivar’s immediate collapse to the ground.

And not as he watched a large bloodstain begin pooling on the front of Khivar’s chest, as he slumped forward, seemingly pressed to the ground by some heavy weight right upon his shoulders.

****

Tess refused to let go. Not until she heard his last final gasp, knew for certain he was dead. She’d hold on that long.

Max stared down at Khivar’s fallen form mutely, unaware of her. Tess opened her mouth to urge him out of the battle zone, when Marco rushed suddenly forward, shoving him hard to the ground.

Rapid gunfire sputtered behind her, and Tess felt Khivar stir slightly, then grow limp where he slumped beneath her small hands. Marco threw his hand up, creating his protective shield around Max, and Tess whirled on her heel, dropping Khivar’s lifeless body.

Two skins advanced upon them, including the one who had captured her the night before. Quickly, she glanced behind her, aware that Max and Marco were cornered, and knew what she had to do.

Reveal herself.

She drew her weapon, concrete and solid within her small hand, even if it remained unseen by the advancing assailants. She aimed steadily as they drew right up against Marco’s shield, and she took her shot. First, she fired on the vile one who’d captured her, and he collapsed to the ground. She sensed Marco, felt his gaze darting frantically in her direction…his black eyes widening.

Then, she shot down the second, as he began firing his Disruptor dead into Marco’s shield, feeling fiercely protective of her lasthre.

She felt a strange shimmering of energy enfold her, then as she gazed down saw her own hands, her legs…everything materializing just as Marco’s shield fell away.

“Tess!” Marco shouted, and she slid across the floor, landing hard in front of him as she heard the whirring of more weaponry. Marco threw his shield up again, and she leaned into him, folding her hand over his own dark one.

“Here, more power!” she cried, with a quick glance at Max.

“Tess, where did you come from?” Max cried, placing his own hand atop both of theirs. The shield grew stronger in response, pulsating with vibrant energy.

“Long story,” she answered breathlessly, gazing around the warehouse. “Are there others?”

“Engaged with Riley and Serena on the other side,” Marco quickly assessed. “We can get Max out of here if we go now.”

She felt Marco’s large, warm hand cup her shoulder, such a surge of protective love transmitted in that one quick gesture. She exhaled softly at his touch, as even in the midst of the battle she sensed his soul brush against her own, knew how he longed to hold her.

“Then let’s go,” she announced resolutely and Max agreed with a nod.

“On my mark,” Marco cried, rising onto his knees, weapon drawn. “Down that hallway, to the outside. I lead the way, you bring up the rear, Tess.”

Tess nodded again, realizing that in a life and death moment such as this, the orders fell to the royal protectors, not the king. It was what they’d trained for, to lay their lives down for him if need be, and now Tess was one of them.

“Three, two, one,” Marco counted off, jerking Max to his feet. “Go!”

Tess followed their lead, covering Max with her own shield as they made it into the hallway, her heart thundering within her chest.

If they could just make it outside, she knew that Max would live. But as she glimpsed the far doorway, it seemed like such an impossibly long gauntlet to march.






posted on 10-Dec-2001 11:18:09 AM by RosDeidre
You guys are awesome! I love that everyone is so interested in The Silent One. Hee, hee…all shall eventually be revealed, but some interesting questions and specs on him. The only thing I will clarify is LTL’s question about him grabbing Tess (I think she said “groping her butt” LOL) was he was just doing what he had to do to pull her out of the battle. Since as he says to her, she was about to be killed.

Also, a lot of people seem worried about Anna. If you’ll notice, she’s mentioned in the big scene in the main room. Tess sees her fighting beside Marco. What was going on with Riley was that he was having a hard time following what all she was “saying” to him through their connection because the fighting was breaking out. He was following it all as if he were there with her, in the midst of it, but she’s just fine—since we do see her in that later scene.

The other thing for clarification is a lot of people saw Serena as “finishing” Nicholas, aka the puny little thug. Actually, she got it started, then it was Marco who did the deed itself. I think Angela commented on the symmetry of Tess being the one to kill Khivar, which was interesting as a time line reversal from before, when she was working WITH him. Actually, it’s interesting to note that Marco AND Tess each killed one of the Evil Ones, and in the first timeline each would have been firmly ensconced in the enemy camp.

Anyway, thanks so much for all the great comments and speculation. Hard at work on part 41!!
Deidre

posted on 11-Dec-2001 2:09:17 PM by RosDeidre
PART FORTY ONE

Tess burst from within the warehouse, and nearly slipped down the back steps as she chased after Marco and Max. As a unit, they ran across the gravel parking lot toward Marco’s motorcycle, parked far on the other side of the lot.

The plan was for Marco to drive Max to the rendezvous point they’d established earlier, while Tess hiked alone to the base zone where the others waited. She chased behind them, her heart hammering crazily within her chest. She kept her weapon raised, providing cover for their escape, when suddenly two skins came catapulting out the back door of the warehouse.

“Marco!” she cried breathlessly, as they reached the motorcycle. “Go! Go!”

Marco’s head snapped in the direction of the two men, as he jumped on the bike, lifting his leg so that the engine rumbled loudly to life. Max started to climb behind him, but Marco grabbed his forearm, holding him off.

“Tess, take Max,” Marco commanded urgently, his eyes following their pursuers. “Take him and I’ll be the decoy.”

“They’ll know I’m not with you,” Max argued, hesitating a moment beside the motorcycle, as Tess began tugging sharply on his arm.

“I’ll mindwarp,” Marco explained, kicking the stand up with his boot heel. “They’ll think you’re with me…now go!”

Marco glanced briefly at Tess, his luminous black eyes transmitting eternity in a moment, before turning away from her wordlessly.

She wanted to touch him one more time, needed to say everything that remained unspoken between them, even after so many months. But in all of a heartbeat, he’d already roared away on his black and silver Harley. There was no time for Tess to contemplate her fears, only the need for survival, as she began sprinting with Max into the wintry woods.

Everything would be determined in these few moments, Tess realized as she focused on supporting Marco’s mindwarp through their quasi-bond. She was pleased to hear a nearby car rumble to life, and immediately afterwards, tires squealed, as the men took off after the now vanishing sound of the Harley.

She and Max headed in the opposite direction, toward safety, scrambling up a steep incline into the woods. Be safe, she whispered within her mind, aching for Marco to hear her. Be safe and come home to me, my love.

***
Serena had urged Riley and Anna to leave her behind, while she fired off a few final rounds at the small band of remaining skins. They’d been hesitant, but in the end, had dutifully followed her order, as she remained hidden behind some boxes and debris in the back hallway.

Serena had been relieved that everyone had escaped safely--including her king, who she’d watched Marco and Tess escort out the back door. But she hadn’t expected the sudden explosion of fire that had ripped through the corridor shortly thereafter, blasting her hard against the floor. She wasn’t sure how long she’d lay there afterwards, but it must have been a while, because she’d woken to find the hallway completely filled with smoke.

And she was utterly alone, surrounded by flames in every direction.

Now she sat coughing, and tried to assess a potential exit route. She no longer saw the two skins she’d had her weapon trained on, and wondered if they’d pursued Max.

She tried rising to her feet, but was immediately dizzy, as a blinding sensation shot through her head, causing her to slip helplessly to her knees.

She was about to struggle to her feet again, when a large portion of the ceiling rafters came down in flames just in front of her, blocking her only escape route--and she realized she was trapped inside the fiery inferno.

Oh, God, she whispered within her mind. How could it have come to this after so many years? After so many battles…

She’d always known her time would end, especially at her advanced age, and at least she could find peace knowing that her king’s greatest enemy lay dead in another part of the warehouse. She sank hard to her knees, covering her mouth and nose with her jacket, anything to stop the thick smoke from entering her lungs as she coughed convulsively.

She pressed her face against the floor, seeking any reserve of fresh air. She folded her face within the thick jacket, wiping at her stinging eyes. No firemen would come tonight, because Nicholas had intentionally chosen a remote location for his encampment. At least that was better for Max and Liz, because it meant no questions would be asked, no needless suspicions raised about what had transpired.

And it also meant that no one would rescue Serena at all.

Random, disjointed thoughts rushed through her mind, as she gasped for breath… this was her apparent destiny, and perhaps she was being set free, having protected her king and queen until Khivar had been killed.

Perhaps she would now join her husband at last…hold him in her arms. And see her son Rasme, whole and handsome once again.

Best, this was what was best…

Suddenly, she felt a light brushing against her cheek, and her eyes flew open. Someone’s fingertips had touched her face, yet as she gazed upward, she saw nothing. But she’d felt someone, she was sure of it.

“Who’s there?” she demanded hoarsely, struggling to sit up. Her head hammered painfully from where she’d hit it during the explosion, but she knew she wasn’t hallucinating as a soft shimmer of energy moved just in front of her.

“Serena, come,” a masculine voice whispered like the wind. “Come.”

The air in front of her shifted, cooler than the heat surrounding it and suddenly a hush fell over everything. There wasn’t the sound of the crackling flames, or of the moaning building, suddenly only delicate silence enfolded her, as someone grazed fingertips down her arm, taking her hand.

“Stop it!” She cried, as she yanked her hand away, swatting at the air. “Reveal yourself, now!”

“No time,” he whispered against her cheek, reaching solidly for her hands, just as if he were a man kneeling before her on the floor.

“You’re Antousian!” She shouted, though somehow she knew that wasn’t quite right. He remained silent, but reached for her again, and she resisted, her hands forming tight fists at her sides. “Not…going…anywhere with you!” she managed to cry, as she was overwhelmed with racking coughs.

“If you remain, then you shall die.” The masculine presence answered, as slowly, he began unfolding her fingers, one by one, where her nails bit sharply into her palm. With gentle strength, he opened her hand, clasping it within his own warm one. “Come, now, Serena.”

For a moment, she hesitated, coughing as he tugged on her hand, his fingers threading carefully between her own. And for some reason, she allowed him that intimacy.

“H..how do you know…my name?” she managed to stammer, wondering how an invisible hand could feel so strong and sure. The air surrounding her grew electric for a moment, as he seemed to hesitate in his answer, then suddenly there was a golden shimmering just before her eyes.

“I have always known you, Serena. Always.” His deep voice resonated straight through her chest as he spoke then moved deeper still.

“Always?” She asked in confusion, as he lifted her to her feet effortlessly.

“Come, Serena,” he urged again quietly, and she had the sense that he was very tall, much like Marco in the way his presence loomed over her as he led the way through the smoky corridor.

Somehow, the rising flames simply parted for him, allowing him to pass and she moved easily in his wake, utterly unscathed by the fire. She could only blink, as the smoke stung her eyes…and accept his lead blindly.

For she had no other choice but to trust the apparition—if that’s what he even was. She felt slightly delirious, and for a moment wondered if it were her husband’s ghost, sent to save her…or to usher her into the afterlife.

She had no time to question further, as they reached the outside of the warehouse, where suddenly the escape path came into clear view, and she felt the specter lead her swiftly into the woods.

She followed silently in his wake, their hands never separating, and she felt a warrior’s strength in the way he guided her.

The way he protected her.

They moved through the hushed, black woods, neither speaking as he guided her effortlessly toward their established base camp--as if he’d always known the way. And suddenly she caught a glimpse of Tess and Anna…Riley, the others.

He released her hand as they neared the clearing, and then, like a whisper, she felt a warm palm touch her cheek. No words, just such a lingering, tender caress, filled with overwhelming energy that left her more unsteady than the smoke ever had.

Then there was only coolness, as he departed wordlessly, and the ground gave way beneath her feet.

****
Marco gunned the engine of his Harley, feeling the icy wind whip against his skin. Only his parka covered his bare chest, as he’d been unable to stop for his sweater earlier. Now, the air rippled through the jacket’s thick down, lifting it from his abdomen, chilling him painfully.

Back down the road, he heard his enemies speed after him. He’d begun with a slight advantage, a bit further out, and now he led them as far from Max as he could…from Tess and the others.

He glanced over his shoulder and saw the thin arc of headlights drawing nearer, and slung his M-16 from over his shoulder, positioning it awkwardly within his hand. He’d have to act quickly, if he hoped to survive tonight, because on the open road, he made a perfect target. It would be nearly impossible to drive the motorcycle, while maintaining his protective shield as any kind of perimeter.

There was a soft sputtering of weaponry behind him, as blue light shot just past his shoulder. They’d fired the Luminator on him and missed.

Again, he glanced over his shoulder, careful to keep the bike on the highway, though it wobbled a bit beneath him. He saw a flash of blue again, and raised his rifle in reply, managing to release several rounds of gunfire in the driver’s direction.

The windshield exploded, scattering shards of glass into the air, as the vehicle veered crazily behind him-- first left, then right before turning a perfect three-hundred and sixty degree circle in the middle of the road.

Marco watched as the car careened to a wild stop, then lowered his M-16, turning his full focus on the road unfolding ahead of him.

Not until he’d traveled several quiet miles down the two-lane did he allow himself to breathe again, to fully realize that after so many months, he was finally on his way home.
****
Tess glanced up, just as Serena appeared from within the woods, immediately collapsing to her knees. Without hesitating, Tess raced to her side, followed closely by Anna.

“Serena,” Tess cried, dropping beside the woman. Serena coughed heavily, wiping at her eyes while Tess helped her to her feet.

“Fire,” Serena managed to rasp, as Anna slipped an arm around Serena’s shoulder, guiding her toward the car. Most of the others were completely loaded in, waiting to leave in the two idling vehicles. Tess and Anna had stood outside, along with Riley, waiting for her return.

“This everyone?” Serena asked weakly, glancing at Riley, who nodded as he opened the back door of the vehicle.

“Good,” Serena answered in a raw voice, climbing into the back cab of the Suburban. Tess hopped in after her, pulling the door shut, and Riley gunned the motor.

“And Marco?” Serena asked, glancing around the vehicle. “Where is he?”

“He left on his motorcycle,” Tess admitted, feeling a sudden heaviness in her chest. “A decoy so Max could get away.”

Tess had reached for him earlier, upon arriving at the rendezvous point and sensed that he lived, was completely safe. She did so again now, and this time felt a soft answer of energy low down her spine. She smiled at the sensation, shivering a bit unexpectedly at his rushing energy.

“But he is okay,” Serena finished for her.

Tess nodded, her braid bobbing softly behind her. “I feel him…the danger has passed.”

“Very good,” Serena smiled faintly, her eyes dancing a bit in relief, yet she still seemed troubled by something that Tess couldn’t pinpoint.

Tess studied her with concern, as they quickly pulled away, and out onto the two-lane highway. It was almost dawn, and a reddish color tinted the cloudy horizon, portending of wintry weather later in the day.

Tess sighed heavily, leaning against the window in exhaustion, as Serena continued coughing.

“You sure you okay?” Max asked from the seat in front of them, glancing at Serena with concern.

“Khivar is dead, Max,” Serena stated simply. “I am more than fine, I promise.”

From the front, someone passed a water bottle to Max, and he pressed it into Tess’s hands. She lifted it to Serena’s lips. “Here,” she urged and Serena gulped of the water, a trickle spilling down her chin as she tilted the bottle back almost desperately.

Tess couldn’t help noticing that Serena’s face looked pale and almost ashen, and she wondered if something else had transpired within the warehouse. “Serena, you look pale,” Tess observed quietly, so the others wouldn’t hear. “Everything okay? Really?”

Serena studied her a moment, opening her mouth as if to speak, then shook her head, staring out the back window for a long moment. “I am well, Tess.”

“How did you get out of the fire?” Tess asked, not sure why she felt the compulsion to press Serena. “You were alone?”

Serena’s head jerked in her direction, her soft brown eyes widening suddenly, and Tess swore she paled a bit more. “Alone, yes.”

Tess stared at her a moment, and suddenly understood.

“Serena, he helped you didn’t he?”

Serena rubbed her eyes with the back of her hand. “He?”

“The man…or whatever he was. I met him, too,” Tess confessed quietly.

Serena blinked, staring out the back window again. Wordlessly, she traced her finger along an icy pattern of frost that had formed on the windowpane.

“And who do you think he was?” Serena finally asked, never meeting Tess’s gaze.

Tess thought for a moment, remembering their interaction, now that she had time to even reflect. “I’m not sure,” she admitted. “But I think his name is Aidan.”

Nothing prepared Tess for Serena’s reaction, for how swiftly she gripped her arm with unbridled force.

“What?” Serena choked, as all remaining color drained from her features. “He’s called what?”

“Aidan…I think,” Tess stammered, shaking her head in confusion. “Do you…know him?”

A’dhan does not exist,” Serena pronounced firmly, releasing Tess’s arm. “He’s only a myth, a legend among our people.”

“I heard that name when he helped me,” Tess whispered, wondering why Serena had reacted so violently to his name. “In my spirit.”

“But you saw nothing?” Serena asked, staring out the window again, her features drawn in a tight line.

“Nothing at all, but I-I felt him…with my Empathy. He is good, whatever he is.”
Serena nodded in agreement, gulping more water, as if it were a precious commodity.

Tess glanced around the vehicle, and was surprised that no one had seemed to be following her conversation with Serena. Michael and Maria had their heads bowed closely together, whispering—and Max’s eyes were shut already. She knew he was drained from everything, longed to be with Liz, who rode in the other car because of safety demands. Serena refused to transport them in the same vehicle, and even with Khivar and Nicholas dead, the security plan remained in force.

Serena’s raspy voice gave Tess a sudden start, especially the unexpected reverence with which she spoke. “A’dhan is the name…sounds like Aidan, yes.” Serena stared at her hands where they were folded in her lap. “My husband believed in him, said he saved his life once, in a terrible battle against the Antousians…that’s when A’dhan is always said to appear, in the worst and bloodiest of our battles.”

“The Silent One,” Tess offered. “That’s what he told me he’s called.”

Serena’s mouth opened in surprise, and then closed again. “There’s no way you could have known that.”

A wondrous smile played at the edge of Tess’s lips. “Except that he told me, Serena.”

Serena stared down at her open palms a moment, as if she expected to find some revelation upon them. “He helped me from the warehouse, Tess,” Serena finally admitted, chewing her lip in a gesture of rare vulnerability. “I never once believed my husband about A’dhan…thought he’d imagined him. And yet, if what you say is true, he just saved my life.”

Tess nodded thoughtfully, as Serena turned away again with a brisk toss of her ponytail. As always with Serena, her entire demeanor signaled the end of the conversation, as she withdrew far inside herself once again.

Tess settled against the side window, and closed her eyes, yearning for Marco. Instantly, as she grew quiet, Marco’s insistent energy began sweeping across her skin. He must have been reaching for her, but she’d been so focused on her conversation with Serena, that she’d not perceived him. Yet now he unfurled across her senses like an explosion of heady fireworks.

Her hands trembled with the intensity, with how he teased and coaxed at their near-bond, at how much stronger he was than earlier. Marco’s energy, even at this remove, was almost overpowering to her, and Tess felt tears burn her eyes as she imagined what it would be like when he finally made love to her, when every barrier was at last stripped away.

When there was only Marco McKinley, holding her against his bare body, as their alien essences joined in the most ancient of rituals.

When they bound their souls, one to another.

When there would only be Marco McKinley loving Tess Harding, with nothing separating them ever again.




[ edited 1 time(s), last at 11-Dec-2001 6:49:25 PM ]
posted on 11-Dec-2001 2:12:38 PM by RosDeidre
Btw, I promised it wouldn't be long for this part!!! HEE HEE!!! Hope you enjoyed it...btw, I love how everyone is so intrigued about The Silent one. *happy*
D
posted on 12-Dec-2001 3:28:30 PM by RosDeidre
Warning:
Long, rambling note!! LOL!So many of you are intrigued by The Silent One!! And I LOVE it! Emily, you asked if he’d be a part of my sequel, and the resounding answer is yes, we’ll learn much more about him in the next story.

I think it’s time that I revealed the new title to you of the upcoming story, after having played coy!! LOL! So, as this story winds down (though there’s still a good amount left with lots of questions to be answered), you can start anticipating….drum roll!!!

Back to Save the Universe The title comes from yet another Radiohead song, which seemed only fitting. You’ll learn much more about A’dhan, what and who he really is. As I believe Angela asked, you’ll find much more about the legend and mythology surrounding him and how it relates to the story of Serena, Tess, Marco, Max, Liz et al. Another character you can expect more from in UNIVERSE is:

????
Want to guess?
It will be a revolving POV fic like this one has been, with the introduction of some new characters and POV’s.

Now about Max/Liz’s bond! Do you know what’s really exciting to me? That in all these months, I don’t think a single person has guessed at what will happen with that. And I can definitely promise that you don’t have much longer to wait to see how/if they’ll get their bond back.

And Marco/Tess? Let’s just all count to three and sigh all at once, why don’t we??? I can’t WAIT for that bonding either!! LOL!

I’ve been so excited to hear from people who hadn’t posted in a long time, like Omby and Angie (I DO remember your post about wine and baths and GRAVITY!)

As well as some brand new readers like Czechoslavakian , as well as people who haven’t posted much before. I appreciate all of you for following the stories to this point and for some of you, hounding me about the repost board.

And, of course, there are so many wonderful readers who have stayed with me the entire time, all of whom I appreciate from the bottom of my heart! I hate to name anyone, because then I’ll leave ten out, but Tasyfa, Cookie, Kath7, Angela35, Emily, Pinky Banana, LTL, Icestorm, Roswellfanatic, Tigereyes,and Maxzhot, and so, so, so, so many others have followed this story for so long (I include DISAPPEAR in the “this story” category.) But, I appreciate all of you so much, and like I said, I know I’m being a dork and forgetting avid and wonderful readers…so you’re in that list too!

I wonder who reads that we never hear from, too??? Are any of you writers ever curious about the people who read and you don’t know about? Somehow that intrigues me.

Anyway, as we head into the home stretch on GRAVITY, I just wanted to thank each one of you for making the writing of this story such a fun and exciting experience. I treasure your comments, be they few or lengthy. It’s kept me going these past few months, which have been admittedly quite difficult.
Love, Deidre

P.S. I’m toying with a GRAVITY Christmas tag fic…something to show what happened the Christmas of 2006, in the safe house during the time Marco was away. Would this be something any of you would be interested in reading? A sort of Christmas short story? I’m so wrapped up in the progression of GRAVITY and UNIVERSE, I’m not sure I’d do it, but am curious if a Christmas fic is even of interest to the readers. Be HONEST, please! LOL



posted on 12-Dec-2001 5:44:10 PM by RosDeidre
Angela...are they Godiva?

Wimsey-thanks for echoing with a "yes!" I'll see what I can do!! One compelling factor is that I have a title already!! So...now just need to write a story.
*happy*
D
posted on 13-Dec-2001 9:51:33 PM by RosDeidre
Tas!!! OMB!! I love you, babe! When I popped in and read your note, it almost brought tears to my eyes. You’re really wonderful…and guys, I did NOT put her up to that! LOL! Not even for chocolate anything b/c she’s allergic.
Hugs, d



posted on 14-Dec-2001 9:04:56 PM by RosDeidre
Hey, guys!
So you all seem really keen on the Christmas story! WOO HOO! I just have to find time in the next eleven or so days to write it, LOL! But I’ll try my best, I promise.

Thanks again, Tas and Cookie, for that plus on Tess. You guys rock!

I’m pounding away on part 42, and there’s a chance it might be up late tonight. If not then, then I’m sure tomorrow night.
Hugs! D
P.S. I've been granted a random avatar. How special I feel!
posted on 14-Dec-2001 9:17:03 PM by RosDeidre
And one more thing!! (Don't I always have one more???)
Thanks to everyone who has voted for Tess...or any of the other categories. You're awesome! And thanks as always for all the wonderful fb...it makes all the work so worth it.

Kath--you were funny about that slash!!! You know, there's a thread over on UC couples called "Dreampolecats" for M/Mi/L shippers. Maybe that's your next stop??????? HEEHEE!
posted on 14-Dec-2001 10:19:07 PM by RosDeidre
Tas!!! OMB!! You should see me LAUGHING OUT LOUD at my mixup! No, that's not a story I think I'll be writing...I'll leave that to Dmartinez!! LOL!
*happy*
posted on 15-Dec-2001 11:13:36 PM by RosDeidre
Author’s Note:
Well, guys, you’ve all been waiting on this one. That’s all I’m going to say for now!! LOL!



PART FORTY TWO

Marco roared up the steep incline to the safe house on his motorcycle, feeling anything but safe. His giddy excitement over returning home had quickly faded as the miles had rolled by, his mood growing darker as he’d had time to anticipate seeing Max and Liz again for the first time since that horrid night so many months before.

The night that he had foolishly kissed his queen…the very woman he was sworn and bound to protect by the most sacred of oaths.

How many times had he wished he could have undone that moment? Withdrawn that one kiss? And he’d never fathomed how Liz could forgive him, much less Max. Yet Tess had assured him—beginning that very night last August—that Max would understand. That somehow they both would.

And even just last night, Max had refused to hear his apology, assured him that they all wanted him home. Yet somehow Marco couldn’t shake the self-accusation, the sense that he was utterly unworthy of his king’s absolution.

Marco’s hands grew clammy against the handlebars as he glimpsed the cabin, and knew that after so many months, he would face every one of his fears, would go to his king and queen and beg their forgiveness.

And he wasn’t even sure if that unsettled him nearly so much as the thought of finally seeing Tess again. He ached for her, burned to be with her, even more intensely than he had for all their months of separation. Yet as he’d clicked off the miles, the road unfolding ahead of him like a thin ribbon, he’d been progressively overwhelmed by the thought of drawing her into his arms after their painful absence.

Nearly ravishing her in their dreams was one thing, but holding her in their waking life scared the hell out of him, just as it had from the very beginning.

Night after night, for a year now, she’d healed his soul, breathed life into it, even as he’d battled all of his doubts about taking a mate. Nothing had been able to stop the love weaving between their two hearts like a perfect gossamer thread-- not even her learning what he truly was.

In fact, all she’d offered that night at the bar, when he’d confessed his blackest secret, was such gentle acceptance-- her heart in exchange for his curse.

He’d never imagined that a woman might love him that way, not when she knew what a mating with him might mean. Yet Tess hadn’t hesitated, had never turned back once, not in all these months. She’d embraced everything about him, his gifts, his vows…and been willing to take it all on herself in order to bond with him. And now he thought to repay her by turning his Harley back down the driveway and heading miles away, never stopping.

Because his worst fear was that he’d only been dreaming all these months, that somehow their near-bond had been an illusion, just as he’d thought Liz was Tess that night so many months ago.

If he left now, then all his dreams would remain intact forever, and he’d always believe that Tess could have been his…that the future might have belonged to them. But if he pressed forward, he gambled all those hopes on the unknown.

The doubts didn’t stop, as he slung his leg over the bike, his eyes searching the screened in porch. Yet he saw no one. He was momentarily relieved, until he heard the porch door creak open, and someone stepped outside. He strode up the walkway, squinting to see who it was, when he glimpsed a long braid of black hair.

She took quick steps toward him, nearly flinging the screened porch door open, and his gaze locked with her own luminous blue one. Water blue eyes.

And he was overpowered by a scent more intoxicating than any other. Wild flowers, touched by the sun.

No, there was no doubt about the identity of the ebony haired beauty running toward him, even if the dark hair was a bit unfamiliar.

Before he had time to feel nervous, Tess had flung her arms around his neck, pulling him into a tight embrace.

“Marco,” she cried breathlessly. “Oh, God…I can’t believe you’re here.”

His throat tightened and he swallowed hard, closing his hands around her back. He’d never remembered she was so small, not in all the months they’d been apart. In his dreams, she was always larger than life, long golden hair flowing down her back. The black hair was oddly disconcerting, even though he’d seen it earlier in the thick of battle. He sucked in a breath, as she reached up onto her toes, pulling him even closer within her arms, her heart beating rapidly against his chest.

And he was scared beyond description. The earlier battle paled in comparison to how he felt in her arms, how desperately he wanted to run from her in that moment.

“Tess,” he managed, touching her thick braid lightly, just stroking it with his fingertips.

She squeezed him tighter within her embrace, and he felt her stroke the hair on the nape of his neck. “I-I almost didn’t know you…with the dark hair,” he stammered awkwardly.

“I forgot to fix it!” She cried giddily, pulling back to gaze up at him. Her blue eyes twinkled with pleasure, as she bounced on her toes. He reached for her with his empathy, and sensed only the deepest acceptance and joy…God, her love for him was nearly unfathomable in its depths.

Suddenly, he found himself laughing just as joyously, as he reached a hand to cup her cheek. “Oh, sweet Tess,” he murmured, as she pressed her lips into his palm. “I think I’m afraid this is a dream.”

She beamed at him, leaning her cheek against his hand. “For once, I can definitely promise that you’re wide awake!”

She closed her eyes a moment, falling quiet as he caressed her cheek with his thumb, then suddenly her head snapped up in surprise. “You’re so scared,” she whispered, her azure eyes widening. “Please don’t be scared of me, Marco.”

He withdrew his hand as if he’d burned it, and her features instantly darkened at his emotional retreat. Despite knowing that she was empathic now, he wasn’t prepared for her to read him that easily.

“I’m fine,” he lied, his voice suddenly distant, even to his own ears. “But I need to speak with Max and Liz, and I rather dread that.”

“But why would you be afraid of me?” She pressed, reaching a gentle hand to his shoulder.

“Tess, we’re both quite weary,” he explained, and unable to meet her piercing gaze, he stared over her shoulder at the cabin. “You needn’t read me too deeply at the moment.”

“I’m not reading,” she snapped, her fair cheeks staining deep crimson. “I feel your heart now, Marco, remember? And you’re scared to death of seeing me. What I don’t understand is why.”

He smiled faintly, squeezing her hand, then brushed past her toward the cabin without so much as a backward glance. Old habits, their previous way of circling one another. It was the only thing he could fall back on, as his heart hammered painfully.

He walked toward the house, leaving her alone in the middle of the walkway, staring after him.

Yet even as he sensed her heartache crash into him like a tidal wave, he had to shield himself because until he dealt with Max and Liz, he wasn’t strong enough to confront his fears about his near-mate.

And certainly not about himself.

****
Max had collapsed onto their bed, the box springs creaking in instant complaint, as he’d rolled toward Liz, drawing her swiftly into his arms.

“Remember your promise,” he teased, his warm breath fanning her cheek, as he slipped his arms low around her waist.

“How could I forget?” Liz laughed, his words electrifying her body instantly. She felt his hands shaking with soft tremors against her lower back, and knew he still burned with their season, just as she did.

She touched his cheek where a dark scuffmark marred his skin. “What’s this from?” she asked, feeling suddenly frightened. No one had been willing to reveal what Max had gone through inside the warehouse, but she had a strong sense of it.

“Sweetheart,” he cautioned, nuzzling her neck with his mouth. “That’s over.”

“I know, but…” She felt her voice catch, imagining what might have happened. How it could have ended so differently.

There was a soft rapping on their bedroom door, and they groaned simultaneously. “Ignore it,” She coached. “They’ll think we’re asleep.”

“Could be important,” Max argued, slowly rolling away from her, to the edge of the bed.

“And this isn’t?” Liz asked, knowing she sounded whiny, but she didn’t care.

Max only growled in reply, adjusting his boxers for a moment beside the door before opening it. He pulled his t-shirt down low, turning the latch, and suddenly there was Marco, completely filling the frame. Liz hadn’t seen him yet, not in all the many months since he’d left, and for a moment her throat tightened at the sight of him.

He looked oddly vulnerable standing there, his black hair still damp from the shower. He dropped his gaze quickly when he glimpsed Liz lying on the bed.

“I’m sorry,” he said, raking a hand over his hair. “I…I, well, this is probably a bad time.”

Max opened the door wider, ushering him inside with a bright voice. “No, no…come on in.”

They’d expected their reunion with him to be painful, awkward even—especially for Marco, who they knew suffered such remorse over how things had ended. Liz smiled, watching him step hesitantly into their bedroom, again raking a nervous hand over his hair. His large black eyes searched the room, avoiding contact with either of them, and Liz’s heart lurched. He’d given so much to them, she couldn’t bear seeing him in such anguish.

“Marco, please,” she encouraged. “Come in and talk to us.” She moved to the edge of the bed, and stood, opening her arms to him. “We’ve missed you so much!”

Reluctantly, he accepted her embrace, returning it by barely folding his arms around her neck. “It’s excellent to be back,” he replied, his voice a bit formal. “I thought this day would never come.”

“I think Tess felt that way, too,” Liz laughed, and instantly regretted teasing him, when Marco seemed a bit flustered at her remark. He walked to the window, and stared outside a moment, just nodding.

“Looks like it might snow,” he observed softly, lifting their sheer curtain back. Max’s eyes locked with her own and he tossed his head in Marco’s direction, as if asking for her advice. Liz shrugged, feeling unsure what to say to Marco, how to guide him through this painful moment.

Finally, Marco let the curtain drop, and turned to face them. His mouth was drawn in a tight line, and he bowed his dark head, staring at the floor. “I hardly know what to say to you,” he finally mumbled. “Either of you…”

“Marco, you and I already talked about this,” Max explained. “When we were connected the other night. I told you that there was nothing to apologize for.”

“But there is, Max,” he disagreed, looking Max intently in the eye. “I owe you both such an apology, Liz in particular.” His black eyes shone with anguish, and Liz had the urge to embrace him again, but refrained as his words came out in a sudden rush.

“I have no explanation for my behavior last summer, except that I was slightly out of my mind then…there were things about me you should have known, and did not.” Marco’s expression became pained. “But please know this, Liz, I never desired you or…or…”

“Marco,” Max interrupted gently, clasping him by the upper arm. “We know all of this…everything. You love Tess. We know.”

“I should have…” Marco continued, barely listening to Max, then suddenly he stopped. “You know everything?”

“That you’re an Empath, and were intercepting our bond,” Max finished. “That it was causing you problems. We know, Marco, and it’s okay.”

Marco stared at Max, his mouth slightly open. “It’s okay?” He repeated, his voice breaking slightly.

“I’m the one who owes you an apology,” Max continued in a quiet voice. “I should have listened to you that night, when you tried to explain. I was not a good leader to you then, or a good friend. I’m so sorry, Marco.”

Marco held up a hand, begging Max not to continue, as he dropped his head. “Please, Max, you do not need to say such things…”

“But we do,” Liz chimed in, reaching a hand to Marco, who only stared at it in dismay. “We both do, because there’s so much we need to thank you for…all these months you’ve sacrificed for us all.”

Marco took her hand briefly, squeezing it, and Liz closed it within her other hand. “And I’m afraid there’s something else we still need to ask of you,” she continued quietly. “One more thing, Marco.”

He met her gaze, his intense dark eyes widening slightly. “Well, two more things actually,” Liz laughed, releasing his hand and patting the spot beside her on the bed. “But I think it’s going to take a while to explain.”

****

Marco sat cross-legged in the middle of their bed, facing them both. It was almost as if they were gathered around a non-existent campfire, the way they’d formed such an easy circle. He found himself reminded of that night in their Las Cruces apartment, what felt like a lifetime ago now, when he’d coached them in using their intuition. The night he’d first inadvertently felt their bond resonate within him.

Involuntary fists kept forming at Marco’s sides as he listened to Max’s account of what Nicholas had done during the mindrape—how he’d managed to interrupt their bond somehow.

He ached for them, tried not to feel the shudders of pain that echoed within their bedroom, but it was simply too ambient. Of everything they’d suffered because of their enemies, this had wounded them the most deeply, left them feeling the most defeated, even now in the wake of Max’s complete triumph over Khivar.

“Do you…think he could have…taken it from us?” Liz asked, her voice so vulnerable it caused Marco’s throat to tighten. “I mean, can that be done?”

“What do you think, Marco?” Max questioned, rubbing his eyes in exhaustion.

They thought he might be able to help, somehow break the power of what Nicholas had wedged between them. They hadn’t vocalized it per se, but the unspoken question hung pregnant within the air.

“I’ve never heard of such a thing,” Marco answered seriously. “Never once…to my knowledge, a bond cannot be broken like this. Not once fully formed.”

“It’s…dead,” Max explained with a heavy sigh. “That’s all I feel every time I reach for her.”

Marco fell silent, as he considered their situation, wondering if they should talk to Serena, when Liz suddenly clutched his hand.

“Marco, this is what we wanted to ask you.”

Max reached for his other hand and Marco felt his cheeks flush at the sudden intimacy with them both—especially in light of all the guilt he’d carried for months.

“We think you can help us,” Max continued. “That you can heal the bond.”

“How?” Marco asked, his voice thick with emotion. “How could I possibly do that?”

“By connecting with each of us,” Liz whispered intently, tears pooling in her dark eyes. “Then…bonding us back together.”

Marco could only stare at them both, afraid he might cry himself as he saw the heartbreak shining in their eyes--and how strongly they believed he held their answers.

If only he were as equally convinced.

“I’m not…sure…that would…” He murmured quietly, and Liz’s lip quivered, silencing him instantly. But it was Max’s reaction that tore at his heart the most. He just dropped his head, hiding his eyes from him.

Their hands remained locked with his, and Marco was keenly aware that their arms shook with slight tremors. He wasn’t sure why, but that detail seemed like some important piece of an ancient mystery.

“Of course, I’ll try,” Marco breathed, unconsciously drawing their hands together with his own. “I’d do anything to help you both, you must know that.”

Liz nodded wordlessly, as the unshed tears began streaking her cheeks. Max nodded, too, continuing to cast his eyes downward, and Liz stroked his shoulder. Marco was silent a moment, as Max wiped at his eyes with the back of his hand.

Marco’s thoughts careened crazily, his throat aching with their pain. He’d spent a lifetime blocking the feelings of others, wielding his empathy like a carefully honed saber. He’d always been precariously close to feeling what he shouldn’t, and nothing had accentuated that fact more than when he’d begun to intercept their most intimate connection so many months before. And now, despite how they’d opened their hearts to him, he wasn’t sure how to repair the damage their enemy had wrought.

But he knew that despite what had happened with Liz in the past, he actually sensed the bond more easily through Max, was a bit more connected with him, for reasons he couldn’t fathom. “I need to start with you, Max.”

“Okay,” Max nodded, his eyes still bright with tears as he looked up.

“Like what we did the other night,” Marco continued, reaching to cup Max’s face within his palms. Max closed his eyes, his breathing falling into a slower cadence, as Marco focused intently on him.

He pressed every howling doubt from his mind, and centered his Empathy on Max’s spirit, on feeling it’s vibration within his own heart. There was an answering heat low in Marco’s abdomen and beneath his fingertips, as electricity began to mount instantly at his point of contact with Max.

Marco shivered in response, drawing nearer to Max, needing to be physically closer as a quasi-bond promised to erupt between them. There was only the deep sound of Max’s breathing, the feel of his spirit resonating clearly, nearly audible.

“Cover…my hands…with your own,” Marco coached in a thick voice. “Deepen the point of contact.”

He felt Max cover his palms where they cradled his face, shockingly full of heat. Healer’s hands, some part of Marco’s mind suggested, as the connection unfurled between them.

Max? He asked. Do you hear me?

Yes…yes… He sensed deep relief in Max’s mind, felt it in the palms of his hands.

Good, then I’m in, Marco agreed softly. I think we need to allow this to take hold before I reach for Liz and try to draw her in. Okay?

Yes…good. Max agreed, and Marco pressed harder, sensing something frantic on the periphery of Max’s thoughts.

Max? What’s wrong?

Nothing…what do you mean?

There’s something unsettled within you.

And then Marco knew, understood why the slight tremors in their hands had felt hauntingly familiar. The events of last August came crashing into place with unbelievable clarity. They were in their season, deep in the throes of it.

And they had been last summer, when he’d been receiving their connection most painfully.

Yes, we are, Max agreed before Marco could rush to translate his thoughts. And we were then, though I thought Tess would have told you that by now.

No, Max, Marco answered gently. Tess never told me. Well, maybe she did, but my conscious mind didn’t remember.

It’s why the bond was so problematic for you that week, why it became so much more intense.

For the first time in all those months, Marco felt the guilt diminish, as the balm of forgiveness washed his soul. Not just his own absolution, but what he felt from Max.

It’s what I’ve tried to tell you, Marco, Max whispered quietly within his mind. We were a huge part of it, staying connected like that.

And now I can use this season to bring the healing you need, Marco agreed, smiling radiantly as he felt the bond with Max take the temporary hold he needed.

I can reach for Liz now, Marco beamed. Okay? You ready?

Yes, Max agreed and Marco felt their connection lurch powerfully, sensed the hope arise in Max’s soul.

Gingerly, Marco dropped his hands, and found Liz just watching them. He smiled encouragingly, and slowly reached to cradle her face within his hands.

“Here, Liz,” Marco encouraged. “Max and I are fully connected. Now let’s draw you in.”

She swallowed, closing her eyes and he concentrated on maintaining the open channel with Max, while trying to tame it a bit so that he could focus his energy on Liz. It was almost as if Max stepped away from him, yet he still sensed his very definite presence, as electric heat continued to warm his extremities.

Connecting with Liz was decidedly different than with Max, and at first she was difficult to sense. But then, there was a subtle shifting of energy, and Marco’s cheeks flushed deeply with heat, as he felt Liz lunge hard for the connection. It was as if she’d thrown all of her physical weight into it, and Marco nearly rocked backward as he felt something give way between them, unfurl wildly.

Marco began shaking and couldn’t stop, as Max and Liz’s dual energies began escalating all through his body. It was as if he were the lightning rod to something deeply spiritual that was culminating between the two of them.

Max, he cried, leaning his own forehead against Liz’s to steady himself.

I…I…can almost…God, almost…feel her, Max managed to stammer. You’re so close, Marco.

I know, Max.

He felt Liz cover his hands with her own just as Max had done and then the room escalated with ungrounded alien energy, tilting on its axis as Marco could only gasp for air.

Liz began sobbing, crying out Max’s name, and Max did the same…Marco tried to listen, but his mind was buzzing so loudly. He wasn’t sure why they were so upset, was only aware that his head was throbbing with a piercing headache, as they just kept murmuring one another’s names repeatedly, crying…sobbing.

Wh…what? He tried to ask and felt their hands on him, yet he couldn’t seem to open his eyes.

Marco! Liz cried joyously. Don’t you feel it? I’m connected with him…I’m in here, too.

Marco nodded, trying to still the insane tremors racking his body.

Marco, are you alright? Max asked and Marco felt Max’s steady hand on his shoulder. Marco could only shake his head.

Unwell…feeling unwell…from the intensity, he murmured thickly.

He felt their exhilaration shift to deep concern, as he fought to stay in control of the empathy that was now raging like a lunatic within his mind.

We’ll end this now, Max insisted. Right now!

No, no…just…help me. Marco whispered.

How? Tell us whatever we need to do, please. Liz’s voice was so certain and comforting that his heart settled a bit.

I need to…separate…difficult…because of the power…so much at once. Marco explained, aware that his thoughts were murky and difficult to express.

Okay, just tell us what to do, Max agreed.

Bond must deepen between you first, Marco breathed, his eyes fluttering open. The room was askew, the coloring all wrong, as he blinked desperately.

Must pull away once it does, Marco choked, closing his eyes again. He felt their concern circle him like a bright whirlwind, definite and determined in its action.

He sensed them reaching deeper, something critical threading between the two of them, and his own spirit calmed instantly as a result.

But then he felt something else that confused him for a moment. It seemed there was a fourth person in their midst, incredibly gentle, not insistent at all. At first, Marco wondered if he were sensing some remnant of Nicholas’s handiwork within their bond.

But he knew that couldn’t be right, not from what he sensed, and it was the tenderness of the fourth person that suddenly struck him. The presence wasn’t intruding-- it belonged more surely in the midst of their connection than Marco ever could.

His eyes flew open, as he found himself able to separate from them both, leaving their nascent bond perfectly intact.

And as he studied their tear-streaked faces, he wondered if either of them even knew, if they could possibly have any idea…that the tiniest life had begun within Liz’s womb.

A baby boy, his precious spirit less than twenty-four hours old.


[ edited 2 time(s), last at 15-Dec-2001 11:22:44 PM ]
posted on 17-Dec-2001 11:16:13 AM by RosDeidre
I can’t tell you how thrilled I am that this part went over so well! Whew! LOL! It was so hard all those months because I’ve known how these events would play out for about seven months, and especially with all the questions about the baby and the bond, I wanted to cave so badly!!! Tasyfa You’re right, I couldn’t believe that when I finally did post this, Angela was away!!!

But Marco…everybody seems really worried about him. You know, with characters, sometimes they may regress a bit because of circumstances (Emily, you there? LOL!). Dream Marco HAS been more emboldened and free than Conscious Marco has been with Tess, at least up until their last couple of days in camp together back in the summer. He was very honest and open with her then, but wound up leaving right afterward.

He’s had bursts of being that free with her at other times, too, like when they first met, and kissed out in the snow, but then he’d always subsequently retreat (I’m talking about Conscious Marco vs. Dream Marco.) But at the same time, he does now have that ground he gained in all their dream meetings, though he doesn’t necessarily remember everything as clearly as Tess does. It’s easier for her to remember it b/c it’s not such a conflict with her conscious mind, if you will. But more than that, it’s not like he can undo the fact that they’re near-mates now, and that’s an intimacy that he can’t deny!

But as for Cookie’s question: What does Waking Marco think of his behavior in the dreams? Well, I don’t think it’s very separate for him, I think he’s just been a bit paralyzed with fear upon his return. It’s probably a matter of his figuring out how to be as uninhibited with Tess now that he’s home, as he has been in their dream life. And also reconciling a whole variety of complex emotions, as well.

Kath Now, you know I wouldn’t have left you hanging until the next story! I’m not sadistic!! LOL!

Tara I was out all day yesterday, but am going to go post on your thread to say…OMB!! That was such a riot!!!! I am quite honored, too!

Working on part 43, but it will be a few days... hugs!
posted on 20-Dec-2001 11:53:56 PM by RosDeidre
Author’s Note: Don’t worry, I’m not forgetting some of the other things you guys are desperately waiting for. Everything in its own due time. I doubt I’ll post another part before the holiday, though you never know! I could surprise us all! I also haven’t forgotten the holiday fic idea, but have just been so in the mode of wrapping up the loose ends here, I think my creativity has been in that mode.

Thanks for all the amazing feedback on the last part!!! Wow, it sure makes it worth all the hard work.

Hugs! D



PART FORTY THREE

Tess tore down the path, not caring that she slipped on loose rock, or that she’d forgotten her coat. She was blind with emotion, wanting only to get as far away from the cabin as possible. Wanting only to shut down the pain that was clenching her heart like a tight fist, making her lightheaded and slightly crazy. This was the darker side of her newfound Empathy, the part that intensified every emotion—even the most painful ones-- with the brilliance of a microscope.

She had Marco to thank for that, she thought ruefully. Thanks for everything, M’lasthre. Thanks a whole hell of a lot.

Was it like having been bitten by a vampire, the way he’d changed her, she wondered. Had he never been the alluring, beautiful man he’d seemed all those midnights they’d spent together? Maybe now was when the vampire turned on the unsuspecting damsel and devoured her.

She heard a slight scuffling sound behind her, and refused to turn, though her heart began a hopeful rhythm.

“Tess!” A familiar voice called after her, and she barely grunted in reply, as her anticipation quickly faded. Kyle. Apparently he’d followed her when she’d fled the cabin a few minutes before.

“Tess!” he shouted again. “Wait up!”

She stopped in her tracks, standing perfectly still until he caught up with her. He doubled over, bracing his hands on his upper thighs as he struggled to catch his breath.

“God, is it like a rabid alien thing?” He gasped heavily, staring up at her. “I mean I couldn’t possibly keep up with that pace…”

“And you were All American?” Tess quipped irritably. She wasn’t in the mood for Kyle’s teasing, not today.

“Well, yeah,” he answered with a frown.

“You know, I don’t actually recall inviting you on this hike, Kyle.”

“Only the way you ran out of the cabin with tears in your eyes,” he snapped, his blue eyes narrowing. “That was pretty much my open cue.”

“Oh,” she answered flatly, folding her arms around herself for warmth. Kyle handed a soft coat to her.

“And that you forgot your coat.”

“Thanks,” she grumbled, taking the jacket from his hand. She regretted having been cold to Kyle, especially when he was always so concerned about her. “I’m really sorry, okay?”

“I know you are,” he laughed. “You always are, sis.”

Sis.” She repeated, rolling her eyes sardonically.

“I like saying it because it pisses you off so much.”

“Very noble of you, brother.”

“No problem.”

Tess hesitated a moment, kicking at some loose shale. Her emotions were a mass of conflict, jittering from one extreme to another. She ached for Marco, secretly wished he’d been the one to follow her, not Kyle. And yet she wondered if everything between them had been an illusion, if the dream meetings had been only just that--dreams.

Marek called to Ayanna…he is your destiny, a gentle voice whispered in her ear, reminding her of what seemed unbelievable now. He is your near-mate, your lashtre…your heart. He has marked you as his own, and he belongs to you, just as surely as you do to him now.

She despised that voice, refused to acknowledge it.

“I hate him, Kyle. I absolutely hate his guts.” She wasn’t sure where the words had surfaced from, but she felt better just uttering them.

Kyle laughed, settling on a large fallen tree that marked the clearing. “Yeah, I noticed that.”

“I do,” she vowed, feeling fire dance in her veins. “I have stupidly wasted the entire past year of my life.”

“And you base that on…” Kyle waved his hand in the air, as if reaching for whatever flimsy evidence she might invoke.

She looked down at her watch. “On the fact that Marco McKinley arrived here precisely one hour and fifty minutes ago.” She clicked off the details, reporting with studied objectivity. “In that time, he has proceeded to blow me off, get a cup of coffee, take a shower, then head in to see his brother.”

“Oh-kay.”

“Afterwards, he glanced briefly in my direction, as he asked Serena for a private meeting, and while I waited, head hung low over my own fucking cup of coffee, he appeared again, only to walk down the hall and knock on Max and Liz’s bedroom door.”

“Got it,” Kyle nodded dutifully. “Good report, Tess. Very thorough.”

“Since that time,” she continued, drawing in a deep breath. “He has not been seen again, remaining decidedly absent from yours truly and her supposed charms ever since.”

“I’d be pissed, too,” Kyle nodded vigorously, a soft smile playing at his lips.

“This isn’t funny, Kyle,” she cried, stomping the frozen ground with her boot.

“Then why are you so completely cute right now?”

She aimed bullets at him with her eyes, willing him to shrivel before her—anything to ease the unbearable pain. She’d cried over Marco for months now, mourned his absence, keened for him when no one was listening. His refusal to acknowledge her now that he’d returned didn’t just hurt-- it infuriated her. Finally. And she hadn’t allowed herself to feel angry with him, not in all these months…not until now.

“The death ray eyes aren’t going to work on me, Tess,” Kyle announced, his voice serious. “Because you love him, and this is just asinine.”

“Thanks a lot,” she pouted, dropping heavily to the ground beside him.

“You love him and any idiot can see that he loves you, too,” Kyle continued. “Tremendously.”

Tess buried her face in her hands, feeling suddenly hopeless and on the brink of sobbing tears. “Yeah, right.”

How could she have been so wrong about Marco all these months? It just didn’t make sense. Any more than how he’d treated her earlier had. He’d been tender with her at first, at least a bit, but then withdrawn so abruptly, he hadn’t the time for a backward glance at her.

“Tess, listen, just give him a little time,” Kyle continued. “You know how guys are…sometimes we need our space.”

She dropped her hands and stared at Kyle incredulously. “He’s had space! Six months worth of space,” she lamented. “And I always thought that when he finally came back…well that it would be all so completely…”

“What?” Kyle pressed. “So completely what?”

“So‘Max and Liz’, you know?” She blurted the words, embarrassed by what now seemed a schoolgirl confession.

So ‘Max and Liz’?” Kyle asked in confusion, studying her carefully.

“Oh, you know,” she huffed, her throat constricting painfully. “All dreamy looks and touches, and soul mates and happily ever after. Everything I never thought would happen for me…at least not until Marco made me believe that it could.”

“Why would you want that anyway?” Kyle asked in disdain, until Tess shot him a withering glance.

He threw his hands up in mock defense. “Kidding!”

Tess buried her face in her hands again with a pitiful groan. “I was obviously very stupid.”

“Tess, this is stupid,” he chided gently, and she instantly rankled until she heard his next words. “I mean, that is the way you and Marco are together. I’ve seen it myself.” Kyle offered softly, his voice growing serious. “I’m so envious of what you have with him, I can hardly stand it…I mean, not with you,” he stammered awkwardly, as she glanced curiously at him. “I just mean I’ve never been in love the way you two are.”

A small flame of hope fanned to life in her heart. “Really?”

“Hell, I don’t think I’ve ever been in love at all,” Kyle admitted, sounding oddly distant.

“At least not once I gave up on you,” he finished quietly, and Tess’s chest tightened. She loved Kyle with all her heart, but never that way. They’d tried it once, and found their sparks to be the familial kind, nothing more.

“Kyle,” she began softly, reaching a hand to touch his arm.

“Tess, I’m not trying to tell you I’m still in love with you,” he said, his voice still tinged with an unmistakeable regret. “I love you as my sister, and I really do mean that.”

She nodded, noticing that a random flake of snow had landed on Kyle’s dark hiking boot. “I love you, too, Kyle,” she agreed. “You know that.”

“Of course I know that,” he sighed, and Tess didn’t miss his frustration. “But trust me, what you and Marco have…well, maybe he’s being a dick right now, but what you two have is special.” He rubbed his hands together, as if wiping them clean. “That’s my point.”

“A dick, yeah, that’s a really accurate description of it,” she agreed, feeling her good humor return.

“Jockspeak can be very accurate,” he agreed with a wry laugh. “But that’s not my point. My point is give the guy a little time, and remember what you have because he’ll come around.”

Tess nodded quietly, watching as several more lacy flakes cascaded to the dark floor of the woods, landing casually on leaves and moss. She thought of how long she’d dreamed of hiking with Marco along these mountainous paths that he loved so dearly, seeing them covered in snow. She’d imagined him kissing her on a wintry night again, just like that time a year before.

The remembrance of her girlish dreams fueled her fury anew. “I still hate him,” she announced.

“I can see I made a lot of headway,” Kyle groaned.

Tess cut her eyes sideways and lifted a playful eyebrow. “It could be worse,” Tess laughed softly, leaning close against him. “Your name could be Marco McKinley.”

“Good point.”
**


Marco backed away from Max and Liz, even as he slowly eased himself from their pulsating bond. He smiled broadly, as he stared at their dark heads bowed so closely together, observed how lost they were within one another.

And knew for certain that they were utterly unaware that they’d conceived a baby during this mating season. But that wasn’t for him to reveal, he thought, knowing how wondrous the discovery would be once their bond had been given time to deepen.

Slowly, they opened their eyes and gazed up at him, gratitude shining in their features, as he rose to his feet beside the bed.

“Marco,” Liz whispered huskily. “I don’t think we can ever truly thank you for this.”

Marco inclined his head, dropping his gaze to the floor. “I would do anything for you both, surely you must know that. You have my heart, my allegiance…you always have.”

“Yes, you would do anything for us,” Max agreed, an enigmatic smile forming on his lips. “I have no doubt.”

“And that’s why we have a second request,” Liz continued. “Something much easier.”

Marco glanced up and found Liz smiling mischievously, her dark eyes dancing a bit.

“Anything, of course,” Marco agreed, sensing something conspiratorial between his king and queen that made his pulse skitter in strange anticipation.

“Somehow, that’s exactly what we thought you’d say,” Max agreed.

“Which is why we’re going to ask of you, what you would never ask of us,” Liz continued with a dazzling smile.

Marco nodded, feeling his curiosity intensify. Whatever they had agreed upon, they were both very excited about it, that much was obvious by their glowing expressions.

“We want to grant your bonding with Tess,” Max finished.

Marco’s jaw fell slack and his cheeks burned hopelessly. “That is what’s required in this situation, isn’t it?” Liz asked, tucking a stray lock of hair behind her ear. “That’s what Serena said. That you’re supposed to seek our blessing, or something like that…because you’re our protector.”

Marco nodded wordlessly, feeling heat creep down his neck.

“Okay, well you have that permission,” Max declared with a nod of his head. “We want the two of you to be happy, to bond…we don’t want anything to stand in the way of that at all.” Max met Marco’s gaze meaningfully. “Especially not us.” With that one statement, Max Evans obliterated every objection Marco had ever raised about taking a mate. Forever.

“I…I…came here to ask…that,” Marco stammered, his stomach knotting anxiously. “But feared I did not have the courage.”

Liz stretched her legs out on the bed, pointing her toes daintily. She was the picture of relaxation, which only emphasized how tense the entire conversation made Marco.

“Marco, I think that the hard part is going to be asking Tess,” Liz laughed.

He groaned inwardly, remembering how he’d raced past her on the walk, so overwhelmed to be back, afraid of being near her again. Somehow, all those anxieties seemed ridiculous, now that Max and Liz had offered their blessing…forgiven him.

“I think…I’d best be about that question,” he agreed, wishing that the whole conversation hadn’t just embarrassed him so terribly, that he weren’t so uncommonly shy about such things.

“Yeah, well, I don’t think you’re going to get a lot of protest, just so you know,” Liz giggled girlishly. “In fact, I’d say Tess might ask you first if you don’t hurry.”

If only that were still true, Marco thought regretfully.

**
Marco took long strides down the path, and caught the light scent of someone familiar on the trail below him. He focused a moment, then identified the person as Kyle, right as he rounded the path.

“McKinley,” Kyle nodded with a grunt, not stopping.

“Kyle, have you seen Tess? I’m trying to find her.”

“Down by the stream,” he answered in a clipped voice, never pausing as he hiked past him. And Marco swore he heard him mumble “Asshole,” under his breath.

Yeah, Tess would be the one asking him to bond if he didn’t hurry with the question. Yeah, right, he thought with a hopeless groan.

Snow had begun falling in thick clumps, already lacing the mountainous path with white flakes. He knew Tess loved the snow, remembered how she would stare at the sky, and let it dust her face and lashes. He should have been overjoyed in his anticipation of her reaction. Instead, his stomach roiled with nervous tension, and his shoulders had knotted painfully in the past hour.

How could he have botched their reunion so thoroughly? All their months apart, he’d fantasized and imagined how to make that moment perfect. He’d thought of how to pose his question, how he’d beg her to mate with him, to be his for eternity.

He’d imagined practically kidnapping her, dragging her to some private rendezvous, and dropping onto his knees with a proposal. She’d stood by him for all these months, and he wanted their first moments of reunion to be as sweetly romantic as he knew she longed for. Because one thing he was certain of about Tess Harding-- like himself, she was a tough soldier, yet a poet’s heart beat within her.

But what had he given her? A handful of broken dreams instead of the love she deserved. Because how could she have understood the howling demons he’d been battling upon his arrival?

He caught a faint aroma from downwind and stopped on the trail. He inhaled, allowing her delicate scent to wrap itself around his senses, and couldn’t help the soft smile that formed on his lips. It was like nectar, every time he drank it in, so subtle and lovely, like the perfectly calibrated elixir to soothe his restless soul.

Slowly, he proceeded down the rocky incline, tightening his parka around himself as the wind kicked up a bit.

And then there she was, knees drawn against her chest where she’d settled on a large rock, staring into the rushing stream, silent and pensive.

He paused again, this time reaching for her with his Empathy, needing to familiarize himself with her emotional landscape before entering the fray.

Yet she wasn’t angry. She should have been, had every right to be furious, but that emotion had apparently faded. Instead she was lost, confused…terribly uncertain of his intentions, and her doubt tore at his heart.

Tess, he murmured her name like a quiet prayer within his mind. Oh, love.

Instantly, her back stiffened as she listened keenly to the whistling wind. He felt trapped, found out, yet knew he needed to forge ahead.

Slowly, he began hiking closer toward her, and she remained perfectly still, just waiting for him. Because certainly she’d caught his scent on the wind now, had felt his approach within her center.

“Dare I come closer?” He asked, his rumbling voice a sudden echo in the quiet woods. A hush was already falling over the ground, as the soft snow began muting every noise.

She hesitated, her back remaining to him, as he walked up right behind the rock. His heart hammered loudly in his ears, as he studied her long golden tresses. She’d washed her hair, and returned it to its natural golden sheen. Now it cascaded loosely down her back, longer than he possibly could have remembered.

Finally, she sighed softly, bowing her head. “I’m powerless to stop you.”

“No, not powerless,” he disagreed, not moving. “More powerful than you possibly know, sweet Tess. Over others…and certainly over me.”

She was silent again and he ached to settle beside her, to fold her into his arms, to murmur a thousand apologies into her ear. To be a different man than he’d been with her just two hours before.

“Marco,” she laughed, the unexpected sound causing him to start. “How long do you plan to stand there like that?”

She tossed her hair a bit, causing it to catch in the wind momentarily, the rich golden hues beckoning his fingers, urging him to stroke her thick curls.

“How long?” he repeated as if in a trance.

She turned slowly, glancing at him over her shoulder and he felt seduced by her most casual inspection. He swallowed hard, aware of how she was affecting him, how his pulse was beginning to skitter unreasonably.

“That was the question, yes.”

“May I join you?” he countered, feeling like a schoolboy of sixteen…perhaps younger, as he stared into the large water-blue eyes. “Or…must I…give an act of penance first?”

“Ah, penance,” she smiled faintly. “Not a bad plan, McKinley.”

He walked around the large boulder, so that his back was to the rushing stream, and gazed down at her. She was surprisingly delicate in size, as she stared up at him, her features still open, even with as hurt as she was. He gathered her hands into his own, aware once again of how dark he was compared to her, how of the night.

“Sweet Tess,” he murmured, keeping his eyes downcast. “I’m a fool. I always have been. I don’t deserve you, your loyalty, your love…” The words trailed off, because he was at a loss. He wanted her to know his heart, needed to say things that seemed beyond expression. He could only stare down at her small, fair hands within his own dark boorish ones and wish they were tea leaves, something he might discern divine guidance from. He drew in a burning gulp of air, feeling the world spin a bit…grow unsettled as it had in Max and Liz’s bedroom just a short time earlier.

Very softly, she shifted her hands, until she began threading her fingers through his. He raised his head and found her staring at him, tears shimmering in her luminous eyes. His breath hitched in his throat at the sight, and he dropped to the ground in front of her, just squatting low so that he could gaze more evenly into her eyes.

“Marco McKinley, you’re certainly no fool.”

“About many things, yes.”

“Do you love me?” She asked, her quiet voice breaking a bit and he felt tears sting within his own eyes.

“Of course I love you. Have you any doubt?”

She thought a moment, avoiding his penetrating gaze. “I don’t know what to think…after earlier.”

He lifted her hands to his lips, kissing them slowly, and then he drew them to his cheek.

“I’m so sorry,” he murmured, holding her hands close against his face. “So incredibly sorry, Tess.”

“Are we really near mates?” She asked, and now the tears he’d heard in her voice began streaking her fair cheeks in sudden rivulets. “Or was that all just…an illusion.”

Her voice caught on the last word, causing it to resonate squarely within his own heart. The separation between their two souls had grown perilously thin, something he’d sensed immediately upon his arrival at camp. It was part of what he’d run from, because despite knowing how intimate they were after joining their powers, nothing had prepared him for how intensely he would feel his lasthre this morning.

Nothing.

She was her own person, just as she surely as she’d ever been, yet there was a nascent flow between them, a rushing river of connection, and he need only dip his toe in to be carried swiftly away with it.

And Tess didn’t seem to sense the power of their near-bond-- not with her Empathy still such a new thing. She had no idea that the way their energy synchronized so immediately was a consequence of mating—even though they’d not crossed that threshold all the way yet. Which begged a very important question. How much more would their spirits unify once their bond had been fully cemented?

“Marco?” She glanced up at him, her large eyes shimmering with pain.

“I…I…” He couldn’t find the words he wanted, everything was buzzing so crazily within his mind. She was far too beautiful, her hair like a golden aura, drawing him closer to the flame.

“We’re not near-mates,” she declared flatly. “And you don’t know how to tell me. That’s it, isn’t it?”

And that did it. Finally. He lifted her from the rock, clasping her shoulders almost harshly within his hands, as he turned her to face him.

“Ayanna!” He cried, his voice little more than a throaty rumble. “Leathre asta tha’l dety!”

God, where had the words sprung from, he wondered. His need to cry them had been almost painful, as they’d begged for release—the expression of some nearly remembered emotion…though not quite.

“Wh-what…does that mean?” Tess stammered breathlessly, as he clutched her small shoulders within his hands. He gasped, desperate for air, as a painful hammering began behind his eyes. White light exploded, and his vision became almost blurry with the throbbing headache.

He opened his mouth, and more Antarian words rushed from his lips, unstoppable as he proclaimed something that simply demanded expression. Something ancient that cried out within him, so palpable his body ached with it.

Marco pressed his forehead against the top of Tess’s soft hair, feeling tears burn his eyes as he confessed his love for her, his insatiable desire. Words spilled out in Antarian and she simply listened.

Distant memory fused with vital emotion, as their past lives came sharply into focus. He dragged Tess’s lips upward to his own, desperately hungry for her, as he cupped her face within his palms.

Suddenly, memories began warring their way to the surface of his conscious mind, as things long hidden within the realm of dreams and sleep became clear.

Ayanna at a large window, a beautiful ball gown billowing around her, caught in the fresh ocean breeze. “Marek, please don’t do this to us,” she pleaded. Moonlight lined her small, delicate body, stirring his passion, even in the midst of their pain.

“Ayanna, it will only end in heartache if we complete the bonding,” he whispered, stepping toward her, much taller than she was, even in that lifetime. “You are of the House of D’Ashani.”

“Do you think I care about that?” She cried, small hand clutching at her throat. Her black eyes searched his own, desperate and wild. So unlike Ayanna, so out of control. “We love each other, that’s all that matters. We’ve already come part way, Marek!”

“A mistake, a terrible one…”

“Are you saying we’re not really near-mates?” She cried, her lilting voice wrapping itself musically around every one of her Antarian words. Even her voice had always been that way to him, like the softest strains of a lovely melody. Such a quiet voice in so commanding a leader. He couldn’t compromise her, taint her reputation with his lesser bloodline…somehow they’d eradicate the near-bond…end it.

“M’Lasthre?” she murmured, large eyes blinking in the silvery moonlight.


“Marek?” He swore Tess called him that, as he was yanked back to the present, to Earth. She stared at him, her crystal clear eyes wide as she studied him.

More Antarian words buzzed frantically within his mind, but he pushed them aside, reaching with determination for English. “I remember everything.” His voice was a heated whisper, as their lips met again, this time crushing together in a fierce kiss.

“I remember it all,” he moaned. And it wasn’t just Marco kissing Tess after so many months apart. It was Marek, having come home to Ayanna after more than a lifetime, his acknowledgement of a love he’d once refused to accept, because of bloodlines and duty and things that made no sense anymore.

“Ev…everything?” she murmured breathlessly. “All of it?”

“This life, that other one,” he whispered, opening his mouth to her. “The dreams, the meetings…I remember it all, sweet Tess.”

She made a helpless little sound, something between a cry and a gasp, and Marco thrust his fingers within her long hair, kneading it as he tilted her chin upward again. “I love you, Ayanna…I will not leave you again. Marek was a fool, but Marco never will be again.”

Tess’s heart twisted within her chest at his words, at the realization that he did remember. Not just their dream meetings, but even their ancient history on another planet, in another lifetime. And he was promising her he wouldn’t repeat those mistakes, not ever again.

Her lips parted and his warm tongue thrust deep within her mouth. She was filled with the most familiar taste of him, like metallic sea brine, mixed with something much sweeter. Their tongues began a seductive dance, as she felt his large, warm hands close around her back, drawing her much closer.

She reached her hands around his neck, pulling his body nearer, needing more of him.

Marco broke the kiss momentarily, and she felt the soft bristle of his beard against her cheek, as warm breath teased her skin. “Tess,” he murmured softly, guiding her toward the rock. “That you’re so real within my arms is such a perfect gift.”

“I am real,” she promised, pulling back to stare into his black eyes. They were large and fringed with dusky lashes that caused her pulse to race.

“So I see,” he laughed, lowering his eyes quickly, so that the thick lashes fanned against his cheek. She’d forgotten just how lovely and dark he was, how every one of his gestures was full of unintentional seductiveness. And he had no idea, Tess nearly laughed, studying his gentle features.

Then again, she doubted he affected anyone else quite this way. Without intending to, she sucked in a sharp breath, and immediately he stared at her, his black eyes almost mystical in their depths.

And that was when she felt it. A soft tugging that began somewhere low in her abdomen, a subtle fire banking within her depths.

Without warning, the fiery sensation exploded, sweeping across her skin in one unbroken wave. Marco smiled coyly in acknowledgement, as her eyes grew wide and her face flushed deeply. He reached a hand to stroke the length of her hair, his single dimple appearing instantly.

He didn’t speak, just continued his erotic seduction of her with his alien energy, wordless in his intentions, barely touching her at all.

His fingers twined in and out of her thick locks, as he kissed her forehead, while tantalizing her secret places with his fire.

“Marco,” she breathed, her voice little more than a dangerous whisper. “You’re…God, what are you…” she couldn’t finish as suddenly the heat reached a crescendo right between her thighs.

“Ah!” she cried, her eyes widening with helpless pleasure. Marco only kissed the top of her head, his hands closing around her back. Yet still he didn’t speak, simply continued the most perfect, wordless seduction she might have imagined.

She threaded her fingers through his black hair, feeling how spiky it was along his nape, much shorter than when she’d last touched him this way. His scent was fresh and earthy, made her slightly dizzy, as she nuzzled her face against his shoulder.

Surprisingly, she felt his warm hands graze beneath her sweater, just softly stroking the small of her back and she tilted her chin to stare into his eyes.

He smiled again, his gentle, lopsided grin that accentuated his dimple and she dared to touch his chest. She didn’t reach beneath the burgundy fisherman’s sweater he’d donned within the cabin, but just caressed him softly through the thick wool.

Slowly, he began easing her backward on the rock, its cool, hard surface hardly noticeable in the midst of their erotic kisses.

“Tess,” he whispered in her ear, shrugging out of his parka. “Here, use this.” He offered it to her, bunching it into a small pillow that he eased beneath her head. She could only stare up at him, aware of how her breasts rose and fell unevenly, could only stare at the obvious bulge in the front of his black jeans. He noticed her low glance, and his dark face flushed a surprisingly deep hue, as he lowered himself on top of her.

They were mating…this was the moment they’d ached for, anticipated for such a long time.

He began kissing her, his energy spiraling across her body with unbridled enthusiasm. She gasped at the sudden explosion, as his large hand eased her thighs apart.

“Tess,” he whispered softly. “What do I sense…here…on this rock?”

He didn’t stop kissing her, lowering his dark head to her neck, then her chest. She was confused for a moment, not sure what he meant. “Sense?” She asked, stroking his softly curling hair. He began fumbling awkwardly with the buttons on her blouse, attempting ineffectively to work it open with his fingers.

“Something you saw here…” His voice was gentle and curious, and then she remembered. She cringed in embarrassment, and he lifted his head to stare into her eyes.

“I can’t quite make it out,” he explained, his voice thick. “But I feel how it affected you.”

Yes, Max and Liz had been making love on this very rock. And it had affected her…powerfully. It had made her wonder if it would be like that when Marco made love to her the first time.

“Oh, I see now,” he smiled, stroking her hair away from her face, as he obviously saw the rest within her mind. She felt her cheeks flame, and he caressed her face with his fingertips. “Don’t be embarrassed. It’s beautiful…they were beautiful, weren’t they?”

She nodded, swallowing hard, and he shifted a bit on top of her. Suddenly, she felt how incredibly aroused he was by her, by this moment, as his erection pressed hard into her thigh. “And we will be, too,” he promised huskily.

“I…I didn’t mean to find them.”

“Of course not,” he whispered, leaning low to kiss her again, a suddenly shy and tentative gesture. “Anymore than I meant to feel their bond.”

Something about the way he breathed the word ‘bond’ against her cheek, held instant promise, became a question suspended within the air. He hesitated a moment, then pulled back, frowning sharply.

Was that what they were doing at all? She was suddenly very unsure, especially when she glimpsed a bit of panic in his almond-shaped eyes.

Marco wanted to pound his head against the rock. He’d been so swept away with her, so caught up in the sensuality of reuniting, that he’d completely forgotten his question. He’d been all but prepared to mate with her in the woods without another thought, damning tradition. Damning duty and vows.

Forgetting the seal.

“Tess, I need to ask you something,” he said huskily. “I meant to do it sooner, but…God, you’re just so beautiful and sweet…and…”

“Ask me.” Her voice was certain, determined and she smiled as she said it. He felt her deep pleasure ripple through his spirit like a surging tidal wave.

“Okay,” he nodded, easing off of her. He settled on the edge of the rock, raking a hand through his thick hair as he gathered his wits again. Slowly, Tess sat up beside him, positioning herself neatly on the rock. Marco shifted, pulling on his jeans a bit, so that his arousal wouldn’t be quite so obvious.

He gathered her small hand into his large one, and slipped to the ground in front of her. “Sweet Tess,” he began, feeling his throat tighten. “I cannot ask you to marry me, despite how much I yearn for that.” Her blue eyes shifted a bit, uncertain to his intention, he realized. “Only because it isn’t safe yet, safe to expose you that way.”

She nodded, chewing on her lip thoughtfully as he continued.

“But I can ask you to bond with me,” he whispered, reaching a hand to cup her face. “To bind your soul to mine, for all eternity….so I’m asking that now, sweet Tess. Will you? Bond with me…be my lifemate?”

Tess stared into his eyes, saw the way they shimmered with intensity and felt his very center hover near her own. She bit her lip hard, willing the tears that brimmed in her eyes not to come, and yet she couldn’t stop them as they began streaking her face. She nodded, opening her arms to him wordlessly. In one motion, he’d scooped her close and she heard a soft sob escape his own lips, as he crushed her within his arms.

“But there’s more,” he whispered against her ear. “Tess, more that I must ask.”

Yet he didn’t pull back, just held her against his heart, breathing quickly. “Okay, sweetheart,” she urged. “Ask anything…”

“It is much more difficult…than the bonding,” he said in a thick voice. “It’s what I fear the most because it may be the one thing you can’t agree to.”

“And if I don’t?” Tess asked fearfully, tightening her arms around him.

“Well, if you don’t agree, then we cannot bond at all.”













[ edited 3 time(s), last at 22-Dec-2001 10:44:06 AM ]
posted on 21-Dec-2001 9:58:31 AM by RosDeidre
You know what? I think all these ardent pleas are wearing me down, guys! I didn’t think many people would be online reading in the next few days. It sounds like some of you will be??? LOL! I actually have a good block of writing time later today, so will direct my attention to that hateful cliffhanger as my Christmas gift to my terrific readers. How’s that? I will try my darnedest to NOT keep you hanging too long, and will post by say…tomorrow night?

Ho ho ho! Just picture me with a giant quill pen and a red and white fur hat on my head, bent over my desk like some character from Dickens. LOL!

Lots of hugs!

posted on 22-Dec-2001 6:16:57 PM by RosDeidre
Angela! Welcome back! I couldn’t believe the supreme irony of that posting date, either, and I will admit to having been bummed that it all worked out that way. But at least you got the happy news you’d been anticipating, right??

For all of you who have politely prodded and urged, just wanted you to know that the next section is almost finished and will be posted later this evening! I must admit that you are a TRULY motivating group of readers! I was willing to let the story lapse until after the holiday, but with such eager posters, I couldn’t leave you dangling.

So, expect something later tonight…
Many hugs,
d
P.S. And now I must decide what to eat for dinner, this on the heels of a huge lunch. Ah, pregnancy!!
posted on 22-Dec-2001 9:53:22 PM by RosDeidre
Author’s Note:
Well, I tried hard not to disappoint, and committed myself to hammering out this next part. Alas, I think you’ll like what I’ve come up with!! LOL!

I just wanted to take this holiday moment to thank all of you for such a wonderful year of writing, and feedback, and fandom. I am so grateful to have made so many marvelous friends through this site and fan forum. I’m not going to try to list names, since I’m always so afraid of leaving out ten people for every one I remember to mention. But thank ALL of you for supporting me in this little writing venture, and for having offered the beautiful gift of friendship. I thank you from the bottom of my heart! I hope all of you have a blessed holiday…and who knows? Maybe I’ll get another part out a few days after Christmas. In fact, I think you can bet on that!

Blessings,
D.


PART FORTY FOUR


“Why would I refuse?” Tess croaked, her voice having suddenly vanished. “I mean, what could be so difficult…that I wouldn’t bond with you?”

Tess felt her stomach tighten, as Marco clasped her closer to his chest. “I should have asked sooner,” he lamented, pressing a tender kiss against the top of her head. She felt his panic shoot through her like a keen arrow, causing her heartbeat to escalate wildly.

“Just tell me what it is!” She cried, pulling back to stare into his moody eyes. He sighed heavily, combing a shaky hand through his black hair.

“As a protector, there’s a ritual to the way I must bond,” he began, his voice thick. “It’s a different matter than for others.” He hesitated, his eyes searching the forest around them, as if he hoped to find the words he needed there.

Tess nodded helpfully, encouraging him to continue. “Okay. Tell me what it is.”

“Well, it’s not just that we’d become lifemates, Tess” he explained hoarsely, pausing again.

You’ll become like me, a soft voice whispered within her mind. Completely like me. And Tess wondered why she hadn’t understood his apprehension long before.

“Oh, Marco!” She laughed in relief, blowing out a nervous breath. “I understand what you’re trying to say, and Serena already told me. When we bond, I’ll join your side, as a warrior and protector…I already know!”


Marco stared at her mutely for what felt an eternity. Finally, Tess asked, “Right?” in an uncertain voice, fearing that somehow what was required of her would be far more costly than she imagined.

“That is right, Tess,” he agreed with a serious nod. “But there’s much more to it than even that. If we mate, you will become a royal protector, just as I am.”

“Fine, absolutely fine!” She blustered in relief, flinging her arms around his neck. Only, to her surprise, he remained stiff and formal within her embrace.

“Tess,” he whispered and this time his tone almost frightened her. “That’s still not all of it.”

“Whatever, Marco, I get the idea,” she rushed. “I become a protector…fine.”

“You take our vows, sacred vows,” he said heavily, slowly loosening her arms from around his neck. She dropped them to her sides and stared at him, wondering why he still struggled so. “Before the council, just as I did, Tess. Only, we’ve been unable to communicate with the council for more than a year now, so in our case, that would mean Serena,” he explained.

“That would be an incredible honor,” Tess smiled, feeling her panic diminish. Marco gazed down at his hands, slowly tracing his thumb along the underside of his wrist in silence. Something about the gesture struck Tess as vitally important to their discussion, the missing piece of some riddle she couldn’t fathom.

“There’s something I want to show you,” he explained reflectively, still gazing downward. “Something you must see to understand what I ask of you.”

At that precise moment, the snow that had been drifting to the ground in delicate wisps suddenly grew thick and heavy, swirling with the wind. Tess tightened her jacket around herself instinctively, as Marco lifted his head. His beautiful eyes were lost, full of a melancholy emotion she couldn’t understand.

“Show me,” she encouraged quietly, understanding that something critical was happening. “I want to see, Marco.”

He nodded, and pushed the sweater sleeve up his forearm, revealing his rich, olive skin. He raised his other hand and a blue beam of light fell on his exposed wrist, illuminating it. And then something Tess had never imagined appeared in the air directly above his wrist. The most beautiful image materialized right between them, swirling and gyrating with gorgeous shades of magenta and blue.

She’d never glimpsed one before in her life, yet she knew precisely what he was revealing to her. The thing she’d begged him to show her last summer, but he hadn’t been ready--the mark that branded him for life as a protector.

“Your royal seal,” she whispered in awe.

“Yes,” he agreed thickly. “I am the only one of our unit who bears this particular mark. It signifies me as personal protector to the king and queen.”

Tess studied the shimmering colors, the way they were permeated with Marco’s own energy, creating a lovely emblem. “It is simply exquisite,” she breathed, studying the gently shifting image.

He nodded silently, his cheeks staining a surprising crimson at her remark.

“The tradition is what is beautiful,” he offered in a quiet voice, then his black gaze locked with her own. “What I’m asking, Tess, is whether you would bear my seal.”

For some reason his words didn’t quite register, left her feeling confused. “Whether I would bear…your seal?” she repeated lamely, watching the radiant hues leap and recede in the air.

“To join the unit, to become one through the mating, you must be sealed with this brand. Tradition requires it…as a sign of your commitment to the king and queen.”

With that somber pronouncement, he dropped his hand and the beam of light retracted, the lovely shimmering image vanishing into the snowy air. All that remained were Marco’s heavy words, suspended meaningfully between them.

“Oh,” she whispered. “I see.”

“Yes, so now you see.”

Tess couldn’t believe how vulnerable his dark eyes had become, the sooty ashes dusted with soft flakes of snow.

“Why would you think I’d mind that?” She finally asked, touching his wrist lightly with her fingertips. “I would be so honored.”

“Because it marks you for life, Tess…the commitment.”

“And mating with you wouldn’t?” She prodded gently.

“But I’m asking you to become everything that I am, with all the sacrifice that it entails.”

“I already became that when we joined powers, Marco,” she said, reaching her palm to cup his face. “You’ve already made me like you.”

“Yes, but that…” his voice trailed off, as she eased closer toward him, slipping her other hand into his bristling hair.

“But?”

“But that was to save Max’s life…we had no choice…you weren’t choosing me.”

She thought for a moment, wondering if he understood the full import of what he’d just uttered. Gently, she stroked his hair, his cheek, soothed him with her energy by allowing it to unfold across him in the softest way. He gasped lightly, closing his eyes as she felt that purely alien part of herself make contact with him.

“Marco, I love you. I’d already chosen you long before that moment. But listen to what you just said,” she laughed, leaning in to kiss him on the mouth. “You’re saying I ‘chose Max’. And what that means is, that protecting Max and Liz and bonding with you are just linked for me, inseparable really.”

Marco’s head snapped up, his eyes flashing with powerful energy as her words clearly hit the mark. “You chose us both…when we joined powers,” he murmured in understanding.

“We had to join powers…become near-mates in order to create the mindwarp that allowed Max to escape,” she explained patiently, not wanting him to miss what she was really saying. “Otherwise Nicholas would have killed him on the spot.”

Marco leaned closer toward her, where he knelt on the ground in front of her. He placed his large palms on her lower thighs, his beautiful features nearly dancing as confusion gave way to perfect clarity.

“You chose me, but you also chose protecting our king.”

“Yes!” She cried joyously. “That’s exactly right, sweetheart. And I’m choosing you both now, by agreeing to become your lifemate, with all that it means.”

“You’ll take on my seal?” His smile was simply ecstatic. “Even knowing the cost?”

“Absolutely, sweetheart. Without hesitation!” She nearly shouted, her gleeful voice echoing within the woods.

Marco swept her into his arms with such force that they collapsed backward onto the frozen earth. She tumbled on top of him with a soft thud, both of them laughing deliriously. “Oh, God,” he all but giggled. “We almost fell in the stream!” He was right, the icy water bubbled just beyond their shoulders, but they’d managed to land on the bank. Marco rolled her playfully onto her side, ignoring her giddy protests of “McKinley!”

The ground was frozen solid, now covered in thin snow, and Tess knew she was muddying her only pair of jeans and jacket. But she didn’t care, as Marco drew her against his chest, and they nestled beside one another. Their lips met in a slow, erotic kiss, one that seared her to her very core. How could a mouth leave one feeling so completely branded, so much more marked than the seal he’d just shown her? Yet somehow, that’s what his tentative kiss did to her, how it made her feel, and so breathlessly giddy at the same time. Finally, their lips parted and he stared into her eyes, his dark gaze dancing with fiery mirth.

“When?” She managed to breathe, reaching a hand to touch his chest. “How soon can we have the oaths and all that?”

“In other words, how long must we wait for…the rest?” He raised a coy eyebrow, kissing her fully on the mouth again, which caused a little shiver to shoot up her spine.

She nodded mutely, as he deepened the kiss, his fingers stroking the length of her hair. Finally, he drew his lips away, sighing softly as he admitted, “Can’t be long…I couldn’t stand it.”

“God, me neither!” She cried and he began laughing, a deep rumbling sound that caused a warm response low in her abdomen.

“Besides, I already spoke to Serena about it.”

“You already spoke to Serena,” Tess repeated slowly, and suddenly she understood his pattern earlier in the morning. She sat bolt upright, leaving Marco lying on his side, gazing up at her in confusion. “That’s why you went to talk to her! Earlier, isn’t it?” She laughed, feeling utterly foolish for having doubted him before.

He propped himself on his elbow, studying her thoughtfully. “Yes, mostly.”

Tess buried her face in her hands with a groan. “I was so mad at you…I thought you were just avoiding me…and all that time you were…just…”

“Telling Serena I wanted to bond with you,” he finished in a throaty voice, rolling onto his back. “Getting her approval…as well as Max and Liz’s.”

“And Riley?” She asked. Guilty images of a chivalrous Marco, intent on following tradition and protocol, danced through her mind.

“Now that’s going to stay a secret for now,” he declared, his rich voice full of sexy promise. “I can’t give everything away just now, m’lasthre.”

“Marco McKinley,” she fumed in mock frustration, drawing her brows together. “That is so not fair!”

“Indeed, my love, it is quite fair,” he announced, sitting up on the ground beside her. “But I shan’t make you wait long. I need only a week to arrange everything.”

“A week,” she repeated wondrously.

“Too long?” he smiled, his sexy dimple daring her to kiss him once again. He dusted off his pants, rising slowly to his feet.

“I’ve waited more than a year, I think a week will be just fine.”

“Not fine, but workable,” he disagreed, extending his large, warm hand to her. “And we’ll just make the most of that time, won’t we?”

As he pulled her to her feet, towering over her as he always had, she wondered exactly how he intended to “make the most of that time.”

**
It soon became very apparent to Tess how Marco intended to pass the week. With Riley’s assistance, he spent that time planning their sealing ceremony-- as she soon learned it was called—and she was privy to none of those apparent details. She was given only one instruction. To select an evening gown, quite formal in design, and to pack a small suitcase with enough clothes for three days. The last assignment was given with a devilish smile, as he silenced Riley’s conspiratorial snort with one swift glance.

Riley had snapped his mouth shut dutifully, but not before flashing a bright grin in her direction--one that spoke volumes about how much he loved his foster brother, and by proxy, would now love her.

Besides the clandestine planning that Tess sensed, each morning Marco fetched her out of bed at a ridiculously early hour for a lengthy mountain hike, which consisted mostly of their finding a secluded place to sit and talk. Well, and less vocal and more tantalizing interaction, as well.

It was funny, but even with as deeply as they already loved one another, they were still getting acquainted on a certain level—discussing movies, books, and Marco’s perennially favorite topic, music. In quieter moments, they shared deeply hidden dreams, things they’d secreted away in their hearts, never revealing to anyone else.

And so their week was spent simply getting to know one another better, though Marco never declared that as his intention. While the wait didn’t do much for their frantic libidos, which seemed to only grow more intense with every passing day, their quiet hikes strengthened the growing bond between them in a powerful way.

Each morning Tess would smile, as Marco selected a perfect juncture in the trail, offering it first for her approval, and then he’d spread a small, gourmet breakfast out as a picnic. God, she’d sensed he was romantic, but somehow she’d never sensed how deep it ran within his heart.

On the seventh morning, Marco came to her room particularly early, just kneeling beside the bed. She woke fuzzily, to find him stroking her hair away from her forehead, a serious expression shadowing his lovely features.

“What?” She asked groggily, squinting from the early sunlight spilling across the hardwood floor. “What is it?”

He shook his head, smiling faintly as he leaned down to kiss her forehead. “I love you, Tess, that’s what.”

“I love you, too,” she murmured with a happy sigh, stretching languidly as she rolled to face him.

“There’s someplace special I want to take you today,” he explained and Tess caught sight of his pack on the floor. “On our hike.”

“Okay,” she nodded agreeably, feeling her heartbeat quicken, because the day of their sealing ceremony had finally arrived, when she’d pledge her vows and be marked with his brand forever.

He leaned low and kissed her again, this time on the mouth. “I want this whole day to be special for you, sweet love.”

She swallowed hard, cupping his face within her small hands. “It’s going to be amazing…and we’ll never forget it…M’lasthre.”

She added the last endearment almost as an afterthought, because it occurred to her that it was the last day she would ever use it. Forever after, he would cease to be her near-mate, becoming something far more mystical and intimate. Her bondmate.

“M’lasthre,” he breathed in agreement, easing the blanket away from her chest. His gaze fell on her soft t-shirt, which lined the curves of her breasts perfectly, leaving very little to the imagination.

“Gorgeous,” he assessed quietly. “Truly gorgeous.” And she found herself remembering that day in her dorm room, what felt like a lifetime ago. By the way, you look gorgeous in that t-shirt, he’d said then. Now he just beamed at her with all the anticipation of a bridegroom, as she sat up in bed, her long hair falling loose around her shoulders.

She peeled the sheet back, exposing her delicate legs to him and his fingers burned with the need to touch her creamy skin. It was almost as if he’d suppressed all his longing for her until this day, and now he could hardly resist her any further, she was that alluring to him.

Her t-shirt was so simple, not a sexy piece of lingerie, yet the soft cotton clung to her nipples, defining them perfectly. They were puckered from the chilly cabin air, standing out beneath the thin material as if in invitation to his fingers. Marco cleared his throat, coughing a bit, willing his hands to resist her lovely legs that dangled off the bed with suggestive grace.

Not until tonight, he coached himself. Be strong, McKinley.

“You are strong,” she laughed, tossing her long hair as she rose to her feet. He collapsed onto her bed with a helpless groan, watching her move around the small bedroom.

“Ah, damn you, woman,” he growled playfully. “You shouldn’t know my thoughts so easily.”

“That’s because you’re a depraved sex maniac, aren’t you?” She smiled wickedly, shrugging on a pair of faded blue jeans, but not before he caught a glimpse of her pink silken underwear.

“You’re a tease,” he countered, propping his head atop his forearm. “Those panties are just Exhibit A, my love.”

“But you were looking,” she giggled, running a brush through her thick hair, then deftly pulling it into a ponytail. “So that’s your problem, McKinley, not mine.”

“Your problem in about fourteen hours.”

She paused, her mouth opening a bit at his blatant allusion to what would follow the sealing ceremony. Then she opened a drawer, remaining quiet, even though he sensed her incredible curiosity about what he’d planned—and so far, he’d managed to keep it all a secret. All she knew was that the ceremony would take place, with everyone in attendance, but otherwise he’d managed to conceal all the details.

Of that he was thankful, because he’d been as exuberant as a child on Christmas Eve, so eager to tell her everything.

“So, tonight,” she asked casually, turning her back to him to remove her t-shirt. He felt a sharp tugging in his groin, as the creamy skin of her shoulders came into view—leaving nothing else except her jeans. The glimpse was brief, as she pulled a turtleneck quickly over her head. “What are you wearing to the ceremony? I mean, I know what I’m wearing, but what about you?”

“Good try, but no.” He laughed huskily, and wondered if she’d approve of the attire he’d selected for the ceremony. Isabel had assured him it was the right choice, and he had to trust her opinion since she knew Tess’s fashion tastes better than any of the others.

“Just asking.” She turned to him, and her features simply shone with joy. He wondered if she even had any idea how beautiful she looked, how she glowed.

“You’ll know soon enough,” he grinned, and wondered if he’d ever make it through the rest of the day.

***
They sat on a smooth rocky overlook, high above the valley below them. The rocks had been smoothed by wind and element, and were covered only with craggy brush, growing out thin cracks between the rocks. Wind whistled all around them, creating a chilled, but the panoramic view made it all worth it.

Marco had led the way up the trail, explaining that he’d saved one special place for this last morning, something he wanted to share with her as a kind of gift. Now they dangled their feet off the rocks, gazing at the play of morning light on rocks and snow, dappled colors shining as if in display just for them.

“It’s unbelievable,” Tess breathed, feeling Marco’s hand tighten around her own where it rested on his thigh.

“I didn’t think you’d have found this spot on your own…it’s too high and secluded.”

“Don’t we patrol here?”

“Riley always takes this route. He loves it like I do.”

Tess nodded and they fell silent a moment, aware only of one another’s bodies, pressed so close together on the rock, the even cadence of their breathing, and the exquisite grandeur below.

She began to sense something within Marco’s spirit, that unspoken words were pressing hard within his mind. But she also perceived that he needed to find the right moment, as he wrestled a bit in heavy silence. Finally, as the weight of it became overpowering, utterly palpable because of their bond, he spoke softly.

“Tess, this is where I came when I was nineteen, that last morning before I took my vows…and I wanted to share it with you today.”

“It’s perfect,” Tess agreed, feeling the icy mountain air nip at her skin, aware of the soft misty clouds that formed with every one of her breaths.

“I want you to know something else, about that day.” He squinted a moment, watching a large circling hawk as it banked on the wind for a moment just beyond them. Tess wondered what he would say, and how it would impact her own sealing ceremony that night.

“I made a vow that night before the council, an unspoken one,” he explained quietly. “One that I intend to break tonight.”

“What kind of vow?”

He remained quiet a moment, chewing on his full lower lip thoughtfully. “Never to love a woman in heart or body, to serve only my king and queen,” he admitted finally. “And I thought I could keep it…until I met you.”

He turned toward her, his black eyes like the deepest ocean depths, dark and mysterious. “You ended all of that, Tess.”

“I wish I could say I was sorry,” she smiled, running her fingers down the length of his arm, feeling the soft material of his parka, plush beneath her hand.

“You saved me, Tess. From myself. And I just wanted you to know that today…because you shattered the most wrong vow I ever made,” he paused a moment, stroking her cheek. “Wrong because it almost kept me apart from you. And tonight I replace it with another vow, one that I shall cherish all my days.”

“What vow are you taking tonight?” She asked in confusion. He’d only mentioned that she would take the protector’s vows, nothing about himself.

“You’ll know at the ceremony,” he smiled mysteriously, drawing her lips upward for a kiss. “All my little surprises will be revealed then, sweet love.”

***

Tess stood in Max and Liz’s bedroom, surrounded by her female friends, each of them dressed for the ceremony in beautiful evening gowns made of taffetas and velvets and silks. They’d spent the week selecting their dresses from magazines, and then recreating them with a little assistance from alien powers. Tess cast a wary glance at her own image in the mirror, but felt surprisingly lovely as she studied the velvet gown that she’d selected with Isabel’s tutelage—especially as she imagined Marco’s reaction to the dress.

The women formed a tight knot around Tess, primping and styling her hair and essentially making her feel unreasonably girlish. Tess Harding wasn’t accustomed to feeling this particularly made over, and the way Maria and Liz kept giggling as they toyed with her hair made her feel all strange and fluttery inside. Not quite embarrassed, but perhaps a little awkward in light of so much female attention.

Liz drew her hair high up off of her neck, pulling little blonde tendrils loose so they cascaded down her nape. “Oh, now he’d love this, Tess.” Isabel reached, waving her hand deftly, so that neat pins held Tess’s hair firmly in place.

Liz tugged on a few additional locks of hair, loosening them so they fell seductively. “This is really gorgeous, just like this,” Liz assessed.

“Why not just pull it all up?” Isabel asked, cocking her head to the side as she studied the mass of curls and hair atop Tess’s head. “I mean, that might give a neater look.”

“Because, Isabel,” Liz explained with feigned impatience. “Marco is a hair man. He’s obsessed with Tess’s hair, and so this will tantalize him the most.”

“He likes it loose, actually,” Tess explained mildly. “Down on my shoulders.”

“Yes, well see, then that’s the precise reason to wear it up like this, with just these little teasing bits,” Liz tugged on a tendril to illustrate her point. “All loose.”

“We’re thinking about afterwards, babe,” Maria laughed. “About when he pulls the pins out…it’s all about the seduction.”

“Well, maybe that’s not really part of the whole vow thing,” Tess offered seriously. “I mean, maybe he expects me to be dressed really conservatively or something.”

“Oh, please!” Maria snorted. “Tess, there’s a lot you don’t know about tonight, okay? Trust me when I tell you that the boy has been driving himself nuts planning about the most romantic night I’ve ever heard of.” Maria’s eyes widened conspiratorially, as she clasped Tess by the arm. “And you should hear about…”

Liz cut her eyes at Maria, silencing her instantly. “Oops.” Maria clamped a hand over her own mouth. “Got a little carried away. Sorry.”

Tess watched Maria and Liz exchange a meaningful glance, and then Isabel nodded in Tess’s direction pointedly.

“What, guys?” Tess asked, suddenly feeling very suspicious. “What do you know that I should know?”

“Absolutely nothing,” Liz laughed huskily, pushing her toward the mirror again. “Well maybe just that you want to look really, really…sexy.”

“Beautiful.”

“Bridal.” Maria and Isabel chimed at the same precise moment.

“Bridal?” Tess squinted in confusion. “But…we’re not…”

“Oh, no!” Isabel cried, coughing as her brown eyes widened. “No, you’re not getting married or anything, don’t get me wrong…I just meant, you know, it’s all very ceremonial.”

“And you want to be beautiful for him,” Liz agreed, nodding her head with a broad smile, as she glanced at the other two women. “That’s all you need to know.”

“Why is it all such a big secret?” Tess asked, tugging nervously on the thin strap of her gown.

“Well, I think that’s because Marco is a big romantic doof,” Maria laughed, as Isabel knelt low, adjusting the hem of Tess’s velvet dress.

“Wonderful,” Isabel assessed. “Absolutely dead on, Tess.”

Isabel rose again and the four women stared into the full-length mirror, just admiring Tess in the glass. Maria whistled low, as Liz took her by the hand, slowly turning her.

The royal blue material fell to the floor, and drew low over her breasts in the front. The back was completely open, revealing her bare shoulders in seductive and alluring detail.

“Are you sure it’s not…I don’t know, too much?” Tess asked, glancing at Liz for guidance. “I mean, it isn’t just about our bonding afterwards, it’s about me taking the protector’s vows.” Somehow Tess suddenly felt very awkward admitting that to Liz, as if she were revealing an embarrassing secret.

Liz pulled her into her arms, embracing her so close that Tess could feel Liz’s heart beating out a steady rhythm. “Tess, that’s where you’re wrong. It is about your bonding with Marco. That’s what it’s all about. You’re not taking the vows because you were chosen as our protector. You’re taking the vows because our protector chose you as his mate.” With that, Liz squeezed her even tighter, whispering close in her ear. “I love you, Tess. And I’m so thankful that I can call you my sister and friend…and now my protector, too. Thank you.”

Tess felt tears fill her eyes, as Liz just held her close for a long moment. “I think you know how much I love you, too,” Tess mumbled awkwardly. “You and Max both.”

“Of course,” Liz said, slowly releasing her. “We’ve come a long way, haven’t we?” She winked playfully.

“Oh, God!” Maria groaned, reaching to embrace Tess. “Don’t even get me started on how it used to be between you two!”

They were interrupted by a light knock on the door, and Isabel opened it. Riley leaned his head in, and “Oh, my,” was all he said when he caught sight of Tess, just staring at her momentarily. His blonde hair had been combed neatly back, and he wore a stylish suit, very tailored and fashionable. Tess’s pulse skittered as she wondered if Marco would be dressed similarly, if he’d look quite that GQ.

“You here for any particular reason, Riley?” Isabel smiled coolly, stepping between him and Tess, so that the view inside the bedroom would be obscured. “Or just here spying for Marco?”

“No, completely innocent,” Riley laughed, throwing his hands up. “I just wanted you to know that it’s time. Everyone’s ready.”

“Alright then,” Liz beamed, and turning to face Tess, she extended her arm. “Shall we?”

“You’re…escorting me?” Tess asked, her throat tightening with deep emotion. It couldn’t be Liz, not her of all people--she’d been certain she’d just walk out on her own.

“Directly to him, my friend,” Liz announced, taking Tess’s hand and slipping it gently through the crook of her arm.

“But you? I mean…that seems…I’m your…” Tess stammered, tears burning within her eyes.

“I asked Marco for the honor,” Liz interrupted quietly. “Antarian tradition requires that another woman escort you into the ceremony…and I wanted that person to be me. I hope that’s okay?”

Tess nodded mutely, trying to see through a blurry veil of tears, as Isabel opened the bedroom door. A narrow hallway led to the living room where all their friends had gathered. Tess could already hear the quiet murmurings of their voices, and the refrains of chamber music. Liz nestled Tess’s hand firmly through her arm, squeezing it in quiet reassurance.

Tess drew in a deep breath, wiping at her eyes and took the first step. The one that led to the rest of her life.







[ edited 2 time(s), last at 22-Dec-2001 11:16:06 PM ]
posted on 23-Dec-2001 10:39:37 PM by RosDeidre
Angela posed two questions that I realized I didn’t answer, though I meant to. One, about Kyle and whether we’d be seeing more of him in the third story. In fact, I can go ahead and tell you that his POV will be one of the ones we’re going to see in UNIVERSE. That’s all I’ll say right now!! LOL! You know me, I never spoil too much.

About Max and Liz’s bond and Marco saying that it couldn’t be broken. Keep in mind, we were in Marco’s POV, which means that was his subjective opinion, especially since he said, “As far as I know…” What really happened, you’ve asked? Was the bond truly broken, or merely blocked? It was really the latter, though in some kind of way they themselves couldn’t repair. Which, without Marco’s help, would have made it the former…the term I’d put on it is “interrupting the bond.” And Angela was dead on in thinking of what Marco did as a form of by-pass surgery. I hope that explanation helps, though you may hear more detail in the future. For now, I think that’s the best way to understand what happened.

I hope all of you have a fantastic Christmas. I’m starting to toy with the next part, though I know it will be a few days before I post more. And those who keep asking about CRAZY, I haven’t forgotten you!! I promise!


posted on 27-Dec-2001 6:45:27 PM by RosDeidre
Just a quick note. A lot of you have expressed concern about when we’ll get back to M/L and their POV. Do not worry! It just made most sense from a momentum standpoint to resolve Marco and Tess’s situation and then we’ll be seeing more of the dream couple. I think my dreamer credentials are still very much in order, right?? LOL!

Also, FYI, for some of you who were away for the holiday. I posted new sections on both the 21st and then again on the 22nd, so be sure you don’t miss the second installment that I posted. I’m hard at work on part 45, but it will probably be Saturday before I am able to post it. Just guessing, though!

Hugs and happy holidays!
D

posted on 29-Dec-2001 12:55:26 AM by RosDeidre
Author's Note:
HAPPY HOLIDAYS!!! *happy* Hope you're all enjoying some time off!!

PART FORTY FIVE

Tess joined Marco where he stood waiting for her by the stone fireplace. He was dressed in a striking black suit, almost Armani in style, accentuated by a burgundy tie. His dark hair had been neatly combed back, barely suppressing his usually short curly hair. Serena stood right beside him, wearing a surprising calf-length black velvet dress, and she smiled encouragingly at them both.

A golden blaze filled the hearth, instantly warming Tess’s bare back and shoulders, and hundreds of candles flickered throughout the living room, casting the room in a golden halo of magic.

Marco enfolded Tess’s hands within his own much larger ones, so strong and sure. Yet Tess smiled, feeling a slight dampness within his palms, sensing how nervous he really was. Despite his irrepressible grin, he obviously wanted everything to be perfect about this night. She felt it in her heart, as his emotions began cascading rapidly across her senses. He was so open to her, so unbelievably connected.

Tess giggled lightly, realizing that even with as close as they’d been during the past week, he’d kept himself a bit shut off from her so that she wouldn’t suspect all the surprises he’d planned. But his guard had been completely lowered now that they stood facing one another, ready to enter their future together.

Liz released Tess’s arm, and leaned close, kissing her on the cheek.

Only it was Tess who spoke first this time. “Thank you for escorting me tonight, Liz,” she whispered intently. "I'll never forget it."

Liz nodded, touching her softly on the arm as she stepped away, then turned suddenly back. “Welcome to your destiny, Tess. Your true destiny.” Tess felt panicked for a moment, at Liz’s open admission of what had once stood so pointedly between them. Until she sensed Liz’s supreme joy for her—and that her words were not meant the least bit ironically. Before Tess could reply, Liz moved to join Max just behind Serena, so that they were now framed in a near perfect circle. Past them, in the twinkling shadows, Tess saw their other friends and comrades.

And she felt their love and support enfold her like a warm ring of fire.

There was silence for a moment, as Marco stared into her eyes, endless emotions shining in his moody depths. From the far side of the room, near the hallway, Maria began softly humming, and then launched into a very familiar tune. A song that Tess had memorized during Marco’s lengthy absence, as she’d worn out Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks almost as much as he always had.

Maria’s familiar voice brought tears to Tess’s eyes, as she sang lyrics that seemed especially poignant now that the truth about Marek and Ayanna had been revealed.

'Twas in another lifetime, one of toil and blood
When blackness was a virtue and the road was full of mud
I came in from the wilderness, a creature void of form.
"Come in," she said,
"I'll give you shelter from the storm."

And if I pass this way again, you can rest assured
I'll always do my best for her, on that I give my word
In a world of steel-eyed death, and men who are fighting to be warm.
"Come in," she said,
"I'll give you shelter from the storm."

With each refrain of “shelter from the storm”, Marco gave her hands a tender squeeze, lightly tracing his thumb across her knuckles. Tess allowed her eyes to drift shut, as the song resonated in her depths--and she heard Marco’s voice clearly within her spirit.

You saved me from myself…you were my shelter from the storm. Just as Ayanna always was for Marek…that’s never changed.

Her eyes flew open, meeting his and he nodded subtly as Maria finished the song, a golden silence enveloping the room. Everyone remained absolutely quiet as Serena drew near to Marco and Tess, placing her hands on their shoulders.

Tess had never noticed how comforting Serena’s touch could be, how very maternal it felt. “Are you both ready?” She asked, glancing quickly between them, and Tess was surprised by the luminous smile on her features. It was an unfamiliar sight and she sensed the emotions that accompanied it with surprising ease.

Letting a son go, welcoming a daughter…leaving something behind, grief, the past…and then a sudden flash of a striking alien warrior, the likes of which Tess had never seen in her lifetime…then only herself and Marco…

Tess blinked quickly, feeling light-headed from the unexpected emotional connection with Serena. Her legs went almost limp beneath her, and Marco reached for her arm, steadying her.

“I’m okay,” she whispered, feeling a bit foolish. “Just…”

“I know,” he laughed throatily, his eyes acknowledging their Empathy in a way that only the two of them could possibly understand. “And you are okay.”

She nodded in agreement, glancing again at Serena, whose features had darkened slightly with concern. “Just a lot of…emotion…to this ceremony,” Tess explained, catching sight of Liz just beyond Serena. Worry had clouded her features as well, and Tess lamented her lack of control over the Empathy, that it had crowded into their sealing ceremony so easily. And she couldn’t help thinking of how hard Marco had battled to control it his whole life.

“Yes, we’re ready,” Marco agreed with a brief nod.

Serena moved her hands to their backsides, resting her palms gently there as she spoke-- loud enough for the others gathered in the shadows to hear, but still with a hushed reverence.

“The traditions to this ceremony are ancient, dating back more than a thousand years. We call the brotherhood of royal protectors, The Circle. With this ritual tonight, Tess Harding, you join that circle. And by bonding with Marco McKinley, by bearing his seal, you enter an even more sacred tradition. The Line. The Line has personally protected the Antarian king and queen from the beginning. Tonight you join their ranks.”

Tess nodded, feeling her face flush with warmth at Serena’s words. She suddenly understood Marco’s mystic reverence for his role, for his vows. Somehow, she’d never thought of the tradition dating back so many years.

“I’m ready,” Tess affirmed again, as Marco inclined his head. Tess wasn’t sure how she knew to do so, but she mirrored his gesture, bowing slightly toward him.

“Then repeat after me,” Serena continued, her raspy voice thicker than usual. “And Marco will recite his own vows in turn.”

Tess nodded, drawing in a steadying breath, as a question suddenly presented itself. “In English?” She asked.

“Yes, the vows will be in English since you do not speak Antarian…yet.” A soft smile formed on Serena’s lips as she added the last word before quietly continuing. “Repeat after me, Tess. I enter the ring, complete the circle, giving my heart as I pledge this night….” Serena began, pausing so that Tess could echo her words.

Tess murmured the words, feeling their full import as she gazed at Marco’s hands clasped within her own.

“To follow the brotherhood, to enter the line…I give my heart to this man. My body in offering, my spirit as pledge…dying to self to serve those most worthy,” Serena continued.

My body in offering, my spirit as pledge…Tess whispered the words back, feeling her chest tighten.

“I enter this bond, complete this union, giving my heart as I pledge this night…to follow my bondmate, to enter the joining…dying to self, to love him most worthy.”

To love him most worthy. Oh, and he was so very worthy of her love, Tess marveled as she repeated the hushed vows, gazing up into his lovely dark face. His eyes fluttered closed as she whispered her pledge like a prayer and she knew he felt the words at the core of his being, sensed what they meant to her…she shivered as they impacted him.

Marco opened his eyes, and reached a hand to cup her cheek, drawing slightly closer. “R’thasme ayla zalne,” he whispered. “I enter this bond, complete this union, giving my heart as I pledge this night to follow my bondmate, to enter the joining…dying to self, to love you most worthy.”

Tess felt something solidify between them, as Serena moved her hands, placing one over each of their hearts and murmuring in Antarian. A fiery warmth began beneath her palm and Tess’s eyes watered as Serena then moved her hands to their foreheads. Again, more heat answered beneath her tender touch, as she whispered ancient Antarian words, something mystical that Tess felt resonate within her being. Then, Serena paused momentarily, looking from one to the other of them, and slowly moved her hands low on their abdomens.

The roiling fire that exploded beneath her touch caused Tess to stumble a bit.

Liet asme a’dher nyeta,” Serena finished in Antarian and Tess began to shake. Then quietly Serena translated, “The bonding has begun.”

Such a simple phrase and yet the words seemed to have a life of their own as they moved through the air, hovering at first, then finding their impact within each of their hearts. Tess heard Liz suck in a sharp breath from where she stood just behind Serena and Tess realized she couldn’t stop shaking. It was uncontrollable, as her small shoulders simply wracked with shudders. Marco reached a gentle hand and ran it down the length of her bare arm, but his touch only caused more explosive energy to release within her. It all felt so deeply personal, so intimate to share in front of Marco’s unit. Their unit. Their dear friends gathered with them…their king and queen.

Somehow, such an intense explosion of heat and lovely energy seemed to belong only in the bedroom, Tess realized as she recognized it as Marco’s energy…spiraling wildly through her body. Unstoppable, unfathomable. So forbidden and exotic, a tangible expression of her beloved’s very spirit.

Tess’s legs began trembling, weakening and the floor seemed to beckon forcefully. This time it was Serena who captured her arm, steadying her. “Do you need to sit?” She asked in concern. Tess clung to Marco for strength, her legs folding beneath her until he caught her other arm.

Tess swallowed hard, blinking to steady the room. “So intense…incredible.” It was all she could manage to whisper and Serena surprised her by laughing, such a joyous lilting thing that Tess couldn’t help snapping her head up in surprise.

“The bond has been rooted now, within mind, body and spirit.” She smiled warmly. “The near-bond has deepened.”

Tess felt her strength return with surprising suddenness at Serena’s pronouncement, as Marco nearly lifted her back to her feet.

“And now there is something I must give you,” Serena finished softly, raising her hand to the collar of her velvet dress.

Marco watched in confusion as Serena dipped her fingers beneath the collar, retrieving a long silver chain. This wasn’t part of the ceremony, anything they’d discussed at all. Serena stared down at the necklace, tears shimmering in her eyes, then slowly reached around her neck, unclasping the chain. She lowered it into her palm, then pressed the chain into Marco’s hand.

He could only stare down at the tiniest pair of matching silver bands that glinted and sparkled beneath the candlelight with an otherworldly luminance. It was as if he couldn’t piece together what Serena was offering, as he stared at what seemed a twin pair of child’s rings, until suddenly she closed her hand atop his own, covering the bands with her palm.

“Your wedding rings, Serena?” He nearly cried, wondering how she could part with something she surely held so dear. “You can’t…possibly…”

“But I can, Marco…and I want to,” she pronounced with a brisk nod, blinking quickly in her familiar, alien manner. “My husband and I exchanged these at our own sealing ceremony, one much like this one…only later did the bands come to signify our marriage when we exchanged those vows.”

Marco felt a flash of energy within his palm and when Serena removed her hand, the bands had become much larger, sized more appropriately to each of their ring fingers.

“You and Tess form a bond tonight that enlarges the Circle. My husband joined in just such a way, from the outside as Tess does…I know he would want you to have these rings as a symbol of the love you share.”

Marco stared mutely at the two silver bands within his open palm, and reached for the larger one, feeling awkward and clumsy, as he couldn’t seem to clasp the ring between his trembling fingers. Finally he managed to grasp the smaller ring, despite how his hands shook nervously, right as Tess retrieved the larger ring much more deftly from within his hand. She placed a hand on top of his, stilling his shaking hand momentarily with her tender touch.

“So now, you will exchange the bands, reciting the key vow again.” Thank God I remember it, Marco nearly laughed, blowing out a nervous breath as he clasped Tess’s delicate hand within his own hopelessly clammy one. He positioned the ring on the tip of her finger as he whispered, “I follow my bondmate, I enter the joining, dying to self to love you, most worthy.”

Oh, and you are so very worthy, my love, he breathed silently, and her blue eyes snapped upward instantly. She’d heard, he realized with a shiver, losing himself in her gaze, what felt like a rich sea of blue water. The ring slipped easily onto her finger, and Tess clasped his hand much more gracefully within her own fingers, adjusting the band on the tip of his finger, as she pledged her vows in a hushed voice.

And then they stood in silence for a moment, aware only of one another and the candlelit circle of support gathered around them in the darkness.

Serena reached around her waist and untied a silken black sash. This part of the ceremony Marco had anticipated for months, as he’d imagined how a sealing would be between them. It was everything he’d waited for.

Serena clasped his hand, rotating it until his wrist was exposed. She pushed the sleeve of his jacket out of the way and carefully drew Tess’s bare wrist flat against his. He felt Tess’s rhythmically beating pulse, how it quickened a bit as Serena slowly looped the black sash around their wrists, tying them tightly together.

Tess’s crystalline eyes searched his own, questioning what was happening and he suddenly regretted not having warned her more clearly about this part, that it would hurt. But she knew about the imminent pain, he was certain of it…had known from the moment he’d asked her to bear his seal.

The scarf tightened around their wrists, lashing them firmly together, until Serena tucked the end beneath the loops of silken fabric. He and Tess were bound together now, wrist to wrist, with nothing but their skin touching beneath the material. Serena encircled their wrists within her two palms, closing her fingers tight, and Marco bowed his head. He sensed Tess mirror his action, as a piercing blue light appeared beneath Serena’s hands, forming a bright halo around the black scarf binding their wrists.

Tess drew in a sharp breath, and Marco flinched, sensing her pain as a warm burning sensation began beneath the skin along the underside of his wrist. The feeling intensified, growing hotter and Tess’s hand jerked a bit. He leaned his forehead against hers, as the light became sharper, the pain more pointed.

Tess cried out, her wrist shaking against his. “Almost…there,” Serena encouraged and Marco sensed a change beneath his skin, an alteration of something, a settling and deepening.

“Ah!” Tess cried keenly and Marco ached to hold her, to soothe her…to end the pain.

“Sweetheart,” he whispered. “You’re so strong…I know how it hurts.”

“I…I…don’t…care.” She managed to utter, in halting breaths. “I want…it…you.”

“Yes,” he agreed. “I know, love.”

And then they were sealed. As simply as that, he knew it was done. Serena clearly did, too, because she dropped her hands, the blue light vanishing instantly.

“It is done,” she pronounced brightly, slowing unwrapping the long black sash that had held their wrists tightly in place for the sealing. She removed it, draping it over her arm, as she turned Tess’s wrist over within her palm.

Serena raised her hand, the same blue light illuminating Tess’s bare skin, which was angry and red looking now. Immediately, an image flickered to life within the air, as Marco glimpsed his own very familiar seal appear just above her wrist. Only it was different, permeated with Tess’s own energy, which gave it a distinct coloration and quality. The shades were similar magentas and blues, yet something not quite identifiable marked the seal as unique to Tess Harding.

She stared at it, her mouth open in wonder, as it gyrated and shifted just as beautifully as his own seal had the day he’d revealed it to her.

He reached a hand and cupped her cheek, tilting her chin upward. Her blue eyes shone with tears, as he pressed a slow, loving kiss to her lips. “M’lasthre nyie a’dhara,” he whispered. My near mate, closer than my own heart.

Her lips parted, and for a brief moment, they deepened the kiss, even though all the others watched. Marco simply didn’t care, not with the way they’d just sealed their bond publicly, as a symbol of their love.

“It is done,” Serena pronounced, touching them both lightly on the shoulder. “The union is sealed.”

And now all that remained was for the union to be consummated, Marco thought in undeniable anticipation, feeling his face flush deeply. Then the bond would truly be sealed forever.

***
Liz felt Max’s hands close around her waist from behind, as he nuzzled her ear with his lips. She glanced around the room, needing to know if they were observed by any of the others, and she relaxed when she realized that everyone else was too busy celebrating. Riley had begun playing CD’s and everyone was dancing right in the middle of the living room. The previously somber mood of the ceremony had easily given way to a giddy atmosphere of festivity.

“You remember what this song means?” Max whispered in her ear, his warm breath causing small goose bumps to shoot down her arms. “To us?”

“Like I could forget, Max,” Liz laughed, turning to kiss him on the jaw. Fly Me to the Moon had just begun, instantly recalling their wedding celebration so many years before at the Crashdown.

“I thought your dad was going to kill me that night,” Max said, closing his hands around her waist, drawing her flush against him.

“I was going to kill you if you’d drunk that champagne,” Liz laughed, arching her neck so that she leaned close into Max’s arms, felt his firmly muscled chest even beneath the his jacket.

“But not tonight.” His voice was quiet. Too quiet, Liz thought, feeling a bit suspicious.

“There’s no champagne tonight, Max.”

“Uh…actually, Marco sent Riley to the liquor store,” Max continued, kissing the nape of her neck with his warm mouth. “And I put in a request for just the two of us.”

“No, no, I do not think so, Max Evans. I know exactly what you’re like drunk…and how little it takes.”

Max drew his lips just against her ear again, and hot breath fanned her cheek. “I’m in heat, Liz Evans. Remember? You’d best be careful.”

Liz’s cheeks flushed deeply at his description of their season. “Did you have to…use that…term?”

Max interrupted her, sliding his palms down her hips, resting them there suggestively. “I did and it’s true. Drunk or not, I intend to ravish you tonight, my beautiful queen.”

Liz felt him press a bit more insistently behind her, and became keenly aware of how aroused he was, as he pressed hard against her. “You drive me mad…no matter what season it is. No matter what year, Liz…God, I need you.” His hands had tightened possessively, one clasping her waist, the other firmly against her ribs. Liz glanced downward, noticing how frantic his clasp on her seemed.

Liz’s heart beat like a tribal drum, and her mouth went dry. They’d needed one another like this all week, and it had never abated, not once since the day on the rock. The re-establishment of their bond had only been temporary, fading with painful insistence shortly after Marco had linked them. But somehow they each knew that things were different now, they felt it keenly with their intuition. One fact was clear--Marco had healed something in their bond that day, and the rest would just take time.

And so they’d spent the week enjoying one another, worshipping one another’s bodies and simply known the bond would thrive again. Liz’s hope had been fanned to life tonight during the ceremony, as she’d witnessed the nascent beginnings of Tess and Marco’s own union form. Something about the two of them felt achingly familiar, like a subtle mirror of her relationship with Max. Not identical by any means, but lovely and haunting in some similar way.

Liz sought them out in the group, and watched as Marco stood alone by the hearth, just glancing around the room.

“Seems she’s vanished already?” Max laughed, following Liz’s gaze.

“Maybe they’re planning to dart out of here early,” Liz suggested. “Not a bad idea, now that I mention it.”

“Not a bad plan at all,” he agreed, his voice thick as Liz stepped away from him.
She began moving wordlessly in the direction of their bedroom, without so much as a backward glance at any of the others.

She had one plan in mind. To lead her husband to their bedroom as quickly as possible.

She needed him with all the raw desire of a tigress ready to hunt down her mate. Their season was burning in her blood with an urgency that was difficult for her to comprehend. But she needed him alone, and now, that much was clear.

****
Marco sought Tess out in the dimly lit living room. She’d gone to the bathroom to freshen her makeup, worried that all her tears had caused her eyes to become puffy and swollen. What she couldn’t possibly understand, what he was powerless to express, was that she looked lovelier than ever, even with the tears. He was all but breathless, nearly panting, every time he gazed at her, any time he caught her potent scent.

Suddenly, he felt a small hand on his arm, and he started a bit. “Sorry,” she laughed. “Didn’t mean to startle you.”

“Was just looking for you,” he smiled. Noticing that her dress strap had fallen down her shoulder a bit, he reached innocently to adjust it. But then, he felt suddenly quite daring and allowed his fingers to just linger there, tugging seductively on the strap.

She glanced down, and then back up at him until finally, she slowly pried his fingers loose from the material. Her gaze never left his, and he thought his heart might literally stop, as she ran her tongue across her lips for a moment, just studying his reaction. When he thought he couldn’t take the staring contest any longer, another Frank Sinatra tune began to play. “Are you much of a dancer?” She asked, as if they hadn’t just been engaged in a subtle dance of seduction, one that revolved around her simple dress strap, not music.

“I’m decent enough.” God, what was this power she held over him tonight, how easily she was driving him mad with desire? She smiled whimsically, toying with a stray lock of blonde hair.

“Good, then let’s dance.”

“Let’s kiss,” he blurted without even meaning to. But it was what he wanted, and damned desperately.

“Okay,” she giggled shyly, and he noticed that her creamy cheeks turned a lovely pink hue at his easy suggestion. Something about unsettling her so easily emboldened him, and he lowered his head to claim precisely what he wanted.

“Umm,” she all but purred, , as heat banked in his lower abdomen…careened crazily down his spine.

He broke the kiss, stroking her flushed cheek with his thumb. “Let’s dance,” he said huskily, and she nodded, wiping her dampened lips with her finger.

He clasped her hand within his, leading her to the dance floor, and noticed that she grimaced slightly as his arm brushed against her wrist. He took a step back, his dark brows knitting together in instant concern. “It still hurts?” He asked, gently rotating her wrist so he could examine the underside where the skin was still reddish and tender.

“Burns a little,” she explained, not wanting him to worry. “But I don’t mind.”

"I could get Max," Marco suggested, glancing quickly around the room, but Tess cut him off, clasping his arm. "No, Marco. I don't want the feeling...muted."

He stared down at her hand, pain flickering across his features, and she knew he’d felt the way her skin still ached from the branding. Slowly, he drew her wrist to his lips, and kissed the exposed flesh, his lips lingering slowly there until she gasped at the intimacy. At the sheer love she felt transmitted through the tender connection.

His gaze flew to hers, yet he didn’t drop her wrist, just drew it against his cheek, already slightly scratchy with beard stubble.

“Still, I wish you’d had no pain.”

“But it means you’re part of me now, that I’m marked by my love for you.”

He nodded silently, and slowly lowered her hand.

His eyes assumed a far off look, as he traced his thumb lightly across the reddish mark. “I can’t tell you…what it means to me…this.”

He stood like that, just staring down so quietly, and she wondered what he was feeling, what thoughts were passing through his mind. “What, Marco?” She pressed him gently.

He shook his head, and drew her into his arms. “Not now,” he answered, his expression brightening. “Right now is for other things…for celebrating, sweet Tess.”

Tess wondered if he’d share his heart with her later, because she’d felt something heavy press against her momentarily, something that had weighed on his heart in that briefest of moments.

Marco smiled and spun Tess deftly in the middle of the floor, leading her gracefully in his arms. “Now is for dancing.”

Tess nearly lost her breath at how easily he twirled her, how light he was on his feet. How was it possible that someone so tall could be so surprisingly graceful?

“I have to say, Marco,” she laughed, leaning closer against him. “I just wouldn’t have pegged you for such a good dancer.”

“Ah, but I love music, that you know.”

“Still, that’s not the same as…” She lost her thoughts, as he turned her again, dipping her slightly. She had the feeling she was riding some exhilarating roller coaster, the way he left her heart beating so frantically. She was only dimly aware of others dancing near them…Riley and Anna, Michael and Maria. For her, there was only Marco.

“This,” she finally finished, as he slipped his arms around her, drawing her much closer. “The dancing. Just wouldn’t have thought it.”

He seemed genuinely taken aback for a moment, and then a soft rumbling laugh erupted. “No? Am I too much of a brute?”

She rolled her eyes, aware of his hand on her lower back, the feel of his fingers against the exposed skin. “Oh, please.”

“Too unsophisticated?” He offered, guiding her effortlessly through a turn.

“Too much of a guy.”

He was reflective a moment, just holding her in his arms. “Serena insisted that Riley and I take ballroom dancing classes,” he finally admitted.

Tess stared up at him, her mouth falling open in shock.

“Ah, well see, I’m full of surprises,” he acknowledged with a boyish grin.

“Didn’t see that one coming,” Tess laughed, feeling his broad shoulder beneath her fingertips.

“Serena always said her soldiers might be soldiers, but they’d still be poised,” he continued, his black eyes dancing in quiet mischief.

“So I should thank Serena then.”

“And Riley for actually making me go.”

“Apparently I have a lot to learn about my bondmate.”

He beamed instantly, his dimple appearing, and she loved the joy that lit his face. “You like that, don’t you?” she whispered, gazing up into his large eyes. “Hearing me call you that?”

He nodded mutely, tightening his hold on her slightly. “Though, it’s not quite true yet.” His voice had assumed a husky tone, full of possibility.

“Almost,” she promised, aware that she’d become slightly breathless.

He bowed his head, kissing her forehead. “A bit further to go yet, my love.”

M’lasthre,” she countered quietly, nuzzling even closer, and Tess realized they’d become utterly unaware of the others, the music. They were cloaked only within a spell of their own making, woven together like magic in the midst of the crowd, just swaying softly as one.

Nyet ayasthra, disme,” he whispered in her ear, and she shivered at the words, understood their power without knowing their meaning.

“Umm…” she managed, resting her cheek against the lapel of his jacket. “Me, too.”

He laughed quietly, stroking the loose tendrils of her hair. “It’s from an Antarian love poem…it means, my love, my bride, my heart that beats within your depths.”

“Your bride.” The words struck Tess somehow, as if she’d become just that during tonight’s ceremony. Marco had already lamented several times that he couldn’t have taken her to Las Vegas for wedding vows after the sealing, that he wished the situation were stable enough that they could have combined the two events.

“You are my bride, Tess…in the ways that truly matter.”

“I know, and you’re my husband.” She felt the ring that he’d slid on her finger during their vows, the cool silver band that fit so neatly on her hand now. “But so much more than that, too.”

“I can’t stay here much longer,” he whispered in her ear, laughing huskily. “It’s killing me, the wait.”

“Me, too.”

He released her, threading their fingers together, and began leading her across the floor. “Then let’s go. Now, sweet love.”





[ edited 5 time(s), last at 29-Dec-2001 10:46:02 AM ]
posted on 29-Dec-2001 10:35:48 AM by RosDeidre
Excellent point, Ursa! And reminded me of something I'd meant to add in and forgotten to do...which I just did! Thanks for being such a sharp reader!! *happy*
posted on 29-Dec-2001 3:53:09 PM by RosDeidre
As always, thanks for the awesome feedback guys. Some interesting questions were raised. Ursa, I answered your question on Tess’s pain and why Max didn’t heal it in an earlier note.

Angela asked about Tess being a virgin or not. Actually, Tess is still very much a virgin in this story. While she and Kyle did toy with a relationship during college, it never went past the very casual stage, so they only made out a bit. Also, Tess hasn’t dated much at all since high school and keep in mind, that this world departs from the show cannon at the end of EOTW. So, Tess is definitely inexperienced.

But I LOVED Angela’s analogy about Tess’s pain during the sealing being similar to the pain a woman experiences when losing her virginity. I think there can be something quite beautiful to pain that accompanies an unforgettable rite of passage. Childbirth is another example the springs to mind.

And as for this section being reminiscent of HOW TO DISAPPEAR, I should also point out that Serena retrieving her wedding bands on that chain mirrors Fmax keeping Fliz’s ring on a chain at the beginning of HTDC…the ring that wound up unlocking so much for them about the future!

Anyway, just thought I’d answer the questions and share that observation about Serena. I hope you’re all enjoying your holiday!!
D

posted on 29-Dec-2001 11:13:03 PM by RosDeidre

Author’s Note:
Well, we’re bringing this story in for a landing shortly. Seatbacks in the upright position…tray tables stowed safely…you get the picture! There’s another chapter after this one, so don’t worry! I just wanted to mention that this chapter is for all the dreamers who have begged me to add in some more Max and Liz. This ones for you, guys! And I also want to dedicate this part to Cookie, who brainstormed this story with me from the very beginning…some seven months ago. She listened to every hair-brained possibility via email, and she hung on to these very end chapters. She is a dreamer extraordinaire, so this one’s for her. Btw…the last part will be up tomorrow night, probably late!

PART FORTY SIX

Max closed the door, and leaned against it momentarily, as Liz collapsed backwards onto their bed. She lay like that, propped loosely on her elbows, just watching him from across the short distance that separated them.

Max bolted the door behind him, without ever turning from her, as his gaze roamed over her form. Her short black shift fell far above her knee, revealing her shapely legs in intimate detail. He studied the delicious freckles that fell on her thighs like gold dust, leading him upward beneath the dress hem. Right into his own personal nirvana, Max grinned boyishly, disrobing her with his eyes.

Yet he didn’t move, just watched her with all the intention of a hunter stalking his prey. Liz turned a bit on the bed, and her dress strap fell low down her arm, exposing the rise of her creamy breasts in more detail--and more freckles, like stars in their galaxy, leading him home.

“Liz,” he swallowed, taking one step closer toward her. “Have you always been just this beautiful?” She nearly glowed, lying there in wait for him, her long, silken tresses spilling down her shoulders.

“I haven’t changed,” she smiled, her eyes glinting in the near darkness. “Except I’m just older now.”

Max stepped closer, slipping out of his suit jacket. He tossed it onto the back of a chair, and paused at her feet. “No, Liz Evans, you’ve changed quite a bit in the past eight years. You’ve become a queen…my life mate, my lover, my wife…” He paused, bending low over her, so that he gazed down into her eyes for the last. “An alien goddess…”

“Now that is a bit of a stretch.”

“From whose perspective?” He asked seriously. Because in that moment, with her lying just beneath him, and his body thrumming with unspent alien energy, it was the unequivocal truth.

Liz shifted on her elbows, sinking deep into the mattress, as he slipped a hand between her legs, easing them apart. Slowly, with incredible gentleness, he lowered himself on top of her, so that nothing separated them except their clothing. She threaded her fingers through his hair, longish on his nape. “I want all of it…you,” he whispered throatily. “All of you, Liz.”

“You have all of me,” she promised, closing her eyes as their lips met.

“Not quite,” he disagreed, adjusting his hips a bit. He felt his groin tighten sharply, as he tugged on her dress, raising it further up around her waist. “Not quite all.”

“What more?” She asked breathlessly. “Tell me and it’s yours.”

“The bond…I need it. I need that connection back forever.”

Liz pushed against his chest with her palm, surprising him with the sharpness of her response.

“What?” He cried, gazing down at her. Her eyes had instantly pooled with tears and her face nearly crumpled in pain.

“Liz, God, I’m so sorry…I…” he stammered. He hadn’t expected such a strong reaction, or such an emotional one, not with the headway they’d been making since Marco’s healing of their bond. “We both know it’s only a matter of time,” Max asserted quietly, as Liz’s palm relaxed against his chest.

She pressed her eyes shut, exhaling heavily. “Tell me,” he urged, lowering his mouth near her ear. “Sweetheart,” he cooed softly. “I’m right here, just tell me.”

A lone tear slipped down her cheek, and she just shook her head, never opening her eyes. Max’s heart ached for her, and he wanted to kick himself for having mentioned their bond at all. But he’d entered their bedroom so certain, determined that this was their moment to reclaim it. He’d really sensed its imminence during the ceremony, as he’d watched Tess and Marco speak their vows.

“Liz, we can get it back,” he announced suddenly. “You’re the one who told me not to let Nicholas win.”

“But, we couldn’t maintain it,” Liz argued hoarsely, her dark eyes opening. “Even after Marco threaded us together, we weren’t strong enough to maintain it.”

“But the bond’s been growing stronger this week.”

“No,” Liz disagreed, and now tears flowed easily down her cheeks. “You’re just saying that, Max.”

We’re stronger,” he murmured in her ear, feeling fresh desire stir within his loins. The season suddenly asserted itself with undeniable insistence. “Our need…Liz, our bodies are trying to tell us something,” he cried in realization, pulling back to look at her. “Don’t you feel it?”

Max’s question hung in the air, like a missile seeking its target, as Liz could only struggle for her next breath. Despite the grief that was shredding her heart into ribbons, her desire was arcing powerfully—even more than moments earlier in the living room. The tears kept flowing, yet her body was demanding something utterly different.

Don’t you feel it? The question moved, roiled…demanded an answer. Don’t you feel it?

And she did feel her body mounting a certain reply, as her legs began quaking softly beneath Max’s. Her hands were trembling, her shoulders shaking. Their alien energy was banking in epic proportions.

“Yes,” she managed to gasp, and their eyes met.

His golden gaze penetrated her own, and words passed between them. The silent kind, the kind that didn’t require utterance, not in any language.

As quickly as that, his lips were crushing against hers, as they moved as one further back onto the bed. Her hands were greedy, desperate as they pulled open his dress shirt, buttons ripping apart. Their hips began rocking together in an insistent rhythm, long before they’d unclothed their lower bodies. She felt how hard he was, how he strained beneath the soft material of his pants, intimately defined against her thigh. She cupped him from behind, urging him onward.

He moaned, reaching to fumble with his pants, though he was absolutely ineffective in his desperation. An almost noiseless cry escaped her lips, as one swift movement of Max’s hand opened her dress and it fell away from her shoulders, exposing only her breasts to him. She’d not worn a bra, the dress had been too thin and revealing, so now Max hovered over her, showering her chest with his warm kisses. Every last one of them left a trail of fire on her skin, searing her with his alien spirit.

Liz reached between their lower bodies, determined to have him out of the dress pants. She followed his earlier lead, and waved her hand deftly over his groin, and the pants fell open easily. The beauty of her alien giftings, Liz laughed throatily, as she reached between their bodies, inside his boxers.

“Oh, Liz,” he groaned helplessly. “Oh…sweetheart.” Her hand closed around his erection, stroking first the tip, then beginning a very steady rhythm within her palm.

“Max,” she managed to cry, though her throat had tightened.

He threw his head back in exquisite delight. God, he was so beautiful, Liz reflected quietly, staring up at the emotions flickering across his features.

“Zan,” she murmured in a lower voice, the most hushed of whispers and he shivered, his hips rocking steadily with her own rhythm.

“Ah,” he gasped, shuddering a bit. “Ah, Zill…oh…”

The ecstasy changed, his features drawing tighter, as he arched back a bit more. Liz knew he was close, perhaps too close, but she loved the way he looked, that her touch still affected him this profoundly after so many years.

“More profoundly than ever,” he gasped, thrusting his fingers deep within her hair. “Never more than…ah…ah…now.” He could hardly speak, he had moved past the realm of mere arousal and desire. This was the danger zone, and if he wasn’t careful, Liz was going to take him further than he intended.

“I want to take you that far,” Liz laughed, rolling him off of her and onto his side. She began working his pants lower, easing his boxers much further down his hips so that now he lay before her, his beautifully muscled abdomen and hips displayed perfectly. Liz licked her lips, tugging on his shirt. It fell away freely, as Max rolled onto his back. His eyes were pressed tightly shut and all that remained was his soft t-shirt. Liz drew it within her fist, tightening her grip and as before, passed her hand over it. This time it disappeared altogether.

“I love being an alien,” she laughed huskily, as Max now lay just beside her, gilded softly by the pale lamplight. A thin sheen of sweat had formed on his brow, in response to their desperate arousal.

“Alien goddess,” he corrected quietly, as Liz straddled him, stripping out of her dress. She kicked off her strappy high heels, and they skidded softly across their hardwood floor with a thud.

“And what does that make you?” She questioned, stroking his nipples. They puckered instantly beneath her fingertips, as she raised her hips, adjusting them against his. He’d let her take control like this, and she loved seeing him so undone by her touches…her very caresses.

They’d never so much as touched the bottle of champagne they’d stowed away. Yet, she sensed she’d taken Max someplace otherworldly in just the past minutes. He lay beneath her, gasping desperately for air, clasping her hips hard within his palms.

Something had changed tonight. Something significant.

“Yes, it has,” Max sighed, his lips parting softly. “Something significant.”

He was repeating her very words.

They’d been hearing one another’s thoughts.

Liz bolted upright, still straddling him and Max moaned softly, his thick lashes fluttering a bit as he opened his eyes. “What, Zill?” He asked dreamily, appearing absolutely intoxicated, just by their loving. “What is it?”

“Max!” She cried, her eyes widening with excitement. “Didn’t you notice?”

“Wh…at?” He asked, blinking in surprise at the sudden change in her demeanor. “You? God, yes!”

“No, Max…Max!” She bubbled, leaning down close over him, so that her lips nearly grazed his. “You’ve been repeating my thoughts. My unspoken ones…and I’ve been knowing yours, haven’t I?”

Max stared at her blankly a moment, just stroking her cheek with his fingertips as he drew in shuddering breaths. Finally, a wonderful smile spread across his features. “Yes, I have been…it was just so normal, I didn’t notice.”

Liz shook her head excitedly, her dark hair teasing across Max’s bare chest. He gasped lightly at the intimacy, even in the midst of such a revelation. He couldn’t suppress what she’d been coaxing from his body, not by a long shot.

“It’s the bond, Max!” She cried rapturously, cupping his face within her palms. “It’s starting to form again.”

“Yes,” he agreed, swallowing hard. He felt tears burn within his own eyes. “Make love with me, Liz. Now…let’s not wait…”

“We need to go with this now,” she agreed with a firm nod of her head. Her lovely face simply shone with energy, her cheeks flushing a beautiful pink hue. She looked different than ever before, though Max was certain she must have always appeared this lovely in their season. Surely.

He tumbled her onto her back with ease, slipping his arousal right between her legs. She was so wet, like velvet warmth just waiting for him. He cupped the back of her head within his hand and branded her lips with his own, thrusting deep inside of her without another hesitation.

And white-hot energy erupted, first with a slow, nearly audible groan throughout the room, and then with thunderous force it unfurled across their two bodies. Max couldn’t breathe, couldn’t see…could only feel Liz’s energy surround him with territorial insistence as the bond came roaring to life.

Suddenly, she was all inside of him, around him, moving like a mystery through his depths. Zillia…ancient and beautiful. Zillia his queen…his alien beauty. His love.

He murmured her name like the prayer that it was, feeling her all inside of his soul, kissing it, shivering against it…He pressed his eyes tightly closed and moved his hips slowly against hers, as their twin souls began shimmying together, making love as only their alien sides could do.

Liz felt helpless, suspended somewhere between heaven and earth, as Max’s wild energy moved across her bare body, possessing her. She could only gasp his name and cling to his neck as he moved all through her…as she felt her alien side mingle with his, gathering strength.

“Max!” She managed to cry out, as she felt their souls press hard together, insistent. This was the mating…it was happening again at last.

And it wasn’t gentle this time.

She closed her eyes shut, arching upward against him painfully, as their souls threaded sharply together, strangling all of her breath in the process.

Some part of her knew his physical body had rapturously shuddered inside of her, as she felt his warmth fill her--but at the moment she could only feel his soul, wedded utterly to her own.

Both sides of her being, alien and human, were fully sated in her mate’s arms at long last.

***

Marco and Tess nestled close together in the backseat of the Suburban. He’d been concerned that she’d be cold in such a skimpy dress-- though he certainly wasn’t complaining--until she’d reached for a luxurious Pashmina stole, made of the same royal blue as her dress. She’d wrapped it elegantly around her delicate shoulders, the vibrant blue only accentuating her eyes more deeply.

Now they snuggled together in the cold backseat, as Riley directed the vehicle out onto the two-lane highway. Her perfume wafted across his senses, arousing him powerfully, just as the very nearness of her body affected him so easily. He cuddled her close within the crook of his arm, kissing her on the ear.

“Finally,” he murmured quietly, aware of Riley in the front seat. “Just us.”

“And Riley?” She laughed, leaning closer against him. “Or doesn’t he count?”

“Not at all,” Marco teased, feeling her leg graze against his thigh. She was so unbelievably close, so palpable and real after all the countless dreams. “He’s only here for one distinct purpose.”

“And that is?” Riley coughed from the front seat, reminding Marco that they were decidedly not alone.

“Designated driver,” Marco boomed jovially. Reaching beside him in the seat, he retrieved an expensive bottle of champagne that he’d asked Riley to obtain for them earlier in the week. In fact, he owed Riley about ten very huge favors for all that he’d surreptitiously done to help surprise Tess—much more than she’d even guess at the moment, Marco reflected with a smile.

“No…no, no, no.” She pronounced, eyeing the champagne with a frown. “I’ve seen you drunk once, McKinley. Not a scenario I care to repeat, especially not tonight.”

But he wouldn’t be daunted, at least not that easily. Because he also remembered how delicious she’d tasted that night at the bar, how her very kisses had sobered him. And he’d known ever since that he longed to celebrate with her over a simple glass of wine or champagne, something so different than that dreadful night, when he’d felt her slip from his very grasp as she’d walked out of the bar.

“Harding,” he teased back. “Are you telling me you’re not man enough to hold your liquor while we drink?”

“I’m telling you you’re a crappy drunk, McKinley,” she announced, and he felt her ache a bit as she said it.

“Only that one time,” he disagreed softly, drawing her hand to his lips for a light kiss. “Not tonight, not once our kisses mingle with the sweet taste of this very expensive champagne,” he laughed, beginning to open the bottle of Dom Perignon. “I think you’ll revise your opinion of me then, sweet love.”

“Oh, my opinion is the best,” she disagreed, smiling up at him with an undeniably provocative expression. “Of that you can be certain.”

Her mouth looked so full and ripe, utterly kissable, as she pulled her stole closer around her shoulders. Her soft blonde tresses were pinned precariously atop her head, and tumbled sexily down her neck. He ached to stroke them, to dislodge every pin and just thread his fingers through her hair. He ached for her period, his desire arousing him to the point of sharp insistence. He swallowed hard, and broke their gaze, fumbling with the bottle as a form of distraction.

He felt suddenly shy and inexperienced, in light of the way she’d glanced up at him in such obvious invitation. They would be lovers and soon… yet he felt every bit the virgin that he certainly was. Surely she knew that about him, he worried, as the cork popped loudly, spewing bubbles into the towel he’d wrapped around the bottle.

“Marco,” she whispered, almost inaudibly. “Don’t be afraid, not of anything, okay?” He knew Riley hadn’t heard, her voice had been that soft and hushed. He nodded, feeling his face flush painfully, as he reached for the twin pair of champagne flutes that Riley had carefully packed in the seat beside them.

Why was it so hard to just meet her gaze?

She leaned near him, her small frame nestling close against his side, causing her long dress to fall open where it was slit along the length of her leg. Her lovely calf suddenly came into view, beckoning his touch like the finest porcelain. So perfect and delicate in shape, so womanly and soon to be his.

His voice was little more than a throaty rasp. “Tess, love, I’m only afraid because…I want it all to be perfect.”

“And it is.”

The champagne filled the glass, and he handed her a flute, which she accepted from him. He noticed the glimmer of her silver ring, even in the darkness, as they clinked glasses softly.

They would be mated, in only a matter of hours, Marco reflected. No going back after that, not ever, once their bond deepened permanently.

“If you see a stranger around here, it’s me,” Riley laughed, quoting the familiar line from It’s a Wonderful Life.

“Thanks, Burt, we’ll remember that,” Marco quipped easily. “And we’ll be sure to keep it quiet back here.” Marco took a long sip of the champagne, feeling the air around them change slightly, the atmosphere almost thicken with his giddiness.

Tess slowly sipped her champagne, and Marco leaned to kiss her on the forehead, and yearning for so much more, he opened her stole a bit.

“Now what’s this?” He asked, peeking inside mischievously.

“My breasts,” Tess suggested helpfully, following Marco’s gaze downward.

“Good lord, I can’t wait to get you to the damn cabin and out of my car,” Riley groaned, eyeing them playfully in the rearview mirror.

“So that’s where we’re going?” Tess asked, arching a curious eyebrow. “To a cabin?”

“Good work, Rile.” Marco frowned sharply, irked that Riley had blown his surprise destination right at the last moment.

“The key is which cabin,” Riley countered, chewing his lip in obvious chagrin. Marco leaned forward, sipping his champagne and patted his brother on the back.

“I love you, brother,” Marco reassured him with a broad grin. “I couldn’t have done any of this without you at all.”

“Ah, now you go and embarrass a guy,” Riley moaned as Marco settled again beside Tess.

“Just don’t look back here again,” Marco barked, winking at Tess.

She could only watch Marco in wonder, as the champagne made her head swim rapturously. The problem was she’d already felt on the verge of sheer delirium because of how happy he’d made her. Now, as she watched her love through the hazy warmth of the alcohol, her defenses had been utterly lowered. All she immediately wanted was for him to make love to her at last, long and slow--nothing stopping the joining they’d both anticipated for such a long time.

Marco drained the rest of his champagne, dropping the glass on the seat beside him. He slipped his large hand around her waist, drawing her halfway onto his lap as he began slowly kissing her on the nape of the neck, then trailing his mouth down onto her collarbone. Tess closed her eyes, throwing her head back in instant response. She clutched the champagne glass in her other hand, while clinging to his shoulder with her free hand.

She kissed him tenderly on the forehead, noticing the familiar dusting of freckles along his left eyebrow as she allowed her lips to linger there momentarily. Then, laughing, she leaned back a moment, draining her champagne glass.

“Riley’s up front,” she giggled, handing him her empty glass.

“Hell if I care,” Marco replied, narrowing his black eyebrows suggestively.

“Marco McKinley,” she purred, as he dropped her empty glass on the seat, and then clasped her possessively around the waist. “Tell me it’s not far.”

“Not far,” he mumbled agreeably, drawing her lips downward and she began subtly rocking her hips against his. She knew the darkness cloaked the movement, that it was a secret promise between the two of them, even though he moaned low in his throat in instant response.

He reached a hand to her velvet-clad hip and stilled her motion, begging her with his eyes not to tease him. “Baby,” was all he said. “Please.”

She drew her mouth against his ear, nipping it lightly, as she cupped his face within her hands. “Remember those words later, sweetheart.”

Ah, he thought with a desperate sigh. Later indeed.

****
Liz lay on her stomach in the darkness just feeling Max’s spirit nestled so warmly inside of her. It felt like it had been an eternity since she’d held him inside herself like this, when in reality it had only been a brief time. Perhaps it had been the choking fear that accompanied the loss of their bond, she wasn’t sure.

But now that Max lay against her side, tracing his fingertips up and down the length of her spine, periodically trailing kisses down the same path, it all seemed little more than a nightmare.

She sighed happily, slipping her hand beneath the pillow to adjust it. She felt him shift inside of her, his energy golden and lovely, then a bit quieter as he settled again. “Hmm,” she purred, feeling the erotic sensation in every part of her body. Warmth chased down her spine in instant reply, a little shiver of his energy.

Then he quieted a bit more inside of her, though he’d already grown so gentle.

Liz, he whispered. Sweetheart.

He laid his cheek on the pillow beside her, stroking her hair. They simply stared at one another, feeling the rhythm of their spirits. He needed to tell her something…Liz reached a bit, trying to sense what it was.

Children. Something about their children…all of them.

What about our children? She asked, as he pressed a loving kiss against her neck. She sensed him hesitate, retreat a bit. Tell me, Max.

I wonder…when…sometimes. He sounded vulnerable, a little afraid. Isn’t that the purpose…of the mating season really? Yet we’ve never conceived.

“Oh, Max,” she whispered, rolling onto her side to face him. “We’re so young, you shouldn’t worry.”

“What if it’s not…possible?”

Liz felt a crashing wave of regret chase the question. He wished he could retract it, didn’t want to hurt her.

Of course it’s possible, she shushed him, threading her fingers with his. Of course it is.

My future self said we never had children…that it hadn’t been possible.

He never said we weren’t physically able, Max…he meant it hadn’t been possible because of the revolution.

But what…
his words trailed off and he dropped his head. “Let’s just celebrate this moment…forget my silly questions.”

We both saw them, Max, she pressed, ignoring his attempt at a conversational injunction. He had to smile, knowing how persistent his beautiful wife always was.

We did, she repeated, tracing her fingers low along his hip. She rested them there a moment, gazing low on his body. He felt her admire his form, sensed how beautiful she found him and it caused him to thrum with desire again—especially when heat rushed softly through his groin in reply.

“Yes, we did…and I know that vision was true,” he agreed in a thick voice.

“I mean, if we pressed for that vision now,” Liz explained, chewing on her lip. “I’m sure we’d feel them again…sense them. Perhaps we might even know more.”

Max nodded in agreement, and was going to use his gift of intuition, but her eyes had assumed a strange, reflective quality, as her hand stilled against his hip. It was as if she were seeing something ethereal right in their very midst. Suddenly, she sat up in bed, placing her palm flat against her abdomen. Her black eyes widened, brimming instantly with tears.

“Oh, God!” She cried, snapping her head toward him. “Do you feel him?”

“Who?” Max asked, sitting up in confusion. “Feel who?”

Feel him? She shouted again frantically within their bond. Surely you do…he’s right here!

Who? Max asked again, feeling suddenly frightened, until something about the way Liz clutched her abdomen gained focus. Him. And Max did feel him, right in the midst of their bond.

He was tiny and delicate, little more than a wisp of a spirit, yet he was vibrant and alive nonetheless.

Their precious baby son thrived within Liz’s womb.

Max and Liz clasped hands together over her abdomen, feeling his small spirit pulsate and shimmer, allowing their connection to expand to encompass him. Tears streaked both of their faces, as their fingers threaded together over the place where he grew inside of her.

“He’s…just so tiny,” Liz whispered in wonder.

“He’s absolutely amazing,” Max agreed reverentially, and lowered his head to where their hands rested. He moved their fingers aside, and placed a gentle kiss atop her abdomen. He closed his eyes and willed all the love he felt for Liz, for the future they’d held onto desperately for such a long time, to transmit to the tiny life that had formed inside her body.

“I love you,” he murmured. He’d really meant the words for Liz, yet as he pressed another tender kiss against her belly, he knew that they were spoken from his heart to their unborn child, as well. “We both love you. Already.”

He turned his face, resting his cheek low on her abdomen, and they nestled together like that, just the three of them. He wasn’t even sure for how long, as he felt Liz’s fingers thread through his hair…and he kept pressing radiant kisses against her stomach.

But finally, he drifted to sleep, feeling all three of them nestled so gently together within the connection.

posted on 30-Dec-2001 12:20:40 PM by RosDeidre
Quickie Author’s Note:
Many of you are lamenting the end of this story. Be sure to note that I will be beginning the sequel, BACK TO SAVE THE UNIVERSE, very shortly. Meanwhile, you can be looking for another new story by me in the near future, too (oh I’m going to be secretive!), and of course focusing more thoroughly on CRAZY in coming weeks!

Also, for those of you who have been away, please note that I posted TWO new chapters, forty-five and forty six, within just twenty-four hours. So, don’t miss the big Max and Liz goody chapter in 46 by accident! I mention this, since sometimes I know I’ve accidentally missed an author’s new chapter when it’s posted very closely after another.

Angela posed the question about aliens and humans bonding, and whether they would have the same kind of soul mating. I won’t give an answer just yet, except to say in my little alternative universe, nobody will be “left wanting!” LOL!

posted on 30-Dec-2001 2:55:17 PM by RosDeidre
Oops…realized I didn’t answer Kath’s question about UNIVERSE. Here’s a little blurb I wrote up for it. Warning, it reads like a movie poster!

BACK TO SAVE THE UNIVERSE is the story of the group’s return to Antar and how it impacts them, both individually and as a collective. They will confront an unknown world, as they face new aspects of who they all truly are. Relationships will be tested and new allegiances formed. But none of them will ever be the same again.

Sound like something you’d be interested in?? Kath? LOL!!!

posted on 31-Dec-2001 1:42:05 AM by RosDeidre
Author’s Note: I have had HUGE technical difficulties in posting this part. I am wondering if ANYONE can post on this thread?? LOL!

Anyway, my original note got deleted so I’m editing this back in. I want to thank all of you who have followed this story so regularly and posted encouraging fb along the way. I think of regular readers like Kath7, Angela35, Roswelladdict, Emilyluvsroswell, LTL, Pinky, Icestorm. I could name person after person who has encouraged me in the writing of not only this story, but HOW TO DISAPPEAR. I must also thank the OTOs on Fan Forum, who encouraged me to begin the very first story more than a year ago. I’d like to dedicate this last part to Tasyfa, who has been my cheerleader in so many ways with my writing, just as Cookie has been, too. Both these last parts should most decidedly be dedicated to them both…

Thanks to all of you for encouraging me, most particularly during some of the dark times in the past few months. And to the “Silent Ones” (A’dhan?? You out there???) who lurk and enjoy, bless you guys too!! Now, without further ado…the end.



PART FORTY SEVEN

Tess had imagined where they might be going, what kind of getaway spot they could actually risk. But somehow, it had never occurred to her that Marco would lead her back to the place where everything had begun between them more than a year ago. That first night when she’d come to his room.

Just to think it all began on a long-forgotten morn, come in, she said I’ll give you, shelter from the storm…

Well, the lyric didn’t hold true if you considered their love affair as having started the night of their evacuation from Las Cruces. But then again, perhaps it had truly begun that morning in her dorm, Tess reflected as Marco closed the cabin door behind them.

She heard the Suburban idle in the driveway, crunching the gravel as Riley turned the vehicle back down the road. Marco hesitated, wiping his brow with the back of his hand as he bolted the door. He seemed a bit nervous, now that they were finally all alone, and Tess understood that emotion well. She drew her Pashmina around her shoulders protectively, feeling her stomach tighten with fluttering anxiety.

The cabin was warm enough, that was certain, and a blazing fire roared in the hearth. Marco had obviously ventured there earlier in the day, spreading candles and laying the firewood, so that the minute they stepped inside, he only needed to raise his hand and hundreds of dazzling little tapers instantly illuminated the great room.

Tess took a step toward the hallway, and was amazed to see that a glittering path had been lit—all the way to the master bedroom. Small globes twinkled on the floor, like some mystical runway leading to their ultimate destination.

“Marco,” she whispered in wondrous appreciation. “It’s all so beautiful.” She peered a bit further into the hallway, trying to glimpse the bedroom, undeniably curious as to what else he might have planned. But she couldn’t see past the little golden path that lit the way.

“Not yet,” Marco cautioned in a husky voice, dropping his overcoat onto the sofa in a soft heap. He paused a moment, chewing on his full lower lip, then very hesitantly he raised his sultry eyes, meeting her gaze from across the room.

His face was lined in dark shadow, accented by lilting light. He looked every bit the dark, Arabian prince, just standing across the room from her in his suit.

He ran his fingers through his hair, and walked slowly toward her. She heard him suck a nervous breath in, as he closed the distance between them in a few, easy strides.

Then he stopped, not quite to her and paused again. There was silence a moment, as he smiled sexily, and finally spoke quietly. “Just us, Tess.” It was a tacit acknowledgement of what was to come, what the night really meant, and it caused her to shiver slightly.

“Yes, just us.”

He extended his large hand to her, open and gentle. “Shall we?” he questioned, suddenly seeming quite confident and bold. Shall we make love, shall we bond for life…shall I tumble with you in my arms for the rest of the night.

“Yes,” she managed to reply, swallowing hard. Visions of his dark, naked form moving beautifully within her own fair arms flashed through her mind. She slipped a trembling hand within his, and he smiled, leading her gracefully toward the hall.


***
Tess stood in the bedroom, literally unable to speak. Nothing could have prepared her for the sight before her eyes. The four-poster bed had been draped in lovely, diaphanous curtains, billowing softly in the roaring fire of the hearth. They floated mystically from high atop the bed, cascading downward on both sides, so that a veiled canopy shimmered in the luminous candlelight. From every direction, light splashed through the sheer material, playing shadow and incandescent hues against one another. Marco had woven a spell over the room, by gilding it all in golden darkness.

“Do you like it?” He asked from where he stood across the room. She could only see the side of his face, his arm, as he was partly obscured behind the lovely glittering curtains. “I wanted it to be…romantic.”

Tess slowly unfolded her stole, her wrist burning a bit as the woolen material brushed her bruised skin. “Marco, can I just tell you something? Do you mind?” She laughed, feeling more in love with him than ever before.

“Sure,” he answered quietly, stepping into the firelight. They were now separated by the bed, like some incandescent raft just floating between the two of them. His smoldering eyes grew shadowed, more mysterious and unreadable as he moved.

“I think you are perhaps the most romantic man I’ve ever known,” she teased gently. “You are beautiful and sweet…and I think I might just die right now if that’s okay.”

“No,” he laughed huskily. “Afraid it’s not, my love. I rather need you for the rest of this event.”

“Ah, yes, that’s true,” she agreed, tossing her head. For a moment, she’d forgotten that her hair was pinned up, and had expected it to flow invitingly down her back.

His black eyes widened a bit, as he slipped out of his suit jacket. Yet he remained apart from her, on the other side of the bed, not moving. It seemed part of some ritual between them, the separation--the burgeoning desire, unanswered, the play of light. And she remembered his dream words, from the week before.

The candles are part of our mating ritual, he’d said.

This was too, the way he stood separate from her, just watching. Black eyes dancing in the firelight.

He was seducing her, of that there was no doubt. But he was doing so without even touching her.

That was when she felt the first caress, lighter than the sheer curtains billowing between them. It was just a gentle warmth breathing down her arm, then low on her thigh, moving like the wind, closer between her legs.

Their eyes met in the silence, and he smiled, an open admission of his intent. Her hand flew to her throat, as she felt the gentle stroking move inward, right between her thighs…traveling upward as the heat gained momentum. Her chest began to rise and fall heavily, as the room spun in an unsteady rhythm. She caught herself on the bedpost, her wrist becoming entangled in the soft curtain.

Marco brushed a lock of hair away from his forehead, and she noticed how raggedly he’d begun breathing. She had no clue how to answer this, how he was causing his energy to touch her so erotically. She ached to love him in kind, almost as much as she wanted how he was touching her, but she didn’t know how.

“Show me,” she rasped helplessly. “I want to know how.”

He shook his head in disagreement, and the heat crept upward on her body, pooling in her abdomen, sweeping insistently over her breasts.

And then his energy hovered, slowly stroking her breasts beneath the fabric of her velvet dress. She cried out then, unable to stop the soft sound from escaping her lips.

“Why won’t you…just…let me do this…for you?” She moaned, feeling his heady energy build, grow more forceful as the caresses became much more than a whisper. She clasped the bedpost within her hands, determined to steady herself.

“Because I’m making love to you right now,” he admitted quietly. “Not as you would have imagined, but that’s what I’m doing, sweetheart.”

She felt hot tears sting her eyes in instant reply. He stepped just a small bit closer, and mirroring her stance on the other side of the bed, he clasped the bedpost. She could only feel the tears streak her face, as she gazed at him. “I wanted your first time to be like this…not our human side, but our alien one,” he dropped his gaze downward, suddenly so vulnerable. “I wanted to be the one to make love to you…just like this. Is that okay?”

“Oh,” she murmured softly, working to breathe. “Yes, yes…okay.”

He laughed, his deep, rumbling sound that always aroused her so powerfully, and indicated the bed with his hand, by way of explanation. “And then…of course.”

“Yes, of course,” she nodded, feeling a long lock of hair dislodge from the pins. “The rest…of course.”

He closed his eyes and she felt his alien energy intensify, ached with the sensation of him all around her. His scent began to encompass her, more intoxicating than the champagne had ever been…and his energy moved between her legs again, penetrating her in some ethereal manner.

She threw her head back, gripping the bedpost desperately as Marco McKinley moved all within her. He was like a desert thunderstorm, sudden and powerful, awe-inspiring. Painfully lovely.

“Touch me,” she begged in a raw voice, searching his eyes out with her own. “Please come here.”

Marco’s eyes snapped open and Tess suddenly felt something shift between them, sensed her own energy open, and then she was caressing his broad, muscled shoulders. She was whispering radiant kisses on his chest, his nipples…moving ever lower.

“Touch me,” she cried again, and Marco was across the room before she could utter another syllable. He pulled her into his arms, cupping her face within his large palms. She felt her hair cascade wildly down her back, as the pins fell to the floor. Their lips met, hungry and desperate as she sensed his soul move right up against hers, a surprisingly gentle sensation, despite the intensity of his energy.

He pulled her close to the bed, and a subtle movement began inside of them, as softly their souls brushed back and forth, just caressing and loving.

There was an explosion of color as Tess fall backwards onto the bed, gorgeous magentas and azures, an otherworldly display of energy and light.

“So…beautiful,” she whispered against his cheek. “Marco, you’re more beautiful than I ever imagined.”

He buried his dark head against her neck, slipping the straps of her dress down her arms. “Tess, I…I…need more of you, sweetheart. You’re gorgeous and amazing…but this isn’t enough.” His voice was nearly unrecognizable in her ear.

They were mating. She suddenly understood what had remained unspoken. The energy, the movement of their souls together. Even though Nasedo had taught her about the alien joining of souls, somehow she’d never known what it would be. How profound and lovely.

“I want to make love to you…with my human side, too,” he admitted, kissing her throat slowly. His mouth branded her, left her burning, as his seal had--though with need, not pain.

“Yes,” she managed to murmur in his ear. “Yes, I’m…so ready for you.”

***
Tess lay beneath him, like a lovely Greek sculpture, pure porcelain and womanly form. All that remained between them was the thin silken material of her bra and panties. Otherwise she would be his, utterly and completely. His mate, his love. He would take her with his body, and wed her with his soul before they were done.

Her soul was already softly touching his, and his entire body hummed with her energy, but he’d resisted the aching urge to complete the mating. He wanted to wait until he was inside of her physically, making love to her body, so that their human and alien sides would blend perfectly at the precise moment they joined for life.

But despite his resistance, his desire hadn’t abated, not with how close they were to mating and certainly not now, as she gazed up at him in surprising shyness from where she lay waiting on the bed.

Her flaxen tresses spilled across the pillow, inviting him closer. He never took his eyes off of her, never even looked away, as he unfastened his belt, stepping quickly out of his pants so that he wore only his undershirt and boxers.

Tess’s gaze swept low on his body in undisguised appreciation. She’d never seen him this unclothed, not like he’d glimpsed her in their dreams. Certainly he’d held her near in his arms, like that first night when their bare legs has pressed so close together. And he had a hazy dream memory of her palms slipping beneath his t-shirt one night toward the end of their separation.

But she’d never studied his nearly naked body like now. His pulse quickened at the way she watched him, at how her blue eyes widened in arousal, as her fingers closed tightly around the edge of the sheet.

He tugged the t-shirt over his head, so that all he wore only his soft cotton boxers, a deep crimson in color, which he’d chosen for how they would accentuate his dusky coloring. He’d always sensed that she loved his rich skin and black hair, he’d felt her reaction on countless occasions—but never more acutely than in the past week. So, he’d chosen his boxers accordingly, wanting to arouse her, yearning to tantalize her body as much as she always did his.

As he climbed beneath the sheet, she reached a tentative hand to his chest, slowly stroking the bare skin beneath her fingertips. Her cheeks were rosy, touched by the alien lovemaking they’d already shared. “Hi,” he smiled, settling beside her in the bed.

“Hi, yourself,” she sighed happily, drawing his lips to her own. As their tongues began to twine together, he still tasted the sweet champagne from earlier. But it didn’t prove nearly so heady as the mere scent of her, her familiar fragrance of wildflowers, touched by the softest sunlight.

Her small hands roamed across his chest, stroking his nipples to pointed arousal. He answered by dipping his fingers within her bra, pressing the material downward as he reached within. “Ah,” she cried softly, arching backward into the pillow. He dropped his head low, drawing a nipple between his lips and circled it slowly with his tongue, laving it until she moaned low within her throat.

God, he was drunk with her. Forget champagne, he thought giddily. Give me Tess Harding any day.

Anytime, sweetheart
, she giggled breathlessly. Right inside his own mind.

His lips stilled against her breast, as he felt her energy lurch sharply. Their connection. How could he not have thought it, yet he’d been so intent on just feeling their energy mingle, sensing her inside of himself, that he’d forgotten their bond might be this profound—even though many Antarians never knew the type of joining where words would pass.

I’m all inside you, Tess said quietly. I mean, this is how…it works?

Yes, he agreed, drawing her nipple within his mouth again. Just like this, love.

Ohhh…she cooed, threading her fingers through his hair. But we’re not joined yet? He sucked a bit harder, slipping his palm beneath her back. Ahh, she cried softly. Or…are we? I’m confused…about the bonding.

Marco laughed gently, lifting his head, and he gently combed his fingers through her hair. “We’re connected, but not fully bonded. Our souls haven’t actually…mated…yet.” He felt his face flush. Why should he be embarrassed? He lay atop her, all but naked—and yet, the mention of their final bonding caused him to blush like a schoolboy.

“Because it’s far more intimate than this,” she whispered softly, answering his unvoiced question. “More than the physical can ever be.”

“Yes,” he admitted, leaning low to kiss her collarbone. Her hand rested against his cheek a moment, tenderly stroking, as her fingers wound their way into his curly hair again. Nothing will separate us then, sweet Tess.

“Make love to me,” she suddenly said, her voice soft in his ear. “Please Marco, let’s not wait…I’m ready.”

He raised his head and found her water-blue eyes shining expectantly, as she lay just beneath him. “I’m ready,” she repeated again in a whisper.

He shifted on top of her, wanted to be sure she felt how hard he’d become—feared startling her with that reality once they completely undressed. She smiled, leaning back into the pillow as he pressed his groin against her. His arousal slipped out of his boxers, and pressed hard between her legs. Only her panties separated her velvet touch from his own.

She drew in a sharp breath at the intimacy, clasping his hips between her hands. Her lips parted, and she ran her tongue across them, panting softly. “Please,” she all but begged, and he shimmied right out of his boxers as she unclasped her bra.

He tugged on her panties, needing that last barrier removed, and she kicked them easily off as they settled against one another again.

Tess felt his pounding heart, beating desperately against her chest. His whole body was so very warm, like a giant heater, just soft and delightful to touch. She felt the rippled muscles along his backside, couldn’t refrain from touching his narrow hips, loving the feel of them beneath her fingers.

But it was his flat abdomen, tautly muscled and graceful that she knew would be her undoing for all of their days. Quite simply, his body was a subtle work of art, smooth and lined in muscle. Nothing about him overpowered her, despite his size.

She felt his erection press insistently between her legs, slippery against her wet opening. He’d aroused her so thoroughly, she knew it would be an easy penetration—though her heart quickened in anticipation of the sharp pain that would follow.

He hesitated a moment, stroking her hair thoughtfully. “I don’t want you to hurt. Not again tonight,” he whispered. “Let me do something.”

“Like what?” she asked, feeling curious, even though she knew the pain was necessary.

“Use my Empathy to take it on myself instead.”

“No,” she disagreed, shaking her head briskly. “Not at all. Why should you hurt?”

“Because I can. Because I can love you enough to keep you from hurting in that one moment.”

“Sweetheart, I love you enough that I want to feel it all, to know that first moment when you come inside me.”

He bowed his head, leaning it against her shoulder for a moment, then nodded silently. “I love you so much, Tess…God, you must know that.”

“And I love you,” she affirmed softly. “But there really are no words for how I feel.”

“No,” he agreed, swallowing hard. He panicked a moment, needed to be sure she knew one more thing. “Tess, you do know…I’m…surely you know…” he could only stammer and felt his face flush painfully.

“That you’re a virgin?” She asked softly, and he nodded mutely, closing his eyes. It was such an awkward admission, yet he wanted her to know that this was all new to him, too.

She touched his cheek with her fingertips, just stroking his face lovingly. “Marco, I kinda figured that out a long time ago.” She wasn’t teasing him, or laughing, just wanting him to feel safe and his heart settled instantly in response.

“Yeah, I guess it was rather apparent,” he admitted.

“No, not necessarily,” she smiled. “It’s just…I mean, we’re aliens, Marco. We’re prone to giving flashes and unleashing bursts of energy. Who would we have made love to before now? Either of us?”

“You make a good point,” he agreed with a smile, feeling all his nervousness dissipate.

“I’m ready,” she assured him softly. “Very, very ready, sweetheart.”

He nodded, closing his eyes. He pressed his hips against hers, his tight groin desperate for release…and thrust within her in one swift motion. Ayanna! He cried out instinctively and somewhere in his mind he heard her soft murmuring of Marek!

He heard her muted cry of pain, felt it ricochet within his spirit, and then it ended as he stilled within her tight, warm walls. Nothing could have been more exquisite than the feel of his life mate, just all around him like the warmest silk--her energy, her body, her soul so very near his own.

And as he began to move inside of her, slowly at first, then more quickly he knew one thing.

Ayanna D’Ashani wasn’t just providing shelter from the storm anymore. He’d found a permanent home within her arms--one that would last forever more. After multiple lifetimes of wandering, aching for his soul mate, he’d come home at long last. But he needed more. He had to have all of her.

“You need to mate,” she offered quietly, knowing his mind. “For our souls to join.”

He nodded with a wordless gasp, then finally managed to speak. “I…this is beautiful, but I want…all of you.”

“Me, too,” Tess agreed, tears burning within her eyes. “ I have to mate with you…now.” She’d begun trembling softly within his arms, as he rocked deeply inside her. He was so large, his frame dwarfing her own smaller one beneath his powerfully—and somehow that only electrified her all the more. His kisses were surprisingly tender and innocent, always had been. His lovemaking was hardly any different, yet it left her awash in more need for him than she could fathom. He was utterly open to her—and so perfectly beautiful.

“What do… we do?” Tess whispered in his ear, rocking her small hips upward against his, meeting his gentle thrusting.

“We do this,” he smiled, kissing her fully on the lips for a moment. He stilled inside of her, so there was nothing but the sound of their quiet gasps, the pounding of their hearts. Suddenly, his energy roiled powerfully through her, intense and exotic as it moved like a tidal wave.

The explosion of color and feeling within her chest expanded and she had to close her eyes. She sensed his soul shudder softly against hers, felt the unimaginable depths of him--and knew that she had become equally known.

Heat gave way to light, yielded to unspeakable sensation.

And then, like an ancient river feeds into another, their souls became one.

***
The morning was filled with light and muted sound as they sat together on the top step of the cabin porch. A light snow had fallen overnight, covering the earth, but was already melting in the sunlight.

Marco could hardly keep his hands off of Tess, even knowing that Riley would arrive any moment. But at least they’d hear the Suburban approaching up the driveway as a pre-emptive warning.

He kept nuzzling her neck with his mouth, kept nipping at her ear. If he’d learned nothing else about his life mate in the past three days, it was that he would never be able to get enough of touching her. So he didn’t bother fighting the need anymore.

“I love that you brought me back here…to this cabin,” Tess reflected quietly, kissing him on the jaw. Her small hands roamed all over his chest, his shoulders. Maybe they could go back inside for one last venture in bed before Riley arrived, Marco thought, slipping his fingers beneath her jacket. Simply sitting together on the porch was too difficult, especially knowing they’d be returning to the group, where they’d have to exercise much more restraint.

“Umm,” he sighed, cupping her face within his hands. “I…loved being here.”

“Why here though?” she asked. “I mean, this cabin in particular.”

He pulled back and gazed into her eyes a moment. Her thick hair had been drawn into a ponytail, so that her clear blue eyes shone beautifully in the morning sun.
“Because this is where I fell in love with you. That very first night.”

She opened her mouth a moment, then snapped it shut without speaking. “You knew that soon?” She finally asked, running her hand down the length of her ponytail absently.

“I knew…” He gazed down at his hands and thought a moment. Had he really known then? It was hard now to recall a time when he hadn’t loved her. “Maybe I knew that I would love you even sooner…that morning in your dorm,” he admitted, staring into the distance. “And I think the night that I kissed you on the trail…when I was on patrol, was when I truly fell in love with you.”

“Oh,” she sighed, and he turned to her. Her eyes watered a bit, though he wasn’t sure if it was from the biting wind, or deep emotion.

He cocked his head to the side, studying her. “What about you? When did you…fall for me?”

“Truthfully?” She asked, wrinkling her nose thoughtfully.

“Yes.” Had it been much later? He couldn’t account for her odd hesitation.

“The night at Max and Liz’s apartment when I first met you. When you took my hand,” she hesitated, staring thoughtfully into the distance. “And…I don’t know, it was like you turned me completely to mush.” She giggled, cutting her eyes sideways at him. “I dreamed about you all that night, and then suddenly, there you were at my door the next morning.”

“You know why I came don’t you?” He asked gently.

She shook her head. “Just to discuss the evacuation plan, I guess.”

He laughed, clasping her hand close against his thigh. “No, love, I came because I was drawn there. I woke that morning and it was the only thing I could do…I hardly had a choice.”

He kissed her hand softly, rubbing it against his cheek. Tess felt his soft stubble scratch her skin and instantly stirred with desire. “I never had a choice with you, McKinley.”

She eased much closer to his side, drawing his mouth down for a hungry kiss. “My need for you has been instinctive…from that first night.”

He clasped her hips, pulling her onto his lap, as the kiss deepened lovingly. He tugged on her ponytail, sending her hair scattering across her shoulders like precious jewels.

“That morning, in your room, this is how you looked,” he murmured against her cheek. “Like some golden little banshee.”

“And you were like my dark sultan prince,” she giggled.

He began laughing irrepressibly at her description, drawing her flush against the rising bulge in the front of his jeans.

“Your hair was tousled like this,” he continued, threading his fingers roughly through her hair, as she straddled him. “And I thought maybe it would look just that way, if we did this.” He slipped a hand between her legs, rubbing slowly, deliciously.

God, they were right out in the open, on the porch. But she hardly cared, as he began fumbling with the button on her jeans. “This?” She questioned with feigned innocence, splaying her palms on his chest.

“Making love, golden banshee,” he clarified with a seductive grin. He tugged her zipper low with one quick movement, and Tess felt the frigid mountain air chill her abdomen. Then, his deft fingers slipped beneath the band on her panties, delving ever lower.

She rocked backwards, granting him easier access and their eyes met for a long moment. “You’re even more beautiful now than three days ago,” he confessed.

His words sent a little thrill down her back, and she leaned close, kissing him slowly. Flame began tugging low in her abdomen, radiating outward like wild electricity and she couldn’t suppress a quiet moan—especially not when his roving fingers slipped within her warm center. Tess opened his pants, reaching low inside, and was answered by his murmured cries of passion.

They were utterly lost within one another, aware of nothing else, so when the Suburban rumbled loudly just behind them, Tess nearly fell backwards down the steps-- she jumped off his lap that quickly.

Marco leapt to catch her, his own unbuttoned pants hanging wildly open as Riley pulled the vehicle right up to where they sat. Tess whirled away from him, frantically working at her zipper, but it wouldn’t budge. Finally, in desperation, she waved her hand over her confounding jeans, fixing them instantly.

“Three days and Tess hasn’t made it past your lap?” Tess heard Riley snort from the driver seat. She turned back toward him, her composure at least mildly regained and he flashed a winning smile at her. His window was down and he leaned out, shaking his head wryly. “Maybe I should give it another three days and you’ll have progressed to the bedroom?”

“Good to see you, too, Rile.”

“Hell, man, you don’t see me at all. You’re blinded by love.”

Marco turned back toward Tess, grinning devilishly. “Twenty minutes?” He asked in a stage whisper, one blatantly intended for Riley to hear. Tess nodded knowingly, and then they clasped hands, with hardly a look back at Riley.

“See you in twenty, Riley.” Marco called over his shoulder, shoving open the cabin door, and scooping Tess up into his arms to carry her across the threshold.

“So much for discipline, soldier,” Riley called after them, laughing heartily.

“He’s a tower of strength,” Tess cried over his shoulder, as he swept her over the threshold.

“So I can see.”

The only thing better than feeling Tess clinging to his neck, might have been glimpsing Riley’s expression as he carted her off to the bedroom for one last tumble. But then again, nothing could compete with the feel of his life mate in his arms. Now that he’d had a taste of Tess Harding, there’d never be a going back.

And as Tess nuzzled her face close against his neck, and he kicked the cabin door shut with his hiking boot, he knew there’d be no going back for either of them.

They’d parted a veil together, and gone to the other side.

And now Riley would just have to damn well wait for them both, he laughed. And they’d probably have to get used to being discovered in one another’s arms, at the most inconvenient of times.

But it was an easy price to pay for so much love.


EPILOGUE


“So was it everything you expected?” Liz asked, pulling her thick jacket around her shoulders. Tess had invited her on an early morning hike, leading her far up into the mountainous hills, much further than Liz had ever imagined they could go. Now, they sat on an incredible rock formation, which jutted far out into the whipping wind.

“Told you it would be cold,” Tess said, wrapping her scarf more tightly around her neck.

“No, it feels great!” Liz half-shouted into the brisk wind, squinting as she studied the snowy terrain all around them. “This is just so amazing…so filled with the power of nature.”

“Marco brought me here,” Tess explained. “The morning of our sealing. I wanted to share it with you, too.”

Tess dangled her hiking boots over the edge of the smooth rock. “So you didn’t answer my question,” Liz said, glancing sideways to see Tess’s reaction.

“Pretty much intentionally,” Tess coughed awkwardly.

“Oh, that’s no fun,” Liz pouted, rolling her eyes.

“Well, my little cabin hideaway certainly was,” Tess retorted, her voice conspiratorial.

“Yeah?” Liz asked, leaning close.

“Oh, my,” Tess sighed softly, fanning her face. “Why didn’t you warn me, Liz? God, you could have totally warned me what it would be like.”

Liz began laughing, linking her arm through Tess’s. “How? Excuse me, but how?”

“I asked you ages ago if alien sex was as good as I hoped it would be.”

“And I said?”

“Oh, some dreamy thing…that it was amazing, or whatever,” Tess recalled. “I was just so irked at the time because I didn’t’ think I’d ever fall in love.”

“But you did,” Liz reminded her with a smile.

Now Tess grew quiet and thoughtful, hugging her arms tightly around herself. “Yes, I did. And thanks to you, I think I believed that I could, Liz.”

“What do you mean?” Liz asked.

“Just that your love with Max made me dream. Made me think that maybe there was someone who would love me like he has always loved you.”

“I think it’s fairly safe to say that you found that person.”

Tess sighed softly, toying with her ponytail. “Oh, did I ever,” she said. Then she turned to Liz, raising her eyebrow. “But you could have still warned me that the alien sex might literally be the end of me!”

“You’re here now, aren’t you?”

“Thanks to Marco, not my queen,” Tess quipped playfully.

Liz shivered at her words, at the new emphasis she knew would always be between them. Still sisters, still friends…but now a shift in allegiance and power. Protector and protected.

Tess sensed her apprehension, and touched her arm softly. “Liz, you’ve got to get comfortable with it now…and not just with me.”

Liz nodded, glancing at her hands. “It’s just…strange.”

“But it’s always been who you are. And now more than ever…with Khivar gone…” Tess’s voice faded into the wind.

“Max will take the throne again,” Liz finished.

“It’s only a matter of time until the council makes contact,” Tess said. “Marco says if not, Serena will use the granolith and return to Antar.”

“That’s what Max wants, I know.”

“And then Queen Liz will become Queen Elizabeth?”

Liz wrinkled her nose. “I’m just not an Elizabeth, especially not Queen Elizabeth, thank you very much.”

“Well, we can always go for Queen Lizzie. How’s that?”

“Better. Much better.”

“Wouldn’t look as good on a stamp, though,” Tess admitted and they giggled for a moment before falling silent.

They sat close together on the rock for a while, as birds came near, floating high on the wind. Liz knew what she wanted to share, the thing she’d told no one else yet, but somehow she felt oddly shy.

“What is it?” Tess surprised her by asking, without waiting for her to broach the subject.

“How did you…”

“Empath, remember?” Tess answered with a wry lift of her blonde eyebrow. “So tell me what is it, Liz.”

Liz realized that her hand had unconsciously moved to her stomach, just resting there protectively. “We’re…well, Max and I… are expecting a baby. A boy.”

Tess’s small hand instantly flew to Liz’s stomach, covering her own where it rested. “Oh, Liz!” She cried joyously. “I’m so happy…it’s the best thing you could have ever told me.” Liz bowed her head, feeling oddly embarrassed as their hands rested together on her stomach.

“I sense him,” Tess whispered. “Oh, he’s so dear…and so, so small!”

“Only about ten days old really.”

“But powerful already,” Tess assessed, her eyebrows drawing together. “Do you feel it? All that energy and power?”

Liz shook her head, a bit perplexed by what Tess meant. “Well, he’s got a huge destiny awaiting him,” Tess continued excitedly. “How else could such a tiny little person already carry so much energy?”

Liz nodded in semi-understanding, though she felt a bit as if Tess were speaking a foreign language. Then a thought occurred to her. “Well, you know what they say about destiny, don’t you, Tess?”

“Not sure that I do,” Tess answered somewhat dubiously, drawing back ever so slightly.

“We make our own. Someone that I love very much told me that once,” Liz smiled, thinking of the battle-weary man who had visited her from a long ago future. She’d never stopped loving that man, not in all the years since…oddly, it truly was separate from loving her Max.

We make our own destiny, she heard his weathered voice whisper in her mind.

Everything had changed as a result of that one statement, of their belief that they could forge their own future.

“Well, you and I sure did,” Tess agreed happily. “And I’m so glad about that, Liz. So unbelievably glad.”

And Liz knew that the future spread out ahead of them once again, an open universe, ready to discover. Not through time travel, or strangely twisted prophesies, but simply by creating that future together.

In that way, they would always make their own destinies.









[ edited 6 time(s), last at 31-Dec-2001 1:44:42 PM ]
posted on 31-Dec-2001 2:12:18 AM by RosDeidre
Technical difficulties posting, so be sure to see the edited in author's note. Also, I posted two notes earlier today about the upcoming sequel--Kath,you'll be interested I think!! LOL!
posted on 31-Dec-2001 11:56:38 AM by RosDeidre
Do you know the coolest thing about writing? At least one of them? When you get an idea--like wrapping it up with Liz and Tess, something that surprises you--and then wonderful readers like you guys RESPOND to it so strongly!! THANK YOU!

Just wanted to tell everybody Happy New Year. I'm out of here in a bit. We're going to the No. Georgia mountains to spend the night in my soulmate's family cabin. Here's hoping we don't get snowed in! (I love snow, but...extended family?? Love them too, but snow???)
Lots of hugs and HAPPY NEW YEAR!
posted on 1-Jan-2002 7:49:55 PM by RosDeidre
I just have to share that I’m practically sitting here in tears. Maybe it’s pregnancy hormones. Maybe I’m tired. But I think really I’m just so humbled and moved by your unbelievable praises for this story and for me as a writer.

I wish I had some fabulously profound thing to say, some swashbuckling witticism. But I think I’m just going to leave it by saying you’ve really touched me with all the very sweet compliments. Thanks from the bottom of my heart.

As many of you know, it’s been a very difficult few months for me. Some four months ago I learned I was carrying triplets, and about seven weeks ago, lost two of those babies. I’ve continued in a difficult pregnancy ever since, often dealing with bouts of grief. One of the things that has truly given me hope and inspired me during that time has been all of YOU, and the way you’ve loved this story. Again, thank you.

I hope all of you have a terrific New Year and I can’t wait to begin sharing both of the new stories with you, as well as more CRAZY!

Quick answer for Kath’s question re: “Has it REALLY been a year?” It’s actually been a year since I started HTDC (I began it first week of December 2000), and I found this board in February of 2001. So it’s not really been a year since it’s been posted on Jenn’s site. Btw, does your sister post here? Also, I’ll be looking for that email. Wink! Also, you’re dead on about the theme being “We make our own destiny.” I almost posted that on the writer’s thread the other day when you raised the issue of theme, but decided I’d wait to post the epilogue!!

It’s also so damn cool the way everyone loved the end with Tess/Liz. I thought that really brought a great symmetry to the two story journey—and in particular, I knew ANGELA would love Liz’s mention of having always loved Future Max and in her own special way.

Btw, did I already mention this—did you guys catch Serena’ slipping her rings from around her neck? That was meant to mirror FMax doing the same with Fliz’s ring. I can’t remember if I mentioned that or not.

It seems there was something else I wanted to bring up, but I’ll look back and see!
Many, many hugs…
d


[ edited 1 time(s), last at 1-Jan-2002 7:52:25 PM ]
posted on 2-Jan-2002 9:01:38 AM by RosDeidre
One more note! LOL! If you guys know anything about me, it's that I have one more thing to say. Just wanted to tell you that I've posted the first part of my new fic, ANTARIAN SKY. This is not the sequel, which I'll be beginning in the next week or two. So, have a look at the new one! *happy*

For you in the South, like me, enjoy the snow!