posted on 18-May-2002 1:13:11 PM by RosDeidre
Author’s Note:
I’m sure you guys thought I’d never write this one. And while the writing IS going slowly because of new mommyhood, I’m finally finding a familiar pattern again. I’m also working on ANTARIAN NIGHTS and hope to post another chapter before very long. Thanks for your patience and support!


BACK TO SAVE THE UNIVERSE

Disclaimer: The characters of Roswell are the property of Twentieth Century Fox Television and Regency Productions. All original characters and concepts are the property of the author. No profit has been made from the distribution of this work of fiction.

Rating: NC-17

Category: Max and Liz/Tess and Marco
SUMMARY: BACK TO SAVE THE UNIVERSE is the third story in the HOW TO DISAPPEAR COMPLETELY and GRAVITY ALWAYS WINS trilogy. This final installment follows the gang to Antar, now that Khivar has been defeated. Relationships will be tested, and new allegiances formed—and nothing will ever be the same again.



PROLOGUE, ANTAR 2009

How had it come to this?
Marco wondered, as he searched the dimly lit ballroom for Tess. Though he would certainly never approach her, not on a night like this one. Not when she was so visible and exposed, just as their strongly defined class differences were.

But that hardly mattered, because he would never approach her anyway, not after everything that had happened in the past year. No, this was the way with them now; he was merely a protector watching over the royal house to which she belonged, and there was no history, no love, no bond between the two of them at all.

Except his heart didn’t seem to recognize those crucial facts. He couldn’t seem to forget that secretly she bore his seal, which meant that even with the chasm that separated them now, there was always that flickering connection between them. That she would always be marked by the love they’d once shared.

His gaze swept the large room, until finally he saw a flash of golden blonde beneath the glittering candlelight, and he drew in a sharp breath at the sight of her. This kind of glimpse was a stolen pleasure, a delicacy, because he could never look so freely upon her in their ordinary life. He found himself near her a hundred different times a week, but he always averted his eyes. Because if he looked, if their gazes locked even for a moment, he knew his heart would betray him. She’d know simply by looking into his eyes that he still loved her.

No, this was as it was meant to be, protector and protected. Nothing more. But if that were truly the case, then why did it nearly kill him to stand as he did now, watching her dance with a stranger?

He was powerless, completely powerless, and he could only ache for her, feeling her essence beckon him as surely as it always had-- a clear voice calling to him over the emotional din of so many others. But if life without Tess had taught him one thing, it was that he’d recognize the feel of her anywhere, even without their bond.

She laughed as she danced, staring flirtatiously up into the eyes of a tall hybrid dignitary; a striking man, not unlike Marco in his dark appearance. Instantly, he felt something ancient and possessive stir in the center of his being, but he beat it back before it could arise fully within him.

How had it come to this? He reflected again, running an anxious hand over his short-cropped hair. At least Tess’s hair had grown again. Not long, but certainly not as short as it had been in the past year. It fell to her shoulders, golden and lovely. Touchable. God, if only he could gather it within his hands again, feel it beneath his fingertips as they made love until dawn. If only the two of them weren’t merely strangers now.

Tess. His love, his mate, his very life.

And she was as lost to him as the bond that once wove between them, like a perfect gossamer thread.

Marco sighed, glancing quickly around the ballroom, in any direction but where Tess danced, because he was on duty and couldn’t afford such a distraction. Especially not with the dark sense he’d felt about the evening. It had been unshakeable all day long, as definite as the rolling surf just outside the ballroom’s large open windows.

Danger. Decisions. Moment of action. If only he understood precisely how it would all impact Max and Liz, if only he could tell Serena and the others. But he was to tell no one-- that much was undeniably clear.

He took slight comfort in the fact that his king and queen weren’t in attendance, and besides, he was hardly alone in watching over the event. Across the room, he saw Riley and Anna, their heads bowed in quiet conversation. Their expressions were intense, and for a moment, Marco felt a flash of worry shadow his spirit. But he dismissed it when he caught sight of Tess again, and for the briefest moment her gaze met his own.

And for just this once, under the cover of candlelight and shadow, he risked not looking away.

Her expression was indifferent, her eyes unreadable and hooded, as she simply stared at him from across the room. He felt his face burn beneath her gaze, wondering if she sensed the depth of his emotion, if she somehow knew how his heart raced at this slightest connection with her. He couldn’t even break the moment when she brushed her short blonde curls away from her cheek, a silent reminder of what he’d once done to her.

Without intending to, he took a slight step closer, and she reacted visibly, her blue eyes widening a bit. And they stood frozen like that for an eternal moment, until she finally turned away, and he sensed shimmering coldness pass between them.

But of course he did, because he was her enemy now. I hate you, she’d cried on that horrible night of his betrayal, tears streaming down her face. I hate you for killing us this way! And then she’d screamed at him to leave their suite, had been so hysterical he’d sent Serena in to make sure she didn’t harm herself.

But tonight she looked happy again, peaceful in her demeanor, as if none of those fateful events had even passed between them a year before. In fact, she’d never looked more beautiful to him, dressed in a silken blue gown that revealed her shoulders and back perfectly.

Marco’s chest tightened when he realized that her dress reminded him of their sealing ceremony, the very night of their bonding two years earlier. It was such a distant memory now, it might never have even happened—yet it had. She’d changed him forever, even with as badly as it had all ended.

Tess. The one that he breathed and drank and ached for.

“What’s going on?” Riley asked, suddenly appearing where Marco had positioned himself against the wall of the ballroom.

Easy question, complex answers, Marco thought, closing his eyes against the hundreds of dignitaries that surrounded them.

“What do you mean?” Marco asked instead.

“I mean tonight,” Riley countered, his voice rising a bit. Marco glanced sideways at his brother, surprised to see his blonde eyebrows knit in deep consternation.

But Marco did know what he meant, because he felt the same apprehension. Yet he replied, “Everything’s fine.”

“Fine, my ass,” Riley answered irritably, gazing at Marco. “Anna and I both feel it.”

“It?”

“Marco, come on,” he said. “Tell me.” An urgency encompassed Riley’s words, and it was clear he understood the stakes. And it was even more apparent that he knew Marco had been hiding something from him.

But he couldn’t explain, not to Riley or Anna. Not to Serena, and certainly not to Tess. As if she would listen to anything he might say now.

“I don’t know,” Marco offered lamely, glancing at his combat boots.

But Riley cut him off, growling, “We sense danger.”

“Yes, well, it’s here,” Marco answered without censoring himself.

“Then, damn it, tell us what you feel,” Riley pressed, turning toward him. His brother’s soft brown eyes had widened, were urgent even. “If Max and Liz are in danger, you of all people should tell us,” Riley added.

“They’re away for the night,” Marco answered softly, his hand wandering almost unconsciously toward his holster.

“No kidding,” Riley said, his voice rising with frustration. “No fucking kidding. You’re their protector, Marco,” Riley continued, reminding him of what he already knew in the marrow of his being. “If something’s going down, you should tell us all.”

“What would I know?” Marco asked, and winced at the lie, because it was the weight of his secret that had caused him to remain silent in the first place.

“God, Marco, you of all people know these things. You know what’s surrounding them.”

Danger. Terrible danger.

“They’re not here,” Marco repeated softly, rubbing his eyes. The familiar headache was returning, sharp and instantly blinding—a response to the emotional intensity of such a large gathering.

“That doesn’t change things,” Riley answered tightly.

And it didn’t, that much Marco knew for certain, because no matter how intently he’d pressed into his intuition for the past days, he always came back to one answer—his moment of decision was at hand. Protect them at all costs, even risk betraying them if need be. And that wasn’t something his brother, or Serena or anyone else could prevent.

“It’s going to be okay,” Marco finally answered. “They’re not here, they’re completely safe, I’m certain of it.”

“Yet you feel the same danger that we sense?” Riley asked, his voice growing gentler.

“Yes. But it isn’t physical.” He’d leave it at that, because it was best for them all that way. Most especially the people he loved.

They fell silent, and Riley scanned the room, folding his arms across his chest as he watched the crowd. It was a familiar silence between them these days, awkward and palpable. Yet Marco sensed strong emotion roiling in his brother’s heart, something he yearned to express, even though Riley only stood beside him silently.

Riley blew out a heavy breath, and turned to face him. “Why have you shut us all out, Marco?” he finally asked, his voice uncommonly quiet. “I want to understand.”

“Rile, please,” Marco said, shifting his weight uncomfortably.

“You never would have done this before,” Riley continued, his words tumbling out in a rush. “Remained silent about your impressions when it meant danger to Max and Liz. You would have talked to me…the others.”

And there was no clear answer he could offer on that point, because the emotional territory was too dense, too involved to explain at such a moment.

“They’re fine, Riley. Like I said.”

Riley just stared at him a long moment, until finally he shook his head in seeming disbelief. “Like you said,” he repeated dully.

“Look, later…when we’re not guarding…when…” Marco stammered, wanting to reassure his brother. But before he could finish the sentence, Riley had already walked away from him without another word.

Their broken relationship was yet another casualty of the past year, and Marco felt his throat tighten at the sight of Riley’s slumped shoulders. Again, he sought Tess in the crowd, needed to feel her ground him, needed to feel his heart grow steady again within him. That one thing had never changed; Tess Harding was his peace, always had been from the moment he’d first met her. And if he couldn’t hold her, or love her, or even be her lifemate, at least in this one public place, he could gaze upon her freely…for just this one last time.

Because if his intuition about the evening was accurate, there would be no future for him within the palace walls after tonight. And if he had no future as protector, then he simply had no future at all.












[ edited 11time(s), last at 1-Feb-2003 1:30:33 PM ]
posted on 26-May-2002 3:27:06 AM by RosDeidre
Author's Note:
Thanks to Angela for helping me sort through this chapter--and the story as a whole. And thanks to Cookie for the brainstorming earlier in the year on this one. Hard to believe I finally got busy on it, isn't it, Anne??? Thanks, guys!

CHAPTER ONE

EARTH, LATE SUMMER 2007—EIGHTEEN MONTHS EARLIER


“It’s all about the eyes, you know,” Liz pronounced seriously, sliding atop the edge of Max’s desk. He’d been staring out their bedroom window for a good twenty minutes, lost in his thoughts while she lay on their bed reading a novel. The Secret History, to be exact, and while she’d entered that fictional world completely, something about the expression on Max’s face kept pulling her back to reality.

And the deafening silence had drawn her back, too, because he’d been typing furiously on his laptop all afternoon, and she’d grown accustomed to that staccato soundtrack in the background of her reading. But his typing had come to an abrupt stop earlier, his features darkening as he stared at some unseen place beyond the walls of the cabin. The laptop hummed on the desk before him, completely ignored, as he’d obviously traveled to distant reaches within his mind. It was a familiar sight to Liz these days, and she had her guesses as to what plagued her husband’s thoughts.

So, she leveled her gaze at him, until he focused in on her, his expression slightly dazed.

“What?” he finally asked, narrowing his brows in marked confusion.

Liz placed her hand on his shoulder, and drew her mouth within a mere inch of his own, whispering in the most mystical voice she could summon, “It’s all about the eyes.” She exhaled softly for a moment, allowing her words to meet their mark, then added, “Knowing the future.”

Max stared at her for a full ten seconds before finally reaching a hand to cup her cheek. “And what makes you think I want to know the future?”

“Because I know that look on your face,” she smiled softly. “You’re worried and you think you can force some kind of premonition or whatever. But, Max, it doesn’t work that way.”

“It’s about the eyes,” he offered quizzically.

“Absolutely,” she affirmed, tossing her hair over her shoulder for dramatic emphasis, as she stood again. “The eyes are the key to everything. Take yours for example. They tell me a lot about your future…and my own.”

“Like?”

Liz eased her arm around Max’s shoulder, and slipped onto his lap, causing him to groan with a soft exhalation of breath. “Oh, Liz,” he said, shifting his legs. “Baby, you’re…”

But she cut him off before he could finish. “Seven months pregnant,” she supplied with a throaty laugh. “But not too heavy for you.”

“No, never, sweetheart,” he agreed, slipping his arms around her waist, drawing her much closer. Liz brushed his bangs away from his forehead thoughtfully, then continued. “But like I said, take your eyes. They tell me a number of important things that I need to know about the future.”

“Such as?”

“Well, I see a man who will be king. I see a husband who will be a father. And I see a man who is frightened of both.”

He laughed, but there was a melancholy sound to it, as he closed his eyes, his hand wandering upward along her back. “And that’s my future? Not very encouraging.”

“Look into my eyes,” she urged softly, and Max turned his head sideways until their foreheads nearly touched. “Tell me what you see of your future here,” she whispered. “I mean really look.”

“Okay, Madame Vivian.”

“Don’t you dare mention that woman,” Liz scowled.

“Okay, Madame Liz,” he corrected warmly, stroking the length of her hair as he gazed at her.

“Queen Liz, thank you very much,” she teased. “Queen Zillia to those who really want to show proper respect.”

“You don’t think I’m showing respect?” Max laughed, his hands wandering around Liz’s sides, until his fingers lightly grazed her breast, more round and full than ever before. He stroked her nipple through the thin cotton of her bra, and she felt it grow firm beneath his easy touch.

“You’re not looking into my eyes,” she smiled, feeling her body already flush beneath his loving attention.

“Too much distracting me,” he said, his hand moving downward, onto her round abdomen.

“Not lately,” she said quietly.

He pulled back, dismay evident in his gaze. “Liz, it’s not that…”

“I know,” she interrupted, covering his hand on her stomach. “Just look now. My eyes.”

“Gorgeous,” he answered, his voice suddenly throaty and deep. “As always. The mirror of my own soul,” he said, then looked up at her, questioning. She splayed a palm against his chest, and she felt his heartbeat quicken beneath. God, it had been too long without such intimacy.

“Max, really look,” she murmured, leaning in close to kiss him on the mouth. Instantly, he captured her lips in a warm kiss, cupping her face within his palms. “Deeper.”

“Don’t know…what you,” he paused, as she shifted on his lap, her full abdomen pressing against him. “Mean,” he finally added.

“You haven’t touched me in months.”

He pulled back, staring at her aghast. “What?”

“Like this,” she answered, her voice thick, filled with the desire she immediately felt. “Just like this.”

“You’re pregnant.”

“So what?”

He hesitated for a moment, and Liz nearly felt sorry for him, as she watched him swallow hard. His gaze darted around the room, until finally he just repeated quietly. “You’re pregnant.”

Really, Max?” She said facetiously.

“I…I didn’t want to…to…”

“Turn me on?”

“Hurt you,” he answered simply. “Didn’t want to hurt you. Or the baby.”

“Haven’t you read this thing?” Liz asked, reaching onto his desk for an open copy of What to Expect When You’re Expecting. “I mean, you have had your nose buried in it nearly nonstop.”

He reached for the book and closed it pointedly, then pronounced, “High risk pregnancies shouldn’t involve lovemaking. That’s what it says.”

“Since when was this pregnancy upgraded to high risk?”

“We’re hybrids,” he began softly. “We don’t know what that means for you or the baby.”

“So you took it upon yourself to just, what? Not touch me?”

“I’ve touched you,” he answered, his voice so quiet she almost missed his answer. He ran an anxious hand through his hair, and he seemed lost, more vulnerable about the pregnancy than she’d ever realized.

“Of course,” she agreed. “Just not,” she reached for his hand and pressed it against her breast. “In the ways I’m accustomed to.”

“It’s not that I don’t want you,” he whispered, staring up into her eyes again. Something wild flared in his gaze, something unexpected.

Liz looped her arms around his neck, pulling him closer for a slow, seductive kiss. Instantly, she felt him grow aroused beneath her, his jeans tightening with an undisguised bulge.

“I’d thought maybe,” she hesitated, as he trailed kisses across her cheek, his lips burning her skin with every feather-light brush. “Well, maybe that I wasn’t sexy…like this,” she said, swallowing hard.

“You have to be kidding,” he groaned, slipping his hands beneath her t-shirt, so that she felt his heated palms connect with the bare skin of lower back. She felt a surge of alien energy pulse through her body, the kind of contact she’d missed with Max in the past months, and her eyes watered instantly at the intensity of it.

For a moment, they drew apart and simply stared into one another’s eyes, feeling the heat and power between them swell, even as Liz sensed Max’s desire crescendo crazily. It reminded her of their mating season, the way something purely alien seemed to have been unleashed, and while a part of her mind wondered what this was precisely, she didn’t think to question it.

Her heartbeat quickened, as Max slowly tugged on the front of her leggings, pulling them lower over her full abdomen. Again, something strangely instinctive and wild unfurled within her center, and she gasped at the feel of his palm grazing her bare skin.

“Ah,” she cried out, burying her face against his neck, and she felt his body shake with light tremors in response.

“Hormones,” he murmured, continuing to draw her leggings easily down over her hips. “Alien hormones.”

Liz pulled at his t-shirt, bunching it within her hands as she tugged it upward, over his head, until he was bare-chested against her. She ran her fingertips greedily over his velvet warm skin, as their lips met again.

“Did you read that in What to Expect?” she asked, her voice thick with emotion.

“Serena told me.”

“Oh, really?” she asked, leaning back to study him. She had to giggle when she saw how flushed his face had become, and she suspected he felt a little shy about their discussion somehow. Or maybe it was just the incredible desire growing between them so very quickly. “What else did Serena tell you?”

“Just not to be,” he drew in a sharp breath as Liz slipped her hand between his legs and began to rub gently. “Not to be…surprised by the intensity.” He pressed his eyes tightly shut, as she slipped her other hand beneath the waistband of his jeans. “Of the hormones, that is.”

“Was she the one who told you to avoid making love?”

Max shook his head emphatically, and Liz eased the button of his jeans open. “No, no, that was my own idea,” he gasped helplessly.

“Stupid idea,” Liz laughed, as slowly she began lowering the zipper of his pants. “Very stupid, dear husband.”

He stilled her hand against his groin, covering it with his own in order to halt her caresses. When he pulled back from her showering kisses to stare into her eyes, she glimpsed worry lining his features-- could feel it move between them like a mist. “Liz, I…I want to be sure. That I can’t hurt you or the baby. Really.”

Liz shifted on his lap, and lifted a hand to his cheek. She loved the scratchy feel of his skin, the way he sometimes waited a few days to shave lately. “Max, of course this is safe,” she explained gently. “You’ve been silly to worry.”

“But, this pregnancy is so different. Not human.”

“The baby is healthy, Max,” she smiled, brushing his hair away from his eyes. “Don’t you feel how healthy he is? Can’t you feel it every time we connect?”

He swallowed hard, and slipped his palm squarely over her round stomach. She felt energy instantly penetrate her body as Max stroked her lightly there. Their own bond was latent at the moment, just simmering like a slow flame ready to re-ignite at the easiest encouragement. Max’s eyes widened wondrously, as they always did when he connected with their son, and he cupped her cheek at the same moment, drawing her down for a slow kiss.

“He’s amazing,” he whispered against her cheek. “Perfect, like you.”

“Told you there’s nothing to worry about,” Liz said, but something about the way Max kept his hand squarely over the baby, something in how quiet he seemed, startled her.

“What is it?” she asked, feeling panic surge. “Max, you sense something.”

“Nothing, really,” he disagreed, stroking his thumb across her belly button. “I just don’t think he’s turned yet.”

“I’m only 32 weeks,” she replied, feeling her pulse steady again. Just more of Max’s over-protectiveness, she thought with a wry smile. “He doesn’t need to turn yet.”

“I know,” Max agreed. “But what if he doesn’t? What if we’re on the ship, and he won’t turn? If he were breech…”

Liz placed her fingertips against his lips. “Max, don’t,” she commanded forcefully. “Just don’t go there, okay? We can’t afford to. You can’t afford to, not with all the decisions that lay ahead of you.”

Max scowled, his jaw set with sudden determination. “And you shouldn’t have to be strong on my behalf,” he announced. “I’m so sorry, Liz.”

“It’s okay, sweetheart,” she said, slowly beginning to stroke his chest again. The warmth his body generated was always so comforting; comforting and sexy all at once, the heat that naturally just emanated from him.

“But right now, what I’m most interested in is you,” she murmured, kissing him on the neck. Slowly, she trailed her fingertips down his abdomen, stroking the warm skin tenderly. She felt Max shiver against her when her hand reached the edge of his boxers. “Just you,” she murmured, slipping her fingers beneath the edge of the cotton material.

“Isn’t now when you’re supposed to quote Top Gun or something,” he whispered huskily in her ear.

It was a familiar joke between them, and Liz laughed as she supplied the answer with feigned innocence. “Take me to bed or lose me forever?”

“Yeah,” he growled, easing her off his lap and moving her toward the bed in a swift, fluid motion. “That’s it.”

They collapsed backwards onto the bed, and Liz immediately felt her body surge with power and need. Both their desires suddenly intermingled, and Liz felt their connection begin to ripple with new life. “Max,” she gasped, as she felt his energy woo her, beg their connection open.

“I want it all, Liz,” he whispered in her ear, and she felt a shower of warmth cascade across her skin. “Right now.”

“Me, too,” she agreed. “No holding back. We have plenty of time to talk about the future.”

“This is my future,” Max said softly. “You are, Liz. You and our baby, that’s the only future I need to know about.”

Liz smiled, rolling on top of Max, and felt her tight stomach press against his abdomen. His jeans had fallen loose over his hips, and she felt his erection straining against her leg as she straddled him. For a moment, their gazes locked and silence spun between them like ungrounded electric current. Slowly, he lifted his hips upward, and she answered by moving against him. Instantly, he closed his eyes, his lips parting with a quiet sigh of pleasure, and he pulled roughly on her leggings so that they gathered low on her hips.

“Just you, no clothes,” he begged quietly, and she rose onto her knees, shimmying out of her pants as quickly as she could. But before she could undress further, his fingers were already peeling away her bikini underwear. “God, nobody should look this hot while pregnant,” he said, studying her through hooded eyes.

“Would you prefer maternity underwear?” she asked, as he slipped his fingers beneath the edge of the silken fabric. She’d chosen to wear bikini panties throughout her pregnancy, allowing her stomach to spill over the waistband. It was a choice that had proved perfect, she realized, as she watched Max’s undisguised response to her body. Two of his fingers wound their way between her legs, caressing her warm wetness until she moaned low in her throat.

“Black silk…always better,” he purred, easing the panties off of her hips, then lower down her thighs. “My Zillia.”

“Ah, he seeks to curry favor with the queen now,” she replied, arching her back as he gently stroked her center.

“No, he seeks to ravage the queen’s body now.”

“Good to know,” she breathed, as she slipped out of the panties and kicked them aside. Again, she straddled Max’s hips, and leaned low to kiss his chest. For a moment she was startled by the feel of her stomach pressing hard against his abdomen-- it was so easy to forget how her body had changed over the past months. She shifted a bit, easing her hips upward so that her position wasn’t so awkward, but then to her surprise, Max cupped her from behind, urging her closer again.

“Don’t hold back,” he said lovingly. “Please, Liz.”

“Okay,” she answered, feeling suddenly shy and awkward. But she didn’t have time to process those emotions before an unfamiliar sensation started low in her back. Not unlike the heat of Max’s energy, a radiant burning began—yet this was different. More serpentine, the way it wound its way over her skin, slow and insistent.

And it brought her entire body to life as it coiled its way around her hips, then eased upward with the definite measure of something alive.

“Max?” she panted, feeling her body smolder. “What is…”

“I feel it, too,” he cried, as she leaned upward until she straddled his hips perfectly. The look of pleasure on his flushed features startled her. Not because the moment wasn’t beautiful between them, but because he was glowing already—before they’d even forged their connection.

The alien sensations began swirling upward, around her chest, into her face, and for a moment she thought she might not be able to breathe as pure need exploded through every part of her body. “Max!” she cried helplessly, and he clasped her hips desperately.

“I…I have you, sweetheart,” he promised, bucking upward against her. “Don’t be afraid.”

Hormones, some part of her mind shouted, even as the room began to spin crazily around them. God, was this what Serena had possibly meant?

She had to have Max inside of her right then. No waiting, no wooing. Now, now, now, her body screamed.

One look at his face, at the way his chest rose irregularly with ragged breaths, and she knew his body was demanding the same thing. She clasped his arousal within her hands, and positioned herself over him.

Now,” he urged, as if reading her mind, and they came together in one perfect motion. Suddenly he filled her, deeply. Beautifully. She’d missed the feel of his body so much, yet this was something wholly new between them.

“Like our season,” she murmured, her voice nearly unrecognizable to her own ears.

“Different,” he managed, as they began moving together. One of his hands cupped her from behind, as he slipped the other over her abdomen. Something about the gesture made her shudder for a moment, as if he were reminding her of the innocent life that sat squarely between them. But then she realized he was caressing her, more than anything else, making her feel safe and sexy.

She covered his hand there, and for a long moment, they simply moved as one.

“Liz,” he sighed. There were no words, not the kind that would express what he truly felt. Not when he was so lost to her like this, utterly and beyond hope. “I love you,” he said, but it wasn’t enough, not close to being enough.

All he could do was lie beneath his wife and pray that he’d last long enough to pleasure her. Long enough to find their bond. The strange heat had coiled itself around his loins and wasn’t relenting, and the raw need that accompanied it left him feeling desperate and feral. He tried to rein his hunger in, but every time he attempted to gain control, the sensations coursing through his body only intensified.

Resistance is futile, he thought suddenly, and nearly began laughing aloud at the notion of the Borg taking over their lovemaking.

But the joke was instantly overshadowed by the pulsating need that had wrapped itself squarely around his lower abdomen, spreading outward throughout his body. So, he closed his eyes, thrusting upward into Liz’s tight wetness, and reached for her with his energy. He was almost frightened to try, given how they were reacting to one another, but he had no choice—the need for her alien side was coursing that strongly through his body.

At first, he felt her energy skitter across his cheek. Strange place, some part of his mind supplied, as he turned his face sideways against the pillow in response. He felt her hand cup his cheek, as she caressed the skin right where he’d felt her essence beckon him. Then, he felt the fire of her shimmer across his bare chest, as they began moving more heatedly against one another. Absently, he placed a palm over her abdomen, forgetting momentarily about the baby. But then, something about his hand just felt right there, beautiful, so he didn’t move it.

More of her energy, spiraling over his skin, then penetrating his core, as suddenly their bond unfurled wildly, beyond control. It had been too long since they’d connected like this, not just physically, but in every dimension.

Was this strange reaction what he’d feared? Alien hormones, right, he thought as Liz leaned low to kiss him. Alien hormones, my ass, he mused sardonically. This was some kind of alien possession of their bodies.

“Liz,” he moaned in her ear, as she leaned low over him. “Liz…Liz.” He couldn’t even think straight, as their energies joined, and he felt her essence move easily inside of himself.

“Don’t fight it,” she urged in his ear. “It’s safe.”

“Can we just be pregnant all the time?” he managed with a thick laugh, as he brushed her silken hair back from her face. “If this is the benefit?”

He felt her shimmy through him with a joyous little pirouette in reply--just darting in and out of their growing bond. She was so restless, and all he wanted was the feel of her soul against his own. But her pure pleasure was unbridled, and he could only smile as their lips met in a slow, searing kiss that he answered by easing inside of her with his own energy. She gasped softly, as he slowly sidled within her, until finally, perfectly…their souls found one another.

Their kiss was interrupted by their mutual cries of pleasure, and Liz just hovered over him, leaning her forehead against his for a long moment. He stilled his physical movement within her, allowing himself to simply feel the warm wetness of her walls surround him—allowing himself to focus on the sensation of her soul caressing his own.

He cupped her face firmly between his palms, and drew back to stare into her eyes for a long moment. Then, with deliberate slowness borne of years together, he savored their souls join into one beautiful thread of unity.

Tears filled Liz’s eyes, and he felt them sting his own eyes at the sight. “This is our future,” he vowed again. “Only the three of us.”

Liz shuddered at the mention of the baby, as he slowly stroked her swollen abdomen, his rhythm growing quieter within her center at the same moment. “Just us. Everything else will write itself,” he murmured thickly.

For a moment, she felt a wave of apprehension at his mention of their future, but she pushed it back because Max had worried enough for both of them in the past weeks.

Their future was something to be embraced, welcomed even, despite it being the unknown. They had whole new worlds to conquer, but they would do it together, and that was the only assurance Liz needed of their future, at least for the time being.

She focused on the feel of his hand on her abdomen, and as she gazed down at him--at the way his hair had grown long on his nape in the past months, at the shadow of beard along his jaw--she thought of another. She remembered a man, one who she’d always secretly loved, who had wanted babies with her more than he’d ever meant her to know. And in that moment, she knew his future self would have been so pleased to know of the precious life that grew inside her womb.

She would have given anything for him to know that he had righted the universe that night seven years before. That a part of him would now move into the future, irreversibly, as a result of her love with the beautiful man moving inside of her.

No, his other self had never held those babies that he’d ached for, but her own Max would. Not just the one nascent child inside of her, but other future children, too.

Liz smiled softly, and caressed her love’s cheek beneath her fingertips. “I love you,” she whispered. She spoke to him, and to the other man who had suddenly filled her memories. “I love you so very much.”

And across their bond, across time and the universe even, she heard Max’s gentle answer. I love you, too, sweet Zillia.







[ edited 1 time(s), last at 26-May-2002 4:19:54 AM ]
posted on 26-May-2002 4:59:04 PM by RosDeidre
I'm so glad you guys enjoyed this last part! It feels particularly good since I'm still trying to get back in my writing groove. It occurred to me that I should post a link to my fanfic egroup here. I post to the group when I update fics, and we also do occasionally discuss other topics, like fanfic recommendations and books...and Roswell, of course. But it's not a super active list, though you can certainly sign up for daily digest only. Here's the link:



posted on 26-May-2002 6:47:11 PM by RosDeidre
Author's Note:
I am going to repost this chapter one because it appears that page two will simply not open now for some reason. I keep getting a failure message. So, if that's just me, well then there will be two chapter ones accessible for all of you. But I didn't want those who'd like to read this to be unable to do so.

Enjoy!


CHAPTER ONE

EARTH, LATE SUMMER 2007—EIGHTEEN MONTHS EARLIER


“It’s all about the eyes, you know,” Liz pronounced seriously, sliding atop the edge of Max’s desk. He’d been staring out their bedroom window for a good twenty minutes, lost in his thoughts while she lay on their bed reading a novel. The Secret History, to be exact, and while she’d entered that fictional world completely, something about the expression on Max’s face kept pulling her back to reality.

And the deafening silence had drawn her back, too, because he’d been typing furiously on his laptop all afternoon, and she’d grown accustomed to that staccato soundtrack in the background of her reading. But his typing had come to an abrupt stop earlier, his features darkening as he stared at some unseen place beyond the walls of the cabin. The laptop hummed on the desk before him, completely ignored, as he’d obviously traveled to distant reaches within his mind. It was a familiar sight to Liz these days, and she had her guesses as to what plagued her husband’s thoughts.

So, she leveled her gaze at him, until he focused in on her, his expression slightly dazed.

“What?” he finally asked, narrowing his brows in marked confusion.

Liz placed her hand on his shoulder, and drew her mouth within a mere inch of his own, whispering in the most mystical voice she could summon, “It’s all about the eyes.” She exhaled softly for a moment, allowing her words to meet their mark, then added, “Knowing the future.”

Max stared at her for a full ten seconds before finally reaching a hand to cup her cheek. “And what makes you think I want to know the future?”

“Because I know that look on your face,” she smiled softly. “You’re worried and you think you can force some kind of premonition or whatever. But, Max, it doesn’t work that way.”

“It’s about the eyes,” he offered quizzically.

“Absolutely,” she affirmed, tossing her hair over her shoulder for dramatic emphasis, as she stood again. “The eyes are the key to everything. Take yours for example. They tell me a lot about your future…and my own.”

“Like?”

Liz eased her arm around Max’s shoulder, and slipped onto his lap, causing him to groan with a soft exhalation of breath. “Oh, Liz,” he said, shifting his legs. “Baby, you’re…”

But she cut him off before he could finish. “Seven months pregnant,” she supplied with a throaty laugh. “But not too heavy for you.”

“No, never, sweetheart,” he agreed, slipping his arms around her waist, drawing her much closer. Liz brushed his bangs away from his forehead thoughtfully, then continued. “But like I said, take your eyes. They tell me a number of important things that I need to know about the future.”

“Such as?”

“Well, I see a man who will be king. I see a husband who will be a father. And I see a man who is frightened of both.”

He laughed, but there was a melancholy sound to it, as he closed his eyes, his hand wandering upward along her back. “And that’s my future? Not very encouraging.”

“Look into my eyes,” she urged softly, and Max turned his head sideways until their foreheads nearly touched. “Tell me what you see of your future here,” she whispered. “I mean really look.”

“Okay, Madame Vivian.”

“Don’t you dare mention that woman,” Liz scowled.

“Okay, Madame Liz,” he corrected warmly, stroking the length of her hair as he gazed at her.

“Queen Liz, thank you very much,” she teased. “Queen Zillia to those who really want to show proper respect.”

“You don’t think I’m showing respect?” Max laughed, his hands wandering around Liz’s sides, until his fingers lightly grazed her breast, more round and full than ever before. He stroked her nipple through the thin cotton of her bra, and she felt it grow firm beneath his easy touch.

“You’re not looking into my eyes,” she smiled, feeling her body already flush beneath his loving attention.

“Too much distracting me,” he said, his hand moving downward, onto her round abdomen.

“Not lately,” she said quietly.

He pulled back, dismay evident in his gaze. “Liz, it’s not that…”

“I know,” she interrupted, covering his hand on her stomach. “Just look now. My eyes.”

“Gorgeous,” he answered, his voice suddenly throaty and deep. “As always. The mirror of my own soul,” he said, then looked up at her, questioning. She splayed a palm against his chest, and she felt his heartbeat quicken beneath. God, it had been too long without such intimacy.

“Max, really look,” she murmured, leaning in close to kiss him on the mouth. Instantly, he captured her lips in a warm kiss, cupping her face within his palms. “Deeper.”

“Don’t know…what you,” he paused, as she shifted on his lap, her full abdomen pressing against him. “Mean,” he finally added.

“You haven’t touched me in months.”

He pulled back, staring at her aghast. “What?”

“Like this,” she answered, her voice thick, filled with the desire she immediately felt. “Just like this.”

“You’re pregnant.”

“So what?”

He hesitated for a moment, and Liz nearly felt sorry for him, as she watched him swallow hard. His gaze darted around the room, until finally he just repeated quietly. “You’re pregnant.”

Really, Max?” She said facetiously.

“I…I didn’t want to…to…”

“Turn me on?”

“Hurt you,” he answered simply. “Didn’t want to hurt you. Or the baby.”

“Haven’t you read this thing?” Liz asked, reaching onto his desk for an open copy of What to Expect When You’re Expecting. “I mean, you have had your nose buried in it nearly nonstop.”

He reached for the book and closed it pointedly, then pronounced, “High risk pregnancies shouldn’t involve lovemaking. That’s what it says.”

“Since when was this pregnancy upgraded to high risk?”

“We’re hybrids,” he began softly. “We don’t know what that means for you or the baby.”

“So you took it upon yourself to just, what? Not touch me?”

“I’ve touched you,” he answered, his voice so quiet she almost missed his answer. He ran an anxious hand through his hair, and he seemed lost, more vulnerable about the pregnancy than she’d ever realized.

“Of course,” she agreed. “Just not,” she reached for his hand and pressed it against her breast. “In the ways I’m accustomed to.”

“It’s not that I don’t want you,” he whispered, staring up into her eyes again. Something wild flared in his gaze, something unexpected.

Liz looped her arms around his neck, pulling him closer for a slow, seductive kiss. Instantly, she felt him grow aroused beneath her, his jeans tightening with an undisguised bulge.

“I’d thought maybe,” she hesitated, as he trailed kisses across her cheek, his lips burning her skin with every feather-light brush. “Well, maybe that I wasn’t sexy…like this,” she said, swallowing hard.

“You have to be kidding,” he groaned, slipping his hands beneath her t-shirt, so that she felt his heated palms connect with the bare skin of lower back. She felt a surge of alien energy pulse through her body, the kind of contact she’d missed with Max in the past months, and her eyes watered instantly at the intensity of it.

For a moment, they drew apart and simply stared into one another’s eyes, feeling the heat and power between them swell, even as Liz sensed Max’s desire crescendo crazily. It reminded her of their mating season, the way something purely alien seemed to have been unleashed, and while a part of her mind wondered what this was precisely, she didn’t think to question it.

Her heartbeat quickened, as Max slowly tugged on the front of her leggings, pulling them lower over her full abdomen. Again, something strangely instinctive and wild unfurled within her center, and she gasped at the feel of his palm grazing her bare skin.

“Ah,” she cried out, burying her face against his neck, and she felt his body shake with light tremors in response.

“Hormones,” he murmured, continuing to draw her leggings easily down over her hips. “Alien hormones.”

Liz pulled at his t-shirt, bunching it within her hands as she tugged it upward, over his head, until he was bare-chested against her. She ran her fingertips greedily over his velvet warm skin, as their lips met again.

“Did you read that in What to Expect?” she asked, her voice thick with emotion.

“Serena told me.”

“Oh, really?” she asked, leaning back to study him. She had to giggle when she saw how flushed his face had become, and she suspected he felt a little shy about their discussion somehow. Or maybe it was just the incredible desire growing between them so very quickly. “What else did Serena tell you?”

“Just not to be,” he drew in a sharp breath as Liz slipped her hand between his legs and began to rub gently. “Not to be…surprised by the intensity.” He pressed his eyes tightly shut, as she slipped her other hand beneath the waistband of his jeans. “Of the hormones, that is.”

“Was she the one who told you to avoid making love?”

Max shook his head emphatically, and Liz eased the button of his jeans open. “No, no, that was my own idea,” he gasped helplessly.

“Stupid idea,” Liz laughed, as slowly she began lowering the zipper of his pants. “Very stupid, dear husband.”

He stilled her hand against his groin, covering it with his own in order to halt her caresses. When he pulled back from her showering kisses to stare into her eyes, she glimpsed worry lining his features-- could feel it move between them like a mist. “Liz, I…I want to be sure. That I can’t hurt you or the baby. Really.”

Liz shifted on his lap, and lifted a hand to his cheek. She loved the scratchy feel of his skin, the way he sometimes waited a few days to shave lately. “Max, of course this is safe,” she explained gently. “You’ve been silly to worry.”

“But, this pregnancy is so different. Not human.”

“The baby is healthy, Max,” she smiled, brushing his hair away from his eyes. “Don’t you feel how healthy he is? Can’t you feel it every time we connect?”

He swallowed hard, and slipped his palm squarely over her round stomach. She felt energy instantly penetrate her body as Max stroked her lightly there. Their own bond was latent at the moment, just simmering like a slow flame ready to re-ignite at the easiest encouragement. Max’s eyes widened wondrously, as they always did when he connected with their son, and he cupped her cheek at the same moment, drawing her down for a slow kiss.

“He’s amazing,” he whispered against her cheek. “Perfect, like you.”

“Told you there’s nothing to worry about,” Liz said, but something about the way Max kept his hand squarely over the baby, something in how quiet he seemed, startled her.

“What is it?” she asked, feeling panic surge. “Max, you sense something.”

“Nothing, really,” he disagreed, stroking his thumb across her belly button. “I just don’t think he’s turned yet.”

“I’m only 32 weeks,” she replied, feeling her pulse steady again. Just more of Max’s over-protectiveness, she thought with a wry smile. “He doesn’t need to turn yet.”

“I know,” Max agreed. “But what if he doesn’t? What if we’re on the ship, and he won’t turn? If he were breech…”

Liz placed her fingertips against his lips. “Max, don’t,” she commanded forcefully. “Just don’t go there, okay? We can’t afford to. You can’t afford to, not with all the decisions that lay ahead of you.”

Max scowled, his jaw set with sudden determination. “And you shouldn’t have to be strong on my behalf,” he announced. “I’m so sorry, Liz.”

“It’s okay, sweetheart,” she said, slowly beginning to stroke his chest again. The warmth his body generated was always so comforting; comforting and sexy all at once, the heat that naturally just emanated from him.

“But right now, what I’m most interested in is you,” she murmured, kissing him on the neck. Slowly, she trailed her fingertips down his abdomen, stroking the warm skin tenderly. She felt Max shiver against her when her hand reached the edge of his boxers. “Just you,” she murmured, slipping her fingers beneath the edge of the cotton material.

“Isn’t now when you’re supposed to quote Top Gun or something,” he whispered huskily in her ear.

It was a familiar joke between them, and Liz laughed as she supplied the answer with feigned innocence. “Take me to bed or lose me forever?”

“Yeah,” he growled, easing her off his lap and moving her toward the bed in a swift, fluid motion. “That’s it.”

They collapsed backwards onto the bed, and Liz immediately felt her body surge with power and need. Both their desires suddenly intermingled, and Liz felt their connection begin to ripple with new life. “Max,” she gasped, as she felt his energy woo her, beg their connection open.

“I want it all, Liz,” he whispered in her ear, and she felt a shower of warmth cascade across her skin. “Right now.”

“Me, too,” she agreed. “No holding back. We have plenty of time to talk about the future.”

“This is my future,” Max said softly. “You are, Liz. You and our baby, that’s the only future I need to know about.”

Liz smiled, rolling on top of Max, and felt her tight stomach press against his abdomen. His jeans had fallen loose over his hips, and she felt his erection straining against her leg as she straddled him. For a moment, their gazes locked and silence spun between them like ungrounded electric current. Slowly, he lifted his hips upward, and she answered by moving against him. Instantly, he closed his eyes, his lips parting with a quiet sigh of pleasure, and he pulled roughly on her leggings so that they gathered low on her hips.

“Just you, no clothes,” he begged quietly, and she rose onto her knees, shimmying out of her pants as quickly as she could. But before she could undress further, his fingers were already peeling away her bikini underwear. “God, nobody should look this hot while pregnant,” he said, studying her through hooded eyes.

“Would you prefer maternity underwear?” she asked, as he slipped his fingers beneath the edge of the silken fabric. She’d chosen to wear bikini panties throughout her pregnancy, allowing her stomach to spill over the waistband. It was a choice that had proved perfect, she realized, as she watched Max’s undisguised response to her body. Two of his fingers wound their way between her legs, caressing her warm wetness until she moaned low in her throat.

“Black silk…always better,” he purred, easing the panties off of her hips, then lower down her thighs. “My Zillia.”

“Ah, he seeks to curry favor with the queen now,” she replied, arching her back as he gently stroked her center.

“No, he seeks to ravage the queen’s body now.”

“Good to know,” she breathed, as she slipped out of the panties and kicked them aside. Again, she straddled Max’s hips, and leaned low to kiss his chest. For a moment she was startled by the feel of her stomach pressing hard against his abdomen-- it was so easy to forget how her body had changed over the past months. She shifted a bit, easing her hips upward so that her position wasn’t so awkward, but then to her surprise, Max cupped her from behind, urging her closer again.

“Don’t hold back,” he said lovingly. “Please, Liz.”

“Okay,” she answered, feeling suddenly shy and awkward. But she didn’t have time to process those emotions before an unfamiliar sensation started low in her back. Not unlike the heat of Max’s energy, a radiant burning began—yet this was different. More serpentine, the way it wound its way over her skin, slow and insistent.

And it brought her entire body to life as it coiled its way around her hips, then eased upward with the definite measure of something alive.

“Max?” she panted, feeling her body smolder. “What is…”

“I feel it, too,” he cried, as she leaned upward until she straddled his hips perfectly. The look of pleasure on his flushed features startled her. Not because the moment wasn’t beautiful between them, but because he was glowing already—before they’d even forged their connection.

The alien sensations began swirling upward, around her chest, into her face, and for a moment she thought she might not be able to breathe as pure need exploded through every part of her body. “Max!” she cried helplessly, and he clasped her hips desperately.

“I…I have you, sweetheart,” he promised, bucking upward against her. “Don’t be afraid.”

Hormones, some part of her mind shouted, even as the room began to spin crazily around them. God, was this what Serena had possibly meant?

She had to have Max inside of her right then. No waiting, no wooing. Now, now, now, her body screamed.

She clasped his arousal within her hands, and positioned herself over him. One look at his face, at the way his chest rose irregularly with ragged breaths, and she knew his body was demanding the same thing.

Now,” he urged, as if reading her mind, and they came together in one perfect motion. Suddenly he filled her, deeply. Beautifully. She’d missed the feel of his body so much, yet this was something wholly new between them.

“Like our season,” she murmured, her voice nearly unrecognizable to her own ears.

“Different,” he managed, as they began moving together. One of his hands cupped her from behind, as he slipped the other over her abdomen. Something about the gesture made her shudder for a moment, as if he were reminding her of the innocent life that sat squarely between them. But then she realized he was caressing her, more than anything else, making her feel safe and sexy.

She covered his hand there, and for a long moment, they simply moved as one.

“Liz,” he sighed. There were no words, not the kind that would express what he truly felt. Not when he was so lost to her like this, utterly and beyond hope. “I love you,” he said, but it wasn’t enough, not close to being enough.

All he could do was lie beneath his wife and pray that he’d last long enough to pleasure her. Long enough to find their bond. The strange heat had coiled itself around his loins and wasn’t relenting, and the raw need that accompanied it left him feeling desperate and feral. He tried to rein his hunger in, but every time he attempted to gain control, the sensations coursing through his body only intensified.

Resistance is futile, he thought suddenly, and nearly began laughing aloud at the notion of the Borg taking over their lovemaking.

But the joke was instantly overshadowed by the pulsating need that had wrapped itself squarely around his lower abdomen, spreading outward throughout his body. So, he closed his eyes, thrusting upward into Liz’s tight wetness, and reached for her with his energy. He was almost frightened to try, given how they were reacting to one another, but he had no choice—the need for her alien side was coursing that strongly through his body.

At first, he felt her energy skitter across his cheek. Strange place, some part of his mind supplied, as he turned his face sideways against the pillow in response. He felt her hand cup his cheek, as she caressed the skin right where he’d felt her essence beckon him. Then, he felt the fire of her shimmer across his bare chest, as they began moving more heatedly against one another. Absently, he placed a palm over her abdomen, forgetting momentarily about the baby. But then, something about his hand just felt right there, beautiful, so he didn’t move it.

More of her energy, spiraling over his skin, then penetrating his core, as suddenly their bond unfurled wildly, beyond control. It had been too long since they’d connected like this, not just physically, but in every dimension.

Was this strange reaction what he’d feared? Alien hormones, right, he thought as Liz leaned low to kiss him. Alien hormones, my ass, he mused sardonically. This was some kind of alien possession of their bodies.

“Liz,” he moaned in her ear, as she leaned low over him. “Liz…Liz.” He couldn’t even think straight, as their energies joined, and he felt her essence move easily inside of himself.

“Don’t fight it,” she urged in his ear. “It’s safe.”

“Can we just be pregnant all the time?” he managed with a thick laugh, as he brushed her silken hair back from her face. “If this is the benefit?”

He felt her shimmy through him with a joyous little pirouette in reply--just darting in and out of their growing bond. She was so restless, and all he wanted was the feel of her soul against his own. But her pure pleasure was unbridled, and he could only smile as their lips met in a slow, searing kiss that he answered by easing inside of her with his own energy. She gasped softly, as he slowly sidled within her, until finally, perfectly…their souls found one another.

Their kiss was interrupted by their mutual cries of pleasure, and Liz just hovered over him, leaning her forehead against his for a long moment. He stilled his physical movement within her, allowing himself to simply feel the warm wetness of her walls surround him—allowing himself to focus on the sensation of her soul caressing his own.

He cupped her face firmly between his palms, and drew back to stare into her eyes for a long moment. Then, with deliberate slowness borne of years together, he savored their souls join into one beautiful thread of unity.

Tears filled Liz’s eyes, and he felt them sting his own eyes at the sight. “This is our future,” he vowed again. “Only the three of us.”

Liz shuddered at the mention of the baby, as he slowly stroked her swollen abdomen, his rhythm growing quieter within her center at the same moment. “Just us. Everything else will write itself,” he murmured thickly.

For a moment, she felt a wave of apprehension at his mention of their future, but she pushed it back because Max had worried enough for both of them in the past weeks.
Their future was something to be embraced, welcomed even, despite it being the unknown. They had whole new worlds to conquer, but they would do it together, and that was the only assurance Liz needed of their future, at least for the time being.

She focused on the feel of his hand on her abdomen, and as she gazed down at him--at the way his hair had grown long on his nape in the past months, at the shadow of beard along his jaw--she thought of another. She remembered a man, one she’d always secretly loved, who had wanted babies with her more than he’d ever meant her to know. And in that moment, she knew his future self would have been so pleased to know of the precious life that grew inside her womb.

She would have given anything for him to know that he had righted the universe that night seven years before. That a part of him would now move into the future, irreversibly, as a result of her love with the beautiful man moving inside of her.

No, his other self had never held those babies that he’d ached for, but her own Max would. Not just the one nascent child inside of her, but other future children, too.

Liz smiled softly, and caressed her love’s cheek beneath her fingertips. “I love you,” she whispered. She spoke to him, and to the other man who had suddenly filled her memories. “I love you so very much.”

And across their bond, across time and the universe even, she heard Max’s gentle answer. I love you, too, sweet Zillia.




posted on 27-May-2002 12:03:11 AM by RosDeidre
Author’s Note:
Well, Anne says she managed not to entirely faint at the prospect of two new chapters from me in twenty-four hours, so hopefully the rest of you can do the same!! LOL! Seriously, though, be sure not to miss the last chapter, posted late last night. That means so far we have prologue through chapter two, just to keep you on track!! LOL! And I posted part one twice on this thread because page two wasn't loading...so part one and two are both on this page three.




CHAPTER TWO


There was no place safer in the world, perhaps not even in the universe. At least it didn’t seem that way to Tess, not as she lay in Marco’s arms, her cheek nestled against his warm bare chest, feeling the steady rhythm of his heartbeat. Their bodies fit together perfectly, as if they’d been created expressly for one another, two halves of a delicate whole.

In the background, strains of The Last Waltz drifted from the CD player, music for late afternoon lovemaking. At least in Marco McKinley’s world, which made it Tess Harding’s world, as well.

I see my light come shining, from the west unto the east…any day now, I shall be released.

Yes, music to bathe the room, and their bodies and souls, she thought. Even as golden August sunlight filtered across their disheveled comforter, along the mounds of pillows they’d strewn in every direction in their desperate need to satiate themselves in one another’s arms.

Her leg was slipped between both of his, and she felt the wetness of him still inside her—warm, with an unpredictable alien burn to it. Occasionally, she moved her knee between his legs, wanting to arouse him again already, and as she did so, felt the light dusting of hairs on his upper thighs.

Black hairs, like raven silk. She knew, because she’d gazed upon him countless times since their bonding six months earlier. She’d learned every nuance, every plane and contour, every sinewy muscle that defined his lovely, dark body.

Tess ran her palm over his chest, studying the contrast of her own fair skin against his olive complexion. Whereas the slightest overexposure to the sun always burned her, he’d darkened easily over the course of the summer, without even trying. It was one of the many things she’d always found so beautiful about him, the way his appearance was so very exotic and dusky.

My dark sultan prince, she thought with a smile, as he captured her hand in his own much larger one, and their fingers threaded together.

But it wasn’t just the way he aroused her, or how she loved to touch him that proved most addictive. It was how he’d changed her, the way their empathy met in such a strange, erotic union every time they came together this way. She knew that other lifemates shared a bond as they did, but she also had no doubt that as empaths, their connection was unique.

Like now, when between the two of them there existed only perfect, golden warmth. Every emotion pulsating in Marco’s being radiated through her own center. No division, no separation; quite simply, she was saturated in him.

Slowly, Marco stroked the length of her arm, winding his fingers down onto her bare hip. In answer, she outlined his muscled abdomen, teased his nipples to easy tautness.

Their bodies still thrummed from lovemaking, that much was certain, though neither had spoken for a long while. They’d simply lain together, touching and caressing, until now a subtle heat had begun to bank between them once again.

Her hair spilled across Marco’s shoulder and chest, and Tess smiled at the realization that he couldn’t keep his hands away. He kept combing his fingers through the expanse of it, absently touching the long tresses. In the months since their bonding, it had grown even longer, tumbling far down her back in a shower of golden curls.

The ironic thing was, before she’d met Marco she’d never really liked her hair, had always thought it would look better straighter or thicker. Occasionally, she’d even wished it were dark like Liz’s, and had toyed with transforming it. Yet somehow that had never looked quite right. Besides, that was before Marco—and his adoring attentions had made her feel incredibly beautiful, more like a woman than she’d ever dreamed.

Like now, as his fingers absently wound through her curls, and she felt his satisfaction ricochet through their bond. He was so easy to please, so gentle and loving, that it brought a smile to her lips.

“What?” he purred in her ear.

“Umm,” she answered, closing her eyes. Desire, heat, need…

His throaty laughter rumbled through her core, causing her body to shiver in response. “Not an answer, sweet love.”

“Alright,” she said, turning her head to kiss his chest. “How’s this?” and slowly she drew her lips over one nipple, laving it in just the way he most adored. The audible gasp of pleasure that escaped his lips was unmistakable. But then again, she’d learned a lot about what most aroused Marco McKinley in the past six months.

I want you, she breathed across their connection. Can’t stop wanting you.

He clasped her waist and drew her easily on top of him, and their lips met in a crushing kiss. It was as if the earlier lovemaking had never happened, as an explosion of heat erupted between their two bodies.

“I’ve learned a lot about you, too,” he growled, cupping her face within his palms. His eyes widened as he slipped between her legs, bucking his hips upward against her slightly.

“Yeah, McKinley?” she asked, nipping him behind the ear. He groaned softly, and she wondered why she sensed immediate displeasure; ordinarily he loved any kisses or nibbles along his neck.

She sat up, and stared into his black eyes. “What’s wrong?”

McKinley,” he repeated. “You had to remind me.”

“It’s your name.”

“And not yours,” he countered, his voice edged with palpable regret. Tess felt something unidentifiable in him at that moment, and she cocked her head to the side, just studying him.

“We can fix that,” she offered quietly. “It’s not like we can’t.”

He closed his dark eyes for a moment, then finally spoke. “No, we can’t.”

“Marco, it’s not like we can’t just make a run to Vegas at any point,” she argued, feeling frustrated with his familiar cautiousness. He was far too protective of her, had been from the time of their joining, and even though she knew it was absolutely instinctive to him, it didn’t make it less stifling at times.

“Tess, love,” he said, staring up into her eyes. “I can’t put you at that kind of risk.”

“Then don’t complain that I’m not your wife,” she snapped, feeling suddenly angry with him. She slipped from where he held her so firmly against his chest, rolling onto her side with a heavy breath.

Disappointment…guilt. Fear. All three emotions radiated outward from Marco before she could even anticipate them.

Fear? That emotion didn’t make sense, so she pressed harder to know his heart, even though she still felt angry. Fear…intense protectiveness…fear of losing her.

“I don’t want to hurt you,” he whispered, rolling to face her. He slipped his arms around her again, trying to draw her back close against himself.

“Why are you afraid?” she asked quietly, turning toward him. “You’ll never lose me. Never.”

He closed his eyes, and she felt his warm breath fan her cheek as she stared at him for a long moment. Finally, he met her gaze, and she was surprised by the way his expression had darkened.

“This isn’t about Vegas,” she announced matter-of-factly. “Is it?”

He shook his head, a shadow coming over his spirit. “Then what?”

“Antar.”

“Oh, I see,” she answered softly. She’d felt his apprehension on that point before, though he’d refused to speak of it. But now that their return was imminent—Serena’s latest communication indicated that a ship would arrive in only a matter of weeks—it made sense that his anxiety would intensify.

“You’re worried that things will change between us there.”

“Yes,” he answered softly. “Because they will.”

“I don’t believe that, Marco,” she argued. “I won’t believe it.”

“I know a lot more about our world than you do,” he said. “About what you mean to the people…about our differences.”

Tess felt indignant anger well within her. “Our differences?” she asked, even though she already knew precisely what he meant.

“Class differences,” he clarified quietly, his dark eyebrows drawing together.

“Oh, who the hell cares about that?” she snapped, but from the look on Marco’s face, she knew he did care very much; felt the weight of it already, even here on Earth.

“Tess we mustn’t be naïve about this,” he said.

“I’m a protector, too, now,” she answered. “Or have you forgotten that?”

“You’re of the house of D’Ashani.”

“I don’t even know what that means exactly. You wouldn’t either, if Serena hadn’t been talking to you about all this crap.”

“She wants us to be prepared…to understand the culture. She doesn’t want either of us hurt.”

“I am a protector, too,” she repeated, and this time her voice was more intent. “It’s in my blood, the seal is on my body…you’re in my heart. That is the only class that matters to me.”

But even as she vowed her allegiance, he asked, “But what if it’s not that simple?”

“Marry me, then, Marco,” she begged softly. “Please. Before we leave for Antar. Don’t let us go there without that.”

“I…I want to,” he said. “You know how much I want it, but I can’t forget the fact that the skins still hunt us here.”

She rolled her eyes in exasperation. “And I’m sure they’ll be lurking in the Elvis chapel.”

But Marco’s gaze remained intensely focused on her, despite her efforts at humor. “I’m serious, love.”

“I know you are. You always are.”

“Would you have me any other way?”

“Other than your true self?” she asked, cupping his face, already scratchy with light beard stubble. His almond-shaped eyes narrowed keenly under her loving scrutiny. “Don’t think so, no,” she laughed.

“I do want to marry you.”

“I know you do. But you’re way too protective of me.”

“It’s hard to fight,” he admitted seriously. “You’re my mate, but I’m sworn to protect you, too. You know that.”

“You’re sworn to Max and Liz.”

“And to all the royal house,” he added, touching her cheek with his fingertips.

“But our roles have changed,” she argued gently. “I’m your mate now, not your charge.”

“You are both.”

Tess groaned hopelessly, rolling onto her back, and cast her gaze upon the ceiling, studying the familiar wooden beams of the cabin. “Your mate,” she finally whispered again, without looking at him. “We’re equals in our duty as protectors, Marco.”

In the background, the music seemed to surge at just that moment, Bob Dylan’s voice ringing like a clear sign.

They say every man needs protection…they say every man must fall.

Instantly, they turned to one another as the lyrics filled their room, and Marco’s eyes danced with mischief at the synchronicity of it all.

“Bob said it,” he laughed. “You need my protection.”

“Oh, screw that,” she giggled, and the tension was momentarily broken as he drew her flush against himself again. “You do realize you’re being completely sexist now, don’t you McKinley?”

“How?” he cried, looking truly innocent as he stared at her with large dark eyes.

“Because the words are ‘every man needs protection,” she explained patiently. “Every man, which would be you. And I’m a protector.”

“Yes, love, so I know.”

“Just don’t forget it. I may have to protect your ass at some point,” she said, and despite her jesting, felt suddenly serious as she whispered. “And don’t be afraid to accept my protection if you need it, sweetheart.”

“You’ve saved me more times than I can count,” he answered softly, capturing her wrist within his hand. He stroked the place where she bore his mark as he whispered, “And I have no doubt about your calling, Tess.”

“Then don’t worry about Antar,” she said, leaning close to kiss him. All her anger had vanished, replaced only with incredible tenderness. “And don’t insist that things will change. I go as Max and Liz’s protector, same as you.”

“Tess, it is only one part of your duty,” he countered with a heavy sigh. “I’m not wrong about this. And when you get to Antar, you may well find that it’s the least important part.”

“I can’t believe you’d say that,” she cried in disbelief.

“Only because you are the king’s second. It takes no genius to do the math. That much isn’t even about class distinction.”

“I’m so over this conversation,” she sighed, pulling away again. She rolled onto her back, and he reached for her, clasping her arm firmly within his hand. For a long moment they lay just that way, until slowly she rolled onto her side again, facing him.

He stared at her, confusion evident in his features. “I only speak the truth, Tess. And because of your position within the royal house, I must ensure your safety. As a protector, surely you understand that.”

Tess sat up suddenly in bed, and asked a question that had been burning in her mind throughout their conversation. It was a point she needed him to consider. “Do you think I don’t worry about you?” She pulled the sheet around her waist, bunching it within her fingers in agitation. “Really, Marco, do you?”

“How do you mean?”

“Because of who you are,” she said, her voice tremulous. “What you are, Marco. Every time you leave out on a patrol at night, my stomach is in knots because I worry something might happen to you. And I don’t really rest again until I feel you climb back in bed beside me.”

He flinched visibly at her words, and for a long moment they simply stared into one another’s eyes.

“You’re worried about me on Antar, Marco?” she continued finally, her voice rising. “About my safety? Well how do you think I feel knowing that my mate will be guarding the king? All that unrest, all that danger, and you’ll be in the thick of it!” she cried, suddenly aware that her hands had begun to shake with the overwhelming emotion growing between the two of them.

But she couldn’t stop, not when these words had been building within her for months. “Don’t you understand that every day I make a conscious choice not to worry about you? That it would make me crazy otherwise?” she asked, feeling tears burn her eyes suddenly. “You don’t have a corner on this market, on this need to make sure I’m safe.”

“Tess, love,” he whispered, sitting up beside her. He wrapped his arms around her from behind, and kissed her shoulder. “I never doubted that you worry for me.”

“Yet all you talk about is how you need to protect me,” she said. His hands fell from her shoulder as she turned to face him. “Well, bullshit, McKinley. We’re in this together, and I’m not letting you go the job alone.”

For a long moment he simply stared at her, and she sensed that he’d been unprepared for her outburst. She drew in a shuddering breath, trying to calm her wildly careening emotions, especially since she saw them reflected on Marco’s face. Not only had he born the brunt of her verbal outburst, he’d clearly felt it right in his core.

“You are shaking,” he observed softly, stroking her disheveled hair away from her face. “I never meant to upset you so badly.”

“This topic is what upsets me,” she said, bowing her head to avoid his piercing gaze. Then after a long moment, she admitted, “Well, and you.”

She heard his rumbling laughter and it instantly brightened her spirit. “I have been told I’m quite vexing by those who know me best.”

“Which would be me.”

“Precisely,” he agreed.

“God, you are stubborn, aren’t you?” she laughed, looking up into his eyes.

“Admittedly.” Then he smiled, his quirky dimple flashing suddenly and she felt every bit of anger fade between them.

She slapped him playfully on the arm. “And now you’re trying to manipulate me with that boyish grin.”

“Admittedly again,” he laughed.

“That is not fair!” she cried, as he slipped his arms around her waist, drawing her back against his chest. “You know how you affect me.”

“No, love, it would only be unfair if the mere sight of you didn’t drive me mad,” he teased, brushing her hair off the nape of her neck, then slowly lowering his lips to kiss her there. Wild heat answered beneath his mouth. “Someone has to level the playing field,” he continued huskily, just trailing slow kisses down her shoulder.

They fell silent as she leaned into his arms, and she felt his heart hammering against her back; more than the gyrating emotions that she sensed inside him, his physical reaction told her that he’d been upset by their conversation. He splayed his palm against her abdomen, pulling her tightly into his embrace, and she relaxed, just leaning her head back against his chest. His other hand stroked her arm slowly, soothingly, and after a few moments, she stopped shaking.

In the background, Bob Dylan continued to underscore the moment, and despite their truce, Tess felt a wave of melancholy wash over her—so strong it almost choked the breath from her lungs. And she wondered what it meant, or if it had any significance at all beyond their disagreement.

Can I come home with you, baby, can I come home with you? Yes, I'd do anything in this Godalmighty world, if you just let me come home with you…

“Bob is the man,” he murmured, brushing her hair away from her face.

She leaned her cheek against his chest, turning to kiss him softly. “You’re my man…even better.”

“Yes,” he agreed huskily. “Far better, indeed. So let’s not speak of these other things just now.”

“But we do need to talk about this,” she whispered softly against his cheek.

“And we will, sweet Tess,” he agreed. “We will in due time.”

Only Tess wondered when that time would be—a time when he might not argue with her about the same issues they’d already discussed. A time when he’d agree to marry her. A time when this discussion wouldn’t leave her vaguely apprehensive about the future, for reasons she couldn’t quite pinpoint.

Feeling his arms fold around her, so safe and sure, she wondered if that appointed time would ever come.

But for now she had the infinite security of Marco McKinley’s arms, and that was all that really mattered. The future would take care of itself.











[ edited 1 time(s), last at 27-May-2002 12:46:51 AM ]
posted on 31-May-2002 9:54:33 PM by RosDeidre
Thanks for the bumping!! Wow, this board is moving so fast these days, it's easy to lose track of a story, isn't it? I'm close to finishing the next chapter, so hopefully I'll be posting tomorrow some time!
posted on 31-May-2002 11:05:34 PM by RosDeidre
Angst plot? Me??? Would I ever be so accused? Lol! I think the name fits, doesn't it?
posted on 1-Jun-2002 1:13:07 AM by RosDeidre
Believeintruelove,
Because it has been so long since a lot of folks read this story, I'm going to give background to your posting. Liz and Max were actually together in the past life in this partiular series--Liz is a hybrid, just like the others. She believed she was human for years, having been adopted by the Parkers. She was the fifth podster, former queen (Zillia), married to Zan. She was separated from the other four podsters early to protect her...her pod was failing and she and Tess were podded together after a time. To protect her from Nasedo--who was against her union with Max--she was pulled out ealier than Tess, and given to the Parkers to raise.

marco and Tess were never together in their past life, though he was her protector (he was Marek and she was named Ayanna.) They were in love, and for a time, were nearly a couple, but he resisted it because he was of a non-royal bloodline. Tess was and is the king's second in command, and Michael was a great general.

So, that's the lowdown, just kind of boiled down to the easies explanation for everyone. It's easy to forget the specifics, especially since I finished GRAVITY six months ago. I thought a little refresher might help you guys pick it all back up!! LOL!!!
Hugs,
d

[ edited 1 time(s), last at 1-Jun-2002 1:13:55 AM ]
posted on 1-Jun-2002 3:45:06 AM by RosDeidre
Author's Note:
Well, I stayed up WAY too late, and got this finished. LOL! I hope you guys do enjoy it, and look forward to your feedback and comments.
hugs, d




PART THREE

Kyle closed his eyes against the late summer sun. It was the kind of sunlight that left you woozy and happy; the kind that lulled you into easy complacence. Not that there was anything he should have been doing, other than sitting on the lakeside dock, drinking his beer. Right, nothing else, he thought guiltily, feeling the world spin a bit as he settled the bottle beside his chair. He hesitated a moment, uncertain if he’d set it down squarely, and gave it a friendly pat for good measure.

When he was sure the bottle was safely deposited beside his chair, he stretched his legs, reaching for the CD player lazily. What kind of Godforsaken place wouldn’t even pick up a decent radio station, he wondered, as he started the Shakira CD again. Pretty typical for this crew, that was for sure. A year and a half he’d spent hidden with them, and one thing he’d realized long ago was that his former life existed only in some weird form of suspended animation. Wasn’t there a great word for it in science fiction? Cryogenics or warp flux or some equally appropriate term?

He laughed to himself, but it came out as a hollow sound, the result of too much beer and too much sun, not a good combination on this particular Sunday afternoon. But it was easier to find solace in countless beers, than to tackle the unresolved question of where his future might lie. Good thing Riley had proved a worthy personal shopper at the grocery store last week-- otherwise he might have been without recreation.

Kyle settled back into the chair, briefly opening his eyes to glimpse a collage of cloud and sky, blue against white, sun against shadow. Earth…such a beautiful place to be. Hell, who am I kidding, it’s the only place to be, he thought wryly.

But a familiar, steady voice interrupted his reverie. “As good as you’d hoped?”

Shit. Serena.

His eyes fluttered open, and the world shifted a bit, chaotic on its axis. “What?” he asked, realizing his voice sounded gauzy and thick.

“The many beers.” She plucked an empty bottle off the dock and stared at it. Kyle rotated his head sideways, still just leaning back against the chair. “The many, many beers,” she clarified with a surprising smile. He tried to focus on her strange brown eyes, but they floated in duplicate.

“Yeah, your point?” Wow, that didn’t seem like the right way to talk to her for some reason.

Serena held the empty bottle up, examining it like a science specimen. “Is this a good kind?” she asked, and by her voice, he realized she was amused.

“Rolling Rock,” he answered, feeling his head suddenly throb.

Serena slowly turned the bottle in her hand, studying the label. “Riley?” she asked, raising her eyebrows curiously.

“Riley,” he admitted, wishing that he’d not consumed so much alcohol if it meant a confrontation with Frau Serena.

“Well, Kyle Valenti, I am pleased that you are enjoying your holiday,” she assessed evenly, depositing the empty bottle with the seven or so others on the dock. She stood again, walking the length of the platform. Kyle peeked at her through half-closed eyes, and was surprised to find her gazing out over the lake. For some reason that he couldn’t explain, he felt sheepish, embarrassed to have been discovered simply being…a guy.

“Holiday?” he laughed. “Yeah, right. This whole situation has been such a vacation for me.”

“You’ve ignored your patrols,” she commented simply, just staring out at the large mirrored expanse of water.

“Well, it’s not like you guys need me anymore.”

“But, we do,” she answered, folding her arms across her chest. “That’s where you are wrong.”

“Oh, yeah, playing soldier and marching around the cabins is such a worthy enterprise.”

Serena spun suddenly to face him, her large brown eyes wide and filled with an energy he hadn’t expected. Without meaning to, he sat up a bit on the folding chair, met her urgent gaze.

“You are wrong if you think this has become a game,” she said, her voice steady and sure. “The skins continue in their pursuit of us. Of Max and Liz. Our ship approaches, but anything might happen in the next weeks. We do, in fact, need you very much, Kyle.”

“Why me?” he asked, without really meaning to. But it was something he’d been considering for weeks, months even. Because he was unsure why Serena had always seemed so interested in roping him into the whole alien conspiracy—far more interested than she’d ever been in the other humans.

“Why you?” she reiterated, approaching the place where he sprawled in the lounge chair. “Truly?

“Yeah, I want to know why you’re always after me.”

“I am not after you, as you put it,” she replied, her brown eyes serious and intent.

“You put me in charge of unit three.”

“Because you are gifted, Kyle,” she replied, and a strange smile lit her features, the kind he’d not seen many times before.

“Me?” he laughed nervously, feeling his face flush a bit.

“You are a leader. You have potential, and the others follow you,” she explained quietly. “Well, when you are not drinking these many beers.”

Something about her explanation left him wanting to be all that she believed he could be, even as another part of himself felt like laughing her off, making a joke to dismiss the whole strange idea she was implying.

Yet while he stalled, she never looked away, just kept studying him patiently, and he felt his resolve crumbling. “So I help for a few more weeks, sure,” he agreed finally.

“Have you considered coming with us?” she asked, squatting beside his deck chair, so that her gaze was even with his own.

“Oh, no, no, no,” he laughed nervously, rubbing his bleary eyes. “No way. My ticket for the alien party train ends here.”

“I see,” she said, still simply staring at him. He began to feel unnerved, as he always did by her alien gaze. Something about her tone, the way it implied her infinite disappointment, rankled him. The thing was, he didn’t want to disappoint Serena—in fact, he wished more than anything that she’d stop looking at him that way.

“Look, it’s not that I don’t appreciate your offer,” he began, glancing at her furtively. In response, she simply cocked her head to the side, studying him further.

“But you are unwilling to rise to your calling.” It wasn’t a question, or an argument, just a statement of what she clearly considered pure fact.

He began laughing, and shook his head dismissively. “Yeah, right, my calling,”

“You do have one.”

“On Antar?” he asked dubiously.

“Of course. Where else would your destiny be guiding you?”

“Planet Earth, Serena,” he answered seriously. “A normal life, here.”

“What holds you here? What about your life precisely?”

Kyle looked away, and stared out at the shimmering water, because she’d asked the very question he’d been endlessly toying with. Nothing held him here on Earth. That was the answer, absolutely nothing…apart from his father, and he would have advocated embracing the whole experience, no questions asked.

“I had a girlfriend, you know,” he finally offered. “When all this crap started last year.”

“Yes, Mandy O’Neill. I know.”

Kyle turned to her in surprise. “How…”

“We had you under surveillance, Kyle,” she replied. “It is my business to know these kinds of things. You and Mandy dated for five months and nine days, I believe, prior to the night we retrieved you.”

Shit. This was getting creepier by the moment. “I didn’t get to tell her goodbye.”

“You did not love her.” Again, it wasn’t a question, just an easy assessment of what Serena clearly believed to be the facts.

“Well…that’s not…” he could only sputter, because Serena was right. Mandy had been nothing more than a distraction—well, and a damn sexy one. But she had hardly been a great love, anymore than the other string of girls he’d dated all through college had ever been.

“It is relevant, if you’re suggesting that she holds you here in any way.”

“Maybe I want to be in love one day,” he blurted, feeling his face flush even more than it had already. “I mean, just some time.” Maybe I just want to be a normal guy, with a normal life.

“And that must be on Earth?”

“Well it sure as hell isn’t going to be with any of you little green people.”

“Grey,” she corrected, and if Kyle wasn’t mistaken, he noticed that her eyes danced a bit with mischief.

“Whatever,” he grumbled.

They fell silent, and Kyle stared pointedly away from her, despite the fact that she remained beside his chair. He felt her keen gaze, how she studied him, and perhaps even waited for him to say more. Finally, she sighed softly and rose to her feet, walking the length of the dock thoughtfully.

“Let me suggest something, Kyle,” she began quietly. “Just a point for you to consider in the next week or two.” She hesitated, running her fingers down the length of her blonde ponytail for a moment before she continued. “I believe that you have found your place within this group, much more so than you’ve been willing to admit. And it would be a shame if you allowed them to leave on that ship without you. An even greater shame if you miss an opportunity for greatness in the process.”

“Greatness?” he coughed, leaning forward in the chair. “No, no, see I don’t think so.”

“Because Kyle Valenti is not capable of greatness?”

“I didn’t say that,” he cried in exasperation.

“Then what did you say?”

Shit, she had him cornered…and she was right. He didn’t honestly believe he was capable of anything great, anything monumental at all. And the fact that Serena apparently believed so, left him wanting to run as far away as possible.

“I’m staying here. On Earth, because this is my home,” he announced with an air of finality.

“Alright. I understand,” she answered, her raspy voice unrevealing as she moved past him, toward the trail that wound away from the dock. But then she stopped and turned back to him as a seeming afterthought. “So I will schedule you for patrols again until we leave for Antar, then?”

“Yeah, sure,” he mumbled. “You can count on me.”

“Thank you,” she said, her voice oddly formal again, but then she hesitated a final moment. “You do understand that I was asking you to join our ranks? Not just to come with us, but to train on Antar as a royal protector?”

He nodded and studied his hands. “I just can’t,” he said, in a voice much more emotional than he wished.

“Very well,” she replied, then vanished onto the trail, disappearing into the thick foliage that always obscured its entrance at this time of year, before he could utter another word.

But the truth was, he hadn’t understood at all. He’d only thought they wanted him to accompany them as their friend, or at most, to help in some way. He groaned, burying his head in his hands, and prayed that he’d made the right decision.

****
Marco climbed to the highest part of the trail, to the rim that wound upward toward his most favorite spot, the one where he’d taken Tess the day of their bonding ceremony six months earlier. Yet it was one thing to hike that section in the daylight, and quite another in the thick of night, as he did now. He was thankful that Serena had asked him to take Kyle along, and even more grateful for the rhythmic sound of Kyle’s footfalls behind him on the path.

Marco glanced at his watch, squinting to read the faint light display. 2:48 a.m. Instantly, he remembered Tess’s admission of how much she worried about him on night patrol, and he felt a bit guilty. She’d been right—he did smother her in his effort to ensure her safety, and then just as easily he bent the rules in the opposite direction for his own purposes.

After all, he’d asked Serena to keep her off night patrols, though Tess believed she’d just been fortunate with the scheduling assignments. Double standard all the way, she was absolutely correct about it. But he couldn’t seem to stem his need to keep her safe; he felt so unable to fight it, it was almost as if it ran in his blood. And perhaps it did, in some way that he couldn’t quite fathom. After all, Marek had been Ayanna’s protector, and undoubtedly the urge to watch over her ran with the depth of lifetimes.

But he certainly hated the notion of Tess worrying about him, so he reached for her with his energy, allowing it to flow toward her, as he pressed further up the trail. His senses were instantly awash in her scent, so rich that his eyes watered in response. There was nothing more lovely than the sweet perfume of his mate’s essence. Nothing made him feel more fully alien than the way she aroused him like this, his groin tightening a bit as her energy danced across his skin.

She slept, at least lightly, because she didn’t answer him with any murmurings or other obvious signs of a connection. He smiled, realizing there was only the gentle reply of her spirit, breathing over him almost as if she climbed just beside him.

Behind him Kyle continued his even pacing, and Marco stopped, turning toward him. “Just up here,” Marco whispered into the thick darkness, punctuated only by the rhythmic cadence of crickets all through the thick woods.

“Alright,” Kyle affirmed, and Marco had the sense that he nodded.

It was strange to patrol with Kyle like this, though Marco had ultimately gotten used to it. Strange, because for so long he’d been unable to fight the sense that Kyle was his competitor with Tess in some way, but it was also more than that. It was odd to serve beside a human so easily, to feel the camaraderie of their unit, even though Kyle had never taken vows or gone through any of their rigorous training. Yet Kyle did fit right in their midst in some way that Marco could only account for with his intuition. He wasn’t a formal part of the unit—at least not yet—but he felt like a core piece, one that Marco knew they all needed.

But Kyle was conflicted.

Marco felt it resonate through his center, as surely as he felt Tess all around him. Moment of decision…loneliness. And Kyle’s roiling emotions were odd to Marco, given how obviously he did belong in their unit’s midst. For a moment, Marco hesitated on the trail, wrestled with the notion of asking Kyle what troubled his spirit. But then, instead, he decided to mention his quandary to Tess, since he felt unable to broach the emotional questions that obviously plagued him. He had no doubt that Tess would know just how to discuss such a topic with their friend, the one she considered a brother.

Ahead, Marco heard the rhythmic computerized sound of the receiver. They’d left it on the highest promontory on the trail, and so far they had intercepted three messages from the ship that was approaching closer by the day. The device that received the relays was not even as large as a laptop, sheltered by an all-weather covering. It was the kind of thing that the government would have killed to access, to use for reverse technology purposes, unlike anything yet invented on Earth. Ironically, it had only been used a handful of times in the past sixty years or so. It was only good for communicating on a particular frequency with an approaching ship, and that had only happened one other time since 1947—the ship that had brought Marco, Riley and the others to Earth when they were still podded.

“What is this damn thing?” Kyle asked as they rounded the boulders that obscured the receiver. “Some kind of…what?”

“It communicates with the ship,” Marco explained, dropping to the ground, the soft greenish glow of the display illuminating his path.

“You just leave it on all the time like this?” Kyle asked again, his voice a whisper.

“It stores the messages in code.” It was an overly simple answer, but the best way that he could explain the Antarian technology behind the equipment in a single sentence. Marco moved quickly, inserting a replacement power packet, downloading any received messages into a portable recorder. He jumped when he heard the quiet code begin sputtering forth once he’d selected the download feature. While he knew there might be a message, it was still startling after countless nights without any communication.

He listened to the rhythmic series of sounds, not unlike human Morse code, though configured differently.

“What’s it saying?” Kyle asked, kneeling beside him.

“A minute,” Marco instructed, focusing on the message as it played out. He stared up at the sky in disbelief for a long moment, as the message finally terminated. Kyle remained silent at his side, and finally Marco hit the download button again, to be sure he’d understood correctly. His hand trembled, as he wrestled by the glow of the output display to select the correct settings again.

As the series of rhythmic whines and beeps and staccato sounds filled the night, Marco shook his head in wonder—because their ship was indeed approaching--a full two weeks ahead of schedule.

“What?” Kyle asked again.

Marco stared up at the sky again, at the pregnant moon that filled it so completely, as he announced in a thick voice, “Our ship approaches.”

“Shit, can I borrow that thing? I need to talk to Buddha right now.” Despite his attempt at humor, Kyle’s voice betrayed his anxiety.

“This is serious, Kyle,” Marco answered thickly, rubbing a hand across his tired eyes.

“Yeah, I kind of got that idea,” Kyle replied.

Marco bowed his head, countless emotions warring for dominance. Finally, he spoke, his voice wavering with all the uncertainty that he felt. “We leave tomorrow night.”

Kyle stared at him, illuminated by the full moon, and even in the darkness his blue eyes reflected all that Marco felt. Every inconsequential thing faded into the background, because after all these years…they were going home.















posted on 10-Jun-2002 1:35:33 AM by RosDeidre
Author's Note:
Gotta love you bumpers. Even with the bumps, I had to scroll through 15 pages to find this--and behrhugs had bumped me earlier today! This board just moves so quickly lately, doesn't it?? ;-)

Thanks for all the wonderful support, guys.
hugs,
d


CHAPTER FOUR

Marco knelt on the dank floor of the bunker, carefully packing up their weaponry and supplies. Serena had been clear about one thing—if they left with nothing else, the weapons had to be ready to go by nightfall.

The ship’s transmission estimated rendezvous time as approximately two a.m., which meant they had fourteen hours left to finalize their preparations. They’d known it was coming for months, had thought they were ready for it, all of them. Yet now that the moment was at hand, Marco had to beat back the raw fear that was literally choking the breath from his lungs.

Home. That had been what he’d thought upon reading the transmission the night before. That they were going home. Now, that idea struck him as completely ludicrous. He might have alien power coursing in his veins, might be an empathic visionary, whatever. But he was also human. In all the ways that truly counted, Earth was his only home.

He opened a canister of K-12 luminators, examining the contents briefly, then slammed it shut in frustration. Two weeks they’d supposedly had. Two weeks when he’d intended to hike the upper trail with Tess one last time, when he’d planned to snag Riley and take off for Santa Fe to buy CD’s.

Two weeks left to marry Tess, which he’d finally decided to do, no matter the risk. He’d made his decision last night, and then the moment had been stolen from them before he’d even had the chance to propose. He wouldn’t tell her now, because it would only heighten her sense of loss about it—best just to hide the knowledge away in his heart, save her the pain of what might have been.

He could marry her on Antar, of course, but a little voice of anxiety that had been whispering in his ear had begun to shout much more loudly. They would never marry, not now. He wished he could dismiss his prescient sense about it, but he’d lived for too long with his intuition not to know when it spoke.

The worst part was how badly he’d wanted to give himself to her that way, how much he knew it meant to her, especially after their conversation yesterday. And it killed him to deny her anything that she wanted as much as she obviously did their marriage.

He should have capitulated months earlier, shouldn’t have been so stubborn. Tess was right when she told him it was an infuriating character flaw, because right now he despised it in himself. It had cost him their wedding, and for what purpose, Marco wondered, slamming another canister into the crate in frustration.

Tess had been asleep when he’d climbed in bed at four a.m. She’d been so peacefully nestled near him, that he’d not had the heart to wake her with the news of the ship’s imminent arrival. Instead, he’d lain in the darkness, just watching the soft rise and fall of her chest, lightly touching the golden tendrils of hair that wound across his pillow. Reverent. Amazed. God, how she moved him; even after all this time, it only intensified.

And when he’d finally dressed two hours later, sleep having evaded him mercilessly, she’d still slept peacefully in their bed. He’d kissed her cheek, strapping on his radio and K-12, and headed out to the bunker. He’d known it would be a long day’s work, and now his body was beginning to complain archly.

The fatigue was compounded by the fact that in the past hour, he’d begun to feel creeping regret that he’d not woken Tess to tell her the news about the ship himself. But she’d been at peace, and somehow he’d wanted to safeguard that peace, had wanted to protect it like the delicate thing it was. Everything was going to change soon enough.

But maybe he should have been the one to tell her, he reflected again, locking down a cache of luminator fuel with a weary sigh.

Overhead, he heard a rustling sound outside the opening to the bunker. He gazed into the sunlight filtering downward, squinting at the sudden contrast to the dark interior. A pair of small hiking boots swung into view, and Tess dropped down onto the floor in one fluid movement.

“Hey,” he smiled, still blinded from his glimpse of the bright exterior. She approached him quickly without a word, and then seemingly from nowhere, slammed him hard with both palms in the center of his chest.

He’d been squatting in front of the open crate, and the impact immediately knocked him off balance, sending him sprawling backwards onto the cool ground.

“What was that for?” he cried, as she immediately straddled him, pinning him forcefully beneath her small body. Familiar blue eyes flared with wild anger, as she hit him hard in the chest again with her open palm.

“Vegas, you moron!”

“Sweetheart,” he began, unsure what he’d even tell her, but then she leaned close down over him and whispered fiercely, “I could have at least heard the news from you this morning. That it was never going to happen at all.”

With that pronouncement, she started to rise off of him, but he grabbed her by the hips and held her firmly on top of him. “No, you don’t,” he declared, as she wrestled slightly against him.

“Don’t what?” She squirmed within his grasp, but his own anger had escalated instantly. Anger at himself, at their situation, at everything he’d been sensing about their future.

“Don’t leave me like this.”

The words electrified the room, as soon as he’d said them, and she stilled atop him, her muscular thighs wrapped right around his hips. He refused to loosen his grip on her, not until they were okay again.

There was only the sound of her staggered breathing in the bunker, and for some reason his gaze fell on a beam of light shimmering down just past her shoulder. He glimpsed dust moats cascading listlessly in the light.

“You could have married me,” she said.

“I know, Tess,” he whispered, meeting her piercing gaze again. This time he saw tears shimmering in her eyes, and suddenly it hit him. The reason she was so upset and angry with him. She sensed it, too. The bad portents for their future, the feeling that something crucial would now remain unresolved.

Neither spoke, they simply looked into one another’s eyes in silence. He was aware of his heart thundering in his chest, the feel of her against his groin, the fullness of her hips within his hands. And something vital stirred deep within his body, something he had no control over whatsoever. It was anything but human, the way it thrummed to life within his core.

He heard Tess gasp softly, again trying to wrestle free from him, which only caused him to hold her more tightly, slipping his palm around her backside. “Let me go, McKinley,” she ordered, her voice edged with bitterness.

“I will not. You are my lifemate and my love, and unless you acknowledge that fact,” he drew in a tight breath. When had it become so hard to breathe, the air so stifling? “That it’s more important than marrying me will ever be, then I will not let you go.”

“You’re ordering me, McKinley?” she asked breathily. “What? Ordering me to acknowledge you?”

“Yes.” Desperate, God so desperate. Baby, please, his heart begged. Just say it, please.

“I won’t,” she hissed harshly, and before he could stop her, she’d wrangled free, leaving him flat on his back.

“Tess!” he called, scrambling to follow her, but she’d already jumped up the steps of the short ladder, vanishing into the sunlight.

He took the steps three at a time, shimmying above ground, as he immediately searched the vicinity for her.

With a shaking hand, he reached for his radio, retrieving it from his belt. “Tess, come back,” he pleaded quietly, but his words were met only with crackling silence.

“Tess, we’re not finished,” he tried again, and this time the radio flared with life.

“Fuck you, McKinley,” she said simply.

He groaned, searching the trail for her as he sniffed the air. Her scent was still immediate, but he couldn’t detect which way she’d moved.

“Ah, trouble in paradise,” Riley’s voice cut in over the radio with a soft chuckle.

Great, Marco groaned inwardly, he’d been so upset, he’d not really even thought about their communications being overheard by the whole unit. Just great.

“Not funny, Rile,” he barked into the radio, and began climbing upward on the trail in the direction that led to the cabin. He prayed it was the right one, because it was critical that he resolve things with Tess, and he had far too much work to do in the bunker to waste time.

Serena’s irritated voice suddenly crackled across the radio. “Take this off the com, people. We have far too much to do today for this nonsense.” She sounded quite angry with all of them, as the radio fell silent, but then suddenly it sputtered again. “Harding, give your location to my son right now. You both need to focus today, so work this out now.”

There was long silence, and then Tess’ voice filled the woods. “Middle trail, section five.” She sounded defeated, tired. What had he done to them with his foolish stubbornness?

“Thank you,” he breathed into the radio, as much to Serena as to his mate, as he sprinted upward toward the spot of the trail that she’d just indicated.

****
Tess sat on a large rock, her face buried in her hands. Hot tears coursed her cheeks and she wondered why she felt so angry with Marco. She loved him more than ever, especially lately when their future felt so tenuous. But this anger, she couldn’t seem to quell it, as it kept surging upward in her heart. Even when she’d felt his incredible fear and vulnerability in the bunker, the way he’d begged her. She wiped at the tears, remembering how much he’d just needed a simple reassurance. Why had it been so impossible to give?

She felt him nearing her even now. She couldn’t hear him, but she felt his strong energy just shimmering closer, felt his heart and the way it beat crazily in his chest. How the fear was choking him. She lifted her head, just as he appeared below her on the trail, and her breath caught in her throat. Suddenly the anger dissipated, seemed completely unimportant, as she glimpsed the way his black eyes were filled with undisguised need for her.

Rising unsteadily to her feet, she flung herself into his arms dramatically, burying her face against his chest. All at once, his hands were moving over her body, in her hair, along her back, almost as if he was making sure she was solid and real. “I’m so sorry,” he murmured against the top of her head. “I’m so sorry, baby…” he just kept whispering those words over and over.

“It’s okay,” she said, gathering his t-shirt in desperate bunches within her hands. “We’re okay.” Are we, really, though? Some part of her heart cried. Will we survive this?

“It’s enough, what we are,” he promised, drawing back to stare into her eyes. “We’re enough as lifemates for now.”

Tess wondered why he seemed so panicked, almost as if he were seeking her reassurance, even as he seemed to be giving it. “For now, yes,” she agreed softly, reaching to cup his face within her hand.

He nodded, and leaned low to kiss her. For a moment, she thought it might actually be a gentle kiss, but as she tilted her chin upward to meet his lips, something unexpected skittered between them. The same kind of thing she’d felt straddling him in the bunker. She rose onto her tiptoes, pulling him downward into the kiss, needing him completely.

Her fingers wound their way through his short, bristling hair, the slight curls thick beneath her hand. Marco clasped her hip with one hand, drawing her flush against him, pinning her against himself as he had earlier. Beneath his soft khakis, she felt how aroused he’d become, the way his shaft pressed hard against her abdomen, insistent.

“Marco,” she said, and was surprised that her voice came out thick and husky. “Gotta stop.”

“Yes, must,” he agreed, shaking his head, even as he captured her mouth again in a wild kiss.

The banking need she felt from him was dizzying, different than it had been in the past. It was twisted together with such raw desperation for her, that it folded around her in a heady, disorienting way.

Finally, Marco broke the kiss, gasping the word, “Bunker,” softly. “Weapon…detail.”

She nodded, licking her lips helplessly, as they simply stared into one another’s eyes. His were moodier than ever, hooded and filled with undisguised promise of something far more intimate than the moment offered.

“I…I’m supposed to help Kyle,” she barely managed to stammer, feeling her face flush painfully beneath his steady gaze.

“Maybe…later,” Marco offered, stepping away from her. He tugged on his khakis, readjusting them where his groin had grown tight.

She gazed downward meaningfully-- just staring at the bulge in his pants, then slowly raised her eyes and met his keen stare again. “Later, yes,” she purred in invitation, slipping her hand between his legs with a slow caress. He instantly pressed his eyes shut, sighing softly as his deep pleasure moved through the air that separated them. Right in her center, she felt it. His relief that she wasn’t angry; relief still coupled with such strange desperation and…regret.

She dropped her hand, and his eyes fluttered open. “Marco, the only thing that matters…is that we have each other,” she reassured him gently.

He nodded, brushing the back of his hand across his wet, swollen lips. “I love you, Tess. Know that, no matter what.”

Something about the words, the way they seemed so ominous, caused her to shiver despite the smothering August heat. “Of course.”

Their radios crackled in unison, Serena’s voice echoing in the quiet woods. “Marco, I’m heading down to the bunker. How’s your progress?”

He kissed her quickly on the cheek, and moved away from her without another word, as he retrieved his radio from his hip. For a long moment, Tess allowed herself to watch his tall, lean form as he scrambled down the path. Just appreciated his deep, throaty voice as he answered Serena over the radio.

It was a moment she might have taken for granted on a hundred other occasions; but not today. Not this time. The sight of her mate disappearing down the trail was a precious treasure, something to storehouse in her memories of Earth, because in just fourteen more hours her memories were all she’d ever have left of home.



posted on 10-Jun-2002 3:30:53 AM by RosDeidre
Glad you guys like this newest installment, and no worries--Max and Liz are next on deck!! LOL! It's all a matter of rotating POV in this series.
hugs,
d
posted on 12-Jun-2002 3:32:00 PM by RosDeidre
Hey, Guys:
FYI, those of you who have been enjoying this whole GRAVITY series (that's going to be the name of the whole series in the end)...I posted a one part tag fic called EXIT MUSIC. It's a prequel piece from Serena's POV in 1946. It's something that's very dear to my heart for a variety of reasons, so hope you'll check it out! Hugs, d
posted on 12-Jul-2002 6:02:26 AM by RosDeidre
Hey, Guys:
I haven't forgotten this one, promise. I got a little bogged down, working on ANTARIAN NIGHTS, then also a new fic which I've already finished WINTER SOLSTICE. That's a polar fic, though, so if you're not into polar--avoid! *happy* Here's a link though:

http://pub84.ezboard.com/frosdeidresfanfictionfrm10.showMessage?topicID=2.topic

And speaking of links, FYI I'm starting my own website, but it's not up just quite yet. In the meantime, though feel free to visit my fic board that will be linked from Rosdeidre.com. Here's the board link:

http://pub84.ezboard.com/brosdeidresfanfiction

I definitely plan to get a new part up of UNIVERSE before long, though I'm working on CRAZY right now--then probably will finish up the next part of ANTARIAN NIGHTS. So most likely, it will be at least a few more weeks. But then you should expect a few parts in a row.
hugs to all! D



posted on 14-Oct-2002 10:18:45 PM by RosDeidre
Ah, you guys just blow my mind. I've really not abandoned this puppy. The good news is that it's all mapped out in my head, but it *does* take a lot of juggling (all the POV's etc). Hang with me, and I'll be turning my attention here before too too long. Really. Some things must be done first, but I'll be back. Meanwhile, thanks for caring about this one. It really seemed when I started it that so few people did...guess I was wrong! Hugs, d
posted on 8-Dec-2002 4:49:01 PM by RosDeidre
Author’s Note:
Well, yes, it’s been forever on this particular story. You guys have been incredibly patient. Looks like I’ve gotten the inspiration back on this one, so hopefully there will be more updates in your future. Thanks for being such great readers and supporters. It means the world to me!
Hugs, d




PART FIVE

Tess rummaged through her dresser drawers, tossing sweaters and shirts onto the bed. Serena had reminded them that the ship’s environment would be cool, possibly even cold at times, despite the temperature regulators on board. They would be traveling through deep space, and should come prepared accordingly.

They were only allowed to bring one duffel bag with them, and although neither possessed much, packing certainly proved a challenge. It was hard to believe that her entire existence could be stuffed into a single suitcase. Then again, why should that surprise her? During her years with Nasedo she’d always been on hold, ready to travel at a moment’s notice. It had remained that way until Marco. With him, despite herself, she’d begun to dig in, to drop anchor and believe the fantasy of their life together as humans.

She’d never told him, but some part of her had even daydreamed that they’d move to California one day. That she’d roller blade there again, her long hair flowing wild in the ocean wind, sharing the moment with her soul mate. It had been a naïve, girlish fantasy, especially once she’d known that the cruiser was on its way from Antar.

Of course, Marco seemed to bring out her innocence, had always caused her to believe in romance and fairy tales, even as he confounded her at every juncture with his complicated nature.

“Marco,” she actually murmured aloud in frustration, shaking her head. “What am I going to do with you?” He made her insanely frustrated, with that stubborn streak of his that ran long as a desert road. Nearly as wild as he drove her between the sheets.

Separating from him for a few hours had been a good thing. It allowed time for both their tempers to cool--and their bodies—while he finished up with Serena and Riley down in the bunker. She needed that time to finish the packing, without him hovering over her every selection as she packed them both.

She was acting just like a wife, she laughed wryly. Only she wasn’t his wife, not really, only his lifemate. On Antar, that was considered the most valuable designation between couples, which did bring her some small comfort. Except that in situations such as theirs, where Antarian society deemed the match uneven, a formal union was considered critically important.

Well, the ship arriving two weeks early had put an end to those hopes, and deep down she knew that some crucial piece of their life together had been left askew. That a needed balance had never struck between their two hearts. She’d thought that a marriage between them might cause Marco to dismiss the Antarian class issues, might put his mind at ease. Now that would never happen—at least not until they arrived on Antar—and something about that left Tess feeling indescribably melancholy.

She rifled through the stack of CD’s on the bed, pulling out Marco’s favorites; his complete Bob Dylan collection, The Band, Neil Young, tucking them into the sides of his bag amidst the clothing and other items. She glimpsed his black parka, shoved bulkily along the edge of his pack. It reminded her of their long months apart, when he’d been in the enemy camp and she’d pined for him so desperately. The little things had kept her sane then. The scent of him on the jacket, listening to his favorite music. Growing her hair long, just for him.

Again, the sadness came upon her, suffocating and palpable. Suddenly she wished that Marco were with her, not down at the bunker. She needed to feel him in her arms, to make love one last time before they left. Needed to talk about what they’d ignored for so long—what it really meant to leave Earth. This was their home, the only one either had ever known. Yet they’d never really belonged here, and in only a few more hours, they’d all be leaving for good.

Then there was Kyle. How did he feel about leaving Earth? He was the only one without a mate, without that draw toward their alien home world. She’d felt conflict within him for the past days; that sense had only intensified with the group’s imminent departure. Over breakfast, she’d tried broaching her concern with him, but he’d just made jokes and laughed her off. Although she’d worked to press into his emotions, the only reading she’d gotten off of him was of anxiety and sadness. That made perfect sense, and she’d been ready to let it go, until she’d caught Serena staring at them both.

For a moment it almost seemed as if she knew something about him that the others didn’t, the way she studied him. A strange emotion shadowed her features, but then Maria had come bursting into the kitchen, Michael in tow, arguing about something inconsequential. Just that quickly, the moment had been lost, and she’d meant to pull Serena aside later and ask her about Kyle. But with all the day’s chaos, even her argument with Marco, she’d never had the chance. Truth was, the ship’s arrival had caught them all off guard, and they’d been scrambling to make preparations ever since.

The ship. Just the thought of it caused Tess’s stomach to tighten nervously. That she’d be boarding an Antarian cruiser and spending four months in space felt truly bizarre. It was one thing to imagine this day as they’d always done, quite another to see it arrive. A part of her had thought they’d live like this forever, in a peaceful mountain world, sequestered from the rest of the universe.

She moved to the mirror, drawing her hair into a neat ponytail, and stared at her reflection for a long moment. Could the woman gazing back at her really rise to her calling? Could she be the king’s advisor, his protector? She shivered slightly at the image reflected before her--a slight wisp of a girl, wearing blue jeans and a tank top. A human. What the hell was she getting herself into?

There was a light knock on her door, and she turned from the mirror. “Come in,” she called, and Kyle’s face appeared in the doorframe. “Hey,” she smiled, waving him closer.

“Can I talk to you?” His blue eyes were troubled.

“Yeah, what’s up?” She moved the duffle bag on the bed out of the way. There wasn’t really anywhere else to sit in their small room, so she settled on the edge, urging him closer.

He dropped heavily beside her. “I came to say goodbye.”

“What?” she cried. “Goodbye?”

“I know, Tess, but it’s gotta be this way.”

“No,” she announced firmly, jumping to her feet. “You always said you were coming with me. With us.”

“Tess, I’ve got no reason to go, and every reason to stay.”

“No reason?” she nearly shouted, her eyes smarting with instant tears. It had never once occurred to her that Kyle would stay behind. He’d always made it clear that he was along for the entire, insane journey with them all. “What about me? Aren’t I a good enough reason?”

“I love you, Tess. You know that,” he answered, staring at the floor. “You’re my sister in all the ways that count.”

“Then come with me!” she cried, the tears beginning to streak her face. “I can’t do this without you, Kyle.”

“Of course you can,” he encouraged, finally looking up to meet her gaze. “You are incredibly strong, Tess. Stronger than you think. Besides, you have Marco now.”

“Are you really willing to let us go without you?” she asked, dropping to her knees in front of him. “Won’t you regret that?”

“I’ll miss the hell out of all of you.” He reached for her hand, drawing it within his own. “Especially you.”

“Don’t make this mistake, Kyle,” she urged, wiping at her tears. “You belong with the rest of us.”

He laughed bitterly, shaking his head. “Now you’re starting to sound like your buddy Serena.”

“My buddy?”

“Well, seeing as how you’re a protector and all that.”

“What did Serena tell you?” she asked, remembering the strange way she’d observed her conversation with Kyle that morning. “Did she say something to make you want to stay behind? Is that the problem here?”

“Nope, not a bit,” he answered opaquely, and his gaze grew distant.

“What aren’t you telling me, Kyle? You’re hiding something, I feel it.” And she did, right in her center, a strange shadowy feeling. The kind Marco had trained her to understand meant deception or hidden emotions.

“Can I ask you a question, Tess?”

“Anything.”

“What does it mean to you, being a protector? I mean, what is it that protectors do on Antar? Are they like palace guards or something?”

It was a strange question coming from Kyle, and while a part of her wondered what had precipitated it, she didn’t press him. “It’s far more than that, Kyle,” she answered seriously. “They already have plenty of guards and soldiers.”

“Okay, well then what’s the difference?”

“It’s a spiritual charge, that’s the best way I can explain it. The tradition goes back almost a thousand years, and it’s usually based on bloodline. Marco, Serena, their families have been in it for generations. Hundreds of years.”

Kyle scowled, raking a hand over his eyes. “What do you mean by a spiritual charge?”

Tess rose and sat beside him on the bed again, considering her answer. She and Marco had discussed this topic at length over the past months, as she’d sought to understand what her new role really meant, what would be expected of her on Antar, and of her mate.

“Well, we watch over the royal house, that’s part of it. So, we are soldiers, in a way,” she began, nearly reciting some of Marco’s own explanation. “But it’s much deeper, it’s related to a spiritual watching. We use our gifts, intuit where the danger lies, we safeguard them with our spirits.”

“I don’t have any gifts. I’m human.”

Tess didn’t answer for a moment, as she sought his heart with her empathy. Grieving…confused…lonely. But she couldn’t wrap her mind around the deep conflict that she sensed--or how it related to his observation about not having gifts of his own.

“Why do you mention that now?” she finally asked, turning to face him.

He stared down at his hands and shrugged. “No reason.”

“Kyle, please. Don’t be dishonest with me. Not now of all times.”

He sighed, flipping through the CD’s that remained scattered on the bed. “If you’re not taking Moby, can I have it? I’ll need some good dance music while I watch you guys fly away.”

It was such a typical Kyle maneuver; deflect the conversation, make light of things. “Kyle,” she sighed in exasperation.

“All right, all right! I’ll tell you,” he finally grumbled, continuing to flip through the CD’s. “Serena asked me to come with you guys. To train as a protector.”

“Really?” Tess asked, feeling her heartbeat quicken. Thank you, Serena, some part of her whispered, because if Kyle was going to come with them, he needed to feel that he had a place with them all. “That’s a really huge deal.”

“Yeah, well don’t get too worked up about it, because I said no.”

Tess’s spirits instantly soared earthward again. “Why?”

“It’s like I told Serena. Earth is my home, okay?” he snapped irritably. “Not some rock three galaxies away.”

“Yeah, got it. Loud and clear.” She couldn’t disguise the way his words hurt her.

“I will miss the hell out of you, Tess. All of you, but it just doesn’t make sense for me to tag along.”

“Serena must have had a good reason for asking you to join our ranks.”

“Well, see, that’s what I don’t get. You said that being a protector is all about spiritual gifts, and watching and all this alien mumbo jumbo, but I don’t have any of it.”

“Have you thought about asking Serena if that matters? Maybe she thinks you can develop those things?”

“How? By taking some transformation shots or something?”

“Maybe it’s not that different than being a Buddhist,” she offered softly. “You know? I mean maybe there’s a relationship between the two things.”

Kyle grumbled something inaudible, rising to his feet. He paced the room to her window, lifting back the curtain. “Hitman in the Hand of Buddha,” he laughed suddenly.

Tess scrunched her nose in confusion, wondering why he mentioned his favorite kung fu movie. “What?”

“You know, Buddhist warrior. Meditation meets kick ass weaponry. Maybe that’s what this is about.”

“Maybe you should forget Serena and ask Buddha,” Tess suggested, guided by pure instinct.

“Yeah, well McKinley wouldn’t let me use his little communicator,” he grumbled with a bitter laugh. “And Buddha’s been pretty silent about this whole situation.”

“Silent, huh?” she smiled. “Ever occur to you that Buddha might have already spoken, but you’re resisting what he said?”

Kyle stared at her a long moment, something unreadable flickering in his expression. “I had my mind made up before Serena came to me yesterday,” he explained. “So that’s what I need to stick with.”

“But you weren’t happy, Kyle,” she answered. “That much has been obvious for weeks.”

“How can I be happy to tell you goodbye?” he asked, tears welling in his own eyes. “You and my dad are the only family I’ve ever had.”

“Then come with me,” she urged one final time. “Please.”

He closed his eyes, wiping at them. “If you beg, Tess, my heart can’t take it. So let’s just say goodbye now.”

“We’re not leaving until tonight,” she answered, feeling her throat tighten painfully. “That’s hours from now.”

“I can’t draw this out,” he explained. “I’m going to do as much as I can to help today because I promised Serena I’d stick around until the end. I just thought the end was coming a lot later than now.”

“All right,” Tess sighed. “If your mind’s made up, it’s made up.”

Years of knowing Kyle had taught her that sometimes she reached an emotional impasse, a place where she could no longer communicate with him. Like after their break up in early college. They’d dated so briefly, yet she’d always worried that it had hurt him in the long run, left him feeling oddly hopeless about his chances of falling in love. But despite that, she knew they were truly family now, that he had no regrets, though at the time she’d chosen to let him remain quiet about it for a time.

The door to the bedroom opened, and Marco appeared. Tess stared up at her mate, and saw her own pain reflected back at her in his large, dark eyes.

“What’s going on?” Marco asked uncertainly, stepping toward her. He slipped a soothing hand on her shoulder, as he stared at Kyle, waiting for an explanation.

“He isn’t coming,” Tess admitted, feeling tears well in her eyes again. After everything else today, the thought of losing her brother was the final blow. “Serena offered to train him as a protector, but he’s not coming.”

“Serena offered you a place within our corps?” Marco asked, his voice hushed. “Truly?”

Kyle shrugged a little self-consciously. “I have no clue why. I mean, I’m only a meager human, after all.”

“You are not even of the lineage,” Marco murmured in disbelief. “This is an unbelievable honor. You must know that.”

“Is it?” Kyle asked, and Tess couldn’t help smiling at the way his eyes grew wide, despite himself. He was interested. Intrigued, for sure. The problem was as it had often been with Kyle and the alien side of things--he was frightened by the unknown factor. Frightened, yet drawn magnetically forward, just as with his religion.

“Serena must see much in your future. Many possible giftings,” Marco assured him. “As for your humanity, that would be prized on Antar.”

“Huh,” he reflected, turning toward the window, his back to them both. “Funny, but I don’t see any of those same things in myself.”

“Difficult to see if you do not look,” Marco observed, arching one black eyebrow. Tess slipped her arm around his waist. Immediately warm, soothing energy washed over her spirit. Somehow, she was certain, they would reach Kyle and convince him to go on the ship.

“I’ve been looking a long time, McKinley,” he said. “Ever since I became part of this insanity.”

“Perhaps you’ve not found your answer because it lies elsewhere.”

Kyle seemed to ponder Marco’s words, then said, “Kind of like Siddhartha.”

“What do you mean?” Tess asked.

“Siddhartha discovered suffering and could no longer be content to stay at his home.”

Marco’s dark eyes narrowed. “Have you discovered suffering?”

“I’ve discovered that I don’t know jack shit. That’s what you people have taught me.”

“But you can learn if you come with us,” Tess piped in, breathless despite herself. “Find out what it’s all about.”

“Know what I’m afraid of, Tess? Do you?” he asked, staring into her eyes with unbelievable intensity. “That I’ll get there and discover I still don’t know jack shit about the universe.”

Marco folded his hands beneath his nose thoughtfully. “L’athra meisa dlraske,” he pronounced in Antarian. “‘Without movement, there is not understanding.’ It’s the first tenet Serena taught me when I prepared to take my vows.”

Kyle nodded. “Life is fluid.”

“Yes,” Marco agreed. “Nothing is ever still, even if one tries to remain so.”

There was only silence between the three of them. Tess’s heart raced crazily as she waited for Kyle to respond. His decision would hinge on this one moment, she was certain of it.

Finally, Kyle blew out a heavy breath, walking toward them both. “I’ll keep that in mind when I watch you guys go.” With that, he brushed right past them and left the room without another glance in their direction.

So it was done. Kyle would remain behind, and Tess would never see her brother again after tonight.









[ edited 1 time(s), last at 8-Dec-2002 5:02:21 PM ]
posted on 12-Jan-2003 7:55:17 PM by RosDeidre
Author’s Note:
As always, thanks to Angela for being Super Beta. Also thanks to all my faithful, dedicated readers. You guys make it all worthwhile. THANK YOU.
Hugs, RosD



PART SIX


Max stroked Liz’s stomach, tracing his fingertips across the tight skin of her abdomen. She’d grown much larger in these final months of pregnancy, blossoming into the fullness of her condition. Her small frame had borne the changes gracefully, as she’d assumed a womanly shape he’d never quite imagined in all the years he’d spent dreaming of her. Beautiful, the only way to describe the love of his life, now more than ever.

They sat together on the edge of their bed, two duffle bags strewn behind them, only half-packed. The day was fading fast, which meant only a few more hours left on Earth. But it was hard for Max to focus when he felt so worried about their baby. When he felt so unprepared for the life facing them on Antar.

“The baby’s still not turned,” he observed, staring downward at her swelling stomach. Max could sense the baby’s position because of the connection the three of them shared.

“He will,” Liz smiled in reassurance, as he lowered the waistband of her leggings. He gave her stomach a tender caress, meant to radiate love to Liz and the baby at the same time, but what began as a completely paternal feeling shifted, and became something undeniably arousing. Max felt a small answering tug in his groin, and he pressed her waistband even lower.

They didn’t have time for lovemaking, not today, no matter how badly he wanted his wife. But he did need to connect with their son. He’d hoped to sense him in the downward position, although at just thirty-two weeks it would hardly matter—the baby would flip flop numerous times up until the final week or two. Max knew that from reading What to Expect When You’re Expecting over and over until the pages were worn thin.

“What if he doesn’t?” Max asked, feeling a ribbon of energy thread between the baby and himself. “Turn, that is? What happens then? And what about you, sweetheart?” Max couldn’t perform a miraculous c-section; that was something beyond even his powers.

Liz sighed, leveling him with her wise gaze. “Max, I’m probably better off on the ship, with the benefit of advanced Antarian medical treatment than I am here on Earth, where I could never go to a hospital without risking exposure to us all.”

“Your blood is human,” he reminded her. “You’re not like me.”

“We haven’t checked it lately, sweetheart,” she laughed. “Not since your alienization of me.” Max smiled at the way she described their previous mating seasons, how they’d opened up her gifts and abilities. “I mean, I’m probably just awash in hybrid blood cells and other strange phenomena at this point.”

“Well, when you put it that way,” he agreed, leaning low to kiss her abdomen. She rolled onto her back, and he felt need course through his entire body in response to her undisguised invitation. God, the hormones were driving them both half-wild, the way they kept careening through their systems, urging them to one another. If only there were time to make love now. It might be days before they could have one another again, he nearly groaned.

Liz’s voice deepened, became husky as she whispered, “See, I’m right.” She gave his hair a soft stroke, seducing him with that one simple touch, as he showered her stomach with fiery kisses. “Face it. I’m always right,” she panted, lifting her hips.

“That’s why you’re the queen and I worship you,” he teased. “Just don’t ever tell anyone where the real power resides. Please?” He looked up at her, wondering if he looked as lost to her as he felt at the moment. Lost, aroused and in definite trouble if she kept up with the seduction tactics.

He trailed the kisses higher, lifting her t-shirt to reveal a satin bra. For a moment, he tugged the silky material low, drawing a nipple between his lips. She made a plaintive cry, clasping his shoulders and urging him closer. “I’m marching into that palace, and taking over,” she sighed on a breath. “You can just…oh! Count on it.”

“Well, maybe things will go better this time around, then,” he said, suddenly serious. All the desire seemed to drain right out of their interaction.

Liz struggled to sit upright in bed, clasping his arm. “Max, you are going to be an amazing king. The Antarians need you now more than ever. You know what Serena’s said about Khivar’s rule.”

“What about the Antousians?” he asked, wiping at his mouth. “Not sure they’re going to feel the same way.”

Liz sighed, drawing the elastic waistband of her leggings back over her large stomach with a loud pop. “We both know it’s going to require a lot of diplomacy and a whole lot of learning for all of us. But according to Serena, there are many influential people behind us. That means we can count on those people to help us learn.”

Max nodded thoughtfully, smiling. “Kind of odd, isn’t it? That so many people are waiting for our return?”

“Odd, but somehow, right.”

“Yes, it does feel right. Strange as that is to admit.”

“Maybe because I know we’re together,” Liz supplied, rising to her feet. “So long as we’re together, we can handle anything. That’s always been true.”

“Such a wise woman. Sure you don’t want to march in that palace and take over completely?”

“Behind every great man is—“

“A great woman of power.”

Liz shivered, remembering what one lost young girl had reflected so many years before. Something that seemed particularly apt today, as they packed their bags and headed into the unknown.

Great queens always pointed their husbands toward home.



****

Kyle knelt over a box of food and other supplies in the kitchen pantry. The ship would have plenty of rations for the journey, but Serena had wanted to take some of their own, as well.

Coffee. That was the news nobody wanted to break to Max Evans, or rather the lack of it. It only made Kyle more thankful for his decision to stay behind on Earth. But that didn’t mean he’d be the one to tell Evans the truth; that there was nothing like coffee on Antar. In fact, he, Maria, Michael and Alex had drawn straws earlier, after Liz had asked them to do the job. She’d laughed with them, yet he honestly thought there’d been a hint of seriousness when she’d admitted that she didn’t have the heart to break the news to their fearless leader. Probably a good thing Alex had won the draw, because at least those two might commiserate about it.

Since the beginning of college, Max had taken to drinking some six cups a day of the stuff. Recently, by Michael’s accounting, six had become a definite seven or eight. No wonder he was always so high strung. Maybe someone should have thought about curtailing his caffeine consumption ages ago.

Besides, what did these people think, that life on another planet would include Starbucks, beer and Buddha? Well, maybe Buddha, he reflected a moment, remembering his conversation with Marco. But, no, he’d made the right decision, even though as he thought about Tess, he felt instantly regretful.

If he stayed behind, he’d lose the only sister he’d ever known—if he went, he’d leave his father. But the choice had already been made.

***
Marco stared up into the black night sky, searching for any sign of the approaching Antarian craft. It would come in stealthily, he knew. He might even sense the crew on board, their life force and emotional landscape, before glimpsing a thing overhead.

He’d taken position beside Max, his hand hovering nervously over his holstered weapon. As overzealous as he felt, he just couldn’t shake the feeling that his king and queen weren’t truly safe yet, not until they were on board that shuttle.

Tess flanked Liz on the other side, so that the couple was sandwiched protectively between them. As they’d taken position together, Marco had seen Max flinch in protest, but he’d lifted an eyebrow, daring Max to challenge him. He’d known it was an insubordinate gesture on his part, but if that’s what it took to silence any royal complaints, then that’s what his training dictated. Somehow he knew things on Antar were going to work by negotiation between Max and himself more often than not--probably because Max Evans was as stubborn as he tended to be himself, and just as independent.

While that had worked here on Earth, when the royals had usually been safe and protected, it would be another matter as they entered the potentially hostile environment of their home planet.

Marco had held his breath a moment, wondering how Max would respond to his implied challenge--until his king had nodded in respect, turning back toward the lake. One thing was certain about the relationship between Max and himself; ever since his time in the enemy’s camp, their sense of loyalty to one another had grown much deeper. A trust was there that had been absent before, perhaps only on Max’s side, but maybe even on his own. No longer. They had their own strange bond, the kind forged from fighting together, and even from the intimacy that resulted when he restored the connection between Max and Liz.

Max stood beside him, thoughtful and silent as he slipped an arm around Liz’s shoulder. He was concerned for his wife, for the baby, and it only made Marco more watchful as he studied the lake’s shoreline, searching out any sign of a disturbance. The entire group had gathered on the large dock, and had been waiting for the past thirty minutes since their intelligence reports indicated that a small transport craft would approach the water’s surface at approximately nine p.m. Not a landing precisely—they would be conveyed from the dock onto the craft by a small ramp. Then the launch shuttle would carry them to the much larger Antarian cruiser.

Marco scanned the cloudless sky again; stars spread overhead like sparkling jewels. His heartbeat quickened as he imagined the view from onboard the ship. A view he’d share with his beloved. One sideways glance at Tess revealed a similar expression on her face; eyes upturned, expectant wonder on her lovely face. He reached for their bond, needing her. Needing to know that they were truly unified, despite their earlier conflict.

His eyes watered, as she responded without a moment’s hesitation, and their connection opened like pure electric current between their two spirits. Love, he murmured and felt her shiver as his energy folded around her. Then her energy gave a reflexive kick, the kind that might have dizzied him were his senses not so keenly focused.

Don’t be naughty
, McKinley, she teased, never so much as looking his way. Her eyes were trained on the lake, the sky, the woods around them. Just like him, she lived her role as royal protector.

What?
he denied innocently. I’m just checking in with my partner. Are you feeling okay, sweet love?

Sweet love
, she repeated with a loud snort. Now that’s something you call your watchmate?

I’ve been known to call Rile that on many an occasion.

Ha, yeah, right.

For a moment, the two of them fell silent, paying keen attention to their environment, but then in the midst of their energy bond, something made a sharp intrusion. Marco glanced over his shoulder, and he sensed Tess spin in unison with him.

“What is it?” Max asked in alarm, pulling Liz close against him.

“Not sure yet.” Marco sniffed at the air, but there were only familiar, safe scents. No enemies. Still, his hand twitched against his weapon, as he and Tess shared a glance in the darkness.

What was it?
She asked, anxiousness in her voice. Felt like a…what?

Not sure, love. Not sure.
He glanced around again, reaching outward with his empathy, allowing the tendrils of it to snake along the perimeter, to plumb the depths of the compound.

Use your empathy
, he instructed coarsely, and he sensed Tess join her power to his own. He felt his ability ramp up by several crucial degrees, and worked to steady his empathic instincts before they took control of him, not vice versa. Ground it, he cautioned from experience. Ground your giftings.

But his lifemate seemed to have no problem keeping her newfound abilities under control. Someone’s here, she announced. Reaching for her weapon, she fingered the holster with a nervous gesture. Again, he lifted his nose, testing the atmosphere with his senses. Nothing. Yet he couldn’t shake the sense that someone was among them, someone dangerous.

He cocked his weapon, bracing it against his chest. Careful, Tess, he cautioned, stepping away from Max and Liz. Watch them.

Of course, Marco
, she agreed and he felt her energy skitter down his spine. Tense, poised on edge, but calm and determined, too.

“Riley, Serena,” Marco whispered into the thick darkness. They were standing with Anna beside Isabel, Alex, Michael and Maria on the dock. “We sense something.”

Betrayal, conviction. Movement and power. All around them.
The emotions slammed into his chest, knocking the air from his lungs. Nearly knocking him right off his damned feet.

Marco’s head snapped upward. Something was wrong. Someone was here, someone other than the Antarians. He could sense them within the compound itself.

Serena ushered the rest of the group off the dock, to the foot of the trail, where they all hid beneath some bushes. Then, she fell back, speaking to their unit in quiet tones. “The skins might have intercepted our transmissions.”

“Why now?” Anna asked, folding her arms across her chest.

“We’ve been transmitting for weeks,” Marco agreed, trying to read Serena’s expression in the thick darkness. “Nothing happened before.”

“But the communications changed today,” Riley interjected. “I handled it myself, up on the ridge.”

Serena nodded in agreement. “We switched frequencies for immediate connection this morning at precisely nine a.m.”

“Then we need to abort,” Marco said, taking the K-12 within his hands. He uploaded the weapon with a loud kick for dramatic emphasis. “Right now.”

“Marco, calm,” Serena urged, pinching the bridge of her nose. “We must remain calm.”

Closing in, aggressive, violent. Now. Now.

Marco stepped close to his unit leader and whispered. “I feel them here now, Serena. Our enemies are among us, be certain of it.”

She didn’t so much as blink, as she ordered, “Then respond accordingly.”

That was the only instruction he needed to move into action. Marco leapt off the dock to where Max hunkered between Liz and Maria. He placed his large hands on Max’s arms, framing his leader’s body as he thrust him to the ground. With a flick of his wrist, Marco activated his protective shield, surrounding both Max and himself within its perimeter. Tess mirrored his actions, covering Liz’s small body with her own delicate one, instigating her energy barrier just as he had, though Tess proceeded with apparent caution because of Liz’s condition.

“Marco, what the hell’s happening?” Max demanded, trying to roll to face him.

Marco planted a large palm between Max’s shoulder blades, pushing him hard toward the earth. “Stay down!” he cautioned, regretting that his voice sounded so panicked. But he was panicked, afraid that their communications with the Antarians had betrayed Max’s location to their enemies. This moment might well mean Max’s life; it was no time to be casual.

Through the shimmering haze of his shield, Marco watched Serena and Riley disappear into the mouth of the trail, obviously investigating. Then, after several endless moments, Marco’s radio crackled, but he couldn’t make out Serena’s broadcast. He was too deafened by a loud humming sound, the result of his energy shield vibrating within his ears. For as long as he could remember, using his powers this intensely had caused a problem with his hearing, making things muted and scrambled. A direct and unfortunate result of his empathic nature.

He gazed at Tess for explanation, trying to focus on the rippling image of her lovely face, disjointed because of their dual energy fields. He hated feeling so disoriented, unable to see or hear properly. Tess obviously understood that, nodding as she whispered across their bond.

They see nothing
, she explained. That’s what they’re saying, that there’s nothing up there.

But we feel it
, Marco insisted sharply.

I-I feel something, yes
, his mate agreed. Are you sure it’s not the Antarians?

Danger, Tess. I sense violence. Smell it in the air.

For a moment she fell silent, then he heard her agreement in his very center—right as the sky became illuminated with a shaft of light. Strange, there seemed to be no noise at all, just a thin streak of light beaming onto the water’s mirrored surface.

At that precise moment, his radio crackled again and he tried to focus, despite the droning sound in his ears. “What?” he said aloud in frustration, and it was Max who answered. “They’ve been ambushed!” he said. “Up on the trail.”

“Damn it!” Marco cried, dropping the barrier. “Let’s go now!”

The craft came low, and the group scrambled onto the dock as it approached. “Come on, Max,” Marco urged, placing a protective hand around him. There was no other way to move their king, no other way to get him aboard the transport without putting him in the open this way. Right in the potential line of unseen fire.

Over the radios, a sputtering of weaponry crackled, and Tess shared a panicked look with him. Marco’s weapon was cocked and ready as they held position by their leaders.

A gangway of sorts opened, a brighter blue light filtering down onto them. Anna sprinted up into the craft, her outlined shadow blocking the otherworldly luminance for a moment; then she immediately returned, waving them onward.

“Max, Liz, come on!” Marco ordered, and Tess braced Liz’s body with her own, as the four of them tore up the loading plank.

“What about Serena? And Riley?” Max asked as they reached the top.

“I’ll go back for them,” Marco answered as a small, dark haired woman appeared in the doorway of the craft. “Under attack. Skins,” Marco informed the stranger, gasping for breath.

“Yes, we know. Everyone on now,” the woman advised in a commanding voice, as she reached for Max and Liz. “We will return fire as necessary.”

Marco nodded in agreement, turning to scale back down the platform. The craft was clearly designed for brief reconnaissance missions, not full-scale landings like this one; the entry platform was slippery and unsteady. It had been made for a smaller race of beings, too, Marco realized, feeling it groan beneath his large frame as he and Tess practically slid down the gangway. With a graceless leap, they landed together on the dock, urging the others aboard as quickly as possible.

Michael and Alex worked fast, slamming weaponry and ammunition into the open bay door; the last thing they needed was for that kind of firepower to fall into enemy hands. Isabel and Maria sprinted up the walkway together, hurling duffel bags into a haphazard pile. They were going to make a second run down the platform, but Marco insisted that they leave the rest of the group’s belongings behind. From the expression on Isabel’s face, he might as well have told her to leave Alex on that dock. Marco understood that it wasn’t about material possessions—she grieved leaving the only world she’d ever called home.

In all the chaos, one thing didn’t escape Marco’s notice. Kyle Valenti had stayed to fight. Once all their comrades were loaded on the shuttle, he was the last one remaining behind. Well, except Riley and Serena; the whole of Marco’s adoptive family.

“I’ve got to go up there,” Marco announced to Tess, wiping his brow as he sucked in burning breaths. The distant sounds of gunfire had ceased, had fallen to only sporadic sputters that echoed through the black woods.

“But the ship’s going to leave!” Tess cried. “You’ll be in too much danger.”

“I have to help them.”

Kyle’s gaze darted between them both, as he cocked his K-12, lifting it to his chest with a reassuring nod. “I’ll go. You guys get on that ship.”

“No way,” Tess said, shaking her head. “No way, Kyle. You’re not going up on that trail by yourself.”

“This is what Serena trained me for, Tess, okay?” he said. “This is something I can do for you. So let me.”

“He’s right,” Marco agreed, even though it took all his willpower. Everything within him argued that he should go after his brother and Serena, especially when his radio enquiries to them remained unanswered. But as he watched the craft hovering just over the lake, he knew that every extra moment down here put Max in greater jeopardy. His vows came first; personal allegiances had to be meaningless in the face of them.

Marco glanced up the trail, back to the ship. With Serena gone, the decision fell on his shoulders. After another moment’s hesitation, he finally reached it. “Go, Kyle. Hurry!” he said, and without even answering, Kyle Valenti vanished into the darkness. “Marco!” Tess shrieked, but he grabbed her arm, dragging her upward onto the ship.

“Trust me, love. Just trust me,” he begged, as the pale light from within the craft’s interior beckoned them inside.

“But we can’t just leave them!” Tess cried, as again the black-haired woman appeared inside the doorway, ushering them within. “How can you leave them in that kind of danger?” Tess continued, as they stepped inside the shining, metallic doorway. “Marco, you have a duty to go back.”

Marco spun on his heel, grabbing his mate’s arm. “I have a duty to protect my king and queen,” he barked, angrier than he intended. Angrier because his heart was breaking for the only family he’d ever known. “We share that duty, Tess.”

He saw the water-blue eyes widen in surprise, then narrow painfully. “Yes, commander,” she whispered with a sharp nod and subtle bow of her head. “You are correct.” She’d used their unit-leader designation, the formal one they almost never addressed Serena by. With that one formality, she’d redressed their roles, acknowledged his authority while minimizing his intimacy.

Yes, it was their duty to protect Max and Liz, Marco thought, dropping heavily into a small window seat beside Michael and Maria. He’d just carried out that duty to the letter, possibly saving Max and Liz in the process. But if that were the case, then why did he feel so damned awful about leaving nearly half his unit behind? And for pulling rank on his beloved?

Maybe because with the way the firefight seemed to be going up on that hillside, he realized that he might never see his family again after tonight.

















posted on 20-Jan-2003 10:42:19 PM by RosDeidre
PART SEVEN

Strangers. All around them, bustling, chattering in a language Tess had never heard before. It had to be Antarian, but it just sounded different than it did when Marco whispered it in her ear during their lovemaking. It was staccato and fast, indecipherable. Inscrutable, like the humanoid faces of the Antarian crew onboard this ship.

They were only on a small shuttlecraft, so she could see the man piloting it, and another man standing in the passenger area. Then there was the dark-haired woman. She was the one who had chaperoned them onboard, the one who intrigued Tess the most. Maybe because she was the only woman on the crew, but that wasn’t quite it. She had a silent energy packed into her very small frame that Tess could feel quite clearly. Her empathy seemed to spark with this woman’s spirit, to respond to something there.

She wore a braid of shiny black hair down her back, and stood with erect posture. Her small stature was certainly surprising; she had to be a good several inches shorter than Tess. No way she was even five feet tall. Yet she gave the impression of immense power and authority, despite appearing quite young. She kept barking orders to everyone onboard without compromising her calm demeanor. Tess’s chief question was why all three Antarian officers were in human form—were they hybrids? Or merely shape shifters assuming a familiar form to make the rest of them more comfortable?

There would be time to get those answers later. Right now, Tess was most concerned that the ship had yet to leave, despite the officers’ apparent urgings. They still hovered over the water, the engine churning almost soundlessly, because Max had demanded that they wait to see if Serena and Riley could be found before making final departure.

This command obviously made the Antarians nervous. Hell, it made Tess nervous, too, even though she agreed with Max. Max Evans had never been one to leave fallen men behind, and he wasn’t about to start now. She knew it as well as she knew her own heartbeat.

Beside her, Marco was strapped in, and kept fiddling with his weaponry, watching the open doorway. “It will be okay,” she assured him, but he lifted a dubious eyebrow.

He stared into his lap, avoiding her gaze. I’m sorry I was so sharp with you, he said, quiet in her center.

You did the right thing. I’m sorry, too. She hesitated, then gently added, Commander. This time the title was said with love, respect; all the pure admiration she felt for her life mate.

She saw a smile tug at the corner of his mouth, his dimple flashing into view as he observed, This is new for us, fighting as a team.

Well, I hope today will be the end of the warfare.

Yes, love. So do I,
he agreed with a nod. But Tess felt something different vibrate in her core, some contrary thought that he’d left unvoiced, a doubt that they were leaving all their enemies in their wake here on Earth.

Marco, what?
she asked, needing to know what he sensed.

I just hope we get them out of here alive.
It was an ominous statement and caused Tess to startle.

Max ordered that we remain
, she reminded him. We follow his orders.

Of course we do, he said, giving an almost imperceptible nod.

We’re on the ship; it’s manned with full-scale weaponry. Surely he is safe here.

Surely,
he agreed, but still his anxiousness pulled against her spirit.

He was right. This was risky, far too risky, and maybe it was time she interceded with their king. She unbuckled herself from the seat, crossing the aisle to where Max sat with Liz. For a moment, she felt Marco reach within their bond, but she forced a closure, snapping the connection off. She couldn’t focus on both him and Max; she had a job as the king’s second and it was time that she did it.

She dropped to the floor in front of their king, kneeling there. “Max, we have to leave. It’s too dangerous to keep you and Liz here. The others.”

“If we leave, we leave those three to die,” he said, his expression intent.

“If we stay, we risk leaving you in the enemy’s hands.” She was about to mention Liz and the baby, when almost as if on cue, the shuttle gave a violent lurch. A bright explosion of weaponry burst outward from the trailhead onto the dock. Tess watched through the open hatch, clinching her hands at her sides. Apparently, they’d just taken enemy fire, and the officers on board scattered to respond. A few Antarian shouts later, an answering blast of light catapulted outward from the ship’s hull.

The person she saw next was the last one she’d ever imagined manning a K-12 like some kind of recon commando soldier. Kyle appeared below, dispersing ground fire coverage as Serena and Riley sprinted onto the dock.

“Kyle!” she cried, even though he couldn’t possibly hear her, as he dropped to the ground, hoisting a hand-cannon onto his shoulder. Everyone stared at her; Maria’s mouth fell open. “Holy shit!” Maria cried, tracking with Tess’s disbelieving gaze. “That is Kyle!”

Max watched the unfolding action, a surprising smile on his face. “Kyle’s a fantastic shot,” he said. “He’ll get them out of there safely.”

“Yeah, I trained him with that thing,” Michael observed, a note of pride in his voice.

“Great, and that’s supposed to encourage me?” Tess sniped.

Michael scowled at her. “Damn sure ought to, princess.” She absolutely hated it when he called her that. It was Guerin’s way of putting her in her place when he thought she needed it.

“Whatever, grunt,” she said, rolling her eyes. She was much more concerned about Kyle than besting Michael Guerin at the moment.

“Cut it out, guys!” Liz said, anger lacing her words as she clutched her large stomach protectively. “All of you just stop it. They don’t need your petty arguments right now. None of us do!”

With the queen’s words, guilty silence fell over all of them, as they watched their friends’ fates unfold on the dock below.

****

Kyle had burst onto the trailhead, weapon raised and ready, but had met immediate resistance. Coming right at him were a whole army of skins, weapons flashing on the path above. He couldn’t make out a damn thing in the darkness, and didn’t want to fire on Serena or Riley by mistake, so he took cover behind a fallen tree, dropping low and reaching into his pocket for the night vision glasses Marco had given him. Marco had shown him how to use the glasses during one of their patrols last week, and Kyle had been practicing with them ever since.

He lifted the glasses to his eyes, making critical adjustments. They were tasked to body heat impulses, and he knew from Marco’s coaching that skins registered at a slightly cooler temperature than humans. Serena’s pure-alien energy was brightest, brighter than any of the hybrids, and was therefore easily distinguishable in the darkness from the muted registry of Riley. A dull frequency betrayed the location of no less than five skins, one of whom looked to be little more than ten feet away.

Kyle lifted his weapon, silent as he acquired his target in the thick blackness. In the distance, he heard the nearly silent hum of the transport’s engine. Why hadn’t the damn shuttle taken off? His target moved further toward the trail opening, nearly on top of where he’d hidden beside the path.

Time to rock and roll. He let loose with his ammunition, the sputtering blasts of the K-12 betraying his location, even as the enemy fell at his feet. From above, there was a report and answer of more weaponry, and he swore something nearly took his head off as he stumbled backward down the path.

He staggered, falling onto the dock, as he tried surveying the unfolding battle within the glasses again—this time, he saw Serena and Riley emerging from the darkness right in front of him.

“Kyle!” Serena cried, spying him there. “Come on! Now!” Her voice was a roar, not its usual even-pitched, calming sound.

“You get on the ship. I’ll take care of these assholes,” he said, his voice strangled as he lifted the weapon to fire on another advancing skin. “Damn it!” he shouted, scrambling to his feet as Riley pulled on his arm. “Come on, Valenti!” Riley urged and Kyle noticed that he was bleeding. “Get on the ship now!”

“Somebody has to cover you guys,” he said, breathless. “Besides, I’m not leaving Earth. You know that.”

“Then you may die here, Kyle,” Serena said.

“I’ll take that risk.”

Serena dropped to her knee, lifting her own weapon, then glanced back at the craft. “Why haven’t they left already?” she asked and Riley had the answer. “Max wouldn’t leave us. I feel it.”

“Then get on the damn ship so he will leave!” Kyle cried, lifting the cannon to his shoulder as two more of the enemy came upon them. Why the hell did Max Evans always have to be so noble and stubborn? One of these days, maybe this day, it was going to get their damned fearless leader killed--and maybe everyone else right along with him.

Well, not if Kyle Valenti had anything to say about that, he thought, as yet another faceless enemy appeared from the woods.

***

Serena and Riley dropped to the floor of the craft the minute they were on board, gasping. Tess could see that Riley’s hand was bleeding, badly. He held it, grimacing in obvious pain as Serena saw to him, assisting him away from the open doorway. The black-haired woman knelt beside him in the aisle, placing her small hand over the wound with a quick Antarian pronouncement. Tess noticed that Serena’s expression changed, that she nearly stiffened as they traded a few more Antarian words, then the officer bowed her head with a respectful nod.

Tess swore she heard the word Masret, which was Antarian for sister or dear friend. She wasn’t sure, but she definitely saw some emotion flicker in Serena’s brown eyes, or maybe it was just recognition.

Before she could process the alien phraseology, the ship seemingly took another hit, a much more devastating one, as it careened a bit with impact. “Close the door,” Serena instructed the others.

“What about Kyle?” Max asked, his voice strong and commanding.

Serena moved toward their leader. “He’s not coming. He refused to come onboard.”

“Why the hell not?” Tess cried, angry, as the hatch began to close. “He’ll die down there!”

The black haired woman spoke to Serena in Antarian, clipped and urgent, then both turned to Max. “We have no choice, my king,” the woman explained. “This Kyle Valenti has offered his life for yours, for all of you. We have no time to argue his fate.”

Tess watched as the gangway began folding inward, flashing on all the memories she shared with Kyle. All the times he’d been her rock, her friend; even her love at one brief time. She couldn’t believe it would end like this, after all the loyalty Kyle had shown. Yet she knew that the situation offered no alternative; that Max and Liz’s life had to come first, that the life of their unborn heir must, just as Marco had said earlier.

“Max,” she said in a thick voice. “They’re right. We have to leave.”

****

Kyle watched as the gangway slipped away from the dock, the ship slowly moving upward. He would have thought he’d feel remorse, that he’d ache for the friends who left him behind, but there wasn’t time for regrets. There was only time to save their lives, maybe even his own if he were lucky enough.

There’d been no one else, so the job had fallen to him. He actually laughed, realizing that despite all his drunken denials, he’d been a protector for them all in the end anyway. Who would’ve guessed it, besides Serena? Apparently she’d been right all along.

He was about to get sappy and sentimental, when out of nowhere it seemed a whole swarm of skins descended upon the dock. He glanced over his shoulder where he saw nothing but the lake glittering beneath the ship as it lifted upward. Then back at the enemy, as the ship began to come under an explosion of gunfire.

He had no other choice if he hoped to escape, so Kyle gave a quick leap, lunging for anything on the gangplank that he could reach. The damned thing was so slippery, that he nearly slid right into the water, but he managed to take hold of a piece of metal, something like a hinge, only more advanced. He hooked his arm through it, balancing the K-12 so that he kept the advancing skins in his sights. He let loose with a quick round, then another, as the craft lifted into the sky. He was so intently focused, that he barely noticed when he took a hit in his right shoulder. Then his arm. He had to keep shooting, staving off their enemies.

Never mind that the ship was lifting ever upward, that he was leaving Earth below. Never mind that, or more shots, or more firing. Fucking cool, it was like all those Vietnam movies he’d watched over and over for years. Leaving Phnom Penh, he thought with a violent laugh as someone dragged him upward into the ship. Strong hands, forceful. Thank God.

He was shaking like a mother and everything was kind of fading in and out. Down below, he saw an explosion of light, then a blast jolted outward from the craft. That struck him as oddly amusing as he sort of slumped sideways against the doorway, feeling warm stickiness beneath his hand as he touched his shoulder, hoisting his K-12 high again.

He was aiming to fire, when something tackled him from behind. Someone, that was, and he found himself shoved facedown against the steel floor of the ship. “Out of the way, if you please.” A woman’s voice, soft and airy, but she’d hit him like a defensive lineman. He grunted, trying to move, but she seemed to have pinned him there beneath her frame.

Beneath her small frame. Tiny frame, he amended, fading out of consciousness. Tiny frame, strong hands, soothing voice. There was the whiz and zing of weaponry past his ear, as she seemed to use his upper back to balance the sights of the damned luminator. He groaned, aware that his shoulder had grown painfully numb. “Gotta get those fuckers,” he mumbled against the cold flooring.

“What I’m doing, precisely. Thank you, Kyle Valenti.”

Now who the hell was this strange little person? And how did she know his name? Kyle wondered. Whoever the mystery alien was, she was a knockout, he was certain of it. He had no idea how he knew it, but it was definitely true. Not just beautiful, something else, something he couldn’t figure out because the whole world was growing black. Something really damn important, but he was too tired to think about it anymore. Had to sleep now.

***

The human was odd. Correction, all the humans were odd, but the one called Kyle Valenti confused Dalne greatly. He seemed almost happy to have taken the shot in his shoulder, amused, making jokes that made little sense to her. Beyond that, and of greater importance to her at the moment, was that he’d gotten in the way. He was heroic, strong, but definitely in her way.

Now he was bleeding profusely from a shoulder wound that required her healing gift. Beside her, Serena knelt on the floor, easing a crumpled shirt beneath Kyle Valenti’s head. “Here,” Serena said, as the floor gave a lurch when the shuttle shot through dimensional space. “To make him more comfortable.”

“I must heal him,” Dalne explained in rapid Antarian. Testing this unit commander, seeing how well she remembered. The easy reply answered all questions, settled any doubt in Dalne’s mind--Surinah remained rooted to her home world, capable with her native language. The inflections in tone conveyed loyalty, dedication to maintaining their culture.

It was a reasonable concern after so many years offworld, the fear that Surinah might be more human than Antarian, a concern that Commander had instructed her to test. Surinah might be Dalne’s biological aunt, but that meant nothing on their planet now. Not in Afterworld, what some were calling the post-Khivarian era, when family loyalty couldn’t ensure faithfulness to the king or to Antarian culture. Of course, Dalne had never known life on Antar any other way; the thought of returning Zan to his throne was something she couldn’t even fathom. Yet it was their future now, this thing they’d waited on for so long, battled for and sacrificed for among their people. Within their corps.

Kyle Valenti stirred beneath her palm, the wound mending even as Dalne’s mind sifted through to zenith. The thought of apprehension, moment of clarity.

“What the hell?” he murmured, his eyes fluttering open. “Good Lord, you people have done it to me again.”

Dalne blinked at him, uncertain what he meant. She’d learned English, prepared for these interactions—especially for commanding a royal guard unit, as she would be from this moment onward. A unit that would consist of many of these same protectors, and one that would require communication with Zan and Zillia in their native tongue. Commander had been clear on this point.

“Where’s Max?” Kyle coughed, looking past her. “And Tess?”

“You are on our craft, Kyle Valenti. Be calm, please.” He fixed her with his bright gaze and Dalne found herself staring into the keenest blue eyes she’d ever seen. Not even the Antousians had such eyes.

“Calm? You’ve gotta be kidding me,” he barked, as she placed her other hand on his shoulder.

Like the water pools at the palace, when daylight hit them, that’s what his blue eyes reminder her of; or maybe after a rain, when the color was fresher, bright as the daystars.

“I’ve been kidnapped by you little green people,” he shouted, blue eyes growing wide. “So this is calm as I’m gonna get, okay?” Dalne cocked her head sideways, studying him as he muttered the strange things. “You make no sense, human.”

“I make a load of sense, I promise you that!”

“I am healing this wound, please.” Dalne covered it with her palm, allowing her energy to bank and escalate during the process.

Kyle let out a soft groan, his eyes drifting shut, and Serena gave his hair a surprisingly kind stroke. Like a mother. “Kyle, it’s okay,” Serena said. “You’re all right now.” Surinah cared for this one, as she did all her own. Marco and Riley. Anna and the others. That was the unit whisper about Commander Surinah, that she had a strong heart, directed spirit. Kind, giving spirit. How could Commander have asked Dalne to test her aunt? How could he have thought she required it?

“He is healed, now,” Dalne pronounced, leaning back on her knees. “All well.”

“Thank you,” Serena said, then explained quickly in Antarian that Kyle had meant to stay on his home world, had never intended to come with the rest of them.

Green people? This means?” Dalne asked, curious, and Serena gave a strange laugh. “Yes, well, that’s the way Kyle talks about anyone he doesn’t understand.”

He is green people, then,” Dalne observed in their shared language, then rose to face the other passengers further down in the main bay of the ship. To face many other “green people”, all of whom she would introduce to life aboard the cruiser, their new home. At least for the next four months, until they reached Antar.

Yet even as she strode down the aisle, confident, tall in her posture, she felt Kyle Valenti’s groggy-eyed gaze on her back. Felt his pure alien energy pulsating behind her, threading almost imperceptibly in her direction. The human was definitely odd, but somehow intriguing. Especially his unfamiliar energy and the way it kept reaching toward her that way. She had the sense that Kyle Valenti did not understand the power resident within his human form. Did not know his unbridled, natural strength.

Correction. Kyle Valenti did not know he possessed energy, period. Dalne knew it by the way his source circled outward, rippling toward her, even as he dozed on the floor of the shuttle. Interesting, such a powerful being, yet he did not understand the meaning of power. Humans were odd. Very odd, and Kyle Valenti was human. It would be interesting to know him better, to understand such innocence.

Zenith thought; she might even enjoy time on ship with the blue-eyed human.