posted on 17-Oct-2001 11:02:58 PM
Author’s Note: Well, I'm finally getting the chance to repost this story! It may take some time for me to get it all up and formatted (I'm still working on HOW TO DISAPPEAR COMPLETELY)

This is the sequel to my story HOW TO DISAPPEAR COMPLETELY, and it won't make as much sense if you don't read that story first.

Anytime I reference “First timeline”, I mean the timeline that Future Max and Future Marco traveled back from. But nearly the entire story will be set in what I refer to as “New Time Line”—which means the timeline that occurs from the point Max and Liz change events after The End of the World.

DISCLAIMER: No infringement is intended with respect to Melinda Metz, Jason Katims, or Radiohead. These characters don’t belong to me (well, except Marco), I’m just borrowing them. Many thanks to all the wonderful creative talent that created this world that I can now explore.
Rating: NC-17



Marco sped along the desert highway on his motorcycle, the night air chilling his skin, even through his leather jacket. He was going almost 80 mph, but he opened the engine up a little bit more. Who would mourn him if anything happened on this road tonight?

No one. The two people he cared about most despised him now, and that would never change.

He was a traitor.

And his heart was utterly black within him. How else could it all have happened? He’d hurt them both tonight, irreversibly.

Unforgivably… and maybe he did deserve to die, as payment for his crimes. Maybe death would at least end the torment that had hounded him this past year, as he’d shamefully loved his best friend’s wife.

But Max Evans wasn’t just his friend. Oh, he was far more than that. He was the man he’d sworn to serve first and foremost, before his own life and others. And when Marco had pledged it before the council, he’d been branded for life as protector to the King. It had been an unspeakable honor, being personally entrusted with the life of his king and queen, but he’d dashed all those promises to a million pieces tonight.

It wasn’t even just Max and Liz he’d betrayed, but Serena, too… and yet others still--so many people who had believed in him with an undeniable faith.

He pushed the motorcycle engine out a little further toward the edge, willing death to come upon him.

But even as he imagined it, something within him cried out to both of them… to Liz. He’d never forget the look on her face when he’d kissed her tonight, never forget the quick flashes he’d felt, in that briefest stolen intimacy--even with her resisting him completely.

She had been frightened of him in that moment—and he’d always been such a source of strength for her, after all, he was her protector. Their protector.

She had been heartbroken by his actions… violated. Fearful for Max. He’d sensed so many emotions, none of them involving passion or need.

He’d kissed her, and then she’d shoved him roughly away, knocking him against the little bookshelf that jutted out on their bedroom wall. He’d slammed his head against the edge of the shelf, and her grandmother’s vase had crashed to the floor—the one she treasured enough to take along with them every time they moved to a new location. And he’d seen even more bitter pain flash in her features.

One of the only remnants of her normal life, smashed to pieces at her feet.

And then he’d become aware of searing pain, as it had shot all through his forehead and eyebrow, and he’d felt blood trickle into his eye—right as Max had rushed in, wondering what had just happened.

Marco had stormed past him, leaving Liz to tell the horrible details—and that had been a strategic mistake. He should have realized that Max would never listen to him after Liz told him everything. Max was far too protective of her—possessive even—to not come after him exactly as he had done once he’d learned the truth.

Marco had paced frantically, as he’d waited for what seemed like an eternity for Max to come to him. In those moments, he’d tried to make sense of his insane actions just moments before. And the only thing that kept surfacing in his mind was that the connection between Max and Liz had slowly been driving him insane. God, he felt it all the time now, like some terrible itch that he could never quite scratch. It was constantly spilling over to him, no matter how hard he tried to block it.

And mostly he felt such passion for Liz—so much of Max’s deep love and adoration—always just beyond his reach, haunting him like some beautiful specter. The worst part was that he couldn’t think of a single way to talk to either of them about it. It was just too damn weird. He knew that the three of them shared the gift of intuition, and that was the only explanation he could arrive at for the way he was so receptive to feeling their bond. Not that it got too invasive, really—it wasn’t like he could read their thoughts, or sense intimate things passing between them.

No, he just felt constantly assaulted by their deep passion for one another.

And yet he was left without a single bit of recourse. Liz had completely mesmerized him from the moment he’d first met her anyway--and he’d already been predisposed to fondness for her, since he was her sworn servant.

But it was their connection that had been like sparks to dry brush…dangerously combustive, and he’d found himself powerless to resist, though he’d certainly tried with every fiber in his being.

So Marco had paced, and decided he would confess the bizarreness of how he’d been intercepting a bit of their connection for months—years even. It was the only way the three of them would survive his terrible indiscretion and still remain intact.

Marco had never expected what came next, had never believed Max would literally turn his back on him, without so much as hearing him out. But Max had ordered him to leave that night, and he had no doubt that once Max Evans—the most loyal man he knew—turned on him, it was irrevocably finished.

Some part of Marco had died in that instant. His king, turning away from him forever, leaving him kneeling there. Marco had never knelt before Max, never asked for mercy… why hadn’t he realized that?

No, Max had left him begging, without so much as one look of remorse.

And he would never serve him as king again.

Marco sat in the darkest corner of some roadside dive on Highway 285. He was literally in the middle of nowhere, which seemed like the perfect geographical location for him at that precise moment.

He didn’t even know what the name of the bar was, just that there were pool tables and a lot of cigarette smoke. And beer. He didn’t give a damn how it affected him; he was going to drink tonight.

The waitress returned to his table, sliding a bottle of Heineken across to him. He nodded mutely, staring down at his hands. His forehead hurt like hell, but that hardly mattered. He took a heavy swig, and felt the world around him grow instantly hazy. The bar was so shrouded in smoke and darkness that the change in his body chemistry only registered slightly.

Marco leaned his head back heavily against the wooden booth, and as he raised his eyes, he saw someone who looked vaguely familiar. Why couldn’t he quite place her? She was standing just in front of him, smiling faintly. He felt like she was reaching to him through the thickest fog.

“Hi, Marco,” she said throatily. “We meet at last.”

He lolled his head forward again, narrowing his eyes—determined to clear his head a bit. “Do I know you?” He asked.

“Well, let’s just say you know of me,” she replied, sliding uninvited into the booth beside him. “You’ve certainly seen me before, though not up close like this.”

He studied her features for a long moment. Blonde hair, blue eyes… lots of hair, he amended… long and shimmering. Small frame…

“Tess,” he answered finally, taking another swig of beer. “Tess Harding.”

She smiled in satisfaction. “You have been watching, haven’t you?”

“It was my job,” he answered dully, refusing to rise to her bait.

What was she after? Why was she suddenly here, tonight of all nights? It made no sense at all, but all his thoughts were murky now, clouded and dim.

“Right,” she answered slowly. “Yeah, I hear Max really respects your hard work on his behalf.” Her voice was tinged with bitter irony.

He raised his eyes to meet her own, and she was staring at him meaningfully—flame darting in her eyes.

My, God, she knew. Somehow she knew.

Or maybe it was his mind playing tricks on him. Suddenly the beer seemed like a really bad idea. He leaned his elbows forward on the table, burying his face in his hands for a moment. Anything to stop the spinning.

“Why are you here?” he groaned quietly. “What do you want, Tess?”

“Well, that’s simple enough,” she answered, peeling at the label on his beer bottle. “I want you.”

Marco slowly lifted his head, and met her eyes—and swore he heard her call his name somewhere within his mind.

And he knew he couldn’t fight this, not tonight.

Max’s enemies had planned their attack extremely well.

Tess slipped her arms around Marco’s waist, holding tightly as he drove the motorcycle away from the bar. He’d sobered immediately when she’d kissed him, long and slow, drawing him back to clarity. She wanted him totally lucid for what she had planned—it would be more effective that way, rather than something he could only vaguely remember tomorrow.

The bike sped up a bit, so she grasped him more tightly from behind—and was momentarily surprised to realize how muscular his stomach was beneath her hands. And his body was so warm—not like the skins she was used to being with. Marco’s body was like a generator, emitting incredible warmth.

Tess leaned her cheek against his back, smelling his leather jacket, and for the briefest moment felt like she might cry. She could imagine that Marco was just the kind of man whose arms might offer incredible comfort… deep security. If only she were allowed to seek such things in this life.

But she was a warrior, and those needs had died for her long ago.

The only thing she’d get tonight was a cheap motel room somewhere on this lonely stretch of highway… and in the process, return to Khivar’s camp victorious. But there would be no love, not ever for her.

Marco lay back on the bed, naked, and Tess peeled off her underwear, climbing in after him. Her eyes took in the length of his body, as she slowly knelt over him, and she couldn’t help but acknowledge that his body was simply stunning. His dark skin was rich beneath her fingers, as she traced her hands across the silky black hairs that dusted his inner thighs.

His muscles were incredibly taut, and she trailed a little pattern with her fingers along the soft hair there. Then her hand wandered over further, to the thicker patch of black hair between his legs, and she took him within the palm of her hand. He let out a soft cry and she glanced up at his face.

His eyes were shut tightly, an expression of painful ecstasy dancing across his features. She began trailing kisses down his firm stomach, lower…then lower still, taking him within her mouth. He cried out much more loudly as she drew him in deeper, then eased him out again. He gasped her name, cupping her shoulders firmly within his hands.

Tess liked the feeling that she was pulling him toward the brink. And for the briefest moment, she simply liked being with Marco period, but she quickly buried that thought. She couldn’t afford to feel anything for this man…yet the emotions coming from him were so strong, so intense. It was hard to resist, especially since his gift of intuition left him wide open to her. If she chose to, she could feel everything happening within him.

Maybe just for a moment, she thought.

As she opened herself ever so slightly to him emotionally, she had a strong flash—and it was something she found nearly impossible to believe.

This was his first time with a woman.

That was certainly something she could use to her advantage.

She pulled away briefly, staring up at him. His eyes opened lazily…she could read the pleasure on his face. Yes, this was working, all right.

“You’re a virgin,” she laughed quietly. His dark eyes flashed--with what she wasn’t sure. He almost seemed to panic for a moment, then just as quickly, the emotion passed, replaced with something much harder…colder.

“Who would I have ever made love to, Tess?” he asked wryly, letting his hands drop away from her shoulders. His face became guarded, and she couldn’t read his expression.

He was pulling away from her…now that simply wouldn’t do.

She climbed on top of him, straddling him as she drew her face within a mere breath of his own. “A beautiful man like you could have his pick.”

He groaned as she squeezed him tightly between her hands again. “Ohh…” was all he could whisper as he pulled her down toward him, taking her mouth fiercely with his own.

She’d seen the look of pleasure flare in his eyes when she’d called him beautiful. Good. Then that same tiny voice whispered in her mind again…. He is beautiful…incredibly beautiful. He’d taken her breath away when she’d first seen him tonight. His black hair had been wind blown from the motorcycle and his smoldering good looks had been perfectly offset by his black leather jacket and faded blue jeans. She’d been watching him from afar for months, but tonight had been her first good look at him. For a fleeting moment, she’d been entirely disconcerted by his dark Mediterranean features…the rich, black eyes.
He deepened his rough kiss, his tongue heatedly exploring her mouth. She could feel her heart begin racing wildly within her. This would not do, she reminded herself. You are here for one purpose only.
And with that, she silenced the quiet voice of desire within her once and for all.

She’d laughed at him, at his inexperience, Marco thought. That had been the final humiliation of this day. He had felt so damn powerless against her, as her hands had traced those patterns on his legs, as she’d held him and caressed him within her tiny hands, then as she had taken him within her mouth. And now, as their kisses grew rougher…fuller, as she continued rubbing him so perfectly, taking him beyond any place he’d ever been before…he was simply losing control. He knew he was going over the edge and there would be no coming back.

This woman didn’t just have him in the palm of her hand, she had all of him…. His soul even.

Because no one had ever done anything like this to him before—no one had just taken his body and pleasured it. He’d been a servant, a warrior for so long, he’d always thought of himself as the property of others. Yet tonight she was worshipping his body …and it felt so damn good.

The gash on his forehead throbbed painfully, and as he became aware of it, her finger traced it lightly. Had she felt his pain? Their kisses stilled, and he stared up into those blue eyes as she touched his wound. Everything about her was the opposite of him. She was all lightness…golden hair, blue eyes, where everything about him was so dark. Even in the half-light of his room, he could see how olive his skin looked next to her fair complexion. She traced the throbbing place on his forehead with the tip of her finger.

“Let me fix this,” she breathed. She lifted her hand to help him, and he captured her wrist roughly.

“No,” he growled.

She raised her eyebrows in surprise. “Why not?” He released her hand slowly, and she resumed tracing her fingers lightly across the gash. He flinched slightly in pain.

“I want the scar,” he breathed. “I want to remember tonight… from now on.”

“They really got to you, Marco, didn’t they?” she asked seriously, though he felt that somehow she was mocking him. She began trailing hot kisses across his jaw line.

He groaned softly. “Yes, but now you’re getting to me in whole new ways…”

“You’ve been lonely,” she whispered in his ear, kissing him there, too. Her tongue teased him lightly along his earlobe, then she tugged on it between her teeth. How could he stand up against this? He didn’t care what she really wanted with him. This was all he needed tonight.

Maybe he could forget Liz, for just these few moments. Liz, his mind taunted him. If only this were Liz…. But she could never be his, would never be in his arms like this. He quickly shoved her from his thoughts.

“Yes…” he moaned quietly into her hair, taking her full breasts in both of his hands. How could someone so tiny have such an amazing body? He loved how soft her breasts felt within his hands, and he let his thumbs trace little circles around her nipples. They sprang to life at his touch.

“You need this. Me,” she whispered against his cheek.

“Yes,” he said softly, raking his hands through her luxurious blonde hair. There was so much of it, and it was all over his face.

“What will you do to have me?” she teased, straddling his naked body with her own. God, she was so close to him, he could just slide inside her so easily…he let his hand find the warm place between her legs. Earlier he’d caught a brief glimpse of a soft tuft of dark blonde hair there. She was incredibly wet for him.

Did she want this as much as he did?

“What…ever I need to do,” he gasped and began to push himself toward her, but she darted away.

“No, no, Marco. Tell me,” she said, drawing her face within a breath of his own. She was hovering over him now, straddling him. He might lose control before he could ever come inside of her.

“I’ll make love to you,” he answered throatily.

She laughed gently as she stroked her hands through his hair. “That’s not what I want,”

He didn’t understand what was happening at all. Not what she wanted? She was so wet for him, so seemingly full of desire. But in his heart, he did know what she was really after…had known since she’d first appeared in the bar tonight.

“Then what?” he asked, sucking his breath in quickly. He felt like he was begging her now. He let his hands wander roughly across her backside, cupping her bottom, pulling her closer to him.

“I want you to make love to me, yes. But that’s not all.” She hesitated, sitting up on top of him, as she gazed down at him seriously. “I want you to come to our camp…I want you on our side. Max will never take you back—you do know that?”

He felt something turn over in his chest, and for a moment thought he might be sick. She had put voice to the words that he hadn’t allowed to fully form in his mind.

Damn her.

She did know…everything about tonight. He was certain of it now.

“Khivar is the true king,” she continued, softly stroking his hair back away from his forehead. “Max is only the leader of a tiny little rebellion…it’s not his destiny to rule anymore. You belong with a real king, Marco.”

Suddenly, she captured his wrist within her own—so quickly he couldn’t stop her-- and allowed a tiny beam of light to fall upon his wrist, illuminating his royal brand. Immediately, his seal appeared in the air and he gasped softly, trying to pull his hand away from her. But he was so lost to her…no going back at all.

“This is who you are, Marco…Max never respected it. Khivar will. He needs you,” she whispered and began trailing hot kisses across his forehead, along his painful cut. Her kisses ended on his eyebrow. “I need you.”

He closed his eyes as he felt her stinging kisses along his forehead. They seemed to electrify his pain, intensify it. He tried to pull away from her, and she raised her head slightly, meeting his gaze. Those blue depths were so empty, but somehow shot full of passion.

“Why would you want this scar?” she asked softly.

He was silent a long moment, and just gazed up at her. He cupped her face roughly in his hand, studying her thoughtfully. Finally he answered, and he knew his voice was far too quiet. “Because its who I am now, Tess.”

In the near darkness, he saw her smile faintly.

“Good,” she breathed, tracing her finger along his eyebrow. “So you know then,” He could only nod. He wanted inside of her…now. No more toying with it.
And with that he pressed himself against her, and thrust into her roughly, feeling her warm wetness all around him. He gasped as she began moving up and down against him, tantalizing him feverishly. She threw her head back and he studied her a moment. She was stunning…golden, light. Her hair cascaded down her back and he let his hands trail upward until his fingers threaded roughly through it. She was everything Liz wasn’t…dangerous, fair and free to be his.

Mine, he thought. She can be mine…

But even as he thought the words, and watched her toss her head back in pleasure as she moved roughly against him…such thoroughly new sensations shooting through his body…another voice spoke quietly in his mind.

She can never be yours. But now she owns you…they own you. From now on.

And the worst part was, he simply didn’t care.

[ edited 6 time(s), last at 9-Dec-2001 5:16:07 PM ]
posted on 21-Oct-2001 4:30:15 PM

Liz slowly opened her eyes, as sleep began to fade away. Something was tickling her faintly behind her ear, like the most delicate brush of butterfly wings, and she swatted at it with her hand. Only then did she realize it wasn’t something--it was Max, and he was lightly tracing his finger there, trying to wake her. He lay curled up behind her in bed, his arm around her waist, holding her loosely. Their two bodies were completely molded together, and she could feel the soft hairs on his legs brushing against her.

He drew his finger down along her neck. “Liz, sweetheart,” he whispered. “Time to wake up.”

“I’m awake,” she groaned lightly, and felt his arm tighten around her waist more firmly, nestling her back against him. He’d definitely had nice dreams, that much was certain. Of course, what guy didn’t wake up just like that?

“Nice to see you, too,” she murmured into her pillow, covering his hand with her own, where it lay across her stomach.

He pressed gently against her from behind in playful answer, and she felt herself become instantly aroused.

This never ended for the two of them, how much they wanted each other—not after four years of marriage, not ever. Their desire simply never diminished; in fact it seemed to grow stronger and more insistent, especially lately. There’d almost been some kind of physical instinct coming alive between the two of them recently, something driving them together with even greater fervor. They were absolutely insatiable for one another, and nothing ever seemed to be enough.

Max’s fingers slid lower on her belly, slipping slowly beneath her silky underwear, toying with the lace along the edges. He planted warm kisses along the nape of her neck, as his hand eased her panties down her hips.

“We don’t have time,” Liz cautioned, glancing at the bedside clock, though she hated being so sensible, especially with Max’s hand wandering so dangerously close.

“Yes, we do,” he whispered, sweeping her hair off her neck so he could kiss her more fully there. “Why do you think I woke you a few minutes early?”

His hand moved lower inside her panties now, until he began gently stroking the place between her legs. She stilled his exploring hand, and rolled to face him.

“I’ve got to get to class,” she reminded him, as he now sought her with his mouth, kissing her with feather-light kisses. He did that just to tantalize her, and she knew it.

“I’m serious,” she said, kissing him more fully in return.

“I can see that,” he murmured, pulling her close against his chest. She could feel his firmness even more fully now that she was facing him, as he pressed his hips up against her own.

“I won’t see you again until after midnight,” he pleaded. “I’ve got to study forever at the library today.”

“Well, you gotta love Thomas Wolfe.”

“Yeah,” he laughed. “At this point, I’d better.”

Max drew her more closely to him, and he kept pressing his hips against her, raining seductive kisses across her neck. Liz’s breathing grew heavy, and she wondered again why things had been growing even more physically intense between the two of them recently.

Finally she pulled away from him reluctantly. “I can’t be late for French,” she said, shaking her head. “You know I have to make an A in that class to maintain my 4.0 for graduation.”

Max collapsed backward on his pillow with a hopeless groan, and stared at her with a soft smile on his face.

“I’m sorry,” she laughed.

“Don’t be, sweetheart” he said, running his hand down the length of her arm. “I’m so proud of you.”

“For what?” She asked, raising her eyebrows in curiosity.

“For how hard you work,” he said quietly. “At everything.”

“Yeah,” she laughed. “Like seducing you?”

“I’m serious, Liz,” he continued. “You work incredibly hard, and you’ve been doing it for such a long time now…. ” His voice trailed off momentarily, and Liz sensed some dark emotion come over him.

“What?” she asked, rolling closer to him again.

He stared at her, and stroked her hair
thoughtfully. “It’s just that sometimes I think how much easier college would have been for you… if you’d been living at home, with your parents.”

He cast his eyes away from her for a moment, and she realized he really worried about this—wondered if she had any regrets about their decision to marry so young.

“Max!” she exclaimed. “I have never regretted marrying you. Never.”

“I know,” He said, and smiled slowly, his golden eyes meeting her own. “But sometimes I’ve regretted what marrying me has put you through, Liz.”

Liz scooted closer to him in the bed, and stroked his chest lightly beneath her fingertips. His smooth skin was warm to her touch, and she rested her cheek against the crook of his arm. It was like that spot had been made just for her; she always fit so perfectly against him.

“But, Max, loving me means you want me to be happy,” she whispered. “And you’re the only thing that has ever truly made me happy.”

He stared at her meaningfully, his long lashes fanning downward.

“I’m not just talking about school…or our financial situation.”

“I know,” she answered quietly.

“Things are getting more tense every day, Liz,” he answered, his voice growing serious, somewhat distant. “I don’t know, sometimes lately I just get this heavy feeling in the pit of my stomach.”

Liz didn’t like the sound of that. Was he picking up something about their future? His secondary gift was intuition, and while it was underdeveloped in him, Liz paid close attention when he cited feelings like the one he was describing.

“What do you mean?” She pressed him. “What does it feel like?”

He was silent a long moment, and blew out a heavy breath as he stared at the ceiling. “It’s hard to explain, Liz,” he said, chewing on his lip thoughtfully. “I think the best way I could describe it is that it feels like there’s a storm coming. It’s like I can smell the rain in the distance, and see the wind…but it’s just not here yet.”

A little chill shot across Liz’s skin at his words, and he glanced at her, judging her reaction.

“I’m not trying to scare you,” he reassured her. “It probably doesn’t mean anything.”

“But it might, Max. I know you’ve been worried ever since your last meeting with Nicholas.”

Max ran his hand through his hair, and stared at the ceiling again. “I can’t give in to him, Liz. I can’t… I really do believe that we’re meant to protect the granolith at all costs.”

Liz felt a little wave of apprehension at Max’s words. She had learned to suppress her anxieties about his life and who he was politically, but sometimes it was difficult when she contemplated how much Khivar and his people really wanted Max dead. It was like the two of them went forward with their lives, trying to be as normal as possible, but she feared that at some unexpected moment, Max might be ripped away from her permanently.

And she still wasn’t sure how she felt about the granolith, and whether or not Max should give it over to their enemies simply to make peace. On one hand, it seemed it was the only thing keeping them all alive—Khivar would tolerate Max only so long as the granolith remained hidden.

But what if Max eventually chose to relent, and revealed its location? It seemed Khivar would have very little compunction about simply killing him. On the other hand, she grew nervous sometimes at all their positioning, with the granolith sitting between them like some prime piece of real estate. She wondered if Khivar might not eventually tire of all the maneuvering, and simply have Max murdered out of spite.

But she tried not to let these thoughts ever enter her mind, because she knew from experience that once she started walking down those dark corridors, it was hard to pull herself out. She loved him too much to dwell on the possibility of losing him.

“Why are you so quiet?” He asked, and she saw concern in his eyes.

She shook her head silently, and just stroked his chest lightly with her fingers. She felt his heart beating beneath her hand, so strong and sure. She pulled him toward her and kissed him fully, opening to him in every way.

“I think there’s time before class,” she murmured, and she tried to press aside the deep melancholy feeling that wanted to settle over her.

Liz rushed down the university corridor toward her French class. She was fifteen minutes late, something she could ill afford. Foreign languages were her weakest academic point, which was one reason she’d put off this basic degree requirement until her final semester. This was her only remaining credit to fulfill, and then she’d graduate with her Biology degree in May.

Even though she’d started college one semester before the others, she really wanted to share the graduation experience with all of them. And so long as everything went as planned, they would all be celebrating together in four months. Max would have his English degree—something she’d encouraged him to do, even though he felt he should major in pre-med. She’d reminded him that he could study whatever he wanted on the undergraduate level, and still go on to medical school. Liz smiled, and thought how happy she was he’d taken her advice. He loved literature with an intense passion, and it pleased her to see him do something just for himself, when so many times his life had been governed by duty and obligation.

Liz’s thoughts returned to the present--she had to do well in this French class, and now she was late on just the second day of class. She’d need to get notes from someone, to cover these missing fifteen minutes. She opened the classroom door quietly, and her professor paused briefly, glancing at her. She offered him a faint smile, and hurried to the back of the room, where she saw an empty seat.

Liz settled her books on the desk, quickly pulling a pen out of her purse. As she opened her notebook, she noticed a man sitting beside her, someone she hadn’t seen the first day of class. He looked at her strangely, and something about his eyes instantly unsettled her. But then he looked quickly away, back at their professor. She noticed that the man had long, rangy legs, and his desk hardly contained his large form. Then with that thought, she dismissed him completely, losing herself in their lecture.

Liz darted out of the classroom, her books pressed against her chest. She only had two hours to make it to the Crashdown. Her father had offered her a shift management position, since she was only taking one class this semester, and he’d also offered her a fairly significant raise, so she had no choice but to be on time.

“Excuse me!” Someone called from behind her. “I’m sorry…” the man from class said, catching up with her. “I don’t know your name.”

Again, those eyes—there was something strange and unsettling within them that she couldn’t place.

“Liz,” she offered tightly. “Liz Evans.”

He nodded, and extended his hand. “I’m John Monroe.”

“Nice to meet you,” she said, shaking his hand briefly. His grip was sure and confident, but she felt instantly suspicious.

What did he want? She had an overwhelming urge to thrust her ring finger right in his face. Look, Married.

“I hate to ask this,” he said. “But I was wondering if I could copy your notes from the other day. I missed the first class.”

She almost laughed out loud, realizing how wrong she’d been in interpreting his motives.

“Oh,” she said. “Yeah, sure. Maybe I could copy yours from the first part of class today?”

“Yeah, no problem,” he said, nodding.

“Why don’t we just trade notebooks tonight?” she asked, offering her own to him.

“That would be great,” he said, taking the notebook from her hand. “I’ll just bring this back next class.”

For the briefest moment, Liz felt that she should know this man. She didn’t recall meeting him before, and yet she felt she should recognize him.

Could he be a shape shifter? Someone she’d encountered in another form?

“Yeah,” she said, backing away from him a step. “See you then.”

She turned on her heel, and wondered how quickly she could make it to the library. Max needed to know about this, because she had a definite bad feeling about this John Monroe-- a kind of “evil aliens are among us” bad feeling.

Max studied the literary criticism text, chewing on his pen. His honors thesis was almost done, and he really just needed one last critic to back up his point. He’d chosen You Can’t Go Home Again, by Thomas Wolfe as his thesis subject, and Liz had nearly broken out laughing when he’d told her.

Gee, wonder why you chose that topic, Max, she’d teased. The amazing thing was, he’d never stopped to analyze why he loved the book, anymore than he’d examined his addiction to Steinbeck until Liz had reminded him that he often wrote about immigrants. Great, he’d grumbled. I’m completely predictable.

She’d just kissed him and said, I think that’s the last thing you need to worry about.

But at any rate, this had been his thesis choice, and he really felt this was some of his strongest work. He hoped that after tonight, he’d be finished with the research aspect and could devote himself to actually completing it. He flipped a page, and something made him look up—and then he knew exactly what that something was. Liz was walking across the library toward him, clasping a notebook tightly in her hand. She slid into the chair across the table from him.

“Hi,” she said, her expression serious.

“What’s wrong?” His response was instinctive, because one look at her face told him something was definitely upsetting her.

She leaned close across the table, her voice low. “Max, there’s a new guy in my French class, and something’s not right about him.”

He frowned, and set his papers aside. “What do you mean?”

“I don’t know,” she said, shaking her head. She placed the notebook between them. “But these are his French notes.”

“Liz,” he chuckled softly. “You took his notebook?”

“No, he gave it to me,” she answered firmly, opening it up. Then her expression changed, and her mouth opened slightly. She stared at the page in front of her for several long moments, shock registering in her expression.

“Oh my, God,” she whispered finally, turning the pages. “Oh my God, Max.”

She thrust the notebook toward him quickly, and when his eyes fell on the open page, he knew exactly why she was so upset.

One look at the words told him that.


Liz entered the classroom tentatively, her eyes sweeping the neat rows of desks until she spotted him. He sat near the back, listening to his Walkman, head moving slowly to the music, and for the briefest moment she wondered what he was listening to.

They all had so many questions about him, and yet that was the first thought that sprang to Liz’s mind, as she slid into the desk beside him. She felt so strange at his nearness--this specter that they’d anticipated for nearly six years.

She studied his features, and was surprised to note that he was barely older than they were—mid twenties at most. Of course, he might be a shape shifter, and could be eighty years old, for all she knew-- yet somehow she doubted that, though she couldn’t say exactly why.
He looked up at her, his dark eyes meeting her own, and she felt instantly unsettled by his penetrating gaze.

No wonder she’d felt such strange emotions upon first meeting him—his eyes shimmered with quiet energy, and flared slightly whenever he looked at her.

Only now she knew the reason why.

He smiled softly, slipping the headphones around his neck, and she noticed that he had a single dimple, which gave his smile a quirky, offbeat effect.

“Hi, Liz,” he said, his voice throaty and rich. There was something odd about how he said her name, as if he wrapped his voice around it somehow.

“Hi…John,” she replied, extending his notebook toward him awkwardly. “Thanks for the notes.”

Thank you, indeed. Now we know who you are.

“No problem,” he answered. He took the spiral book from her, and reached within his backpack to retrieve her own. She caught a glimpse of a Bob Dylan CD sitting on his desk…Blood on the Tracks.

At least that’s one question answered--one out of hundreds, she thought.

“Um,” she began as he extended her notebook. “I was wondering if I could talk to you after class?”

He hesitated a moment. “Sure,” he answered, and she saw some uncertainty pass across his features.

“Great.” She smiled warmly at him. “Then I’ll meet you outside afterward.”


How could he have made such a huge mistake? Marco wondered, raking his hand absently through his hair.

Serena had lectured him at length after class the other day, reminding him that he had been expressly advised against making contact so soon. But somehow, when he’d actually found himself near Liz, he’d been unable to resist. He had needed to talk to her—to them—to learn firsthand what they were really like. He’d waited such a long time for that moment, and in finding himself in such sudden proximity, the allure of speaking to her had been overwhelming.

But something about the way she’d looked at him a minute ago had been very unnerving. Her expression, her mannerisms…everything had changed since the other day, when she’d been so closed off to him. Although it was impossible, he couldn’t shake the sensation that she knew who he was. But even if she’d somehow known the name Marco McKinley, his alias of John Monroe would have meant nothing to her.

But how could she have known either name? He wondered.

She had no idea that he’d been sent as their protector, anymore than she knew that Serena had been quietly watching over them for years.

Or that all their lives were suddenly at incredible risk.

He closed his eyes, and took a deep, calming breath, as their professor began his lecture. Fortunately, Marco was fluent in French, and he could tune out during this class whenever he wanted. Why couldn’t he shake the impression, almost passing over him like a vibration, that Liz was thinking his name? He swore he could hear it, rolling quietly within his mind.

Marco…Marco. It was almost like she was beckoning him toward her.

Toward all of them.

He shook his head slightly, attempting to clear it, as he opened his eyes.

Damn, this would be a long class.

Liz rushed into the hallway, and saw Max waiting for her. She stepped immediately toward him, taking his hand within her own, giving it a tight little squeeze. They turned and waited just outside the doorway, and then Marco stepped out.

“Liz,” he said with a gentle smile, but then caught sight of Max and his expression became more guarded.

“We need to talk to you,” Max said quietly, stepping toward him.

Marco glanced at Liz briefly, raising his eyebrows in question. “Someplace private,” she finished.

Marco nodded silently, and Liz swore he paled a bit. “Where?” he asked.

“How about the student lounge?” Max suggested.

Max leaned across the table toward Marco, placing his palms flat on the table. “Look,” he began quietly. “We know who you are.”

Marco stared at him a long moment, his expression unreadable, and then his gaze darted between both of them.

“I’m sorry?” He finally replied, clearing his throat.

“Marco, we know who you are.” Max continued firmly, folding his arms across his chest.

Marco’s mouth opened slightly, and his cheeks flushed almost imperceptibly.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” he replied. “I don’t even know your name,” he said pointedly to Max. “And my name is John Monroe, not Marco.”

“Look, stop playing games,” Max said, his usually calm voice tensing slightly. “We do know who you are, and what we want to know is why you didn’t tell Liz your true identity.”

Marco stared coolly at Max for a long moment, his gaze wavering briefly as he glanced at Liz. He leaned back in his chair, just studying them, and Liz reflected that he was certainly calm under pressure. He had to be shocked by this turn of events.

Marco blew out a long breath, looking out the window for a moment, and the silence became deafening. Finally, he leaned forward across the table toward both of them again.

“I wouldn’t bandy that name about too easily, if you value your safety,” he threatened.

“Explain what you mean,” Max answered tightly, leaning closer across the table.

“I mean,” he continued. “Did it occur to you that there is a reason I’m going by the name John Monroe? If you’re so sure you know who I am, perhaps you might have considered that possibility.” His voice was clipped, almost icy in its insistence.

Liz gazed down at the table, chewing her lip. This was far from the dreamy reunion she’d thought they would all share. As crazy as it was, she’d fantasized about Marco McKinley for years--he’d been such an enigma, almost mythical. Their only proof of his existence had been a bizarre artifact from the future, delivered to them in a totally mysterious manner. Naturally, she’d spent countless hours wondering what he would be to them.
But she’d hardly imagined that their first real encounter would include him scolding them like small children.

“Cut the crap,” Max said sternly. “You’re the one with the explaining to do.”

Nor had she dreamed that his first meeting with Max would be some kind of territorial power play, with each asserting their boundaries and manhood.

She rubbed at her eyes, suddenly feeling very tired.

“Max,” he began quietly. “I’m sorry it’s gone like this.”

“I never told you my name was Max,” he answered firmly.

“I know that.”

They stared at one another for a long moment.

“Then we’re right,” Liz finished quietly.

Marco looked at her, then down at his hands. “I don’t understand how you knew,” he replied, his voice surprisingly quiet.

“That much you’d never believe,” Max answered with a heavy sigh. “It’s a very long story.”

Marco nodded thoughtfully, his eyes still cast downward. They all fell silent for several long moments, until Marco met Max’s gaze intently. “You’re all in a great deal of danger,” he said. “You in particular, Max. It’s why I’m here.”

Liz’s chest tightened, remembering Max’s premonition.

Oh, God. How could she have ever thought Marco’s coming would be a good thing? He was their protector, and that could mean he was here for only one reason. She closed her eyes, a shudder sweeping her body, and she had to suppress a small sob.

“What kind of danger?” Max asked, softly closing his hand over Liz’s. He’d sensed her instant terror, and she could feel him comforting her. Their connection gave a little lurch, and she felt his energy shimmer over her.

How could he worry about her at a moment like this?

Marco glanced around them, ensuring that their perimeter was indeed still private. Then he leaned close across the table toward both of them. His eyes fell on their hands, where Max had covered her own, and then quickly darted away.

“We have informants within the enemy camp,” he began.

“We?” Max questioned.

“There are many of us supporting you, Max,” Marco continued. “More than you could possibly know right now.”

The partial bond between them gave a quick leap, as Liz reached for Max now, yearning to be more connected.

This was all so surreal.

“Khivar is ready to end your life,” he stated quietly. “He believes he has found the granolith, but he doesn’t really care. He knows your supporters are mounting a quiet revolution.”

Max glanced quickly around them. The student center was nearly empty, yet Liz sensed he suddenly felt very exposed, even as quiet as their voices were.

“What are you talking about?” he asked, and Liz heard a mixture of awe and terror in his gentle voice.

“You will have to go underground very shortly Max,”
Marco answered meaningfully. “All of you.”

Marco tossed a quick glance at Liz again, and she sensed concern in his dark eyes. “But the two of you in particular. I’m here to make sure that nothing goes wrong before then.”

They all fell silent for a moment, and Max shifted in his seat, settling Liz’s hand on his thigh.

“How long do we have?” Max asked, his voice surprisingly calm.

And Liz was suddenly incredibly proud of him, of the strength always so resident within him, even when she felt shaky and uncertain.

“We’re not sure,” Marco answered. “The word could come any day now.”

Liz found herself thinking of all their dreams for the future—not just hers and Max’s—but all of their hopes. How could she have been lulled into believing they could lead normal lives?

She had a sudden vision of Max studying in the library, working so hard on his thesis, and felt tears well within her eyes.

“What about graduation?” she asked in a small voice, knowing how silly it would sound.

The funny thing was, when she glanced up at Marco, his eyes were full of compassion.

“Liz, I don’t know,” he hesitated. “But I don’t think you’ll make it that long.”

The tears spilled down her cheeks. All their hard work, all that effort.

“I’m sorry,” he finished quietly.

She shook her head, wiping at the tears with the back of her hand. She knew she must seem ridiculous, but it wasn’t really about graduation. It was about the illusion that they could all just be normal. That Max could become a doctor one day, that she could be a molecular biologist. She’d always known they were living a fantasy, yet nothing had prepared her for this moment, when it would all be exposed as a mere child’s dream—ripped away from her in one swift instant.

“Liz,” Marco reassured her. “There’s nothing wrong with wanting those things.”

How could he have known what she was thinking?

“It’s just that the two of you have a more important destiny.”

Max rubbed his hand along her leg, so gentle yet full of incredible strength. She’d never admired him more.

Their bond opened a bit, his energy enveloping her, soothing her.

“Tell us what to do next,” Max replied.

“That’s the hardest part,” he answered, staring out the window again. “Because right now, there’s nothing you can do, except continue with your lives. It’s why you weren’t meant to know who I was just yet.”

“If Liz is in danger…” Max began, but Marco quickly interrupted him.

“If you hide too soon, there could be terrible repercussions for you,” he explained. “For Liz and others… people who are supporting you within the enemy camp.”

Max nodded. “We’ll do whatever is necessary.”

“I know that,” Marco affirmed, then fell silent a long moment, staring out the window again. “Just tell me one thing,” he continued, and Liz sensed uncertainty within him.

“What?” Max asked.

“How did you know who I was?”

“That’s easy enough.” Max smiled faintly, glancing at Liz. “We recognized your handwriting. You have a very distinctive style.”

Marco frowned intently. “When did you ever see my handwriting?”

Liz began laughing, knowing it was inappropriate, but it was the only reaction to this moment.

“Well,” she said, pulling a leg up underneath her. “That’s where we’re the ones with a surprise for you, Marco.”

“What do you mean?” he asked, his dark brows furrowing.

“We have something to show you,” Max explained. “Something that may shock you quite a bit.”

Marco met their collective gaze seriously, and Liz wondered how he would respond to the bizarre letter.
But one thing was certain. It would change the balance of their burgeoning relationship forever.

Liz dropped a teabag into the boiling water, glancing in the living room of their apartment. Marco sat in their green wicker chair, and had been staring at the open letter for several long minutes, saying nothing. She noticed that their oriental rug was slightly frayed beneath his feet—in fact, their whole apartment seemed so ridiculously modest.

She wondered what he thought about what he was reading.

Max sat on the sofa across from him, leaning forward, elbows planted firmly on his knees, studying Marco’s reaction. Liz pulled three teacups from the cabinet, and felt her stomach give an anxious turn, as she watched Marco slowly fold the letter up. He ran a shaky hand through his dark hair.

“Well,” he began, blowing out a heavy breath. “I’m not sure what to say about this.”

Max nodded silently, and Liz watched him shift uncomfortably on the couch. It wasn’t every day that you announced this kind of thing to someone. Gee, you betrayed us, and then you saved us. Now you’re here—so what?

Marco stood and paced a bit, crossing the small distance of their living room. He was incredibly tall, and their apartment suddenly seemed unable to contain his large frame. His features were unreadable as Liz stared at him from their tiny kitchen. But she was certain that she could detect undeniable pain etched across his face.

“When did you find this?” he asked in a somber voice.

“Six years ago,” Max answered, watching Marco’s progression across the living room floor.

He stopped at the window, gazing silently down at the street below.

Max glanced at Liz, and raised his eyebrows uncertainly. She sensed that he was looking to her for strength, and she moved quickly into the living room, settling beside him on the sofa. She slipped her hand within his own, threading her fingers between his.

Marco just stood there, his back to them both, as he stared out the window. They knew so little about him, and had just placed such a heavy burden upon his shoulders.

Finally, he turned to face the two of them, and his expression was determined. Resolute.

“There’s not much I can say about this,” he began softly. “Except that… I have prepared for nothing else other than to serve the two of you.” He paced a bit across the length of the apartment, and then stopped in front of them. “I am yours, completely and fully. I cannot speak to this other thing.”

Max nodded firmly. “We understand.”

“There’s something I must show you… both of you.” Marco’s voice was reverential and quiet. Then he dropped to his knees, kneeling before them.

He rolled up his long shirtsleeve, exposing his wrist. He raised his other hand, and a piercing ray of blue light fell upon his open wrist, illuminating it. Liz felt her eyes widen, as a shimmering image sprang to life before them—multi-dimensional and not unlike Max’s royal seal.

It hovered in the air, just above Marco’s wrist.

“This is my royal brand,” he stated softly. “It’s what identifies me as protector to my king and queen.”

Max drew in a sharp breath, and Liz felt his hand tighten around her own.

“I am your sworn servant,” he continued, his eyes meeting both of theirs with piercing vibrancy. “I do not care what is in that letter. I could never betray you…”

The beautiful seal grew in intensity, the colors shifting quickly as Marco stared down at it. “This is all that I am,” he finished, his voice hushed. “Serving you is all that I know.”

Liz couldn’t even think of a response, and as she glanced at Max, she saw that his face had flushed. It was the first and only time anyone had ever genuinely acknowledged who he was—had pledged to follow him as king.

Max leaned forward and placed his hand on Marco’s shoulder. “Thank you,” he whispered. Marco bowed his head slightly, and Liz realized he was unable to meet Max’s gaze.

The moment was unbelievable. She was so close to Max, and yet she’d never fully contemplated the idea that there were so many people who recognized him, followed him even, as their king. Not until this moment, in their modest little apartment.

She shivered slightly at the revelation.

And she realized that Marco was not alone. There were others… many who felt just this way about the man she called husband…mate.

Marco slowly raised his eyes to meet her own. “Do not forget, that I also serve you as queen, Liz.”

Just like earlier, he had seemed to read her thoughts.

All she could do was nod mutely, as his black eyes bore into her own. Then he lowered his hand, and the seal disappeared again, as the beam of light vanished. Marco slowly rolled down his shirtsleeve, rising to his feet.

He walked to the window again, staring down at the empty street below. Max kissed her hand tenderly, his lips so warm as they grazed her skin. How was it that at just this moment, she felt the most incredible rush of desire for him?

Perhaps because for the very first time it was utterly real to her— that her gentle, beautiful husband was a king.

[ edited 1 time(s), last at 21-Oct-2001 4:49:56 PM ]
posted on 22-Oct-2001 8:39:53 AM
I'm working on getting this whole fic up (There are 35 parts so far), but it may take a few more days. The reformatting is time consuming, since I didn't get to save this in html prior to the vault thread vanishing. UGH. *happy*

Thanks for reading! And I'll also get CRAZY TIMES TWO up very shortly!
posted on 30-Oct-2001 8:44:18 PM
I know! I know! I promise I'll get busy on this, CRAZY and HTDC. As most of you know (I think?) I'm expecting triplets and its not an easy pregnancy. There have been a few complications, though nothing I don't expect to work out--but it has slowed me down. I truly promise to get these all up and finished. THANKS for asking! hugs,d
posted on 6-Nov-2001 1:36:54 PM

Liz threw her head back, letting the warm shower soak her hair. Droplets cascaded across her skin, and she closed her eyes, just savoring the feel of the warm water against her body. She opened her shampoo bottle and began working the soap into a soft lather, massaging her scalp, threading her fingers through her long hair.

Marco had left about thirty minutes ago, and she’d sat with Max in the living room for a while, strategizing about gathering the group. They’d held off sharing anything about Marco until they could confirm his identity, and now he’d promised to return tomorrow evening, so that he could meet everyone. She’d seen his eyes dance a bit, as they’d talked about Michael, Isabel and Tess, and she realized that he was excited to meet them all. Then, when Max had mentioned that there were others within their group—humans—Marco had interrupted him, saying that he knew all about the others. His eyebrows had drawn together, clearly surprised that Max would feel he even needed to explain who they were.

“I don’t think you realize how closely we’ve been watching you, Max,” Marco had said. “For a while now.”

Liz stepped fully into the flow of water, allowing the shower to douse her soapy hair. She felt rivulets spill down her back and neck, and she kept her eyes closed against the soap.

Suddenly, she smelled Max… right up against her. His scent was heady and overpowering, especially with the steam swirling all around her. She felt him shimmy across her body, nipping at her skin, and for the briefest moment the intensity of his energy left her feeling unsteady.

She sighed, opening her eyes. No sight of him anywhere, and yet he couldn’t have been more fully with her. His heat began rolling along her skin, searing her, making her blood boil within her. The combination of the warm water beating steadily against her back, and Max’s touch all along her body was amazing—like little jolts of electricity exploding all across her bare skin.

Then his energy became more insistent, almost demanding that she open to him. He wasn’t teasing anymore now—he needed her desperately, right that very moment.

She gasped softly, as she opened their bond, and he rushed into her so quickly, she had to catch herself from falling. She planted her hands against the slick, wet tile of the shower wall, gasping again as he whirled through her.

Ah, Liz…come inside me, love. I need you.

Max, she laughed. You could have just joined me in the shower .

No. I couldn’t , he breathed.

Why not?

Because this is what I wanted…only this.

Fire began to pool within her, as she felt his energy escalating.

Make love to me , he whispered. I need you.

And she thought how many times they’d both said those words to each other lately. Their need for one another simply never dissipated…it spiraled and grew, just roiling constantly within them both.

Liz eased her back against the tiles, her hands flat on the smooth surface. Max was just darting in and out now, so unsettled. She could feel all his restless energy from the day, shooting through her.

Shh , she whispered to him, soothed him. Shh…

And his frantic exuberance quickly stilled. She felt him settle more within her, as she closed her eyes. Then she entered him in turn, her breath catching in her throat as their souls quickly found one another.

Oh, God… Max cried as their joining came instantly. There wasn’t even time for a playful dance, they’d only been able to find one another and weave immediately together like that.

Liz slowly opened her eyes, her breathing uneven, and saw that the shower was filled with steam now. She turned off the faucet with a shaky hand, moving the curtain aside. She stepped onto the tiled floor, tossing a towel loosely around herself. She didn’t even stop to dry her body, just moved from the bathroom to their bedroom.

And found Max lying there on his back, beautifully naked, his legs slightly open. The expression on his face was unbelievable--his eyes were shut, and he looked deeply sated. Only, she could see that he was incredibly erect, and breathing heavily. He was desperate for the rest, yearning for completion, even as his alien side had already been so fully satisfied by her.
She stepped closer toward him, and drew a breath in at the sight of his lean, graceful body—it never ceased to amaze her.

Thank you , he whispered as he opened his eyes lazily, a seductive smile spreading across his lips. His chest rose and fell with heavy pants, and he reached for her.

She didn’t move, just tightened the towel around herself, dripping water on their carpeted floor. His hand lingered in the air, inviting her toward him, yet she didn’t move—just gazed at him, marveling at his wondrous form.

Beautiful, she thought. Absolutely beautiful.

“You’re a devil,” he groaned, smiling at her. She let the towel fall away then, revealing her wet, naked body. His eyes swept over her, and she felt his gaze all along her skin, scalding her.

She moved closer toward the bed, climbing next to him. She sat on the edge, facing him and began tracing her fingers around both of his nipples. They sprang to life beneath her touch.

“I think, my love, that you would be the devil in this relationship,” she laughed softly.

He pulled her mouth down toward his. “You’ve done something to me, Liz,” he breathed, his voice husky and rich. “You’ve made me into this.”

“Into what?” she asked, meeting his warm soft lips. Despite his urgency for her, the kiss was incredibly gentle. He slipped his hands around her waist, pulling her closer down to him. His skin was fiery and warm beneath her, and growing wet now.

“I don’t know,” he murmured helplessly, shaking his head. His salty lips parted for her, and his tongue slowly began intertwining with her own. “I can never get enough of you…of making love to you. I can’t pretend to understand it lately.”

“You know what you’ve been doing to me,” she whispered, stroking his hair away from his forehead.
Their kiss deepened and he pulled her on top of him with a quiet groan. She was dimly aware that her own breathing had escalated, as he pressed himself between her bare legs. She slipped her hand down between their bodies and began rubbing him firmly, and his breath caught for a moment. He throbbed within her hands, all velvet smoothness and yet incredibly firm. She loved the feel of him in her hands like that, and she rolled onto her side, so she could pleasure him more fully. She cupped his sacks, rolling them gently within the palm of her hand, and then trailed her fingers back over him. His erection leapt a bit at her touch, as their tongues desperately sought one another. She began rubbing him firmly within her hand, and Max gasped softly in her ear.

God, Liz… he moaned.

He’d already been teetering on the edge when she’d walked in the bedroom, and now he was pushing quickly past. He began to thrust his hips, meeting her rhythm.

We’ve got to stop, he pleaded, though his body continued its desperate response to her touch.

You’ve got to…

No , she said firmly, escalating her assault on him. We’ve got all night, she whispered and his kisses stilled briefly. He looked into her eyes and something wild flashed in his expression. He rolled her quickly onto her back, and in the smoothest motion plunged into her deeply, taking her.

His hips continued their frantic pace, and she felt him driving into her hard. He buried his face in her neck, nipping her roughly there. Her fingers threaded all through his dark hair, tousling it within her hands. He was so deep within her now, crashing back and forth, and her desire escalated by quick degrees. Her own hips bucked up against him, trying to get more.

Why couldn’t she ever get enough of him? All of Max was never enough.

She decided to let go within the bond, to allow their connection to break…so that then he could just take her all over again. She felt their souls separate and thrilled anticipating their joining anew, when very suddenly Max stopped moving within her.

“No,” he begged forcefully, and he looked almost frightened…a bit lost.

She stroked his cheek, surprised by his reaction. Their eyes locked for a long moment, and she felt such love surge within her for this man. With that, she slipped right back inside of him, her energy rolling across his body in desperate waves. He closed his eyes tightly, and began thrusting hard within her.

Their souls threaded together again immediately, and she felt him almost seize her from within their bond, surprisingly possessive.

Don’t do that to me again, Liz, he pleaded. Please.

I just wanted to experience the joining again, she explained softly.

But I want to be one with you right now…please just don’t do that.

Okay , she whispered and felt peace come over him again. God, this need was going to kill them both. His thrusting grew more frenzied now, and she met him over and over.

Out to the edge they went, Max carrying her all the way… pulling her. Commanding her…he cried her name out loud, desperation in his voice. Explosive shudders racked his body, echoing within her, and then finally they both stilled. And they lay just like that, he in her arms. She stroked his hair, his shoulders, tracing her fingers along his backbone. He was completely quiet, his breathing heavy against her.

She was surprised to feel a deep melancholy begin humming through her…not her own, but Max’s.

Sweetheart? She questioned. But she only felt the sadness intensify.

What is it? Tell me…

He kissed her neck lightly, pressing his face into her long, wet hair.

Again, he was silent. But she knew…sensed the growing pain within him. He couldn’t put words to his feelings, yet she still knew.

She’d hurt him, breaking their bond in the middle of the lovemaking. It had never been her intention, only to have more of him all over again. It was something they’d done occasionally before, but it had never created this kind of reaction. She didn’t understand it at all. Softly, she stroked his hair beneath her fingers, kissing the top of his head repeatedly. Maybe he could verbalize the feeling, and that would help him.

They lay like that for a long time, his ragged breathing finally slowing, her heart easing from its crazy pace. Yet Max remained so quiet and still in her arms, silently breaking her heart. Finally, he nestled his head more firmly against her, and spoke so softly, she almost missed it.

“Please don’t ever leave me, Liz.” His voice sounded broken and small.

“God, Max! How can you even ask that?”

He rolled off of her, onto his side and gazed at her a long moment. His lovely eyes were filled with deep sadness.

“What?” she pressed him.

He shook his head slowly, then reached a hand to stroke her hair. “When you pulled away from me…while we were making love…” he hesitated, glancing away from her. “I felt something strange.”

She pressed his hand to her lips, kissing his palm softly.

“Kind of like that feeling about the storm coming,” he whispered. “Only it was about you.”

He looked up at her, and seemed incredibly vulnerable and lost.

“Oh, Max,” she soothed him. “That was only because things were so intense at that moment. It was a silly thing to do, I should never have tried it.”

“Why have things been like this, Liz?” he questioned seriously. “What’s happening between us?”

“I don’t know,” she whispered, shaking her head slowly.

“It’s starting to drive me slightly insane.”

Liz laughed gently, pulling his mouth to her own. “You, too?”

“More than you really even know, Liz. It’s almost painful sometimes.”

“For me, too,” she breathed. “But I love it at the same time.”

Max nodded, slipping his arms around her. He pulled her close against him, and her desire stirred all over again—and she felt his physical reaction pressing against her thigh.

“I love you, Liz.” His voice was low and serious. “So much more than I can ever tell you.”

His expression was still thoughtful, as his fingers traced a little pattern on her abdomen, circling lower and lower. She felt heat answer within her stomach, at his slightest touch.

“I know, Max. And you’ve shown me that over and over.”

He leaned forward, giving her the slowest and gentlest of kisses, just letting his lips linger against her own.

I’m going to show you right now just how much I love you , he murmured.

His hands began a tender exploration of her body--all the chaotic passion between them earlier had stilled now, becoming so quiet and lovely. Liz sighed, breathing him in through all her senses, and felt his contentment envelop her, as their bond constricted a bit…he was pulling her closer within himself. Because tonight was all about being as close as they could get, allowing all the boundaries to vanish. They’d simply never yearned to be more completely one than they did at that moment.

Max leaned his forehead against the slick wall of the shower, the noise of the pounding water droning beside him. He had to get his emotions under control, had to collect himself.

He’d left Liz nestled in bed, sleepy and contented. She’d already showered, so now it was his turn. They’d remained connected, and he’d felt her drift off to sleep a few minutes ago. Max loved how it felt when she slept like that… it was totally soothing and made him feel so loved by her. He couldn’t explain why, except perhaps the infinite trust it conveyed—that she was his thoroughly and without reservation, so much so that she’d sleep entwined with him.

Now that she’d drifted off, he eased their bond apart, allowing her to rest without the buzz of his energy. He knew his thoughts were too restless—had been ever since their meeting with Marco. How could he not worry about Liz…about all of them? He was their leader, and had just been told they were all in danger.

But at the moment, something else was pressing in on his mind, slowly killing him. The sensation that had swept through him when Liz had broken their bond during their lovemaking had been more than frightening. He couldn’t tell her what he’d felt, because he didn’t want to scare her.

He’d sensed some moment, some coming time when they’d be unable to connect. He had an intense flash of reaching desperately for her, yearning to be joined…and simply being unable to do it. The sensation had been like a deathly cold wall of steel, blocking him from her. He’d known what it would feel like, to slam into that wall…so icy cold and impenetrable.

For a moment, he’d panicked, mistakenly thinking that he was unable to join with her right then. But then his fears had eased when he’d seen how easily they came together again, their souls instantly mating.
And that’s what had frightened him so. This intuitive flash had felt completely real…as if it were something that had already happened.

Or was going to happen in the future.

There was only one reason he could think of why he and Liz might be unable to connect, and he felt grief well within his heart anew. Sobs began quietly wracking his body—he couldn’t stop them. His Liz…life without her would be nothing. Life without their connection would only be empty and cold… a sterile place where he wouldn’t want to be.

He felt hot tears sting his cheeks, and shame welled within him. He was crying like a baby over this, when he should be strong. But it had scared him so badly--and he couldn’t even tell her what he’d seen.

Maybe Marco was wrong—maybe the time to go underground was now. So many thoughts swirled through his head, but one thing was certain. He would not let anyone harm his Liz—he’d die protecting her if need be—because without her his life wouldn’t be worth living anyway.

The water kept pounding his skin, as he leaned his forehead against the cool tile wall of the shower. His tears mixed with the water, falling in rivulets down his face. He wished so much that he was someone else in that moment, just a simple man who could give Liz the life she deserved.

The soft tears grew in intensity, his body now shuddering with gentle sobs. And he realized he wasn’t just crying about the terrible premonition he’d had about Liz—he was weeping for all their dashed dreams, for all the things he’d never be able to give her.

Why had loving him meant that she always had to hurt so much? He wondered, wiping at his tears, as he turned his face into the full stream of water. Instantly, he felt soothed by the rhythmic play of it against his skin—and he knew the answer to his question.
Because loving him meant that she was becoming everything she was destined to be—not just his wife, not just someone enduring all the complications that accompanied his life.

With him, she was awakening to every aspect within her self, and even if it might come at a great price, he knew it was worth it for her, just as it was for him—and for the other, beautiful entity they became together every single time they joined.


Serena brushed her hair, with long quick strokes, then drew it into a neat ponytail. She watched Marco silently eating his cereal, staring into the bowl. He was so quiet this morning, absolutely lost in thought. They’d talked for hours last night, and he’d shared every detail about his encounter with Max and Liz. The letter had upset him terribly, and he’d looked at her with such anguish in his dark eyes.

Could I have really betrayed them? He’d asked. I don’t understand.

She didn’t understand either, and it had left her worried--for all of them.

But especially for Marco.

He was ready for this, she knew it, but as she stared at him from across the room, she feared that somehow it was still too soon. He was like a son to her—which was funny since now she appeared to be only an older sister—yet she’d raised him practically from infancy.

She knew his incredible strength, the warrior within him, but she also knew that despite the tough exterior, he was still so innocent. Even with everything they’d been through together in the past twenty-five years, nothing had prepared him for dealing with a man like Khivar.
Marco’s heart was good and pure, and she worried that if he ever fell into enemy hands, they might corrupt it… damage it somehow.

All he wanted was to serve Max and Liz, because it was what he’d been bred for--what she’d trained him for. And now that the moment had arrived, she was terrified to release him into it.

No, Marco wasn’t her son, but he might as well be. And he was the only thing like it she had left in this life.
She closed her eyes, grimacing as pain flashed through her… she wouldn’t think about that today. Humans were fortunate to live a more reasonable span of time than their own race, without the added years to lose so many people, to know such dreadful anguish.

Like watching the horrible murder of your king and queen , she thought. Seeing the noblest leader your people had known in centuries struck down in the most brutal and public of ways. She shut her eyes again, and thought of how much Marco already admired Max, and he didn’t even remember—couldn’t really know-- what Zan had meant to their people.

No wonder she was nervous, she thought, as she chewed on her lip and stared at Marco from across the room. He sifted his spoon absently through the cereal, and she realized he wasn’t really eating, just playing with his food in distraction.

What was going on in his head today? She felt suddenly so separate from him…and realized she’d been letting him go for months.

Maybe she was the one who wasn’t ready for this
. She closed her eyes, and raked a hand across her face, sighing heavily.


She saw him staring at her, concern in his dark eyes. “Are you okay?” he asked.

She stood, nodding her head mutely, reaching for her denim jacket. She shrugged into it, grabbing her keys from where they lay on the kitchen counter.

“Where are you going?” he pressed, his eyes following her as she crossed the room.

“Out,” she answered simply, just like so many times before. She had to get out, had to breathe, because the emotions coursing through her today were suffocating.


Liz spread cheese and crackers on a large tray, arranging them neatly. She could hear Max’s soft voice carrying from the living room, answering the group’s many questions. Everyone was stunned—as she’d known they would be—by the revelation that they’d discovered Marco right at the university. They were even more shocked by Max’s simple statement that Khivar was ready to kill him—and that they were all in imminent danger.

Michael had sprung to his feet, and begun pacing, asking why they should wait to go underground. That if Max and Liz were in danger—if any of them were—it didn’t make sense to wait. Liz had felt a rush of love for Michael in that moment, as she’d glimpsed how protective he felt, not just about Max, but her as well. He’d become a dear friend in recent years, and even though he was often so blustery, she’d grown accustomed to the way he communicated. Besides that fact, he made Maria incredibly happy, and that earned him huge points in her book.

Liz pulled some grapes and Tabasco sauce out of the refrigerator, and glanced at her watch. It was almost eight o’clock, which meant Marco would be here any moment. Her stomach gave a nervous flutter at the thought. It had been one thing for the two of them to meet him yesterday, but this group gathering would change all of their dynamics permanently.

Liz arranged the grapes on the tray, and poured the sauce into a little bowl. She heard Michael arguing with Max, asking again how they were supposed to just continue with their lives, pretending they were all normal.

“Michael, you know the drill,” Max answered calmly. “It’s what we’ve always done.”

“That’s not going to cut it this time, Maxwell,” he countered, his eyes meeting Liz’s as she entered the living room, and she saw fear flicker within their depths. “This is different. The stakes have just been raised.”

Liz placed the platter on their coffee table, and settled close to Max on the sofa. His hand slipped gently around her lower back, his thumb stroking her softly along her hip.

“Liz, how do you feel about this?” Isabel asked, shifting where she sat on a giant throw pillow. Alex lay on the floor in front of her, and she was absently rubbing his back.

Liz was silent a long moment, chewing on her lip. She knew what she was supposed to say, what Max wanted to hear--but her heart spoke something entirely different. She stared at the floor for a long moment, and felt Max’s gentle stroking still—he was waiting for her answer, too.

What Liz wanted was to shout at the top of her lungs about everything. About how scared she was that Max’s life was on the line—yet again. That he should be able to finish the English degree that had meant so much to him. That Michael could be king for all she cared…or that Tess could be queen for that matter.

But instead, Liz cleared her throat, steadying her thoughts.

“I’m scared, guys,” she answered quietly, folding her arms across her chest protectively. “Of course I am. For Max…for all of you.”

Her words were met with brief silence, as it seemed the whole group stared at her. She felt Max tense beside her.

“Thank you, Liz,” Michael answered appreciatively, blowing out a heavy breath. “You heard it from your own wife, Max.”

“Michael, please don’t try to pit Liz against me in this.”

“I’m not, but I figured you’d be the first to agree that Liz’s opinion in this matter is pretty damn important.”

Max’s hand dropped away from Liz’s side, and he leaned forward, burying his face in his hands for a moment.

“Michael, all I know is what Marco told me,” he answered, and she noticed how tired his voice sounded. “We don’t even know what’s going on… there are people fighting for us…all kinds of issues at hand.”

“I think we just need to hear Marco out,” Tess stated quietly, reaching for a cracker. She was sitting on the other side of Max, cross-legged on the sofa. It was funny how much the dynamics between Tess and Max had changed over the years. She was always physically near him like that, yet it had stopped threatening Liz years ago. Her motivations were so different now, and every action sprang from deep loyalty.

Liz appreciated that she backed Max up at times when Michael might question things too heatedly—and yet she wasn’t afraid to press Max when necessary. But more than that, Liz knew how hard Tess had worked at cultivating a friendship with her, which had come slowly at first, then had ultimately blossomed into something very satisfying.

“Alright, I can agree with that,” Michael answered, and rose to his feet, pacing a bit. He walked to their window, and stared down at the street.

“Max, you’re right,” he said quietly. “There’s a lot we don’t know. It’s just that when I hear that Khivar wants you dead….” His voice trailed off, and he remained with his back to them all.

Liz suddenly realized he was more upset than she’d initially guessed. Maria rose slowly and walked to where he stood, placing her hand on his back. She stroked his shoulders softly, and then her hand suddenly stilled.

“Guys!” Maria exclaimed, looking down at the street. “I think he’s here.” She turned quickly toward Liz, almost bouncing a bit. “Lizzie, that’s him, isn’t it?”

Everyone sprang to their feet, and Liz had to laugh at the image of all their faces pressed up against the large picture window, straining for a glimpse of the ever-mysterious Marco McKinley.

“Yeah, that’s him,” Liz answered, stepping away so the others could see better.

“Oh, good Lord,” Maria exclaimed. “Why didn’t you tell us that he’s so damn good looking?”
Michael’s head jerked toward Maria, jealousy instantly flashing across his features.

“Well, Maria,” Liz smiled. “I guess because it wasn’t the first thing I noticed or even thought about.”

She heard Max laugh quietly from where he sat on the sofa.

“Ah, screw all the intergalactic destiny crap,” Maria continued, raising up on tiptoes to follow Marco’s approach below. “He’s one beautiful alien.”

Kyle pushed in on the group, “Hey, let me get a look,” he laughed. Tess nudged him roughly out of the way, slapping his head lightly.

“Girls only,” she laughed. “This isn’t your kind of show.”

“Looks like it’s yours though,” Kyle said, shoving Tess playfully back toward the window. Though she giggled in response, Liz noticed that she did take an appraising look at the street below.

“Like we need one more ridiculously good looking Alien stalking around New Mexico,” Maria chuckled, slipping her arms around Michael’s waist. She leaned up and kissed him fully, and Liz saw a gentle smile spread across his features, all the jealousy fading away.

“Baby, you should know by now that they don’t make us any other way,” Michael laughed. “It was planned just to make life hell for you humans.”

“Ah, geez, now see I should have figured that out a long time ago,” Alex laughed, his eyes meeting Isabel’s playfully. “Not that I would have cared,” he finished quietly.

Liz smiled watching them together. They’d only recently gotten back together after many years apart, and they were still slightly awkward and shy together.

And then she glanced around their tiny apartment and thought about all the love that was represented in this room, all the deep bonds they’d forged between themselves over the past seven years.

She wondered how Marco would fit into all of that—how his arrival would impact their intricately woven relationships, but then a firm knock on their apartment door interrupted her reflections. For a brief moment, she felt incredibly nervous, as if she were waiting for a first date, knowing she’d have to introduce him to her parents. And in a way, this moment was almost like that.

Tess stood off to the side, watching as Marco shook hands with everyone. He was incredibly tall, maybe a couple of inches taller than Michael. And Maria’s assessment had been dead on. His black wavy hair was slightly disheveled, and he had rich, dark eyes. Incredible eyes, actually.

Damn, this is Maria’s fault , Tess laughed quietly to herself.

But he really was amazingly beautiful—something she’d never once guessed in all these years she’d contemplated what he might look like. Probably because when she’d first heard the word protector, she’d thought of Nasedo. Yeah, enough said about that , she thought.

He was stepping toward her now, and she noticed how dark his skin looked against his white button-down shirt--everything about him was rich and lovely. And completely opposite from her, she thought briefly, as he closed the space between them.

“Tess?” he asked, his throaty voice resonating through her.

She nodded, swallowing hard. “Yeah…um, Marco,” she said, extending her hand to him.

What had happened to her voice?

“Nice to meet you,” he said, taking her hand firmly.

His skin was incredibly warm against her own.
And Tess was completely furious with herself.
She was Max’s second in command, and this moment was critical, yet she stood there like an idiot, absolutely dumbstruck by him. Somehow in all of thirty seconds, Marco McKinley had reduced her to feeling like a silly schoolgirl.

“Nice to meet you, too,” she mumbled, stepping quickly aside as he turned toward Maria.

Marco’s eyes swept their faces, wondering briefly what they thought of him. They were all so open and eager to hear what he had to say, and he didn’t want to let any of them down.

He settled next to Max and Liz on the sofa, and he observed how everyone in the room waited quietly. It hit him briefly, that more than Max even knew, this core group followed him wholeheartedly and without reservation.

Somehow he sensed that Max occasionally doubted that… that some of their personalities chafed against his own. Max needed to realize that was only a superficial problem.

“We all have a lot of questions,” Max began. “As you can imagine.”

Marco nodded thoughtfully, staring at his hands. He realized his palms were sweating slightly. As monumental as it had been meeting Max yesterday—being confronted about his identity by both of them—nothing could have prepared him for this moment of simply sitting with the whole group.

“I think our biggest question…” Max coughed briefly. “Mine in particular, is why do we wait? Why don’t we go into hiding right away?”

Marco sensed Max glance sideways at him, even though his eyes were cast downward.

“You’re worried about Liz,” he stated quietly.

He’d known it, very clearly.

“Of course…but about all of us, too.”

“Marco, I don’t like the idea that Max’s life is so clearly being threatened, yet we’re supposed to wait,” Michael interjected.

“I understand,” he answered softly. “Completely. I don’t like it either.”

He looked up at Michael, and saw surprise dart across his features. Had Michael thought he’d argue with him on that point?

“But nevertheless there are many considerations,” Marco continued. “We have a key informant within Khivar’s camp, and if you all go into hiding right now, it will expose her. We will lose a huge strategic advantage if she’s taken out.”

Marco turned briefly to Max, “We receive reports daily… several times a day, in fact. We’re confident that we will know the critical moment for movement.”

“We need to be ready to go at any point, then,” Max stated flatly.

“Yes,” Marco nodded. “And while I’m sure you have a good network for communication amongst yourselves, you need to be able to move incredibly quickly.”

“I can work on that,” Tess noted thoughtfully, glancing at him.

He noticed in passing that her eyes were incredibly blue—perhaps the bluest he’d ever seen. He looked away from her quickly, feeling slightly unsettled by their shimmering depths.

“Good,” he answered. “That’s important.”

“I’m still not sure that’s good enough,” Michael objected quietly.

“Why not?” Marco asked. He instinctively liked Michael, despite all the questions—they told him he was very protective of Max, which suited him just fine.

“Because maybe Max and Liz should disappear for a while,” Michael continued, his eyebrows furrowing, as he glanced at Max. “I mean, that wouldn’t be nearly so obvious as if we all just dropped out.”

Max shifted on the sofa next to him. “Michael, look,” he began, drawing in a tight breath. “You hear what he’s saying. It’s not the right time.”

“Give it a few more weeks,” Marco offered. “Perhaps then it might make sense for just Max and Liz to go underground…but know this. All of you,” Marco’s eyes swept around the room, noting all their tense expressions. “You must be prepared to move in an instant. Things are changing like the wind…”

Everyone fell silent at his words, and Marco heard Max sigh heavily beside him. It suddenly hit him how much their world had changed in the past twenty-four hours.

And he felt a wave of grief shoot through him… something unidentifiable, and wondered what it was about. He was certain he’d felt it from Max—yet Liz had been the one who had wept yesterday.

“Actually, I have a question, too,” Isabel interjected quietly.


“Are you a shape shifter?” She asked. “I mean, what are you exactly?”

“I’m a hybrid, just like all of you,” Marco answered with a soft smile. Isabel’s eyes were so wide and open, and he liked the honesty he saw reflected in them.

“Actually,” Alex interrupted, sitting up tall. “There are some of us in here who are…”

“Of this earth,” Liz finished with a laugh.

“Well, yes, of course,” Marco nodded quietly. “I meant all of you who were of alien origin.”

“I just wanted to be clear on that point,” Alex continued. “That some of us are here by choice.” He looked at Isabel then, and Marco had no doubt exactly why Alex Whitman was in that room. He smiled softly.

“Thanks for clearing up any confusion,” Marco answered with a wry nod.

“No problem,” Alex answered, still staring at Isabel. In fact, he hadn’t averted his gaze from her for most of the night.

Marco glanced briefly around the room, and had the passing sensation that with this group—bound in such deep, almost mysterious ways—he’d found something he’d wanted for a long time.

He’d come home.

posted on 9-Nov-2001 3:11:39 PM
Everyone had left after the meeting ended, each heading their separate ways. Max had gone to the library, and Liz sensed he was more desperate than ever to wrap up his thesis. Only Tess had remained, and they’d decided to order a pizza and hang out for a while.

They sat on the living room floor, listening to an old Counting Crows CD. Max still kept them in occasional rotation, even when he wasn’t feeling melancholy.

Tess doused her pizza with Tobasco sauce, and offered the bottle to Liz. She shook her head, and Tess laughed. “Still haven’t developed a taste for it yet?”

“Not really.” Liz answered. “Well, maybe I like hot foods a little more than I did before…” and her voice trailed off. She’d almost said far too much, but she could tell by the expression on Tess’s face, that she hadn’t missed it.

“Before?” Tess questioned, raising her eyebrows curiously.

“Well…before Max.”

“In other words, before the two of you joined ?” Tess corrected playfully, fire dancing in her eyes.

Liz felt her face flush, and she wondered how Tess could even know about that, though of course Marco’s letter had alluded to it. Liz hadn’t missed the meaningful note to Tess’s voice—she seemed to know all about their spiritual mating.

“Tess!” She cried, rolling her eyes. “Don’t even say that.”

“Sheesh, Liz, I do know all about the alien birds and bees,” she laughed, taking a bite of her pizza. “I have Nasedo to thank for that.”

Liz knew her face must have turned bright read, even though it was ridiculous for her to feel embarrassed about any aspect of her relationship with Max—even one as personal as their bond. But of course, this was Tess, who had once wanted him for her own.

Tess glanced up at her, realization dawning. “Liz, look…you don’t have to feel weird. I let Max go years ago. You know that.”

Liz nodded silently, reaching for a piece of pizza.

“So is it as amazing as they say?” Tess asked in a hushed voice. “Alien sex?”

She was not having this conversation--especially not with Tess of all people. “I’m not even going to answer that,” she laughed uncomfortably.

“I’m serious, Liz,” Tess continued quietly. “I really want to know…because I realize I’m never going to have that.”

Liz heard a trace of sadness in her voice, and frowned. “Tess, there’s no reason why you can’t.”

“Oh, yeah right. There are so many aliens just wandering around the streets of Las Cruces…or anywhere else on the planet.”

“Well, apparently there are,” Liz corrected. “We just met another one tonight.”

This time Liz noticed it was Tess who flushed—at the mention of Marco--and she made a mental note of that key information.

“Yeah, well he’s not even a possibility.” She laughed nervously “He’s your protector.”

“Well, he also said there are others here. And if what Michael said is true, they’re bound to be gorgeous.”

Tess smiled softly, taking another bite of pizza. “Maybe.”

“Look, I think Michael’s got a good theory going,” Liz continued. “You’re gorgeous…Isabel obviously is. It doesn’t even seem to be gender specific.”

“Well, thanks for the compliment, but I stopped believing that I’d find anybody long ago.”

“Tess, you can’t honestly mean that?” Liz questioned seriously, setting her pizza down. “Guys are always asking you out…you just keep turning them down.”

“That might have just a little something to do with my alien status,” she answered softly, pouring more Tobasco sauce on her pizza.

“I accepted Max when we both thought I was human,” Liz countered gently.

“You and Max are unique, Liz. That doesn’t happen for most of us.”

Well, she couldn’t argue with her on that count.

Liz rose to change the CD, because she really couldn’t listen to Long December again. Max had subjected her to it thousands of times during the course of their relationship.

“I’m saying there’s no reason why you couldn’t…join with a human, Tess,” Liz said. “At least not that I know of.”

“Kyle and I never had flashes when we kissed years ago, Liz. Nothing.”

“Maybe that was because he’s so very Kyle.”

Tess laughed throatily. “Yeah, you’ve got a point there.”

“Maria and Michael have gotten very intense at times,” Liz offered, settling again on the floor.

Tess raised an eyebrow. “Have they…”

Liz coughed. This was getting very personal…for all of them.

“I mean, I didn’t think they’d…” Tess’s voice faltered a bit.

“No, I don’t think so, but I do know they’ve shared a very intense connection at times.”

Tess nodded thoughtfully, growing suddenly very quiet. “Look, let’s just change the subject, okay? We’ve got a lot more important things to discuss.”

“Like Marco?” Liz offered helpfully. She just couldn’t help herself—and she saw Tess flush again.

“Well, yeah, like Marco,” Tess answered, and Liz had to smile conspiratorially, as she leaned close across the table. “He’s really gorgeous, isn’t he?”

“Liz!” Tess rolled her eyes. “Please.”

“Alright, alright.” She raised her hands in surrender. “I’ll give you a break.”

Suddenly, Liz began laughing giddily. The whole conversation was just such a bizarre one, and especially for her to have with Tess. They’d been growing slowly closer in the past few years, but this was new territory for them. Liz smiled, thinking how it pleased her that the two of them were becoming very good friends.

“But now back to this whole joining thing,” Tess said, interrupting her thoughts. Liz groaned quietly, and now it was Tess’s turn to laugh. “Hey, you were the one giving me a hard time, now it’s your turn.”

“Fair enough,” Liz answered calmly.

“I just want to know what it’s like,” Tess asked, her blue eyes so open and curious. “I’m not prying about you and Max, okay? I just want to know…generally speaking.”

Liz thought a long moment, chewing on her lip. She sighed dreamily, despite herself. “Its beyond incredible, Tess. Simply the most beautiful thing in the world.”

“Damn,” Tess groaned, her eyebrows drawing together. “I knew it.”

“And the most amazing thing is…it just gets more and more intense all the…” Liz’s voice trailed off. She had a sudden thought, even as mortifying as it was.

“What?” Tess asked.

Liz hesitated, because to ask her question, would take a huge amount of trust. She wasn’t sure she was there yet with Tess—but she realized it was likely that Tess might have some answers that she needed.

Liz glanced at her keen blue eyes, and decided to simply go for it--to take the leap, and hope that their relationship really had advanced to this level. She leaned close across the table, tracing her finger along the wood grain pattern.

“Tess, can I ask you a question?” She began quietly. “Something really personal…just between the two of us, okay?”

“Sure.” Tess nodded, curiosity dancing in her eyes.

“Umm…” Liz hesitated a moment. This was tougher than she’d thought it would be. “Is there some reason why…things might get even more intense occasionally?”

Tess just stared at her, her expression unreadable, and Liz instantly regretted having taken this route.

“Liz?” She asked finally, glancing around the room. “Are you asking what I think you’re asking?”

“I don’t know,” she replied timidly. “What do you think I’m asking?”

“Well…” Tess stared down for a moment, averting her eyes. Liz swore her face flushed a bit. “If there’s, like, certain times when…let’s say your physical need for one another becomes insatiable?”

Liz had taken a sip of her diet coke, and she nearly choked. Leave it to Tess to just spell it all out.

“Yeah,” she coughed. “Yeah, I guess that is what I’m asking.”

“So you don’t know, do you?” Tess asked in amazement. “All of it…the whole alien birds and bees thing?”

“Tess,” Liz asked seriously. “What are you talking about?”

“Oh, God,” Tess groaned. “I would have thought you’d have figured it out by now.”

“Figured what out?” Liz nearly shouted, starting to feel incredibly disconcerted and uncomfortable.

And horribly curious.

“That you have cycles…seasons. Mating seasons. God, Liz, you two have been married for four years, how could you not know?”

Liz had never felt more mortified in her entire life. She felt her body flush from the crown of her head, all the way down to her toes.

“I don’t know what you mean,” she answered quietly, though her heart felt anything but quiet. “We don’t need any kind of season…we just…”

“No, Liz,” Tess interrupted gently. “I mean that…well, there are just certain periods of time when you’re driven to one another. Mating seasons…it’s like you’re in he--”

“No!” Liz squealed, jumping to her feet. “Do not say it out loud!” She shivered and did an embarrassed little jig. “Oooh! Totally ooh!”

“Liz!” Tess started laughing hysterically. “There’s nothing to be embarrassed about.”

“No, see that’s just awful.” Liz started pacing and didn’t stop. “It makes us sound like animals or something.”

“Not at all,” Tess replied, shaking her head firmly. “It’s the most natural thing in the world. Beautiful really.”

“I don’t get it,” Liz whispered, settling again on the floor near Tess. “We don’t need that, in order to want one another.”

“No,” Tess answered thoughtfully. “But Liz you’re both alien. Our race was much more reserved…constrained than the human one. It was necessary to ensure reproduction.”

Liz laid her head on the coffee table, thudding it softly. “This is literally the most mortifying conversation I’ve ever had in my life.”

She heard Tess laugh gently. “You are a married woman, Liz. Why should this embarrass you?”

“I don’t know. Maybe because I’m discussing it with you,” she answered quietly.

“Well, I was the one with the answers.”

Liz raised her head again, clearing her throat. “Alright, if we’re going to have this conversation, I really need to know more about this.”


“Why haven’t we had this…problem before now? Like you say, we’ve been married for almost four years.”

“It might be that you’ve reached the right age. Remember that it’s all about procreation.”

“I’m on the pill.”

“Your body doesn’t care.”

“How often?”

Tess shook her head. “I’m not sure…I think it varies…but at least once a year.”

“Oh, God,” Liz groaned, raking her hand through her hair. “So now I know what’s been going on.”

Tess smiled, taking a sip of her drink, then set it on the table in front of her. She leaned a bit closer toward Liz, and cleared her throat. “Um, Liz, there’s something else about this season…something you should know.”

“What?” Liz asked, her eyes quickly meeting Tess’s.

“Well, it’s just that Nasedo said it’s also meant to awaken our alien nature more,” She hesitated briefly. “I mean, that’s part of the purpose of it for us as hybrids.”

“Oh,” Liz answered, chewing on her lip. Something about that idea was very unsettling to her, and she couldn’t pinpoint exactly why. In fact, this whole discussion just made her feel really strange…gave her a fluttery feeling in the pit of her stomach.

“Liz, there’s something I’ve got to say, okay?” Tess ventured softly. “And you can get mad at me if you want, but as your friend, I really feel I’ve got to say it.”

Her words were ominous, and Liz felt her throat go dry in response.

“Sure,” she encouraged, swallowing hard. “Go ahead.”

“Liz, I think you’re afraid of your alien side,” she said, staring at her hands. “I think that when I told you what this was, it scared you. Kind of revolted you.”

Liz could only stare at her, mouth open. Countless thoughts and emotions raced through her mind, colliding quickly.

“Tess, I can’t honestly believe you’d say that to me,” Liz finally replied in a tight voice. “Because what you’re really saying is that somehow I don’t accept Max.”

“No, not at all, Liz. Why does accepting your alien nature have anything to do with Max?”

“Because you’re saying that I’m scared of it, and that means I’d be afraid of that part of him.”

“Liz, listen to what you’re saying,” Tess prompted softly. “That it’s about accepting Max as an alien. The problem is, you don’t see yourself as alien, Liz.”

Liz could only stare at her, heart racing, because she knew Tess was absolutely right. Then hot tears sprang quickly to her eyes, as the realization truly hit her.

She never really thought of herself as alien. Only Max…and the others.

Never herself.

Tess reached for her hand, and squeezed it softly. “That’s why the idea of having a mating season freaked you out so much,”

“I…it made me feel like something… less than human.”

“It’s not that you’re less than human, it’s that you’re not human, Liz. You have so many abilities and gifts that you’ve never even tried to use.”

LIz shook her head, wiping at her tears, realizing just how right Tess was. “No, I haven’t really tried.”

“No, and Max has never pushed you,” Tess answered softly. “Because I suspect he knows you’re scared.”

Her heart flipped within her chest. If Max knew that, then surely he’d think she was afraid of him. The tears pooled in her eyes afresh. “Has he ever said that to you?”

Tess shook her head vigorously. “Never.”

“It kills me because if he thinks that, then why wouldn’t he think I’m afraid of him?”

“Liz,” she began softly. “Max knows that you accept him perfectly. But that’s not the same thing as understanding a part of yourself that’s confusing. You didn’t grow up knowing what you were…we all did.”

“It’s just always been so unreal to me,” Liz said, sighing heavily. “Like I’ve never even seen my pod…anything. I have so many unanswered questions.”

“Maybe Marco can answer some of them.”

“I don’t even have a clue how to use my gifts,” Liz said softly. “No idea.”

“That’s what I’m saying, Liz…if you’d just embrace your alien side, you’d begin to understand.”

“But how do I do that?” Liz asked, her voice thick with fear. Her heart was hammering crazily within her.

“Well, I just think that…this season you’re in could really unlock some things for you,” Tess answered, tucking her feet up underneath her legs. “If you let it. It’s part of the purpose for it.”

“How? What do you mean exactly?”

Now Tess flushed a bit, her fair skin suddenly red. “During the lovemaking…while you’re joined. You’ll both just know….but you have to be open to it.”

“Oh….” Liz said, and felt her own cheeks grow even hotter.

“As your mate, Max can…help awaken things within you, okay? That’s what I’m saying.”

Liz stared down for a long moment, feeling awkward and embarrassed. Her mind raced with all these revelations, and she couldn’t even fully process them at the moment.

“This is a lot of really useful information, Tess.” She finally laughed, raising her eyes. “You’re just my very own alien Dr. Ruth.”

Tess smiled softly. “That’s Dr. Tess to you, thank you very much.”

“I’ll remember that in case…further questions arise.”

“Absolutely. Here if you need me.”

They stared at each other for a long moment, smiling, and then Liz began laughing hysterically. “Oh. My. God.” she groaned, covering her face in her hands.

“What?” Tess asked.

“It just hit me.” Liz finally managed to say, amidst her laughter. “I have to explain this all to Max. Tell him that we’re…in heat!”

Tess choked on her soft drink, and then they were both giggling hysterically.

“And you thought this conversation was interesting,” Tess laughed.

“Somehow I don’t think it’s going to be much of a conversation.”

“No, just…communicating, right?”

Liz grabbed a pillow off the sofa, hitting Tess soundly with it. Then they both laughed for a very long time.


Max glanced at the library clock, and saw that it was just after 12:30 a.m. He rubbed a hand over his tired eyes, trying to decide what to do. He could work until 1:00 a.m., when the building closed.

Or he could go home to Liz .

At the mere thought of her, he felt an answering shimmer of fire build within his body.

He could go home, climb in bed beside her...

More roiling heat…radiating straight through his chest, resonating within his body…

He drew a deep shuddering breath, anything to soothe the energy that had instantly begun stirring within him.

He’d told Liz the truth--this was starting to drive him slightly insane…the unending need, the constant desire.

The way he simply ached for her all the time.

And yet what they shared lately was beyond beautiful… completely delirious, but also slightly torturous at moments like these.

He started gathering his books together, realizing this was fruitless. No matter how hard he’d tried to focus on his work tonight, his thoughts had just kept wandering back to Liz—to what he wanted to do with her the minute he got home.

He’d sat here in the library for almost two hours, his body thrumming powerfully, feeling so restless that he’d barely accomplished anything at all.

Except fantasizing about his wife.

No, this was definitely a futile exercise, Max thought, hoisting his backpack over his shoulder--and there was only one thing to be done about it.

Outside the library, the winter air was bitingly cold against his heated skin, and Max thrust his hands deep in his pockets in an effort to keep them warm. The weather was unseasonably cold, and it looked like they might get a little snow. He smiled, glancing at the cloudy night sky, thinking how much Liz would love that. She was still such a little girl whenever there was even a hint of snow.

The campus walkway was deserted and quiet, and only the faint sound of someone’s stereo could be heard in the distance. But the silence was quickly broken when a loud shout reverberated through the quad, followed by the lilting strain of feminine laughter. Undoubtedly some weeknight party in one of the dorm rooms, Max thought, turning to walk home--and it struck him how different the lives of his fellow students were from his own. Max’s group could only pretend to be normal--keep their heads down and hope that no one attacked.

None of these other students lived like that. They drank and partied, watched movies…while he worried that someone might hurt his wife. His precious, beautiful wife--and he realized that was part of why he hadn’t been able to stop thinking of her while in the library. Certainly, it had been this driving physical need, but something more that that, too. He’d felt unsettled ever since Marco’s revelation about their lives being endangered.

Ever since his own premonition.

He quickened his pace down the walkway, glancing at his watch. He had a long walk ahead of him, even though their apartment was only right off campus. In retrospect, Max realized that he should have driven the jeep, but he’d thought the walk might help clear his thoughts.

As Max began his journey home, he heard footsteps echoing close behind him, and his heart began beating more quickly. He stopped a moment, adjusting his backpack, so that he might glimpse the person behind him. But he couldn’t see anyone, just the empty walkway—and then suddenly, strong arms were grabbing him, choking the breath from his chest, as he was dragged into the darkness. He tried to wrestle his hands free, so that he might use his powers, but his attacker quickly wrangled his arms behind his back.

In that single moment, Max realized that all his dread--all his fear-- had come upon him.

This would be his end. And Liz would be left alone and unprotected.

Liz nestled her face against Max’s pillow, drinking in his scent as she curled into a tight ball on his side of the bed. Tess had left almost an hour ago, and she’d donned her flannel pajamas—definitely not sexy, but warm on this chilling night. Yet Liz knew that it hardly mattered what she wore, because once Max arrived, he’d have her clothes off in no time at all.

So she lay there in the inky blackness, nuzzling her face against his favorite pillow, drinking in the trace aroma of her love. She drew her knees up, forming a tight little ball there in the bed…and thought about her conversation with Tess.

There was just so much to contemplate. The idea that she and Max were in some kind of mating cycle would be easy enough to explain to him, even if a bit uncomfortable. The two of them never kept any secrets, so that part of the conversation actually seemed fairly effortless. She knew Max would welcome an explanation for their recent…urges . And she also knew that he’d find it incredibly sexy, because she did too, now that she’d had some time to adjust to the notion.
In fact, the whole concept had grown on her quite a bit. And with her burgeoning acceptance of it, her desire had begun ricocheting crazily through her body, forming quiet pools of electricity ever since she’d settled in their bed.

Ever since she’d inhaled Max’s scent.

Somehow Tess’s words had absolved her of any regret, any sense of shame. Now she was only left with a spiraling desperation for her husband. Her mate.

As she lay between the cool sheets, her body simply burned for him. It was as if learning about this season had unleashed something within her, so that all her aching need had only intensified drastically. All she could do was lie and wait for Max, trying to calm her heart and the searing fire that raged within her veins. Unfortunately, that proved a nearly impossible task.

She pulled his pillow closer against her face, drawing in a husky breath, and wished that he would find his way to her more quickly. She considered connecting with him, calling him home, but decided against it. He needed this time to study, and would be in their bed soon enough.

But even as she tried to settle herself, she remembered the more disturbing element of her conversation with Tess. How could she explain to Max about her alien side—that he could unlock it within her? That seemed far too amorphous and difficult to verbalize. She decided to pin her hopes on his simply knowing …being able to read her heart as he had so many times in the past.

Because even as Tess had spoken to her tonight, she’d realized that Max already knew all of her deep fears about that other side of herself—otherwise he would have pushed her, not just as her husband, but as her leader—to develop her powers long ago.

Max was so gentle and sensitive, and could read her better than anyone else. He definitely knew she was afraid, of that Liz was certain. The question was how did she help him understand that she was ready now--on the verge of opening that part of herself finally? Because her conversation with Tess had left her poised, more than ever before, to exploring that hidden aspect of herself. She’d avoided it for far too long.

Liz sighed heavily into Max’s pillow. He would know, because there was no doubt about one thing--Max always knew her heart.


Max struggled against his unseen assailant, trying desperately to free his hands, but the arm around his chest was simply too strong. The man had covered his mouth, dragging him into a dark patch of trees off the main walkway. Another large hand pinned his arms roughly behind him, and Max’s thoughts raced crazily, as he tried to wrestle free.

“I’m sorry to do this,” a husky voice breathed against his neck. “But you left me no alternative.”

Then suddenly, the arms were releasing him, letting him go. Max spun quickly to face his attacker.
And found himself staring into Marco’s dark eyes, brooding and angry.

“What the hell are you doing?” Max demanded, gasping for breath.

“Making an important point,” Marco hissed, then bowed his head softly. “With all due respect.”

Max was furious…yet he found himself humbled by Marco’s gentle gesture of honor.

“Max, I could have been anyone,” Marco continued quietly, his dark eyes somber.
“You were an open target, this late at night,”

“So you had to scare the living crap out of me to prove that point?” Max questioned tensely, still wrestling for breath.

“Apparently so,” Marco continued. “Though I apologize for my methods.”

“And well you should.”

“Max, I don’t think you understand the gravity of your situation,” he said softly, his eyes continually scanning the surrounding terrain. “You had no business out this late…walking alone.”

“You told us to go on with our lives,” Max answered stiffly. “This is my life, Marco. I work, I study, I write on my damn thesis…and it all keeps me up very late.”

Marco stared at him a long moment, sighing heavily. “But you’ve got to be more careful.”

Max studied his somber expression, and realization began to slowly dawn. Marco hadn’t revealed everything to them—not yet.

Max stepped closer to him, meeting his gaze intently. “Our situation is even more serious than you told us, isn’t it?” he asked.

Marco nodded slowly, his expression guarded. But Max could read his features, and knew that there was more going on than they’d realized.

“Is it Liz…or me?”

“Both of you.”

“If it’s this serious, why didn’t you just tell us?” Max asked, terror gripping his heart. “I should never have left Liz alone in the apartment.”

“Liz isn’t alone,” Marco reassured him, shaking his head vigorously. “She’s being watched.”

“What do you mean? By whom?”

“I can’t tell you that yet,” he answered firmly. “But she’s definitely being watched at all times.”

“And me?”

“I knew exactly where you were, didn’t I?”

“Why didn’t you warn us about how serious things really are right now?”

Marco hesitated a long moment, staring down at his dark hiking boots. Max watched numerous emotions shift across his features. “Because we felt that if you knew, it would be paralyzing, Max. Especially because you have no alternative but to keep on with your lives.”

“I want to take Liz into hiding, Marco.” Max stated firmly. “Tonight.”

“No.” Marco shook his head. “I understand your feelings, but so long as you’re both careful and smart, everything will be okay.”

“How can you know that? You’re not telling us everything, and yet obviously we’re both at great risk.”

“Max…you must remember that you weren’t even meant to know about me yet.” Marco stared at him thoughtfully, raking a hand through his hair. “I told you earlier that we have a key informant within Khivar’s camp. You must trust me about who it is. If you and Liz run now, we’ll all lose more than you can imagine.”

“Liz’s life is more important,” Max answered angrily.

Your life is more important, Max,” Marco argued. “Everything we do is about putting you back on the throne.”

Max shivered, couldn’t stop himself. It was so unreal that there were people literally following him—waiting for him to take his rightful place again.

“Max, I’m serious,” Marco emphasized. “Of course Liz is important…but you need to worry about yourself, too. Our contact within Khivar’s camp has given us our greatest advantage yet in this revolution.”

Max felt his world spin on its axis. He’d spent six years anticipating this—some moment when he’d find his political destiny emerging. But now with talk about revolutions and his taking the throne, it all felt too surreal.

“If you believe this is who I am, I don’t understand why you won’t tell me everything,” Max answered, his voice measured and quiet. “It doesn’t make sense. If I’m the leader, I should know.”

Marco met his gaze intently. “Because we all swore to protect you, Max. And that’s what we’re doing even now. There will come a day when you will command our every move, this revolution. But for now, we protect you—that’s our job.”

Max felt suddenly furiously angry…so frustrated. He turned his back on Marco and began walking swiftly away. He heard him following closely behind, and turned, facing him again.

“I know Liz is in more danger than I am, Marco,” he stated tensely. “I can’t explain how, but I do.”

“What do you know?” He asked, eyes still scanning the landscape all around them. Max realized that he was literally constantly watching over him—which made him feel a little strange.

“I had a premonition.” Max ran a shaky hand through his hair. “It will sound crazy.”

Marco’s eyes widened, meeting his own, and Max couldn’t miss the concern flashing in his dark features.


“It was just a kind of feeling, Marco. That was all,” he said. “But I’m terrified for her.”

“Did you try to tap into it further?”

“What do you mean?”

“Press in closer on the feeling? Because otherwise it could mean anything…could relate to something twenty years from now, for all you know.”

Max shook his head, feeling suddenly very confused. What was Marco talking about?

“You do know how to do that, don’t you?” Marco questioned gently. “Press in with your intuition.”

“No.” Max shook his head slowly.

“Which means you haven’t developed that aspect of your powers yet.”

“I…haven’t been sure how to. I haven’t really known what to do with it.”

“It doesn’t control you,” Marco explained. “You control it, Max. I think I can help you develop it more.”

“That would be…good,” he answered softly. “I understand how to heal people. It’s very instinctive. But I’m a little afraid of all the impressions I get sometimes.”

“What about Liz? It’s her primary gift. Does she use it?”

“No.” Max shook his head vigorously. He knew that Liz still wasn’t ready to explore any of her powers.

“Do you think she’d be open to…learning?”

“Liz just isn’t there yet, Marco. Okay?”

Marco nodded thoughtfully, and was quiet for a long moment. “But she needs to be, Max. For all of you.”

Max thought a long moment, because he knew the truth. “She’s just not ready.”

“You’re saying that as her husband…not as her leader,” Marco countered gently. “She needs to do it. We all need her to—otherwise the unit is incomplete.”

“What are you saying?” Max asked, something unidentifiable rising within him.

“That Liz is critical to our survival. That her gifts are,” he replied quietly. “But I think you probably guessed that long ago.”

Max nodded slowly, his mind spinning. Because Marco was right—he’d known it for ages—that Liz was key to their survival. He couldn’t say exactly how he’d known, just that he did, somewhere deep in his heart.

“Max, you complete one another…your powers need to join so that they will increase,” he said seriously. “There’s a reason why you share the same gifts. She balances you, Max. But your powers can’t join if she’s not using them.”

Intuition …he thought. That strange instinct of knowing things, even those unsearchable depths he wasn’t meant to plunder. Yes, he’d always known Liz completed him in every way--maybe even years ago, when he’d leapt from a booth in the Crashdown and saved her life—not that it had been his motivation. That had only been love, pure and beautiful.

Yet, ever since that day, Max had slowly begun to sense that Liz Parker Evans meant everything to their future--to their survival, on this planet or any other. He just hadn’t known how to push her…to press her with her gifts.

But as his mind churned with all these thoughts, he knew it was time for his lovely Zillia to arise.

posted on 9-Nov-2001 7:20:28 PM

The door to the apartment opened, and Liz heard Max enter quietly, dropping his backpack on the kitchen table. She trembled, knowing he was coming to her now, as she heard his soft footsteps in the hallway.

She rolled over in bed, and saw his form enter their dark bedroom. Heat crested within her at his mere proximity.

“Hey,” she whispered.

“Hey,” he answered quietly, settling on the edge of their bed. He stroked her hair lightly away from her face. “Have you been waiting up?”

“Couldn’t sleep,” she laughed throatily, as he bent down toward her, his warm lips grazing her own. His kiss was so surprisingly soft, incredibly gentle, as their lips slowly parted. She cupped his face within her palm, pulling him closer against her.

“I missed you,” he whispered against her cheek, his warm breath fanning against her skin.

“Umm…” Liz replied, deepening their kiss, and their tongues began a slow, erotic dance.

She felt his energy skitter across her body then, as he opened their connection, and she shivered in response. His kiss grew hungrier, more demanding, as he eased slowly on top of her, and it struck Liz that he hadn’t even taken his jacket off, or his shoes—he had simply begun this tantalizing assault on her. And now, he was escalating things, by slowly and deliberately unfolding his energy across her body, so that it sizzled all her most delicate spots. She felt it simmer across her skin, inviting her to open to him…beckoning her to come so much closer than even their physical bodies were at this moment.

And she could feel exactly how she’d already affected him--a tight bulge had formed in his blue jeans, and was brushing against her thigh. Something about feeling his firmness, pressing so low against her, caused her breathing to escalate by quick measures.

His fiery energy swept over her body in dramatic waves, pleading with her to simply open their bond, and all the while his mouth plundered her own so incredibly desperately, his kisses wild and deep. Their tongues flicked forcefully together, and his hand toyed with her waistband, pressing it lower. How could this have escalated so incredibly quickly?

“Liz,” he moaned. “Open to me, sweetheart. Please.” He begged, gasping softly, and Liz’s resolve melted. How could she not let him in, when he wanted it so badly--when she wanted it more than her next breath?

So she allowed the bond to open wide, and felt an explosion rip through her chest. Nothing had prepared her for how much Max’s energy had escalated—it was simply stronger than ever before. He was heady and intoxicating and she could only draw her breath in sharply, could only whimper as she felt their bond unfurl wildly.

Oh, my love… he sighed softly. I missed you so much…so much .

Me, too. She whispered quietly, stroking his face as their tongues began frantically, desperately entwining.

I couldn’t even study. All I could do was sit there and dream of this, he moaned.

Oh, I need to tell him , Liz thought quickly.

Max’s kisses stilled. Tell me what? He asked, and she didn’t miss the note of apprehension.

“Oh, God, Max,” she groaned. “You weren’t supposed to hear that.”

You know the deal, sweetheart. When the bond is open, it’s free territory.

He raised up onto his elbows, and met her gaze. Even in the darkness, she noticed how moody his amber eyes looked, the pupils large and dark. These brief kisses had already left his face flushed, and his hair slightly disheveled. He was so incredibly sexy when he looked like that.

She stroked his cheek gently, feeling his stubble beneath her fingertips. He kissed her forehead, then met her gaze again.

“Tell me,” he urged.

Liz chewed her lip and rolled him off of her slowly, so that he lay facing her in the darkness. “Don’t you want to take your shoes off?” She offered.

“Not particularly,” he answered, staring at her. “I want to know what’s going on.”

“Oh.” Her mind raced crazily. This was harder than she’d imagined, especially since she’d thought the truth would come out so effortlessly. Yet now Max lay close against her, waiting expectantly for her to speak. She swallowed hard, rolling onto her back so that she didn’t have to meet his gaze. She could hear his soft breathing next to her in the darkness, and noticed that it was heavy and staggered.

“It’s just that I learned something tonight,” she continued, her voice barely more than a whisper.

“Okay,” he encouraged, stroking her hair beneath his fingers.

“Yeah…well its really kind of funny,” she said, and felt her face flush deeply. Oh, God…and they were completely connected….not joined yet, but connected. Didn’t he already know? She glanced at him quickly in the darkness, and his face was eager, waiting—yet he didn’t seem to know her thoughts.

“Liz, sweetheart,” he offered softly, stroking her hair. “What do you want to tell me?”

“Oh, God, Max. This is incredibly difficult for some reason, okay?” She said, and felt tears well within her eyes, even though it was ridiculous. This was her husband…but more than that, he was her lifemate. So she decided simply to plunge forward.

“It’s just that I’ve learned why it is we can’t seem to get enough of each other lately. And there’s a very definite explanation.”

Again, Liz cast a tentative look at Max and saw that he seemed very calm about this. He’d settled his cheek against her pillow, nestling his hand underneath. Now he simply gazed at her, with such deep love in his eyes—his whole demeanor so encouraging.

“That’s good to know,” he answered.

“Yeah, well…it’s that we’re….” Oh, God. Oh, God. Why was this so hard?

“That we’re?” he encouraged.

“Well, Tess says that we’re like…in some kind of mating cycle. This is some kind of alien mating urge…thing.” She finished, covering her face with her hands. Her cheeks were blazing hot, and in fact, her whole body flushed with absolute embarrassment.

She lay like that, eyes covered, listening for his response, yet he only remained completely silent. “Max?” She asked tentatively without looking at him.

Then she heard him laughing very gently next to her. “Liz, baby…why are you so embarrassed?”

“I don’t know,” she groaned.

“This is me. Your husband. Your lover…your mate of five years.”

“I know.”

“Besides that fact, I’d begun to basically suspect something like that was going on.”

“You had?”

“Well, it only really began to hit me in the past couple of days. It’s been intensifying tremendously.”

“Yeah, it has.”

“Yeah,” he whispered huskily. “And that was the clue for me.” He paused a moment, rolling her to face him. “I can’t think of anything more beautiful to share with you. I love it.”

“You don’t think…it’s weird?” She asked, reluctantly meeting his gaze. She was surprised to see him smiling softly at her, such love in his eyes.

“Not at all,” he answered and sat up. He began untying his shoes quickly, and tossed each of them onto the floor at the foot of their bed. “It would be weird if I made love to you in my shoes. Now that would definitely be odd,” he laughed.

With that, he shrugged out of his jacket, throwing it over the side of the bed, and leaned back down over her. She could feel his heart hammering against her chest, as he lowered to kiss her, his lips teasing her own.

Nothing between us could be anything other than beautiful, sweetheart , he assured her. Nothing. Especially not this.

I know. It was just hard to explain…

“This isn’t,” he answered, slipping firmly on top of her. He was so incredibly erect, pressing just against her thigh. She shifted below him, easing him closer against herself, as she quickly pulled his shirt out of his pants. His skin was feverish to her touch—much warmer than usual, especially for such a cold night. She ran her palms up his back, feeling the taut muscles beneath them.

He slipped his thigh between her own, so that he settled more firmly just within her legs, and his hands slipped easily beneath her back. She rocked softly up against him, thinking how much she yearned to feel his bare skin against her own. Now. He began thrusting his hips, kissing her greedily…desperately. Their tongues began flicking wildly together, and their desire spiraled in intensity.

Oh, God. We’re in heat , she groaned softly, before she could stop herself. Max stilled against her, and Liz knew she’d just made a big mistake. He began laughing, a deep throaty thing right against her cheek.

“Well if you put it that way, I suppose even I could get embarrassed.”


“Then again, I think the idea is pretty damn sexy,” he growled, and with that began kissing her neck, trailing his tongue along her collarbone.

But these flannel pajamas must go , he asserted, as he began quickly unbuttoning her top. Must absolutely go.

She felt his warm fingers graze her breastbone, as he opened her top. It fell open, exposing her chest to the cool air, and she heard him gasp softly in the darkness as he lowered kisses down along her breast, taking one nipple within his mouth. He laved it with his tongue, and it grew instantly erect between his lips.

Well your shirt is next, Max, she answered, and began quickly fumbling with his buttons. His muscled chest grazed against her skin, so warm, and his heart drummed a fevered rhythm against her own…and she swore their heartbeats fell into crazy synchronization.

Max could only close his eyes and drink Liz in…he was dizzy with the sensations that had been cresting through his body. And somehow knowing what had been driving them together—having it spelled out so plainly—had only escalated his aching desire even more.

He reached within their connection, ready to mate…to join deeply and profoundly. They’d formed their bond moments before, but had stopped just shy of truly mating…so now he grasped for her. All of her…and saw the beautiful hue of her soul. Of course, it was never just one color, but several shifting together--and he felt her, too--as their souls shimmered together for one long moment.

His hips stilled against her, as he lost himself in their mating. It was delirious and primal…sexy as hell. Sacred. So many things all at once, that he could never have described to anyone.

He could only gasp as he felt them thread into one exotic union. He drew his breath in over and over. So satisfied…so loved. This is what Liz did to him, always.

And then his body quickly escalated its response, as he rolled her over on top of him. He slipped her pants on off her hips, low down, and slid his fingers within her silk panties. She was so wet and warm, so delicious as he rubbed her just between her legs. He cupped her bottom with his other hand, devouring her with his mouth. He could feel her tiny hand toying with his waistband, desperate for more of him. Her fingers pressed lower, stroking his abdomen as far as she could reach within his pants, and he rolled her onto her side. Now her hand found its way between his legs, rubbing him frantically. All he could do was cry out at her touch, burying his face in her luxurious dark hair.

Max…hurry. I need more , she panted.

Yeah… he answered, quickly unbuttoning his pants.

She eased them off his hips, as he slipped her panties off, and her hand immediately found him within his boxers, slipped around him firmly, rubbing back and forth.

Oh, God… was all he could even think. Oh…sweet Liz…Liz…Liz…

He stilled her hand, and shimmied out of his pants quickly, otherwise this would be over before it had even begun.

Max settled back on top of her, and he slipped in easily, she was so wet and ready—and she trembled once he was inside. The energy that had been building between them was unbelievable, surpassing anything Liz could clearly remember, and it just kept banking the further they went together.

It was like this night was some sort of apex, some point of culmination, and as he began thrusting within her, something began to come alive. All she could do was buck against him, yearn for more—yet there wasn’t anything more than this. Their souls were mated…and now there remained only this physical release.

More…I need more…more… it was like a chant in her mind. The frustration was immense, even as he was quickly meeting her need; she sensed it wouldn’t be enough, because she’d never felt so desperate for him before. Never. And with her urgency, she began to feel something incredibly primal emerge, something very foreign.

Something quite alien.

Oh , Max cried out, burying his face in her hair. I feel it, too , he cried. I feel it, too.

She wrapped her legs around him, pulling him closer, deeper.

Then the wild, alien thing within her roared to life, overpowering her senses. Max was changing her—this was transforming her. She could only gasp softly, over and over as Max plunged into her, thrusting frantically. They’d never been this rough with one another before, never been so primal in their desire.

A strange energy—something she’d never felt before—began pooling deep within her--whirling, spilling all through her body.

“Zillia,” he moaned slowly in her ear, and the growing energy intensified. She didn’t even question why he’d just called her that, didn’t even think why it was part of this. He called her that sometimes, as the most tender name of affection. But this was different, she realized—at this moment, they were becoming totally alien, completely exotic and not very human at all. “Zan,” she whispered in his ear, and he shivered within her arms. She’d never called him that out loud, not ever, only through their bond. She loved how it felt on her lips and whispered it again like a prayer. “Zan…”
It was as if something alien was being ripped open wide within her, and she began to shake softly. Max began rocking her back and forth in his arms, just holding her, his hips stilling a bit. She felt him inside of her, encompassing her fully, yet so quiet within her.

The gentle shudders that had been shooting through her body began intensifying…now she was shaking almost uncontrollably. Max gazed into her eyes, concern on his features. She shook her head, swallowing hard. “No, Max…I’m okay…just keep going.” It was all she could do even to speak, the currents shifting through her body were so overpowering.

“Zan,” he corrected with a low moan, and his voice was hardly recognizable to her it was so thick with emotion.

Fear began to crowd Liz’s mind, and he pulled back again, meeting her gaze. The amber depths of his eyes were flashing with something she’d never seen before, as his breathing grew more labored and frantic.

She stroked his face beneath her fingertips, his soft cheek so incredibly warm. His strong rhythm slowed within her, grew gentler, although their desire was spiraling wildly.

“Zillia,” he moaned in her ear again. “Don’t you understand, my love?”

Liz began weeping, because she did understand exactly what was happening—and somehow he’d instinctively known what this was, too.
“We’re awakening, sweetheart,” he breathed against her neck. She nodded, and laced her fingers through his soft hair, which was completely disheveled now.

The memories began flashing in quick succession.

The most golden field of energy, just humming all around her, enveloping her…loving her . The golden light was so familiar…so Max , and his energy was just shooting all through her, all around her, just like when they made love through the connection. But it wasn’t Max—he felt completely different…it was Zan. Then she saw a pair of beautiful dark eyes, large and soulful--fathomless in their depths, and so alien. She didn’t try to focus on other features, just the memory of the large black eyes, filled with love for her. As foreign as they were—as unlike anything she’d ever seen in this lifetime—they took her breath away.

She opened her eyes, expecting to find herself staring into them, but met Max’s gaze instead, and yet she recognized something in his lovely amber depths that was the same—something that was flaring to life within him. Very gently, he eased his palm onto her chest, splaying it across her heart, and she felt something release within her. Unlock.

What was he doing to her?

Suddenly the memories flooded through her again, and she saw his blazing form of energy. But this time, she saw a second shape—her own-- and watched as their two walls of fire met, and roared into a heady blaze. She drew in a sharp breath because right as she saw it, something shifted within their connection. Her tears intensified as the burning she’d been feeling, the pooling energy, suddenly erupted through her like a crashing wave.

Max slipped his hand away from her chest, running it beneath her back, as his rhythm sped tremendously. All she could do was cry out, over and over, as her orgasm ripped through her, and as his body wracked with shudders. She felt his warmth spill within her, and even that had a slightly otherworldly feel to it—it burned softly within her.

And when it was over, she could only lie in his arms and sob in release. She was no longer the same woman—her husband had taken her across a barrier and parted it firmly. Finally.

Liz Evans was now more alien than she’d ever been in her life.


Liz gazed at her reflection in the bathroom mirror for a long moment, brushing her hair vigorously. She didn’t look different at all, and somehow that fact surprised her tremendously. What had she thought, that she’d have giant black eyes and gray skin? That she’d be even shorter than she already was? She laughed wryly, setting her hairbrush on the marble countertop.

Maybe it was just that she felt so utterly transformed, that it seemed her change should be visible somehow. There’d been a gentle hum resonating through her body all day, and she’d felt so restless, she could hardly calm herself. All she could do was keep moving, and try to still her jittery hands from forming tight little fists by her sides.

She wondered if Max lived with this kind of frantic energy all the time—or if this were just a residual effect of his awakening her last night. Max was one of the calmest people she knew, so she doubted his body buzzed like this all the time. Maybe the answer was that she just needed to learn how to control her energy better, she thought. Since wasn’t that what Max had really released within her—more of her alien energy? She wasn’t even sure at all what he’d done, just what it had felt like, and how every nerve ending within her body had seemingly sprung to life.

Another thing she really wondered about were all the random smells that she’d been picking up all day. She’d first noticed that new side effect when she’d rolled over in bed during the night, and Max’s scent had nearly overpowered her. It had seemed to permeate their entire bedroom, as well as their sheets and pillows. Then, later when he’d left for school, and she’d wandered into the kitchen, it was like she could smell him everywhere, his scent just lingering in the air of their whole apartment.

But it was more than just being more aware of Max, because for the entire day her senses had been attacked by all kinds of aromas, from the lemony smell of her shampoo to the eggs she’d scrambled for breakfast. Was this typical for them? Did Max walk around feeling his senses utterly assaulted like this every day? She could only hope it was a temporary condition, because it was starting to make her feel slightly nauseous.
But maybe it isn’t temporary , a tiny voice countered. There might be a purpose to it, some reason why it’s a part of your alien side.

Well, she’d just have to ask Max, she reassured herself; in fact, she had a lot of questions for Max, and they’d hardly seen each other all day. He’d been in class, and she’d been busy working—which had left her a lot of time to simply think. And the questions had begun churning in her mind endlessly.

And her greatest question was why Max had laid his hand across her heart at precisely that moment during their lovemaking. Correction, she thought. She knew why he had—but how had he known to do it?

Liz slowly unbuttoned her shirt, revealing exposed skin. A silver handprint shimmered right over her heart—precisely where Max had placed his palm during their wild lovemaking the night before.

She had certainly felt something unleash within her at his touch, but she also knew that he’d accomplished much more than just that. Whether intentionally or not, Max had healed something within her. He had reached right into her spirit and eased the anxiety and restless confusion she felt about this part of herself—merely with the touch of his hand.

She traced her finger lightly across the imprint in wonder, her palm resting over the image of Max’s own. She shivered slightly at the contact, thinking how deeply he’d touched her so many times—but rarely as intensely as the two times he’d left this mark right on her body. It awed her that he had branded her this way, and just like seven years before, Liz marveled that someone so gentle wielded such power within his hands.
Only this time, Liz knew what she hadn’t seven years ago—that she shared Max’s gift, and one day, she would lay her hands on others to heal them. She stared down at her open palms for a moment.

So small , she thought. Too small…
It’s not your hands…it’s the energy within you, which is anything but small.
Where had that voice come from? She shook her head, trying to clear it.

Slowly, Liz buttoned her blouse again, knowing that Marco would arrive any moment. He was coming over tonight to work with the two of them on developing their gift of intuition. Marco had explained to Max that it was his own primary gifting--one that he moved in quite well--and he seemed to think he could help the two of them tap into it more effectively. She laughed softly, because in her case just knowing how to utilize it at all would be a good start.

Max had tentatively asked her this morning if she might be open to experimenting with her powers a bit, and she’d sensed he was working to restrain his enthusiasm about the idea. And when she’d said she’d like to give it a try, he’d literally beamed. She only hoped she wouldn’t disappoint him, because she had so many doubts about her ability to open that aspect of herself.

She sighed heavily, opening the bathroom door, and thought that at least Marco might be able to help Max, even if she proved a poor subject. But even as she thought it, something within her thrilled a bit at the idea of at least trying to use her powers.

And she’d never thought it might actually excite her, yet it did now, tremendously…even as it frightened her in some unnamable way.


Liz and Max sat on their living room floor facing one another, their knees lightly touching. Marco knelt beside them both, his large hands resting on their shoulders.

“Close your eyes and take deep breaths,” he coached in his sure voice. “It will begin with your establishing a connection between the two of you.”

Liz glanced at Max, who smiled at her almost a bit shyly. She knew exactly what he was thinking at that moment, because it was her own thought—did Marco have any idea how powerful their connection could be at times? And after last night, they’d certainly have to be careful. Max continued smiling at her, his eyes dancing a bit.

“Okay,” Max answered, and Liz felt him open their bond, as heat began welling within her in response. Quickly, she connected with him, without any of their usual seductive dancing. This was all about accomplishing something with their powers.

Hey, sweetheart , Max said softly, the minute their connection opened.


Don’t be scared,
he soothed her.

I’m not.

Yes, you are…I can feel it. Don’t be. I’m right here
, he promised.

I want all of you, Max…all of myself, too. And I want to figure out how we’re going to combine in this area…even if it is frightening.

I love you , he whispered softly.

Their bonding was interrupted by the sound of Marco clearing his throat with a rumbling cough. Liz glanced sideways at him, and was surprised to find him staring at her strangely, his mouth slightly open. She sensed that he knew they’d been communicating silently between themselves. But she could also tell he was studying them, trying to decipher something about how their relationship worked.

“Are you connected?” he asked, raising his dark brows in amazement.

Liz nodded vigorously. “Yeah, we’re ready, Marco.”

“You can do that?” Marco questioned, his voice full of wonder. “Without even touching?”

“Well, yeah. Can’t everybody?” She asked in surprise, but then quickly rushed to elaborate. “I mean can’t all… bonded aliens… do that?” Liz stammered, and felt her face flush very deeply, as she realized that Marco’s questions were making her feel a bit self-conscience and confused.

“No, Liz, everybody can’t do that.” Marco answered with a faint smile, shaking his head. “Most need to touch, or make a more determined physical connection.”

“Really?” Max asked, and now he was the one who appeared genuinely surprised. His eyes darted quickly to Liz’s. “We…can be quite a distance away from one another, Marco. Does that mean something?”

“Yes, it does.” Marco nodded his head slowly. “It means that this is part of how your intuition will combine. That it’s part of the gift you share, and how it…intertwines between the two of you…obviously quite powerfully.”

“That’s just really incredible,” Liz whispered, pushing her hair behind her ear.

“As hybrids we can make a connection, but the gift of intuition enhances that quite a bit,” Marco explained.

“So…because we both have that gift, as opposed to say, if one of us didn’t…it makes our connection…” Liz’s voice literally disappeared, and all she could do was swallow hard. She felt like she was allowing Marco into their bedroom, even though they were only talking about their bond. But it reminded her of the way she and Max so often made love, and she was blushing terribly.

“Explosive,” Max offered.

“Precisely.” Marco finished, and Liz realized he seemed oblivious to the deeper implications they’d been skirting around. She sighed faintly in relief.

“So shall we begin?” Marco asked, his black eyes darting between them.

They both nodded, and Max covered her hands gently with his own. She realized that she’d been wringing her hands slightly for the past few moments, and now he stilled them beneath his. He hadn’t missed her jittery gestures.

“I’m going to start you on a kind of exercise,” Marco began, placing his hands lightly on both their shoulders.

“Okay,” Liz answered, her heartbeat quickening, as she felt a warmth begin to pervade her shoulder right where Marco was touching it. Max tightened his grip on her hand, and she knew he’d felt it, too. Was Marco releasing some of his power to them?

“I want the two of you to open your minds…clear them first, okay?” He began. “Remember, just keep taking deep breaths. Close your eyes…allow your connection to build.”

Liz closed her eyes and felt Max’s warmth surround her, envelop her. She wondered if Marco had any idea what their bond was really like, because if they just sat here like this, drinking one another in, their energy would begin to quickly escalate.

Especially with the particular cycle they were in.

Deep breaths, baby, Max coached softly.

I know, I just…

Started thinking.


But the idea is to clear your mind,
he laughed gently.

You’re the one who keeps talking, she argued.

Quiet, he commanded playfully.

Liz forced herself to breathe deeply, and to keep her bond with Max at only a mild simmer, as opposed to a roaring blaze. She felt Marco’s hand slip from her shoulder, to her upper back, and more heat spun through her at his sure touch.

“Now, I want you to try reaching for an impression. I have something in my backpack, and neither of you know what it is. Use your intuition to figure it out.”

“Great,” Liz groaned, her eyes fluttering open. “That sounds like totally doable.” Marco met her gaze intensely, and she noticed how absolutely black his eyes were, how unreadable. Yet somehow she felt safe with him, sensed his deep loyalty to them—and it gave her courage to try.

“You can do this, Liz,” he urged her. “You’re going to be surprised how amazingly easy it will become.”

She closed her eyes again, bowing her head quietly. Max gave her hand a tight little squeeze.

“One thing both of you should know,” Marco continued. “Most people are either primarily word people, or picture people…occasionally both. So you’re pressing for either an image or words.”

Liz dwelled on that piece of instruction, and wondered what category she might fall into. She drew in several breaths, and realized that she felt Max all around her. In fact, his scent rushed all over her body, but she willed herself not to focus on him, and instead trained her mind on Marco’s backpack.

It was black…she could see it in her mind.

What was inside?

Metal. She saw some kind of metallic object, but it was hazy. Murky, all murky…blackness. Something warm and fuzzy. A sweater, soft and large made of gray wool, a thread snagged loose…a label identifying it as being from The Gap…no, that wasn’t what he wanted…her mind kept sifting, riffling through his pack.

Wait, she thought. Why wouldn’t that be what he wanted? Because it was so ordinary?

“Sweater,” she cried, her eyes flying wide open. “Gray with a little thread snagged on the sleeve. From The Gap.”

Max’s eyes widened, and he spoke in quick excitement. “I heard the word sweater, right before you said that!”

Their eyes flew to Marco, who stood and walked toward his backpack. He tossed it on the floor, as he dropped heavily beside them again. He was smiling his quirky, lopsided grin, his single dimple suddenly very apparent.

“Yeah, Liz, I noticed how totally impossible that was for you,” he teased, unzipping his pack, and removed a rumpled, well-worn gray sweater.

She reached right to the sleeve, and fingered the thread she’d seen in her vision.

“Wow!” She exclaimed. “Wow…wow !” She nearly squealed in excitement.

Max leaned forward and kissed her warmly on the mouth. “I’m so proud of you.”

“Neil Young,” she offered, casting a playful glance at Marco.

Marco just shook his head softly in disbelief, and retrieved Neil Young’s After the Gold Rush.

“Max?” Marco questioned. “You get anything else?”

Max thought a moment, chewing on his lip, then slowly opened his mouth to speak. “Well, I’m not sure what it would mean, but I did hear the word… blood.”

Liz felt her heart skip a beat, until Marco smiled again and retrieved Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks from his backpack.

“Not as ominous as it might sound,” he explained, tossing Max the CD. “And there’s actually an important lesson in that.”

“What do you mean?” Max asked, his brows furrowing in confusion.

“Only that our visions can sometimes be misleading,” he warned. “Especially if they’re not interpreted correctly, or are incomplete. You must always press as deeply as possible within your gift.”

“We have to be cautious,” Liz said. “That’s what you’re saying.”

“Intuition can mislead you terribly,” Marco agreed, and Liz didn’t miss the ominous note in his rich voice. “But it can also be your salvation.”

Max nodded thoughtfully, and Marco stood a moment, walking away from them. He stared out at the street below.

“Shall we try another exercise?” He asked, and it hit Liz how very focused and serious he was about this.

It’s because he knows it may be your life one day. All of our lives.

“Sure,” Max answered. “We’re ready.”

“Alright,” Marco rubbed a hand through his thick dark hair, still staring down at the street below. “I’m going to think of a word and visualize it at the same time. Tell me what it is.”

Liz felt her bond with Max intensify somewhat, as his energy began steadily growing within her, sweeping across her body. She drew another breath in sharply, closing her eyes, and tried to remain focused on their task. This seemed harder, to reach within Marco’s mind…seemed like something Tess could do. Yet, it was definitely driven by intuition, so surely she could do this. She focused on Marco, pictured his dark skin, his face…that strange smile. His leather jacket…
But it was one thing to mentally rummage through a backpack, and another to get inside a person. Suddenly, she realized it was why he’d separated himself from them physically—to make it more challenging, and something about that made her lunge for the image with forceful determination.

Motorcycle. She’d heard the word in her head, resounding clearly, but before she could open her mouth, she heard Max say it.

They opened their eyes, but Marco’s expression had changed. It was almost as if he’d visibly paled, as he gazed down at the two of them. He drew in several steadying breaths, and Liz noticed that his hands trembled softly.

“Marco, what’s wrong?” She asked, standing and moving toward him. But he brushed quickly past them, toward the bathroom.

“Feeling suddenly…a bit unwell,” he answered, his voice thick. “I’ll be back.”

With that, he closed himself quickly inside their bathroom.


Marco bent over their bathroom sink, splashing cold water over his face repeatedly. He couldn’t stop gasping, drawing heated breaths into his lungs.

What the hell had just happened?

He stared into the mirror at his wet face, trying to get his breathing under control. Oh, God , he thought, panicking. How had that happened?

For a full ten seconds it was like he’d dropped into the middle of Max and Liz’s connection, as if the floor had literally been yanked from underneath him, catapulting him right within their bond.

The emotions had been unbelievable and overpowering, and it was terrain where he’d never been meant to go, because it was far too intimate. He’d felt heat rush all through his body, as their mutual energy had spiraled within his body.

And he’d felt so much love that it had literally knocked the air from his lungs.

He’d never believed that two people could love one another like that—like what he’d just sensed between them--and it left him feeling horribly lonely. It was as if in the wake of intercepting their connection, his solitude had stood in stark relief.

He blotted his face with the towel, his body calming somewhat, recovering from the unexpected shock. He could never have anticipated the physical reaction of what he’d just experienced…he’d been hit with a huge blast of alien energy, so strong it had nearly driven him to his knees.

Max and Liz Evans were far more powerful than anyone suspected—especially Khivar—because the key lay in the way they joined. They could do it without even touching, from great distances, he remembered, and shook his head in disbelief because the power he’d felt tonight was unlike anything he’d ever even heard of. And being suspended right within their bond for those few moments had changed his understanding of their relationship permanently.

He stared at his eyes in the mirror, and couldn’t shake the eerie sensation that even more significantly, somehow this event had just altered his own relationship with the two of them…irrevocably.

And he prayed with all his heart that the change was a good thing.

posted on 9-Nov-2001 7:48:05 PM

Marco trudged heavily up the stairs to the second story apartment he shared with Serena, still trying to understand exactly what had happened tonight. The last he remembered, Max and Liz had been trying to reach for an image within his mind, and then after that his entire world had plummeted from beneath him.

He would talk to Serena about it, and maybe she could explain. He needed to know what he’d done wrong in coaching them, so that it would never happen again—not only for his own sanity, but also for Max and Liz’s sake. He couldn’t help feeling that he’d betrayed them somehow by entering their most intimate sanctum—even though it had been inadvertent.

The letter. The letter had said he’d betrayed them. Could it have been related to tonight’s incident? If there was one thing in the world he could never willingly do, it was to hurt them in any way—much less betray them.

He drew in a shuddering breath, as despair tightened around his heart.

Serena would simply have to explain this freak occurrence, just like she’d provided so many answers at other junctures in his life. She understood him better than anyone else, so surely she’d be able to make sense of his confusion.

He reached the landing, and turned his key in the lock.

As he opened the apartment door, he glimpsed Serena on the sofa, her mouth set in a grim line, with Riley beside her, his expression equally pale and serious.
And if Riley were here, it could only mean one thing.
“What?” Marco demanded, desperation edging his voice, as he stepped quickly inside the apartment. “Tell me what’s going on.”

“Everything’s okay.” Serena responded tightly. “For now.”

Marco glanced quickly at Riley, whose eyes were clouded and dark. “If Riley’s here…”

“It was a go for tonight,” Serena finished with a crisp nod. “But then it was aborted.”

“Oh, God,” Marco groaned, pacing in front of them. Riley stared up at him sympathetically, and Marco saw fear flicker in his normally warm brown eyes. Riley ran a shaky hand through his blonde hair.

“Anna contacted me about forty-five minutes ago, and I called Serena,” Riley explained in his raspy voice. “We were about to call you…then Anna contacted again to say we should call it off.”

“Why?” Marco asked, feeling his throat tighten. “Why aren’t we going through with it?”

“Anna says things have settled back down,” Riley replied. “She feels confident that for now, Max and Liz are safe.”

“But they weren’t earlier tonight?” Marco demanded, suddenly feeling very hostile about the entire situation. The walls of the tiny apartment seemed to be closing in around him.

“Khivar had ordered a hit,” Serena stated calmly, meeting Marco’s incredulous gaze. “On both of them.”

“What?” He roared. “Then why the hell are we still sitting here? We’re pushing this too damn close.”

“Because Khivar called it off,” Serena explained rationally. “Anna wasn’t privy to his reasoning, just that he changed the order.”

Marco processed this new revelation for a moment, and rubbed his eyes, suddenly incredibly tired. When would this sickening roller coaster ride end for all of them?

“And what makes you so confident that they’re truly out of danger, Serena?” He demanded.

“Because Anna says the situation has stabilized,” Serena answered. “And we go with her information.”

Marco turned quickly on his heel, and crouched in front of her. “It’s time. This is getting too damn risky,” he insisted, his voice low and urgent. “For everybody .” He glanced at Riley meaningfully, but he only averted his eyes.

“Marco, we’ve been over this,” Serena quipped, her voice raising. “We wait.”

“This is our second aborted decision to move this week, Serena,” Marco roared, jumping to his feet. “Somebody’s going to get hurt if we don’t make our move now. ”

He noticed Riley flinch, and instantly wished he could retract his words because it wasn’t just Max and Liz’s lives that were at stake, but also that of their inside contact--Anna Davidson, Riley’s lifemate.

“Marco, do I need to remind you that if we move them too quickly, it will tip Nicholas off?” Serena asked, her voice edged with tension. “That it might jeopardize Anna’s life?”

“No,” he answered in a heated whisper. “But she could run tonight.”

“And then we’d never know exactly what else Khivar’s been planning all these months,” Serena argued loudly. “All our advantage would be lost.”

“If we lose Max and Liz, then none of this means anything anyway, Serena,” Marco thundered, his patience exhausted. “I say forget about maintaining intelligence, and get them out tonight.”

Serena stared at him for one long, endless moment, and Marco knew he’d pushed her too hard.
“We wait,” She repeated tightly, her voice measured as she rose from the sofa. She breezed past him coolly, walking toward the kitchen, and he knew that he’d just angered her tremendously. He could judge Serena’s moods almost more easily than his own, and she was upset with him for challenging her so heatedly in front of Riley.

He dropped heavily onto the sofa, turning toward Riley. “I’m sorry, it’s not that I don’t care what happens to Anna,” he explained.

“Marco, I know that,” he reassured him softly. “It’s a very complicated situation.”

Complicated was an understatement. He’d known Riley his whole life, had practically grown up with him. But beyond that fact, Riley and Anna were two of their unit of seven protectors, and they had chosen to bond for one calculated purpose eight years before—to work together more closely in their role as protectors. They were both strongly intuitive and they’d suspected they might be able to use a potential connection for the resistance. And they’d judged correctly, because until Marco had learned about Max and Liz’s ability to communicate while separated, they had been the only two people he’d known capable of that.

Their strong connection was why Anna had been positioned underground within Khivar’s camp, a slow, agonizing process that had been unfolding for more than six years now. She’d been able to feed them information constantly, simply by connecting with Riley whenever necessary—and yet never needed to risk any kind of physical communication that Nicholas might suspect. It was the perfect cover, and no one could guess that she was handing them detailed information from the inside.

However, there had been one complication. While Riley and Anna’s joining had simply been a calculated, political decision, they’d fallen deeply in love along the way. And Marco was more sympathetic than ever to their plight after tonight. If what they felt for one another even slightly resembled what he’d sensed between Max and Liz, then this had to be tearing them both apart. They hadn’t spent one moment physically together in the past six years.

“Anna’s okay?” Marco asked softly.

“Yeah, she’s okay…on edge, but okay,” he sighed.

On edge. Not terrified or frightened…simply on edge .

Marco was reminded why Anna was the one on the inside, not Riley—she was the stronger of the two, where as Riley was much more gentle and sensitive. Then again—was it really easier to be the one on the outside, knowing your mate was in constant jeopardy? Marco had always known Riley possessed a quiet inner strength, and he’d never seen it more clearly than in the recent weeks.

Riley brushed a lock of hair away from his face. He wore his blonde hair long and shaggy, which only furthered his boyish appearance. No one would have guessed that he was at least five years older than Marco, especially since Marco towered over him, and looked much older than his mere twenty-five years.

Marco studied Serena where she moved briskly around the kitchen, putting dishes away, wiping off the counter--so familiar, something he’d watched her do all his life. Riley followed his gaze, and then laughed softly, hugging a sofa pillow against himself.

“She’s pissed,” Riley declared with a nod.


They’d both seen it enough times in their many years together, that it didn’t take much to tip them off. They’d learned when to stay out of her path, which was admittedly not very often, but her body language was easy enough to analyze at the moment.

Serena returned to the living room, her jaw set tightly. “Marco, I’d like to talk to you,” she announced, glancing at Riley who clearly didn’t miss her message, and rose immediately to his feet.

“I’ve got to get some sleep,” he said. “I’ll talk to you both in the morning.”


Marco sat at the kitchen table, as Serena studied him seriously. He felt uncomfortable beneath her penetrating gaze, her blue eyes blazing with anger.

“I know you’re mad,” he admitted finally. He noticed the expression in Serena’s eyes soften at his honest assessment.

“Marco,” she began quietly. “I don’t mind your voicing your opinions on this, but…we have to stay unified.”

He nodded, suddenly feeling like he was five years old again, and she’d just discovered him experimenting irresponsibly with his powers.

“It upsets me when you challenge what I’m saying in front of the team…anyone on the team.”

“But Riley…”

“Is still part of our unit.”

What Marco had wanted to say was that Riley was his close friend, like a brother. Did they really need to maintain formalities with him? Apparently so, he thought, and buried his face in his hands with a weary sigh. He felt like his world had been spinning crazily for the past week, with so many unexpected turns, he could hardly sort them all out.

“Yes, Serena,” he answered heavily.

There was a long moment of silence, then finally he lowered his hands, and found her studying him carefully.

“This isn’t just about Max and Liz’s safety,” she stated matter-of-factly. “You were already upset when you arrived, weren’t you?”

He nodded slowly, chewing on his lip.
Now something in her blue eyes changed, and he saw love and concern mirrored in their depths. It took some of the edge off his loneliness.

“Talk to me,” she encouraged, all her focus having shifted. He closed his eyes and thought how much he appreciated this in her—that she could be their ruthless leader one moment, then become the closest thing he’d known to a mother in the next.

“Oh, God, Serena,” he began, his heart beating quickly. “I think I really made a huge mistake tonight.”

She stiffened in her chair, but met his gaze with a calm air of reassurance.

“Go on,” she encouraged.

“I don’t even know where to begin.”

Liz glanced at her watch. It was almost midnight, but Max had been hungry and he had at least two more hours of studying left. So she’d volunteered to make one of his favorite omelets with jack cheese and jalapenos. He sat at their kitchen table, bent close over a notebook full of his copious notations. He had a short history test in the morning, and was determined to make an A, and while he didn’t have her perfect 4.0, he was cruising at a steady 3.85.

She scooped up their two plates, walking to the table where he sat, and he looked up, his eyes tired and red.

“Thanks, sweetheart,” he smiled. “Smells fabulous.”

Liz moved to their refrigerator, opening it and removing the orange juice. “Does it?” She called doubtfully, thinking how absolutely overpowering the aroma was to her.

“Umm…” he said, taking a bite. “Actually, tastes even more fabulous than it smells.”

Liz poured orange juice in a glass for him, then walked back to the table.

“You know, about the whole smell factor,” she began, settling in the seat beside him. “Do you…kind of smell things… really intensely all the time?” She felt her face flush a bit, and wondered why it embarrassed her to broach this topic with Max.

His fork stopped in mid-air, and he just stared at her for a moment, as a slow smile spread across his features. “Now Liz Evans, why ever do you ask?” He teased in a pseudo-Southern drawl, and she realized that he knew where her question was leading.

“Well, because ever since last night…” she hesitated, trying to find the right words to describe what she’d been experiencing. “Everything just smells really, really strong. Overpowering really.”

“I see,” Max grinned, taking another bite of his omelet.

“Okay, now why exactly is this so funny?” She asked, swatting him playfully on the arm.

“Oh, no particular reason, my queen,” he laughed. “Just that I’ve lived with that my whole life…and now it’s happening to you. Somehow that pleases me immensely.”

“But it’s nauseating,” she complained.

“No it isn’t.”

“It is to me.”

“Well, that’s probably just because you aren’t used to it yet,” he suggested.

“Alright, well let me ask you this,” Liz continued, taking a sip of his orange juice. “Do you smell me….” Oh, God, this part was harder than she’d thought . “Well, you know, like…everywhere?”

Max reached for her hand, and took it softly within his own. “Liz, it might surprise you to know that I’ve always known your scent,” he replied, drawing her hand to his mouth. He brushed his lips across her knuckles, and heat rolled through her at his intimate gesture. “Years ago, I used to sit in the Crashdown, on the other side of the café, just breathing you in.”

Now her face flushed again, but for an entirely different reason. Her husband had just managed to set her on fire with the simplest of statements.

“Really?” she asked with a slow smile.

“Really. And I always know you in any crowd,” he answered, shaking his head with a wry laugh. “Like the desert after the rain, that’s your lovely scent.”

Liz’s heart began thundering at his poetic description.

“Wow,” she answered softly, dropping her eyes. They were silent for a moment, electric tension spinning between the two of them, until finally she spoke.

“Well, this morning when I woke, it was like you were just…everywhere ,” she explained, her eyes widening. “So, it’s like that?”

“Just like that,” he agreed softly.

“Does it drive you crazy?”

“Sometimes,” he smiled flirtatiously. “Especially lately.”

“Yeah, I know what you mean,” she answered, feeling heat bank within her body.

He stroked his fingers slowly up her arm, and her skin tingled at his touch…began to simmer. She’d thought last night might have been the end of their season, reaching the crazy crescendo that they had, but now she realized that was far from the case.

“You need to study,” she reminded him, trying to suppress the growing hum of desire within her.

“I know,” Max whispered, his fingers stilling against her arm. He stared at his open books contemplatively for a moment, clearly conflicted--but then he looked at her again, and his expression shifted, becoming suddenly wild and passionate.
“But I need you, too,” he breathed.

So much for studying , Liz thought, as Max cupped her face within his hands, kissing her hungrily.

Oh, so much for anything other than this kiss , she thought, and lost herself in her husband’s embrace.

Serena folded her hands thoughtfully on the table, and cleared her throat. Marco couldn’t judge her reaction about what he’d just revealed, and began to feel slightly panicky. Maybe he had failed them all by being careless somehow—yet he didn’t really believe that was true.

“Marco, I’ve never heard of anything like this,” she stated calmly. “So I’m not sure what to think.”

Great, she was just as clueless as he was , he thought.

“But I can tell you this,” she continued. “You must be careful in helping them with their powers. They’re still just babes with their intuition.”

“Do you think that might have had something to do with it?”

“Think about it…they were reaching for something within your mind,” she answered thoughtfully. “I suspect one of them inadvertently opened the connection to you at that moment…a genuine hazard since they can connect without physical proximity, especially since you’re so attuned to them.”

“Well, how do I keep it from happening in the future?” Marco questioned solemnly, furrowing his brows in frustration.

“You must always remember to block while they’re connected. And don’t coach them in any exercises related to your own mind.”

“Easy enough,” he agreed, yet doubt still plagued him. What about other times when he didn’t know they were connected? What would prevent it from happening then?

“But something about it unsettled me terribly, Serena,” he continued, sighing heavily. “I keep remembering the letter that I wrote them…from the future .”

He watched Serena’s expression closely, and didn’t miss something akin to worry flash in her blue eyes.

“Well there is that,” she agreed. “But Marco, I know your heart, and it’s good. You already love them both, of that much I’m certain.”

Yes, he’d loved them for years simply as his acknowledged king and queen, but after tonight, his emotions had deepened—something indefinable had sprung to life once he’d sensed their bond.

“My only instruction is to be careful about their connection,” she counseled. “You’ve seen that you’re somehow overly receptive to it, so be on your guard. Blocking is your best protection, and I know that you can do that.”

He ran a nervous hand through his hair, and wished that Serena were right, yet something deep within him rebelled against her words. He couldn’t help feeling that tonight had been a terrible omen.
“Yes, certainly,” he promised.

Serena tossed her ponytail over her shoulder, a final gesture. “Marco, I have the utmost faith in you,” she assured him. “Remember that.”

And just forget about the letter, he finished in his mind, because he knew that was what was haunting him, more than what had happened this evening.

“I’ll do my best,” he stated with forced confidence, bowing his head slightly.

And he meant it in every way—he would do his best in protecting them, as well as his best in averting his own potential betrayal, because he had no other destiny than to serve the two of them, of that much he was certain.

So he would guard them at all costs--even against himself, if need be.


Tess rolled over in bed, pulling the covers above her head. She knew it was almost past ten a.m., but she didn’t have class for another hour and welcomed this chance for a little extra rest. She’d been studying incredibly long hours lately, and was constantly fatigued. So she pressed her eyes shut, and settled the comforter more fully over her face, hoping that the piercing morning sunlight wouldn’t wake her again.

Sleep quickly enveloped her, hazy brightness wrapping itself all around her, and suddenly she and Liz were walking silently in the desert. Heat rose from the pavement in waves, as they slowly ambled along the edge of the blacktop.

Why are we here ? She asked Liz curiously. Tess couldn’t remember how they’d arrived in the desert at all, just that she’d suddenly found herself there, walking with her close friend--someone who felt like a best friend, yet that that wasn’t exactly right.

You know the answer, Tess . Liz answered with a gentle smile, and then turned away again, walking ahead of her—off the highway-- through sagebrush and sand.
Tess was alone now, watching Liz’s retreating form, her dark hair blowing in the wind.

Why are we here ? Tess called after her again. More sunlight, glinting off of rocks, shimmering like a mirage, as Liz turned slowly back toward her.

You know why
, Liz teased with a soft smile. Then suddenly clouds formed overhead, and the shimmering light became much more peaceful and cool, as dark clouds quickly gathered.

Tess stared at the sky, gentle raindrops pelting her face. Liz had vanished, leaving Tess completely alone in the desert, and the storm clouds grew heavier. Fear began to choke her heart, because she was lost, had no idea where she was, really--until she noticed the rocky outcropping just above her, and realized that Liz had lead her to the pod chamber.

Why am I here? She asked of no one, and her only answer came when a strong hand gripped her upper arm, whirling her around.

To face a dark stranger.

Yet he wasn’t a stranger. It was Marco, and he stared down into her eyes intently, his rain-soaked hair falling loosely across his face. You’re here for me , he breathed, cupping her face firmly in his hands, drawing his lips near her own. She felt his warm breath fan against her cheek, as he paused a moment, staring at her. His eyes were like rich, dark chocolate, his lashes wet from the rain.

You know it’s the only reason you’re here. For me.

With that, Tess slammed suddenly awake, sitting up in bed with a start.

Her heart was racing, and her breath came in quick pants. The dream had been so real, the emotions positively explosive. She shook her head, trying to clear the fog that had engulfed her mind. She had to get a grip on herself--she wasn’t just feeling a nagging attraction to Marco anymore, now she’d progressed to deeply erotic dreams about him.

And why had Liz been there? It was like she’d been leading her, guiding her somehow, and Tess wondered why that was significant.


Marco stood outside Tess’s dorm room, staring at a full-length poster of James Dean that was plastered on the door, and wondered why he’d even come here this morning. He’d convinced himself that he merely wanted to talk about the current situation, about making sure everyone was prepared, but in his heart he knew the real reason was far more complicated. He could have easily given Max the security information, yet somehow he’d been drawn here--hadn’t been able to shake the idea since last night-- when his heart had been shadowed by such deep loneliness.

Ever since his dream, the one he’d woken from in the middle of the night, nearly shaking.

In his dream, he and Tess had been riding on his motorcycle late at night, her small hands wrapped tightly around his lower waist. It was unclear where they’d been headed, but one thing was certain…they were going someplace to make love. They hadn’t spoken; there’d been only the thundering of the bike’s engine--and then he’d heard her voice, clear and certain.
You’re the reason I’m here.

Marco drew in a shaky breath, and raised his hand to knock. He rapped firmly, right between James Dean’s eyes, and heard a muffled stirring from within the room.

Maria’s forgotten her key again
, Tess thought, and padded barefoot to open the door for her. Only when she opened it, it wasn’t Maria she saw on the other side of the threshold, but Marco—and she remembered too late that she was wearing only a long t-shirt.

A long, very thin t-shirt.

“Hi,” he said, his voice rich and throaty, and Tess couldn’t miss the way he was staring down at her, surprise flickering in his moody eyes. Surprise or…something else she couldn’t quite identify, until his eyes darted downward for the briefest moment, and his face flushed slightly.

“Hi,” she nearly squeaked, quickly folding her arms across her chest, and felt her own face begin to burn in embarrassment.

“I need to speak with you,” Marco stated formally, casting his eyes away, to some unseen place within her room. Not a difficult task since he had to be at least a foot taller than her.

“Sure,” she replied in a strained voice, opening the door to him. He stepped past her with the same confident stride she’d observed the other night, and her heart began to pound heavily.

Why had he come here at precisely this moment, right after her dream ? It seemed an uncanny coincidence and left her unsettled as she closed the door behind him—almost as uncomfortable as her realization that she’d opened the door to him in this half-naked state. She grasped within her mind for some kind of strategy that might save them both any further embarrassment, and decided hurling herself beneath the bed covers would be the fastest solution. So she did just that, and looked up to find him simply standing in the middle of the room, his face flushing even more deeply now, as he stared down at her.

Great, she thought. Somehow I’ve managed to make this moment even more completely mortifying than it already was.

“You know, actually…” she stammered, transfixed for a moment by his dark, sultry eyes. “Actually, I’m just going to go change clothes real quick,” she finished, flying awkwardly past him toward her dresser.

She felt his eyes on her, as she yanked open a drawer, removing a pair of jeans and shirt with shaky hands. Then she opened her lingerie drawer, and stared down into it for one endless moment--surely he’d notice if she removed her bra. Damn.

“You know, maybe I should just wait outside a moment,” Marco volunteered with a throaty laugh. “That might be better for both of us.”

Tess faced him slowly, gripping the clothes against her chest, and was surprised to see a warm, charming smile spread across his features.

“Probably so,” she laughed, their eyes locking for a long moment, as they both just stood there. She swore desire flashed in his black eyes, causing her body to respond unexpectedly.

She drew in a quick, steadying breath. “I’ll come get you in a minute,” she finished, and realized that her voice sounded breathy, as excited as he’d instantly made her feel.
Marco stood in the hallway, wondering what had just transpired between the two of them. His heart was beating quickly, and he couldn’t help feeling slightly aroused--nothing had prepared him for the way Tess had looked when she’d opened the door, her blonde hair tousled and wild, her face still flushed from sleep.

But the thing that had unnerved him the most had been her t-shirt, and the way he could see the outline of her full breasts—how her nipples had stood out beneath the thin material.

She almost looked as if they’d been doing something much more intimate than simply standing in her doorway talking. Marco shook his head, trying to clear it--he couldn’t afford these thoughts about Tess, especially not with how tense security was at the moment. Correction , he thought, he couldn’t afford this at any moment. She was a part of the unit, and he was a protector—period. Granted, he wasn’t her protector, but that hardly mattered. He couldn’t let some crazy dream deteriorate his thinking…make him irrational in his decisions.

Yet he simply couldn’t deny the effect she’d just had on him, or how real and erotic last night’s dream had felt—a dream so powerful, that he’d come to her this morning without any plausible excuse.
Tess buttoned her jeans, aware that her fingers were trembling slightly. The worst part was that it wasn’t just embarrassment that had unsettled her like this—it was Marco himself. She’d remembered how beautiful he’d been the other night, but now in the wake of her dream, he seemed even more stunning. His black hair and dark, olive skin stood out against his crisp white shirt and black jeans, giving him an almost smoldering appearance.

Face it , she thought, he’s beyond hot. And for a moment, she remembered the way Liz had teased her so relentlessly the other night—as if she’d seen into her mind about him.

Great , she thought with a groan. I’ve just behaved like a complete idiot . Naturally, he would think she was incompetent in her duties, that she was nothing more than a flustered child. She stepped into the bathroom, grabbing a brush, and when she caught sight of herself, couldn’t help but groan again.

Her hair was thoroughly unkempt, and her face quite flushed.

Marco had made her blush like that, and certainly he had to have known it.

But you made him blush, too , a quiet voice reminded her. When he saw you in your t-shirt. Her heart began beating even more rapidly, and she wondered how she’d ever survive this little meeting with him.

Tess sat on her bed, legs tucked beneath her, and she was glad to be properly clothed when Marco settled beside her. “I wanted to talk to you about what everyone should expect,” he hesitated a moment, running a hand through his wavy hair. “Well, from a security standpoint,” he explained.

“Me?” Tess asked, her eyebrows raising in surprise. “Shouldn’t you talk to Michael about this?”

Marco glanced sideways at her, and she realized that his thigh was nearly brushing her own, sending a little shiver of electricity across her skin. Why had he sat so close to her on the bed?

“You’re Max’s second,” he stated firmly.

“Well, officially. But…” Her voice trailed off, as she realized how difficult it would be to explain the delicate balance of all their relationships.

“But?” He pressed, frowning in confusion.

“Well, Marco, things were really pretty confused for quite a while,” She explained. “For a long time, we all thought Michael was his second, and so now it’s kind of like we don’t even think that way. We just both support Max…each other.”

“I understand.” Marco nodded. “Yet you assumed it was Michael I should talk to about this…not you.”

He stared into her eyes meaningfully, deeply, and she realized he’d just seen right through her--so easily.

“It’s just how we do things,” she offered quietly. “You read the letter…you know what we all thought.”

Marco sighed heavily, rubbing his eyes. “Ah, yes, the letter.”

Tess was surprised to see that his eyes had shifted, and now there was something very melancholy in their depths. Tess’s heart lurched within her at the sight. How could such a strong man--a protector--seem suddenly so very vulnerable?

She touched him lightly on the arm, surprised by her own boldness. “The letter upset you, didn’t it?” She asked softly.

“It’s not important.” He shrugged dismissively, his voice suddenly remote.

“Obviously it is,” she pressed, letting her hand drop away from his forearm.

“Not really,” he replied, tossing a quick glance at her. “I’m more interested in why you refuse to accept your authority within the unit.”

“Where do you get off on saying that?” Tess demanded, surprised that he’d angered her so suddenly.

“You’re the one who said I should speak to Michael instead of you,” he replied calmly.

Tess sprung from the bed, anything to be away from Marco’s imposing presence, his overpowering physicality. Even the heat radiating from his body was starting to infuriate her, it was so unsettling. In fact, this whole interchange had set her on edge.

“Can we drop it?” she snapped. “Really.”

“Certainly. Whatever you wish.”

“What did you want to tell me?” She asked, tossing her hair over her shoulder defiantly, as she turned to face Marco. All the earlier sexual tension had evaporated, replaced by sudden combativeness.

“Just wanted you to know that things are very tense right now.”

“That’s why you came to my room?” She asked incredulously. “You told us that the other night.”

Marco glanced away from her guiltily, and suddenly she suspected that it wasn’t the real reason he’d come at all—she could read it in his expression.

Then why had he come? The words from her dream suddenly resurfaced.

You know it’s the only reason you are here. For me.

“I came here to suggest that everyone pack a single bag of basic necessities,” he answered quietly, staring down at the floor. “It’s doubtful that there will be time to do so when the word comes.”

Tess’s blood ran cold at his words—somehow it gave everything an air of urgency, made it all seem uncannily real. And all her previous irritation vanished.

“You really think we’ll have that little time?” she asked.


Tess stopped pacing, and sat again on the bed beside him, making sure she wasn’t nearly so close to him this time.

“I don’t want to scare anyone,” Marco assured her. “Use discretion?”

“Absolutely,” she nodded. “I’ll tell Michael,” she finished, glancing at him meaningfully. For a long moment, they stared at one another, and she felt her heart begin to beat rapidly again, as desire stirred afresh. That’s what Marco’s simplest glances did to her—they made her lose a slight foothold on reality whenever she met his dark gaze.

Slowly, he smiled at her, clearly realizing she’d just acknowledged something in his earlier assessment. “Good,” he nodded. “He needs to know.”
With that, he rose slowly from the bed, and walked toward her door. “I’m sure I’ll talk to you soon,” he said, opening the door, and then glanced at her with a tentative smile.

“By the way, you looked really gorgeous in that t-shirt,” he whispered, his voice suddenly very husky. And then he disappeared into the hallway before she could even respond, shutting the door behind him.

All Tess could do was sit on the bed, her face flushing wildly—and wonder if she’d just imagined the whole surreal interchange.

Finally, as she heard his muffled steps fade down the hallway, she collapsed against her pillow with a loud groan--and decided one thing was certain.

Marco McKinley was one very sexy and enigmatic man.

posted on 10-Nov-2001 1:09:37 PM

Liz lay on her back in the darkness, just listening to the soft whirring of the ceiling fan. They used it in the winter sometimes, on nights just like this one, because it was soothing--because it cooled them off when it got too hot between them, as it had during the past hour.

But now they both lay on top of the sheets, their bodies slowly chilling beneath the rhythmic turning of the fan. Outside it had to be no more than thirty degrees, but inside, it was a slowly fading inferno.

Liz stretched her legs lazily, pointing her toes downward, and sighed contentedly. She still burned from the way Max had touched her, how he’d made love to her, long and slow. Even though they’d allowed their connection to break a few moments before, her whole body hummed with Max’s energy--and it almost felt like they were still intimately bonded, as if his echo still resounded through every part of her.

“You sound happy,” Max whispered in the darkness, rolling on his side to face her.

“I am happy,” she answered, closing her eyes, drinking him in with all her senses. She wished she could put words to his scent, but even after all these years, it remained something far too beautiful to name—and now, after her awakening, it was just always around her. Within her.

“Me, too,” he whispered, nestling closer to her, and she could almost see his eyes in the darkness, though not quite. Yet she could feel him perfectly, his warm body folded against her own, his breath barely grazing her cheek. He slipped her within his arms, pulling her closer, and she could see the dark outline of his head framed against the window, could glimpse him gazing down at her chest.

Slowly, he traced his finger across the glowing handprint still emblazoned right over her heart.

“It’s fading,” his voice was tinged with regret.

“Yes,” she agreed meaningfully, caressing his upper back with her fingertips. “But not the way it affected me.”
Max splayed his hand on top of the imprint, aligning his palm perfectly against the image. Heat answered right beneath his touch, spreading through her chest then ricocheted gently across her skin.

“I’m not sure how I knew to do it,” he admitted, his voice filled with awe. “But somehow I just did.”

“It was instinctive,” she breathed.

“Instinctive. Yes.”

The mood between them was strangely hushed—had been all during their lovemaking, almost like the winter earth after a heavy snowfall. Quiet, expectant. Reverent even.

What was different tonight? Liz wasn’t sure.

Things had somehow gentled between them in the past day or so, and with a sharp pang of regret she realized that this crazy season between them was fading.

But not the way it affected me . Just like she’d told Max.

Slowly, he removed his palm, and then lowered his mouth, kissing her right in the middle of the handprint, his lips lingering against her skin for a long moment.

She stroked his hair, savoring the scent of him, this quiet moment between them. Their world was often filled with such frantic noise and energy, and they had so few moments just like this one.

“You should sleep,” he whispered, settling beside her again.

“You should, too.”

“Yeah,” he agreed, and yet Liz knew neither of them wanted this moment to end.

So quiet, so beautiful.

And then the phone rang shrilly, piercing the silence like a deadly bullet. Liz’s heart jolted sharply, as Max fumbled in the darkness for the bedside phone, knocking the receiver to the floor.

12:38 a.m.

Too late for a phone call, too late for anything good. Liz’s heart began hammering quickly, as she sat straight up in bed. Max was standing now, pressing the receiver to his ear.

The blood roared in her ears, and she could hardly hear what he was saying.

“Hello,” Max answered, his hand shaking unsteadily as he cradled the phone against his ear.

“Max. It’s time,” Marco stated simply. “We’ll be there in five minutes…Less. I’ll come up for you.” His words were rushed, his breathing heavy—Max could hear it even over the static of the cellular phone. They were already on their way.

“Whatever you do, stay away from the windows,” Marco ordered.

Max began moving in the darkness, searching frantically for his jeans. “Absolutely,” he replied.

“Keep the lights out. We’re coming, just stay put.”

Marco was frightened, Max could hear it in his voice, even over the phone line, and he didn’t strike Max as someone who was easily shaken. This wasn’t good, not at all, and Max couldn’t suppress the rising sense of panic he felt throughout his whole body. He tossed the receiver on the bed, and stared at Liz across the dark room. They were silent for an eternal moment, she standing just across the bedroom from him; the only sound the uneven rhythm of their ragged breaths and the soft whirring of the ceiling fan. They weren’t connected anymore, but their hearts were certainly joined…locked.

They didn’t need their bond in order to feel one another at this moment.

“It’s time,” he finally said. “We’ve got to hurry, they’ll be here in five minutes.”

He heard Liz’s sharp intake of breath. “Oh, God, Max,” she choked out. “I just didn’t think it would be so soon.”

“I know,” he whispered, moving toward their closet. “But it will be okay.”

She stepped close to him, and pulled his face down toward her with her tiny hands.

“Promise me you’ll be okay, Max,” she begged urgently. “That you won’t get hurt.”

“Liz…” he hesitated. How could he promise what he didn’t have to give--the assurance that everything would work out tonight?

“So long as I have you, I can handle any of this,” she pressed, her voice desperate. “Promise me …because I know if you do, you’ll keep it.”

“Yes, sweetheart. I’ll be okay...we both will.”

“Alright,” She drew in a shuddering breath. “Then let’s move.”
Liz raced through the dark apartment, already dressed. She tossed her suitcase quickly on the sofa, unzipping it with one jerky motion. She could hear Max in the bedroom, rummaging quickly through their drawers. They were packed—had been since yesterday—and yet now that the moment was upon them, they both desperately searched for last precious treasures.

Liz moved to the dining room table, snapping Max’s laptop shut, jerking chords out from the wall. She shoved the computer into the top of her suitcase, to the spot she’d specifically reserved for it, and then placed all his thesis notes on top. His well-worn copy of You Can’t Go Home Again fit snuggly inside, and she zipped up the duffle bag. Small and portable, it held all she’d own in the world from now on.

But the most precious things in her life weren’t objects anyway, she thought.

She raked a shaky hand through her hair, and just stood in the middle of the dark living room, surveying this beloved, familiar landscape for one final moment. This had been their first home together, the place she’d lovingly decorated, had tried to make into something permanent for them—or so she’d always wanted to believe.

And yet deep inside, she’d always known it was an illusion, that a day like this would surely come, because they weren’t ordinary.

Neither of them ever had been.

Her eye fell on her grandmother’s small bud vase, where it sat on the dining room table. She snatched it up, and wrapped it within a kitchen towel, opening her suitcase again. Max hurried into the living room, and she slipped the vase inside the bag, zipping it shut.

He placed both their duffels by the front door, and then turned to her. “It’s been five minutes,” he said, his voice shaking slightly.

They stepped silently together, and he circled her within his strong arms. There weren’t any words now, only their bodies, their hearts. The silence of the apartment hummed all around them, so familiar…so utterly lost to them already.

Max stroked her hair, and she felt hot tears burn her eyes. But she refused to cry, had to be strong, and she willed the urge away. Her husband needed her strength now, not the fear of a frightened, young girl—and she could give it to him, because she was his queen--the woman who had stood beside him for multiple lifetimes now…his Zillia.
Marco stepped into their apartment hurriedly, closing the door behind him. He locked it, then faced them both in the darkness. For a moment, he was silent, and the only sound was his labored breathing.

“I can’t kid either of you. This isn’t good,” he began. “But I’ll get you out of here, just stay close to me.”

“Yes,” Max nodded firmly, and clasped Liz’s hand tightly within his own.

Marco turned to open the door, and they followed him into the hall. He sprinted down the narrow stairway, and they matched his pace all the way to the bottom of the steps. Then at the outside door, he turned suddenly, raising a halting hand in front of them.

“Wait here,” he commanded, then spoke into a small black communicator—something Max had never seen before.

“Clear?” Marco demanded.

“Yes,” a female voice answered frantically. “Go! Go!”

Marco jerked the door open, and nearly shoved them past him. Just five feet away, a black Suburban sat idling on the curb, pouring exhaust into the winter night. Max began running, never letting go of Liz’s hand, as Marco kept pace beside them both. Max was vaguely aware that Marco was looking all around them, scanning their perimeter.

The back doors of the Suburban flew open, everything all a quick blur. Max shoved Liz up inside, and saw someone…a woman, pulling her in. He felt Marco’s hands shoving him roughly from behind.

“Get in! Now!”

He collapsed inside, tangled with Liz and the woman. The car was moving, speeding away with a loud squeal of tires. Marco was closing the open doors….

Liz lay on the vehicle’s floor, and before he could turn to her, or take anything else in at all, Marco was pressing him down roughly.

“Get down!” he shouted, turning to look out the back window.

Max fell beside Liz, and he glimpsed the woman slip over into the backseat, which gave them a bit more room. Still, it seemed he and Liz were all on top of one another, slammed roughly against the floor, as the car sped ever faster, taking turns recklessly.

Max’s heart thundered within his chest, and he heard Liz whimper beside him. He turned to face her, and saw that she was biting her lip so sharply, it had turned almost white.

“Baby, it’s going to be okay,” he breathed, grabbing her hand. “It will be.”

She nodded silently, and he saw tears pool within her eyes.

Marco glanced at them quickly, then ahead toward the woman. Who was driving? It was all such a blur, and it was difficult not to be terrified.

“How far to the highway?” Marco cried.

A man answered from up front, probably the driver. “Two miles.”

“Are they behind us?” the woman demanded.

“Not sure,” Marco answered, wiping off the back window with his sleeve, so he could get a better look.

“I see headlights,” he groaned, shaking his head. “I just don’t know.”

Max wanted to ask--needed to know--exactly what was happening, yet his instinct was to keep completely silent for the moment. One thing was certain: their lives weren’t just on the line, they were in absolute jeopardy.

“Gaining!” Marco called, whipping a tiny pair of binoculars from his jacket pocket. He stared through them for a long moment, adjusting them quickly—they had to be some kind of night vision glasses. “Oh, God…it’s them,” he called. “Riley…Move!”

Max felt the car lurch beneath them, and he rocked against Liz at the sudden motion.

“Marco, here!” The woman cried, and Max saw her toss some kind of small weapon. It passed over them, Marco catching it deftly. Max shifted a moment, considered sitting up, but Marco planted his hand squarely on his chest, pressing him back to the floor of the Suburban.

“Whatever happens, stay down,” Marco commanded.
Max could feel the vehicle head out onto open highway, could judge it by the way they no longer turned, by their speed.

“Marco,” Liz asked in a shaky voice. “What exactly is happening?”

Marco didn’t answer, just stared out the back, raising the glasses again. There was silence a moment.

“Ten feet back!” he shouted. “Riley, go. Go!”

“I’m going as fast as I can!” Riley roared in response.

Suddenly there was a sharp burst of what sounded like gun fire, though Max could see quick flashes of blue light. Obviously not a human weapon, somehow he knew it…and then the back window exploded, and Marco ducked as glass flew everywhere. Max threw up his shield right over Liz and himself, the green glow filling the entire cab.

“Good, Max!” the woman called. “Keep it in place until this is over.”

“Oh, God,” Marco groaned. “There’s a second one.”

“Shit!” the woman cried.

“Left side now, left side,” Marco shouted, and Max could see the woman readying for imminent attack along the side of the vehicle. She lowered the window, cold air whipping her long hair, and raised her weapon, aiming. More bluish bursts, and there was the sound of squealing tires.

“Got ‘em!” She shouted.

“Gaining from behind!” Marco thundered, raising his weapon.

“Marco, take them out,” the woman ordered.

“I’ve got to get lock…got to,” Max watched as Marco squinted, then he fired several quick rounds with the alien weapon. He could hear the eerie squeal of tires answer in response, then a loud crash.

“Got it! Got it!” Marco shouted, then collapsed in the corner of the cab, staring down at them. Max let the shield drop, felt a quick burst of energy as he drew it back within him.

The frigid air blasted them from the shot-out back window, the only remaining evidence that they’d just been in a life-threatening battle. Marco drew in desperate, heavy breaths, then placed his hand on Max’s arm with surprising gentleness as he stared down at him.

“You okay?” he asked, his eyes passing from him to Liz.

Max didn’t miss all the emotions he saw passing over Marco’s face—worry, relief, protectiveness-- and he sensed in that moment that Marco didn’t just feel a sense of duty toward them. Somehow, strangely…he loved both of them.

Max nodded, slowly sitting up. He glanced down at Liz, and pulled her gently to a sitting position.

“Where are you taking us?” Liz asked, smoothing her hair with a nervous hand.

“Someplace safe,” the woman answered from the seat in front. It was Max’s first good look at her—she had long blonde hair, pulled back in a tight ponytail, and appeared to be in her mid-thirties. She met his gaze, and something odd flashed within her eyes—and it struck Max that it was a glimmer of recognition. Perhaps even awe, though it was difficult for him to understand someone feeling that upon meeting him.

“I’m Serena,” she explained in a raspy voice, extending her hand to him. When he took it, he felt a little surge of heat--not just hybrid energy. What he sensed was pure alien.

Their eyes locked for a moment, and she smiled faintly, then released his hand, turning to Liz. But Liz just sat beside him, her mouth slightly open. “Serena?” she asked, as if the name were familiar.

Serena nodded, still holding her hand out to Liz, who slowly took it, glancing at Max with wide dark eyes. Then he remembered—his future self had said she’d be a friend of theirs one day--that Serena was the one who’d helped him use the granolith to travel back in time.

“Well, Max,” Serena laughed softly. “Sorry it’s under these circumstances, but we’ve all waited a long time for this moment.” She paused, gazing into his eyes deeply, meaningfully, then finally spoke. “Welcome to your revolution.”

Your revolution.

For some absurd reason, he thought of The Beatles--but then Max’s heart began thudding crazily--because it seemed that his life had changed forever, with her one simple statement.

Welcome to your revolution.

Liz leaned against the cold side window of the Suburban, settled closely beside Max. His chest still rose in heavy pants, as did her own. Even after these long minutes, her heart beat quickly, and she couldn’t help fearing that someone might suddenly attack again.

Yet Marco didn’t seem worried, was calm in fact, where he lounged across from them, his long legs folded slightly to accommodate them in the tight space. The three of them were cramped at best, and his hard boot heel pressed against her calf. Yet Marco had insisted they stay in the back, just in case something else happened. Liz had smiled realizing he wanted them right beside him, not upfront where he couldn’t watch over them if need be.

Liz studied Marco’s dark features, and noticed that all the tension had vanished from his face. Now he looked almost relaxed, though he did continue to peer out the back window, periodically raising his binoculars to scan the dark road behind them.

Marco had restored the broken back window with his powers, and the interior had quickly warmed. Now they just rode on some nameless two-lane highway, surrounded only by inky darkness—made darker by the blacked out windows of the Suburban. Liz wondered where they were going tonight, how far away it was. More importantly, were the others safe?

So many questions spun through her mind, as she knew they must through Max’s, too—yet they’d only ridden in silence for the past minutes. Max lolled his head back against the glass, blowing out a heavy breath. She glanced at him, and saw worry line his features as he drew his dark eyebrows sharply together. She knew that he was concerned about the others, too, wondering if they’d been gotten out in time…safely. He always felt so responsible for all of them, and Liz knew this had to be killing him.

“So, Serena,” Liz began, clearing her throat. It felt strange to speak her name after so many years imagining who she would be. “When will we know if everyone is safe?”

Serena adjusted herself in the seat ahead of them, turning back to face Liz. “Not until we get where we’re going,” She answered, her keen blue eyes shimmering with energy. Liz remembered seeing something similar in Nasedo’s gaze. “But you shouldn’t worry. You two were the only designated targets tonight.”

Designated targets . The words made Liz’s heart plummet within her.

“You knew they were coming for us tonight then,” Max stated, voicing her own thoughts.

“Yes, we were warned that Khivar had ordered a hit on both of you. Though obviously we received word quite late,” Serena explained.

Max slipped his arm around Liz protectively, nestling her closer to him.

“Who warned you?” Max asked, and Liz didn’t miss the note of authority in his voice.

Serena hesitated momentarily, glancing in Riley’s direction, but he remained silent, his eyes trained on the road ahead. She turned back to face them. “Her name is Anna Davidson. She and Riley are…” she hesitated, frowning a moment, then finished. “Both part of our unit.”

Liz couldn’t shake the sense that Serena had just left out a crucial piece of the puzzle. Something they weren’t meant to know yet? She wasn’t sure.

“What do you mean your unit ?” Max asked, shifting a bit where they sat together. It was so cramped in the cab, and difficult to find a truly comfortable position.

“Our unit of protectors. There are seven of us altogether, but Marco is the only one assigned specifically to the two of you.”

“Then who are the rest of you protecting?” Max asked.

“Your unit. The humans, as well.”

“So you’re our protector then, too?” Liz asked, wrinkling her nose in confusion. She wasn’t quite clear what Serena meant.

“Not you specifically. The group.” Serena explained, her expression very serious. “And I am the leader of this protector unit,” she replied, then her voice grew soft. “I have been watching you since 1947.”

“What?” Max nearly shouted, and Liz felt his body grow incredibly tense against her. “How? Why haven’t we…”

But Serena cut him off. “It was safer that you not know…better for you.”

“How could that have been better? All this time, after Nasedo died…” Max paused a moment, his eyes searching around the car as he quickly assembled the facts. “Are you saying you were in the crash?” He finally asked, his voice strained with disbelief.

“Yes,” Serena answered softly.

“You left us,” Max whispered, his voice full of bitter accusation. “We had no one after Nasedo died.”

“Nasedo needed to die,” she stated simply, without explanation, yet her words conveyed much more. “But Max, right now isn’t the time for this discussion. Let’s wait until the others are together.”

“No,” he insisted loudly. “I need to know right now why you left us alone all these years, when we’ve had to…God, had to deal with so much…needed so many answers.” Max leaned forward, closer to Serena, and Liz could hear him breathing heavily in the darkness.

“I never left you, Max. I was always with you and near you.” Serena’s voice was a hushed whisper, as she shook her head in vigorous denial. “You were never alone.”

Somehow, her words struck Liz as being the tender sentiments of a mother. They’d been spoken with such love, such deep feeling--and in a way, apparently they had all been like children to her.

Max didn’t speak, just stared at Serena for a long moment, his mouth open in disbelief. When he looked away, he drew his knees closer to his chest, and buried his face in his hands. He ran his fingers roughly through his hair, his head still bowed. Liz didn’t understand exactly why this revelation from Serena had hit him so hard, except perhaps it brought out some feelings of abandonment he’d always carried about the crash, about hiding for so many years. And of course he’d felt that way—their people had seemingly dropped them here on their own, prepared them so little for survival on earth.

Liz’s eyes wandered from the top of Max’s dark head to Serena, and she was surprised to see how melancholy she looked. Her face had nearly crumpled as she’d watched Max. Now, genuine pain flashed in her features, as she slowly turned forward again. And somehow Liz knew that Serena wasn’t a woman given to strong emotions like this—knew it instinctively. Intuitively. She glanced quickly at Marco for some kind of interpretation, but he only shrugged in confusion, shaking his head slowly. Apparently he didn’t understand this interchange any better than she did.

Liz stroked Max’s hair softly beneath her fingers, and felt their bond ripple slightly, as he reached for her. She opened to him, and was instantly barraged with a confused jumble of emotions. Outside, he seemed calm enough, but his mind and heart were awash with countless feelings. And the strongest one was fear for her…grief that he might have lost her tonight. Strong grief …and then she was slammed roughly with his self-accusation. He blamed himself for putting her in danger just by being who he was.

Max, don’t do that.

What? He asked, undisguised anguish in his voice

Do not start blaming yourself. We’re safe. I’m safe.

You’ve lost everything tonight…because of me. What if you’d been killed?

But I wasn’t. And I haven’t lost anything that really matters to me…you’re still beside me, Max.

Then powerful feelings of abandonment shot through their connection, hitting her with hurricane-level force. Images, flashes…the pod chamber, the roadside, Liz running away from him down the hill all those years ago. Serena’s face just now.

Slowly, Max raised his head from his hands, their eyes locking, and she saw tears shining in his eyes.

Max, why did that upset you so much…about Serena?

He was silent a long moment, and chewed his lip thoughtfully. I’m not sure…

He shook his head. I can’t explain it…except all these years it’s always been like we were so alone, and to learn that…

To learn what?

God, that our people were here the whole time…since ‘47, and didn’t even try to help us.

Max, you heard what she said. You heard. She was always watching over you, it was what was best for you.


With that, their connection lurched painfully, as Max grasped more forcefully for her, needed her. She willed strength to him, made him feel all the love she had for him…tried to soothe him. She watched his eyes flutter shut, as she began whispering softly to him through their bond. The restlessness abated some, and he just nestled quietly within her, as she did within him. Oh, she needed him too, so much…she gasped a bit as their union deepened, and then peace covered her like a warm blanket as they truly joined.

Out of the corner of her eye, Liz saw Marco observing them keenly, his eyes flashing a bit, and she felt something strange shiver across her skin at the way he watched them. She didn’t have time to analyze the sensation because she was drawn back to the moment with Max.

I shouldn’t have been so harsh with Serena.

No, probably not…and I think you hurt her somehow.

His head snapped up, his eyes locking with hers.

What do you mean?

I saw it in her face…after you looked away.

He nodded in silent comprehension, drawing himself up where he sat. He tossed his hair away from his face with a rough jerk.

“Serena, you were the other survivor,” he pressed, coughing lightly. “The one they never captured?”

She continued facing forward, away from them both, her back straight as a rod. “Yes.”

“Which means you’re from Antar, not a hybrid like us,” he finished.

Serena turned slightly to face them both, and Liz was pleased to see that the pain had vanished from her features. “Pure alien,” she answered with a wry laugh, her eyes narrowing.

She must be a shape shifter, Liz thought. She had to be because she looked no more than thirty-five years old.

“How old are you?” Liz blurted out. “I mean…you look so young.” Liz’s face flushed at the inappropriate question, especially in the wake of her awkward stammering.

Serena smiled at her faintly, and Liz saw surprising warmth in her features.

“Old enough to have known you both before,” she nodded.

“Before?” Liz breathed in wonder. Could she really mean before?

“I served you both as Zan and Zillia,” she explained, her voice suddenly filled with a hushed reverence. “It’s why I was sent as your guardian.”

“Oh,” Liz answered with a shiver, her eyes widening. “Oh. Wow!” She couldn’t help but clasp her hands together in excitement. This was unbelievable—they were sitting here in the car with someone who remembered every detail about them. Had known them. Liz’s heart began to race, even as her palms began sweating with nervousness.

“But we’ll have plenty of time to talk about all of that when we get where we’re going,” Serena promised.

“Where are we going exactly?” Max asked.

“A safe house about two hours from Las Cruces…it’s where all of you will stay for a while.”

“What happens to our apartment? Our things?” Liz questioned, feeling silly for mentioning something so trivial at a moment like this.

“No one can go back. The place will be watched.”

If no one pays our bills, then… what about our credit rating? Liz wondered. She heard Max laugh softly beside her.

What’s so funny? She demanded, frowning at him.

You, he smiled. Our credit’s screwed, baby.

But where we’re going it hardly matters.

She shivered slightly at his words, because he was right—their world had shifted on its axis tonight. Permanently. And it was difficult to adjust her thinking: to realize they were no longer college students, but had just been thrust in the middle of a war. That Max would now take his place at the helm of a revolution—and that they were among people who served him as king.

And you as queen
, he reminded her gently. She sucked in a sharp breath, forcing her thoughts back to the moment at hand.

“So, then…everyone will think what?” Liz asked, tucking a stray lock of hair behind her ear. “I mean, will it seem that we’ve just disappeared?”

“Yes, you’ll be considered missing persons.”

Flyers on post office walls. Their parents on Unsolved Mysteries….

Liz drew her knees close against her chest, resting her chin on them. “Our parents…they’ll think something terrible happened,” she whispered, her voice full of despair.

“Unfortunately, yes, Liz,” Serena answered, her raspy voice solemn.

Liz tried to rein in her countless emotions, but the intensity of the past moments had been too overwhelming. Despite her best efforts, she felt her resolve crumble, as tears welled within her eyes.

She lowered her forehead to the top of her knees, so that they wouldn’t see her tears because she couldn’t hold them back now, not if she tried. All their families and loved ones…not just her parents, but the Evans, who she loved…and the others. Valenti would know, at least, and she took the slightest comfort in that.
Liz felt Max’s energy shimmer across their bond, and now it was he who soothed her. He stroked her hair softly away from her neck, and began gently rubbing her shoulders. The tears only flowed harder at his healing touch.

I have to get ahold of myself…get this under control , she commanded her emotions.

Sweetheart, it’s okay.


Shh…just let it out. You can be real with them.
You’re their leader…and I need to be strong for you.
No, you don’t. Not for me, not for them. It’s okay that you’re upset.

He kept rubbing her shoulders, and now an answering heat began building right beneath his fingertips. She leaned up and wiped at the tears with a loud sniffle, and noticed Marco staring at her, concern flickering in his dark eyes. He smiled softly at her, then looked quickly out the back window. She’d completely forgotten he was sitting just across from them, she’d been so lost in her connection with Max.

“Riley, how far is it?” Marco called out, raising the binoculars to his eyes.

“About an hour.”

Marco turned back toward Liz, dropping the glasses. “You’ll be comfortable where we’re going. It’s a very nice cabin. Roomy…and the view is amazing.”

“What kind of view? Where is it?” Liz asked, wiping her tears away with the back of her hand.

“On a mountainside. Very remote and beautiful. But more importantly, you’ll be safe there.”

Liz nodded, realizing Marco was trying to comfort her—wanted her to know that while she might have just left their entire world behind, she was headed someplace that could become her new home for a while.

Liz leaned back into Max’s arm again, and felt his palm settle warmly against her ribs. She closed her eyes and focused on him, on the fact that he was the focal point of her world, not some apartment…or a cabin.

Ever since they’d mated six years before, Max Evans had been her only true home, and she carried that with her tonight—and to any place else they might go in the coming years, even if they left earth.

Her heart was like a compass, always guiding her home to Max—the one fixed point in her universe.

posted on 10-Nov-2001 1:18:50 PM

The Suburban turned off the highway onto a gravel driveway, stopping in front of an iron security gate. Riley rolled his window down, and quickly punched in a series of numbers. The large iron gate opened slowly in response, allowing their vehicle entrance.

“This is it,” Marco stated, drawing himself up from where he’d been slouching against the side window.

Max stared ahead, trying to see something of this place that would be their new home, at least for a while. The vehicle began its steep climb up a long, rough drive, the headlights cutting a bright path in the darkness ahead. Max could see the dim outline of pine trees and rocks along the driveway’s edge, but little else except pitch darkness, as they angled up the sharp incline. The road was rough, causing them to bump and jostle as they slowly progressed. Then they reached a slight turn, and the road grew even steeper, causing the wheels of the Suburban to grind and hesitate a moment. Marco hadn’t been kidding—apparently they really were headed up the side of a mountain.

Liz jumped beside him nervously when a deer sprung across the road, causing Riley to slam the breaks as it quickly darted in front of them. They were all still on edge, and the incident left Max’s heart pounding heavily.

When it seemed they’d never reach their destination, the vehicle rounded one final bend in the road, and bright lights came into view, illuminating a two story wood cabin. Another Suburban sat parked in the driveway, and Max glimpsed Maria, Michael and Tess, standing on the porch—waiting for them, no doubt.

“Well, that answers one question,” Serena said, turning to open her door. “Five in, three still unaccounted for.”

Max panicked briefly that Isabel hadn’t arrived yet, but before he could voice his concern, Serena spoke again. “Don’t worry about the others, they’ll be here. Frankly I’m surprised that anyone beat us here at all.”

Liz placed her hand on his arm, as Marco opened the back door. “I’m sure everyone is fine, Max,” she assured him quietly. And just hearing her say it at that moment alleviated his anxiety…as always, Liz could heal his heart in a mere moment. He smiled softly at her, and nodded, as she moved to crawl out.

Marco helped Liz out, then turned to him, extending his hand. Max eased to the ground, surprised by how stiff his body felt after the cramped ride.

Michael rounded the back, embracing him quickly. “I’m really relieved to see you two, Maxwell,” he said, and Max could hear how strained his voice was. “We’ve been really worried.”

“Lizzie!” Maria shrieked, pulling her into a tight embrace. “God, these past hours have killed me.”

“We were told Khivar sent a team to kill you tonight,” Michael announced, his eyes piercing.

Max just nodded, casting his eyes toward the ground. He wasn’t sure he wanted them to know just how close it had really been, but he realized there’d be no hiding the fact, when he saw Michael gaping at the side of the Suburban.

“What the hell is this?” He roared, pointing to a series of scorched craters in the vehicle’s side.

“Well, that would be damage from the enemy’s weaponry,” Serena answered matter-of-factly, crouching beside the car to examine it. “K-10 Luminators, I’d say,” She assessed evenly, running her fingers over the mangled steel.

Michael frowned in confusion, raising his eyebrows as if to ask who she was.

“Guys, this is Serena,” Max explained, and she stood to shake their hands. “She’s our protector.”

He almost added that she’d been in the ’47 crash, but thought better of it. He knew the reaction that information would elicit in Michael, and after tonight’s tension, decided to hold off for now.

“It’s nice to meet you, Michael.” Serena stated quietly, extending her hand. It was Max’s first close look at her, and he was surprised that she seem look quite young, just as Liz had observed. Michael’s eyes widened in surprise when she addressed him by name, and then Serena quickly turned, taking Tess’s hand, then Maria’s. In each case, she called them by name, and something about her familiarity with them all caused Max to shiver slightly.

Riley walked up the cabin steps, carrying their duffle bags.

“Let’s get inside.” Max nodded in the direction of the cabin. “It’s cold out here.”

Marco watched Tess pace in front of the sofa where he sat, wringing her hands in agitation. Everyone had arrived safely now, except for Kyle, and they’d received no word from Cecilia, although that was to be expected since cell phones posed too much potential threat for a security breach. They’d only used one to call Max tonight because it had been a life-threatening emergency.

Marco was slightly concerned that it had been over an hour since everyone else had arrived, but truthfully, he was more worried about how hard this seemed to be hitting Tess, who continued her anxious pacing. He cast a quick glance at Serena, who sat in front of the fire, studying Tess quietly.

“Maybe she couldn’t find him?” Tess wondered aloud. “He was with Mandy, and…you guys know Kyle. He probably had his cell phone turned off.”

Michael rose slowly, and stood in front of her, placing his hands firmly on her shoulders.

“Tess, you’ve got to calm down,” he admonished softly.

“I can’t calm down, Michael,” she cried, and Marco saw tears pool in her eyes. Apparently, Kyle was very special to her, and something about that left him feeling slightly jealous.

“I’m sure he’s fine, Tess,” Michael reassured her, dropping his hands from her shoulders. “We all just have to stay calm.”

“Honestly, Kyle wouldn’t have been high on Khivar’s list of priorities tonight,” Serena interrupted. “The only order was against Max and Liz.”

“What about Anna?” Marco questioned, but Riley only shook his head. “I haven’t been able to connect with her yet…but she’d warned me it might be a while.”

Tess began pacing again, and then suddenly stopped right in front of Marco, where he sat on the sofa, staring down at him briefly. It was their first real eye contact since the other day in her dorm room, and it unnerved him a bit. He couldn’t look away, and for a moment, they stayed transfixed just like that, their eyes locked. Somehow, in the midst of the swirling emotional hurricane of this night, they’d just found the calm center—and connected powerfully with the simplest of glances.

And then he saw her visibly relax, as she looked away.

He’d calmed her somehow, unintentionally, even as she’d cause fire to leap within his entire body. He shook his head slightly, glancing down at his hands. Tess Harding confused his heart terribly…yet the trouble was, he more than liked her effect on him.
Marco shifted in bed, pulling the flannel sheet around him tightly. It was a very cold night, and even with the small space-heater, he was still cold. Everyone except Serena had gone to bed about thirty minutes before, even though Kyle hadn’t arrived yet. She’d waited up to monitor the situation with Cecilia, and Marco sensed she was slightly concerned. But somehow, he knew Kyle was okay…felt it deep inside, and he trusted his intuition on the point.

Tess had still seemed worried as they’d headed to bed, but calmer after their own strange connection. After that moment, her demeanor had changed, becoming much more settled and peaceful. He still didn’t understand what had transpired between the two of them—it had been so electric and arousing, yet calming all at once.

And now in that moment’s wake, he simply couldn’t sleep. Not that he could have anyway, with the memory of tonight’s battle warring within his thoughts. This had been close—too close , and it chilled him to think how they’d nearly lost Max and Liz. He closed his eyes, willing the images of tonight’s sputtering gunfire to vanish from his mind.

Suddenly, he heard a soft rustling in his room, and he quickly opened his eyes to find Tess standing beside his bed. She stood there, chewing her lip, staring at him uncertainly.

“What?” he whispered, sitting up in bed, his heart instantly racing. “Is something wrong?”

She shook her head vigorously. “No, I just wanted to…talk to you a minute.”

“Okay,” he answered softly, noticing the way the moonlight outlined her delicate legs. She wore only a t-shirt, just like the other day, but at least now it was dark. Well, except for the moonlight, and how it shimmered all across her bare skin…her hair.

He sat up, planting his feet on the floor, and she settled beside him on the bed. Suddenly, he remembered his own near-nakedness: he wore only boxers and an old t-shirt. He slipped the flannel sheet across his lap.

“You’re still worried about Kyle,” he stated softly.

“Yes, and…well you know Kyle is like a brother to me,” she hesitated a moment. “I’m just wondering, if you think everything is okay. What your gut instinct is about this.”

He thought a long moment, and considered giving her a variety of answers—the easy kind, meant to assuage her fears. But he decided to opt for the more complicated response.

“Tess, you’re aware that Max and Liz are both very intuitive?” He began, and saw her nod silently in the darkness. “Well, I am too. It’s my primary gift, in fact…and while it’s nothing concrete, I can tell you that I do know Kyle is okay. I think he’ll be here…” He hesitated and pressed harder into his impressions, receiving his answer. “In about an hour.”

“Really?” She asked, looking up at him with wide, relieved eyes.

“Yes,” he nodded firmly. “Really.”

“I just wish I could sleep,” she complained, rubbing her eyes. “ And I’m sorry I woke you.”

“You didn’t, actually,” he laughed softly. “I was…too alert after tonight.”

“It was bad, wasn’t it?” she asked somberly, and he only nodded in silent reply. She didn’t need to know just how tense things had gotten

“Max told us the back window was shot out, and that you saved them.”

Apparently, she already knew. “Well, it was a group effort.”

“Thank you. For taking care of them.” She touched him lightly on the arm, and he felt an answering shimmer of fire right beneath her fingertips.

“I could never do any less.”

“No, I don’t suppose so,” she smiled softly. He could see it, even in the half-light of his room. He was glad the moon was full tonight, because it allowed him to study her more closely. She rubbed her eyes wearily again, and suddenly he had an idea.

“You know, there’s something I could do to help you sleep,” he offered.


He scooted back on the bed, slipping behind her as he crossed his legs. “Just relax, okay?”

She nodded and he brushed her long hair away from her shoulders, rubbing his thumbs along her graceful neck. He let them travel slowly, and with each touch, he opened himself to her a bit, allowing peace to flow to her. He wasn’t a healer exactly, but this was something he could offer related to his intuition. His eyes drifted shut, and he formed an image of a meadow, long grass waving slowly in a warm summer breeze…something he’d seen years ago with Serena and fixed on as an image of peace. He willed the image, the sensations to blanket Tess, and somehow he sensed her relax beneath his touch. Relax…yet come alive , a strange, heady mixture of emotions, and they were growing with him, as well.

Green grass swaying…golden sunlight playing on the field…peace…comfort.

She sighed softly, her head bowing beneath his touch.
How was it possible to feel someone setting you on fire, and yet become drowsy and peaceful all at once? Yet that was precisely what Marco’s gentle touch was doing to her body. She was awash with desire for him, it was spiraling crazily, but he was doing something to her she didn’t understand. Something alien, that much was certain. Suddenly, she was so very tired…needed to sleep. Had to. So she decided to lie down, only for a moment, and eased herself onto her side.

“I’m just going to close my eyes a minute, okay?” She said, slurring her words slightly, as she nestled her head into his soft pillow.

“Sure,” he breathed in the darkness, and she felt him settle beside her in the small bed. Her back was to him, and yet she was so aware of his warm body only a few inches behind her. She wished he’d touch her some more, hold her…but the urge to sleep was so overpowering.
Marco exhaled heavily, as he heard Tess’s breathing change, becoming soft and even. He should never have touched her, never should have used his intuition to ease her burdens. It had wiped her out completely, and now he was stuck in an agonizing—and potentially compromising—situation. She was asleep in his bed, and all he had on were his boxers and a t-shirt. And the evidence of how she’d just affected him was pressing urgently against his soft cotton underwear. If she were to move any closer, she’d feel just how strongly she’d aroused him. Carefully, he snaked his hips a bit further back from her, and sighed as he collapsed heavily against his pillow.

This was sheer agony, lying beside Tess in his bed like this, her bare legs nearly grazing against his. Her thick, luminous hair spilled across his pillow, tickling his nose, and her scent was unbelievable. He’d barely caught it the other day in her room, but now it danced across all his senses, awakening something in him.

His reaction to her was insane, but she seemed to perpetually reduce him to this—like the other day, when before he could recall the words, he’d told her that she’d looked gorgeous in her skimpy t-shirt. He’d regretted saying it immediately--and yet honestly he hadn’t, because it was how he’d felt. The problem, though, was that he knew he couldn’t act on this growing attraction, that he was behaving completely inappropriately as a protector.

It wasn’t that they weren’t allowed involvements—though the only ones in their unit who were mated were Anna and Riley—but rather that it was discouraged, silently frowned upon, because the heart had a way of encumbering fast decisions. That’s what made this attraction to Tess so potentially lethal. He literally couldn’t become involved with someone so close to Max and Liz, because it might ultimately jeopardize their lives if he were distracted at a crucial moment.

No, this couldn’t go anywhere at all, he thought with a weary sigh, as he stared at Tess’s lovely hair. It spilled all across his pillow like spun gold, and he wanted to touch it badly, just to know what it would feel like beneath his fingertips. Marco deliberated for a long moment, then very gingerly took a silken lock within his hand. He closed his eyes, just feeling it within his hand, wishing this attraction could actually lead some place. He drew the lock to his lips, kissing the end softly, breathing in the fresh scent. Suddenly, Tess stirred a bit, and rolled to face him in her sleep—and now she was only a breath away from him. Her lips were close enough to kiss, and her thigh was dangerously near his firmness.

He closed his eyes because he could hardly breathe, and yet he was panting heavily at the same time. He’d never been this close to any woman—not like this, in his bed, wearing only his boxers. Sure, he’d kissed a few girls when he was younger, but he’d never let anyone very close for fear of exposure, the threat of their knowing he wasn’t human. He’d certainly never invited any of them into his bed.

Marco exhaled heavily, his eyes fluttering open, and found Tess staring at him. His heart beat even more quickly, because the way she was looking at him left him feeling horridly exposed. Found out . And yet she just kept staring at him, wordlessly in the darkness, the only sound their breathing. Moonlight played across her features, and Marco swore he saw desire dancing in her blue eyes. A throaty sigh escaped her lips as she licked them slowly--and that one gesture was his undoing.

He leaned slowly closer to her, kissing her very tentatively…waiting for her to shove him away. Instead, her lips parted softly, and she returned the kiss with surprising passion. Her tiny hands pulled him closer, welcoming him into her arms. So, he deepened the kiss, and their tongues began to slowly entwine. It was the sweetest taste he’d ever known, and he closed his eyes, savoring it. He slipped his hands around her small waist, drawing her closer up against him, as he took her mouth more hungrily. Their tongues began an erotic dance, flicking together wildly, and in response his whole body grew warmer, as he felt some kind of alien energy building within him.

He’d never kissed an alien before, only humans…and this was decidedly different.

Tess was different, and she affected him unbelievably.

He had to stop. Had to …but instead, he deepened the kiss, brushing his fingers through her hair, pulling her more tightly against him. She pressed her small hips up against his, and he moaned softly at the intimate contact. She had to feel his arousal—and his cheeks flushed deeply at the knowledge.
Tess could hardly breathe. In fact, she might have stopped breathing altogether the moment he’d first kissed her. She’d been so surprised at how gentle and soft his lips had been against hers, that it had literally brought tears to her eyes. How was it possible that someone like Marco—who’d been firing out of the back window of the Suburban just hours ago—could now kiss her so shyly? And the kiss was so beautiful because of its tentativeness. She could feel how aroused he was, and yet…this strong man was so very gentle with her.

She slipped her hands around his neck, pulling him closer, wanting so much more of him. His lips were soft and warm as they parted, his tongue tenderly exploring her mouth. She pressed her hips up against him in response, and he slipped his hands lower on her waist, drawing her even closer. She felt him pressing hard against her thigh, and she shivered at the intimate contact.

She knew already that she could fall in love with Marco. Deeply. Felt her heart plummeting hard…just from this first kiss. From the way he slipped his large hands beneath her shirt, splaying his palms against her ribs, pulling her closer. She felt so small in his arms, so delicate.

He made her feel beautiful. He stroked her back with his fingers, and she couldn’t suppress a soft moan, but was instantly sorry when his hands stilled against her skin. He broke the kiss, gasping a bit. “I’m sorry,” he murmured, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. “I’m really sorry, Tess.”

“I’m not,” she whispered fiercely, because she wasn’t. Not even remotely.

“This can’t happen…between us,” he explained quietly through uneven breaths, and their eyes met in the darkness. They stared silently at one another for what felt an eternity and Tess could only swallow hard. Such sadness shadowed his features now, as he frowned, drawing his dark eyebrows together.
“I wish that it could, but it can’t,” he continued, shaking his head.

Finally she found her voice, unsteady as it was. “Why not?”

He stroked her hair out of her eyes, and was thoughtful for a moment. “Because it’s too dangerous…for all of you. I have to stay focused…I can’t get involved with anyone, especially not you.”

“Oh,” she answered dully, as his hands slipped from around her. Her body instantly cooled from the fever he’d ignited within her so easily.

“But it’s not that I don’t want this,” he whispered throatily. “You.”

She nodded, avoiding his eyes, though she knew he was staring at her—wanted her to meet his gaze. Finally, after a long moment, she looked up at him, and couldn’t miss how melancholy his dark eyes had become. She traced her finger along his lower lip, and thought how full and beautiful his mouth was.

“Just hold me then,” she whispered, more quietly than she’d intended. “Tonight.” She hadn’t even really meant to utter the words, but they’d formed in her mind, and then somehow she’d spoken them aloud.

Silently, he drew her into his arms, pulling her right up against his chest, and she could feel his quickly beating heart. She closed her eyes and savored this stolen pleasure, because she knew he was right…understood. An involvement between the two of them would be too distracting, and with Max and Liz in such danger right now, she didn’t want that either. She loved them both too much to put them in needless jeopardy.

She sighed heavily, knowing this would be their only moment like this. And because of that, there was something she wanted—no needed -- to say.

“Marco,” she began hesitantly. “You know the other day…what you said in my dorm room?”

“Yes,” he answered huskily.

“There’s something I want to say…about that.”

He nodded silently, and she felt his soft hair brush her cheek.

“I think…you’re really beautiful.”

Her words were met with silence, and for a moment, she wished she could retrieve them, pull them from the air where they hung suspended. But then she felt his heart race against her, knew the effect they’d had on him.

“Not like you,” he murmured against the top of her head. “Nothing like you.”

Then they lay just like that, holding one another silently, and she wished this night would never end.

Unbelievably, a night that had cost them all so
much, had just become something lovely that she’d treasure for the rest of her life.
Serena opened Marco’s door quietly, pleased to report that Cecilia had arrived with Kyle just moments before. Apparently, Tess’s assessment had been correct: he’d been on a date with his girlfriend, and had forgotten to turn on his cell phone.

She stepped softly across the moon-lit floor, and stopped in her tracks when she was met by an unbelievable sight. Marco held Tess tightly within his arms, protectively against him. They lay sleeping, completely entwined, his arm thrust around her, her face nestled firmly against his chest.

And she could only stare in amazement.

How was it possible that they’d already found one another this quickly--especially since she knew neither of them remembered their previous lives.

Yet here they were, drawn together by memories they didn’t even recall, by something they couldn’t possibly understand yet.


Serena turned softly, closing Marco’s door behind her.

posted on 12-Nov-2001 4:20:40 PM
I know, I working on it!! I'm going to try to get it all caught up within the next few days. I WANT everyone up to speed, LOL! The problem is that in formatting this stuff, the spaces don't show up, so have to go through and correct spacing as I post each part. UGH.

More to follow...d
posted on 12-Nov-2001 4:31:48 PM

Max, Liz, Tess, Michael and Isabel sat in the living room, where they’d gathered for a small morning meeting between just Serena and themselves. Max had asked that this first meeting be more intimate, because he knew it would be a particularly emotional moment for them all—especially when they learned what Serena had shared on their journey last night. Max figured that fewer people might keep things from becoming too explosive. He glanced at Michael, who sat tensely on the hearth, his eyes narrowed, and Max felt a wave of apprehension about his reaction in particular.

Serena settled softly on the sofa beside Liz, and Isabel sat on the hearth near Michael. Tess sat cross-legged on the floor near the fire, and they all waited anxiously for Serena to begin.

“I know all of you have many questions,” Serena began, her eyes sweeping among them. Max noticed something flare in her eyes, a little flash of raw energy. She frowned down into her coffee cup for a moment, hesitating, and then continued.

“I was in the crash,” she confessed, glancing at Max meaningfully. “And for the most part, have been watching you ever since that time.”

“What?” Michael demanded incredulously, rising a bit from where he sat. His voice was instantly hostile, and Max knew an explosion was imminent if Serena’s answer didn’t placate him.

“I lost you for a time, when you came out of the pods,” Serena explained. “Because it happened a bit earlier than expected, but ultimately it may well have saved you…have been to your advantage.”

“How is that possible?” Michael questioned, his voice strained. “How could that have remotely been to our advantage?”

“Because it protected you from Nasedo. He…didn’t support the way things were going,” she hesitated a moment, drawing in a deep breath.

“It all began with the crash…with Liz,” she continued quietly. “Her pod was terribly damaged…beyond repair, in fact…and a decision was required. We opted to remove her from her pod, and co-incubate her with Tess.”

“Wait,” Liz gasped softly. “What do you mean co-incubate ?”

Max felt her stiffen beside him, and he reached quickly for her hand. Probably the one question that had plagued Liz most all these years had been her missing pod—the scientist within her had always tried to assess the jumbled pieces of who she really was.

“We placed you with Tess inside her pod, and used some of your own pod material to reinforce it.”

Max watched as Tess and Liz stared at one another, their eyes locking for a long, unbelievable moment. Tess’s mouth fell open in shock, and Max saw countless emotions pass across her features. “But that means…we…we…were like sisters,” she stammered in disbelief.

“I suppose so, yes,” Serena agreed with a quick nod.
nd Max immediately guessed the thought had entered Tess’s mind—how terribly she’d once treated Liz, because even though the two of them were close friends now, there had always been that silent specter over their relationship. Tess had even mentioned it to him once, had admitted that she feared Liz could never truly forget.

“I mean, how long were we in there together?” Tess asked softly.

“About thirty-five years.” Serena tossed her hair over her shoulder, punctuating her statement. All her gestures were clipped like that, and it reminded Max a bit of Nasedo.

“Thirty-five years?” Liz cried in disbelief, and Max felt her tiny hand tighten around his like a vice. “But…that’s so long.”

“But not as long as the rest of us,” Tess finished, chewing on her lip thoughtfully.

“No, Liz came out early because,” Serena hesitated, casting her eyes around the room. For some reason Max felt that her next words were going to impact all of them heavily. “Well, frankly, Liz wasn’t thriving. In 1983 everyone else was growing, maturing…but not Liz.”

Max’s blood ran cold at what Serena was implying—what she wasn’t saying--that they’d removed Liz because she’d been slowly dying.

“And it was putting a strain on Tess, too, so I knew it was time, even though Liz wasn’t fully incubated.”

“Wait, now when you say I wasn’t ‘fully incubated’…you mean what?” Liz asked, her voice low and full of raw emotion. Max knew she had to be overwhelmed—was learning so much about who she was in this one surreal moment.

“The incubation wasn’t just for physical maturation. It also allowed the alien side to develop…was necessary to bring the alien and human natures into full harmony. Your alien side wasn’t fully formed yet, and Nasedo didn’t believe that the Antarian queen should be so human.”

Max felt anger churn within him at her words. At her implication .

“You were just a baby, but the others were growing…bigger. So I removed you against his wishes,” she explained softly. “I was the unit leader, but he was defying me at every turn. And at that point,” Serena shook her head somberly. “Well, we parted ways because I finally realized he’d never been the same after his capture.”

Max’s throat tightened dryly, as he thought of all the Special Unit had done to him during his brief captivity. If Nasedo had endured that treatment for long, then it had undoubtedly changed him profoundly.

Serena rose from her chair, walking to the other side of the room, and it struck Max that she needed to distance herself emotionally at this moment. She fingered a row of books that lined a tall shelf, and then turned toward them again.

“I realized then that something had died within Nasedo, and I had to protect you from him, Liz,” Serena stated evenly, pulling a volume out of the bookshelf absently. “So I quietly asked around Roswell, and found out about your parents. That they’d been trying to adopt for several years.”

“You knew my parents?” Liz cried incredulously.

Serena gazed at Liz for a long moment, her eyes growing very melancholy. He wondered what was passing through her mind—she was so enigmatic and difficult to read, yet it was obvious that this part of their conversation was costing her a great deal emotionally. “Not exactly, but it wasn’t difficult to learn about them after some discreet checking,” she answered softly. “I kept you for about three months, then took you to them.”

Serena had taken care of Liz as a baby, not just in the pods like the rest of them-- she’d actually served as her surrogate mother for a short period of time. Comprehension dawned slowly within him, as he realized that it had killed Serena to give Liz up, but she’d done it to protect her.

Michael sprang suddenly to his feet, walking toward Serena, his entire posture confrontational.

“So, this still doesn’t explain why you never came to us,” he insisted. “Never helped us all these years.”

“But it does, actually,” Serena answered heavily, her eyes becoming dark as she looked up at Michael. “Nasedo wanted Liz out of the way…and Tess as the queen. But beyond that, I learned that he planned to take you back to Antar…that he’d struck a deal with Khivar. I vowed to protect you from him at all costs.” She whispered fiercely, and her eyes grew suddenly shadowed, as if she were revisiting some moment within her mind.

“I watched over the pods and waited, always on guard against him. I should have just killed him, but…” She shook her head, frowning. “It went against all of our oaths as protectors, and I couldn’t make myself do it. But I should have,” Serena confessed quietly, and looked up at Michael again. “When you came out of the pods early, neither of us knew…expected it, and it worked incredibly to my favor. Because even if I didn’t know where you were--he didn’t either. And when I found you all again a year later, I knew I had to stay away or I’d lead him right to you.”

“But aren’t you a shape-shifter?” Max asked, his mind trying to make sense of all she’d just told them.

“Yes, I am, but Nasedo could have easily still known me.”

“How?” Max asked.

“Scent. Intuition. Energy impressions,” she explained evenly. “Countless ways, and the risk was just too great.”

The group fell silent a moment, and Max noticed that Isabel’s eyes were shimmering with unshed tears, as she stared down at the floor.

“What about me?” Tess asked. “How did I wind up with Nasedo?”

“Because you came out a bit later. The co-incubation with Liz had placed a strain on your pod, and when you came out, Nasedo was waiting.”

“Where were you?” Tess asked.

“Away,” she answered simply, her voice melancholy again. “I had no idea when you’d come out, Tess. I took a risk and left you in the pod. I was worried that co-incubating with Liz had caused you problems, and wanted you to reach maturity.”

Serena walked back toward them all, leaving Michael where he stood scowling by the bookshelf. She sat across from Tess, and rubbed a hand across her eyes tiredly. “I was wrong to leave you, and for that I’ll never forgive myself.”

Tess grimaced slightly at her words, her blonde brows drawing together painfully. He wondered what she was thinking at that moment. Serena’s decision had cost her years of separation from the rest of them—had enabled Nasedo to lie to her about her destiny. One decision had yielded so many painful results for all of them.

“So it all worked out very badly, as you can see. Nasedo had Tess, but I had Liz…knew her location, and I had to keep him away from the three of you,” Serena finished, her eyes slowly passing between Michael, Isabel and Max.

“And that’s why you left us alone for all those years?” Isabel asked, her voice thick with emotion.

“Like I told Max last night, I was never far away, always watching from a distance. But I couldn’t risk actual contact…couldn’t risk exposing you.”

Liz shifted beside him, and he saw that her hands were shaking slightly, as she balled them into tiny fists against her sides. He studied her features, wondering how she was responding to all of this.

“Nasedo wanted me dead, didn’t he?” She asked finally, her voice strained and unsteady. “That’s what your saying?”

Serena’s eyes narrowed, and Max noticed the same flash of alien fire he’d glimpsed earlier. “Yes, Liz.”

Max’s heart began pounding crazily, as an idea began to take shape within his mind. As he watched Liz’s hands trembling, felt her entire body shaking softly, the newly forming thought became less hazy, more clear.

“That’s why Liz was shot, wasn’t it?” He demanded, his voice raw.

“Nasedo found her,” Serena answered with a soft nod. “And in the process, ultimately found all of you.”

The words hung in the air, echoing through the emotional space of the room, and no one spoke at all.

Max closed his eyes, as blinding pain suddenly pierced through him. All these years, he’d believed that Liz’s shooting had been only a random event—not related in any way to himself. He felt the air choking from his lungs, because this was what he always battled—the realization that who he was always seemed to cause her so much pain. That loving him naturally seemed to cost her so much.

Because it wasn’t just that Liz had been too human in Nasedo’s estimation—it was that the queen wasn’t alien enough. That Max’s wife was too human.

But Liz didn’t need his self-recriminations at this moment. She needed his strength, and he willed the thoughts out of his mind, opening his eyes.

“Now that we know all of this, what happens from here?” Max asked. “There’s so much we must learn…about the resistance, about who we are.”

“Max, we’ll spend a lot of time, just teaching all of you. There’s much you in particular must learn in order to head this revolution.”

Max nodded in silent acquiescence, as Serena continued. “You’ve been our leader in theory for a long time. But soon…very soon… you will become our leader in fact.”

She stared at him intently, her gaze piercing—almost as if she were plumbing the depths of him in that moment. He wondered if she possibly knew how her words electrified him. Because for perhaps the first time Max could recall, he genuinely yearned to be their leader… their king.


Marco descended the path’s steep incline, nearing the half-way point of his almost four mile hike. Sunlight glinted off patches of snow along the rocky path, as it turned, marking the way toward the lowest part of the trail.

It was a briskly cold morning, and he thrust his hands deep in the pockets of his black parka to warm them. He was slightly winded now, and drew in tight breaths, forming small misty clouds with every exhalation.
He’d told Serena he was going to survey the perimeter, even though he knew Cecilia and Riley were taking care of morning patrols. Serena had smiled faintly, raising an eyebrow in silent question, but he’d chosen to ignore her gesture, rather than attempt to explain his state of mind this morning. How could he possibly convey all the emotions that had been warring in his heart ever since last night? Yet oddly, he’d felt that Serena had known somehow, just from her expression, as he’d opened the creaky wooden door to the porch.

He’d felt panicked after his brief encounter with her, because a lifetime with Serena had taught him one thing--she always seemed to know his heart, no matter how hard he tried to guard it from her.

She’d invited him to join the group meeting with Max and the others, but somehow he’d felt they needed that time alone with her—especially after Max’s reaction in the car last night. It was going to be tough for all of them, especially Serena. Besides, his stomach had tightened nervously at the thought of seeing Tess again so soon. He hoped he could successfully avoid her for most of the day, while he tried to bring his heart back in line--and right now it felt anything but steady.

He could only focus on the explosive kisses they’d shared last night. That, and how empty his bed had felt when he’d woken this morning without her. Well, except for her overpowering scent and the way it permeated his sheets and pillow. It was fresh, like wildflowers touched by sun, and it had lingered in his room, a specter of the love he’d almost been allowed.

But then, of course, he’d known the unspoken rules at nineteen when he’d taken his oaths in front of the council. Serena had turned to him, just prior to their entering the abandoned warehouse where they’d convened, and told him she’d understand if he had second thoughts…that she of all people knew just what his life would entail. He’d shaken his head firmly, because he’d never doubted his calling, his purpose in being sent to earth.

And they’d branded him forever that day, marked him deeply, and there’d been no turning back after that. He’d recalled his vows last night, as Tess had fallen asleep in his arms, as he’d listened to her soft breathing in the darkness. Even as he’d been aroused so strongly by her physical proximity, he’d reminded himself that he was now the property of others, had sworn it so six years before. And that meant there was no room for love, or encumbrances of the heart.

Oh, but how she’d stirred unfamiliar emotions within him last night, and so quickly . In fact, he still hadn’t recovered his equilibrium, which was why he’d set off on a hike this morning. He needed to clear his mind, and the fresh mountain air always helped him think more coherently, always gave him solace when he needed it. Being back on this mountain that he loved so dearly was almost like coming home.

He neared the end of the path and saw Cecilia at the foot of the trail, her strawberry blonde curls peeking wildly out of a knit cap. She was gazing through a pair of binoculars, out toward the road, and Marco wondered why Riley wasn’t with her. He worried that his absence might signify trouble.

“Cecilia?” He questioned softly, and yet she still jumped.

“Shit, Marco,” she hissed, dropping the binoculars quickly. “You scared the hell out of me.”

“Sorry,” he answered softly, glancing all around them. “Where’s Riley?”

“Good question,” she answered, rubbing her eyes. “I haven’t seen him in almost thirty minutes. I was just about to radio you.”

Marco’s throat tightened, as he shifted uneasily on his feet. “Why didn’t you call before now?”

“Marco, he’s okay,” she reassured him, wrinkling her lightly freckled nose. “I mean he’s not really okay…he’s losing it. Plain and simple.”

“Explain what you mean,” Marco demanded forcefully, his voice thick.

“It’s Anna…she won’t connect with him, hasn’t since last night,” Cecilia explained, shaking her head in disbelief. “And he’s crazy, Marco, absolutely out of his mind with worry.”

“Has he told Serena?” Marco asked in a voice that was much quieter than he felt at the moment.

“She knows…but there’s nothing that we can do until Anna opens the connection with him. But I don’t think Serena has any idea how upset he really is, because his mental state has deteriorated a lot since she saw him four hours ago.”

“You radio him yet?”

“Repeatedly, but no answer.”

Marco glanced quickly around the woods, inhaling deeply as he tried to catch Riley’s scent. There was only a residual imprint, nothing fresh, and so he closed his eyes and reached within his mind, determined to sense Riley’s location. He would never go AWOL on his patrol duties, so Marco had to agree with Cecilia’s assessment—he was obviously in extreme distress.

Suddenly, a hazy image began to form in Marco’s mind, and he saw Riley sitting by the stream about a quarter of a mile away. His face was buried in his hands, and he was sobbing quietly. Marco shivered as the impression gained clarity because he hadn’t seen Riley cry in a good twenty years, not since they’d been small children, so this could only mean one thing.

Anna was in serious trouble. Or worse.
Liz sat on the front porch of the cabin, Max’s leather jacket wrapped tightly around her, as she glided slowly in a large wooden swing. Even though it was bitingly cold this morning, she’d wanted the fresh air in the wake of all Serena had just shared. The brisk wind couldn’t make her feel any more numb than she already did emotionally--in fact, the weather reflected her mood perfectly.

Everything she’d ever known about herself had just been redefined—yet again. And even though she should probably be more upset that Nasedo had been behind her shooting—an event that had haunted her for years now—the one thing dominating her emotional landscape right now was Serena. And her parents-- the fact that they’d never told her the truth about her adoption. Somehow these latest revelations had unearthed all the pain about their deception.

The worst part was that she’d never figured out a way to ask them about it—because she would have had to come up with a plausible explanation for how she’d learned the truth. So she’d kept all her hurt and feelings of loss bottled inside, her only outlet being her conversations with Max over the years. And even though his own experience did largely mirror her own, at least he’d always known he was adopted…what he was.

Now, all the familiar feelings had been drawn up afresh, just like when she’d first learned that the Parkers weren’t her birth parents. Only this time, it felt even worse because there’d been the explanation about her ever-missing pod, just one final reminder that she was even more marooned than the others…different. Too human in the estimation of some, yet still alien.

Liz heard the front door open, and watched Serena step onto the porch. She glanced at Liz tentatively, then moved toward her.

“Mind if I join you a minute?” She asked quietly.

Liz shook her head, and moved over on the porch swing, pulling Max’s jacket around her more tightly. Serena settled beside her, folding her hands neatly in her lap. She stared straight ahead, out into the woods in front of them, her posture formal and un-relaxed, almost as if she were a soldier at attention.

“Liz, I hope that what I shared didn’t upset you,” she began, her voice slightly strained.

“Well, yeah, it kinda did, actually,” Liz replied, pushing a stray lock of hair behind her ear. She watched Serena’s reaction, noticed her blink rapidly for a moment. Then Serena turned toward her, relaxing a bit, and Liz found her gaze deeply unsettling. It was the closest she’d been to her yet, and her eyes simply weren’t human. They looked human, but they flashed with a fire that caused Liz’s breath to catch for a moment.

“Liz, I’m sorry…sorry that,” Serena looked away again with a quick snap of her head. “You had to learn any of that.”

“I’m not,” Liz offered softly. “Not at all. I always want to know the truth.”

Serena glanced sideways at her through narrowed eyes. “Well, then there’s something else you must know. One final thing.”

Liz’s heart began beating rapidly, and her palms grew clammy. What could Serena have possibly saved to share with her privately?

“What?” Liz forced out, her throat constricting tightly.

Serena sighed heavily, and began toying with her ponytail, wrapping the end around her finger absently. Finally, she turned in the swing to face Liz, her mouth a tight line. Liz knew whatever she was about to share came with great difficulty.

“Liz, I just want you to know, that giving you up as a baby was one of the most difficult decisions I ever had to make.” Serena paused a moment, staring down at her hands. “You probably don’t know this, but I raised Marco and basically Riley, too. Marco was two at the time and Riley seven…and I didn’t think it would be fair to you...and I was also afraid of putting you in danger with Nasedo.”

“Wait,” Liz interrupted. “I’m confused…aren’t Marco and Riley hybrids?”

“Yes, but the technology was different, more advanced…the incubation period much shorter. Theirs took place on the ships that brought them here.”

“Other ships have come?” Liz asked, raising her eyebrows in surprise.

“Only twice. One brought Cecilia, Riley and Devon, and another brought Ari, Anna and Marco. Ari and Devon are Antarian like me, shapeshifters. They raised Anna and Cecilia, sometimes Riley. I kept Marco… and Riley when they didn’t have him.”

“That’s your unit, then?” Liz asked, suddenly very curious about the way they all formed together.

“Yes, our unit of seven protectors. Three of us are shape shifters, four are hybrids.”

“I don’t get it. Why bother with hybridization? Why not just send Antarians?”

“The answer is complex, Liz, and probably best saved for another day. But let’s just say it relates to why we chose earth in the first place. Your humanity is very important to us all.”

“Oh…” Liz answered softly, her mind buzzing with all the new information. She focused her thoughts on her more immediate questions. “So you took me to my parents then?”

“Yes,” Serena whispered hoarsely. “Because its what I thought was best for you. I also felt it would nurture your human side appropriately.”

“Because I was more human than the others,” Liz finished.

Serena nodded silently, her gaze becoming distant, remote. Liz had the sense she was remembering something long ago.

“I had a son on Antar, Liz…he was killed in the conflict there.” Serena rocked slowly in the swing, still staring off into a distant spot in the woods.

“I’m sorry,” Liz answered softly.

“Well, the reason I mention it is because I wanted you to know that something about having you as a baby was very healing for me...I always wanted a daughter.”

Serena looked deeply into her eyes now, and the strange alien radiance simmered a bit in her gaze.

“Thank you,” Liz responded quietly. “For telling me all of this…it helps a lot. Because you know, it’s weird to realize I don’t have any natural parents, that I was just completely engineered. That’s always been so very weird to me.”

Serena shook her head vigorously. “You do have parents, Liz. On Antar…I knew them.”

Liz spun to face her, grabbing her arm forcefully. “What?”

“I believe they are both still living. They were dignitaries…in fact, that’s how you and Zan met. You knew each other from childhood and were always…well, quite attached. From the earliest age.”

Liz stared at Serena dumbfounded, slowly releasing her arm. It was still so unbelievable that she remembered them as Zan and Zillia. She closed her eyes a moment, letting this latest revelation hit her fully.

“You were very loved by your parents, and you shouldn’t feel that you’re an orphan. Not only did they love you…I loved you as a baby here, Liz,” Serena continued, shaking her head softly. “And if you only knew how happy the Parkers were to adopt you. If you only knew , you’d realize how very much they love you.”

“I know they do,” she answered softly. “I just wish they’d told me the truth…prepared me somehow for all this shock.”

“They had no idea who you were, Liz. None.”

“I mean…if I’d at least just known I was adopted, that would have been one less thing to deal with.”

Serena nodded silently, and the two of them rocked back and forth on the swing thoughtfully. Liz heard a bird call out loudly, its cry echoing across the mountainside, as she watched it fly away. The air was so fresh and still, and she suddenly thought that she might really love staying here in the cabin. Serena stirred a bit beside her, clearing her throat.

“I named you Elizabeth,” she offered, her raspy voice incredibly quiet.

Liz smiled, because there was something really touching about how Serena had shared that fact. As if she were a bit shy about it. “Really?”

“I chose it because it was a queen’s name here on earth…and because it sounded a bit like Zillia.”

“That’s really amazing,” Liz replied with a shiver, and hugged her arms tightly around herself. She’d never really thought about the connection between the two names until just now—and she couldn’t believe it had never struck her before.

“Is your name really Serena?” She asked, suddenly curious.

“No, but close.” Serena shook her head. “Surinah…so I changed it to Serena.”

“Surinah,” Liz tried the name out, and loved how it rolled right off her tongue. “That’s beautiful.”

“Thank you,” Serena replied, then stood abruptly with a quick toss of her blonde ponytail. Clearly, this moment of intimacy was over—just as suddenly as it had begun. “Well, there are some things I must do now,” she explained, her voice distant and measured. But then she smiled at Liz, so warmly, and it said much more than her words could have.
Marco found Riley sitting right where he’d seen him in the vision—on a large rock beside the creek. Only he wasn’t sobbing anymore now, just staring vacantly ahead, and it scared Marco. Riley was always so full of life, and the dull expression on his face was completely foreign.

“Riley,” Marco called, but he didn’t even seem to hear him. He only sat staring silently, as Marco quickly approached him. Marco squatted beside the boulder, so that he was eye-level with him, and he clasped his arm firmly.

“Riley, talk to me. What’s happened?”

Riley shook his head silently, his tear-swollen eyes narrowing slightly.

“You’ve got to talk to me,” Marco insisted, his voice almost a growl. “Is Anna okay?”

Riley turned slowly toward him, and Marco was surprised by how pale he looked—and his eyes were terribly bloodshot. Marco rubbed his arm lightly beneath his hand, willing comfort into him. Riley stared at him for a long moment, and he wondered if he’d ever speak.

“Do you know how long it’s been since I’ve seen Anna?” He finally asked, in a strangely detached voice.

Marco shook his head. “Not exactly, no.”

“Six years, three months and eight days,” Riley answered, turning back away from him. “I’ve kept track. Because that’s how long it’s been since I’ve held her…touched her…kissed her.” His voice was angry now, like a slowly simmering boil.

“Rile, have you heard from her at all?” Marco pressed, because this was starting to frighten him. Riley’s state-of-mind was so thoroughly uncharacteristic, that he couldn’t help wondering if Anna was dead, even though he shuddered at the thought of it.

“No,” he answered dully.

“You’ve tried connecting?”

“Until it’s made me insane…she’s not okay, Marco. It’s that simple. She’d have connected by now,” he shook his head slowly. “I think they’ve hurt her badly. She wouldn’t have done this to me…couldn’t have. Because in all these six fucking years the one thing we’ve always had is our connection. Something is really wrong.”

Tears began pooling in Riley’s eyes again, and Marco rubbed his arm lightly. “We don’t know that, Riley. Not yet.”

“No, I do,” he answered in a wavering voice. “And the one thing that kept me going all these years was knowing that at the end of it all, we’d be together.”

“You still will be, Riley. You’ve got to stay positive.”

He nodded silently, wiping away fresh tears with the back of his hand.

“Look, Riley, you need to go to Serena. I’ll take over your patrol. I know there’s not a lot we can do right now, but you need to go to her.”

He nodded again, rising slowly. Marco willed his heart to slow from it’s crazy pace, and determined to be strong for this man who was the closest thing he had to a brother.
11:47 pm.

It was about the tenth time Marco had glanced at the red glowing numbers of his alarm clock in the past few minutes. It had been nearly twelve hours since they’d realized something was wrong with Anna, yet in all that time, they’d learned nothing more. Riley had continued trying to contact her, but kept coming up empty-handed. It had been a long, tense day for all of them, and now it was almost time for Marco to replace Serena on patrols.

They weren’t ordinarily this stringent about keeping an eye on the security perimeter, but in the wake of last night’s attack, Serena had insisted on twenty-four hour surveillance for a while. He’d take her place down by the security gate at 12:30, which meant it was almost time for him to dress.

And then he’d be up until after 4:00 a.m., which made him feel incredibly tired just thinking about it. Devon and Ari were watching Khivar’s camp, and everyone hoped they might catch a glimpse of Anna. Marco knew Serena was worried, had seen the tension grow in her features as the day had progressed. Early in the day, she’d been very calm about it—hadn’t really worried yet—but when Riley had gone to her late morning and she’d seen how upset he was, Marco knew it had unsettled her tremendously.

Riley had gone to bed a while ago, trying to rest, and was undoubtedly trying to contact Anna. Marco closed his eyes and forced his mind to settle, praying that Anna was safe. He was listening to Bob Dylan, and he turned the volume up a bit. Tangled Up in Blue …the drifter’s life. No wonder he related.

He relaxed a bit, as he savored the music, and he entered a slightly different plane. His mind and spirit were more open, because he’d relaxed a bit into the music. He was shut out from the world by his headphones…just kind of drifting a bit, but not asleep.

Then suddenly, he felt something very strange begin within his body…like a little hum of energy, that grew into a more insistent buzz. Countless emotions began washing over him in quick succession…restlessness, desire…love. Passion, passion, desire…love.

What the hell was happening? Marco wondered, yanking off his headphones as he sat up in bed. It was familiar, but not like last night with Tess. Now this gyrating rhythm of sensations was beginning to overwhelm him, and he felt his hands trembling softly as he sat in the darkness.

As Marco drew in desperate breaths, trying to soothe the myriad physical sensations he was experiencing, he suddenly realized exactly what this was.

Why it was so hauntingly familiar and intense.
Max and Liz were connected, right within this cabin, and he had inadvertently stumbled into their bond again…into their very midst without so much as trying. Without being very near them at all.

And it had just taken his breath away.

He pressed his eyes shut and prayed with all his heart that it would never happen again, because it had been decidedly different this time—more frightening and alluring all at once.

And in the wake of it, he’d been left with one very clear impression--he wanted what they had far too much.

posted on 12-Nov-2001 11:02:50 PM
Author's Note: I keep trying to plug away at this, posting two or three chapters at a time! I'll put more up tomorrow, but for now, will add more.

Tess rolled over restlessly in bed, drifting just along the border of sleep, but not quite entering that netherworld. Her mind was too energized to truly allow slumber, far too troubled by Anna’s situation.

So she slipped in and out of near-sleep, her mind awash with images of Riley’s swollen eyes, Serena pacing in front of the hearth…and Marco’s anguished dark gaze. The emotions coming from him had been so intense she could nearly feel them from across the living room where they’d gathered tonight. And for the briefest moment, she’d caught him staring at her when he hadn’t thought she was looking. He’d made no effort to disguise the raw need she saw reflected in his black eyes—and she knew that somehow she represented comfort to him. She was sure of it, but then he’d grown immediately guarded, looking away sharply.

The images just kept swimming in her mind, holding sleep at a distance. But she was so damn tired, and despite her restlessness, she did finally drift off a bit.
Her waking images were displaced by hazy dream ones.

Marco staring at her from across the living room…yearning in his eyes. His long lashes lowered to half-mast as he watched her from across the room, such obvious hunger flashing dangerously within his dark gaze. He stepped closer toward her and suddenly it wasn’t the cabin anymore, but now they were at the pod chamber, just outside on the rocky promontory. He was further away though, and Max and Liz stood just beside him…kissing heatedly. A bedroom kiss, not a public one…devouring.

And Marco stood watching, pain etched powerfully across his features. Slowly, he turned toward her where she stood, and extended his hands to her silently. The anguish in his features shifted, becoming something akin to desire, but softer somehow—and he opened his mouth to speak, a strange chant of foreign words spilling forth. He kept repeating something in this unknown language, holding his hands out to her. She began shaking uncontrollably at the sound of his words, so familiar yet just beyond the realm of comprehension. And then the sounds crystallized and she knew their meaning.

Save me, Ayanna…only you. Only you… my love, my life…my Ayanna.

Tess slammed awake, every nerve ending on fire, her dream instantly forgotten. But she did know one thing--Marco was in some kind of terrible trouble.

Marco stood near the security gate, all his senses on alert. He kept inhaling deeply, trying to detect the scent of their enemy, and the frigid night air burned his lungs. It was after 2:00 a.m. now, and he had two more hours of patrolling left. He was thankful there was a full moon in the sky, and it lit the path clearly—taking some of the edge off this middle-of-the night watch.

At least this was better than lying in his bed, wondering why he’d dropped full in the middle of Max and Liz’s connection again—totally unbidden and without any warning whatsoever. Yet it haunted him even here, out on the security perimeter, almost as vividly as if it were still happening. The worst part was that he had no idea how to guard against it in the future—what had precipitated it at all. At least before, he knew they’d been experimenting with their gifts, dancing dangerously toward something foreign to them all.

He ran a shaky hand through his hair, brushing it off of his forehead, as he turned back along the path that tracked beside the main road. He raised his night-vision binoculars to study the terrain, but was alarmed when he heard a soft rustling behind him. He spun on his heel, inhaling quickly, as he raised a hand to throw up his shield. But the scent that quickly filled his senses wasn’t that of the enemy…it was the soft perfume of wildflowers touched by sunlight.

Tess’s gorgeous scent, intoxicating him instantly…and then he saw her standing just above him on the path. The moonlight shimmered over her long blonde hair, which fell loose and wild over her shoulders. Shadows played across her features, and he couldn’t really see her face.

“Tess,” he whispered, his heart pounding frantically. “Why the hell are you out here?” He hadn’t meant to sound so stern, but she had frightened him considerably—and it was terribly unsafe for her to be out like this. In so many ways… and not just because of their enemies.

“I’m sorry,” she responded in a quiet voice, and he couldn’t miss that she sounded a bit hurt. “I was…” Her voice trailed off.

“You were what?” He asked, more gentle now as he stepped toward her. She stared down at the ground for a moment, then turned as if to walk away. He caught her arm, spinning her back toward him. “Tell me,” he prodded softly.

“I was worried about you,” she finished, gazing up into his eyes. He could see her so clearly now, the moon illuminating her water blue eyes perfectly. “It was stupid. I’ll just go.”

She tried to pull out of his grasp, but his hand tightened around her small wrist. “Why?” He questioned in a thick voice, leaning down so he could meet her averted gaze.

“I had a dream,” she shook her head slowly, gazing up at him. “And I just knew you were in some kind of trouble.”

Marco was silent a long moment, and slowly released her from his grasp. How could she have known? How could she possibly have known that he was in definite trouble…that he knew it after tonight’s experience with Max and Liz’s bond.

And he was in even deeper trouble with her. Every direction he turned he was absolutely hemmed in by danger, emotional and otherwise—and somehow, even in her sleep, Tess had known it.

“I’m okay,” he stated simply after a long moment.

“I see that now,” she breathed, and he realized he’d been stepping slowly closer toward her so that only the smallest distance separated them.

“You shouldn’t have come out here,” he chided her quietly, stroking her hair. “It’s far too dangerous.”

“I see that now, too,” she teased huskily.

And her simple words were too much for him—he had no choice but to kiss her now. He cupped her face within his hands, and bent down toward her. God, she was so small…much tinier than he’d even realized in his bed the other night. But finally their lips did meet, as she turned her face up toward him. Her breath was so warm, and her mouth softer than he even remembered. They kissed slowly, their lips just lingering together for a long moment, until they slowly parted, and he felt her tongue dart within his mouth.

Then the most unexpected thing happened…something absolutely exploded between them. All the tantalizing desire they’d been toying with over the past weeks just ripped wide open, and Marco felt energy roil all through his body. In his stomach, his chest, all along his skin. Nothing had prepared him for it, nothing possibly could have.

Her small hands threaded through his hair, as she trailed kisses across his jaw, down onto his neck. He nipped at her ear, kneading her thick hair within his hands, as he worked her backwards against a nearby tree, pinning her there with his body. He already strained so painfully within his jeans, and knew she could feel it. But this time he didn’t care…he wanted her to know just how strongly she affected him. He was dizzy with it, desperate as the heat just kept cresting within his body.

She touched him below his parka, rubbing her hands across his chest, and he slipped his fingers beneath her sweater, right up against her warm, smooth skin. He was about to explore her fully, when he heard the sound of a car on the highway. Instantly, he stopped, turning from her as he grabbed his binoculars.
He stood watching the eerie glow of the fading headlights, and guilt engulfed him--terrible, agonizing self-blame because this little indiscretion might easily have cost them all their lives. He’d just compromised a security patrol because he’d been unable to control himself with Tess. He stood, his back toward her, drawing in uneven, burning breaths. Slowly, he turned to face her, and knew exactly what he had to say.

He stepped back toward her quickly, where she stood with her back still against the tree, panting raggedly. The way they affected one another was unbelievable…insane.

“Tess,” he began quietly. “This cannot happen.” His voice was firm, his words final. “This can only lead to danger for all of us, don’t you see?”

She nodded silently, and he swore tears pooled within her large eyes. He didn’t want to hurt her. God, it was the last thing he wanted.

“I’ll just go,” she replied shakily, yet she didn’t move, just kept staring up at him.

“Look at what’s happened with Riley and Anna,” he pointed out unsteadily. “You see what bonding brought them, don’t you?”

“I see that they obviously love one another very deeply.”

“And it may have cost Anna her life in the process. She would never have been in Khivar’s camp if they weren’t mated.”

“She would never have saved Max and Liz’s life if she hadn’t been there. Their bond was invaluable to the resistance.”

And he absolutely couldn’t argue with her, because it was true--their very joining had saved their leader’s life last night. So, how could he stand here and argue that a union between the two of them could only mean harm for Max and Liz? He stared over her shoulder, trying to settle his thoughts. It was different for the two of them because he was the only protector in the group specifically assigned to Max and Liz. He’d already let his guard down dangerously moments before—what was to prevent it from happening again? This went against all the rules, all his vows…everything, and could only hurt them both before all was said and done.

“A bonding between us can only bring heartache in the end,” he explained, his voice incredibly thick with emotion.

Her head jerked upward in obvious surprise, and only then did he even realize what he’d just said.

“Who said anything about bonding?” Tess asked quietly, not mocking him, just genuinely taken aback. “Why can’t this just be something…casual?”

Because nothing with you could ever be casual for me…if I take even one step with you, there’s no turning back. Never.

That was what he wanted to say, but he could only stare at her, his heart hammering like a freight train. He had no idea how to answer her at all, and was grappling with some kind of explanation when his radio crackled, piercing the silence abruptly.

“Marco,” Serena called over his mobile unit.

He removed it from his jacket, and raised it to his mouth immediately—yet his eyes never wavered from Tess’s.

“Here,” he replied.

“You need to get back right now. Riley’s made contact with Anna.”

“Is she okay?” He questioned tightly, watching Tess’s eyes widen.

“I think so, but just get up here now,” she commanded firmly, and then the radio fell silent again.

They stood staring at one another—both wanting to say so much—yet the moment had passed, and now something much more important beckoned them. He reached for Tess’s hand and began leading her quickly up the path. “Come on,” he urged, clasping her small hand within his own.

Marco knew they’d just been saved from a very painful moment…but he also felt they’d lost something precious in the process. They’d been at a crossroads, where the balance might still have swung either way--but this interruption had changed that irrevocably, because he had no doubt that neither of them would ever let things explode between them again.

So, he treasured the feel of their hands clasped together, and the energy that answered within his body at their physical contact, knowing that he was destined for only one thing…and it wasn’t this beautiful woman hiking alongside him in the moonlight.

Max came suddenly awake when their bedroom door opened, spilling light from the hallway across the wooden floor. He squinted at the bright doorway, as Serena appeared within the frame.

“Max,” she called gently. “Please get up…both of you. We must all come together immediately.”

“What’s going on?” He asked in a groggy voice, though he was already alert as he sat up in bed, feeling Liz stir softly beside him.

“Anna…Riley has made contact with Anna. Please hurry.”

And with that, she stepped back into the hallway, but Max didn’t miss the urgency in her voice. Liz still slept beside him, so tired from all the events of the past few days. He stroked her arm softly, trying to gently rouse her.

“Sweetheart…we’ve got to get up,” he urged, stroking her arm. Her eyes fluttered open, and he saw them widen instantly with fear. She’d had nightmares all last night after their attack.

“What’s wrong?” She cried.

“Everything’s okay. They’ve made contact with Anna, and Serena wants us all together.”

She nodded silently, and he slipped away from her, planting his feet on the shockingly cold floor. He had to suppress a small wave of fear, as he remembered Serena’s urgent tone. He’d never even met Anna Davidson, and yet they all owed her so much—their very lives.

He only hoped that Riley’s connecting with her was a portent of good things.
Marco and Tess entered the cabin, and found the group already gathered in the living room, looking very tense. Only at that moment did it really hit Marco that they were walking in together from the patrol…how very incriminating it would appear.

And that everyone would have been worried about Tess.

Kyle instantly sprang to his feet, visibly relieved. “We were all worried about you. Serena went to wake you, but you were gone.”

Marco’s eyes searched the room nervously, and he hated the way his cheeks had flushed at Kyle’s words. Even worse, he saw that Tess’s fair complexion had stained a deep red, too. She coughed nervously, hugging Kyle. “I’m fine,” she answered quietly.

Marco noticed Liz and Maria share a quick smile where they sat together on the sofa. He groaned inwardly at the sight, because this was the last thing he’d needed—to leave the entire group convinced that he and Tess were involved. Because of course what else would they think now that they’d come bounding in from outside together at two in the morning.

He flinched as he met Serena’s gaze, prepared to see disapproval, but was surprised when she seemed wholly unconcerned about Tess. Her brows were narrowed intently, as she stood by the fireplace.

“Now that everyone’s here,” she began, her eyes sweeping around the room. “I want Riley to fill you all in.”

Riley cleared his throat softly, and stared at the floor. Marco wasn’t sure how to read his expression, but at least he seemed calm. “Anna contacted me about thirty minutes ago. She’s been under sedation since last night. They know everything…that she’s part of our unit. That we have everyone in a safe house…they just don’t know where. That’s why I never told her where we were going, so it wouldn’t be in her mind for them to,” Riley swallowed hard, hesitating. “Well for them to take from her.”

He hadn’t said mind rape…hadn’t been able to—but now the awful pieces were coming together in Marco’s mind. Riley’s very hesitation told him so much more than his words could have. Anna had been brutalized since last night—mentally and physically.

“They’ve…hurt her. Quite badly,” he closed his eyes, staring at the floor. “But she’s alive and says she’ll be okay. The trouble is they’re demanding a meeting with Max.”

Marco drew in a sharp breath, and noticed that Michael’s eyes had flown to his own. He saw alarm in his expression…instant protectiveness, though he remained silent.

“Which obviously can’t happen,” Serena finished.

“No, obviously not,” Riley agreed with a quick nod. He would never put Max in danger—even to save Anna—and something about that seemed important to Marco…relevant to his discussion with Tess earlier. But he didn’t have time to analyze that right now.

“So the question is, how do we get around their demand and who do we send?” Serena wondered aloud, raking her fingers through her long hair.

Max cleared his throat quietly, and Serena glanced at him. “Max, what do you think?” She asked intently.

“I think Michael and Tess should go,” he replied thoughtfully. “And that you should go with them, Serena.”

She nodded vigorously. “I agree completely. Riley, contact Anna and see if you can set something for…” She glanced at her watch. “Six a.m. That should give us enough time. Make sure they know Max will not be coming.”

Riley nodded silently, and stepped away from the group toward the kitchen. He needed privacy to make the connection with Anna, always did since they were separated by such a distance. He had to quiet his thoughts in order to tune into her.

Serena was silent a moment, and sat down on the hearth. Everyone was gathered all around her, listening intently, though no one ventured to speak who didn’t need to. Marco observed the way the humans responded to this moment, how very calm they all seemed. Alex and Isabel sat on the floor together, holding hands, Kyle was beside Tess on the sofa. It amazed Marco how quickly this group could move as a unit—Max had done his job very well in the past years, drawing them into one unified core. And now they could all reap the results of that, because this was a solid team.

“They’re going to demand the Granolith,” Serena offered evenly.

“Of course,” Max agreed, nodding. “That’s what they always want.”

“Yes, but they can’t have it, Max. Never.”

“That’s always been my instinct,” he agreed quietly. “Though we’ve never known it’s purpose.”

“It’s a transport device, and the minute it falls into their hands, the tide of this rebellion shifts forever to their side. They can come and go freely with weapons, resources…it’s all over once that happens.”

“Then you’ll bluff. Tess can buy time with her mindwarp, while you and Michael go to Anna…Riley needs to learn her exact location.”

“Yes,” Serena agreed solemnly.

Riley entered the living room again, his eyes sweeping quickly over all their faces. “It’s on. Nicholas has agreed to a meeting with the three of you instead of Max.”

Marco drew in a tight breath, as his eyes searched out Tess’s. For the briefest moment, their gazes locked powerfully and he knew she was afraid. Afraid yet perfectly strong, ready. He smiled at her very softly, and then looked away again, a sharp knife of regret stabbing at his heart as he remembered the way their conversation had ended before. And now she was walking into imminent danger, with so many words left unspoken between them--then again, they never would be…never could be.

The only problem was now their unfinished conversation seemed to hang in the air permanently, resonating like one giant unanswered question. What if they might have bonded one day? What if Tess could have convinced him that they might be together somehow?

What if Marco McKinley had just let the love of his life go tonight? He could only wonder, as he stepped back into the frigid night, returning to his patrol again.


Serena turned toward Michael, swallowing hard, as they all stared at the enemy encampment—an abandoned warehouse, their main occupation for the past month. They’d pulled the Suburban into the gravel road moments before, just as the sky had reflected the first lovely colors of daybreak, and the fortress had seemed overwhelming--huge, against their small numbers.

Michael had driven them to the warehouse, and now Tess would slip behind the wheel once the two of them were inside. They needed her prepared to drive them out quickly, if things didn’t flow as planned inside.

“You go right for Anna while I meet with Nicholas.” Serena advised, judging Michael’s reaction evenly.

Michael nodded, hesitating a moment, then spoke. “How will you know what’s happening, Serena? I mean, if Tess is using her warp on the whole place?”

“Since I’ll know what she’s doing, I’ll block her. Let’s just hope they don’t have the same idea.”

“Nicholas doesn’t really know what I’m capable of,” Tess reassured her. “At least not the full extent.”

Serena shook her head thoughtfully. “So, I’ll block, which means I should be able to see Michael and Anna leaving…but Nicholas won’t.”

“Exactly,” Tess agreed with a nod. But Serena didn’t miss the tension in her features, and knew she was a bit intimidated and uncertain. Yet she could also tell how fully resolved she was, as her chin tipped up in defiance against their enemies.

“Okay,” Michael agreed, turning toward Tess, where she sat in the backseat. “How long can you hold the mind warp? Realistically?”

Tess chewed her lip thoughtfully for a moment, and Serena thought how very much she admired the way they worked together. How cohesive the entire group was--and knew it had something to do with deep bonds that wove among them all, just as it was within their own unit.

“I’m not sure, Michael. As long as I can, okay?” Tess coughed, clearing her throat, and Serena sensed heavy emotions passing through her. “It depends on what I’m up against. But I’ll do my very best.”

“I know that,” Michael answered softly, touching Tess’s arm lightly.

Her eyes fluttered shut, and Serena watched her gather strength, sensed that something was already escalating within her—and she was glad the rebellion had her unique gift at their disposal now--because none of their own unit had her capabilities. She was special, truly gifted.

Her blue eyes opened again, and something had settled firmly within her. Michael and Tess clasped hands briefly, and Serena was surprised by the tenderness she saw pass between them—then just as quickly, they parted, releasing their brief hold on one another.

“I’ll be right here,” she assured him. “Just go and get it done.”

Michael nodded with a heavy sigh, and Serena couldn’t shake the sense that he was apprehensive about their plan—and for that matter, she was too. But unfortunately Anna’s capture had left them no other alternative.
Serena sat at the meeting table—a piece of plywood atop two steel drums-- surrounded by Nicholas’s armed men. It had been bizarre when she’d entered the room, Michael moving quickly beside her—and yet clearly none of their enemies had seen him. She wondered if she’d even really know when he was ready to leave with Anna…if she really would remain free of the mindwarp.

Nicholas stepped into the small, makeshift meeting room, and stared at her a long moment.

“Well, well, Serena. It’s been a long time,” he assessed, pulling out a chair and straddling it backwards. He slung his arms over the back and studied her carefully.

“A while, yes,” she nodded, narrowing her eyes.

“Oh, too long from what I’m seeing,” he purred, his gaze dropping lower, right to her breasts. She felt instantly vulnerable because Nicholas knew one thing—how to toy with his prey in exactly the right way. She resisted the urge to cross her arms over her chest.

“Cut to the chase, Nicholas,” she commanded forcefully. “You’ve got Anna and you’ve been torturing her. That’s going to end.”

“Fine,” he answered, smirking a bit. “Give me the granolith and you can have her.”

“You know that won’t happen. Offer terms I can meet.”

“The granolith,” he responded coolly. “Or there is no deal, Serena.”

She studied her hands a moment, then looked up again, trying to catch sight of Michael.

“No deal then,” she answered with finality, then decided to try a risky tactic. “Care to continue?” She questioned, raising an eyebrow.

Nicholas stared at her a moment, silently weighing his options. Her bluff was a difficult one, because if Michael wasn’t successful in finding Anna, she wasn’t sure what she might offer Nicholas to get them all out alive. If Nicholas had been angry about Anna, he’d be furious about Tess’s mindwarp. Serena’s stomach churned anxiously and her heart rate increased, as the seconds stretched out in silence.

“Go home, then,” he replied finally, standing so abruptly that his chair tipped and almost fell over. Then he stopped a moment, staring down at her with piercing eyes. “On second thought, wait. You can watch Anna’s execution.”

And with that, he began walking away from their meeting table.

“No,” Serena gasped, grabbing Nicholas by the arm. He stopped and stared down at her, as she searched for a solution. “There must be some terms you’d be willing to consider,” she begged softly.

“Not so sure of yourself anymore, are you Serena?” He taunted, his mouth turning up with a sneer.

“Give me terms,” Serena snapped.

Nicholas’s eyes narrowed. “You know what they are.”

“Well, then allow me a moment to consider them,” Serena offered, hoping she could buy time for Michael.

Where the hell was he?

She began to panic because she couldn’t see outside, didn’t know if somehow the mindwarp might be affecting her. Everything seemed to be taking such a long time. She blinked quickly, trying to calm her thundering heart, but she couldn’t help feeling they’d all just walked into a terrible trap.
Tess sat behind the wheel of the Suburban, her eyes pressed tightly shut, and felt herself growing weaker by the moment. A blinding headache had begun to pound within her skull, and though she refused to acknowledge it, she was fading fast. They were all running out of time, and yet there’d been no sign of any of them yet.

She gasped quickly, as the pain in her head became unbearable. She couldn’t even breathe, it was choking her that strongly—and Nicholas and his army were so unbelievably strong. She’d always known it, had always felt this kind of drain from combating them in the past, but this was the longest she’d ever tried to mindwarp them.

Searing white light flashed behind her eyes and she felt the warp crumble into a million tiny pieces, knew it had dissolved all around them inside. Her hand flew to her mouth, as she sat shaking uncontrollably. She tried squeezing her eyes shut again, wanted urgently to re-establish the warp, but it was as if all the momentum was gone. She blinked hot tears back quickly, determined to regain her strength—and that’s when all hell broke loose.
Michael had found Anna lying on a cot, just where Riley had described, in a small, makeshift cell at the very back of the warehouse. She hadn’t even known he was there at first, she was so terribly weak and beaten. Her lower lip was swollen and bruised, both her eyes blackened, and Michael felt rage build within him as vivid memories of Hank came rushing back.

He’d shaken her repeatedly, surprised by how delicate and feminine she was—somehow he’d expected a battle-hardened soldier. Instead the woman he found had fair skin dusted with light freckles, and long auburn hair. He knew that ordinarily she was beautiful, when she hadn’t been nearly beaten to death. Finally, after much effort, he’d managed to rouse her, and she’d explained groggily that they’d sedated her just an hour before.

He helped her to her feet, and she stood unsteadily, slipping her arm around his waist. Then, they’d made their way through the winding, cold halls of the warehouse, stepping over broken glass and other debris, until they’d come to the main room where Serena was meeting with Nicholas. Michael had hesitated in the doorway a moment, getting a better grip around Anna’s waist—and prayed that the mindwarp was still in play. With a heavy breath, and a glance at Anna, he’d helped her through the large vacant room, their footsteps echoing far too loudly.

At first it seemed to be going well. He could hear Serena and Nicholas discussing possible terms, negotiating Anna’s return—and neither of them seemed to notice them quietly navigating toward the exit. But now something strange was happening in the atmosphere all around them, as Michael watched the air shimmer and shift. He’d seen this before, and knew it wasn’t a good sign about the mindwarp. He hurried his footsteps, urging Anna along more quickly.
“Anna, we’ve got move,” he whispered urgently, and she held onto him more tightly. But he knew it was too late when he heard Nicholas roar loudly. “Hold it!”

Michael took off running, nearly pulling Anna alongside him. He heard her cry, she was in such unbelievable pain, but they had no choice--it was both their lives now.

Everything was all happening in a blur, far too quickly to even process. A group of skins suddenly blocked the doorway ahead of them, and he heard the rapid fire of weaponry off to his left. He threw his hand up quickly, instinctively, and allowed his violent energy to build right within him—then released it in one electric blast at the skins blocking their route.

“Anna, come on!” he shouted, glancing around for Serena’s location. Anna stumbled beside him, and he yanked on her arm.

Then he heard the rapid firing of more weaponry—alien for sure—followed by the sound of a woman’s scream.

“Serena?” He called desperately, right as he turned to see her fall near him. She sank to her knees, grimacing in terrible pain…and he saw that her lower abdomen had been ripped open terribly. Her sweater was already staining a deep red, and he hesitated a moment.

“Go,” she begged in heaving breaths, staring up at him as she clutched her stomach. “Michael, go! Get Anna out of here…all of you.”

Michael saw Nicholas rising from the floor, moving quickly toward him, and it registered that Serena must have used her powers on him somehow before she’d been shot. Michael made a split-second judgment call, glancing back one final moment at Serena where she’d fallen, and dragged Anna with him through the exit door.
Serena held her abdomen tightly, knowing that she’d been hit badly—never so brutally before in her life. She collapsed face-forward onto the cold, cement floor of the warehouse, her cheek resting there momentarily. The pain was unbearable, draining, and for a moment her vision wavered.

Then, she saw a pair of black men’s shoes approaching slowly…but she was too weak to raise her head. She cried out softly, as warm, sticky blood flowed between her fingers, where she clasped her stomach.

“Serena,” Nicholas chided her condescendingly. “Now that was not a very clever maneuver at all.”

She stirred slightly, rolling with great difficulty onto her side so she could see him, and it required most of her remaining strength. The shot out windows of the warehouse came into her line of vision, and she saw the morning sunlight playing on the broken panes. For some reason this detail seemed far more pressing than whatever Nicholas was telling her…as did the lilting sound of a bird somewhere beyond the window.

Suddenly, the black shoe kicked her hard in the ribs and she screamed as sharp pain reverberated through her wound. “Are you listening to me, Serena?” Nicholas demanded, his voice much more angry now.

“Yes,” she murmured, trying to meet his gaze, but it required too much of her. She panted quickly, anything to fill her lungs because breathing had become a very difficult undertaking.

Nicholas squatted down low beside her where she lay, drawing his face within inches of her own. He blurred a bit, as she tried to focus on him—but he just kept wavering beyond clarity.

“You got Anna out,” he hissed low in her ear. “But you gave me something much more valuable in the process.” He paused a moment, stroking her hair away from her face with perverse tenderness. “You.”

Then he stood and left her there, bleeding onto the bitterly cold floor—but at least he was gone for now. Serena’s eyes drifted shut, it was all she wanted…just to sleep.

Except in the dimmest regions of her mind she was aware that a very disturbing sensation had begun to sweep her body. A heavy thrumming had begun, softly at first, but now it was a roar in her ears…insistent, undeniable.

And the yearning was growing within her now, commanding her. And oh how she wanted--no she needed--to shapeshift. How could she deny this most primal and ancient of calls, especially with the way her body had begun burning for it like this?
Serena knew the cause, even as the driving urge swelled oddly within her—the injury had placed too much strain on her body, and she wouldn’t be able to retain this human form much longer.

No, this isn’t happening , she thought desperately, staring up at the filthy ceiling of the warehouse. This can’t happen. They all need me too much.

And those were Serena’s very last thoughts before the room faded to black all around her.
Serena woke hazily, unable to assimilate the details of where she was, and why she felt so very strange. Until she glanced down at her hands, and saw that they were small and gray, not human at all. She drew in a shuddering breath, her brain humming strangely as she began to shake uncontrollably. She was burning up…and it had been too many years since her body had registered at this elevated temperature.

She felt like dozens of bees were buzzing in her head, as she glanced down at the rest of her body, realizing she was completely naked—no wonder she was so cold. The winter air was slamming against her skin, biting at the heat that had escalated quickly after her change.

Looking around the dimly lit room, she realized they’d placed her in a makeshift holding cell—and it struck her how odd it was to see through these eyes again—the way that everything shimmered, the multi-dimensionality. She’d almost forgotten how she’d once viewed the world so long ago.

She tried to stand, and cried out softly, clutching her side as sharp pain answered the movement. She felt warm blood spill beneath her fingers, saw the evidence of just how wounded she really was.

And that’s when she remembered.

She’d obviously shape shifted once she’d passed out, had been unable to maintain her human form in the wake of her injuries. And now as she stood unsteadily, glancing over her naked body, feeling of her rough, gray skin, it hit her. She was fully Antarian again for the first time in almost sixty years. Of course, she’d always been that on the inside, but she’d held human form for such a long time, it had become an important part of her identity.

A door opened to the small cell where they’d left her, and Nicholas entered, his gaze sweeping over her naked body predatorily. She tried to cover her small breasts with her hands, huddled there against the wall as he approached. She was accustomed to towering over him, not vice versa, and she shivered as his eyes lingered low on her body.

“My, my Surinah, you always were quite lovely, and so very…” he laughed menacingly, letting his gaze rove across her bare skin. “Luscious.”

She shouted at him, her voice modulating strangely over her vocal cords, and was surprised that the words escaping her lips weren’t English. She paused trying hard to think in that language, but the endless buzzing in her brain was too loud--she could only shout in her native tongue, which was met by Nicholas’s mocking laughter. She reached to pull anxiously at her hair, but felt only the rough skin of her bare head.

She was so terribly disoriented…and this had been a genuine strategic coup for Nicholas.

“This is quite embarrassing, Surinah,” he chided quietly with a shake of his head, leaning in close. “Or do you still prefer Serena now?”

She closed her eyes, willing herself to shift again, back to the form that was now so much more familiar to her, and she felt his fingers graze her cheek. Her eyes flew open and she saw Nicholas shake his head softly.

“You won’t be able to use your powers. Not at all…we took care of that immediately with the disruptor.”

Despair began clenching her heart, as she desperately tried to still the strange humming that was overpowering her mind—no doubt the result of having shifted so drastically without adequate preparation. She shouted again, still so shocked that her words were flying out in Antarian, and noticed Nicholas’s smug smile.

“For someone who has so fully embraced humanity you seem awfully alien to me, my dear.”

She could recall one very important word, and she spat it out with great effort, “No.” It sounded so odd to her, the way it reverberated over her vocal cords, like several human voices blending together all at once.

“Oh, now that’s good,” he mocked, raising one eyebrow.

His gaze swept over her body again, as she tried urgently to cover herself with her small hands—only now he stepped closer, tracing his fingers over the deep wound in her abdomen. She cried out painfully, flinching as he smeared the violet-colored blood across her stomach.

“I can do something about this if you want,” he whispered seductively, and she raised her hand weakly to hit him. He caught her wrist roughly mid-air.

“I’d expect more from the erstwhile leader of the rebellion.”

Max is the leader, not me , she argued, the words flying out in Antarian. Why couldn’t she remember her English? He was humiliating her intentionally by keeping her in this form—it had been a calculated move, plain and simple—especially leaving her so naked and exposed.

“Luckily, Surinah, I do speak the language,” he laughed slowly. “And I do suppose you’re right. Technically. Now that Max is in your camp, your great king has assumed the reins. Interesting that we never captured you until just now--a testimony to his remarkable leadership abilities.”

She felt tears well within her eyes, as she realized how utterly they’d managed to capture her—how disadvantaged she was. In all the years that she’d imagined how this might happen, not once had she guessed it would be like this. Her chest heaved, as she began hyperventilating a bit.

“Where is your king now that you need him?” Nicholas taunted quietly, touching her cheek.

Serena glanced desperately around, feeling cornered and trapped—and realized that after all these years, Nicholas had her right where he wanted her.

posted on 13-Nov-2001 8:06:16 PM

Marco and Riley sat together on the top step of the porch, listening for any sign of the Suburban--any sound at all along the winding drive, and the wait felt endless. Marco knew Riley would remain anxious until he actually saw Anna, despite how connected they’d been for the past two hours. But more than that, they needed to hear more details about Serena’s capture, whether they thought she might actually still be alive. Marco’s body was taut with tension, a headache now hammering painfully behind his eyes from all the emotions fighting within him.

It had been difficult for Anna to contact Riley at first, she’d been so drugged, even after she had connected, her thoughts had been jumbled, and he hadn’t been able to sort through them very well. But then the horrible truth had emerged—Serena had been wounded badly, and they’d had no choice but to leave her behind. The rest of the group was okay, but the woman who’d raised them both was in grave danger…perhaps already dead.

“Where’s Max?” Riley asked dully, shivering slightly beside him. Heavy clouds had darkened the sky, bringing a brisk wind with them. Marco glanced upward and thought that it might snow later in the morning.

“Inside,” he answered, thrusting his hands deep within his coat pockets. “He wanted time alone… to plan a course of action.”

Riley nodded in understanding, staring into the woods ahead of them. “I never thought we could lose her,” he reflected quietly. “Never thought something like this could even happen.”

Marco stared down at his black hiking boots silently, even as countless voices shouted within his mind. He closed his eyes a moment, pressing hard within his thoughts toward Serena because he had to know if she still lived. The headache and his anxiousness made it difficult to fix on anything at all, but he willed his intuition to guide him. He could only see blackness, though suddenly his skin felt very hot—yet even colder at the same time. It was a clue, something prescient, but he had no idea what it meant at all…and he pushed harder, beyond the blinding headache, reaching toward Serena.

And he heard one word so clearly, it was as if she had spoken it right inside him.


Help me.
But why had he heard it in Antarian? Thank goodness he spoke the language at least passably.

“Riley,” he whispered in a thick voice, his eyes flying open. “Serena’s alive.”

“You’re sure?” Riley asked in hushed disbelief. “How do you know?”

“I heard her,” Marco explained, rubbing his eyes. If only the blinding pain would abate some, he could probably sense more. “But her words were in Antarian, and I don’t understand why.”

“I’m confused.” Riley frowned slightly. “Did you make some kind of connection with her?”

Marco shook his head and stared at Riley a long, thoughtful moment. “No, just pressed for some kind of…indication about her. I couldn’t get more but…” Marco’s voice trailed off as an idea formed. “Riley, you can help me. We can press together, join our powers.”

Riley nodded in immediate agreement, and they quickly clasped hands. They’d worked this way before at other times, bolstering their twin gifts of intuition.

Marco closed his eyes and felt heat radiate from Riley’s point of contact, felt it spiral up his forearm, and reached hard within his mind. This time he heard many words, strung quickly together, all in Antarian…frantic, overlapping.

He heard Riley gasp softly beside him, but didn’t open his eyes, kept pressing. He could see a small cell—probably the same one where Anna had been held. He noted the physical details, the small mattress on the floor, a puddle of stagnant water in the corner, dim lighting. He glanced all around within the image, feeling for Serena. She was there, because he sensed her--but he couldn’t see her at all, only heard Antarian words spinning in his head, and could hardly make sense of them at all.
And something was very off about Serena’s voice, the way it vibrated strangely within his head.

Shame…need help. No. No. More jumbled Antarian words…So alone. Shame. Help.

What was happening to her, and what was going on in her head that her thoughts were so chaotic and disordered?

Then his own voice crowded within his head, whispering the unthinkable. Mind rape. He could think of no other plausible reason her thoughts would be so thoroughly addled.

Marco cried out softly before he could stop himself, and realized he’d begun shaking. He felt Riley squeeze his hand tightly, and opened his eyes to find him staring in concern.

“What, Marco?” He questioned in a tight voice.

“Didn’t you hear?” Marco answered shakily.

“Nothing…I think I only bolstered your gift.”

“Something’s very wrong with her mind, Rile.” Marco shook his head in disbelief. “Her thoughts are a total mess.”

Riley paled visibly and Marco knew he was thinking the same thing he had been--that Serena had been mind raped. And if that had happened, then their revolution had just been quashed because Serena knew everything. The location of the granolith, where their safe houses were…she knew it all. Well almost.

“We’ve got to talk to Max,” Marco announced firmly. “He needs to know right now.”
Max sat on the edge of his bed, Marco having just relayed his concerns about Serena’s state of mind. And he had to agree that it seemed likely she’d been mind raped by Nicholas—which meant they needed to clear out of here immediately. But they also needed to send a team after Serena, and it was useful to know she seemed to be in the same holding cell where they’d kept Anna.

And he was especially grateful that they hadn’t left their camp yet, even though he realized it was because they expected them to come after her.

Marco had been quietly pacing for a few moments, but he stopped abruptly, turning to face Max. It was only the two of them in the room, Liz had left as soon as Marco had asked to speak to him—he had been visibly shaken, and Liz had obviously sensed the conversation needed to be private.

“What are you thinking, Max?” Marco questioned intently. “How do we even proceed?”

Max blew out a heavy breath, and rubbed a hand across his face. “We have to get everybody out of here, be ready to move as soon as the others arrive. That’s our first order. After that, we split up…send a small team after Serena, and the others will go…”

Where? Where the hell could the others go? If Nicholas had learned the location of everything, where was there to go at all?

Marco settled quickly beside him. “Max, I know what you’re thinking…that Nicholas might know about all our safe houses.”

Max nodded firmly in reply, and then Marco continued. “There’s one Serena’s unaware of.”

“What?” Max questioned in surprise. How could she not know?

“Intentionally for this very reason. She had me line it up months ago, when things started growing more tense. Knew there might be a reason for keeping a last holdout secret. Likewise, I don’t know where several of our locations are…she always limited the flow of information for this very reason…knew their capabilities within our minds.”

“That’s…really good,” Max answered, his thoughts spinning. “How far to the house?”

“About an hour from here…near Taos.”

“Okay, then everybody clears out now except you and me. Once the others are here, we regroup. We’ll need Tess, but otherwise everyone else goes to the new safe house.”

“It’s not a good idea for you to go after Serena, Max,”
Marco warned. “It’s far too risky. You know it.”

“I’m who they want, and because of that I just may be the only one who can resolve this situation. Don’t forget that I know Nicholas pretty damn well by now.”

“It’s quite likely he might simply execute you.”

“Not if I play it right…not if Tess helps.”

“If you go, I’m coming with you,” Marco insisted. It was a command, not a question, and Max realized it wasn’t meant disrespectfully. Marco was asserting his role, insisting on protecting him if he went after Serena.

“Of course,” he answered quietly. “I couldn’t risk it without you.”
Marco drove down a lonely stretch of two-lane highway, Max beside him, headed toward the enemy camp. Tess was in the backseat just behind him, and he couldn’t help but watch her in the rearview mirror. In fact, his eyes were drawn to her repeatedly, despite his efforts to resist it. She looked so defeated, so wiped out, and it concerned him because they were heading right into battle again—and this one would be even more intense.

She’d hardly spoken since they’d quickly jumped in the Suburban, after he’d handed his scrawling handwritten map to Michael, who had scowled and asked how he was supposed to read his crazy handwriting. So Marco had stopped a moment, going over the directions to their new safe house carefully, until Michael had relaxed, and seemed sure he could navigate his way there.

Max shifted anxiously in the seat beside him, and Marco sensed that he wanted to hear Tess’s full report, but was giving her a little time to recover. Marco glanced at her again and found her staring at him in the mirror, and it almost seemed she was asking something of him.

Such pain darkened her eyes, it knifed through him sharply, and then she quickly lowered her eyes, breaking their contact.

Max leaned an arm across the seatback. “Tess, can you tell us what happened?” He asked gently, and she hesitated a moment, staring at her hands.

“It was my fault,” she confessed in a broken voice, and Marco glanced quickly at her in the mirror. Tears shimmered in her eyes, as she stared out the passenger window. “I couldn’t keep up the mind warp.”

Max was quiet a moment, then spoke finally. “Tess, you know how powerful Nicholas is, you can’t blame yourself.”

“They were gone for so long and…” she drew in a shuddering breath. “I wasn’t strong enough. I was hit with a blinding headache…just couldn’t keep it up.”

A blinding headache. Just like he’d had for several hours now, right behind his eyes like white hot light. He wondered if it was a mere coincidence…and doubted that it could be.

“Tess, we can’t afford this. You’ve got to shake it off, and move on,” Max advised firmly. “You’ve saved us more times than I can even count by using your gifts. If we’re looking to assign blame, maybe I shouldn’t have sent you without coming along. There are countless ways to re-think our actions now that they’re behind us, but we can’t afford it.”

“Okay,” she murmured, nodding solemnly, as she gazed out the window again.

“We’ve got to plan how to get it right this time,” Max continued. “We’ve got a lot more information now that you’ve been inside, and we can win this battle. We’re going to get Serena out of there.”

Marco smiled softly, hearing a new voice coming from Max, something that had birthed within him in the past few hours. Serena was gone and he’d had no choice but to step into his leadership role without reservation. Marco suddenly realized that at least something good had come from this terrible turn of events—Max had been fully inaugurated, and somehow he knew there’d be no going back after today.

“And so you’ve come,” Nicholas announced, staring up into Max’s eyes. “Thought you might, but didn’t know you’d bring these two,” Nicholas offered with an acknowledging toss of his head. “Marco.”

“Nicholas,” Marco ground out bitterly, leaning into his physical space a bit. Max had the sense that he was reinforcing his sheer physical advantage, because if Max loomed over Nicholas, then Marco simply towered.

“And certainly couldn’t imagine that you’d bring your second right into our camp,” Nicholas sneered, staring hard at Tess. “Especially after her last failed coup,” he chided, with a soft cluck of his tongue. “No, I’d say that battle went decisively in our favor. Though Serena’s been enjoying the accommodations quite well.”

Max felt anger roil within him at Nicholas’s taunting words, and his worry for Serena escalate by quick degrees. “I want to see her now,” he ordered forcefully.
Nicholas shrugged dismissively. “Certainly, your highness,” he replied with a sarcastic bow of his head. “No problem at all…though I should tell you I think you’ll find it’s Surinah, not Serena.”

“What do you mean?” Max demanded, grabbing Nicholas roughly by the arm.

“You’ll see,” he promised with a light smile, as he turned to walk away. “Follow me.”

Nicholas lead the way, and Max filed after him, Tess and Marco right behind. Then Nicholas turned, holding his hand up. “Only Max. You two wait here.”

“No,” Max asserted forcefully. “That’s not going to happen. They come too.”

Nicholas thought a long moment, and Max noticed a row of soldiers staring down from an upper tier within the warehouse. He felt suddenly frightened, as the magnitude of where he was truly hit him—how easily they might all be murdered. He swallowed hard, and willed those thoughts out of his mind, remembered that he had things that Nicholas still wanted.

Unless he already knew about them from mind raping Serena, in which case there was no reason whatsoever he might not execute all three of them momentarily.
Nicholas stared at him thoughtfully, then finally replied. “They can come, but we enter Serena’s cell alone. The three of us will need to talk,” he explained and Max wondered why he seemed to smirk a bit--that couldn’t be a good sign.

They continued walking down the long, cold corridor, their footsteps echoing hollowly on the cement floor of the warehouse. Finally, they reached a locked door, and Nicholas’s escort removed a set of keys from his pocket, then the lock hitched with a loud groan.

Nicholas turned back to face them all, staring at Marco. “You’re staying here,” he commanded. Max saw Marco shift uncomfortably, his black eyes darting briefly to his own, as he shook his head almost imperceptibly.

“No,” Max ordered. “They both come with me.”

Nicholas waved his hand, and the soldier locked the door again. Nicholas stared up at him for a long moment. “I’m making the rules right now, Max, not you. If you want to see her, it’s just you for now.”

Max thought a long moment, and realized that if Nicholas really did want to kill him, he certainly didn’t need to separate him from Marco and Tess. They were surrounded by his people, who could easily have gunned them down at a moment’s notice.

“Okay,” Max answered. “Take me in.”

The door opened slowly, and the dimly lit room came into view, though he couldn’t yet glimpse Serena. He followed Nicholas inside, as the door was pulled shut loosely behind them.

But nothing in his life could have prepared him for what he saw as Nicholas stepped out of the way.

“I’m quite certain you’ve never met Surinah,” Nicholas declared cheerily, sweeping his hand toward her. “Sorry to say that Serena’s quite gone.”

Max drew in a sharp breath, as he saw her tiny, naked form huddled in the corner on top of the mattress. She whimpered softly at the sight of him, her large almond-shaped eyes blinking quickly as her hands rushed to try to cover herself. Max could hardly take it all in, because it was an insane image—Serena in her most natural form, totally helpless like this.

His first glimpse of a pure-bred alien…of the very thing that coursed in his own blood. In this one special person, he saw a snapshot of a whole race that wanted him as leader.

And this was their beloved Serena, the woman who had watched over them for years, had saved his life just two days before…and yet she was utterly foreign to him at this moment. Unrecognizable.

Max realized he had begun shaking softly and knew he was staring very unkindly, especially because Serena was so bare and exposed.

Max whipped to face Nicholas, fury raging in his heart. “Get her something to cover up with now,” he roared, shoving Nicholas forcefully in the chest, and didn’t miss that he seemed to weaken a bit at his sudden outburst. Nicholas stared at him a moment, then opened the door slightly, ordering one of his men to bring a blanket.

When he turned back to face him, Max grabbed him by the shoulder. “What did you do to her?” He thundered. “Why is she in this form?”

“Oh, I didn’t do that at all,” he explained innocently. “That was all Serena. I’m afraid she just couldn’t keep her human shape after she was shot.”

Max heard a loud outburst from the corner where Serena sat curled into a tiny ball, and Max glanced quickly in her direction as the most foreign of words spilled forth from her small mouth. Ancient words…familiar ones. Her large eyes blinked rapidly again, and Max didn’t miss the pain in them, as thoroughly alien as they were. Pain was universal—and he’d know it in the eyes of any creature.

“Sorry, Max, but she’s had this small problem since shifting. She can’t seem to speak in English, just keeps babbling in Antarian. Shall I translate?”

Max stared at him, as intense rage began to bank within his chest. “Tell me what she said,” he spit out.

“Oh, just that actually, she could have shifted back long ago if we hadn’t hit her with the disruptor after she was injured. My mistake…should have mentioned that detail.”

“You are one cruel bastard,” Max declared forcefully, shaking his head in disbelief.

The door to the cell opened, a soldier stepping inside with a soft blanket. He tossed it at Serena, and it landed just beyond her grasp. Max watched as she studied it on the floor, considered revealing herself briefly, so that she might cover up. He moved quickly in her direction, averting his eyes and bent down to hand it to her. She immediately spread it over herself, and when Max glanced at her again, saw relief in her huge black eyes. Gratitude.

And he also saw a deep purple stain form on the blanket, as it soaked up the blood from her injury. He turned back to face Nicholas, drawing in a calming breath. “I see her alone, then we meet.”


“I have to heal her and you know it.”

“You don’t need me to leave for that.”

Max stared at Nicholas a long moment, deliberating. He desperately needed time alone with Serena, needed to heal her, but more than that, to learn the extent of Nicholas’s attack on her, because too many terrible possibilities were raging in his mind.
Marco shifted on his feet, as he and Tess waited just outside the doorway where they were holding Serena. He didn’t like that Max had entered alone, yet somehow he had sensed it was all right. Chalk it up to his intuition, or perhaps just his raw instincts, but he knew it was okay—otherwise he would have advised Max against it. But now he and Tess stood under the watchful gaze of two male soldiers, their weapons held loosely by their sides, yet certainly ready.

One of the skins kept eyeing Tess in an obvious manner, his gaze sweeping her form hungrily, and he didn’t like it one bit. It was a method of intimidation, meant to manipulate her felt disadvantage as a woman, and something about that truly angered him. She was strong—very strong, in fact, and the idea that they would try to use gender differences to intimidate her angered him.

Another man, an older, heavy-set skin, reached out to her, touching her face lightly—and when he did so, the hairs on the back of Marco’s neck stood on end. He swept the man’s wrist roughly within his hand, halting his action.

“Don’t even think about that,” Marco growled, aware that something else was in play, that the moment had incited territorial emotions within him. Something primal.

The man stared up at him—he was certainly shorter than himself, but then again most were—then averted his eyes, and Marco knew he’d won that battle. He let the man’s hand fall away, and caught Tess watching him strangely…knew how obvious he’d been in his need to mark his boundaries. He met her unwavering gaze, and felt heat spark within his chest, despite the tense situation—perhaps because of it. Their eyes remained locked for a long moment, and he thought that he could lose himself in her blue depths, they were so very beautiful, shimmering like the surface of a clear mountain lake.

And maybe precisely because all their lives were on the line, he allowed himself to savor the energy passing between them in that instance…knew that for the moment, it was allowed.
Nicholas left the room, closing the door behind him, and Max was thankful that he’d acquiesced to his request to be alone with Serena. He stared at the closed door, then turned toward where she huddled on the mattress, covered by the thin blanket. He still couldn’t help feeling slightly dismayed by her alien form—couldn’t deny how absolutely shocking it was to him. Yet he also felt such intense compassion, as he watched her shiver in the corner, so very vulnerable. So unlike the Serena he’d come to know in the past few days.

He stepped cautiously toward her, not wanting to frighten her in any way, as he knelt at the foot of the bedding. The blanket was soaked with violet-colored blood now, stained in a frighteningly deep manner. She’d obviously been bleeding profusely for hours, and he wondered how she’d even managed to remain conscious at all. He looked at her, willing himself to ignore how shocking the very sight of her was, but she only averted her eyes.

“Serena,” he called gently. “Look at me.”

She blinked quickly, refusing to meet his intent gaze, and he couldn’t miss how very soulful her eyes were, how ancient. They were pure blackness, not like anything he’d ever glimpsed before.

“I’m going to heal this,” he stated softly, gesturing toward the blood soaked blanket. She pulled it up around herself tightly, protectively. “May I?”

Finally, she met his stare, and he saw such fear in her large eyes. He knew in his heart that she trusted him, but also sensed that she was feeling so violated by the morning’s events, that trust came with great difficulty. She drew in quick breaths, just staring at him.

“Let me,” he pleaded quietly, and then very slowly she nodded her head. He moved closer, easing the blanket back a bit, so he could get a good look at her wound, and couldn’t help shivering a bit at the sight. Her skin was rough, almost hide-like, yet the gash had torn into her lower abdomen with apparent ease. She was smeared with blood, all over her stomach and legs…all of it the most vibrant shade of purple. He forced himself to focus on the gaping injury, to ignore how low on her body it was…to overlook that he’d never seen skin like this before, so gray and rough.

He placed his palm over the damage, pressing his eyes shut, thinking about wholeness…Serena as he knew her. And Serena as she obviously was in her most natural form. Pain shot through him, knifing his abdomen in answer…and images flashed through his mind.


Something he couldn’t possibly recognize, that seemed like the sky, but there were multiple moons…other figures, who looked as she did now.

Words…G’rast. Neham. Vgat.
Himself. Liz.

And he felt her flesh altering, healing…becoming solid beneath his palm, even as he heard a strange whimper escape her lips.

Then it was over. She was restored, and his eyes fluttered open again.

She huddled against the wall still, panting softly, but the expression in her eyes had changed, wasn’t nearly so frightened and vulnerable. Her small mouth worked soundlessly, as if trying to form words, and then finally the most simple of statements came forth.

“Thank…you,” she managed, swallowing hard, and he couldn’t believe the way her voice sounded. It was like several rivers, flowing across rough rocks…many people speaking at once.

“You don’t need to thank me,” he murmured softly. “I…we owe you too much.”

She shook her head forcefully in denial, that much he could easily read as she worked her mouth again. “No,” she forced out.

He stared at her for what felt like an eternity, their eyes meeting, alien to human, and he couldn’t help thinking yet again that she represented some part of himself he’d never genuinely encountered. But one thought kept surfacing, and finally he acknowledged it.

“Serena, did they…get in your mind?” He hated having to ask at all, but they needed to know—it was simply too crucial.

She shook her head vigorously, placing her hands lightly on the sides of her bald head. Again, she seemed to wrestle with speech, and he couldn’t help wondering why English was coming with such difficulty for her—something to do with her change, no doubt, something he couldn’t understand.

“Confused,” she managed to force out with difficulty, still clasping her head between her tiny gray hands.
He didn’t understand what she was implying. Confused.

Her mind? What?

“What do you mean?” He prodded gently.
She hesitated a moment, her large eyes suddenly desperate, then attempted to speak again. “Too…” She flinched, blinking momentarily. “Crazy. Confused.”
And then Max understood thoroughly, and he nodded. “You’re too disoriented,” he translated for her. “Nicholas couldn’t make sense of what’s in your mind right now.”

She nodded vigorously, and he sat back on his heel. At least something had worked out for her this morning…for all of them. He looked at the doorway, and began formulating a plan.

“I’ll get you out of here,” he promised, glancing back at her again. “It won’t end like this, Serena.”

He was surprised to see something like tears well in her large eyes, as she nodded.

No, he couldn’t possibly allow it to end like this for Serena. Not when they owed her so very much. And what Nicholas had done to her this morning had caused a white hot fire to grow within him, had charged him more than anything ever had.

He was ready for a fight, was only looking for an excuse to obliterate Nicholas at this point.

Somewhere in the recesses of his mind, he thought of Michael and heard his words.

Bring it on.

posted on 13-Nov-2001 8:58:20 PM

Liz sat warming by the newly lit fire—well, more accurately the newly fired gas logs. She was thankful for their heat because the drafty cabin was quite cold, having apparently remained vacant for many months. There was just a sort of stale atmosphere to the place that had left her feeling lonely—and even more worried for Max than she’d been earlier.

She watched as Riley and Cecilia moved quickly about, making sure everything was in order, and wondered how long the group would make their camp here. She’d believed they were going to make at least a temporary home of the other cabin, but now it seemed she needed to readjust her thoughts. The funny thing was, the two dwellings weren’t that dissimilar, both were mountaintop cabins, but it was colder here, and even the furnishings lacked the same warmth. She’d gathered from her conversation with Marco that they typically spent the greatest amount of time at the first compound, and hoped they’d soon be allowed to return.

The others were touring the cabin, assigning rooms, but Liz just didn’t have the heart for it—not when the only thing she could remotely think about was Max. She’d desperately wanted to beg him not to go, to stay with her…not to risk his life so blatantly. But a quiet voice inside had reminded her that he was their leader now, and that he didn’t need his wife standing in the way.

He was her leader—and she would set the pace for all of them in her own willingness to obey his orders without argument--without flinging herself childishly into his arms, begging him to send anyone but himself. So, she’d bit her lip until it bled inside, as she’d watched him through the back window of the Suburban, quickly disappearing from view. She was learning inner strength like that—ways to control her emotions and keep them in check—in just these past few days.

Liz glanced up as Riley approached her, and she noticed deep concern in his brown eyes. They’d only spoken briefly in the past few days, but there was something she instinctively liked about him, something very warm about his entire demeanor. In appearance, he looked more like he belonged in a surf shop than in the midst of a revolution—he wore his blonde hair long and scruffy on his neck, and his clothes had a similar appearance…tattered blue jeans, well-loved sweaters. Back at the university, he’d have been out in the quad tossing a Frisbee, never studying.

Yet here he was, an ardent member of the resistance, and something about the lines in his face told Liz he’d been through a lot of hardship. She felt certain it related to more than just his recent concern about Anna.

“Hey,” he greeted her softly, settling beside her on the hearth.


“You doing okay?” He asked, obvious concern flickering in his eyes.

“Not really,” she laughed ruefully, and he nodded in understanding. Something about his inquiry had brought tears to her eyes, in the way those sorts of questions always did when you were already upset. Her vision blurred with hot tears, and she willed herself to be strong—unsuccessfully she realized, as the tears began coursing down her cheeks.

“He’s going to be fine, Liz,” Riley promised.

“But they tried to kill him two days ago and now he’s just…” Liz sniffled quietly, wiping the tears away with the back of her hand. “Delivering himself to them.”

“But he’s not alone. He has Marco and Tess with him and those two are incredibly strong together.”

Together. Something about that made her shiver slightly, and she wasn’t sure why.

“What do you mean together?” She asked, uncertain why his words seemed so important.

Riley shrugged casually, his eyes narrowing in thought. “Well, just that both of them have strong mental gifts…and even though their abilities are different, that’s still a powerful combination.”

Liz nodded, understanding more what he’d meant. The tears had subsided already, just as quickly as they’d come, and she was thankful for Riley’s companionship at the moment. In some ways, it was easier to pass the time with him, someone she barely knew, rather than Isabel, who would have shared all her fears—or even Maria who worried about her too much. There was also something about the way Anna and Riley shared a similar connection to her own with Max, that comforted her somehow—because in a way, she was with someone who understood her much more deeply than any of the others.

“So, have you heard from Anna?” Liz ventured gently, some part of her wanting to explore their connection a bit further.

A slow smile spread across Riley’s features—a familiar expression Liz knew intimately--and he simply nodded.

“You’re connected with her right now, aren’t you?” Liz asked, knowing full well why he’d smiled so dreamily.

He nodded silently again and Liz felt a rush of wonder at his confirmation of her suspicions—yet why should it surprise her that Anna and Riley could maintain a connection that way, when it was so like her own bond with Max?

Precisely because it is what you share with Max, and you’re seeing it from the outside, a small voice answered within her.

“Max was able to heal her before they left the cabin,” he said. “She’s much better now.”

“Oh, I’m so glad,” Liz cried, placing her hand lightly on top of Riley’s. He glanced at her quickly, and something unexpected passed between the two of them in that moment—a sort of acknowledgement of their own peculiar bond. They were both caught in a conflict where they’d been forced to re-align priorities, to accept that their lifemates would always be in danger. And it was very therapeutic simply to be together at this precise moment.

“Anna can’t wait to meet you,” he revealed with a thoughtful smile, then his expression changed, as if he were listening to someone. “Oh, and she wants you to know that Max will be okay. That she senses it.”

“Really?” Liz breathed, her heart beating rapidly. “Do you really think so?”

“Anna know s so…and she’s never wrong,” he promised. “Relax, Liz.”

Liz nodded mutely, tears pooling afresh within her eyes. It was so difficult to grow accustomed to how intuitive they all were, and to trust their prescience. But experience had already taught her that she could.

So Max would be okay, and she’d force herself to relax. Yeah, right…impossible, she groaned with a laugh.

Marco and Tess stood outside Serena’s cell waiting for what felt like an eternity. Nicholas had entered her room again quite some time ago, and Marco was growing nervous. He’d wanted to wipe the smug look of satisfaction off of his face when he’d explained Serena’s condition, how she was locked into her natural form, unable to shape shift. Nicholas had taken such obvious pleasure in the details—especially in taunting Marco with them—that it had required all of his willpower not to strike the little demon down on the spot. It had been Tess’s reassuring glances that had brought his rage back under control, as he’d stood forming tight fists by his sides.

She’d stepped just a bit closer toward him at that moment, almost imperceptibly, and her scent had washed right over him. Calmed his spirit. She’d not moved from his side since then, even after Nicholas had re-entered Serena’s cell. The two of them stood silently that way, and now as the moments ticked by glacially, he wondered if she was as aware of their physical proximity as he was.

The interesting thing was that it didn’t distract him, but surprisingly helped him in this moment. She’d brought him peace and centered him in an almost mystical way--something that he couldn’t understand. Earlier, he’d been ready to strike Nicholas down, and now he was calm again, able to wait the situation out.

The door to Serena’s cell opened with a loud groan, and Max stepped out of the cell. Nicholas followed, closing the door behind him as he gestured to the guards. “Lock her in,” he commanded. “Not that she’s going anywhere in her state.” He smirked, tossing a glance at Max, whose mouth tightened in a grim line.

“Don’t start that again, Nicholas,” he threatened angrily. “You’re getting what you want now, so leave Serena out of this.”

“Oh, but how can I leave her out of the equation when she’s such an important variable?”

“You’re really pleased with yourself right now,” Max promised in a quiet voice. “But you won’t be in the end.”

“Let’s see. I’m getting the granolith,” Nicholas sneered. “You’re losing a war. Gee, wonder who’s going to be happy when the day’s done?”

“Look, just cut the crap,” Max demanded loudly. “And let’s get the terms negotiated.”

“As you wish, my king ,” Nicholas replied, leading them down the corridor.

My king…my ass, Marco reflected sarcastically, as he and Tess followed, exchanging nervous glances. Marco couldn’t believe that Max would genuinely consider giving up the granolith, especially since Serena would never want that, would have given her life in exchange for its protection in a heartbeat. Marco frowned heavily, and had to believe that Max had devised some sort of plan.
Max had demanded that Marco and Tess be allowed to join the negotiations, and now the three of them sat gathered with Nicholas at a small, makeshift table near the front door of the warehouse.
Nicholas glanced at two nearby guards. “Wait over there,” he commanded with a dismissive wave of his hand, and the two soldiers stepped back a bit. They’d been breathing down on them all, including Nicholas, as they’d settled around the table.

“So the terms are very simple, Max,” he began, clearing his throat. “You give up the granolith’s location, and once we have it secured, we’ll release Serena.”

“How do I know you’ll keep your word?” Max demanded, his golden brown eyes flashing with anger. Marco hadn’t seen Max like this before—there was a quiet fury in every word he uttered.

“You don’t,” Nicholas laughed with a shrug. “But you don’t have an alternative.”

“There needs to be some kind of simultaneous pass off,” Max argued. “It’s the only way I’ll agree.”

Nicholas closed his eyes a moment, apparently considering Max’s words—but Marco was surprised to see that his hands had begun shaking, and small beads of sweat had formed on his forehead. He wondered why the meeting was putting such a strain on him.

“That can be arranged, but until then Serena’s not going anywhere,” Nicholas finally answered, his eyes opening.

“I need time to return to our camp…to discuss this with the others.”

“I thought you were the leader,” Nicholas taunted lightly.

“I need time,” Max ground out, and opened his mouth to say more when there was a light commotion on the other side of the warehouse. Max’s eyes flew to Marco’s, widening slightly in panic.

“See what’s going on!” Nicholas thundered, and the two guards moved quickly away. At that precise moment, Max leaned close across the table toward Tess, whispering urgently. “Mind warp, Tess. Now!”

She stared at him, stunned, glancing at Nicholas in momentary confusion, and Marco was surprised to see Nicholas rake a shaking hand across his eyes. But before he could wonder what Max might have done to him, he spoke again.

“Now, Tess!” Max commanded in a hushed voice and Tess’s eyes pressed shut in complete acquiescence.
Marco glanced at Nicholas’s weakened form, trying to make sense of what was happening. And then he understood.

Nicholas wasn’t Nicholas at all…but Serena, who had somehow managed to shape shift despite her condition—perhaps because of Max healing her. But he didn’t even have time to ask questions, as Max darted from the table toward the front door. Tess was transfixed beside him, eyes shut, and he knew he’d have to lead her out. He grabbed her hand forcefully, pulling her to her feet, then dragged her quickly toward the front door.

Serena stumbled after Max, still in Nicholas’s form and Marco realized that their coup had taken a terrible toll on her weak body. Max stopped, helping her along by the arm, and all the while the mind-warped guards nearby kept about their business--except Marco realized that the commotion in the back probably meant they’d all just been found out. That they’d probably just found Nicholas within Serena’s cell.

He was moving far too slowly with Tess, who was working to maintain the mindwarp as he led her. He made a split-second decision, and swept her into his arms, amazed at how light she was. He began running toward the door—right as the guards shouted loudly in front of Serena’s cell.

“Go!” Max cried. “They know…Go!”
Liz and Maria sat with Riley on the front steps to the cabin. They’d moved outside once he’d announced that Anna and Michael were almost there, and now the moments seemed to tick by endlessly for him. He shifted uncomfortably on the step, ran his fingers through his hair straightening it, and would occasionally stand and pace.

“Riley, how long has it been since you’ve seen one another?” Liz asked quietly, because her curiosity on the point had become overwhelming. Maria glanced at her through narrowed eyes, smiling slyly.

“Yeah, Riley, you seem a bit,” Maria hesitated, seemingly searching for just the right description. “Well, kinda worked up there.”

Riley laughed, shaking his head, and Liz noticed that he blushed a bit, as he dismissed their prying questions with a roll of his eyes. “Ladies, please.”

“No, no, see you’re not getting off that easily,” Maria corrected him with a wry laugh. “This is me, Maria, and I must always know these kinds of things. Just ask Liz.”

“She shows no mercy,” Liz agreed with a faint smile.
Riley stared down at his hands for a moment, suddenly somber and quiet, and Liz regretted that they’d teased him at all.

“Too long,” he finally answered with a heavy sigh. “Far too long.”

Liz hoped that Maria would detect his mood shift, and was grateful that she remained silent. The two of them exchanged a quick glance, Maria raising her eyebrows in curiosity, and Liz was surprised when Riley spoke again.

“More than six years,” he admitted in a hushed voice.

“Six years!” Maria exclaimed, her mouth falling open in disbelief. “That’s absolutely unreasonable!”

Liz quickly reflected that she’d have to agree with Maria on that point, but her thoughts were interrupted when Riley spoke again. “Difficult, but not unreasonable,” he explained. ”It saved all of your lives.”

And for the very first time Liz realized the depth of Riley and Anna’s sacrifice—something she couldn’t even begin to contemplate—and knew that it had truly saved their lives the other night. But before she could express the incredible gratitude in her heart, she heard the rumbling engine of the Suburban winding its way up the drive. Riley sprung to his feet, moving into the gravel driveway.

“And I thought I would be glad to see Michael,” Maria reflected. “I can’t imagine what he’s feeling right now.”

Liz nodded quickly in agreement, and then the vehicle lurched into view, grinding up the steep hillside. Riley stepped further into the drive, and Liz didn’t miss the way he shifted impatiently on his feet, how nervous he seemed as Michael parked.

And Anna had the door open almost before the car had stopped moving, was springing out onto the driveway, right into Riley’s arms. He swept her up so forcefully, Liz thought the two of them might fall over on the spot.

They hugged tightly, just standing that way for an endless moment as Michael moved toward Maria.
Anna was absolutely lovely, with dark auburn hair as long as her own, falling loosely across her shoulders. She was tall, nearly as tall as Riley, Liz noted, feeling a bit voyeuristic as she observed their reunion.

And yet something in her simply couldn’t resist watching the two of them together. The idea that they’d been separated for so long because of the revolution was awe-inspiring, and brought her a whole new understanding of the very gentle Riley. Liz couldn’t look away as the two of them held one another as if their lives depended on it…and then they began kissing, not on the lips, just all over...everywhere. There was no place that remained untouched, as they showered one another’s cheeks, ears, and foreheads noses. It was so obvious that after remaining joined spiritually for such a long time, they simply couldn’t believe they were finally together physically again.

Liz smiled softly, and knew Riley had been right--Max would be okay, because Anna had sensed it. Watching the two of them together, such a mirror reflection of her own relationship with Max, she knew that if they could survive six years apart, that Max would come back to her this day.
Serena collapsed into the backseat of the Suburban, panting heavily—and desperately shoved aside the aching need to shift. She would not be reduced to that in front of them all, it had been terrible enough with Max. Tess knelt on the floor beside her, and stroked her sweaty hair away from her face. Somehow, unbelievably, she’d managed to shift back to her true human form, but she felt her hold on that wavering precariously.

“You’re going to be okay,” Tess assured her, and Serena nodded silently, swallowing hard.

Then why the hell am I yearning so for the change? She wondered silently, and pressed the need aside. Can’t happen, not now, not like this.

Her breaths came heavily, as Max floored the Suburban away from Khivar’s camp. She knew they were being followed, that a firefight would ensue. God, just let me keep this form, she prayed as she drifted hazily along the edge of consciousness, images floating in and out of her mind.

Her gray skin, covered in blood…Max staring at her in shocked disbelief…his hand on her abdomen, healing her, lifting the curse Nicholas had placed upon her…Nicholas entering the cell again, and Max striking him down so quickly, he’d never even seen it coming…his still, lifeless form lying on the floor, as Max had turned to her, asking if she might possibly be strong enough to shape shift then. Her awareness that Max had stepped into his rightful place, was leading them, even out of the enemy’s den…her hands shaking, as she’d pressed harder than any other time in her life to assume another’s form…the sensation of dissolving, then growing solid again as Nicholas.

Serena felt Tess stroke her hair again, and her eyes fluttered open for a moment. The buzzing in her mind was dissipating now, and she felt herself slowly strengthening. Her aching need to shift was fading, replaced by something much stronger…her will to remain human.
Tess slipped over the backseat into the rear of the Suburban where Marco crouched studying the terrain behind them.

“Damn it!” he declared. “They’re behind us, Max….we’ve got to get out of here now!”

Serena had passed out, her breaths becoming more even, and Tess had felt sure enough to join Marco in the back. He glanced at her quickly, then back at the road behind him, and she was about to speak when he shoved her roughly toward the floor.

“Down!” He shouted, his large hand gripping her shoulder.
She wrestled beneath it for a moment, and felt suddenly furious with him. “I’m in this fight, Marco!” She shouted angrily. “Do not treat me like some helpless girl.”

He stared down at her mutely for the briefest moment, and she was instantly sorry as she saw such confusion pass over his features, as he moved his hand briskly away from her.

“My mistake,” he mumbled, staring out the back window, and then his expression changed again. “Max, get us out of here, two vehicles behind us now!”

Marco reached inside his jacket and handed Tess a weapon. “Easy enough to use,” he explained. “Aim and fire…but it packs quite a lot of power, so watch for its kick.”

Tess took the compact weapon from him, kneeling beside him--and even in the thick of such tension, was aware of his energy, how the battle had caused it to spiral. Somehow she knew they were meant to fight just like this, beside one another. But she didn’t have a moment to reflect further because there was the bright sputter of weaponry, answered by glass exploding, flying right into her face. She shut her eyes against it, as Marco threw his hand out creating a shield.

“You okay?” He demanded hoarsely and she nodded quickly, opening her eyes. Surprisingly, none of the shards had cut her.

“Right behind us!” Marco shouted to Max, and Tess wondered if their conflict the other night had been like this one—if Liz had felt the kind of terror and adrenalin she did at this moment. Seeing an SUV gain on them, she raised her weapon, ready to fire.

“Drop your shield, and I’ll get them,” She cried, glancing quickly at Marco.

“On my mark,” he answered breathlessly, and Tess confirmed her aim. “Three…two…one. Fire!”
He dropped the shield at that moment, and Tess fired the unfamiliar weapon, surprised to see the windshield of the oncoming vehicle explode. The SUV swerved wildly, then lost control, running into a nearby ditch.

“What the hell just happened?” Max cried from the front.

“Only one left!” Marco shouted. “Faster, Max!”

Wind whipped Tess’ long hair, and she felt it wrap around her cheek, as she watched the second vehicle gain on them from behind. Marco raised his weapon, was about to fire, when there was a loud sputtering of gunfire. For a moment, she was disoriented, raising the weapon again.

Vaguely she wondered why Marco hadn’t begun firing himself. She aimed carefully, narrowing her eyes—and hit the vehicle squarely with a bright blue blast from her weapon. The car spun out of control, making a three hundred and sixty degree turn in the middle of the road behind them.

She turned to Marco, ready to rejoice with him, but found him collapsed against the side window, his white shirt stained starkly with blood right over his heart. He was unconscious, wounded deeply, and Tess drew in several sharp breaths, as she moved to him. Oddly, she noticed that several freckles dusted his dark forehead right over his eyebrow--such an intimate detail, yet in those drawn out seconds, it was what struck her.

Tess placed her hands on his chest, and felt warm blood pool beneath her fingers. This isn’t happening, she thought, tears filling her eyes. I love him…already I love him.

And somehow as he hovered there, on the cusp between life and death, the stakes so unbelievably high, she understood that they were called to one another. He would live, because he was meant to, and one day—perhaps years from now—they would be together.
Because Tess Harding knew one thing in that moment.

She had finally found her destiny.

posted on 14-Nov-2001 9:18:21 PM

Marco was standing on the side of a steep mountain, staring down the jagged cliff side, covered in thick snow. The view was familiar…something he knew intimately, but couldn’t quite recognize, and the sun was the brightest he’d ever seen. This place felt so beautiful and safe, and he wanted to stay forever…all he had to do was let go, and it would be his.

Just let go…

He took a step closer to the edge of the cliff.

But behind him he heard a faint voice, calling to him from a distance, and his heart raced, as he felt suddenly torn.

I love you already. Don’t leave me…we can have so much.

Oh, yes, he knew that voice, would recognize it anywhere…on Earth, on Antar, or anyplace in between.
His beloved Ayanna.

But the sunlight was growing brighter, kept beckoning him closer and he wanted to let go because it was so peaceful here. No fighting, no war…no denying what his heart truly wanted. Just peace.

Marco , she called. I love you.

He turned to face her, amazed how her golden hair shimmered, as it blew in the mountain wind. Their eyes locked for an eternal moment and he knew that if only he would stay, he could finally have her this time.

Tess knelt beside Marco’s unconscious form, stroking his black hair away from his forehead with a shaky hand. Max had pulled the Suburban onto a deserted side road after several miles, once they’d been sure no one else was following them, and now he knelt solemnly beside Marco, placing his palm across his deep chest wound. Tess yearned to comfort Marco somehow, even though he wasn’t conscious—wanted him to know that he would be alright. So she just kept stroking his silky hair, studying his features as Max moved beside her…noticed how his long dark lashes fanned downward so peacefully, even as her own heart thundered within her chest. She couldn’t calm her emotions, not when his shirt was stained so heavily with blood—not when there was just so much of it everywhere.

“You’re going to be okay,” she promised quietly. “Max is going to heal you,” she explained, and it seemed that if Marco could just hear her conviction, then surely he would recover.

She watched Max’s hand cover his heart solidly, confidently, and willed herself to focus on Marco’s face. Even now, he was so beautiful, his black brows arching elegantly, the light dusting of freckles she’d noticed earlier standing in surprising relief against his olive skin.

Don’t die because I love you , she willed him to know. We can have so much, just don’t die…

She heard Max gasp sharply beside her, and she observed how he grimaced, absorbing Marco’s pain, and then she was amazed to see the wound repair swiftly beneath his palm. There’d been so much blood—too much—and yet now it was dissolving beneath Max’s sure touch. But not without cost, she realized as Max gasped again beside her. She could only wonder what it felt like to heal such a fatal wound.

She willed herself to focus on Marco’s still features, and suddenly his long lashes fluttered a bit. Then, his dark eyes opened, eyes that already commanded her so fully, and he glanced about in confusion—until his gaze met her own, his lips parting a bit. She knew everything he felt at that moment, was strangely connected with him as they stared mutely at one another.

Max sat back on his heel, drawing in quick breaths. “He’s going to be okay,” he assessed quietly.

Marco was whole, this man who she now understood meant so much to her—and this pivotal moment had simply brought all her conflicted emotions into sharp relief.

“What happened?” Marco asked in weak confusion, his eyes never leaving her own.

“You’re okay,” Tess whispered, stroking his hair softly beneath her fingertips. She didn’t care that Max was watching, none of that mattered to her at this moment. “You were injured, but Max healed you. You’ll be fine.”

Marco nodded faintly, and she saw him swallow hard, as he glanced at Max.
“Are we out of danger?” he inquired throatily, and Max nodded, moving out the back door. “Yes, but I’m going to get us out of here.”

Max drove in silence, staring ahead as the deserted two-lane unfolded endlessly ahead of him. Serena slept in the seat behind him, and Marco and Tess rode quietly in the back cab. He hadn’t missed the intimacy between the two of them earlier, yet now they seemed quite distant, each staring silently out their separate windows. Max glanced in the rearview mirror, and noticed how Tess kept playing nervously with her hair, chewing on her lip, and he wondered what was really happening between the two of them. Or if anything was at all—perhaps he’d misinterpreted their reaction to one another earlier.

Something about their awkward estrangement left him aching for Liz, needing to bond with her. Besides, he wanted her to know that he was safe, so he grasped for her, feeling for their connection—and was immediately answered by the scent of her, washing all over his skin. He felt her energy skitter across his body, shimmering like white hot light, and he opened…felt their bond take shape, solidify.

And suddenly, Liz was right there inside of him, rushing in like a desert wind. His body heat quickly escalated in response, and his hands trembled on the steering wheel, as he felt himself enter her in kind.

Oh, together…together…sweet, Liz.

Max! Oh, God I’ve been so worried.

I’m fine, baby…oh but how I need you right now.

Max felt her moving unsteadily within him, not quite settling…she was anxious and nervous. But there was something else he sensed, something he couldn’t pinpoint.

What’s wrong? He demanded.

You…Max, you’re so drained. I can feel it. Are you really okay?

For a moment, he wondered what she meant, and then he realized he was terribly spent from healing Marco and Serena. From the battle.

Oh, sweetheart, I’m just kind of wiped out.

Marco was injured, too?
She questioned heatedly, having sensed his thoughts.

Yes, but he’s okay now. He and Serena both are…

She settled more now, and he suddenly yearned to deepen what was happening between them. Even in the midst of everything—precisely because of it—he had to join fully with her.

I need you , he murmured quietly, knowing his words were like a whisper of desire across their connection. He felt her response, how she yearned for him, as their connection trembled.

Now? She questioned gently.

Oh, right now, he sighed. Make love to me, sweetheart…let me make love to you.

With that he felt Liz slip much closer inside of him, felt their souls brush intimately…grow even closer, then quickly dart away. He reached more forcefully, and this time as they touched, they knit together intricately…inseparably, and his body quaked in response.

He felt Liz’s soft sated sigh against his neck. I needed to be like this, she purred. I needed you.

We’ll always have this, no matter what happens , he promised, but felt a whisper of doubt within his heart, as his words brought back his recent premonition—how he’d sensed that there might come a day when they’d be unable to connect like this. Quickly, he pressed the emotions deep within his heart’s inner recesses because this was not the way for Liz to learn about his fears.

Too late, she whispered anxiously.

Oh, God, baby…don’t listen to me.

What kind of premonition?

Liz, I’ll tell you later when we’re together.

We are together right now, Max, she argued heatedly. This is the only way Anna and Riley have communicated for six years, so it has to be good enough for us. It always has been!

He could tell she was crying now, and he cursed himself for having allowed his thoughts to drift so selfishly, for having carelessly exposed her to his secret fears when her heart was already so vulnerable today.

Shh, sweetheart
, he soothed and drew her even more tightly within himself, caressed her…willed her to feel his touch, even across their separation. Everything’s okay.

What premonition? She demanded again, her voice wavering unsteadily. You’ve been keeping it from me?

No…it’s not like that. It was just something I felt a few weeks ago when we were making love, and I didn’t want to upset you.

She stilled a bit, grew quiet inside of him, waiting for him to continue.

I just had a sensation that there might come a time when we couldn’t connect. It was like I reached for you…but hit some kind of steel wall…something impenetrable.

He clasped the steering wheel tightly within his hands, his heart racing madly, but then he realized it was in response to Liz’s emotions, not his own. He was experiencing her own physical reaction to his words.

What could that mean? She questioned softly.

I don’t know…and it’s why I didn’t want to mention it before…because it could easily have meant nothing.

True…might not . But her voice sounded wounded and small, not like that of his strong Liz.

They fell silent for several long moments, and Max stared at the road ahead. The terrain in this part of New Mexico was breathtaking—and right now he was climbing higher and higher into the mountains outside of Taos. A light snow had dusted the ground all around them, and it glinted as the sun peeked half-heartedly from behind the winter clouds. Such a gorgeous moment, discovered quite by accident, and it revealed something to him about their current conversation.

Sweetheart, we don’t know what our futures will bring anymore…we can only take each day as it comes. But we have each other, and we have to treasure every moment precisely because we have no idea what’s coming.

I want to be strong for you, to stand beside you as my leader , she confessed quietly. But it’s hard because I don’t want to lose my husband

And he understood her conflict precisely. If he were any other man, his role as husband would take precedent above all else, but she was admitting that she had to acknowledge him as her leader first, even before husband…mate.

I am yours completely, Liz. No war can change that, not ever.

He felt her energy shimmer sharply at his words, felt her dramatic response as her scent wafted all through the Suburban. She couldn’t have been more intimate with him, if they’d been making love physically. A soft sigh escaped his lips.

I love you, Liz. Nothing can ever change that.

More heady energy swept across his skin, heating it feverishly, and he knew that she loved him with all her heart. But then again, he’d always known that.
The group had gathered in the small living room of the cabin, huddled around the fire trying to stay warm as night fell on the mountain, bringing with it a chilling wind. Max stood in front of the hearth, explaining the events of the day, with Serena near him, covered in a warm blanket, still seeming very weak.

Max had seen the expressions on his friends’ faces, knew that everyone was stunned by the full revelation of the day’s events. He’d spared no details, except in protecting Serena as much as possible—he’d not admitted nearly the full extent of Nicholas’s torture and humiliation of her. He couldn’t possibly subject her to those emotions again, especially not in front of her unit…all of them. He’d simply acknowledged her injury and that Nicholas had repeatedly used the disruptor to prevent her from shape shifting…not how incoherent she’d been, how utterly exposed. Her eyes had met his with quiet gratitude as he’d spoken, and he knew a new bond had forged between the two of them today. Even now, she remained so weak, shivering slightly beneath her blanket, that he knew he had to lead this group—knew that the time had truly come for this leadership transition.

“We won the battle today,” he continued meaningfully, his eyes sweeping the faces around him. “But this war is about to change. We’ve been in defensive mode until now, because we had no other choice. But this is about to become an offensive campaign.”

Max glanced toward Serena for confirmation, but she only smiled softly, refusing to step in. He realized then that she wanted him in this role, wanted him at the helm now.

Michael blew out a heavy breath, staring up at him from where he sat on the floor. “How do we do that, Maxwell? I know it’s what I want, but I don’t understand how we go about it.”

“I’m not sure yet either,” Max confessed. Turning away from them all, he stared down into the roaring fire, studying the leaping flames, as they shifted unpredictably before his eyes. “But I’m going to figure it out, and we all need to be prepared.”

“We back you up, no matter what, Max,” Tess stated simply. “You know that.”

He turned back to face the group, and nodded at Tess in acknowledgement. He’d never appreciated her loyalty more than at this moment, when he was forging ahead into such unknown territory. This had always seemed so daunting to him, truly leading them all like this—and now it wasn’t just his small core unit, but Serena, Marco and the others as well.

“Just know that today the stakes were raised, and this war just changed,” he pledged, and in his mind he pictured what Nicholas had done to Serena…to Marco and Anna. “Nothing can ever be the same again.”

Max meant it, because he would make sure Khivar paid for his army’s actions—if today had been any indication of his cruelty, Max had no doubt how his own people were suffering back on Antar.

And he would no longer allow it.

The meeting had ended, with everyone filing to their various rooms, but Tess had known she couldn’t possibly sleep. So as cold as it was, she’d bundled up and walked out onto the porch, settling in a rocking chair. A heavy snow had begun falling, and she watched as the flakes spiraled down from the sky, so delicate and fragile in such a tough terrain. The contrast moved her inexplicably, and she sat transfixed by the scene.

She heard the door open behind her, and the sound of heavy boots on the wooden porch floor—and knew immediately who they belonged to.

“Hi,” Marco offered softly, stepping close.

“Hey,” she answered, smiling up at him where he towered over her. His expression was serious, his eyes guarded and dark.

“Walk with me a minute?” He asked, wrapping his arms around himself to keep warm. For some reason she noticed how pristine his sweater looked—so different from the bloodstained shirt he’d worn when they’d arrived this afternoon. Now, he was freshly showered, his dark hair combed neatly back, but there was something in his expression that unsettled her.

“Sure,” she agreed, rising to her feet. He moved heavily down the steps, and she followed right behind.

The ground was covered in a thin blanket of snow, but not so heavy that walking wasn’t easy enough. They fell in step beside one another on the driveway, walking in silence for a moment, and then finally he spoke.

“I just wanted to thank you, Tess,” he began huskily. “For today.”

“Marco, you don’t need to thank me,” she disagreed uncertainly, because she wasn’t entirely sure what he was thanking her for.

“No, I do, Tess,” he explained, glancing at her. “I know that somehow you did something…pulled me back somehow.” He shook his head in confusion, rubbing his eyes. “I’m not sure exactly, but I know I need to thank you.”

Tess stared at him in disbelief. Had he heard the things she’d whispered to him from within her mind? What else could he even be talking about—and yet he didn’t seem to truly remember at all.

“You would have done the same for me,” she confessed in a hushed voice. “I know you would have.”

Her words had come out much more tenderly than she’d ever meant.

“Yes, I would,” he admitted quietly. “But it still doesn’t change things between us, Tess.”

Tess turned to him sharply, suddenly very hurt and angry. After everything they’d been through in these past few days—today—how could he possibly argue that nothing had changed? Not when she now knew he was her soul mate, that they shared a deep connection that she couldn’t even begin to fathom. He met her eyes uncertainly in the darkness, his gaze etched in shadow.
But she’d seen one thing clearly enough--absolute confirmation that he was lying to her in this moment. That he’d felt everything she had today—or at least pieces of it.

And something about how adamantly he was denying it all incensed her, empowered her. She drew herself up as tall as possible, and yet he still towered over her, but she didn’t care, as she stared up at him with blazing eyes.

“You’re lying,” she whispered heatedly.

“What?” he asked, wrinkling his dark brows in confusion.

“You are lying about nothing having changed. You know everything is different.”

“Tess…” he began, clasping her arm gently.

“That’s fine, you can lie to yourself, Marco,” she cried, hating how unsteady her voice had become, as tears burned within her eyes. “But just know this…you can’t lie to me.”

She wrestled her arm free from his firm grasp, and stormed quickly away from him, the snow crunching beneath her feet.

“Tess,” he called after her in a thick voice.
She stopped, whirling back to face him one last moment, and was surprised to see he hadn’t moved, was just standing there, his mouth open in disbelief.

“You can’t lie to me, Marco, because I know the truth,” she cried forcefully, the tears spilling down her cheeks now. “I know that we’re called to one another.”

He stood watching her mutely, countless emotions passing over his features. Desire, confusion, denial…and she was also quite sure she glimpsed one final emotion—love.

Marco loved her. She was certain of it.

So now, he had a decision to make—whether he’d embrace what could happen between the two of them, or fight it for eternity, and as she turned, leaving him staring after her, she could only hope he’d choose her.

But even as she offered her hope up as a prayer, she also heard Max’s earlier words ringing in her ears.

Just know that this war has changed…nothing can ever be the same again.



Marco wiped his sweaty brow with the back of his hand, raising his night vision binoculars to survey the landscape below him. He lay propped on his elbows, staring right down into the enemy’s camp from where he was hidden on a rocky outcropping high above. Almost a week ago, Khivar’s army had created a base in the middle of a small, desolate canyon, erecting a series of large army-style tents--and thanks to the tracking device that Riley had covertly planted on one of their vehicles, they’d been able to trace them right here.

So Max had been sending scouting parties for the past week, in order to determine when he could hit their enemies at the point of maximum weakness. Once they’d gathered that information, Max would order another attack, just as he’d been doing consistently for the past six months.

Under his sure guidance, they’d managed to reduce Khivar’s army by a third of its original size, without losing a single member of their own ranks. Months ago, Max had announced that the best way to impact the situation on Antar, was to begin a ruthless campaign against Khivar right here on Earth—and ultimately use that as leverage for negotiations. The fighting had been arduous…even treacherous at times, yet their efforts had certainly paid off.

Marco raked a hand through his hair, surprised at how damp with perspiration it had become. Tonight was hotter than average for August, even by New Mexico standards, and he wished the recent heat wave would abate. Even in his thin t-shirt and khakis he was absolutely sweltering—despite the sun having set at least an hour before--and it only made him more anxious about his current proximity to the enemy.

And his current proximity to Tess.

Almost as if in response to his thoughts, he heard her muffled movements from where she sat crouching behind him. He’d groaned inwardly when she’d been assigned as his reconnaissance partner tonight, knowing exactly how tense the atmosphere would be between them. Lately he’d prayed to be apart from her as often as possible, because even though they’d rarely spoken since that day he’d been shot months ago, his attraction to her had only continued to escalate.

Anytime she was even remotely near him, his senses came fully aware of her—just like right now--and it often required every ounce of his willpower to resist her effect on him. He’d felt his resolve faltering lately, especially when she’d been so damned beautiful in her shorts and halter-tops, and with the way he’d constantly felt her energy swirling around him whenever she was nearby.
Tonight’s surveillance watch had proved nearly unbearable, and the quiet atmosphere had been awkward and tense.


Especially when he’d asked her to study the area below—sought her confirmation of what he was seeing. She’d slid up beside him on her stomach, her hip brushing right against his. He’d passed the binoculars to her, and she’d peered through them, her lips just a breath away from his own. He’s almost leaned over and kissed her right then, her pull had been that powerful. The fact that they were in potential danger had only intensified the eroticism of the moment.

Now, as she huddled behind him in the darkness, he felt his body begin to burn inexplicably…all along his shoulders and lower back. It was one reason he tried to focus on the enemy’s movements below, even though nothing had changed in almost an hour. He couldn’t face her, not with the way he felt his skin growing so heated—and he could only wonder why.

Was it simply the very nearness of her?

He decided to risk a glance back at her, and dropped the binoculars a moment. He sought her with his gaze, and found her sitting against a large rock, studying him silently. Her face was in shadow, yet he couldn’t miss how boldly she met his eyes, even in the moonlit darkness--as if she were challenging him somehow, and he realized that the burning of his skin had merely been the effect of her gaze falling upon him.

He flushed deeply, and quickly turned away from her, staring down into the encampment below them. At least he could be grateful they were almost finished for the night, which would only leave the hike to the Suburban, then the long, torturous drive back to their own camp. They’d barely spoken the whole way here, and he’d turned the stereo up loudly to cover the silence.

As he studied the minimal movements below, he had to admit that Tess wasn’t his only problem. Lately, there’d been another element to the equation, one that confused him even more considerably than Tess did—his reception to Max and Liz’s bond. He wasn’t even sure what had precipitated it, but recently he’d become much more aware of it, and the emotions were becoming overpowering.

He was definitely crossing into dangerous territory.
Somewhere along the line, he’d wandered perilously closer toward their connection, had begun savoring the emotions he felt whenever their bond bled over to him. Not that he didn’t try to block it, for he used every bit of his power to create a wall against them …but what he sensed was so beautiful, so beyond his comprehension, that it was beginning to drive him slightly crazy.

Their incredible love for one another had spun his mind in so many disparate directions, he’d been left utterly confused, except on one point. They’d left him aching for a mate of his own.

They’d left him craving Tess.

For she was the only cure for this deep yearning…the only remedy for these emotions their union had caused him to contemplate--the only one who could save him from these treacherous feelings birthing within him.
Max crept along the dark trail, away from the cabin where the others lay sleeping. He’d cleared this mission with Serena, not because he needed her permission, but rather to determine if it really was safe enough. He’d been deliberately vague, yet she’d given her assurances, and revealed the precise moment he should launch his offensive, based on their own security patrols.

They would be alone, unhindered by any of the unit making their rounds—no one would sweep the area again for another hour.

It was a vigorous descent to the small lake at the bottom of the trail, but worth it. Definitely worth it, he thought with a wicked smile, and reached behind him for Liz’s hand. He paused, turning back toward her, and spun her right into his arms. He couldn’t wait, not with the way his blood was boiling so madly for her.
Not with the way their season had come upon them again, bringing near madness for one another with it.

It was why they’d come away together into the woods, so they could lose one another as desperately as they needed to, as privately, without worrying that some of the others in the small, thin-walled cabin might hear. By sheer necessity their lovemaking had been terribly restrained ever since they’d gone into hiding —well, at least their physical joining, Max thought wryly, remembering how beautiful and wild their spiritual mating had been lately.

“Baby,” he breathed as he pulled her tight within his arms. “My sweet, sweet, wife.” His heart was already beating crazily, but feeling her so close caused it to pound even more quickly.

“Max,” she purred, as their lips met. “Oh, it’s been too long,” she moaned. “I thought I’d never make it.”

“Too long,” he murmured in agreement. It had been more than forty-eight hours, which was an eternity given the way their cycle had escalated during that span of time. They were nearing the peak, he could sense it, because it reminded him of that night months ago…the night of their awakening. Their aching need for one another had begun spiraling in just the past few days, just as madly as the last time months before.

Liz slipped her hands under his shirt, stroking the planes of his chest, caressing his nipples, which instantly aroused beneath her touch. Their kisses were deepening, as their tongues entwined, flicking deliriously together.

Maybe they’d forget the lake idea…maybe right here on the path, under the moonlight. Liz’s chest was heaving against his, as he cupped her face within his hands, his fingers slipping through her silky tresses. Oh, how he needed her, right now, right here. His erection throbbed painfully within his khakis, and as if in answer, her hand found it’s way right to it, rubbing firmly.

“Max,” she gasped, drawing in a ragged breath. “Please just don’t ever…”

He nodded vigorously, interrupting her with a fevered kiss. There was no need for her to beg, for surely he would never repeat this mistake--stay gone on a mission so long during one of these cycles. He felt the great toll it had taken on her, by the way she was shaking softly within his arms, shuddering at their sudden proximity.
Or from the lack of it these past days.

“No, sweetheart,” he assured her quietly, as he broke the kiss. “I won’t ever do this to you again.” He dropped to his knees right in front of her, his eyes begging her to join him.

Liz could see how flushed Max’s face had become, even in the silvery moonlight. So quickly, his cheeks had stained a deep red, and he’d begun panting softly, as he knelt in front of her. She knew exactly what he wanted—to make love to her right here on the leaf-strewn path, not in the lake as they’d planned. He eased her halter-top up slightly, so that her mid-drift was exposed, and began kissing her abdomen, pressing the waistband of her shorts downward with his thumbs, trailing his lips dangerously low.

He laved her bellybutton with his tongue, suggesting flirtatiously where else he might explore. A moan escaped her lips, as his hands cupped her from behind, caressing her bottom firmly. She’d begun to feel his energy pooling within her belly, right beneath where he trailed his tongue. She answered, by unfolding her own energy rapidly across his body, and his mouth stilled as he gasped in response.

“Liz,” he groaned helplessly. “What are you trying to do to me?” His voice was husky, almost unrecognizable in the darkness.

She felt a fiery shimmer of lightning shoot across her back, and his own blazing energy began nipping at her skin, her neck, while he simply knelt before her. He kissed her abdomen lower and lower, unzipping her shorts with shaky hands.

Liz had to have more of him, so she opened to their connection, and he rushed inside her with such force, it drove her to her knees unsteadily. She’d forgotten how his energy blazed during their cycles, how overpowering it could be. It was more heady…and even more raw in its maleness, as he surrounded her with it.

Sweetheart, he moaned quietly, catching her in his arms. His chest heaved, as he drew in labored breaths, and his fevered lips met her own. Sorry…I can’t get to the lake, he managed to force out, though she felt how very unsettled and erratic his thoughts had become.

Max, it’s okay…I don’t care, she soothed him. I just want all of you. Join with me, she begged urgently.

It’s all that I want…you’re all that I want , he murmured softly. Their souls met in that moment, kissing like sunlight to hot sand, as their two separate selves slipped effortlessly into one beautiful being. Max buried his face in her hair, and Liz felt tears pool in her eyes. As regular as this mating had become for them, the sensation of literally forging her soul to Max’s never ceased to amaze her—the way it felt to literally weave together with him.

If I live to be a hundred years old, there will never be anything more beautiful to me than just this, Max agreed softly, nuzzling her face with his mouth. The tears slipped down her cheeks now, and he kissed each of them away.

They were both so deeply sated, yet Liz marveled at how sharply their driving physical urge for one another had intensified in the wake of their bonding. She felt Max’s erection pressing against her.
I need all of you , he growled in response.
Yes, definitely…not enough, she managed to cry, as he quickly unbuttoned his jeans. She shimmied hurriedly out of her shorts because they needed one another too urgently to linger over this any longer. Max turned back to her, wearing only his t-shirt, which she eased quickly over his head.

This, too, he commanded huskily, pulling at her halter-top. She slipped it off, so that only their bare skin touched now. He eased her backwards, and Liz felt scratchy dry leaves against her back--but she was only dimly aware of them, especially with Max slipping firmly between her legs.

He pressed against her, and entered her easily. She was so slick and wet…so unbelievably warm as he entered. The feel of her all around him, so tight, was more than enough to drive him over the edge—just that quickly. But he held on because he wanted this to last…for both of them.

They rocked gently against one another, her tiny hips bucking up hungrily against him, as her hands drew him desperately closer. She wrapped her legs around him, drawing him deeper within her.

He was vaguely aware of the dry earth just beneath them, the feel of leaves and small rocks, but Liz eclipsed all of that.

Oh, sweetheart, you are so many things to me…my love, my mate, my wife…my queen, he groaned, and felt their connection explode like wildfire at his words. The summer air was already so hot, but now their feverish skin just sizzled, as their chests, abdomens…bodies brushed together, over and over.

And like that time so many months before, he felt something very exotic birthing in their union…something utterly alien and lovely. They were Zan and Zillia once again, he realized with a satisified moan. Loving one another across lifetimes…driven together just like this for eternity.

The realization of it sent them both over the edge at precisely the same moment, as they screamed one another’s names within their bond, and their moans echoed softly through the quiet woods.

As they lay kissing softly, the crackle of the leaves answering beneath their quaking bodies, Max knew he’d managed to forget the revolution for those moments. Had been able to simply lose himself within the arms of his beloved wife. And that had been the purpose in coming out this far away from the others.

He needed Liz like this more than ever before…their bodies had commanded it, but more than that, his heart had.
Tess rode in silence beside Marco, listening to Bob Dylan for perhaps the last time she could tolerate. Why was he so fixated on just this one CD, Blood on the Tracks , she wondered. What secrets did these melancholy lyrics reveal about his guarded heart?

For while she knew he’d been listening to it months ago, he now seemed to play it almost incessantly.

The air conditioning hummed tonelessly inside the darkened cab, only the headlights illuminating the dark road ahead. They’d gotten their necessary reconnaissance information, and hadn’t wasted any time with the long hike back to where they’d hidden the vehicle. In that entire walk, they’d uttered no words between them, and even in the past forty-five minutes, Marco had played the stereo loudly, droning out any attempts at conversation on her part.

Then why did she feel his need for her thrumming so intensely in the darkness? Because you’re sensing his heart , a quiet voice answered her. This was the way it had been between them for months, ever since the day he’d been shot. They’d barely spoken again since that night—except as their positions had demanded--yet the feelings had only intensified awkwardly over these months.

And lately, she felt something strange growing…the sensation that their gifts were trying to join somehow. She found herself knowing things intuitively that she never would have before—especially within Marco. His heart was so open, almost innocent in a way, that it frightened her sometimes. She feared he might be vulnerable to their enemies somehow, and she yearned to protect him in a surprising, unfamiliar way.

She glanced at him in the darkness, and noticed that his dark brows were knit together intently. His face was lined with worry, and she wished he’d just talk to her. She reached to turn down the stereo, and he turned sharply toward her.

“I’m sorry, but I just can’t handle Bob Dylan yet again tonight,” she laughed, but despite her attempt, knew her words had fallen flat.

“You don’t like Dylan?” He asked, sounding surprisingly disappointed.

“No, no…I love Dylan,” she rushed to explain awkwardly, studying his features. “It’s just, geez, I mean Neil Young, Dylan, Donovan…don’t you ever listen to anyone from this millennium?”

He sighed heavily, his gaze never leaving the road. “So you’ve joined them.”

“Joined who?” She asked, wrinkling her nose in confusion.

“The others…those who oppose my musical tastes…Riley, Cecilia, Michael,” he recited, his voice tinged with heavy disappointment. Yet she didn’t miss the smile playing at the corner of his mouth. “And now you, lovely Tess… a traitor to my cause? I’d never have dreamed it.”

Somehow his playful words struck her as quite flirtatious in the darkness. “Well, now I wouldn’t place me so quickly in the enemy camp,” she argued, aware of how breathy her words suddenly sounded.

“No?” he questioned, raising a dark eyebrow curiously. “Explain what you mean, or I might have to take you right to my leader.”

“And that would be?” She questioned in mock suspicion.
He glanced at her quickly, his dark eyes dancing with mischief. “The man you maligned so easily…Mr. Dylan.”

Tess giggled nervously at his words. They’d probably just spoken more in this ridiculous interchange than they had in months, and she felt something releasing—some tension giving way between them.

“Yeah, just don’t let Max find out about that,” Tess teased lightly, but was instantly sorry for her words, when Marco’s eyes narrowed sharply. He stared straight ahead at the road, yet she knew his mind had closed to her again, as she’d just reminded him of all the reasons their playful conversation was so wrong.

Of the forbidden desire between them…something that in Marco’s mind Max must never learn about.

Now as they rode again in silence, and he turned up the stereo, she yearned to talk freely with him again. In some ways, she hardly knew him at all, longed to learn what exactly did draw him to the somber, classic rock that he always listened to. If the conversation would ever flow openly between them, she’d ask what growing up with Serena had been like—oddly, they had that in common, each having been raised by protectors from the ’47 crash. There were so many things they were never allowed to share or explore, all because of Marco’s intense refusal to acknowledge his feelings for her.

But hadn’t he acknowledged what he felt…on several occasions? She wondered. And really, he had—the problem was more his vehement denial of any potential relationship between the two of them. Suddenly, the wistful refrain of the Dylan song struck her profoundly…and as she listened to the lyrics, she wondered if his fixation on the one song might have something to do with her.

We drove that car as far as we could
Abandoned it out West
Split up on a dark sad night
Both agreeing it was best.
She turned around to look at me
As I was walkin' away
I heard her say over my shoulder,
"We'll meet again someday on the avenue,"
Tangled up in blue.

“So is that me?” Tess asked softly, surprised that she’d found the boldness to ask the question haunting her thoughts. Yet it had been there, begging for acknowledgement.

“What?” He choked, and she didn’t miss the panic in his expression, even with his eyes trained intently on the road ahead.

“In the song?” She explained in a tight voice. Her heart was beating rapidly, but despite how much this frightened her, she needed to press him tonight. “I mean, do you see that as me?”
Warm lake water surrounded their naked bodies, as Max and Liz swam in the darkness, moonlight shimmering on the lake’s still surface. The feel of the water against pulled against them erotically, yet they simply treaded together, staring deeply into one another’s eyes.

“I don’t know how I ever thought we could make this work,” Max laughed huskily, realizing the logistics for lovemaking would be nearly impossible.

“Good thing we stopped where we did earlier,” Liz agreed huskily, and he stroked damp hair out of her eyes.

“No kidding,” he laughed softly, kissing her very softly. Their earlier driving passion had eased a bit, and now they were free to share a different moment together, something carefree and foreign to their lives these days.

That’s what tonight had been all about…leaving their burdens behind and simply savoring one another. Just this once.

“Max,” Liz began quietly, and he saw her dark eyes narrow. “You know…”

“What?” He prompted gently, sensing her retiscence.

“Well, just that obviously I’m not on the pill anymore, since it’s not like I can run to the drugstore every month.”

“Yeah,” he agreed quietly, wondering where this conversation was headed, as they tread water slowly.
Where was this conversation going? He suddenly wondered, in quiet alarm.

No, no…I’m not pregnant or anything , she reassured him quickly.

Not that I’d mind , he rushed to clarify. I mean, I’d worry…with everything, but…

“I know you’d be thrilled,” she finished for him, slipping her arms around his neck. He felt her press up against his lower body, and a thrill shot through their connection at the sudden intimacy.

“I’m just saying…we should be careful in the future,” She explained quietly. “Or, well…”

“Yeah, I see what you mean,” he agreed softly. And something about the turn of this conversation left him feeling very melancholy. He wanted babies with her so much, he often ached with it—and he’d felt the same desire from her on countless occasions.

Yet, before there’d always been school and their financial concerns, and now there was just so much uncertainty.

But he wanted those children. The ones he’d seen in his dreams on several occasions in the past few months. Two small children, a boy—slightly older—and a little girl. Both dark headed, looking so much like their parents…well, he had to admit with a wry laugh, perhaps a bit more like himself. He smiled softly, recalling their image.

He had to believe they would have those children one day, when the time was just right.

Of course we will, Liz promised. I’ve been dreaming about them, too.
Max cried in wonder, because they’d never discussed it.

I think we were meant to know about them, because they’re our hope for the future, she explained softly.
He nodded, slipping his hands about her waist. “I have so much hope for our future, sweetheart. Always know that, no matter how intense things may get.”

“There’s only one point I must disagree with you about,” she argued gently.


“They look more like me, not you,” she huffed, breaking away from him. They both began laughing giddily, as she swam away from him, and he darted beneath the water’s quiet surface, headed to claim her within his arms again
Is that me? She’d asked. Such a simple and straightforward question, and yet it revealed volumes about their relationship. No one had ever bothered asking what that song meant to him, not even in recent months when it was the only thing he wanted to play. Even Riley had complained in slight irritation, demanding him to advance at least a few decades in his musical selections. One night Michael had shouted that he couldn’t take it any more, and had quickly changed to a Stone Temple Pilots CD.

But no one had ever asked what the song meant to him.
Until now, and she’d asked in such a personal, intimate way—yet he didn’t feel violated at all. Strangely, he wanted her to know.

Longed to tell her that the song was about three people, possibly a fourth…no one had ever been sure. Except that there was a couple, and one man standing outside looking in, wanting something that they had.

And, yes, just as she’d guessed, the song also told of lovers parting in the night…someplace out west. He and Tess that night in the snow, forever turning away from one another.

Only their separation hadn’t worked, and he couldn’t figure out why it hadn’t.

She rode beside him in the darkness, awaiting an explanation, and he knew she was the only one who could sort through all his confusion. About his feelings for her…about Max and Liz’s bond.

The moments ticked by endlessly, and he heard her sigh heavily…knew she’d grown hopeless of his ever responding. All the while, Bob Dylan just kept on crooning, giving life to his emotions.

But all the while I was alone
The past was close behind,
I seen a lot of women
But she never escaped my mind, and I just grew
Tangled up in blue.

“Yes,” he confessed finally, staring straight ahead at the unfolding road, avoiding her piercing gaze. “Who else could it possibly be?” He asked, his voice throaty with all the emotions he felt.

“And so you just…” She hesitated a moment, and he sensed she was struggling with her next words. “What? Just listen to the song and think all of this between us will go away?”


“No what?” She cried in confusion, her voice cracking a bit. He hated what he’d been doing to her all these months, despised that he’d hurt her as much as he obviously had.

“No, I don’t think it will just go away,” he whispered, turning toward her. She leaned against the door, just staring up at him like a graceful deer finding itself in sudden headlights.

“By now, I doubt that it ever will,” he finished, turning his gaze back to the road.

Silence spun out between them for several long moments, the song hammering its painful lyrics in the night.

And when finally the bottom fell out
I became withdrawn,
The only thing I knew how to do
Was to keep on keepin' on like a bird that flew,
Tangled up in blue.

He wanted to tell her the rest, to confess how confused he was, what he really wanted with her. Not a relationship…from the beginning he’d known that wouldn’t be enough. He wanted her fully, her soul sealed to his for the rest of their lives. Because he knew for sure now that was the only way for him.

And yet, it was impossible. This quandary was more than impossible, and it was slowly eating away at his heart—as was the situation with his king and queen.

He wanted so much to tell her the rest, that it nearly killed him.

Wanted her to know that she haunted his dreams, night after night, and each time he sensed more about what they could truly be together…if only this were a different lifetime, a different situation.

“Tell me,” she whispered urgently, startling him beyond comprehension.

“Tell you what?” He asked incredulously. How could she have known his thoughts like that?

“What you’re not saying,” she cried softly. “I know there’s more.”

He felt his hands shaking on the steering wheel, and knew he had to open up with her—at least on one point. He drew in a sharp breath, gathering all the courage within him, and decided to risk everything tonight…to simply forge ahead.

He needed her to know--not later, not months from now…but tonight. Because without her knowing, he was just too damn tangled up in blue.

posted on 3-Dec-2001 6:27:39 PM
Author's Note: Jingle and others, working on reposting!!
Here's more... PART TWENTY-TWO

Marco unbuckled his safety belt, and turned to face Tess. Only the dim glow from the dashboard illuminated them, yet he could see that she gripped her knees tightly with both hands, as if bracing for something.

He’d pulled into the driveway of their compound, and driven a small distance up the gravel road. Once the security gate had shut automatically behind them, he’d shifted the Suburban into park, and told her he wanted to talk to her for a few moments before they headed up to the cabin.

So, now she faced him apprehensively, her mouth drawn in a tight line as she waited for him to speak. He closed his eyes a moment, trying to still the restless spinning of his thoughts. Earlier, she’d asked what he wasn’t telling her, and now that he was ready to answer that question, he wasn’t even sure where to begin—nor was he certain just how truthful he really wanted to be tonight.

“Tess,” he began uncertainly, rubbing his tired eyes. It was well past midnight now, but despite his physical exhaustion, his senses were keenly alert. “There’s something I want to make sure you understand…something I should have explained months ago.” He paused, meeting her keen blue eyes in the darkness, and for a moment couldn’t even speak, he was so shaken by their azure depths. Whenever their eyes locked just like this, he felt electricity shimmer between the two of them.

“I…don’t want you to think that I keep pushing you away just because,” he paused, wishing this didn’t feel so difficult. “I feel you distract me.” There. He’d gotten the words out, had made himself more vulnerable with her than ever before.

“Then why?” She whispered, running her hand nervously down the length of her ponytail. She almost never wore her hair loose anymore, not since he’d drawn the line between them months ago. Now, it was always pulled back, almost severely so—and he’d often wondered why--especially because he loved it flowing freely over her shoulders so much.

“I took vows,” he confessed in a hushed voice. “What I am…what I’m part of, it’s a sacred order, Tess. It’s the highest honor I could have ever imagined,” he stared down at his hands for a moment, gathering his thoughts. How could he explain what it meant for him to serve his king and queen, to be the only one assigned exclusively to them?

“What kind of vows?” Tess questioned, wrinkling her blonde brows in confusion.

R’thasme siet falne ,” he breathed reverentially. He’d not spoken the words aloud since the day they’d inducted him into the unit, and the hair on the nape of his neck bristled at his quiet pronouncement.

“What?” Tess cried, shock apparent in her voice. “What language is that?” Yet he could tell she suspected already, and he smiled faintly at her surprise in hearing her own ancestral tongue.

“Antarian,” he explained gently.

“You speak that?” Her eyes widened in amazement.

“Serena taught me some,” he explained quietly. “It’s not a difficult language, actually. I could teach you if you’d like.”

“It sounds so beautiful…especially the way you just spoke those words.”

“They mean ‘Dying to self, in order to protect those most worthy.’”

Pain etched her features at his explanation, at what they obviously implied about their nascent relationship. “Like Max and Liz…” she offered in a deflated tone.

“Yes, like Max and Liz,” he agreed, looking away from her into the darkened woods ahead of them. “Especially in my case, since I serve them personally…”

“But you’re worthy, too,” she argued, her voice so quiet, he might have missed it apart from the silence that enveloped them.

“Ah, but see…that’s the catch. Because of my vows, the royal family must always come before myself…and that’s why I cannot bond with anyone, Tess.”

She was silent a long moment, considering his words, and he stared at her hands folded neatly in her lap, longing to take them within his own.

“That’s not fair,” she shook her head slowly, chewing on her lip. “Not to you…or me.”

Marco hesitated a moment because there was something else he definitely wanted to share with her—something he needed for her to know. He wrestled desperately with the words that had already formed within his mind, and made a firm decision to press ahead, as unnerving as it was to him. He reached tentatively for her hand, cradling it within his own, and stroked his thumb across her knuckles for a long moment.

“Do you remember when you asked why this couldn’t just be something casual between us?” He questioned gently.

She nodded and he saw her swallow hard--she was as frightened of this moment as he was.

“Don’t you see that this can only lead one place for me,Tess? And if we so much as take a step in the direction where my heart is leading me…”

He shook his head, closing his eyes against the overwhelming emotions this moment had wrought within him.
This could only end one place, with our bonding completely…becoming life mates. He couldn’t say the words, they came at too great a price.

“I’d always put you above them, I know it,” he finally managed to say, his heart hammering painfully. “And that’s the problem.”

She squeezed his hand tightly within her own small one, and he marveled at how very delicate and lovely even her hands were to him.

“But I serve them as ardently as you do.” Tess argued quietly. “In bonding, our powers would blend, Marco…haven’t you felt the way our gifts almost seem to join at different times?”

Marco bowed his head swiftly, and Tess could see that indeed he had felt that exotic pull between them…how something beyond their understanding had been evolving between them.

“You have,” she cried quietly, clasping his hand within both of her own, her words rushing out. “I know things all the time now, Marco…things about you. I’m not intuitive—yet suddenly I’m feeling your gift within me.”

His eyes flew upward, their dark depths widening in amazement. She thought again how absolutely beautiful their ebony depths were to her, the way his long, sooty lashes fanned upward. She suddenly wished very much he’d offer her at least the smallest of kisses this night.

And yet he simply sat there, staring at her in disbelief, and she watched as sadness mingled with amazement in his features.

“Sometimes lately, I get these visions and images, especially when we’re fighting together,” he agreed, staring away from her again, his eyes searching all around him. “It’s almost like I could project them if I wanted to.”

She leaned much closer toward him, and without even realizing it, pressed his hand against her heart. “Don’t you think you’re feeling that for a reason?” She was urgent, desperate to make him see what she knew was true. That what she’d proclaimed months before about their being called to one another was true. “We would be stronger together, you’re just afraid.”

“I am not,” he declared forcefully, pulling his hand free from her own. A quiet sob escaped her lips as she sensed him begin to close himself off again. Tears sprang to her eyes unbidden, and she knew that at the slightest provocation, she might well come undone in this moment. Too much emotional and spiritual tension had awakened between them in the past moments—he couldn’t simply shut down again.

Marco turned away from her, facing forward in his seat, his hands gripping the steering wheel tightly. He seemed to be battling something very powerful within himself, as he sat beside her silently. Finally he relaxed a bit, yet still faced away from her, refusing to meet her gaze.

“R’thasme siet falne ,” he whispered hoarsely. “Those were the vows, Tess…and they’re irrevocable now. I’m the property of my king and queen, not my own.”

Tess had a sudden vision of Marco’s hand, and the hazy image began to gain clarity within her mind. Why would she have seen his hand? What could it mean?

On raw instinct, she reached for his right hand, where he clutched the steering wheel so tightly. He resisted, and yet she pried more forcefully until he relinquished, allowing her to cradle his wrist right within her open palms. He turned in his seat again, facing her, as she stared down at his open wrist. This was the key somehow, she knew it, as she traced her fingers lightly against his rapidly beating pulse.

She stared down at his dark skin, just feeling the intricate veins beneath her fingertips, and she heard him gasp sharply.

“Right here,” she whispered, trusting the sudden voice within her. Marco’s voice, guiding her. “This is why, right here. Why you refuse to love me.”

“No,” he cried in a broken voice. “Not refuse to love you…no. Refuse to take you as my life mate, Tess.”

“What is it? Why is this so important?” She demanded in confusion. She didn’t understand why his wrist was the explanation for all his avoidance of her.

He traced his own fingers lightly across the exposed skin, brushing his fingertips against hers, and was silent for a moment. He drew a shuddered breath in, and seemed about to speak, but instead blew the breath out heavily. She raised her eyes tentatively, and found him staring at her.

“They branded me,” he whispered huskily. “When I swore my vows. I’m forever marked by what I am.”

Branded you? ” Tess cried in disbelief, not understanding what he meant at all. She saw nothing but his lovely olive skin beneath her fingertips.

“I have a royal seal, like Max’s…it’s given as a symbol of our charge as protectors.”

Something about his words made her extremely uncomfortable, as truth came sharply into focus. They’d branded him as a symbol of the fact that he no longer belonged to himself, just as he’d been telling her all along. He belonged to his unit, to the royal family…to everyone but her. No wonder he’d kept arguing that he could never be hers.

She wanted to see this mark…needed somehow to confront it with her own eyes.

“Show me,” she urged, her voice breaking, as tears finally spilled down her cheeks.

“Oh, Tess,” he breathed, reaching to wipe her tears away with his thumb. “Sweet, sweet, Tess. I didn’t want to hurt you.”

She shook her head in acknowledgement, but the tears just kept flowing, forming hot rivulets against her skin. She saw anguish instantly fill his eyes, regret that he’d caused her pain.

He cupped her face gently within his hands, and drew her toward him. He kissed her cheek, where the tears flowed. “I keep hurting you and it’s the last thing I want.”
She turned toward him, grazing her lips against his softly, and for a moment he remained completely still against her, frozen like that. He was deliberating, confused—she could feel it. And then slowly his lips parted, and as before she was amazed at how incredibly shy his kisses were, so surprising in someone as brave and bold as Marco.

They kissed slowly and delicately—not with heated passion, but with tears born of regret. He reached behind her, and she felt him toy with her hair clasp until her hair fell loosely across her shoulders. For a moment, he pulled away from her and just stared, his eyes sweeping across her features and her long hair. He drank her in with his eyes, such appreciation for her shining in his expression.

“Oh, you are too lovely to hide, sweet Tess,” he breathed, shaking his head slowly. “Please don’t do that anymore.”

He’d seen into her heart, had known that she’d wanted to strangle some part of her femininity these past months…the months when he’d been turned away from her.

Marco ran his hand down the length of her tresses, threading his fingers deliberately through her hair, and his eyes flared with undisguised passion. And yet she sensed there was more he needed to share with her tonight…something still very much unsaid. She felt it pressing against her mind, just as heavily as it did against his own.

She stared up at him, studied his graceful black eyebrows and the way they arched, just drank in all his beautiful features…his single dimple that appeared even now as he chewed his lip.

The moment was shot through with such palpable energy, it felt like ungrounded electricity between them.

How could he tell her the rest? What he most wanted was to take her back into his arms, and damn everything he’d just told her…to lead her inside the cabin tonight and make love to her for so long, that afterwards there’d be no doubt who he belonged to.

And yet, he knew she was the only one who could help him—had felt it all evening. So she had to know everything tonight.

He let his hand drop from where he’d been slowly stroking her hair, the way he’d been willing her to feel all the love he held for her in his heart--had been hoping she could sense it, just as she had perceived so many other things within him recently.

“There’s something else you must know about me,” he began, dreading the revelation he was about to share, how very exposed he already felt about it.

She nodded encouragingly, staring at him with eyes slightly swollen and red from her tears.

“When I was a small a child, a boy really,” he began hesitantly. Was he really ready for her to know his darkest secret?

“Well, I had a bit of a problem, something quite disturbing really,” he continued awkwardly, and Tess wondered how whatever he was about to share could be relevant to their current conversation. She noticed that his hands trembled slightly, as he wrung them together absently.

“I…well, I felt things…things within other people,” he continued softly. She wondered how this was different from the way his gift manifested in adulthood. “In fact, well, it was so strong…it was quite debilitating, actually. I couldn’t be around more than a few people at a time…the emotions were that strong.”

His expression was agonized as he remembered the past, and she understood that he was sharing something deeply personal with her now.

She took his hand again, threading her fingers between his, encouraging him to continue with a gentle nod.

“I felt everything around me, in most everyone…and it all just came at me so intensely, that I’d get blinding headaches…would become physically sick even…could hardly think straight at all. And I was so small, I didn’t even understand some of the emotions that I’d feel.”

Tess felt her heart breaking at his words, as comprehension began to dawn—what he’d grappled with in simply living with his intuition. It was much stronger than she’d even guessed, and had tortured him when he was just a little boy.

“Well, Serena finally helped me learn to block what I was perceiving…to master my gift,” he continued, raking a hand through his black hair. “By the time I was ten-- I’d learned the cardinal rule that I controlled my powers, they didn’t control me. And after a while, I didn’t get sick anymore.”

“Okay,” she answered thoughtfully, wondering what he was really trying to tell her. She gave his hand a tight squeeze. “Go on.”

“Well my intuition changed then…I mastered it and overcame how it affected me so negatively…that is, until lately.”

Until lately…what was he saying? Was she somehow causing problems for him with it after all these years?

She stroked his hand, feeling how clammy it had grown within her grasp.

“Marco, I’m not quite following you,” she explained as gently as possible. She was painfully aware that these revelations had come at a great price for him. “I mean, I understand about when you were a child, but not about now.”

“No…no, not yet,” he explained heavily. “But you will.” His voice was absolutely tight with emotion.

“Okay,” she encouraged. “Then tell me.”

“It’s Max and Liz.” He pressed his eyes shut, grimacing as he spoke. “It’s happening all over again with them…after all these years.” His eyes flew open, desperately searching around him, avoiding her own shocked gaze. “And I’m so scared, Tess…so damn scared of what’s inside me.”

What’s happening with them?” She pressed.

“I feel things between them…all their emotions when they connect,” he explained in a bewildered voice, sounding absolutely lost. “I’ve tried blocking it…but nothing’s working.”

The implication of his words began to gain clarity in her mind. He was feeling their own emotions, just as he’d felt those surrounding him as a small child.

“Have you tried talking to them?” She suggested, proceeding very delicately.

“Serena…I talked to her about it when it first started.”

“What did she say?”

He bowed his head and she imagined him as a small boy in that moment, how utterly tormented he’d been, simply because of how strong his gifting was…how beautiful his ability to feel those around him had been. And now he was suffering all over again.

“She told me to block them, just as I knew to do. But I’ve not spoken to her about it since then.”

Tess wondered why Serena hadn’t pressed him about it further more recently—what her reasoning could have possibly been.

“You should talk to her again,” she urged. “She needs to know.”

“She thinks I’m okay, Tess,” he argued plaintively. “Please don’t think this is Serena’s fault.”

He was instantly so protective of her, and Tess sensed how much he loved the only woman he’d ever known as a mother. “Of course not,” she promised, cupping his face within her palm. He closed his eyes at the intimate contact, and she knew the feel of her hand against his skin had soothed him instantly. “But she can help you. And if you haven’t told her before now, how could she have known?”

“I’m ashamed for her to know,” he admitted quietly. “I’m ashamed that I can’t control it any better than this…I’m their protector, I should be able to prevent this.”

Marco’s voice was full of such self-accusation, that Tess ached at his words, longed to comfort him. She leaned toward him in one fluid motion, pulling him roughly within her arms. At first, his hands hung loosely by his sides, as he resisted the embrace, but then he slowly folded his arms around her, burying his face against the top of her head.

“Marco, your gift is beautiful,” she breathed softly against his neck, feeling the light bristling of his beard stubble. “You have nothing to be ashamed of…I think you’re just very connected to them both because of how you’re bound to them.”

“I’m not ashamed of my gift,” he explained huskily. “I’m ashamed of what I feel.”

Tess’s heart hammered anxiously at his words, at his implication. “What do you feel?” She prompted, despite her apprehension about what he was really confessing to her in the darkened vehicle.

“I want what they have…so much ,” he breathed against her face. “But not with them. I want you.”

I want you. Three simple words, and yet they came at such a heavy price for this strong, beautiful man. They should have caused her soul to soar to the highest planes, and yet they only left her tormented, because she sensed how Marco’s heart was breaking.

She stroked his thick hair beneath her fingers, holding him close against her, and thought of his vow…R’thasme siet falne.

Dying to self, in order to protect those most worthy…
and she realized that Marco was indeed worthy of her own sacrifice. She would help this thing between them die, so that he might live fully, so that he might be the only man he’d ever wanted to be until he’d met her.

Bound servant to his king and queen.


It was late, probably after 10:30 p.m. by now, and slowly everyone was filing off to bed for the night. Yet, there were still a few of them playing Maria’s ridiculous game of questions.
Who was your first date with? How old were you when you had your first drink? What’s the one thing you’d never want your parents to know? That one had evoked some good laughs from most all of them.

Isabel and Alex had gone to bed now, and Liz had taken Max into their own room to give him a long overdue haircut. She’d laughingly told him that she’d liked Future Max’s hair, but that she wouldn’t let him go that route. He’d smiled, rising from where he’d been sitting, and Liz had retrieved her hair clippers from the main bathroom. Liz had been cutting all of their hair for years now, something they’d begun to rely on during their lean college days. In the beginning, she’d only cut Max’s, but then Maria had begun asking her to style hers, too, and before long nearly all their group depended on her. It had always struck Tess that Liz’s love of order and symmetry found an artistic avenue in these haircuts.

So, only a few of them were playing the game now, especially since Serena and Cecilia were still on patrol. In another hour she and Riley would replace them on the watch, but for now Tess sat on the sofa, hugging her knees tightly against her chest—desperately avoiding Marco’s keen gaze where he sat on the sofa just across the room from her. Kyle sat beside her, his arm thrown loosely across her shoulders as they waited for Maria’s next question. So far, Tess had survived most of this game without too much embarrassment, and had laughed at some of the answers the others had given to the various personal questions.

And with each new question, she’d waited expectantly for Marco’s answer, secretly treasuring every new scrap of information she learned about him. He was much more reticent in his answers than most of the group, and answered very cautiously, guardedly—and somehow that surprised Tess. She wondered if his self-protectiveness might have something to do with feeling vulnerable around her.

She also didn’t miss the way his black eyes had flashed with jealousy when Kyle had settled beside her, throwing his arm over her shoulders. She’d smiled at Kyle, snuggling closer, and had then caught Marco simply staring at the two of them, his face flushing slightly with obvious possessiveness.

She’d smiled faintly at him, where he sat across the room from her, trying to ease his apparent discomfort. But he’d quickly averted his gaze and something about his refusal to communicate with her—even so subtly from across the room—had left her aching for him.

Yet, wasn’t this what she’d pledged to herself last night ? That she would no longer encourage the feelings that had been growing between them? She’d even pulled her hair back into a long braid today, despite how he’d begged her not to hide from him anymore—had told her how beautiful it was loose. But in the wake of last night’s conversation she’d drawn it back tightly from her face this morning.

And had nearly cried at breakfast, when Marco had gazed at her so strangely as she’d joined the group. His eyes had wandered over her hair for a long moment, and Tess had seen such confusion flash in his dark eyes.

But of course he was confused—he didn’t know that she’d made a vow of her own last night.

She glanced at him again and this time found him staring at her openly, his eyes questioning her. She felt his words resonate right through her, they were that clear.

What does Kyle mean to you? Why are you hiding from me again?

She shivered slightly at hearing his voice so strongly within her own mind, at realizing how connected their thoughts were becoming with each day that passed. How did either of them think they could fight the bond that was slowly forging between them—not when they were joining somehow, even without mating or even barely kissing?

Tess tossed her braid defiantly, willing the thoughts out of her mind…ignoring the questions she sensed churning in Marco’s head.

“Who was the first person you ever kissed?” Maria asked and her voice drew Tess back to the moment.

“Whose turn is it now?” Anna asked from where she sat with Riley on the hearth. Tess was always surprised by how quiet Anna’s voice was, because there was nothing quiet about her fiery personality.

“Tess, confession time, baby,” Michael laughed. He and Maria sat beside Marco, on the sofa across from her, so she definitely noticed how keenly Marco awaited her answer.

Her cheeks flushed suddenly, and she toyed nervously with her braid. “I think I’ll pass on this one,” she finally answered.

“Oh, no…you’re not getting off that easily,” Michael demanded.

“Michael, I’m sure she just doesn’t want everyone in this room to know that it was Kyle,” Maria explained patiently, but her playful smile belied her words.

“Oh, please!” Tess exclaimed. “As if he were my very first.”

“I wasn’t?” Kyle turned to her, feigning disappointment.

“Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but you know, like I was actually kissed before the age of eighteen, Kyle.”

“Then who?” The question was voiced so quietly, that it was all the more shocking that Marco had asked it. Normally, within their group, his throaty voice tended to be strong and loud, rumbling throughout any room he occupied.

She met his penetrating gaze, and felt her heart beat quickly as she stared into his black, moody eyes. Something about his asking had left her feeling very exposed in front of the group—as if they could all read the unspoken words passing between the two of them.

You kissed Kyle once…what is he to you? She heard it again, felt Marco’s jealousy, and how very possessive it made him feel of her—even though she also sensed that he berated himself for it, knowing he had no right to lay claim to her.

“Oh, all right,” Tess sighed, staring down at her hands for a moment, and began laughing softly. “You guys obviously aren’t going to let it go.”

“Not a chance,” Maria agreed with a vigorous nod of her head.

“Hud Grossclose,” Tess confessed and felt her cheeks flame hotly.

“Hud Grossclose?” Michael practically yelled. “No, that is not a real name.”

“It is,” Tess argued with a wry laugh. “The name of the very first guy I ever kissed.”

Tess raised her eyes tentatively, and was surprised to see Marco grinning broadly, his single dimple giving his smile its usual quirky appeal. “How old?” he asked, arching one black eyebrow.

“How old?” Tess asked, confused by his syntax.

“How old were you when Hud Grossclose kissed you?” Marco clarified, and Tess felt fire spiral within her at his determined questioning about this kiss.

“Fourteen,” she answered simply, and then raised her own eyebrow playfully. “You?” Suddenly, it seemed there was no one else in the room, only the two of them, flirting so blatantly.

“Hudd Grossclose never kissed me ,” he laughed defiantly.

“How old were you when you had your first kiss,” Tess clarified, and out of the corner of her eye noticed that Maria was smirking, glancing back and forth between the two of them.

And she had a sudden horrible thought. What if she had been his first kiss? Oh God. Oh God. Oh God. She tried not to panic, because surely a gorgeous man like Marco had kissed many women in his lifetime. But she found herself remembering how shy and tentative his kisses had tended to be.

“Fifteen,” he finally answered. “Julie Broadbent.”

“Julie Broadbent?” Riley roared, rising slightly from where he sat. “You never told me about that!”

“Who the heck was Julie Broadbent?” Maria questioned, wrinkling her nose in confusion.

“A gorgeous girl who lived in our apartment building in Santa Fe,” Riley explained, scowling at Marco. “You held out on me, man.”

Tess felt her own little wave of jealousy now, at the thought of anyone else mattering to Marco…anyone other than herself.

“I didn’t hold out…you never asked,” Marco laughed, a deep rumbling sound that she always loved to hear. He’d been so intense recently that she’d hardly heard him laugh at all, and she suddenly realized how very much she’d missed it.

And also suddenly wanted him to know that Kyle was only a brother to her—that it was all he’d ever been, except for a very brief period years ago. She opened her mind to him, closing her eyes and willed him to know.
Liz combed Max’s wet hair onto his forehead, drawing it into a tight, neat line, before she raised her clippers. She’d stepped right between his legs in order to get the necessary angle, and he surprised her by suddenly slipping his hands onto her hips.

“Max,” she whispered softly. “You’re going to make me mess up.”

“Who cares,” he murmured, gazing up at her. Naked desire danced in his golden eyes—of course it was nearly impossible to be so physically intimate during their season and not respond to one another this way. But it was making this haircut progress incredibly slowly, and also embuing this ordinary part of their life with radiant sensuality.

“I care because I want this to look good,” she explained patiently, easing his hands off of her hips.

“I’ll wait,” he groaned. “But only if you’ll let me make love to you when you’re done.”

“You’ll have to wait longer than that,” Liz explained with a shake of her head, as she combed his hair again. “Riley’s next.”

“Riley?” Max cried and Liz instantly felt how jealous the idea made him.

“Yes, Riley,” she smiled softly. “And then Marco.”

Max frowned, drawing his eyebrows together in consternation. “I don’t like that at all.”

Liz couldn’t help laughing because it was so unlike Max to be jealous about something like this. She could only attribute it to the wild, intense passion had been blazing between them recently. It was almost as if it had awakened a primal possessiveness in him.

“You’ve never minded me cutting Alex’s hair,” she countered with a smile, clipping a new lock of his dark hair.

“Alex is just so…Alex,” Max complained.

“Max,” Liz whispered, leaning down to press a warm kiss to his forehead. “This is just ridiculous.”

“We don’t know Riley and Marco like we know Alex,” he offered boyishly, begging her with his eyes, as he pulled her closer between his legs.

“I already told Anna I’d cut Riley’s hair,” she explained huskily, responding to his touch more than she’d meant to. It was impossible to resist him, with the way her blood simply boiled for him all the time right now. “And one look at Marco, and you know he needs a haircut.”

“And that’s our problem?” Max breathed, stroking his hands down the length of her legs.

“Tess will thank you.”

Max laughed, staring up into Liz’s eyes. “I suppose so…it’s impossible to miss what’s happening between those two, isn’t it?”

They’d never exactly discussed Marco and Tess’s relationship, but everyone within the group had been quietly murmuring about it for months—ever since the night they’d walked in together from Marco’s patrol, leaving no doubt as to why they’d been together in the middle of the night.

And yet something hadn’t seemed right between them either. There was just so much obvious attraction and tension—but they never seemed to be together.

Liz pried Max’s hands away from where they were exploring her thighs hungrily.

“I’ll make a deal with you,” she breathed.

“You’ll make love to me,” he finished, staring up at her again.

“Afterwards…but for now,” Liz hesitated and closed her eyes, finishing her statement by simply opening herself to him in the most urgent way. She heard Max draw in a tight breath as their connection leapt wildly to life.
“What is the one decision you regret most?” Maria read from her paper, glancing up at Michael.

Tess hated that question, because right now her life was full of so many regrets. She wouldn’t even know how to properly respond, because even the simpler answers that she could provide—ones not related to Marco-- weren’t ones she wanted to share. Like having been so cruel to Liz in the beginning of their relationship, or having pursued Max so vigorously back then.

“It’s Marco’s turn to go first,” Michael prompted.

Marco groaned loudly from where he sat on the sofa, and Tess smiled sympathetically at him.

“Nope, Marco’s saved by the bell,” Riley said, stepping into the living room, his hair wet. “It’s your turn for a haircut.”

Marco shook his head in vigorous denial. “No thanks.”

Liz stepped into the living room after Riley, and beckoned him toward her with her index finger. “Look, you’re not going the way of Future Max, either,” she explained with a generous smile, and Tess thought again how Liz took such pride in her handiwork.

Marco knit his brows and just stared at Liz in confusion for a long moment.

“Liz cuts all our hair,” Maria explained. “And she’s ruthless about determining exactly when she thinks we need a trim.”

Tess studied Marco’s hair for a moment and had to admit it had gotten quite long on his neck recently, but she actually liked it that way…had loved the feel of it beneath her fingers last night, so thick and silky.

And as she watched him unfold his long, rangy legs and rise from the sofa, something disconcerted her about the notion of Liz cutting his hair. She couldn’t help thinking that it was a very bad idea, in the wake of all he’d shared with her last night, though she couldn’t pinpoint exactly why.
Marco had wet his hair in the bathroom sink, and now sat in front of Liz, as she combed slowly through his damp tresses. He was uncomfortable—decidedly so—at her physical proximity and the way he felt her connection with Max teasing his emotions so headily. He debated simply bowing out of the venture, but couldn’t come up with a plausible explanation for abandoning the plan.

So he sat quietly denying the seductive call of what he was feeling from her, the way she and Max were obviously deeply bonded, even as she cut his hair right now. The emotions were like a siren song, and he felt his resolve crumbling fast because it was simply too difficult to block something this powerful.

Just like when he was a boy. That’s exactly what this was, and he’d believed the madness to be gone all these years. How could he have been so foolish?

He’d tried talking to Serena today, as Tess had advised, but every time he’d found a moment alone with her, someone else had entered the room.

And now this.

He pressed his eyes shut tightly, as Liz combed a lock of hair down over his forehead, but that only opened him completely to the emotions he’d been trying to suppress.

Oh, God the way they needed one another, loved one another. So strong…so undeniable. Tess…so very much what he felt for her. His love, his beautiful Tess.

Every direction he turned, it seemed he was fighting an unbeatable current and it suddenly made most sense just to swim with it.

He opened more fully, picturing Tess’s gorgeous blonde hair, flowing freely across her shoulders, caught briefly by the mountain wind. He was only dimly aware of Liz at all, but felt her tiny fingers brushing across his forehead, her small body pressing just against his legs.

His head began to thrum with a blinding headache, exploding like white hot light just behind his eyes. He didn’t understand why this had all become so unmanageable in the past week, and what he most wanted was to flee from the overpowering sensations sweeping over his body and heart. Yet he was transfixed in his seat, with only the feel of tiny fingers lightly touching his forehead, combing loosely through his wet hair.

His thoughts were totally muddled and confused, as countless impressions shot right through him. He could feel everything Max and Liz shared at that moment, and it was as if he were swimming in a dark, murky ocean, his only point of reference the small woman just in front of him.

Tess…she felt so much like Tess, as her knees pressed against his legs, her small hands working with his hair.

This was what he hadn’t been able to share with Tess last night, the part he’d held back…how crazy this all made him, how jumbled his thoughts became. After all these years, the madness had come back upon him—and never so fully as at this precise moment, as his head swam with every emotion passing between them.

Yet it was only Tess he kept wanting, sensing…

And wasn’t she the one right in front of him? Weren’t those her tiny hands raking through his hair? He burned for her as the headache intensified, became unmanageable, and he knew that only one thing could end all of this.

He had to kiss his sweet, beloved Tess…right now.
Everyone had gone to bed, except Max, who was sorting through some CD’s on the floor, and Riley who had gone to tell Anna goodnight before he and Tess left on their patrol. Max had been completely quiet, and Tess wondered what was happening in his mind.

And she also wondered, as she thumbed absently through her magazine, why she felt so very disconcerted by the idea that Marco and Liz were alone in the next room. She had a terrible sense of foreboding and couldn’t shake it at all.

But before she could question it further, there was a muffled shriek from the room where they were, followed by a crashing sound. Max’s head jerked up sharply, his eyes widening with a panicked expression she couldn’t quite read, and then he rushed ahead of her into the bedroom.

Tess followed quickly behind and was shocked to see that Marco’s forehead was bleeding dramatically, where Liz had obviously cut him with the hairclippers. But worse than that was the expression on Liz’s face, how pale she looked and how very upset.

“What happened?” Max demanded heatedly, his voice edged with tight anger, as he stepped close to where Marco stood.

Yet Tess sensed that Max already knew exactly what had happened in their bedroom--and she also knew this was the reason she’d been so uncomfortable for the past twenty minutes.

Marco’s face crumpled in such obvious agony, as he wiped at the terrible gash on his forehead, that Tess knew some boundary had just been crossed…irrevocably.

And in the quietest recesses of her mind, she swore she heard Marco call one unfamiliar name desperately, over and over, as if it were a lifeline.


posted on 3-Dec-2001 6:37:13 PM


The four of them stood squared off in the bedroom, and Tess could hardly breathe, as she watched Marco desperately trying to explain his actions. He was so frantic and upset, that he wasn’t making much sense at all—Tess wasn’t even sure she understood, but she trusted him completely when he said he’d been confused for a moment. That when he’d kissed Liz, it had been a mistake.

It made perfect sense to Tess…because she knew about his problem with the connection. Because she felt his blinding headache pounding right behind her own eyes, the one he’d explained had made him momentarily crazy. Yet he still didn’t confess how he’d been intercepting their bond, and Tess didn’t understand why not—except perhaps he was afraid it would upset Max even more. That they might both feel even more violated somehow.

Max had initially demanded that Marco leave, and Tess had felt hot tears burn her eyes, as she watched Marco’s lovely dark eyes fill with unspeakable anguish. And such anger had roiled within her, it had caused her entire body to shake.

Max was oblivious to what Marco had sacrificed for them both…what he’d been willing to give up, all because of his loyalty to them both. And he had no idea the toll his connection with Liz had been taking on Marco for months now. Tess wasn’t even sure she did, but she was certain of one thing.

Marco had never intended to kiss Liz, had felt no desire for her—which made Max’s possessive anger all the more infuriating and inappropriate.

Marco stood now, staring at all of them silently, his chest heaving with quick pants as he pressed a hand against his eyes. Tess’s own head had begun throbbing even more intently moments before, and she guessed she was feeling more than just his headache, but his gash now, too.

“Max, I’m begging you,” Marco pleaded quietly, raking a distraught hand through his damp hair. “Please don’t do this. Let me explain.”

Yes, tell them about the connection. They must know…he’ll understand. Just tell them, she urged silently.

Max shook his head firmly, crossing his arms across his chest. “No, I want you to leave tonight,” Max demanded again in a tight voice. His behavior was so uncharacteristic, even at a moment like this one, that Tess couldn’t help staring at him aghast.

“Max, won’t you even hear him out?” Tess demanded hotly.

“I’ve heard everything I need to know,” Max nearly roared. “Apparently Liz drove him crazy, and then he had to kiss her.”

“That’s not what he said, and you know it!” Tess yelled, getting right up in Max’s face. “God, you’re being impossible about this. I’m your second in command, and you’re not even listening to me.

Tess spun toward Marco, staring up into his tortured dark eyes. “Tell them ,” she urged fiercely. “They need to know.”

But he only shook his head almost imperceptibly, and turned quickly on his heel, leaving them all staring after them.

“Tell us what?” Liz demanded, her voice broken with anguish. Tess ignored her question, and turned desperately to face Max.

“Max,” Tess cried, grabbing his arm forcefully. “You’ve got to stop him!”

“He kissed Liz,” Max shouted angrily.

Tess watched through the bedroom door, as Marco hurriedly left the cabin, stepping out into the night.

“Max!” Tess cried again. “Now I’m begging you…please stop him!”

“Tess, are you not listening to me? He kissed Liz ,” Max repeated gruffly. “I’d think you of all people would be more upset by that.”

“I understand what’s been happening to him, where as you wouldn’t even let him explain.” she argued angrily. “That’s the difference.”

“Max,” Liz begged, grabbing his hand. “Tess is absolutely right. Don’t you remember the letter? This is that moment, Max.”

Tess hadn’t even thought about the letter until Liz mentioned it, she was too fearful of another possibility-- that if Max banished Marco tonight, then he would never return again.

Unless someone stopped him from leaving tonight . And if Max wouldn’t do it, then she would.

Max groaned loudly, wiping his hand across his eyes. “God, you’re right,” he confessed quietly, meeting her intent gaze with a tortured expression.

“He asked for your forgiveness in advance, Max,” Liz reminded him. “This was what he knew might happen. You’ve got to stop him.”

“There’s a lot you two don’t know,” Tess explained quickly. “If Max had been willing to listen…” Her voice trailed off and she shook her head angrily. “I can’t believe you just did this to him.” She stared at him, her hands forming tight fists by her side.

Max stared at both of them, breathing heavily, and Tess saw countless emotions flash in his amber eyes…anger, shock, shame. But she couldn’t wait for his decision, because she had to go to Marco now, before it was too late. She brushed past them both, and headed toward the kitchen counter.

“Where are you going?” Max called after her, his voice tight with emotion.

“If you’re not going after him, then I am,” she cried over her shoulder, as she scooped up a set of car keys from the counter.

And she didn’t even look back as she ran from the cabin.
Marco raked a hand through his hair, and willed the bar to stop spinning. The room swirled with cigarette smoke, and a man one booth over was dragging languidly on a cigar. Not the kind of place he’d ever frequented in his life, yet tonight it seemed the perfect location for him—nowhere, dead-center of nothing.

He’d only tasted alcohol one other time in his life, when he’d been seventeen, and he and Riley had bought a six-pack of beer on a crazy lark. They hadn’t realized it would affect them so strongly, and by the time they’d both chugged a beer apiece, had nearly been ready to pass out from the affects of their folly. He’d never forget the way Serena had scowled down at them both when she returned to their small apartment in Santa Fe, finding them sprawled ridiculously on the floor. Riley had grinned up at her, in his usual charming fashion, and her tight expression had eventually melted, transforming into one of appreciative humor.

But nothing was funny about tonight, or about the reason he was even in this nameless roadside dive somewhere on highway 285. He’d betrayed everyone this night—most especially Max and Liz…Serena, and of course, his beloved Tess. How could he ever explain his actions to her, not that he’d see her again--he had no doubt that they’d parted ways permanently this evening. And yet, he’d seen how she believed in him, had been unable to fathom the way she’d fought with Max on his behalf.

She loved him, of that much he was certain now. Not that he’d doubted it before, because he’d felt her heart so many times.

And he loved her more than she’d ever know, or ever believe for that matter, given the way he’d kissed Liz. He couldn’t describe the madness to her, the way this thing from his childhood was upon him again, the thing that made him irrational and more than slightly crazy.

He could never explain that when he’d kissed Liz, in some twisted way, he’d believed he was kissing her--could never make her understand that she was all he’d ever wanted.

Only her, his sweet Tess.

How could she believe that, when he’d just kissed her dear friend and beloved queen? To account for his behavior in more intimate detail, would mean exposing the one final secret he’d never shared with her, and the shame of that would be too great.

He lifted the bottle of Heineken to his lips and took a long drag on the bottle, and felt it burn slightly as it swilled down his throat. Instantly, the bar began swimming even more wildly, and several of the dim lights over the pool tables appeared in duplicate form before his eyes. He buried his face in his hands, willing the gyrating images to still, and rested against his propped elbows like that for a long moment.

He sensed a gentle movement just beside him, and slowly raised his head to see a very familiar figure. Yet her appearance made no sense whatsoever because he couldn’t imagine how she might have possibly found him.
Max slumped on the living room sofa, cupping his hands around the coffee mug Liz had just pressed toward him. He could think of few times when he’d felt more miserable in the past few years—for that matter in all his time of leading them all.

He had just dismally failed the one man who was utterly worthy of his respect, had acted out of anger and jealousy, rather than with his mind. He’d allowed Liz to become his weakness in that moment, something he’d never thought could happen.

Marco had begged him to listen, but all he could hear was a loud roar in his ears, it was as if he’d been temporarily blinded by something. All common sense had utterly departed--just as Marco had described his own actions toward Liz.

And now he sat with her, staring at the open letter, at the familiar scrawling handwriting and the words leapt painfully out at him.

Max, there is one final thing I must beg of you. If we do indeed meet again in the future… Should I do something that seems wholly unforgivable…traitorous even…I beg you not to turn me away.

I ask you in advance for your forgiveness, that you may find it in your heart at that time to give.

Max sighed heavily, realizing that he truly had served Marco miserably—a man who’d given them so much, been willing to die for them on numerous occasions. But as he glanced at Liz, who sat silently beside him on the sofa, chewing her lip nervously, he determined to make it right.

And if Tess couldn’t find him tonight, Max was certain of one thing. He’d bring Marco back at all costs.
Marco lolled his head back against the wooden booth, amazed by her angelic appearance. Maybe that’s actually what she was, his own guardian angel—his protector—sent to watch over him tonight. She stood in front of him, and turned her head slightly sideways to match his own skewed angle.

“Marco?” She questioned gently, stepping closer and he widened his eyes in reply. She sounded a lot like Tess, so that pretty much shot the angel theory.

“Hey, baby,” he slurred and stared up at her. He suddenly felt as if Serena had just discovered him drunk on the apartment floor with Riley again—yet he couldn’t even seem to lift his head from where he’d rested it sideways against the wooden seat.

She smiled faintly, knitting her blonde eyebrows together. “I see you didn’t waste any time tonight,” she observed, slipping into the booth right beside him.

“Nah…I’m drunk,” he announced, sitting up more straight in the booth. “Best thing for me about now, don’t you guess?”

“No, not really,” she answered, stilling his hand as he reached for the beer bottle again. She slid it across the table, far away from him. “The best thing for you is to sober up and come back with me to camp.”

He shook his head vigorously and felt suddenly incredibly morose. Somehow, for a brief moment when he’d seen her, the world had become all lightness and beauty—he’d momentarily set aside the weight of his betrayal.

Tess turned to face him in the darkened booth, her thigh brushing right against his. “Marco, you must come back,” she urged. “You simply must.”

“Max kicked me out,” he explained, uncertain if she really knew that fact.

“I know that,” she answered gently. “I was there.”

Oh, yeah…she’d been there. Of course.

“Yeah, well see,” he offered, raising a finger to punctuate his point. “I may be drunk as hell, but I know that he kicked me out, and I can’t go back, Tess. I can never go back.”

He didn’t miss how distressed her delicate features became, the fear that suddenly shadowed her water blue eyes. And he wanted to take that look away…had to do it. He cupped her face within his hands, and drew her lips to his own. “Sweetheart, I’m so sorry,” he whispered, kissing her deeply. There was nothing tentative or gentle about the way he took her now, he wanted her to see inside his heart, and to know that at least there, he belonged to her completely.

She didn’t resist him at all, and in fact, threaded her fingers roughly through his hair, deepening their kiss heatedly. Her tongue danced with his, warring for position and as she melded with him like that, he felt his body gain clarity again. She’d brought him back in balance again, just that quickly.

Tess Harding held the key to his soul, he’d known it practically from the moment they’d first met.

Slowly, he broke the kiss and just stared into her eyes. The fear was gone from her blue depths, replaced now by the specter of uncertainty. He stroked her cheek gently with his thumb, and pressed a soft kiss against her forehead.

“You’re still not going to come back,” she stated quietly.


“What if I asked you to come for me?”

He fell silent a long moment, just letting his lips linger against her forehead, and thought of all the many ways he wanted to answer that question. But decided on a question of his own instead.

“How can you ask that, knowing that I kissed another woman tonight? Your friend?”

He pulled back, so that he might study her expression as she answered. She glanced away a moment, casting her eyes around the smoke-filled bar, then her gaze returned to him, measured and sure.

“Because I know you love me.” So simple, yet so very certain.

So correct…but he wouldn’t tell her that.

“Don’t you wonder why I kissed her?”

“You told us,” she explained softly. “And I know more than they do. Their connection was making you crazy…and I know something else. You thought Liz was me.”

He sucked in a tight breath, shocked that she’d actually known that—that she’d seen straight into his heart.

“How do you know that?”

“Because I sensed it when we kissed,” she offered gently, stroking his hair away from his forehead. He flinched because her fingers grazed his deep gash, and he saw her grimace at the sight. “Here, I’ll heal this,” she explained, placing her fingertips lightly on the wound.

He felt a light burning sensation beneath her touch, as heat banked within his abdomen. And then the pain was completely gone—his angel had healed him instantly.

“Thank you,” he murmured, dropping his head in sudden shame at the remembrance of what he’d done to Liz. She stroked his hair gently, soothingly beneath her fingers. Another question continued to surface within his mind, like a bouy caught in the ocean waves.

“Don’t you wonder what might be wrong with me, that I could become so confused on such a simple point? Mistake Liz for you?”

“Nothing is wrong with you,” she exclaimed. “You have a beautiful gift that…”

“Is a curse,” he finished solemnly.

“No,” she shook her head vehemently. “That’s not true. It’s the same gift Max has and Riley and Anna.”

“It’s not.”

“Of course it is,” she argued, wrinkling her nose in confusion.

“Tess, trust me. It isn’t. None of them are what I am.”

“You’re frightening me,” she breathed.

“I should be. With our people, what I am is the worst kind of curse.”

“No,” she shook her head. “I don’t believe that. I don’t believe you .”

“Tess, I’m telling you the truth. Feel inside yourself and you’ll know it.”

Tess grew silent and stared up into his eyes intently. He saw understanding flicker in her azure depths as her eyes widened.

“Tell me what you are then,” she whispered and he saw apprehension line her features. He had thought he’d never share with her this most private secret, his propensity for insanity and how it had awakened again. Yet he found that with this woman, he could hold nothing back, not even his true nature.

“Tess, intuition is actually my secondary gifting,” he explained, glancing away from her. He couldn’t look at her when he revealed this, even though she’d have no context for understanding what a blight it was within the Antarian race.

“But, you’ve always said it was your primary gift,” she stated in quiet confusion.

“No, Tess, I killed my primary gift at age ten because I had to. Because it was killing me.”

“What…is it then?” She asked gently, taking his hands within her own tiny ones.

He drew in a sharp breath, pressing his eyes closed. She had to know tonight…he needed her to understand exactly what he was. Why he could never return with her.

“I’m an Empath,” he explained simply.

Yet he was anything but simple, because of how that one word had defined him from birth.

posted on 3-Dec-2001 6:55:02 PM


Max’s senses were taut and alert, his ears straining for any sound of the Suburban--or Marco’s motorcycle for that matter. Serena stood by the window, sipping coffee somberly, and Max ached upon seeing the expression on her face. Marco was like a son to her, and yet he was also part of her unit, making their bond even more complex. As she gazed into the night, he sensed how very worried she was about him—but there was something additional in her emotional terrain that Max couldn’t pinpoint; something about the way her expression had darkened when they’d explained how Marco had felt “crazy” earlier tonight. The line of her mouth had drawn tight at their words, and she’d almost visibly paled.

Max had wondered what the reason might be for her tense reaction, yet she’d remained silent, nodding as they’d continued. And he’d felt more than a little guilty, as he’d described ordering Marco to leave, especially at the way Serena had flinched, her eyebrows drawing sharply together. He knew she blamed him, and if Marco never returned, he wasn’t sure how he’d be able to live with knowing he was the cause of his departure from Serena’s unit…or from Tess’s life.

Tess had cried almost the entire way home from the bar, and even now she kept fighting back more tears. Marco had refused to leave with her, no matter how she’d pleaded with him—he’d stood by Max’s having ordered him to go. That, and the fact he was convinced that if he returned, so would his madness, and that it would only intensify.

Finally, after she’d refused to abandon him, Marco had declared that he would exit the bar, but by then he’d managed to wrangle the beer away from her again. She didn’t want him driving in his inebriated state, so she’d reluctantly acquiesced, and slowly risen from her seat beside him.

But then she’d turned back to face him for one last moment, and declared what she knew in her heart. That he would eventually return, and when he did, it would be for her.

No one else, only her.

He’d closed his black eyes at her words and she’d hurried away, not wanting him to glimpse the sobs that had begun wracking her body.

She just didn’t know how she could face the others now, her emotional state was that fragile. And she definitely didn’t know what she would say to Max. She felt utterly betrayed by him, even though there was so much he hadn’t known about Marco and the way he perceived their connection.

And about what Marco really was.
Tess entered the cabin slowly, shoulders slumped in quiet defeat and immediately found Serena, Max and Liz waiting for her. Their expressions were tense, yet hopeful, but instantly changed upon seeing her, and she couldn’t stop the tears from beginning anew.

“What happened?” Serena asked in a thick voice.

Tess could only shake her head, as she dropped the car keys on the counter. “He wouldn’t come back with me,” she replied dully. “I found him, but he wouldn’t come back.”

Max stepped toward her where she stood turned from them all, her palms flat on the tile kitchen counter. He placed his hands gently on her shoulders, and she tensed at his touch. “I’m so sorry, Tess,” he began. “I was…well, so very wrong.”

Her anger toward him instantly dissolved when she heard how broken his voice sounded-- Max never needed anyone to punish him because he was far too adept at the job himself. She turned slowly to face him and Liz stepped close, opening her arms to her, and that was her undoing. Tess began sobbing again as Liz folded her against herself, and just quietly held her like that for a long moment, stroking her hair lightly.

“He’ll come back,” Liz assured her softly. “Max and I will make sure that he does.”

Tess nodded mutely, willing the tears to subside, as she pulled away from Liz and turned to face Serena.

“He told me everything,” she said hoarsely, and saw confusion flash in Serena’s strange eyes. “About what he is…his gift.” The confusion was replaced with something darker, and suddenly Tess realized that Serena had already suspected the truth about tonight.

“What do you mean?” Liz questioned gently. “What did he tell you?”

Tess turned to face Liz, wiping her eyes with the back of her hand. “He’s been picking up your connection for months, fighting it.”

Max shifted nervously on his feet, and ran a shaky hand through his hair. “I don’t understand what you mean.”

“He’s been feeling things between the two of you, and was afraid to tell you…was ashamed for you to know.”

“I know he’s intuitive,” Liz pressed. “But that doesn’t make any sense.”

“It does when you understand what he is,” Serena explained with a heavy sigh, gazing purposefully at Tess.

“What is he?” Max asked, his voice thick with emotion.

“He’s an Empath,” Serena explained softly. “He senses…feels the emotions of those around him.”

“And he said that the feelings he’d been intercepting between the two of you had become overpowering in the last week or so,” Tess explained, glancing between them both. Liz’s eyes widened in sudden understanding, her mouth opening slightly as she looked meaningfully at Max.

Max groaned, rubbing a hand across his eyes. “Oh, God.”

And suddenly Tess understood exactly what the recent problem had been…why the emotions had intensified so sharply for Marco. Max and Liz had entered their mating season again, and with it, the emotions had become quite extreme.

“Max and I were connected while I was cutting his hair,” Liz confessed, tears brimming in her eyes. “Why didn’t he just come to us? We could have protected him.”

We could have protected him. Her particular choice of words sent a shiver across Tess’s skin.

“He didn’t come to me either,” Serena lamented quietly. “Except, well… once months ago, but never again. I assumed everything was fine, especially because the two of you were together,” she explained, acknowledging Tess with a nod.

“What?” Tess demanded sharply, unable to disguise her shock at Serena’s words.

Serena coughed awkwardly. “Well, I knew that being with you would have provided a covering for him…with their bond.”

“But we weren’t together,” Tess cried, grasping at her hair frantically. “We’ve never been together!”

Serena shook her head in confusion. “But I saw you…in bed together. And later we all saw you come in from his patrol in the middle of the night.”

“We’ve all thought you were together,” Liz agreed.

“He wouldn’t allow a relationship between us because he…felt it would be a distraction to him,” Tess admitted, her voice thick as she glanced at Liz. “As your protector.”

“If I’d known, had any idea….” Serena breathed heavily. “I’d have told you both before now.”

“Told us what?” Tess demanded tearfully.

Serena remained silent, her eyes darting quickly among all of them. Tess had the distinct impression that she was formulating a plan of sorts in that singular moment. Suddenly, she turned sharply toward Max and Liz. “Tess and I need to speak alone,” she commanded forcefully. “Please.”
They both nodded briskly, and Serena stepped ahead of Tess toward the front porch of the cabin. Tess filed after her, ignoring the strong rushing sound that had begun to fill her head, a sound so insistent, it was almost deafening.

Why did she feel that whatever Serena was about to tell her would spin her world on its very axis?
Serena moved ahead of her like a soldier, her every gesture definite and commanding. Tess knew she was observing a woman who planned to take charge of this situation, one that she’d evidently contributed in a way that Tess had yet to learn. Serena took a seat on a small wooden bench along the porch railing, and Tess settled firmly beside her. Serena bowed her head, blinking rapidly for a long, silent moment, obviously gathering her thoughts.

“What would you have told us?” Tess insisted, needing to know the truth.

“The story of Ayanna and Marek,” Serena breathed, closing her eyes solemnly. “I’d have told you months ago, but I thought…you’d already joined.”

“Ayanna,” Tess cried, her eyes widening. “I heard that name tonight…earlier after he’d kissed Liz.”

“I’m not surprised that you did.”

“What do you mean?”

“That was your name , Tess,” Serena explained, running her hand down the length of her ponytail. “In your other life. And Marco was Marek.”

“We were together,” Tess stated, her voice filled with amazement. No wonder they’d been so drawn to one another, so unable to resist their attraction.

“No,” Serena disagreed gently, shaking her head in denial. “You were in love…but not together.”

“Why not?” Tess managed to choke, feeling the tears sting her eyes again. She wished her emotions weren’t so thoroughly on edge, yet she couldn’t seem to rein them in tonight.

“Oh, well…” Serena began with a soft sigh, blinking rapidly. “It’s a complicated story at best.”

“But you knew us?”

“Of course,” Serena said. “You were Max’s second and Marek…well, he was a guard. Always very close to you.”

“He was…a palace guard or something?” Tess asked, wrinkling her brow in confusion.

“No, Tess, it was far more significant than that,” Serena explained quietly. “He was your protector.”

“Wh-what?” Tess managed to stammer, wringing her hands frantically. “What exactly are you telling me, Serena?”

“He was your protector—yours alone…and the two of you fell deeply in love. He died trying to save you.”

“No,” Tess whispered vehemently, unable to believe the words she was hearing. She would never have been the cause of her beloved Marco’s death. Never.

“The day you died, he died as well…he gave his very life for you, not just as your protector, but as the man who loved you more than any other.”

Tess was stunned, could only sit gasping softly at Serena’s revelation.

“I think its why he’s had such problems with Liz…on some latent level, he remembers loving the woman he was sworn to protect,” Serena continued.

“But I was engaged to Michael.”

“Yes, you were and that was part of the problem, but not all of it,” Serena explained gently. “Your betrothal had been an arranged one from childhood, and Marco was just as he is now. Stubborn, noble…I’m sure you can imagine why you weren’t together.”

Tess smiled softly, thinking that she’d have described Marco with exactly those same two words—and stubborn would have definitely come first. She nodded slowly.

“And of course, he felt the class distinction so profoundly.”

“What do you mean?”

“You were from royal lineage, Tess…the highest order,” Serena stated quietly, staring into the distance as she spoke. “Where as we were all part of this crazy, strange caste of protectors. It’s a deeply cultural thing on Antar.”

“I’m not sure I’m following you.”

“It’s an ancient calling, Tess. Marco’s family has been enmeshed in it for centuries, as has my own.”

“He told me about his vow,” she confessed reverentially.

“Ah,” Serena acknowledged, raising her eyebrows markedly. “I’m surprised that he did. It’s a testimony to what he really feels for you, Tess. Our vows are sacred, deeply personal.”

“And he explained that he wasn’t allowed to take a mate.”

“What?” Serena nearly roared, turning toward her so sharply that Tess actually jumped slightly.

“Well, that it’s part of the vow.”

“That is not true ,” Serena ground out. “Does he really believe that?”

Tess could only stare at her dumbfounded for an eternal moment. “Yes, I think so. He told me so last night.”

“How could he possibly believe it?” Serena asked in desperate confusion. “I never told him that.”

Tess rubbed her hands over her eyes and tried to center her thoughts. Had he ever actually said as much? Or had she merely interpreted his words that way? Her eyes fluttered closed and she determined to know what he’d really said…and felt.

And in that briefest of moments, as separate as they were, she judged his heart.

“He knew differently, Serena,” Tess whispered. “But for himself , he felt it to be true.”

“He knew I once had a husband, a son,” she cried. “ I never taught that to any of them. Anna and Riley bonded…” Serena was frantic, and Tess sensed the toll her revelation had wrought within her. “I’d have given the two of you my blessing…instantly.”

“I can see that.”

“And you’re what he needs, Tess,” Serena explained urgently. “The reason he’s so vulnerable to Max and Liz’s connection is because he’s fighting his feelings for you.”

Tess fell silent a long moment, and knew there was something she had to ask--something she desperately needed to know. She cleared her throat, drawing herself more upright where she sat.

“Serena,” she began tentatively. “Is it really the curse he says it is…what he is?”

Such a direct and simple question, and yet so hard for her to answer. The woman sitting beside her loved her son, and the battle within her heart was strong. To tell Tess the truth, would be in some way to betray him, and yet perhaps if she did proclaim reality to his beloved, it might mean his salvation. Serena rubbed her eyes wearily, and wondered why their path had always been fraught with so much pain—in two lifetimes now. They were more than worthy of the love they felt, and yet they seemed forever divided.

Serena would confess everything this night, because there wasn’t room for secrets anymore.

“Yes,” she whispered in the darkness. “It almost always leads to insanity within our people.”

“But he was engineered,” Tess murmured softly. “Couldn’t it have been…”

“It was never meant to be part of who he is. Yet it surfaced from his genetic history…his people were always so very intuitive.”

Serena glanced sideways at Tess and lamented the pain she saw mirrored in her blue eyes. She did love him, every bit as much as in her past life--perhaps more, she realized. Serena’s eyes drifted shut, as she was suddenly hit with a mournful memory.

Mommy, who is that other little boy?

She’d been watching Marco sleep, and her thoughts had drifted to her son Rasme, to a time long before, when he’d been small like Marco, so innocent and gentle—not the warrior he later became, taking such crazy, wild chances. The kind of chances that had eventually gotten him killed.

What other little boy , she’d asked, though she already knew exactly who Marco had perceived.

I feel three of us , he’d explained. So wise, so much older than his mere seven years old. I can feel me…and Riley. But there’s another little boy, and he makes you so sad, mommy.

She’d still let Marco call her mommy then--only later, had she forced the distinction and become his unit leader.

Serena shook her head, clearing it, and willed herself to formulate a plan to help her surrogate son. And it began with Tess understanding precisely what he was, what he wrestled with.

“Tess, it’s a beautiful gift…the most amazing our race is endowed with. But you have no idea how he’s suffered with it.”

And she thought again of Marco as a small boy, tears streaking his face as the headaches had become unbearable to him—how he couldn’t be around anyone but Riley and herself for much of the time.

“But you said it leads to insanity,” Tess prodded.

“Usually, but Marco has controlled his gifting for more than fifteen years now. He doesn’t even understand that he still operates in it…he considers what he senses to be only his intuition. If he bonds with you, it will seal the gift within him…protect him from being overly receptive in ways he shouldn’t be.”

“Why if he bonds with me?”

“The two of you will join your powers…his own will find a center that it desperately needs,” Serena explained patiently.

Tess fell silent for a moment, pressing her fingers against her lips.

“How do we get him back?” She whispered, her voice breaking painfully. “I need him, too…so much.”

“I’m not sure, but we’ll find a way,” Serena promised. “And when we do, you will tell him all that I’ve shared with you tonight. The two of you will bind your souls eternally…and Marco will be safe from the madness.”
It was nearly two a.m., and Marco had remained in the bar, feeling utterly numb ever since Tess had walked away. But the alcohol’s effect on his system had begun to fade now, leaving only the sharp realization that he’d just lost his soulmate forever.

And not just her, but all of them, and he could hardly fathom what his place in the world might be now. A protector with no one left to protect. For the first time in his life, he was utterly alone—without his family, his unit—and he felt so vulnerable, just sitting in the darkness, watching cigarette smoke spiral under the dim lights of the pool table. He had less than one hundred dollars in his pocket. That and his motorcycle parked outside constituted all his possessions, all he had left in this world.

Why wouldn’t you just go back with her, a quiet voice prompted him. You could have gone back, you know it. You could have still had her, even now. Max would have calmed down and listened.

Yet how could he have faced any of them? And how could he have ever let her love him, not when he’d begun transforming into this creature recently. It would have broken her to watch the madness take hold of him—exactly as it had these last weeks--and he couldn’t do that, not to Tess. He’d already hurt her enough to last several lifetimes.

Marco slid sideways in the booth, stretching his long legs out, so that his rugged hiking boots dangled over the wooden seat edge. He lolled his head against the wall, closing his eyes for just a moment, wishing the bar would stop rotating. He’d begun sobering up, so why was everything still so askew?

Maybe Tess will come back again tonight , he thought, a smile playing at the corners of his mouth. The last time he’d leaned his head back like this, he’d felt her appear just beside him.

His angel, sent to retrieve his missing soul.

Slowly, his eyes fluttered open, and almost like sticking a big toe in the water, he ventured to see if the room had finally stilled—then he realized he wasn’t nearly so sober as he’d thought he was.

Because a familiar figure stood studying him, just like before. But when she smiled, tossing her blonde hair, it wasn’t the gentle nurturing of his beloved.

It was the wicked invitation of the very devil. And he knew, there’d be no going back after tonight—not ever.



Hot summer had become chilling fall, replaced by early winter. And with it, green leaves had mutated into variegated ones, which had tumbled to the earth and now crunched beneath Tess’s feet. She ambled mindlessly down the mountain path, swinging her long hair over her shoulder.

And in all that time, there’d been no sign of Marco.

She’d grown her blonde tresses nearly halfway down her back, all for him …all because she waited. And whenever he did return—as she was certain he eventually would—he would stroke her hair as before, only this time he would appreciate how very much more there was of it.

The sky had grown leaden this morning, hinting at an early snow, which reminded Tess of their first days nearly a year ago. A time she now treasured, because in Marco’s absence, even those remembered days—as tenuous as they’d been-- were precious. She continued along the rocky trail, her small hiking boots tracing familiar steps, ones she’d taken with him—though it was daylight now, and she could hardly recall a moment when moonlight hadn’t illuminated their every touch.

She walked this course because of him, each step filling an earlier one, every footprint echoing something they’d shared before.

He would come back for her, she was certain.

Marek would come for Ayanna, would fulfill his destiny, and answer their call. Lifetimes didn’t matter anymore, all that counted were the dreams…the ceaseless drumming of each to the other.

Tess could hardly sleep because of it any more, he haunted her that endlessly, each and every night. Marek…called to Ayanna. Her protector, her lover.

Her destined mate.

Her ankle caught on a rock, turning slightly, causing a whisper of pain to echo through her body, not that she felt it. Nothing ever felt real or sure with him gone. After Serena had told her what they were to one another, everything had changed permanently in her heart—and now the snowy sky hovered over her, promising something that might never come.

Marco might never come, but she didn’t care because she could only imagine a world that he would fill, his large frame, his beautiful black eyes rimmed with such long lashes. Otherwise, everything was only one-dimensional-- everything so merely flat.

Marco McKinley defined her world now, even though he’d been so long absent, it had become a shadowy place. And as she reached the lowest part of the hiking trail and glimpsed the tree he’d once backed her against with his ardent kisses, she could only suck in a steadying breath.

Tess could only wonder where he might be this very cold December morning—yet nothing resounded within her heart. Just as she’d perceived nothing from him for months--dead letter box, delivery unknown…an Empath without a home.

That’s who Marco was now, without her—and without him, she was hardly more than the same. Tess was just a woman, long hair flying in the mountain breeze-- which might as well have been a vacuum, for there was no one to notice her physicality at all.

Except for one man, and he’d been absent for so long, feeling him had become only habit…but she could remember .

The dreams took her there, and they’d only intensified every evening, calling her profoundly toward Marco, and he toward her…Marek… night after night the same images and feelings. The same message.

Marek, come home to me.

And she knew that if he ever did return, it would be for her—just as she’d prophesied to him.
As Tess neared the cabin, the leaden sky began to offer up its promised snow, which dusted her long hair and caused her to shiver more deeply. She gathered Marco’s black parka tightly around her—as over-sized as it was, she’d been wearing it since the weather had chilled. It was warm, but more than that, was still laced with his deep, earthy scent.

She wondered what he was wearing for a winter jacket, wherever he was this morning.

Tess rounded a turn in the path and saw Max sitting on the front steps beside Serena. Both of their expressions were somber, heavy, and changed the minute they saw her. Something about it caused her stomach to churn uncomfortably, because they seemed to have been waiting for her.

“What’s wrong?” she demanded, before even nearing them. She had the feeling that someone had died…that something had gone very wrong.

“Tess,” Max began, his golden eyes far too serious as he rose to meet her. “We need to talk to you.”

She glanced rapidly between Max and Serena, and couldn’t believe how grim the other woman’s expression was, and wondered why she avoided her gaze so pointedly.

“What Max?” Tess cried again, more forcefully. “You’re scaring me.”

Max clasped Tess’s arm gently, guiding her away from Serena for a moment, back toward the trail. “It’s Marco,” he began, his voice thick.

“He’s dead,” she breathed. “Isn’t he? That’s why you both look so upset!” Her heart began pounding as her throat tightened painfully, and a strange rushing noise filled her head.

“No, Tess,” Max denied, shaking his head firmly. “No, he’s alive…th-that’s not the problem.”

“Then what?” The snow began to fall heavily now, tumbling from the sky in thick clumps that fell on her lashes.

“Riley and Cecilia were conducting surveillance this morning at Khivar’s camp,” Max began, looking suddenly very grief stricken as he paused. He couldn’t seem to meet her eyes, and Tess wondered why such deep fear had begun choking her heart.

“Tell me,” she urged, tears brimming in her eyes so that Max became only a blurry image. “They saw him, Tess,” he admitted quickly. “In the enemy camp. He’s gone over to their side.”

She shook her head vehemently. “No…no, that’s not possible.”


“Max, it isn’t true,” she shouted. “How can you even believe that of him? Of the man who wouldn’t even…” she cut herself off, closing her eyes. Who wouldn’t even give himself to me, because of you. And I know what he denied…how very powerful it was.

“Who wouldn’t what, Tess?” Max pressed gently.

She shook her head again, biting back the stinging tears that had filled her eyes. “He swore oaths for you and Liz, Max…he died to himself for you, don’t you understand?”

Max shook his head in confusion. “I’m not sure.”

“He would never go to Khivar’s side…couldn’t do it.”

“They saw him, Tess.”

“Well, maybe, but if he’s there…it’s for you,” she announced, raking her hands anxiously through her hair. She had to make Max understand.

“You’re that sure?” he asked, his voice nearly a whisper, but she sensed he remained unconvinced.

“I’m surprised that you aren’t, but then again, I know him so much more than you.”

“Help us understand.”

“I can’t,” she choked, the tears spilling down her cheeks. “Except to say…he wouldn’t even be with me because of you. God, you know that, Max. I told you so.”

Max was silent a long moment, staring down at the ground between them, as Tess wiped at her fresh tears. For months now, it seemed she’d only been able to remain strong and distant from Max…the others. But he had to know.

“He loves you and Liz too much to betray you, don’t you know that?” she finally choked.

Max met her gaze suddenly, his amber eyes flashing with intense emotion. “I only know what they saw.”

“I guess I’m the only one who still believes in him,” she whispered. “Because I know his heart.”

With that she brushed past Max, into the cabin, leaving him staring after her. Leaving Serena on the step, so lost in her own thoughts and so tormented, she hardly seemed to notice her.

And she wondered why it was so hard for them all to see what was utterly apparent to her…that he’d gone the only place he could go to protect them.

Into the heart of the enemy’s lair.
Max lay in the darkness, staring at the wooden ceiling above him. It was long after midnight, and Liz slept beside him, her soft breath sighing evenly and peacefully, and he yearned for sleep to claim him, too. But it eluded him, as it often had for months now, whenever his thoughts drifted toward Marco like they did tonight. He’d thought about that night so many times, he’d memorized all the details, and yet he could never figure out how he’d made such a tremendous mistake.

And he knew his thoughts about that night mirrored Marco’s perfectly, begging the endless questions. How could I have done something so crazy, so utterly stupid?

Which was why he didn’t know what to think about the latest intelligence report, of Riley seeing him within Khivar’s camp. It seemed nearly impossible to believe, but why else would Marco be there, if he hadn’t turned to their side? If he was there spying, how could he have made his appearance there plausible to Nicholas? And there had been security breaches in the past months, little things mostly, but enough to make Max suspicious now.

Yet Tess was utterly convinced that he was still serving him, not Khivar—and she did know his heart, just like she’d said.

It had killed Max to see her suffer so much these past months, all because of his mistake. She’d grieved for so long, it now seemed a permanent part of her countenance—and he’d promised her he’d bring Marco home. If he intended to keep that vow, then Max couldn’t help feeling he should act somehow on their having located him…that he should find a way to go to him, and bring him back.

But what if Marco really had turned on him. Max had, after all, given him every reason. Max’s eyes fluttered shut and he pressed hard within his mind, using his intuition to know the truth. He saw only blackness, but heard a string of strange, foreign words…like what he’d heard from Serena’s mouth when she’d been captured.
“What?” Serena cried groggily, bolting up in her bed. Max had knelt quietly beside her where she lay sleeping on her side. He’d nudged her awake and quietly repeated the words he’d heard moments before.

“R’thasme siet falne.”

“How do you know those words?” Serena demanded urgently. “Where did you hear them?”

“I…needed to know whether Marco had really turned against me,” he explained quietly. “So I…used my intuition to try to feel the truth.”

“Oh, God,” Serena cried, burying her face in her hands. “Why did he do it?”

“Do what, Serena? What do the words mean?”

“They’re his vow as your protector,” she explained, planting her feet on the floor. “Which means Tess is right…that he is still serving you…but it also means he’s in an incredible amount of danger.” She shook her head, raking her fingers frantically through her hair. “If Nicholas ever remotely suspects what he’s doing, then he’s already dead.”

“After Anna’s betrayal?”

“More than that…he’d take special privledge with Marco’s death.”


“Because he’s your protector, Max,” she explained, her voice urgent in the darkness. “That would be almost as delicious to him as killing you or Liz.”

“Then we have to get him out of there,” Max stated, rising from where he knelt. “What do you mean we?” Serena asked, worry already lining her voice.

“We must contact him…he has to know that I want him here, with us. That I regret nothing more than that night.”

“Max…that sounds incredibly risky,” Serena whispered plaintively. “You know what Marco means to me, but I also know he’d never jeopardize any of our lives. Direct contact like that…” She shook her head doubtfully. “I just don’t know.”

“We will make it work, and no one will get hurt,” Max vowed, his thoughts completely resolved on the matter. “I owe this much to Tess and especially to Marco.”

What he didn’t say, was that intuitively he knew only one person could bring Marco McKinley back at all, only one person could heal their breach…


posted on 6-Dec-2001 9:11:52 PM

Tess shifted where she sat on Max and Liz’s bed, staring up at Max as he paced before them anxiously. Liz sat stiffly beside her, back perfectly straight, her hands resting lightly on her knees. But Tess knew Liz felt anything but calm—she’d learned her body language extremely well over the years, but more than that, Tess could almost taste the fear radiating from her.

“Max, this is a risky, foolish plan. I…I can’t be part of it,” Tess argued, her voice tight. “And frankly, as your second, I have to take a strong stance on this.”

“As my second?” Max’s voice rose slightly as he halted in front of her, and she saw his eyes flare a bit. Tess realized that somehow he’d taken her remark as a challenge to his authority, as if somehow she were trying to undermine him.

“I haven’t emphasized that fact often, Max,” She explained quietly. “I’m doing it now because I think the situation calls for it.”

Max’s expression softened immediately, as he blew out a heavy, thoughtful breath. He remained quiet a moment, his eyes searching the room around them, until he glanced down at her again.

“Don’t you want him back?” Max’s voice was barely more than a whisper, gentle, as he placed a hand on her shoulder.

Tess instantly dropped her head, unable to meet his intense gaze, as she felt tears sting her eyes.

Didn’t she want him back? More than her next breath, more than life…her entire body ached with how much she wanted Marco McKinley back.

But not if it meant risking Max’s life. And Marco wouldn’t have wanted that either.

Tess studied the backs of her hands as she thought how best to respond to his question. “You know the answer to that,” she finally stated quietly, her voice catching. “You know how much I want him…but not if it means your life, Max.”

Liz sucked in a sharp breath beside her, and one glance in her direction revealed just how upset she really was. Her face had paled, and she chewed her lip so hard Tess couldn’t believe it didn’t bleed.

“I can do it without putting myself in danger,” Max explained quietly, his eyes darting between them both, eager for their acceptance.

“You can’t.” Tess stated firmly, running her hand down the length of her ponytail.

Max squatted just in front of her, so that they were eye level. “We can study their patrols, and figure out when he’s approachable.” His words spilled out in a rush, full of emotion. “I won’t be involved in that part, and I won’t try to make contact before we’re certain when its most safe.”

“Max, does it occur to you that he’s there for a reason? That he’s trying to accomplish something?” Tess questioned, leaning forward toward him. “We don’t know anything about how he got there, or why.”

“He’s there because I ordered him to leave us…me…all of us,” Max stammered, wiping a hand across his eyes, and for the first time Tess truly realized just how much he had suffered over his actions that night months ago.

“No, Max,” Liz interjected gently. “He left here because you ordered him to. But he went there for some other purpose, and Tess is right…we don’t know what it is yet.”

“You know, the problem here is that you and Marco are so damned much alike,” Tess announced, because it had suddenly hit her with startling clarity. “Marco left and wouldn’t return because he blamed himself.”

“Because of me…because I ordered him to,” Max corrected heavily.

“I’m not so sure about that, Max,” Tess answered. “I think it had more to do with his own self-accusation about what had happened. Just like your killing yourself with blame right now.”

Thank you ,” Liz exclaimed with a sigh, her posture relaxing as she nodded in agreement with Tess.

Max dropped his eyes to the floor. “I can fix this.”

“Maybe part of how this gets fixed, is if you trust him,” Tess offered softly. “Trust him to be safe…to uphold his vow…let him do what he obviously felt he needed to do for you.”

Max blew out a heavy breath, and stepped away from them, and suddenly seemed so weary—a bone-deep, long-term kind of exhaustion. “I can’t fight you both,” he complained, running a hand through his hair as he turned back toward them, but a faint smile played at his lips. “Well, yeah, actually I can, but I don’t want to.”

Tess smiled in return, and when she glanced at Liz was relieved to see that all the tension had left her delicate features.

“That’s because you’re a smart king,” Liz teased softly, tipping her chin up toward Max.

“A smart king who just got his ass kicked by his queen and his second in command,” Max laughed wryly.

“Like I said,” Liz teased. “Smart king…one who realizes the women in his life know what’s best.”

They laughed softly, and Tess was glad to share the moment with them—but secretly her heart was was still heavy--because while she hadn’t been willing to risk Max’s life to accomplish it, she ached to have Marco back.

Had Max really thought she’d answer that question any other way?


Marco stood staring through the dirty windowpane of his makeshift bedroom into the wintry night. An icy rain pounded the warehouse rooftop, a sharp metallic sound, like bony fingers rapping incessantly--a lonely, hollow cadence to match the heaviness in his heart. It was a black night, and the only illumination in the gravel parking lot beyond his window emanated from a small security lamp, one which hung suspended from a tall wooden phone pole. The lantern rocked beneath the driving storm, illuminating the sideways pattern of the falling rain. The only shocking thing about the storm was that it hadn’t turned to snow yet, or even ice, but apparently the temperature hovered just above freezing.

Marco sighed heavily, folding his arms across his chest, as he continued to stare out into the dreary blackness. At least the rain had saved his people one last time, but he knew the reprieve would be short lived. The whispered rumor among Nicholas’s men was that Khivar would be in camp next week at an undisclosed time--and Marco knew from Anna’s past intelligence reports that he never made an actual physical appearance, so he found this impending visit quite disturbing. Especially because Nicholas had indicated earlier in the evening that Khivar had ordered an attack on Max’s camp within the next few days, outlining two very succinct goals for the assault--assassinate Max Evans once and for all, but not before learning the location of the Granolith. Khivar insisted that the resistance had gone too far in taking out so many of his men in the past months. And now Max would pay…and heavily.

Marco shivered at the thought, and was again thankful for tonight’s torrential downpour, because it had delayed their planned offensive. Marco turned back toward the small space heater that sat in the middle of the tiny, dingy room he’d been sleeping in all these months. His “bedroom” consisted of nothing more than a small, dirty mattress thrown on the floor, along with a blanket, and the space heater. And it was always so bone-chillingly cold, especially tonight with such dampness in the air. The abandoned warehouse where they’d holed up certainly didn’t have any heat—and he was one of the favored ones, since Nicholas had allowed him the small, portable heater. And that at least provided its scant red lighting, since his room was dark save that illumination.

Marco reflected that he’d never felt so homesick in all his life, which was pretty ironic since he’d often felt like a man without a home. Not without family —his unit had served that purpose for as long as he could remember—but without a true home. And now the one place he’d always most identified as sanctuary had been found out by the enemy, and Marco realized he’d probably never hike those mountain paths again, never sit on the front porch of the cabin and just breathe in the fresh country air.

He wondered why he hadn’t truly appreciated the quality of life Serena had insisted on for all of them, had fought for…decent food and clothes, even all the damn CD’s he’d wanted. In contrast, his new world consisted of cold, canned food and was wholly void of music, which simply underscored the emptiness of it all. At times he could only press his eyes shut and try to recall a random Bob Dylan or Neil Young song, or even Donovan for that matter--anything, but the endless void of being around these people. Since the first night he’d arrived here, his soul had been filled with nothing but silence.

But worse than that was the depression that had begun to slowly haunt him, simply from his constant exposure to the emotions he sensed within them all. He’d now spent more than four months living among the truly soulless—and it had been like living on the edge of a vast black hole. It was the very opposite from his trouble with Max and Liz’s bond, because now he couldn’t form a tight enough emotional fortress against the sheer lifelessness of these people.

And it was killing him.

He collapsed on his small pallet, and began unlacing his combat boots—Nicholas insisted they all dress in camouflage fatigues and military attire. At the moment, he just wished he could wrap his beloved black parka around himself, because it was so damn cold. But he’d hardly planned ahead that night he’d fled in August…no, that hadn’t been thought out at all.

And he wished he could wrap Tess tightly within his arms…ah, how she’d warm his soul, his body….all of him, inside and out, and then all the deadness he’d grown accustomed to would just be pushed aside. His eyes fluttered closed, as he stretched his socked feet in front of the space heater, and conjured the memory of her scent. Of her taste.

If Tess were here, she’d re-ignite his soul in the space of a mere heartbeat.

God, if by some miracle he ever found himself within Max’s camp again, he wouldn’t repeat his mistake—he’d make Tess his own, even if it killed him. No more fighting, no more resisting. Just him begging her to be his bonded mate for life, to forgive him for having so foolishly denied what was more than obvious.

That they belonged together.

Because if he’d doubted it back then, the dreams had taught him differently these past months, had drummed out his destiny with startling clarity--the endless, haunting dreams, shifting somewhat each night, but always with the same message.

She was his called mate.

Tess lay in bed, staring up at the smooth wooden planks that formed the ceiling of her bedroom. Her room was dark, save the eerie red glow of her alarm clock, and the glow it cast across the ceiling--it was well past eleven p.m., but she couldn’t sleep at all. For one thing, she had late night patrols, and even though she should be able to grab a good three hours sleep, she never slept well on nights when she was on split shift. That’s what they called it when they worked the three a.m. to seven a.m. corridor, because it “split the night.” She hated split shift with a passion, because it was without question the loneliest sliver of nighttime.

Liz called it the Circadian Trough, the point occurring twice in each twenty-four hour cycle when human energy ebbed at its lowest—a time typically associated with the four a.m. corridor. And known statistically as the most common time of death among the terminally ill. A creepy, unearthly time, when even hybrid energy dipped low, and when often out on the trail, Tess felt unseen eyes upon her--eyes that didn’t exist, because she couldn’t locate anyone in her night vision goggles.

It was the sort of sensation she would have loved to discuss with Marco, to see if he thought there was anything to the impressions, wondered if his intuitive side might be able to offer more explanation.

Mostly, she hated split shift, because it was so still and silent in the woods, it left room for only one other person, one other thought. Marco. It was the time when she ached for him the most, and in some ways, felt oddly connected with him, too—as if the sheer void of nighttime drew them closer together somehow.

Tess reached for her alarm clock, turning it toward her. It was only 11:18, even now. She placed the clock back on the nightstand, and rolled onto her side, shutting her eyes.

Tonight’s patrol would be worse than usual, because it had been raining all night, the water draining down the mountain paths in flood-like proportions. Riley had been kind enough to ask if she wanted him to cover her shift tonight, but she’d declined his offer—it was important that she never back down from any situation, no matter how demanding or treacherous.

She never wanted any of them to see themselves in a subservient role, simply because they were their protectors. They were all soldiers fighting together within the resistance, and she’d been made keenly aware of potential social distinctions from the story Serena had told her about Marek and Ayanna. She wasn’t any less of a soldier because of who her family might have been on Antar at one time, anymore than because she was a woman.

Tess rolled over in bed again, and determined to get at least a little rest before her alarm clock chimed at 2:30 a.m.
Sleep had enveloped Tess quickly, wooing her into its sweet arms…into his strong arms, just as it did almost every night. She stood on the rocky promontory just outside the pod chamber, watching a distant storm move across the desert, flashes of lighting striking, sky to earth. The wind had picked up, and her hair caught in the breeze, wrapping loose tendrils around her face…soft rain began to pelt her skin, but she couldn’t leave.

Things were unfinished…he hadn’t come.

And then she felt him slip surprisingly behind her, his large dark hands encircling her small waist.

“Did you think I’d forget?” He whispered in his familiar, throaty voice. A smile played at her lips, as her chest tightened.

“I never thought it.”

“No, I don’t suppose you would,” he breathed, sweeping her hair off of her neck, onto her shoulder in one smooth gesture. She still hadn’t seen him, could only feel his tall form right behind her.

“Ah…” he sighed, lowering his mouth to the nape of her neck, and letting his warm lips just graze the skin there. Yet his mouth seared her skin, even with such a subtle brush against her neck.

She laughed softly, covering his hands where they rested against her body. “What?”

“You know.” His kisses moved further around her neck, dangerously closer to her chest.

“Tell me…” She whimpered softly, as his burning kisses met the cool flesh of her exposed skin.

“You grew your hair for me, Ayanna,” he finally explained, his voice hardly more than a deep sigh.

“Tess,” she corrected softly, reaching a hand to cup his unseen face.

“Same,” he murmured. “It’s so lovely…you…you’re all I dream of every night.”

She laughed turning to face him now, and was surprised to remember just how tall he really was. He made her feel delicate and feminine just by his very presence, by how dark and smoldering his looks were.

“Marek,” she whispered. “My dreams of you are the only thing that keep me sane.”

“Marco,” he corrected her in a breathy whisper, lowering his lips slowly toward hers, as he pulled her close against his chest. But she held her hand out, stopping him as she gazed up into his lovely black eyes, rimmed with such thick, sooty lashes.

“But I need to know where you are…lately.” she explained.

“You know already.”

“But why are you there?”

“You know that, too,” he laughed gently, combing his fingers through her long tresses. But then his expression changed, darkening as the rain began to fall much more steadily. Suddenly, she realized he was soaking wet—as was she.

He glanced around them, nearly sniffing the desert air, then looked back at her. “You’re in danger, sweet Tess,” he explained. “It’s why I’m really here…I’m sorry, I want so much more. But I’ve come to warn you.”

“About what?” She asked, feeling suddenly very disoriented and confused.

“Be careful, my love…be on guard.”

And with those words, Tess felt an icy hand reach right within her dream and literally yank her out. She bolted up in bed, her heart hammering, and drew in burning gulps of air. She couldn’t breathe at all because this dream had been markedly different. Normally, she couldn’t really remember them afterwards--they were just always the hazy awareness of Marco coming to her, meeting her…loving her.

But this time, she’d heard his warning and it chilled her to the marrow. This dream had been more palpable, more real—as if he’d actually visited her somehow. And the intensity of his final words left her shivering, wishing the dream had come on any other night than this one. She glanced quickly at her alarm clock, not even sure how long she’d been sleeping.

2:08 a.m.

Almost time for her patrol. Damn, she thought, swinging her feet onto the icy floor. And realized she needed to speak to Serena before she headed out, because it seemed that Marco had just issued a warning—whether by design or inadvertently, she wasn’t sure.

But she knew one thing. The two of them had been sharing an intuitive bond for a long while now, and this was something to be taken seriously.

Marco jolted awake to the sensation of lips against his own. Not the sweet lips he’d been dreaming of just a moment before, but the lips of his enemy. Of Lonnie. Her face hovered just over his in the half-darkness of his room, her image cast in the eerie red glow of his space heater. His mouth still burned, and he wondered how long she’d been kissing him like that, just kneeling over him on his mattress, her hands planted squarely on both sides of his head. In one motion, he shoved her off of him.

“Lonnie,” he roared. “Cut it out.”

“Yeah, you told me that before,” she complained, sitting up, but still nestled close against his side. “Monk vow and all that.”

“That’s right,” he ground out. It’s what he’d stood by ever since that night so many months ago, when she’d appeared in the bar, determined to seduce him. He’d made it perfectly clear that night that he might be for sale, but his body definitely wasn’t—despite her many efforts at arousing him.

They had only left him cold.

And one thing was for sure, he’d already hurt Tess enough, the last thing he’d do was indulge in a meaningless dalliance with someone like Lonnie. He was holding out for his soul mate, nothing less.

So, when Lonnie had come to him that night with her empty kisses and explained that they’d been watching the safe house—knew all about it in fact—and that obviously Max had expelled him, Marco had played along. He’d realized in that moment that his king and queen, his unit…his love , were in terrible danger, and that he had only that one chance to act. That the enemy believed he could be bought.

So he allowed himself to be. In theory.

And sold out meaningless information, mislead them at every turn…anything to prevent Khivar from directly attacking the safe house where they all sat like so many sideshow prizes, waiting to be plucked by the first eager taker.

“You listening to me, or what?” Lonnie demanded, tilting her head sideways. Marco blinked a few times, clearing his thoughts.

“Yeah, yeah…I’m with you,” he lied, even if those words were the furthest thing from the truth.

“So, up and at ‘em soldier boy,” Lonnie promptly with a pretentiously seductive gaze. She ran her hands across his chest, and he wrestled to an upright position, rubbing his tired eyes. He’d been having yet another of his dreams…and been jerked out of it prematurely by Lonnie’s feeble attempts at seduction.

And her efforts paled in comparison to the heavenly place he’d just been, especially because it had felt even more vibrant and real than usual. Tess’s hair had been so long, and the way they’d touched…had been as vivid as if she’d been right in his bed.

“What do you mean?” He asked, running a sleepy hand through his hair, which had been cropped military style, per Nicholas’s specifications for all his soldiers--shorter than he’d ever worn it in his life. Now it was all spiky and slicked back, causing him to look more Italian than he probably ever had in his life.
Lonnie leaned in close to his face, her mouth just a breath away from his own, and he flinched backward, longing to be separate from her unsolicited attentions.

“I mean …tonight’s the night, baby.”

Marco’s heart began hammering an erratic rhythm. He’d been so sure the weather protected them all this evening that he’d never suspected this would be the time Nicholas would order the hit.

“You mean…” Marco’s voice came out all choked and unsteady.

“You’re finally going to get your revenge on Max Evans,” she smiled in the reddish darkness. “Nicholas says the rain gives a strategic advantage, that they won’t expect anything tonight…so we’re heading out.”

Heading out…the words caused Marco to shiver involuntarily. And he wondered if all his training, all these many years—his vows even—had prepared him for what he had to do tonight.

If--in this moment where it most mattered--he could save his king. And he prayed that he was at least half the soldier he hoped he was, because otherwise it would all end tonight.

posted on 6-Dec-2001 9:21:15 PM

Tess trudged through wet leaves and mud at the base of the trail, pulling the hood of her raincoat more tightly over her head. Raindrops slipped down her nose, her cheeks—there was essentially no part of her that wasn’t soaked, except perhaps her long braid, which dangled snuggly in the back of her hood.

She began her patrol by tracking the trail along the highway, lifting her night vision binoculars to study the terrain beyond the perimeter. Absolutely nothing registered, just the still road past the trees, and yet…she shivered. It was the familiar sensation she often felt at this time of night, only stronger somehow.

Why had that dream come tonight, she wondered again…and was the timing significant? She was thankful she’d mentioned it to Serena before heading out on her shift—appreciative that she’d sent Michael out in addition to Ari and herself. At least that meant there was one more pair of eyes on alert down here, and somehow it made her feel a little less spooked. And she’d also been relieved when Serena had immediately put them all on alert, which meant their security measures had instantly been stepped up several notches. Everyone would sleep fully clothed, prepared to move in an instant if necessary, and weapons were fully on ready.

It might only have been a strange quirk in her sleep pattern, she couldn’t be sure—but if not, at least they were prepared for whatever threat lay ahead.
Marco stood at attention beside Nicholas in the small wooded clearing, blinking back the rain that kept rolling into his eyes. There were eight of them gathered for the assault, and Nicholas’s eyes danced with a glint that made Marco’s stomach churn anxiously. There was a fire and determination in them that Marco rarely saw—because Nicholas didn’t seem passionate about much of anything apart from the empty sex he got from Lonnie, and his pursuit of Max Evans.

Too much glee danced in his dark gaze, and Marco could see it even in the thick blackness surrounding them all.

“So, thanks to McKinley, we’ve learned the terrain…and each of you knows how to head in,” Nicholas explained with a smirk, his eyes darting among the soldiers who surrounded him.

“Keep in mind, they patrol just like we do,” Marco interjected, already covering his tracks for what he had planned. “So be alert as you head in.”

“And get to the top as quickly as possible without being detected,” Nicholas admonished, wiping rain off his brow. “I’ll run the show from there. And just remember…Max Evans comes to me alive no matter what.”
Marco’s stomach lurched a little at Nicholas’s words, and he prayed that his plan wouldn’t fail.

Marco moved easily through the trees that lined the roadside, followed closely by his assigned partner, Lucas—a hard man, whose idea of a fun afternoon was watching dog fights for pleasure…the kind of man who would take slow and delicious pleasure in killing anyone from within the resistance. Yet, even knowing that, Marco despised taking any life—no matter how seemingly worthless-- and his heartbeat in quick spasms at his impending duty. An AK-47 was slung over his left shoulder, and he had a small pistol with a silencer in his belt. His pocket held a small alien weapon, the K-3 Luminator, but that was for later.

He marched steadily forward, pressing back dangling tree limbs with his right hand, while he carefully eased his pistol out of its holster along his waist with his left. His movements were silent, undetectable, so that when he turned fully into Lucas’s face, his gun was already cocked.

Lucas’s mouth opened, working mutely and his eyes grew wide with shock as Marco fired the gun into his chest at close range, begging silent forgiveness of his enemy…shutting his intuition down like a steel barrier, so that the pain and death wouldn’t overwhelm him. He watched as Lucas slumped to the cold, wet earth, then moved on without looking back.
Tess stared at her hiking boots, noting the way richly colored mud had stained their usual blackness. There seemed so little point in standing out here in a driving rain—so cold that ice had begun coating the tree branches around her—and yet she couldn’t forget her dream. She felt guilty that Michael was somewhere out here on patrol, especially since it had been based on such a thin thread of evidence.

But the dream had been so vivid, so real, and with as many times as Marco had appeared in her dreams, he’d never warned her of anything. It seemed like something of an omen, if nothing else.

She resumed her paces, hoping she and Michael might meet on the trail since there was one point on the perimeter where their assigned patrols did intersect. She sighed heavily, and then drew in a deep, burning breath of the wintry air.

And when she did she caught a strange scent—several really, diluted and muted by the thick rainfall—and the hair on the nape of her neck stood on end. She wasn’t just sensing unseen eyes anymore; she was truly detecting other beings. People . She was about to radio the others, when she heard the sharp snap of a twig just behind her. She whirled in one motion, fumbling for her weapon where it was holstered at her waist, when a large hand clamped over her mouth, and another arm grappled her against a strong chest.

His scent hit her like a blast of energy; it was that heady and familiar.

Her dream , she thought in panic and ecstasy as he lowered his mouth to her ear. “Tess, sweetheart, don’t say a word, just listen.” Marco. His throaty, beautiful voice. She whimpered slightly as he held her tight against his chest, his lips right against her ear as he dropped his hand away from her mouth. Goose bumps formed on her arms at the feel of his body against her own.

“I’m sorry…I didn’t want you to cry out,” he breathed. “You’re all in grave danger. Nicholas is here for Max at all costs. You must radio Serena…she has to get him out of there now .”

Tess nodded in silent agreement, as his mouth pressed closer against her ear—so close, she could feel his warm breath fan against her cheek. “You never saw me…whatever happens, consider me a traitor.”

A muffled cry escaped her lips, and she wrestled against his firm chest, trying to turn. Yet he wouldn’t allow her to yield. “I know you’re not…”

“Just radio them now,” he breathed, cutting her off. “The enemy doesn’t know about the lake or the back path leading to it. Get them out that way. Now.”

His arm slackened around her waist and finally she spun, taking in his familiar features for the first time. And for the briefest moment they gazed at one another, countless words passing without ever being spoken. His beautiful black eyes shimmered with emotion, as he reached one hand to lightly graze her cheek, but before she could even process the moment, he was gone, like a specter vanishing into the night. She saw him sprinting up the mountain path, toward the cabin and she raised the radio to her mouth.

“Serena,” she hissed, as quietly as possible. There was a short pause, then her radio crackled in reply.


“We’re under attack…evacuate. Repeat, evacuate . Plan one-four-A.” There was another pause, this one longer and Tess could almost hear Serena processing what she’d just relayed. Finally, the radio came to life again, and Serena’s voice rang quietly through her small corner of the woods.

“Understood.” And then the radio fell silent again, as Tess broke into a desperate run, her heart nearly leaping from her chest as it beat out such an anxious rhythm. Her lungs drew in painful drafts of air, as she hopped over a fallen tree branch. It was blackest nighttime, yet she knew this path by heart, and for that she was thankful as she took the trail that lead toward the lake—away from their enemy.
A branch slapped her in the face with a sharp sting, and she shoved it away as she continued her frantic run, when she heard a shuffling movement just behind her. She dropped to the ground, crouching, willing her breaths to become quiet, despite the erratic heaving of her chest. She closed her eyes and concentrated on the scent, and for a moment it remained unrecognizable--an effect of so much rain diluting it. And then it played across her senses and she exhaled loudly when she recognized it as Michael, right when he nearly tripped over her.

“Shit!” He hissed. “Tess…”

She rose from where she’d squatted low on the ground, and pressed her fingers urgently against his mouth, silencing him as she cast her eyes all around.

“What the hell is happening?” He demanded.

“Marco…he warned me…” Tess dragged in uneven breaths, her eyes still studying the terrain all around them. “Nicholas is here for Max.”

Michael stared at her silently for a moment, then nodded purposefully. “We’ve got to get to the lake.”

Tess turned in silent agreement, pulling him by the hand. “Come on!” She cried in a near-whispered voice, as they began sprinting through the darkness, but their movements were interrupted by the muted sputter of gunfire from the distance.

From the section of the trail Ari had been patrolling. Tess stopped, her panic intensifying, and now it was Michael who began dragging her forward along the path.

This was it—everything they’d trained for…all that they’d hoped would never happen.

They began running up the steep trail, headed toward the lakefront, and Tess lost her footing slightly on the muddy path. She caught herself roughly with her hands, as Michael hurried on ahead of her, and then began sprinting after him as she regained her balance. An icy branch popped her sharply across the eyes, and she shoved it aside, as she continued her ascent—the path rose upward for a distance before lowering again toward the lake. Then, somehow, as she pressed the branches out of her way, she lost her footing on the slippery earth again, only this time she slid sideways, clawing at anything to catch herself.

But she’d gone over the edge of the mountainous path, and suddenly felt herself plummeting hard, her leg catching beneath her as she slid down the rough, wet embankment. She cried out in sharp pain, feeling her ankle snap beneath her, as her hands grappled against wet vines and leaves, trying to stop her fall downward into the ravine she knew waited below.

Finally, after what felt an eternity, she hit the bottom of the hillside, her ankle throbbing terribly. She rested there a moment, glancing back up into the inky blackness where she knew Michael must be peering down at her, and felt utterly frightened. She was incapacitated with what she was sure must be a broken ankle, lost in the pouring rain at the bottom of the hidden ravine. She let out a desperate cry, as she collapsed against the earthen hillside, resting her head against wet leaves and brush for a moment—until there was movement just ahead of her. She was about to raise herself up when she saw the flare of a bluish light, and a fiery explosion ripped through her chest, shooting through every part of her body.

She cried out in agonizing pain, as her hands and fingers grew instantly numb, knowing that some unseen assailant had just hit her with a disruptor, but before she could even move, a heavy boot kicked her sharply in the ribs.

“What the…”

“Shut up!” The male voice commanded, as a dark figure pounced upon her, pinning her roughly to the ground. She writhed beneath the forceful grip, as an unseen face drew right up against her own.

“If it isn’t the king’s second,” the voice laughed hollowly, as Tess tried feebly to move. “How very convenient.”

Tess closed her eyes, as he shoved her head backwards against the hillside, lowering his face closer to her own. “Who are you?” She managed to rasp.

“That’s not important,” the man explained, his breath hot against her face. “But you may call me Captor.”
Liz paced across the dirt floor of the small bunker, wringing her hands in agitation. Max’s team hadn’t arrived yet, despite nearly everyone else having already appeared—well, except Michael and Tess…and Ari. Yet, as she gazed around the earthen room, which was lit only by the small hurricane lantern that Serena had ignited, she saw all the rest of them…Maria, Kyle, Isabel, Alex, and on and on.

The patrol team was understandably delayed since they’d had the furthest distance to traverse. But there was the keen absence of Max, along with his Riley and Anna, who Serena had sent out with him.

The long-standing security plan in the event of a direct offensive attack was that they would all split up, heading by several circuitous paths down to the lake, where a bunker existed, dug out of the earth. It was something like a fall out shelter, but without much long-term survival supplies. The door was covered with brush and dirt, and they’d all been shown in exact detail how to locate it—even at night like this—so Liz knew that Max shouldn’t have had trouble finding it.

Then, why hadn’t he shown up by now? Where were Anna and Riley?

Liz tried not to panic, as she felt Maria’s sure hand clasp her forearm, but it was becoming difficult, because they should have arrived by now.

Liz knew Maria was feeling her own urgent fear, but she was doing a better job of holding herself together. Because they don’t want to execute Michael…he’s not the despised leader of the revolution , she reflected fearfully.

“Lizzie, he’ll come,” Maria whispered quietly, her face hidden mostly by shadows. The small lantern created an eerie play of darkness and light on the earthen walls of the small shelter, so that the moment only felt more surreal…and threatening.

Liz swallowed hard, feeling tears burn her eyes. “Yeah, I know.” But she didn’t sound convincing, even to her own ears.

“Lizzie,” Maria repeated, her voice much more insistent. “He’ll come .”

And suddenly Liz realized that Maria was trying to convince herself about Michael, as much as anything.
“They’ll all come,” Maria amended softly.

Liz crushed her in a quick embrace. “Of course they will,” she murmured against her friend’s long hair. “I’m not worried about Michael…or Tess.”

“Don’t worry about Max, either.”

“I wish it were that easy,” Liz confessed, swallowing hard as Maria stroked her back lightly. A sudden creaking sound overhead caused them to instantly separate, and stare at the ceiling above expectantly. Liz heard Maria draw her breath in tightly, as Alex stepped between them both, slipping his arms around their shoulders comfortingly.

“It hasn’t been long yet,” Alex whispered, as they all watched the dark door push open. Long, gangly legs began a quick descent down the ladder, and Liz heard Maria sob softly as Michael appeared above them, reaching overhead to close the door.

But their relief was short-lived when he dropped to the ground in front of them, eyes wide and anxious. “They got Tess,” he said, his face twisting in anguish.

Maria moved quickly toward him, running her hand down his arm, as Serena stepped from the shadows. “Tell us what happened,” she commanded quietly.

But before Michael could reply, the overhead door opened again, revealing Anna—and Liz’s heart plummeted when she realized that she came alone.
“Where the hell are they?” Nicholas roared, as they stood in the middle of the common room of the cabin. Marco had arrived moments before, to find him on a rampage, as two of his men moved quickly throughout the vacant dwelling. Marco ran an anxious hand over his wet hair, his mind spinning at a quicksilver rate. If he didn’t cover himself well, Nicholas was going to know that he still served Max.

“Someone must have encountered one of their patrols,” he offered, willing his voice to remain steady. “They must have radioed a warning. Like I told you down there, they patrol with a vengeance.”

Nicholas stared at him in silence for a long moment, and Marco wondered if he was trying to read him. He opened himself a bit, needing to know, but was met only with the quiet fury raging within Nicholas at having been trumped. Nicholas spun toward Aaron, one of his key soldiers, who entered from the back hallway.

“Nothing,” Aaron declared furiously, his gray eyes narrowing like a cat’s. “But they were here moments ago…there was even a bathtub full of water, still hot.”

“I want to know how the hell this happened,” Nicholas declared, glancing at Marco again.

Marco created an expressionless mask with his features, shaking his head. “Their patrols, I’m telling you. Someone spotted us.”

“Then why the hell are the cars still here?” Nicholas wondered aloud. “Are they just out there wandering in the woods?”

“We never thought through an evacuation plan in a situation like this…never thought the safe house could be discovered.” He hoped his lie was convincing, and met Nicholas’s eyes keenly, never allowing his gaze to waver.

But before Nicholas could reply, the door to the cabin slammed open and Marco’s breath hitched when another of Nicholas’s soldiers shoved Max roughly to the ground in front of them. Max lay nearly at his feet, gasping for air, and when he raised his head weakly, Marco saw that he’d been badly beaten. His lips were cracked and swollen, his nose bleeding, but more than that, there was a brokenness to him that caused Marco’s chest to tighten painfully. Everything in him yearned to reach out to his fallen king, and yet he had to play out his role—no matter what happened—because it was his only hope of saving him.

Nicholas began laughing hollowly beside him, squatting down where Max knelt gasping, his hands planted on the floor in front of him in an effort to steady himself.

“Get up,” Nicholas commanded. “Now.”

Max raised his head again slowly, and moved to rise, but collapsed face forward onto the hard, wooden floor. Marco closed his eyes briefly against the site, his mind grasping for any sort of plan to save Max’s life.

“Well, well…the mighty Max Evans kneels before me,” Nicholas taunted. “Can’t say I never thought I’d see the day, since I’ve lived for it.”

Max rested his forehead against the floor for a moment, then slowly raised his head to meet Nicholas’s gaze—and that was the moment when his eyes met Marco’s. Max’s eyes widened in disbelief, horror as they gazed at one another for an eternal moment…and Marco could see that Max truly believed he’d betrayed him. He felt the blood drain from his face, as his stomach churned nauseously. Then, Max broke eye contact, his gaze flitting back down to meet Nicholas’s.

“Fuck you,” he stated simply, his voice ragged and hoarse.

“Hmm…” Nicholas goaded him. “I’ll think about it. But I’d far prefer to mind rape you.”

Nicholas glanced over his shoulder, up at Marco, a sly smile playing at his lips. “Then again, perhaps another plan might be more enjoyable. I believe you’ve met Marco McKinley before?”

Max lowered his eyes, his breath falling in quick heaving pants. “Ah, yes, you do remember him,” Nicholas gloated, rocking back on his heels to study Max’s fallen form. “I think you two should get…reacquainted.”

Marco’s heart sped even more quickly, as Nicholas glanced up at him. “Marco, I know you’d love to get inside Max’s head, wouldn’t you?”

“Absolutely,” Marco agreed, narrowing his eyes menacingly as he stared down at Max.

“Since Max has never been particularly…forthcoming, shall I say? About the location of the granolith, it seems we must force the information out of him,” Nicholas reflected, rising to his feet to stand beside Marco. “You shall have the honors…and then I’ll kill him.”
Every part of Max’s body throbbed in pain; his ribs, his nose, his wrist…his chest where they’d hit him squarely with the Disruptor, and then repeated the agonizing gesture at least three times for gleeful measure. Afterwards, they’d beaten him severely, reducing him to his present condition, all the while forcing him to stare at Riley and Anna’s fallen bodies, knowing he should have been able to heal the gaping wound in Riley’s chest.

And yet he’d been utterly powerless, and they’d only taunted him with it.

He’d never felt so broken in all his life, except perhaps at Pierce’s hands, yet somehow this was even worse.

Pierce hadn’t wanted him dead for political reasons, hadn’t hunted him for years.

And a beloved friend hadn’t handed him over to Pierce either, and as Max raised his head weakly to meet Marco’s gaze, he realized they’d all been wrong about him. The way he stared at him, his eyes so black and threatening, there was no doubt in Max’s mind that he’d sold them all out this night—had led them straight to their safe house.

Max averted his cold gaze because it hurt worse than any physical pain he was suffering, to think that the man who’d served him so loyally had stooped to this was enough to destroy him, especially as his mind quickly rifled through Tess’s love for him, his own mistakes. All his thoughts about Marco just shot through his head at lightening speed, as he knelt slowly in front of him.

Marco’s sheer physical advantage was intimidating at that moment, because even kneeling in front of him as he was now, he towered over him. Max drew in several quick, unsteady breaths, trying to think how he could possibly block a mind rape in his condition—especially since none of his powers were at his disposal after his hits from the disruptor.

“Max,” Marco stated simply, reaching his hands toward his face. Max recoiled, collapsing face-first onto the floor again, but he felt Marco’s large palms surround the sides of his face, cupping him firmly. Marco lowered his head, so that even though Max lay with his face down, their temples nearly met. “Don’t fight it,” he commanded forcefully, his voice filled with hatred.

Max’s eyes fluttered closed. Pierce…why did it make him think of Pierce? Perhaps because there was something almost tender in the way Marco cupped his face, in his intimate proximity, despite his obvious derision.

Max felt the wood floor throb against his temple, just as he was aware of his broken ribs, his broken body…but then he felt something oddly familiar, yet wildly different.

He felt the tug of his bond with Liz. But it wasn’t that, despite the sudden awareness of heat roiling across his skin, energy nipping at him, wooing him. So utterly familiar, yet…masculine. He gasped at the sensation, feeling Marco’s hands tighten around his face. No, he had to fight it, couldn’t give in to Marco’s efforts to establish a connection—yet some part of his mind argued that this wasn’t a mind rape at all, was something much gentler.

Heat showered across his face, right beneath Marco’s hands, and he was suddenly aware of their warm texture, and felt the pull again, a desperate thing.

Trust me. The words shot across his skin with startling clarity. Just trust me.

The words weren’t simply an invitation, a calling like with Liz—they were inside his mind, and suddenly warmth accompanied them, an undeniable love and loyalty. The energy playing across his senses was too overpowering, and he could no longer resist.

Max, please. It’s your only hope. Again, right within his mind.

And he opened the connection, allowed it to unfurl between the two of them, and power rushed through his mind, electrifying his broken body. Such a familiar sensation, so like with Liz, and yet so much more heady and strong…so foreign.

Oh, thank God, Marco breathed.

I don’t understand.

I’m able to form a connection with you because of…well, how I could feel your bond with Liz…how it spilled over to me
No-no…I mean, it feels like I can trust you. Confused.

Max suddenly felt like he might pass out, between the rich resonance of his connection with Marco, and the way his whole body ached. His ribs in particular had begun throbbing with an excruciating insistency.

Max gasped as his newly formed bond with Marco pulsated with alien power, and he felt a rush of sensations from Marco’s side-- the weight of self-accusation hit him squarely, painful loneliness…countless emotions coursing like a rushing stream straight from Marco’s mind into his own. And Tess…over and over she appeared, rising to the surface like a buoy in the ocean of his mind.

Max, I’m still working for you…they knew about the safe house. I had to pretend to go to their side. We must be quick, convincing, or it will mean your life tonight. Make it appear as if I’m mind raping you.

The words sunk into Max’s mind, and he forced a murmured cry of pain—not hard since he was in absolute physical agony.

Good, Marco encouraged him. Keep going, but keep listening.

When I come up empty-handed, Nicholas will mind rape you, too. Your only salvation is to keep the granolith’s location hidden. Otherwise, he has no incentive to keep you alive. I can fire on Nicholas, but we’re surrounded by several of his men. If you hide the granolith within your mind, he won’t kill you.

How? Max choked, still so unsteady from the physical onslaught he’d endured.

Create an image, Max. Hide it that way…literally hide it inside your mind.

They used the disruptor , Max argued weakly. My powers are useless.

Yes, but you can still use your intuitive ability to cloak it. A steel wall, for example, hide it that way. Anything so he can’t see inside your head. Whatever else he finds, you can sort out later, but focus on the granolith.

Okay…okay. Max agreed, feeling Marco’s hands shift gently around his face, and remembered to feign agony. He cried out loudly, writhing a bit on the floor, beneath Marco’s firm grip.

Good, Marco encouraged. One more thing…Khivar is supposed to visit camp next week. If you get out, Max, this is your chance.

H-h-ow? How could we possibly know when he’s there?
Max couldn’t help wondering briefly if he’d live to see the next week, but he listened anyway.

I’m not sure, but if we all get out of this, try…or…

Max jerked a bit, feeling something of an energy jolt shoot through their bond. So weird, the way he was so intimately connected with Marco, the way Marco’s masculine energy just kept sweeping across his skin.

Perhaps I can do something if you’re not able to.

Be careful, Marco. We need you back. God, we all need you back…Tess needs you…I’m just sorry for what I did that night.

Max felt another burst of powerful energy shoot through their connection, one that left him even more unsteady.

No , Marco whispered softly. Don’t apologize. I was more than wrong…but we’ve got to break this. Remember—hide the granolith.

Max felt a little flutter of anxiety and fear hit him squarely in the chest, knew that Marco was worried for him, as his hands slipped slowly away from his face, and their connection cooled, then dimmed completely. Max struggled up on his hands, raising his head to meet Marco’s gaze, but he’d already turned away, was facing Nicholas with a furious expression.

“The bastard blocked me,” Marco suddenly insisted, spitting the words out. “Couldn’t get a fucking thing.

Nicholas nearly exploded in anger, jerking Max up to his feet. He stumbled unsteadily, reaching into the air to catch himself, and felt Nicholas grip his forearm tightly.

“Enough, Max,” Nicholas hissed. “Time to give it up.”

Nicholas stepped toward him, his hands clasping his head in a rough movement, so different than how Marco had touched him.

And then it began, the most torturous, laser-sharp pain spearing through his mind at hurricane velocity. Max cried out, gasping sharply as the wind became a suction, ripping through his memories, tearing them out of his mind faster than he could focus on any one.
A steel wall , Max remembered and ignored the way his brain was being shuffled so painfully. He staggered to his knees again, Nicholas mirroring his body posture, never releasing his hands from where they were planted against his head.

A steel wall , he repeated to himself, erecting that fortress around the granolith. Max began shaking uncontrollably as the sensations intensified, as wind swept his memories wildly aside.

He kept his eyes closed, fighting Nicholas with the only strength he had, and as Marco had suggested, he just clung for life to the one image, because he couldn’t battle Nicholas beyond that—he was simply too weak.

“Max,” Nicholas breathed, drawing his face close to his. “Don’t fight this. You’re not strong enough.”

“Not fighting,” Max mumbled.

“Then remove that damn steel barrier.”

“Don’t know what you mean.”

“I’m almost there, Evans. I’m so close, just remove it and show me the granolith, and then the pain will end.” His voice had become low and soothing now, deceptive in its lulling tones. “I know it’s in the desert outside Roswell…just show me.”

Steel wall…all he’d get. All he’d get , Max repeated within his weakened mind, slumping to his knees again. Nicholas refused to let up, pushing harder into his mind, and Max became aware that he was hyperventilating, losing his grip…slipping.

Steel wall…steel wall…steel wall.

“Fuck you,” Nicholas suddenly shouted, rising so fast away from Max that he lost his balance again and collapsed on the floor in a crumpled heap.

“He blocked me, all he’d show me was some damn image of a steel wall, and that doesn’t tell us a thing…” Suddenly Nicholas stopped talking and Max braced himself, ready for another attack against his mind. “Except, perhaps that image might prove very useful.”

Nicholas knelt before him and seized Max’s face sharply within his palms. “Open up and play, Max.” His voice sent a shiver down Max’s spine, as he felt Nicholas intrude powerfully again. Max immediately focused on his image again, shielding the granolith with all that was within him.

“You want to show me that steel wall?” Nicholas taunted. “Fine then, take this .”

Max screamed as he felt something literally twist dramatically within his mind, as the picture of the wall solidified in some strange way, locking into place. It became something utterly permanent in his head in that moment, fused to his memories in a way that Max intuitively understood. Max cried out again, as the pain settled into the foundation of his brain, echoed, then imprinted.

“Yes, there you go,” Nicholas gloated with a soft sigh, dropping his hands. “By the time you’ve truly experienced the benefits of that little gift, you’ll crawl to me…you’ll beg me to take the granolith from you. I only wish I could see your reaction.”

“What does that mean?” Max choked, gazing up at Nicholas weakly. He saw Marco standing just above him, undisguised concern flickering in his dark eyes.

“You’ll find out,” Nicholas laughed, crossing his arms across his chest smugly. “And when you do, you’ll come running back.”

posted on 6-Dec-2001 9:27:05 PM

Anna’ dark eyes welled with tears, as she stepped quickly toward Liz in the darkness of the bunker. The muted lighting of the lantern shimmered across her wet auburn hair, giving her an ethereal appearance, especially the way dark shadows fell beneath her eyes.
“Tell me,” Liz managed, already suspecting the worst since Anna had come alone… without Max.

“Liz, God…I’m so sorry, but,” Anna’s voice broke a bit, and she lowered her eyes. “We were attacked and… and Max was captured.”

She’d said captured…not dead. Captured…

“Is he alive?” Liz choked, because even giving life to such a question sickened her.

“I don’t know… I was unconscious, and when I came to,” Anna hesitated, shivering visibly. “He was gone.”

Something in Liz’s chest twisted painfully because she’d been trying to connect with Max ever since they’d arrived in the bunker, but had only felt emptiness in return, and had wondered what the cause might be. She turned slowly from Anna, feeling time close in on her, as a rushing noise filled her ears. She thought she might be physically sick, and clutched her stomach with her hand, as a wave of nausea crested over her.

“That means they’ve got Tess and Max—that we know of,” Michael declared heavily. “Where do you think Nicholas would have taken them?”

“The house,” Anna answered quietly. “I know that’s where they are…I can sense it.”

“Then we put together a team and get them out of there,” Michael announced and Liz’s heartbeat quickened.

“What about Riley?” Serena questioned, and Liz realized she hadn’t even noticed his absence, she’d been so focused on Max.

Anna instantly dropped her gaze, but Liz saw the tears begin spilling down her cheeks as she just shook her head. Time assumed a normalcy again, as Liz focused her attention on Anna like a laser, because somehow it made the situation with Max more controllable. “Tell us,” Liz urged softly, sounding surprisingly strong even to her own ears.

“He was shot,” Anna choked, wiping quickly at her tears with a quiet sob. “I had to leave him on the trail…it’s bad. Really bad.”

“But he’s alive?” Serena questioned forcefully, stepping from behind Liz, and clasping Anna by the arm. She nodded in reply, head still bowed as she wiped at the tears.

“Then we will send someone with you back onto the trail to get him,” Serena announced.

“But who will…” Anna’s voice faded, as she glanced from Serena to Liz meaningfully. Who will heal him, if Max is gone . That’s what Anna had almost said, but had stopped herself, Liz knew it.

“Let’s just get him and keep him alive,” Serena answered quietly. “Devon?” she called over her shoulder, and the tall, blonde-haired man stepped from the shadows with a curt nod of acknowledgement. “You go with Anna for Riley.”

“Yes, Serena,” he answered in his typically soothing voice, and Liz was thankful he’d be Anna’s escort because something about Devon was always calming.

“I don’t know how we’ll ever get him back here,” Anna cried, pressing her eyes tightly shut. “It’s such a long way, and…he’s bleeding so much . It’s a chest wound.” Riley was obviously in serious jeopardy, because Anna was always strong, never fragile and emotional like this. Liz’s throat constricted at the thought of death parting the two lovers, who had always reminded her of Max and herself because of the intense connection they shared.

Death will not claim Max…will not separate us, Liz thought with conviction. But then a second, more sinister voice chimed in, reminding her that she felt nothing but coldness whenever she reached for their bond. Suddenly, a feeling of powerlessness began choking her. So many people who she loved and cared for were in danger—Max, Marco, Riley, Tess-- and yet she could do absolutely nothing.

Except, perhaps…

“I’ll go with them,” Liz announced.

“What?” Michael roared, stepping close to her, nearly invading her physical space. “Are you crazy?”

“I can heal Riley,” she explained simply, glancing around the room at her comrades. And family, too, she thought as she glimpsed intense fear reflected in Isabel’s large, worried eyes.

“I’m the only one in this room who has the gift of healing,” Liz continued. “And that means I should go with them.”

“You’ll be putting yourself in too much danger, Liz,” Serena argued, narrowing her eyes intently. Liz noticed that they shimmered with her own peculiar energy, that thing that always looked a bit alien—and it had flared at her declaration that she’d go after Riley.

“You’ve never even used your powers like that, Liz,” Michael pointed out, grabbing her forcefully by the arm. “We don’t even know if you’d be able to now.”

“I’ve used my intuition before,” Liz disagreed, shaking his hand off and stepping away from him toward Isabel, who nodded encouragingly as she spoke. “Besides, it’s what Max would want me to do.”

“Oh, that’s bullshit ,” Michael roared, following her the length of the bunker. “Max would have my ass if I let you do this.”

“Max isn’t here, so stop wasting precious time and rescue him, already,” Liz shouted, feeling her whole body shudder with tremors. Suddenly, all her rage over what Nicholas had done to them all overwhelmed her, and she almost began hyperventilating. “And let… me save… Riley’s life. I don’t know whether my husband is even alive… but this is something I can do, a way I can fight back.”

“No,” Michael stated flatly. “I won’t let you.”

Liz raised herself up as tall as possible, tipping her chin up as she stared at Michael defiantly. “Max is gone, Tess is gone, and that means as queen, then I’m the one in charge here.”

Silence fell over the room at her brazen statement, and the only sound was the muted pounding of rain on the overhead door.

“Well,” Isabel finally ended the shocked silence, clearing her throat. “Guess that says it all, Michael.”

“What’s that mean?” Michael demanded, whirling to face her.

“It means , Michael, that you’re standing here arguing with Liz when you could be taking a team up to the cabin to find my brother,” Isabel explained angrily. “Or heading a search party or whatever. She’s right, we’re wasting precious time.”

“Agreed,” Serena nodded. “Liz, if you’re determined to do this, then go with Anna, but take Devon, too. You need a third, in case you aren’t…successful with the healing.”

“And what are you going to do about getting Max back?” Liz asked, her voice trembling, as she felt some of her bravado vanish. Serena met her eyes meaningfully, blinking rapidly as she always did in a moment of deep emotion.

“I’ve spent far too long protecting my king to lose him now.” Serena’s voice was thick, and she was more emotional than Liz had ever heard her. “We will bring him back to you, Liz, I swear it.”
Marco stared at Max’s crumpled body and grasped within his mind for a plan. Any plan …anything to get Max out of there alive. He’d passed out cold after Nicholas’s second assault, and it had been obvious that Max had been the victim of far worse than a mind rape, something more devastating—but precisely what, Marco wasn’t sure.

Even so, Marco had the sense that Nicholas might actually release Max tonight, and he was at least grateful for that, as he stared at Max’s crumpled form. But he was certainly wary of the sinister threat that had accompanied the implication of freedom…that Max would beg Nicholas to take the Granolith from him. Marco couldn’t fathom what Nicholas might have done within Max’s mind to warrant such a vile promise.

The door to the cabin crashed open and Marco’s chest drew tight as a wire when Nathan entered, shoving Tess roughly to the ground. Oh, God , he thought. Anyone, but Nathan…anyone.

“Look at the piece of trash I found wandering lost in the rain,” Nathan gloated, as Tess landed hard on the wooden floor, her hands tied tightly in front of her. With her hands bound, she was unable to catch herself as she sprawled onto the hardwood. Marco felt his hands form involuntary fists of rage by his sides.

Uncontrollable fury began to mount, building somewhere in his center…an alien energy that yearned for release in the form of a fire blast right at Nathan and Nicholas—at all of them who had hurt his beloved Tess and his king.

Calm down , he breathed within his mind, forcing his hands to unclench. You can’t save them if you blow your cover. Calm…

Nathan dropped to the floor, straddling Tess in a predatory manner, as he rolled her over onto her back before lowering his hips just over hers. She whimpered, writhing unsuccessfully beneath his weight. He leaned his face down close against hers, as he jerked her head backwards by her long, damp braid. That was when Marco noticed how bruised her face was, how he’d already beaten her, and how her lovely lips were swelling quickly.

“You’re going to tell us what you know, I’ll make sure of it,” Nathan sneered with a laugh. “And I’ll have my pleasure along the way, my dear.”

“Shut up!” She spat in his face, and though Marco admired her spirit, he feared the retaliation that would come. And it did, because just after Nathan had wiped his cheek, he raised his hand against her, ready to strike again.

And Marco sprung like a wildcat, clasping Nathan’s fist roughly in his own hand. “Do it again, and I’ll strike you myself,” he thundered before he could even stop himself. His reaction had been instinctive and unstoppable.

The room fell silent, with only the sound of Nathan’s uneven breathing, matched by his own and Tess’s. Shit , Marco thought, glancing quickly at Nicholas to see if he suspected him of improper loyalties.

“Well, now this is an interesting moment,” Nicholas chided with a cluck of his tongue. Marco decided to hedge his bets and yanked Nathan off of Tess in a swift motion—an easy maneuver given how much larger he was than Nathan.

“Nathan’s into my territory now, and he knows it,” Marco growled possessively, with an intentionally dark glance at Tess. She laid on her back, panting heavily, and her blue eyes flickered briefly in his direction before she closed them.

“McKinley, Lonnie has always said you had it bad for Tess,” Nicholas observed with a wry grin. “Now I see she was right.”

“Ah, like hell I did…Lonnie had it all wrong,” Marco countered, staring down at Tess with the most lascivious grin he could muster. “She was nothing to me…nothing but my little whore.” Forgive me, love. Please, he breathed, willing her to hear him.

“Oh really, now?” Nicholas laughed, as Tess’s eyes flew open in shock. “Interesting indeed. I wonder if that’s how Max’s second views herself.”

And then he’d never admired Tess Harding more, not in all the time he’d known her. Despite how broken she was, how frightened, she leaned up on her elbows with a proud toss of her braid.

“Oh, right, McKinley,” she taunted, gazing up at him in icy challenge before turning to Nicholas in explanation. “Marco convinced himself of that to save his ego when I wouldn’t let him in my bed. He may have wanted it, but he never got a damn thing.”

“Shut up!” Marco roared, continuing their act as he crouched down beside her. “You’re nothing but a little whore!”

She sat up fully, and he watched in slow motion as she pulled her hand back and slapped him hard across the cheek, bitingly to the point that he had to rub it afterward.

“Feisty little thing,” Nicholas laughed behind him, as he walked to her side. Marco traced his hand seductively down the length of her braid, and she jerked her head away.

“Marco, something tells me you’d take special pleasure in mind raping this one,” Nicholas observed.

Marco stared into her eyes hungrily, where he crouched by her side—and the ironic thing was that he didn’t have to feign the hunger part, just the spirit behind his longing gaze. “Oh, yes, special pleasure indeed,” he breathed, reaching toward her face with outstretched hands. “And then afterwards I’ll take all my pleasure.”

“If you deliver the granolith’s location to me, you can have all the pleasure with her that you want from now on,” Nicholas laughed, stepping back a few steps.

“Don’t resist me, baby,” Marco declared with a throaty laugh. “That didn’t work last time, remember?”

“Thought I was your little whore,” Tess corrected, her voice catching.

“You will be after this.” And with that simple promise, Marco cupped his hands around her face, mimicking a mind rape by twisting his features cruelly together.

His heart beat out an unsteady, desperate rhythm…even as he shivered when his skin made intimate contact with hers. His first real intimacy with her, apart from the brief moment on the trail earlier, in so long—why did it have to be under these circumstances?

My love , he called softly. Open, my love…open to me.

The spiraling energy that had begun building within his body out of anger moments before, instantly escalated now, shifting into something beautiful and utterly different—and his hands began trembling with it. Now the energy left his body, not as a fiery bolt meant to obliterate his enemies, but as a tender caress across Tess’s chilled skin.

He pressed his face right up against hers, their foreheads lightly touching. “Come on, baby, you can’t fight me now. Max isn’t going to protect you this time,” he taunted. He heard her gasp softly in response and prayed she understood—and could only hope that she did since she’d taken his cue and followed along with his charade.

“I’m no whore,” she hissed yet he felt her lean her cheek into his palm a bit, allowed him to cradle it imperceptibly.

Again, energy shot out of his core, aimed like a fine-pointed arrow at his beloved.

Warmth, security, safety…he wrapped his mind around all that he wanted her to feel from him, and knew that his peculiar gift of intuition enabled him to transmit those very emotions as softly as a sigh. If only she would open to him ever so slightly.

Tess, sweetheart , he called again…reaching his energy toward her. No mating bond existed between them, so he could only draw on the way their gifts had been reaching, yearning to join for so long now.

He felt no answer in return, and prayed he could reach her. He didn’t want to penetrate her mind by any other means, because no matter how much he cared for her, it would be too invasive. No, he wanted her to willingly open to him, because he believed they could form a rudimentary connection—even without being bonded mates. He was fairly certain he could accomplish that since he’d been hearing her voice in his mind for such a long time.

Marco pulled back a bit, in an effort to make more intimate visual contact, then Tess slowly raised her blue eyes to meet his gaze--and he felt his heart turn over in his chest. He hadn’t truly stared into those depths in so many months, and now as their eyes locked, a jolt of electricity shot across his skin. He had to suppress a soft answering gasp, because her energy hit him with so much power he could hardly breathe, could only press his eyes tightly shut so as to keep from crying out at the sensation.
Tess sat panting on the cold floor of the cabin, shivering from her wet clothes and hair—but more than that from Marco’s gentle touch. She’d barely heard Nicholas order him to mind rape her, before suddenly he was taking her face within his warm hands…palms that were so strong and comforting. His large, dark eyes stared at her, his warm breath fanned her cheek, as he drew near.

And then right afterwards, she’d begun to feel heat pool within her belly--slowly like soothing waves, the sensation had begun lapping outward. Now it was overtaking her, becoming like erratic wildfire, roiling in her veins.

She ached for him more in that single moment than she had in all his months away…perhaps more than she ever had before. Yet these emotions were an illusion because she was a captive to them all, even to Marco in a strange way, since they believed her to be.

Now suddenly she heard it, such a tender command right within her mind…Open, my love. And then his energy ricocheted crazily across her body, seductive and erotic. A promise of what a bonding with him could really be, and she opened as fully as she could in her condition, as completely as she even knew to do.

This was something virgin and unknown, connecting with him intimately like this. Suddenly, a wind rushed through her mind.

Oh, Tess , he breathed. My love, my sweet, sweet Tess . The relief in his voice was unbelievably palpable. Forgive me for my harsh words…I was grasping at anything to protect you from Nathan.

I know…of course I know,
she whispered in return. Marco, how…are we doing this? What are we doing?

We have forged a connection of sorts.

But we’re not…life mates.

No, but as an Empath this is part of my gift…I have opened myself, invited you to open…now we are able to communicate like this.

They fell silent for a brief moment, each overwhelmed with sensation and Tess grappled for equilibrium as Marco’s mental landscape and terrain came more clear within her own mind.

Tell me Nathan did not… Marco stammered awkwardly and she felt his leap of painful anxiety…hurt you in some manner, other than the obvious.

That he didn’t rape you —it’s what she heard him thinking even though he hadn’t voiced it.

No, he just beat me up, I think one of my ribs is broken…and my ankle definitely is. And I can’t mind warp them, because they hit me with the Disruptor.

I will kill him one day. I will take his life for having hurt you…and today I will set you free.

She had to choke back a sob at his words. Set you free, he’d promised…was so confident of getting her out of there, that she’d be okay.

What about you? Will you come with me? She barely breathed. I can’t tell you how I’ve missed you, longed for you. You can’t possibly know. She felt tears quickly brim within her eyes, as new waves of his energy swept rapidly across their makeshift connection.

And not just his energy, but…God, so much love. It was unimaginable the love she felt from him in that moment, the intensity and depth of it, as it wrapped itself all around her.

Tess, I must stay within the enemy camp a while longer.

No, don’t tell me that,
she cried, tears now spilling down her cheeks. “Don’t!” she shouted out loud, not needing to fake the pain she felt in the moment.

Tess it won’t be much longer, I know it, and until then we still have the dreams.

Yes , she murmured softly, the dreams…

Have kept you so alive to me,
he finished with a rush. Have only heightened how much I already loved you.

She gasped because he’d never spoken the words to her so frankly. I do love you, Tess…have no doubt on that point.

She pressed her eyes shut and remembered to cry out painfully, and then silence fell momentarily between them, as the rush of emotions and impressions stilled. And then softly, tenderly she whispered across his skin. I love you with all that is within me, Marco…

Ah, love…such sweet words.

I mean them.

I know, sweetheart, but now we must get you out of here.
We must join our powers.

What? She asked in confusion

Cry out, he coached her. You must make it appear that I’m hurting you…

She allowed a soft sob to escape her lips, along with a muted plea of “Don’t.”

Okay, I am going to mind warp them, by latching onto your own gift…we can do this, Tess. We’ve come close to joining our powers in the past…

I don’t know how…

Create an image, what you want them to see and allow me to lay claim to it within your mind,
Marco explained quickly. To do that, you must open to me as fully as you can…feel my own gifts.

She pressed hard, even as she was so aware of how broken her body felt, how weakened her spirit. Nathan had hit her fully in the chest with the disruptor, and her body continued to throb from his merciless attack.

Press harder , she commanded herself, and delved further into her mind, deeper into Marco’s…and felt an explosive release within her spirit. Suddenly knew just how profoundly Marco felt everything in this world--just how richly and with such intense passion. How sensitive his lovely spirit was…and she reached for that, fisting it within her own spirit, and felt a powerful union form.

Not a joining of souls, but a joining of power.

And it was a rush so heady she couldn’t even breathe for a good ten seconds.

Tess, now, he urged desperately. We’ve done it…give me the image and I’ll latch on.

She created the picture of the familiar cabin, of the living room where even now she sat on the floor, and then colored in Marco mind raping her, Max lying on the floor—she created the entire scenario to perfection. And then she felt a sharp jolt, sensed Marco lay claim to it, internalize it within his own mind.

Go, go, he urged. Got it, go…get Max and run.

She opened her eyes, only to see Marco kneeling right beside her, his own eyes pressed tightly shut in intense concentration. His hands dropped slowly away from her face, as if despite the moment, he was reluctant to let her go, and she rose without looking back at him. Quickly, she spotted Max who was now stirring faintly on the floor.

She pulled on him, urging him to his feet and he met her gaze weakly. She nodded toward the others without speaking and mouthed the words “mind warp” and he rose as she tugged him to his feet. He was unsteady, but he followed her out the cabin door, and all the while Nicholas and his men stood studying Marco as if he were kneeling beside Tess mind raping her.

Tess slipped her arm around Max’s waist to keep him from stumbling, heading out into the driving, icy rain again.

“Come on,” she urged, as he tripped a bit beside her. “Max, I’ve got to get you out of here.”

“I’m coming,” he answered in a thick voice.

Tess’s ankle throbbed in terrible pain with every step, but she willed the sensation from her consciousness like a firewalker passing over flaming coals. There was no time to reflect on it at the moment, all she could do was lead Max to safety--and pray they’d make it to that bunker without being apprehended by their enemies because she doubted they’d be given any second chances at this point.

[ edited 1 time(s), last at 9-Dec-2001 9:52:38 AM ]
posted on 6-Dec-2001 9:30:54 PM

Liz hiked quickly behind Anna, who followed Devon through the dark woods. Several times she’d caught herself on the steep, slippery path, her hands grazing the muddy trail that wound ever upwards into blackness. Now, they slowed and she saw Anna’s shoulders heave as she rushed forward, kneeling quickly.

That’s when Liz glimpsed Riley, lying on his back, his jacket and shirt soaked with rain and mud…and deeply saturated with his own blood.

His eyes were shut, and as Liz knelt quickly beside him, she saw just how pale he was. Anna’s hands wandered over him quickly, checking his vital signs, as she stroked his matted, wet hair off of his face. Anna bit down on her lip, but clearly couldn’t stop the tears from welling up again, as she knelt beside her beloved.

“He’s still breathing,” Anna informed her quickly, glancing up from his still form. “His pulse is weak, but it’s there.”

“Good,” Liz nodded, staring down at his lifeless features as she slowly tore open his sweater and covered his chest with her palms, right over the entry point of the wound. His blood was sticky and warm, yet icy like the rain all at once.

“Riley,” Liz whispered softly, settling her hands against his exposed flesh. “You must live.” And with that statement, she closed her eyes and concentrated on wholeness. That’s how I healed you , Max’s voice echoed in her head. We can change molecular structures.

She felt energy bank first in her core, then quickly find its exit point beneath her palms, her fingers.

“Riley, live,” she insisted again and pictured his skin repairing, his heart, vital tissue knitting back into wholeness. Through her visualization and her words, she willed his healing, commanded it. Fire now leapt from her fingertips and there was a noise like a freight train in her head, all around them, but she refused to open her eyes.

“Be whole,” she whispered fervently, feeling his flesh change beneath her palms, movement and modulation etching her fingers.

Then coughing and a sputtering of breath…Anna’s hand on her arm, pulling at her…her eyes opening, the tunnel closing as she roared back into the moment.

Riley lay beneath her hands, staring up at them all in weak confusion. “Wh-what happened?” he coughed, gazing up at Anna.

She pressed kisses to his dirty face, his forehead, murmuring through soft tears. “You’re okay, Riley,” Anna cried, pressing her face against his neck. “Thank, God, you’re okay.”

“I don’t…remember anything.”

“You were shot,” Liz explained gently, rocking back on her heels.

Anna lay across his chest, just holding him for a brief moment. “Liz healed you, Riley,” she explained in a hushed voice.

“Thank you, Liz,” Riley whispered intently.

“You’ve done so much for us, both of you,” Liz whispered in reply, her eyes searching all around them nervously. “How could I have done any less?”

Anna turned from where she’d been ministering to Riley, so that she knelt before Liz. “Now more than ever,” she vowed hoarsely, “You are my queen…for only a queen would have risked so much tonight.” And with that, Anna bowed low to the ground right in front of her.

Liz’s mouth worked, but no sound came out, as her gaze snapped to where Riley wrestled to an upright position, seemingly with the intent of joining Anna in her gesture of gratitude and loyalty.

Devon coughed softly. “Your queen must be taken to the bunker now,” he reminded them gently, and Anna rose quickly to her feet.

“Yes, of course,” she agreed. “The battle is still on.”

Her words sent a shiver of apprehension down Liz’s spine, because they reminded her of Max, and his uncertain whereabouts. She reached her energy toward him, felt for their connection, grasping forcefully this time, but her spirit came back with an empty answer…nothing but black void.

What did it mean? She wondered.
“Max, come on,” Tess urged, tugging on Max’s arm as they wound their way through the black night toward the bunker. He was so weakened from Nicholas’s mind warp and the horrible beating he’d suffered, that he kept stumbling and had collapsed several times now.

Each instance left Tess feeling increasingly vulnerable for him because he seemed so affected by his mistreatment. Not only did she worry that she might not be able to get him to the bunker safely, but she’d begun to fear that he might have been injured in some more permanent way. Even now, as she held him close by the waist, guiding him down the path, he hung his head, shoulders slumped forward weakly.

“Max,” she whispered. “Please, we’ve got to move, okay?”


“A little faster,” she begged.

“Best…I…can,” he mumbled, his head hanging even lower.

His answers came in short, broken phrases, even as his breaths fell in quick pants, and Tess nearly dragged him along with her, determined to get him to safety. But suddenly there was a peculiar aroma on the path just below them, an alien scent that she didn’t recognize…yet then again, maybe she did.
“What the hell do you mean?” Nicholas roared, closing the distance between Marco and himself. “How could you not know?”

“She was here, and I was mind raping her,” Marco explained hoarsely. “And then she was just gone…nothing but air right in front of me.”

“She couldn’t have mind warped us,” Nathan argued bitterly. “I used the disruptor on her.”

“Tell us what really happened, McKinley,” Nicholas insisted, staring up at him with black, lifeless eyes. “Or I’ll mind rape you to find out.”

Marco worked to steady his thoughts, knew his game was probably up…that he’d be branded the double agent that he was. “I’m telling you, she did something to me,” he explained earnestly. “I hate that little bitch, why would I have helped her?”

“Because you want in her pants, like Lonnie’s always said.”

“How would releasing her have served that purpose?”

“I’m not sure,” Nicholas answered, tugging on his lower lip, as he continued to study Marco thoughtfully. “But I’m going to find out. Kneel, McKinley.” His voice was commanding, and Marco realized that he obviously enjoyed wielding that kind of power over him.

“I better not find out you were behind this,” Nicholas threatened.

“I have every confidence that you will learn only of my loyalty,” Marco promised, meeting Nicholas’s gaze as boldly as he could.

“Then kneel,” Nicholas ordered coldly.

Marco’s spirit bucked a bit, for there was only one man he ever intended to kneel in front of, one king or leader. Yet he dropped slowly to his knees as Nicholas had ordered, aware that a mind rape would follow.

But then he had an idea, as he saw Nathan examining his Disruptor, clearly curious if it might have misfired earlier. Nicholas leaned toward him, hands extended and as Marco’s eyes drifted shut, he called upon the power he’d received from Tess. He pressed deep within his spirit for his virgin gifting, his hands trembling slightly as he sought the gift they now shared—and felt her heat answer along the nape of his neck, spreading down his spine. The projected image that he’d envisioned locked into place, gaining permanency.

“Damn,” Marco heard Nathan exclaim loudly, right as Nicholas hands tightened around his face. “I think I know what the problem might have been,” Nathan suddenly volunteered, and Marco opened his eyes to find him fingering his Disruptor. “It looks like this thing has malfunctioned…no power in it at all. Probably misfired, which means Tess still had her powers intact after all.”

“The bitch didn’t let on,” Marco cursed as Nicholas’s hands dropped from his head, and he strode to examine the weapon. Marco experienced a burst of light behind his eyes, and the mind warp wavered, the image shivering weakly where he’d laid claim to it. So, he pressed harder, latched onto Tess’s power and energy, drafted off of it because his life depended on this—all of their lives did.

Nicholas stood, turning the Disruptor over in his palm, then tossed it on the counter. “Useless,” he declared with a shake of his head, studying Marco so intently that the hair on his nape rose. Marco met his gaze without wavering, realizing his fate hung in the balance. Finally, Nicholas turned away.

“Looks like McKinley was right,” he said, slamming his fist against the counter. “She pulled a mind warp on us all.”

“We can still get them,” Aaron promised, narrowing his gray eyes. “Easy enough, they were both in lousy condition.”

Nicholas thought a moment, pacing the length of the cabin until he stopped in front of the dining room table. There he clasped an apple from a bowl of fresh fruit, and tossed it lightly into the air, then caught it, taking a swift bite.

“I’m not sure I care about getting Max back just yet,” Nicholas reflected with a smirk. “I’ve put something in his mind that will serve as ample motivation to reveal the granolith’s location.”

“What did you do?” Marco queried, aware that his voice sounded too thick and wavering. Nicholas turned to him, his smug grin widening, yet his dark eyes remained mirthless.

“Nothing that wasn’t in his mind already,” he offered cryptically. “Max will find out soon enough.”

“So we don’t go scouting for them at all?” Nathan demanded, pacing restlessly. “We’ve got them right here…defenseless , and all we have to do is rope them back in.”

Nicholas thought a long moment, walking to the front door of the cabin. He opened it and stared out into the thick darkness, and only the sound of the rain pounding on the porch roof punctuated the silence. “No,” he finally answered. “Let’s let them make their little run. I’m banking on Max coming back within the week.”
Tess sniffed the wintry air again, wishing fervently that the dampness wasn’t masking the nearly familiar scent wafting from just below them on the trail. She halted, steadying Max beside her. He raised his head and her breath hitched at the pained look in his eyes. She rubbed her hand softly along his arm, trying to sooth him any way she could--and as she did, felt a wave of excruciating pain that eclipsed her own powerfully…just from touching him.

She shook her head in confusion, trying to clear it until the moment suddenly stood in stark relief.

Empathy , she realized with a start. That’s what she’d just felt because she now walked in Marco’s gifts and callings, not just her own.
This is what Marco lives with, she thought. What it’s like for him, just a simple touch can elicit such strong, unbidden emotions .

And that meant the blinding pain that had just shuddered through her entire body had been Max’s. No wonder he could hardly walk, she realized, and again rubbed his arm softly, anything to offer comfort as she tried to identify the alien scent wafting from below them.

Max glanced at her, raising his eyebrow in question, and she pointed first to her nose, then below. His gaze snapped in that direction of the path, as he cocked his head slightly, also inhaling. He stood like that a moment, then turned to her, frowning in frustration, indicating that he’d also been unsuccessful.

She held up four fingers and again pointed below, as he repeated his inhalations, only this time he nodded quickly in agreement. There were four aliens on the path below.

Then Max’s eyes widened and he smiled faintly, spinning toward her as he nodded in the direction below them. Tess remained still as a statue, unsure what he’d detected, as she watched his smile broaden-- and then she understood. Only one person ever made Max Evans smile like that, especially in his present condition.

What she didn’t understand was why a look of disbelief so quickly overcame his features, how the infinite joy transformed to horror, as his face literally twisted in agony before he began stumbling desperately down the path.
Liz fell on the slippery embankment, but Anna caught her by the elbow, gently admonishing her to be careful.

“Are we almost there?” Liz whispered. “It seems…”

Her words were interrupted by the loud sound of a snapping branch just behind them, and before Liz could even think, Anna had shoved her onto the ground and was covering her body with her own.

“Wh…” Liz started to question, but Anna covered her mouth swiftly with her hand, meeting her eyes with a desperate shake of her head. Anna’s face hovered just over hers like that, her breath forming small puffs in the coldness.

Liz saw Riley and Devon quickly step in front of them both, forming a shield and prepared to fight if necessary as they raised their weapons. Liz heard the muted clicking of the safety latches on their weapons, and knew they were ready to fire—to do whatever necessary to protect her, their queen.

Once Anna was certain Liz would remain quiet, she eased her hand off of her mouth, and kept her palm lightly against her chest as she observed Riley and Devon’s battle stance in front of them. It was almost as if Anna was prepared to restrain her, keep her there on the ground if necessary.

And then Riley relaxed, his shoulders dropping a bit, and Devon followed suit. Riley glanced back at them both, as he and Devon parted—and at that precise moment Liz caught Max’s scent. She sighed, suddenly content just to allow his aroma envelop her, even as softened as it was by the damp night.

She jumped to her feet, and instantly Max was embracing her, whispering in her ear, holding onto her fiercely.

“Baby,” he murmured, running his hands desperately over her hair. “Haven’t been… able to feel you.”

“Me, neither,” Liz answered softly, pulling back to stare into his eyes, because his voice had sounded thick, and his words utterly labored. And that’s when she saw how badly he’d been beaten. His nose was certainly broken, his eyes bruised and growing darker, and his mouth terribly swollen. Liz sucked in a tight breath, cupping his face and his eyes fluttered closed. But something else wasn’t quite right, because his eyes looked haunted in a way that caused her to shiver.

“God, Max,” she cried, feeling his body tremble against her own. “What have they done to you, sweetheart?”

He just shook his head, lowering his eyes away from her, as Riley began urging them on. “We’ve got to keep moving,” he reminded them. “Almost there.”

Max held her against his side in a vice-like grip, clutching at her sweater as they began moving down the path together. Something about his demeanor and this moment struck a familiar chord that Liz couldn’t quite place, it lay just beyond her grasp.

And then she realized what this moment reminded her of—the night Max had escaped from the White Room.
Marco stood in the middle of his former bedroom, just staring around him, cherishing the familiar surroundings. For so many years, this one cabin had been his most beloved haven, the sanctuary where he found peace whenever they stayed there. Now, the enemy had ripped the belly of their safest hideaway wide open, exposing it permanently--robbing him of one of the few homes he’d ever known. They would never come back now, not until Khivar was deposed and eliminated—and that meant he was saying goodbye tonight.

Not that a mere place should mean anything to him, but somehow on this particular mountaintop his soul always became attuned to the world surrounding it, like a musical note humming right through his center. Kind of like when he’d been a boy and would pluck a note on Riley’s acoustic guitar, and it would vibrate beneath his fingertip.

That’s what he felt like on this mountain, and it was no wonder that this was where he’d first kissed Tess—had fallen in love with her.

He gazed around the room, etching the details into his memory; the way the quilt was frayed in one particular spot in the middle, and how it smelled permanently damp, but was so soft to his touch. His piles of books lining the shelves in disarray, and his old, vinyl record albums-- something he’d found in the attic years ago, and had dusted them off and played them on the abandoned turn-table he’d found boxed up with them.

That was when he’d fallen in love with music, sitting on the wooden floor of the living room for days on end with Riley, listening to Jefferson Airplane, Cream, Derek and the Dominoes…the Who. The list went on and on, and Serena had just shaken her head at him, unable to comprehend his fascination. But she’d known one thing—that it was healing him somehow. Because at age eleven, he’d just been coming out of his painful struggles with his Empathy, and the music had been like a sponge, something that absorbed all the excess emotion, an outlet in a sense.

“McKinley,” Aaron shouted, staring in through the doorway at him. Marco came back to the moment. “You gonna help us, or just stand there like an idiot, man?”

Marco focused on him, and shook his head. “Yeah, just getting some of my stuff. Be right there in a minute.”

Marco began moving purposefully, ready to collect a few essentials, and as he walked around the room, he marveled that most of his things were right where he’d left them—the books, the clothes, the CD’s. Only a few items were missing, not quite as he remembered them.

He could hear the others ransacking the cabin, but he was still so transfixed by the simple sight of his own belongings. He’d explained to Nicholas that he wanted to grab a few items, but had been fully prepared to find them dispersed throughout their safe house. Yet, unbelievably his room had not been reassigned, and stood now almost like a silent monument to him—and he realized they’d held it this way all these months, hoping he’d return.

Marco stepped quietly toward his closet, opening the wooden door, and found only his limited wardrobe hanging inside, just as he’d last left it.

Except one critical item was missing…his parka. He frowned at the realization because that and a few CD’s had been all he’d really wanted to carry away tonight. He spun on his heel, staring around the room, just studying it for clues, and then on impulse headed quickly to Tess’s room down the hallway.

Her bedside lamp emitted a low, peaceful glow across her room, spilling over her small bed. Perhaps that’s what drew his gaze to a small stack of CD’s on her nightstand. He stepped closer, and began thumbing through them…yet what he saw was almost unbelievable to him.

Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Elton John, Joni Mitchell…all his most favorite CD’s lay beside her bed, next to his own Walkman. He known she loved him—of that he’d been certain for some time—but that she’d actually treasured his music, drawn it right within her soul, touched him indescribably.

Marco realized in that moment that Tess Harding wanted to take him inside of herself, memorize him in some way. She wanted to love what he loved, wanted to understand it—because that was the measure of her love for him.

He fingered the top CD jewel case, Blood on the Tracks , and reflected on one of their very last conversations, when she’d asked him what Tangled Up in Blue really meant to him. She was the only one to ever care what music meant to him, how deeply it touched him, and now during his long absence she’d tried to understand, had wanted to peer inside his heart, using his beloved CD’s as the keyhole.

And she’d done just that-- without his ever explaining the truth--that an Empath simply perceived music differently than other people did. It was richer, more deeply penetrating, like touching the literal heart of the person singing. His gift affected his musical perception more than she could possibly know—only now she would know because he had transferred his legacy to her. He had transformed her permanently in that one moment when their powers had joined, just as she had changed him. Yet for Tess the transformation would be more profound, he reflected ambivalently, it would affect every aspect of her being because he’d imparted the strongest of all Antarian gifts into her spirit tonight.

Even the next time she heard music, it would be like a blind man, having gained sight, the textures would come that alive to her, the emotion be so addictive. He buried his head in his hands, as fear suddenly crowded his mind, because she needed him more than ever now, needed him to teach her how to temper her new gift. She needed the covering of his own ability to ground her, and he had to believe he’d be able to give her that, that he would return to the resistance shortly.

Marco settled on the edge of her bed, shuffling through the CD’s as he continued to reflect on the way their powers had joined tonight, how unexpectedly erotic that moment had been. His face flushed as he thought of her energy, how intimately it had touched him—and of how it had only tantalized him with a promise of what more could be between them. He now craved a bonding with her more than anything he’d ever wanted in his life.

They’d already come part way tonight, and soon the rest would follow, he thought, glancing up. And that’s when he saw the familiar dark outline of his jacket, hanging just inside her closet, partially obscured by the door.

He leapt from the bed, and jerked her closet fully open. His parka hung there in her closet, like a beloved friend. Just as she’d wanted to drink his music into her soul, she’d wrapped his jacket around her body—she’d draped herself in his coat because she couldn’t lose herself in his arms.

He closed his eyes and had a vision of her, inhaling each time she wore the parka, drinking in what remained of his fading scent as she hugged herself tightly. She’d never given up on him, never stopped loving him…just like in the dreams.

He drew the fabric to his face, and inhaled deeply, his eyes drifting closed. There was his own older, latent scent, but it was masked by something much warmer and more familiar…wildflowers touched by sunlight .
He felt tears burn his eyes—the first time he’d come close to crying in all his months away from his unit, from her, because he realized the scent wasn’t really either of theirs. It was Tess Harding mingling with Marco McKinley…joined in scent, now joined in power, and whenever he made his way back to her again, they’d join souls for life.

And in the process they would create something wholly new and beautiful—something neither of them quite were apart from the other.
Tess watched Max and Liz where they huddled together in the far corner of the shelter, sitting close together on the damp earthen floor. She sighed heavily at the way Liz kept her arm around Max, kept whispering to him, as they both shivered visibly. He was beginning to frighten her, how weakened he really seemed. This was Max, their ever-peaceful leader, the one with the voice that could calm them all so quickly. Tess chewed absently on a fingernail when Michael stepped up to her, pulling her quickly aside.

“Tell me,” he insisted under his breath, as he lead her by the elbow toward the entrance.

“Tell you what?” she asked in confusion, staring up into his dark eyes.

“What did they do to him?”

She chewed on her lip, and could only shake her head, as she fell silent a long moment. “I’m not sure,” she finally answered. “But I’m worried.”

“Damn straight,” Michael agreed. “So am I. They’ve just been sitting over there like that for the past fifteen minutes. Anytime one of us approaches, Liz just waves us off.”

“Well, we should trust Liz, then.”

“I don’t like it,” Michael pressed. “I haven’t seen him like this. Well…at least not in a long time.”

“Since Pierce,” Tess finished.

Michael nodded solemnly and Tess felt her stomach tighten. “Liz will get through,” she repeated. “We have to believe it.”
Liz kept stroking Max’s wet hair away from his eyes, comforting him as gently as she could. They sat in the far corner of the bunker, away from all the others, yet he’d hardly spoken to her—he was almost in a trance-like state, his knees drawn up to his chest, where he’d propped his chin.

“Max,” she asked softly. “Sweetheart, tell me what they did.”

He was silent, and drew her hand to his lips, kissing her lightly in the center of her palm. “Can’t explain,” he answered simply.

She scooted even closer, so that their legs touched, and pressed her mouth against his ear. “Of course you can,” she encouraged him. “Just tell me.”

“My ribs are broken…probably my nose.” His eyes fluttered closed and he sighed heavily. “You see the damage, sweetheart.”

His voice was raw, choked as he spoke and Liz’s breath hitched painfully at the sound. “I can heal it for you,” she offered softly. Her words were met with a questioning gaze, as he turned his head slightly toward her.

“I healed Riley’s gunshot wound earlier,” she explained further. “Let me heal you.”

He nodded slowly, and she saw him swallow hard. “But that’s not the real problem, is it Max?” she pressed.

He shook his head silently, and as his eyes sought her own, pain shimmered in their amber depths. “Don’t you know?” he choked. “Can’t you sense what he did?”

Liz’s heartbeat quickened, nearly matching the rhythm of the rain that hammered on the overhead door, a sudden yet steady explosion. “No,” she answered, swallowing hard as she was dimly aware that others stood near them, on the periphery gazing in. “I don’t know what you mean, Max.”

Max rotated on the dirt floor, now facing her as he drew his mouth within a mere breath of her own. He clasped her hands frantically within his, his shoulders shaking with small tremors as their eyes locked in a powerful gaze. Something was absolutely not right about the moment, and it frightened Liz to the center of her heart.

“Nicholas,” he explained hoarsely. “He…did something in my head, Liz.”

“What did he do?” She asked, her voice surprisingly even.

“He broke our bond…he’s robbed us of it.”

“Liz,” he cried, and now tears filled his eyes. “It’s dead, don’t you feel it? Just try reaching for me. There’s nothing there at all. He’s taken you from me, that part of you…our most intimate place.”

“No,” Liz breathed, shaking her head frantically. “I-I don’t believe you.”

“Liz, reach for me.”

And she did—she closed her eyes and called out to Max with all that resided in her spirit. She felt her energy bank, escalate, as it threaded toward him, but then it met nothing but blackest void, as it spun right back within her chest.

All she felt was a cold emptiness. And all she saw was a steel wall, almost a vault-like structure. None of Max’s warmth, or his energy had met her as she’d reached, nothing at all. Just deadness.

Liz’s hand flew to her mouth, as tears welled in her own eyes. Max stared into her depths, the tears now spilling down his cheeks. “How?” She choked. “All I see is…a steel wall of some kind.”

Max nodded slowly, pulling her roughly into his arms. “Yes, that’s what he used. He planted it in my mind…that’s how he broke our bond.”

Liz clung to Max’s neck, buried herself against him as she cried hot tears, and wondered how something so terrible could even be repaired. Because as beautiful as their lovemaking always was, the thing she lived for, thrived on, was the way their alien souls mated over and over through their connection.

Yet, it seemed those wires had been permanently cut tonight, and she couldn’t imagine how something so delicate and precious could be restored once it had been lost.


Max collapsed on the bed in exhaustion, every bone in his body aching, especially the broken ones. He kicked off first one damp shoe, and then another as Liz turned on the bedside lamp, which cast their new bedroom in an eerie glow.

During what remained of the night, they’d traveled to a new safe house high in the rugged hills outside Santa Fe. Nicholas and his army had quickly cleared off the mountain, taking the Suburbans with them, which would have left them stranded, except for the escape plan Serena had carefully laid out long ago. So they’d taken a small motorboat across the black lake, navigating the choppy waters to a distant dock, where they’d disembarked. There they’d loaded into one waiting Suburban—the last in their possession—and had driven for hours until arriving at this smaller hillside home.

They’d all quickly assigned rooms, as everyone needed sleep, and Max had found Serena leading them to this bedroom in the back of the house. It was smaller than their last room, but comfortable enough, decorated in true Southwestern style, with throw rugs and Native American art adorning the walls. And the bed was a decent size, which he always appreciated, even with as small as Liz was. But most of all, they had their own private bathroom, which was an immeasurable comfort in a group house like this one.

So, they’d all headed to bed, with the mumbled agreement among Serena, Tess, Michael and himself that they’d discuss strategies once they’d all slept a bit. Michael had narrowed his eyes in concern, staring at his blackening eyes and broken nose, but Max had turned away, pretending not to notice.

And now Max watched as Liz stripped off her wet clothing, wrapping herself in a large towel she’d taken from the bathroom, wearing only her small silk bra and panty set beneath. None of them had brought more than the clothes on their back when they’d fled, especially since they couldn’t risk re-approaching the cabin. Serena planned to send a small team to recover whatever belongings they could in a few days time, once they were sure the cabin was no longer under surveillance.

Max studied Liz from where he lay propped against the musty pillow on their bed. Her expression was pensive and he realized she was worried about him, as he noted how her brows knit in deep concern as she approached him. She settled beside him on the edge of the bed, her hip brushing against his as she leaned over him, stroking his hair away from his eyes.

“I’m okay,” he promised her huskily, wanting to reassure her, even though he felt far from whole.

“Max,” she began, her voice filled with raw emotion. “Let me try again.” She ran her fingertips down across his chest, resting lightly over his ribs where they throbbed so painfully. He’d removed his damp sweater before collapsing on the soft mattress, so her fingertips met his bare skin, sending a little shiver across his body, even in his broken state.

Liz had tried healing his injuries in the car, but had been unable to summon enough energy in the wake of having ministered to Riley. This was something Max understood all too well from his own past experience—when he’d healed Liz and later Kyle, he’d been completely drained and it had taken a while for his energy to bolster again.

“Please,” he murmured softly in reply. “Yes, love.”

“Alright,” she whispered, pressing light kisses against his forehead and he closed his eyes wearily, feeling his body press into the mattress below his back. Everything still felt thick, and the throbbing pain in his head had caused his perceptions to seem gauzy.

His eyes fluttered open, as he felt her tiny hands graze his cheeks, and he saw her fingers brush against his nose. “Let me fix this first,” she breathed, her mouth hovering right over his. “That way, I can start small. Besides, you’re too beautiful… to look like this.”

He laughed dully, cupping her cheek with his palm, as her hair cascaded over her shoulder, brushing his forearm. He could feel her warm, sweet breath against his face as she leaned in close to him. Somehow in that moment, as he lay staring up at her, she struck him as more gorgeous than ever before…the way her long, silky hair spilled freely over his arm, and her dark eyes focused so intently on his face. His heart ached suddenly as he stared at her, as he yearned to reach for their bond, to flirt with her, to allow his energy to nip at her skin and dance along their connection.

He wanted to seduce her alien soul as he had so many times before, and yet he had nothing, was nothing in that regard anymore. Just a man, with his wife, so broken in every way.

Her richly colored eyes pressed closed and he felt a jolt of electricity shoot through his jaw, straight into his neck. He cried out at the sudden physical explosion, meeting her eyes as they opened—yet she was someplace else, focused, working to heal him.

Now he felt her fingertips trace a quick pattern, flutter against his eyes, his face and he felt himself slip into another plane, as he threw his head back slightly at her touch.

Images rushed one on top of another, overlapping, entwining…like a slide show at the speed of light. Memories from their youth together, then their married life, and now the most recent times in the various safe houses. Their bare bodies moving slickly together as they made love crazily, and then alien images—things that only surfaced during their mating season, the most primal moments between them.

He gasped tightly as his chest constricted in a sudden spasm. God, he couldn’t breathe, this had to stop, yet her fingers moved in tight little rhythms, now down his chest. Her hands grazed his skin, roaming, searching. Hot hands, greedy…needing more than he could give, yet he wanted to give her everything as he felt her palms rest against his aching body.

His energy had reached a fever pitch in no time at all, was begging for release.

I’ll connect with her , he thought as he tried to open his eyes. Yet he couldn’t, could only lie beneath her touch, murmuring her name softly as he felt his body repair beneath her touch. White-hot electricity mounted, focused, prepared for release and suddenly their lips were crushing together, as he pulled her down on top of himself.

Max’s eyes flew open, as he drew in burning gulps of air. “What just happened?” he panted, raw desire causing him to strain painfully within his blue jeans.

“I healed you, Max,” Liz answered breathily. She seemed relatively calm, and he felt so feral, as if something primal had just been released within his veins.

“Don’t you feel this?” he begged, pulling her body flush on top of his. “God, it’s unbelievable.”

The pain was gone, replaced only by this aching need for his mate—and the straining of his alien energy, seeking a release that it couldn’t find, reaching, climbing…yet only spinning right back inside.

The result was this unbearable burning for her, as his tongue played at her lips until she opened to him, and he began devouring her mouth, their tongues dancing heatedly together. Her hands threaded through his hair, as her knee slipped between his legs, rubbing lightly between the center of his thighs, causing his groin to tighten sharply. He thrust upward, bucking his hips against her own, wanting her to feel how strongly she’d aroused him. She answered with thrusts of her own, and their hips began rocking together hungrily, until suddenly she stilled, breaking their heated kiss.

“Max,” she questioned softly. “Are you sure? You’ve been through…” Her words faded as she stared down at him, and for a moment their eyes just locked in a simmering gaze.

“I have to get it back,” he moaned quietly, cupping her face within his palms. “I need you so much, Liz. I can’t live without our bond.”

“Is that what this is about?” she pressed, her eyes dark with desire.

“No,” he growled, threading his hands through her hair hungrily. “Yes…Don’t you feel it, Liz? It’s like our mating season, only different. I’m…God, I just have to have you now.”

She kissed him lovingly, searing his lips with a slow kiss. “Of course I feel it,” she murmured quietly. “How could I not?”

And with that, he rolled her onto her back in one fluid motion, pinning her beneath him, so ready to possess her.

Max wanted to make love to her, and there was nothing Liz wanted more in that moment, yet a tiny alarm sounded in the recesses of her mind. I have to get it back , he’d cried. Somehow he believed that if they simply made love, it would transcend the break in their bond, would repair it, Liz realized. And her heart lurched because the scientist within her knew it wouldn’t be that simple, couldn’t possibly be. What they’d always shared was too ethereal, like a gossamer thread spun of gold, and if someone clipped that, separating one end from the other, it couldn’t be repaired easily.

Their joining had always been a mystery, a celebration of something sacred, and weaving back together would be just as majestic.

Liz wasn’t even convinced they could re-bond, though she wouldn’t admit that to Max. Not with as devastated as he’d been all night. So now, as he began tugging at her lip with his mouth, while his hands stroked her nipples through the thin silk fabric of her bra, she lost herself in his arms, determined not to worry about their connection.

Except the nagging heat that had begun churning in her stomach, a familiar, treasured thing that now felt aimless and without purpose, could never let her forget what they’d lost. Worse still, the more Max kissed her so hungrily, his light stubble scratching against her smooth cheek, the more she heard her own breath fall in quick pants—and the more restless her alien energy grew, causing her body to tremble.

Their twin energies couldn’t build this way without release, and there was only one place where it would be re-absorbed—and that was right within their own bodies.

“Oh, God,” she cried against his neck, clinging desperately to Max, grinding her hips up against him. “I…oh…oh…” What would they do? Their physical bodies weren’t enough for this kind of build up , she thought as the room began to spin. Her alien self was screaming, clawing for Max’s alien side…mourning, spilling dry tears down a non-existent silken thread of connection.

Max’s hands were all over her, as he rolled her onto her side again. His breathing was heavy, as his fingers slipped just inside her panties, stroking her wetness…then delving further, plunging in and out of her, and the heat grew in her abdomen by quick degrees.

Helpless …that one word echoed in her mind like a liberation chant. Helpless. Helpless without it, helpless in his arms, helpless to stop.

“Zillia,” he moaned in her ear. “My beautiful Zillia…all I ever want is you,”

She shivered at his tender, secret name for her—a name always reserved for when they made love as Zan and Zillia had—yet now it was a prayer offered in the night.

His fingers were deftly easing her panties down her hips, as she fumbled with the button fly on his blue jeans. She found the zipper, tugging it downward in one smooth gesture, so that his pants fell open, loose on his hips. She plundered low inside his boxers, and he sprang free through the small opening in front. She moaned in his ear, as he nuzzled her, each of them grasping at the other, clutching at clothing and skin trying to absorb more of the other.

Nothing was enough, nothing met the endless thrumming of their alien energy, or could cool their heated skin. Not even this.

“I need you, baby,” he whispered hoarsely in her ear. “Please just…oh oh,” he moaned as her hand began a strong rhythm.

Her free hand worked his jeans lower so that they slipped off his hips, leaving only his boxers. She paused a moment, working those low so that now he sprang completely free, and she took his warm, pulsating flesh within her palm, and began a stronger rhythm.

Max closed his eyes, his head collapsing against the pillow and for a brief moment he thought that perhaps he’d actually died earlier, and that this was some bizarre place of painful ecstasy he’d found along his journey. Liz’s touch was that intense and vibrant, so heavenly, yet the whole experience so agonizing.

In the absence of their connection, there was only the physical sensation of her touch, and somehow while his alien nature cried out from the hillside, desperate for Zillia, his human body felt more pleasured than ever. Perhaps it was some built-in protection, for he ached for the other aspect of their joining deep in his bones.

All he could do was focus on their two bodies, so ready to join. And now they were completely bare against one another, as her tiny hand worked him in such a steady, pounding rhythm.

“Baby,” he cried. “Oh, oh, yes…” His hands tangled through her long hair, as he arched up against her, clinging breathlessly to her neck. Liz never stopped the rhythm, but suddenly she slipped on top of him, straddling him and then her hand fell away.

His eyes flew open, meeting her dark ones and in that moment they did communicate. Not through their non-existent bond, not with words—but with their simple gazes. She told him the depth of love she felt for him, how she longed to connect with him, how much she desired him.

He heard a loud moan in reply, as suddenly he thrust up inside of her, and realized it had escaped his own lips. She threw her head back, as their hands wove together and the heat exploded in every cell of his body—without any exit point. He groaned as it built, caused him to shudder, and all the while he made love to her hard, desperately. Nothing was gentle about their joining, nothing tender, it was all need and about claiming one another, about feeling lost, and wanting to navigate home.

Again and again, their sweat-slicked bodies crashed against one another, as Max thrust in and out of her, arching up against her with soft, murmured pleas. Liz met each of his thrusts with her own, sculpting the contours of his chest and abdomen with her hands, her fingertips…memorizing all his physical planes again.

Their soft moans mingled, overlapped and grew louder, as their desire reached a crescendo. And then, as quickly as they’d come together, he was exploding within her, bucking up against her hips repeatedly as they both cried out loudly.

And then the cries were replaced with silent, ragged breaths, then emptiness—primitive alien heat that had found no resolution, still churning through their bodies.

Her sob tore through his heart like a ragged wound, it was that raw as he pulled her close down onto his chest. A keening sound that escaped her lips before she could stop it, met immediately by his own muted sobs. He stroked her hair, her back, and she pressed her face tight against his neck.

And they lay like that, he still nestled limply inside of her, she straddling his body, both crying hot tears against one another’s bare skin until there were no more tears left to shed, until only soft whimpers replaced the tears, as they clung desperately to one another.

Yet, despite all their intimacy, all their raw nakedness and lovemaking, the bond remained cold as steel.
Liz lay on her side, her head nestled against Max’s chest as the earliest dawn light began spilling across their bedroom floor. The room was painted white, much brighter than the woodsy Taos cabin had been, and she hoped that as the days passed, it would cheer their spirits. They’d cried themselves dry over the past few hours, and now Max’s breathing fell evenly, indicating that he slept.

She was grateful that he could, because it had completely eluded her. She felt as if they were grieving the loss of a child, or even one another. Because what Nicholas had taken from them was an entire dimension of their relationship. He’d stolen part of Max from her, Liz reflected, and she hoped Nicholas would die for it. She never thought she’d wish any person dead, but she really wanted that for Nicholas now.

He’d hurt them all too many times, and not just last night--Max had told her privately months ago what Nicholas had done to Serena, how he’d exposed her so shamefully in her natural form.

And now as Liz lay in the gathering morning light, she wanted to see him die. He’d joyously tortured Max, and in the process had awakened his hidden memories of Pierce, and even now as Max slept, he murmured restlessly in his sleep.

Liz studied Max’s face, his still features and reached a finger to trace his beautiful nose. For Liz, seeing it broken had been heartbreaking, because he’d still appeared so noble, yet crushed.

And she feared that Nicholas had finally crushed something of his spirit this time. Deep down, she knew that had been his intention --to weaken Max by attacking what he valued more than any throne or world--his bond with his wife and mate.

Max stirred suddenly, his long lashes fanning a bit as his eyes drifted open. “Liz?” he cried out quietly, his eyes searching around him frantically.

“I’m right here, Max,” she answered, stroking his cheek softly beneath her fingertips.

“I understand now,” he explained, turning to her drowsily.

“Understand what?” She asked softly.

“This was my premonition…back in Las Cruces,” he explained. “I just dreamed about it. This was what it was…I thought you were going to die, but that wasn’t it. Do you remember?”

“Yes,” she nodded softly. “I do.”

“It wasn’t that you were going to die…it’s that we were.”

She sucked in a breath at his words, uttered in his half-sleep state. “We?” She choked.

“He’s killed us, hasn’t he?” He questioned. “That’s why I had that vision, to prepare us.”

“Max!” She nearly shouted. “Don’t talk this way, we still have one another.”

He shook his head, running a hand across his tired eyes. “He wanted to kill me, but this was so much more pleasurable to him.”

“Maxwell Evans, he has not killed what we have. No person has that capability,”

Liz suddenly insisted, believing it to the marrow of her being, despite her earlier misgivings. She sat up in bed and stared down at him. “We will re-bond.”

He sighed, staring up at her, his golden eyes watering with fresh tears. “Sorry,” he mumbled. “My dream…it just felt…real.”

“Determine now whether you’ll fight for this or not, Max.” Liz’s voice surprised herself, and she wondered where her strength had even come from.

“You decide right now what you choose to believe,” she insisted again, as he stared up at her, eyes widening a bit. He remained silent, his hand wandering up into her hair, stroking slowly. “You decide if Nicholas has stripped you that bare, of what you most believe,” she continued. “Or if you’ll fight him to the death.”

Max just continued to stare up at her silently, then he spoke so softly, she had to lean closer to hear. “I will always believe in you, Liz. That will never change.”

“What does that mean about this, though?”

“That I will fight, I will win,” he pledged in a hoarse voice. “And our bond will live.”

“Promise me,” Liz breathed. “Let’s say it together, swear it as one.”

Max sat up beside her in bed, reaching for her hand. They stared at one another for what felt an eternity, and then slowly spoke in unison.

“Our…bond…will live,” they swore in one voice, as they clasped hands and their fingers wove together, twining tightly in an unconscious symbol of what they intended for their souls.

Then totally unexpectedly, Max added, "And Nicholas will die."

His voice was surprisingly strong, and Liz knew they'd just won an important battle together.

[ edited 1 time(s), last at 9-Dec-2001 10:04:48 AM ]
posted on 9-Dec-2001 10:23:27 AM

Tess lay in bed with her swollen ankle propped on top of a pillow, rotating it slightly so the ice bag shifted, hopefully soothing more of the angry bruising and heat. Her ankle was at least twice its normal size and she ached right through her instep and up into her calf. But she couldn’t bother Max and Liz with such a minor injury, not at 6:30 a.m., when they’d barely gotten three hours sleep. For all she knew, Max still needed healing himself since Liz had been unsuccessful in her ministrations while they rode through the desert darkness.

She hadn’t even mentioned her injury to them, or drawn anyone’s attention to it—instead, she’d forced her gait to fall in an even and natural pace, lest one of them feel responsible, or attempt to heal her. Max needed mending first, that much was indisputable.

Everyone had been stunned by his battered state when they’d shown up at the bunker, yet Tess was well aware of how much he despaired, because she’d felt it resonate through her when she’d touched his arm.

Such a simple gesture, yet it had offered a photograph of Max’s body and soul at that exact moment--and Tess had prayed ever since that Liz would be able to apply the healing balm that he needed. Somehow Tess sensed that it wasn’t just his broken ribs and disfigured face—Nicholas had exacted a heftier, more soulful price than she could pinpoint.

Tess raised herself up on her elbows to stare at her ankle again, which had turned mottled shades of blue and black, and had certainly prevented genuine sleep from enveloping her. She’d spent the past four hours somewhere on the borderland between rest and wakefulness, the net result being a sort of fitful netherland. She dropped her head heavily back onto the pillow again, squeezing her eyes shut against the intrusive first rays of morning light. Her whole body throbbed and she wanted nothing more than just a bit of genuine rest, anything to ease the pain and exhaustion.

Tess wasn’t sure how long she lay like that, threading in and out of wakefulness, when a noise beside the bed caught her attention. She turned her head sideways on the pillow, peeking one eye open, and was shocked to find Marco standing right next to her bed. She sat up so quickly that the thick quilt instantly fell away, exposing her white silk bra—she hadn’t brought any pajamas, and had simply slept in her underwear instead.

“Wh-what are you doing here?” She cried, fumbling with the comforter in an effort to cover her bare skin, and Marco quickly averted his eyes, as she wrapped the quilt around her chest. “How did—I thought you were still with Nicholas!” Tess exclaimed, blushing at the realization that her words came out in staccato stutters, confused and flustered.

Yet Marco only smiled gently in response, his single dimple appearing as he slowly knelt beside her bed, no longer towering over her. “I am at Nicholas’s,” he explained quietly, studying her with his black eyes, as he continued to smile his lop-sided grin.

“But—then how are you here?” She stammered, still confused as to why his presence seemed so concrete, not ethereal like in all her previous dreams of him—and wondering why his simple appearance in her room had already left her so breathless.

He reached a hand to her hair, slowly caressing the length of it. “How’s your ankle?”

“My ankle?” She asked in confusion, beginning to grow a little frustrated with his calm demeanor.

“You’d broken it last night…when I saw you.” His voice was even and measured, but his eyes betrayed something else entirely—a definite smoldering heat illuminated his dark gaze.

“How’d you even notice that?” She asked, fingering the edge of her quilt nervously. After all, Marco knelt just beside her and she was practically naked , she reminded herself.

“I felt it when we were connected,” he explained.

“Are you even here?” she asked, wrinkling her nose in confusion.

“In your dream, yes,” he whispered, trailing his large hand down onto her shoulder, soothing her in a strangely metaphysical way. Something radiated from his touch, a familiar energy that Tess couldn’t quite place--but it left her drowsy and terribly aroused all at once.

“Why does this feel so real, like you’re right here in my room?”

“Our dreams are changing, now that our powers have joined,” he explained softly, still stroking her hair. He lifted the ends to his lips, pressing loving kisses against the tresses, and she sucked in a breath at the gesture. “Our dream meetings are only going to become more lifelike, sweet Tess.”

“I-I don’t understand.”

“We’re partially bonded now, love.”

“That’s not possible.” She shook her head in disagreement. “We haven’t…”

“We don’t have to,” he interrupted, placing a hand on her thigh as he leaned in so close that she could feel his warm breath. “We made a conscious choice to join our gifts last night and that’s a certain level of bonding…pre-mating , if you will.”

“What are you saying, Marco?” Tess murmured, as he cupped her face within his dark hands. His black, soulful eyes just gazed down into hers, and her breath caught at how beautiful he was.

“You tell me,” he urged softly, his voice deep and rich. “What do you think I’m saying?”

His full lips grazed hers, and she felt herself lean into him, her mouth parting. “Tell you?” She was breathless, dizzy from his proximity, especially because his heady, familiar scent fanned across her skin, nearly intoxicating her.

“What do you think we are now…to one another?” He just hovered that way, his mouth over hers, yet not meeting her lips. “What’s changed between us now, Tess?”

“Our need.”


“It’s greater now…even more intense,” she managed to breathe, her lips parting, yearning for him to kiss her.

“Yes.” He wrapped his voice around the simple word, making it something much more intense.

“Because we…what?” Tess asked, begging him with her eyes for an explanation, even as she licked her lips begging for more of him.

“Because a part of us has already mated, sweet Tess,” he offered softly, allowing their lips to finally meet. “The joining of our powers wasn’t meant to happen until we’d actually joined souls. But we had no choice.”

“And now the hunger only grows.”

“Yes, love.”

She traced her thumb along his full lower lip, then trailed her fingertips over his dark beard stubble. Her skin was so pale compared to his lovely olive complexion, and in the early morning light he seemed more exotic than ever—long black lashes and moody eyes, beautiful Mediterranean looks—the exact opposite of her fair coloring and pale, blue eyes. She was aware that her breathing had become quite labored, as she leaned her forehead against his for a moment—and she felt his chest heaving with his own uneven breaths.

“Then this is only a dream?” She asked helplessly, slipping her arms around his neck, not even caring when the comforter fell loose around her hips. He cupped her bare waist within his large palms, pulling her closer against his chest. He wore only a soft white t-shirt and boxers, and Tess realized with a giddy laugh that he’d appeared to her in his own sleeping attire.

“A dream that reflects what our hearts want,” he explained, running his palms across the bare skin of her back. “What our bodies crave.”

He pressed further in against her legs, and as he did, she felt how truly aroused he’d already become. Discreetly, she allowed her gaze to drop low, and saw how his cotton boxers bulged dramatically, jutting nearly straight out with his erection.

“Then why are you just… kneeling on the floor?” She asked breathily, feeling suddenly brazen, as she lifted the sheets back in invitation. She pushed the quilt further back, deliberately revealing not only her bra, but also her white silk panties. His gaze flickered a moment, wandering low, and then he stared at her through dark, hooded eyes, a seductive smile forming on his lips.
“I mean, if this is a dream, then can’t we… do anything we want?” Tess questioned boldly, feeling her face redden at her own question. “I mean, we could, right?”

“Would you really want to?” Marco paused, laughing softly as he eased up onto the bed beside her, slipping beneath her comforter as she scooted sideways. “I mean, would you want to do that in a dream before we had…in person?”

And then he was right there beneath the sheets with her, his bare legs grazing against her own, so intimately that she could feel the light dusting of hairs along his lower thighs and calves, as he pulled her into his strong arms. She was aware that her breathing had begun falling in ragged pants, as he pulled her hips flush up against his, his arousal pressing hard against her thigh.

“Marco,” she murmured softly. “If we’re always apart…how else…”

He didn’t allow her to finish, but instead began kissing her neck, trailing his full, warm lips along her exposed skin. His kisses were searing and slow, not devouring, just so very loving and addictive. She felt his warm palms against the small of her back, as he drew her even closer against him, and she marveled that her ankle didn’t even hurt as she slipped her thigh between his legs.

She eased her hands beneath his cotton shirt, gasping at the feel of his muscled abdomen and chest—she’d never glimpsed him except fully clothed, and hadn’t quite expected that he’d be so firm beneath her touch. She rubbed her hands upward along his warm skin, until she found his nipples. He moaned softly against her neck, as she rubbed them between her fingertips, feeling his silky chest hair. With a smile, she noted that he had only the lightest patch of hair on his chest, which pleased her immensely, because she loved how smooth his skin felt to her touch.

In response, she felt his fingers explore her own body, trailing ever upwards, until he cupped her breast, eliciting a helpless cry from her lips. He began rubbing her nipple, until it sprang to life beneath his touch, even as he began pressing hot kisses lower on her neck, until his mouth met the soft silk material of her bra. His dark head was buried against her chest like that, as he tugged gently at her bra, planting desperate little kisses along her exposed flesh.

She ran her hands through his thick, wavy hair, and even as short as it was now, the curls still gave it his usual tousled look, which she found undeniably sexy—especially as she threaded her hands greedily through the dark expanse of it.

Amazingly, they’d never been anywhere near this intimate--never this physically close-- in their waking life, and now she was exploring the planes of his chest, feeling his body--even as his mouth and fingers plundered beneath her bra. Slowly, she eased her thigh upward, where it pressed between his legs, until she made contact with his most intimate place, and he cried out quietly at the touch.

He pressed the material of her bra lower, his tongue and lips exploring her full breasts hungrily, as he began fumbling with the clasp on her bra. He tugged at it a bit, finally just focusing his attention on what he could reach by pressing the silky fabric low with his thumb. His mouth made contact with her nipple, the coolest sensation shooting across her skin as he drew it into his warm mouth. She cried out, arching back into her pillow, as he laved her nipple slowly with his warm tongue.

She wanted all of him, needed so much more than this—the drive was nearly primal and in that moment as she realized he was absolutely right about what had changed. She now needed him with the hunger of a mate, and yet she had no claim on him yet, only this desperate craving. She began slipping her thigh between his legs more quickly, needing so much more.
Suddenly, she felt his palm splay against her upper thigh, easing her leg down a bit from between his thighs.

“Tess…” He begged gently. “Please, sweetheart.”

“If it’s only a dream, then we can do whatever we want,” she urged, her heartbeat suddenly quickening at the possibility. “You can make love to me, but it will only be a dream.”

“Not like this, Tess,” he whispered, slipping his hand out of her bra again with a heavy sigh. “Please, wait for me.”

“But it seems like we’ll always just be apart,” she cried plaintively.

“Ah, love, that’s where you’re wrong,” he breathed in her ear. “You have no idea how soon we’ll be like this in our waking life. This is just a foretaste, something to whet your appetite for me.”

“My appetite ?” She coughed, feeling her face flush terribly.

“For this,” he amended, cupping her sides with his large hands, drawing her more tightly against him.

“God, Marco,” she groaned. “Do you really think I need any foreplay to want you?” She realized too late how desperate her words sounded, how she’d nearly groaned them, when he pulled back and stared down into her eyes seriously. She collapsed against the down pillow, her head sinking deeply into it, and he followed her with his mouth, so that now his lips hovered just over hers.

“I never thought you needed any at all,” he paused, stroking her hair as he sought the right words. “Well, neither of us needs…help in desiring the other. I know I certainly don’t, because I’ve burned for you ever since Las Cruces.”

He kissed her slowly, deeply as his tongue pressed her lips apart. “I just meant that soon we will be together like this in real life, and until then, this is just a promise of what will be.”

“Oh,” she sighed softly. “And what will be?”

“I will make love to you long and slow, drawing your soul right into mine,” he whispered, staring into her eyes so intently that it seemed his black depths flashed with fire. “And when we’re done, we’ll have mated for life…for eternity.”

There were no words she could offer, as they stared at one another and she felt his strong heartbeat against her chest. Hot tears stung her eyes, and she realized that nothing about the moment felt like a dream. His flesh was real, his body so warm against hers, and his pulse so erratic that she felt the thread of it against her heart.

Quite simply, Marco McKinley was right within her arms, not hundreds of miles away.

“You’re not in Nicholas’ camp,” she questioned, her eyes narrowing suddenly. “Are you?”

He laughed slowly, his familiar, throaty rumble, and shook his head slowly. “Ayanna,” he whispered. “I wish it weren’t a dream because then I’d be in your arms, but you are asleep, as am I. And now we must part.”

“No,” she cried, as she clung to his neck. “Don’t go yet. No!”

Tess, a familiar voice called. Tess…Tess, and she felt hands on her shoulder, softer and smaller than Marco’s. Marco smiled at her silently, rising from the bed.

“Soon,” he promised. “Very soon. But we must defeat our enemies first.”

Tess’s eyes opened suddenly, and she discovered Liz sitting on the edge of her bed, rousing her with a soft shake against her shoulder.

“I’m sorry to wake you up,” Liz explained gently. “But it’s almost noon and Max has called a meeting.”

“Noon?” Tess asked groggily, confused as to how so much time had elapsed. How had so many hours passed so quickly? She sat up, running a hand through her hair.

“You were talking in your sleep,” Liz offered with an unreadable expression. “I hated to wake you.”

“Oh,” Tess answered, her voice strained and too bright, as her face instantly reddened. What had Liz heard? “Wh-what was I saying?”

Liz slid down to the end of the bed, cradling Tess’s ankle gingerly within her hand. “Why didn’t you tell me you’d broken this?” Liz asked, avoiding her question.

“Max needed you much more than I did,” Tess answered simply.

“But I’ve been awake for hours, and could have seen to this,” Liz explained, tracing her thumb over the bruised, swollen flesh as she drew Tess’s foot within both of her hands. “May I heal it now?” Liz asked gently.

Tess felt suddenly uncomfortable beneath Liz’s focused attention, and shifted awkwardly on the bed, despite how pleased she was that the pain would end.

“Tess?” Liz prompted when she didn’t answer.

“Of course,” Tess nodded, staring at her hands. “Thanks, Liz. I’d really appreciate it.”

Tess lay back down, closing her eyes as a gentle heat began warming the flesh of her ankle, radiating upward into her leg. The heat quickly became something more insistent and burning and she shivered at the sensation, as it ricocheted bone deep. The warmth reached a crescendo, piercing bone and flesh, until she felt a movement on the molecular level.

Then there was nothing but cool stillness as Liz lifted her hands away, and Tess opened her eyes, and found Liz just watching her, studying her strangely.

“It doesn’t…hurt anymore,” Tess offered, feeling suddenly shy. But Liz just shook her head slowly, smiling mysteriously.

“You have no idea how much he really loves you, do you?” Liz asked enigmatically.

“What?” Tess asked, wrinkling her nose in confusion. “Who do you mean?”

“Marco. I don’t think you understand what he feels for you, Tess.” Tears brimmed suddenly in Liz’s eyes, and Tess realized the intensity of what she described had moved her that deeply.

“How do you…”

“I felt his imprint on you when I healed you,” Liz explained in a hushed voice. “From…all your interactions, he’s left it like a fingerprint. Only its his soul imprint.”

“How could you feel that?” Tess cried, and now tears welled within her own eyes, she couldn’t stop them.

“It’s just shimmering right within you, his mark,” Liz explained. “And all I kept hearing in my head was a clear voice saying, ‘she doesn’t even know the depth of what he feels. Hasn’t begun to realize.’”

Tess’s hand flew to her mouth. “You heard a…voice?” She croaked.

“It’s an intuition thing, Tess,” Liz explained. “That’s what Marco taught us—that we might receive our impressions as pictures, but sometimes as words. I heard a voice.”


“I’m not sure…I think that depends on what you believe in a spiritual sense,” Liz shrugged. “But I was to relay a message, of that I’m certain. That Marco loves you more than you’ve begun to fathom, and to rest in that, no matter how long you’re parted. No matter what comes in the future.”

The sob escaped Tess’s lips before she could suppress it, and she bowed her head instantly so that Liz wouldn’t see the tears.

“Tess, it’s okay,” Liz offered softly. “I understand what you’re feeling.”

Tess looked up, and saw genuine compassion in her friend’s eyes, understanding on the deepest level. She nodded slowly, wiping at the tears. “I know I must seem crazy to you,” Tess said with a heavy sigh. “I know it.”

“Crazy for what?” Liz asked, frowning slightly. “For loving someone that it seems you can never be with? For hurting because of your love for him?”

Tess was surprised by the strength of Liz’s voice, how commanding and sure she sounded. “I don’t know,” she answered lamely.

“Don’t you think I know all those exact same feelings?” Liz exclaimed. “From loving Max all these years?”

Tess’s head shot up at Liz’s words—at their implication, because she’d been the one who’d kept them apart years ago—yet when her eyes met Liz’s, she found no accusation. Instead, it seemed that Liz was thinking of something entirely different, something that she wasn’t yet ready to speak about.

“Tess, it’s okay that you’re crying,” Liz pressed, tossing her hair over her shoulder defiantly. “I think you’re afraid that it’s a sign of weakness with me. But I’m your friend and it’s okay.”

The tears began in earnest with her words, unstoppable as they trailed down Tess’s cheeks in hot rivulets. And before Tess could stop her, Liz had drawn her into a strong embrace, holding her against her chest, just slowly rocking.

“It’s okay,” Liz whispered softly. “Just let it out…it’s okay.”

Tess’s eyes drifted shut, and she remembered a vision she’d had some six years ago—of what Liz had meant to her in their past life on Antar, how she’d been a sister, a best friend. And now as they hugged one another, she realized the vision hadn’t just been a memory—it had been a premonition of what was to come. For she felt all those same feelings of friendship and sisterhood as Liz just held her, strong within her tiny arms.

“Just remember the words,” Liz encouraged her gently. “That he loves you more than you possibly understand right now.”

Tess nodded, hugging Liz tighter, and suddenly felt a shudder pass through her body, something like a flash of lightning, or an x-ray… and knew that Liz was in terrible pain herself. Liz’s emotions had shimmered right through her very center, nearly knocking the breath from her lungs with their painful intensity.

Empathy , she thought again, just as she had with Max on the trail last night.

She knew in that moment that Liz truly yearned to comfort her, but that also in some mysterious way, she sought to comfort herself. Tess could only wonder what had really transpired during their battle last night—and why it had wrought such a price in her beloved Max and Liz.


Max surveyed the group of his comrades and friends who had gathered in the living room for the meeting. He hadn’t revealed his reason for calling them together yet, though naturally everyone assumed it was to discuss the events of last night. However, the truth was that he was about to request a greater level of sacrifice than he had from any of them previously.

He was going to ask them to directly confront their greatest enemy.

Max rubbed his eyes in exhaustion, and knew how drained he must look, because he felt old and battered today. Beaten. But he’d be damned if he was going to let Nicholas win…if he’d let him kill his spirit. That much he’d determined in Liz’s arms as dawn’s earliest rays had spilled across their bedroom floor. He was ready to fight, and destroy their enemies once and for all.

And now he would ask his friends—the people most dear to him in the world—to enter the heart of darkness with him. He bowed his head at the thought, only their muted conversations intruding upon his solemn mindset. He gathered his energy and resolve into laser-sharp focus, then slowly raised his eyes again. Maria stared at him from across the room, concern flickering in her gentle expression, and Michael studied him more somberly.

As if Liz could feel his growing apprehension, she placed her palm softly on his thigh, stroking it almost imperceptibly with her fingertips.

Still connected, even without their bond—still woven together. Inseparable. She’d known his heart in that moment, had realized he was steeling his courage to lay out the plan. Her gentle prompting assured him of one fact.

It was time.
Their new house wasn’t a cabin, but more of an adobe cliff-side dwelling, with lots of sunlight and white walls. It should have been cheery, but something about the winter sunlight glinting off the white paint left Tess feeling hollow and cold. She hugged her arms around herself, trying to press out the chill that had descended upon her.

Max cleared his throat, signaling the end to all the chatting among the group. He looked exhausted, his expression strained, but something had changed in his expression since last night. Before, he had seemed haunted and lost—now he’d clearly regained his center, and there was the bright glimmer of determination, shooting like fire in his amber gaze.

“So, we’re here,” Max began, glancing around the group. “Without casualty and for that, we can truly be thankful.”

Tess watched as Liz tilted her chin upward, her posture radiating strength and support. Liz is thinking that she almost lost him, that we came so close to it . Tess wasn’t even sure how she knew, but somehow she sensed that Liz was forging ahead with brave resolution, despite how she felt inside.

Michael wasted no time, and jumped right in, frowning sharply where he sat on the white adobe hearth by Maria. “Maxwell, last night was too damn close.”

“Michael,” Max began with a weary sigh, but Michael cut him off.

“Max, listen. I’m not talking about the rest of us…or our own safety,” he explained, running a hand through his hair. “I’m talking about you. And I think everyone else here would agree.”

Michael glanced around the room, clearly seeking agreement as his eyes searched those of aliens and human alike. Yet no one spoke, only nervously averted their eyes. Except Serena, who met his gaze seriously, blinking as she ran her hand down the length of her ponytail thoughtfully.

“Am I not right?” Michael demanded when no one had spoken.

“None of us were pleased with the events of last night,” Serena agreed. “But everyone is safe. That’s what’s important.”

“No, it isn’t,” Michael insisted, jumping to his feet. “Our leader was almost killed last night, in case you didn’t notice…Max and Liz were both put in unreasonable jeopardy.”

“Michael, how could it have been avoided?” Max demanded, his voice sounding strained. “I mean, what would you have had me do differently?”

Michael sat down again quickly, shaking his head. “Not you, Maxwell…”

“What would you have had happen differently then?”
Michael’s voice was quiet, yet firm. “Max, these people are supposed to be protecting you.”

Tess sucked in a sharp breath, her chest tightening at his words. Perhaps they struck her more deeply, painfully because of how tied she was to Marco now, but she swore she felt Michael’s statement pierce every one of Serena’s unit right through the heart.

“Michael!” Liz admonished, her small hand flying to her throat. “Please, that is so not right. If not for Serena and the others, Max and I wouldn’t be here today. We would be dead. You know that.”

“She’s right, Michael,” Max agreed. “No one can blame them for last night.”

Michael rubbed a hand across his eyes, pinching the end of his nose as he fell silent a moment. “I’m not trying to step on any toes,” he finally grumbled. “But all I know is that last night should never have happened.”

“How the hell could it have been prevented?” Riley asked, his normally calm voice uncharacteristically tight, and Tess saw that his cheeks had flushed red with anger. Again, she felt a sharp pain right in her chest in reaction to Michael’s accusation—she knew how deeply it must have hurt them all.

“Well, maybe if we’d moved from the safe house sooner. How many months had we stayed in that one location? Almost a year, if I’m not mistaken.”

“All of our intelligence indicated that it was still secure,” Serena stated simply. “But Michael is correct. We must study what went wrong last night, and learn from it. Formulate a new strategy.”

Serena’s voice was surprisingly calm, her back straight as an arrow as she met Michael’s gaze evenly. Tess had always respected Serena, but in that moment her admiration increased exponentially. Michael had made a deliberately inflammatory remark—for reasons she couldn’t quite understand—and yet Serena had not risen to his provocation, no matter how hurtful his words.
Tess watched as Michael opened his mouth, ready to reply, and then quickly closed it again. Serena had obviously taken him by surprise in her openness to his comments.

“I appreciate that Serena, but I don’t want to focus on last night right now,” Max answered tartly. “There’s something much more important for us to discuss today.”
Max stared at Michael pointedly, raising his eyebrows in question. “Unless Michael objects.” Max’s voice was edged with sarcasm, and yet there was a kindness underlying his words. Tess never ceased to marvel at Max’s patience with Michael, and how intricately he seemed to understand him. Somehow, despite Michael’s blundering remarks, Max seemed to understand that he’d been seeking to protect him…had obviously been badly shaken by last night’s events.

“Go ahead,” Michael grumbled with a wave of his hand. “Why should what I’m saying matter anyway, huh?”

“Michael, look, can you just shut up?” Isabel suddenly snapped from her seat on the sofa. “You can see that Max is trying to accomplish something here, so can you just let it go, okay?”

“Would all of you please just be quiet and listen?” Max suddenly roared, rising up a bit from where he sat with Liz on a short loveseat. “Please? How damn hard is it for me to call a decent meeting to order today?”

The room fell silent, as Max pressed his eyes tightly shut for a moment, clearly working to regain his composure.
Finally, he opened his eyes and spoke, his voice quiet and controlled again. “We don’t have time for any of this, guys. I have some information to share and plans to lay out,” he stated, his voice regaining its usual calm tenor. “I need you all behind me now, not bickering and casting blame. Can you agree to listen?”

The group nodded, everyone waiting eagerly, yet none of them were prepared for his next words.

“Khivar will be on earth next week. This is our chance to strike,” Max explained, his amber eyes searching all of theirs. “Once and for all.”

“What?” Serena demanded, her brown eyes growing wide. “That’s not possible.”

“It’s what Marco told me, Serena,” Max explained. “And I need to know if all of you will follow me into battle.”

“Max, you always have my full support…my unit’s, but I must take exception to this intelligence. Khivar has never risked coming to earth. I can’t see him taking that gamble now.”

“Those were his words, Serena. I don’t even know how he’d do it, but Marco was definite about it,” Max insisted, chewing his lip thoughtfully. “How could he have gotten something like that wrong?”

Serena narrowed her keen brown eyes, blinking a quick rhythm with her long lashes. “I’m not sure.”

“How does Nicholas get his orders from Khivar so regularly?” Tess asked from where she sat beside Kyle on a small Southwestern throw rug. “If he’s never here, then how does he communicate with Nicholas?”

“Through an emissary,” Anna chimed in, explaining the setup within the enemy camp. “There was always an emissary who would occupy one of Nicholas’s men. In fact, it was considered a coveted honor for anyone who was chosen for occupation. They prepared their bodies ahead of time with an almost religious fervor.”

“Perhaps that’s what Marco was referring to,” Max wondered aloud.

“I doubt it,” Anna disagreed, frowning in thought. “No, Marco was too aware of how he always arranged his ‘visits’ in the past. This sounds like he was describing something much more definite…terrestrial.”

“Okay…question,” Maria asked. “Why couldn’t you just kill whoever Khivar was inhabiting? Wouldn’t that have killed him in the process?”

“Unfortunately it doesn’t work that way,” Anna explained. “You would only have succeeded in killing the host, and then in the meantime Khivar would have simply released himself.”

“So, if that’s what Marco means about Khivar coming next week, that’s not an option he could pursue, then?” Tess asked.

“It would only expose Marco, and kill the temporary occupant,” Riley answered seriously. “Nothing else would be gained.”

Tess shivered as Riley met her eyes seriously, his gaze communicating much more than his simple words had. Riley was worried about Marco, was afraid he’d gotten himself in too deep with Nicholas. Tess had always noticed how close Riley and Marco were, had observed their easy humor and brotherly bond on countless occasions. But this was the first time she’d ever sensed that Riley was genuinely frightened for Marco’s safety—even in all the months of his absence. She felt her blood run cold, as she remembered how very intuitive Riley was, and hoped his concern didn’t emanate from a prescient vision.

Max pressed forward, resting his chin on top of his folded hands thoughtfully. “What method would Khivar have for coming to earth?”

“None that I know of…at least not without investing several years of effort,” Serena explained. “Which is why this bit of intelligence perplexes me. If only we had some way to ask Marco for more information…anything to give us more of an advantage.”

Tess had been tugging nervously on a stray thread on the hem of her sweater, trying to ignore the apprehension that Riley’s eyes had triggered in her heart--had been willing herself to feel secure about Marco’s safety within Nicholas’s camp. Somehow, the errant thread seemed the perfect way to focus her energy outside of herself, to calm the swirling vortex of emotion that Riley’s simple look had unleashed within her. A single thread, unraveling slowly beneath her fingers, minute and specific. Controllable. It seemed to rein in her unbridled fears. This was something new in her spirit, this need to harness the fire inside, the way it grew and spiraled like ungrounded electric current.

He’s changed you, a soft voice wooed her. The voice mutated, altered…became throaty and deep. I’ve changed you…you’re like me, a part of me now…this is how I experience everything.

Tess drew in a sharp breath, shivering at how vivid Marco’s voice had felt within her mind, as if they’d been intimately connected for that brief moment. She stared around the room blankly, saw Serena speaking, yet couldn’t hear a sound. There was only the sight of her mouth, opening and closing…then Serena staring at her expectantly.

“Tess?” Serena asked again, obviously expecting a reply to some question that Tess had never heard.

“What?” Tess managed to gulp, feeling her face flush. She still felt strange and disconcerted, and her fingers tingled slightly with a fiery sensation.

“I’m just wondering if you could do it again?” Serena explained patiently. “On demand.”

“Do…?” Tess asked blankly, her face burning now in embarrassment. She couldn’t possibly explain why she hadn’t been listening to such an important conversation.

“I’m wondering if you and Marco might be able to form a connection of sorts,” Serena explained, studying Tess strangely. “After the way he warned you in your dream last night, I’m curious if you could forge the bond on your end.”

“Marco dream walked you?” Isabel cried, her large brown eyes widening in surprise.

“No, no,” Tess explained quickly. “It wasn’t like that at all. Not that planned…I don’t even think he knew he’d done it.”

“How could he not?” Isabel questioned, wrinkling her nose in confusion. “I mean, you either enter someone’s dreams or you don’t.”

“That’s not how we do…” Tess’s voice faded as she found a dozen pair of eyes staring right at her. Instantly, she bowed her head, focusing on where her hands were folded in her lap. She’d almost revealed far too much about how intimately bonded she and Marco had become, and now they were all waiting.

“Tess, this could be very important,” Serena admonished gently, her raspy voice surprisingly kind. “I know this is awkward, but we need to know what you were going to say.”

Tess met Serena’s steady gaze, saw alien energy flash urgently within the soft brown depths of her eyes. Serena’s power only fluctuated in such an exotic way whenever her emotions were escalating powerfully, and Tess realized she was just as worried for Marco as Riley was. All of his unit was concerned, and perhaps her most intimate dreams of him held the key to his safety—and to killing their greatest enemy.

“We meet…well, not meet exactly…sort of,” Tess stammered quietly, focusing only on Serena, blocking out her awareness of all the others. “We meet in our dreams. Often…most nights.”

“Explain a bit more, Tess,” Serena pressed softly, blinking even more rapidly.

Tess dropped her gaze to the thread on her sweater again, and began working at it nervously, avoiding everyone’s penetrating gaze. “Ever since he left camp…God, before then really…we just meet in our dreams. I don’t know how else to explain it, except that we find one another in our sleep.”

“So this isn’t planned like a dream walk?” Isabel asked quickly, and Tess refused to look up, just kept staring down. But it was Serena who answered the question, before Tess could.

“Isabel, I think I understand what Tess is telling us,” Serena answered, her voice instantly soothing. “And we don’t need to pry further. All we need to know, Tess, is whether you believe it could be initiated intentionally.”

“I’m n-not sure,” Tess answered softly, glancing up at Serena. “Couldn’t Isabel just dream walk him if I can’t?”

“He’s too far away,” Isabel explained. “You’re the one with the connection, it should be explored.”

“I might be able to do that now because the dreams changed, ever since…”

“Ever since?” Serena asked a bit more urgently, and Tess suddenly felt cornered, as if she’d walked into some sort of emotional trap. Her breathing quickened unsteadily and she felt her hands grow clammy. She couldn’t explain the way they’d joined the night before, how somehow she’d nearly mated with him under such precarious circumstances.

“Tess, why don’t you step outside a moment with Serena,” Max suggested quietly. “I think that will make this discussion more comfortable for you.”

Tess nodded feebly, feeling her face flame as she quickly scrambled to her feet. She was suddenly incredibly grateful that her king and leader had always been, in the words of Michael, “a sensitive guy.”
Tess followed Serena out into the frigid mountain air, squinting as her eyes adjusted to the bright winter sunlight. They had walked out onto a small gravel driveway area, just outside the house, and Serena turned to face her.

“I apologize for making you uncomfortable in there, Tess,” Serena began, tossing her ponytail over her shoulder with a snap of her head. “I had no idea about the intensity of the dreams, or I never would have pressed you like that in front of the others.”

Tess kicked at the gravel thoughtfully, glancing at Serena. “I understand.”

“I’m not sure that you do, Tess,” Serena answered seriously.

“What do you mean?”

“I’m not sure you understand the purpose of the dreams,” Serena clarified, her brown eyes narrowing.

“Purpose? No, I guess I don’t…we don’t,” Tess agreed, hugging her arms tightly around her body to keep warm. “They started almost instantly after we first met.”

“They’re awakening you to one another,” Serena stated quietly. “Because you don’t remember your past lives…the love you had for one another, the dreams are drawing you together. Have been from the start.”

Tess’s mouth fell open, as she stared at Serena in disbelief. How could she have never realized it? Her feelings for Marco had begun intensifying crazily from the moment she’d first begun dreaming of him. The sensations the dreams had unleashed with her body had been so vivid and overwhelming, yet it had never occurred to her that there’d been a specific purpose.

“When you say ‘awakening’ us…” Tess stammered in confusion, though she was beginning to understand.

“It’s like our mating seasons, but a bit different,” Serena offered. “Before we’ve first mated, sometimes we are driven to one another in the same way…only it isn’t cyclical. It simply doesn’t relent until we satisfy the need to mate.”

“Oh,” Tess exclaimed, her cheeks burning at Serena’s blunt words. “Oh…so, that’s why…”

“I apologize if I speak too bluntly,” Serena interrupted, touching Tess’s arm with surprising tenderness. “I do not mean to embarrass you, Tess, and certainly not about my foster son of all people. He loves you. Deeply. I’ve seen it and felt it for a year now. There’s nothing to feel awkward about.”

“I know,” Tess answered, her voice coming out in a mortifying squeak.

“It is simple, Tess,” Serena explained. “Just as I explained to you months ago that Marco is your destiny, it is true that the dreams are also part of that. They simply come to reinforce the mating urge.”

Tess nodded and wondered why her heart had begun beating so unevenly, and her breath had grown ragged—and then she realized that Serena’s explanation had inadvertently aroused her. Knowing that all this time, their dreams had been a form of their mating urge, left her feeling giddy and lightheaded.

“Do…all Antarians…have this? Prior to mating?”

Serena shook her head quickly. “No, not at all. Only those with certain gifts…Marco’s strong intuition has played a part no doubt. But it also happens to those who are deeply destined…as you both have been in two lifetimes now.”

Deeply destined . The words danced a surprising rhythm right down Tess’s spine, they were so monumental and true.

“But remember, Tess,” Serena continued. “Destiny comes with a price…is a calling of its own.”

“What do you mean?”

“You are destined because of your great love, yes,” Serena explained, taking Tess’s hand within her own. “But you and Marco are also destined because of what you can do. Together.”

“You mean, right now,” Tess questioned. “I can contact him and turn the tide in this war.”

“That’s part of it, yes,” Serena agreed. “But it’s more than that, too. You and Marco are meant to join for a purpose, Tess. Your powers must unite. He is protector to the king and queen…he needs your giftings, too.”

“Needs them…why? To become stronger?” Tess asked, stepping back from Serena, suddenly needing space.

“His empathy needs the covering of your gifts…to seal what is an unpredictable and dangerous power within him. Your own gifts will ground Marco’s, stabilize them permanently inside of him.”

Tess nodded thoughtfully, as Serena’s words began to take shape within her mind, as the facts of the past few days began to assimilate into a certain logic.

“But it’s not just that he’ll assume your powers, Tess,” Serena continued. “It’s that your powers will fuse together, and when they do, you will take a place beside him, not just as mate, but as warrior.”

Your powers will fuse together…you will take a place beside him.
The words hung suspended, echoing timelessly within the cold, mountain air.

“Oh, God,” Tess cried suddenly, her hand flying to her throat, as comprehension dawned within her heart. No wonder she’d been feeling so strange since last night, so utterly changed by what they’d done.

“What?” Serena questioned, her expression growing serious.

“We-we’ve already…joined,” Tess managed to gasp. “Not mated, but our powers…I don’t think I can explain. Except to say…the compulsion to join our powers has been just as intense as the need to mate.”

“Oh,” Serena answered slowly, drawing the word out thoughtfully, as she rubbed her chin. “I think I see…the mating urge has been dual. You’ve yearned to bond, but that impulse has been reinforced by this other need…to fuse powers.”

Tess felt her cheeks flush even more deeply than they already had. “I’m not sure how, but last night…our lives depended on Marco’s being able to mind warp…”

“You have come part way, then.”

Tess nodded. “I think it was…a form of…”

“Indeed it was, Tess,” Serena interrupted with a brisk nod of her head, glancing back at the house. “Marco has become what we call in Antarian, T’lasthre . Your ‘near- mate.’”

“Then you…know what I’m talking about?” Tess asked timidly. “It’s done on Antar?”

“Not often, but yes,” Serena agreed. “Enough that we have that very intimate word of endearment for it.”

“So, Marco is my T’lasthre ,” Tess breathed, loving the way the word rolled off of her tongue. It felt as if she were describing something erotic and forbidden. Serena smiled faintly at her pronouncement.

“Actually, you would say, M’lasthre ,” Serena corrected gently. “That’s what you should call him, if you want to use the word. My near-mate.

M’lasthre ,” Tess repeated quietly, still loving the sound of the exotic word as it played across her lips.

“Yes, and now you and T’lasthre must make contact,” Serena announced, stepping toward the house. “So that we may learn what Marco knows of this visit from Khivar. But before you do, it is time that all of you learned more about the man you will confront. Your enemy.”

Tess followed close behind Serena, as she led the way back toward the door to the house. “What do you mean?”

Serena paused in her steps, turning back toward Tess. “I mean, that all of you have much to learn of Khivar,” She explained. “And why he is keenly interested not just in all of you. But also in Earth.”

posted on 9-Dec-2001 5:14:36 PM
Serena entered the living room, followed closely by Tess, her jaw set with new determination. Max had the impression that she’d learned the necessary information from Tess, and was already moving on.

Tess settled on the floor beside Kyle again, but Serena remained standing, reaching for one of the empty coffee cups that Liz had arranged on a long wooden table under the window. She quickly filled her cup, tossing her ponytail over her shoulder as she turned to Max.

“You’re not ready to face Khivar, Max,” she announced. “Not yet.”

Max stared at Serena for a moment, until she turned away from him again, stirring cream into her coffee. He lifted his own coffee cup to his lips, taking a long, thoughtful sip. He felt the weight of everyone’s stares from all around the room, knew every last one of them were waiting for him to speak. The problem was, he had no idea what the right words were, so he considered Serena’s pronouncement carefully.

The coffee soothed his throat, which was a bit scratchy after his trek through the freezing rain the night before, and he savored it, wishing it were a magical elixir, the kind with prophetic answers. He sighed, and set the coffee cup on the small wooden table in front of him, adjusting a napkin beneath it.

“Serena, if you say we’re not ready, then I trust you,” he answered quietly. “You know that you always have my trust.”

“I’m not saying we can’t prepare you.” Serena turned to face Max, absently fingering a thin chain she wore around her neck. “But your knowledge is limited right now, and if you’re going to face him, it’s time you knew everything.”

Max shook his head slowly, digesting her words. “What haven’t you told us?” He felt irritation nag vaguely at him, and knew it was evident in his voice. “I thought you’d given us the full history…”

Serena cut him off with a brisk wave of her hand. “Max, there were things you weren’t ready to know.”

“I’ve been ready for a year.”

“No, Max,” she answered, shaking her head as she stepped closer toward them all. “It would have been too much. I had to wait…you said you trusted me, so please accept that fact.”

Max bowed his head, contemplating her words, and suddenly marveled at the utter silence that permeated the entire room. He glanced upward and found Michael staring at him, his brown eyes flashing in anger.

“Tell us everything, then,” Max commanded, aware that he sounded a bit overly authoritative. Somehow he needed to exercise his role as leader, wanted to remind Serena that he commanded the revolution now.

Her eyes flickered with intense energy, as she faced him. “He’s interested in more than just you, Max. He’s interested in Earth.”

Max’s heart quickened its pace at her words, as he instinctively sought Liz where she sat beside him. Her dark eyes locked with his, and Max could feel her own unspoken questions.

Max had never considered that Khivar might have any particular interest in Earth, at least not beyond his voracious appetite for hunting them down. Earth itself had never seemed to appear significantly on his radar. Then again, maybe they’d all been wrong about that.

“I’m not sure I understand you, Serena,” Max finally answered, feeling the muscles in his shoulders knot tightly with tension. “I mean…I understand Khivar’s interest in me. But not earth.”

“No, I know that you don’t,” Serena agreed softly, dragging a kitchen chair close beside where Max and Liz sat on the small loveseat. She took the seat, leaning forward on her elbows, as she focused her keen brown eyes only on Max. From the corner of his eye, Max saw some of the other members of her unit shift uncomfortably a bit, as they repositioned themselves with the subtlest of body language. In particular, he noticed Riley slip his arm around Anna, as if bolstering her somehow. It was a subtle detail, yet it registered in his mind as important.

He knew that what Serena was about to share would change things permanently.

“Tell me everything,” Max answered in a low voice. “I need to know.”

Serena nodded her head briskly, her eyes never wavering from their steady, measured assessment of him.

“Please realize,” Serena glanced around the living room at all of them. “We have withheld this information intentionally from all of you. Until now because…”

Serena dropped her head suddenly, and Max had the impression she was gathering her thoughts. Or her courage.

“Because?” He prompted, lowering his own head slightly, attempting to meet her averted eyes.

“Because it’s quite shocking, Max,” she finished, her voice husky with emotion. “Particularly the details of Khivar’s interest in the human race. You all had enough to adjust to after going in hiding. But the time has come for you to know everything…so that you will be fully equipped to defeat him.”
Serena’s eyes drifted shut a moment, as she centered her thoughts. Even after so many years, journeying back within her mind, dredging up the distant memories pained her immeasurably. Soft Antarian words buzzed along the periphery of her mind, warring for domination, but she refused to acknowledge them, wouldn’t allow her pain that amount of visceral reality.

What Khivar had done to her was unspeakable—not just to her, but her husband and son. And then she’d watched the assassination of her king and queen, right before her eyes, mocking the deaths of her own family, as Khivar stole the throne they’d died protecting. She shivered, yet the Antarian words gained strength and velocity, as hazy memories asserted a stronger foothold, refused denial.

L’lasme eit tendse saya falthe. I come to you today and speak of a new peace.

And those had been his final words, everything in slow motion, happening so quickly. Serena had spotted the shooters, had moved for her holstered weapon with her right hand, while lunging in front…she watched Devon moving from the other side, as if in a dream.

But it had all happened too quickly, and Zan had been struck down before they’d even reached him. Not just Zan, but Zillia, too.

“Serena?” The voice was soft and feminine, husky like her own. Zillia.

“I-I…” Serena opened her eyes again, and saw Liz’s warm dark ones waiting expectantly. She hadn’t even been aware of it, but Liz had knelt in front of her, slipping a small hand on her knee. Beautiful and very much alive, her queen stared up at her, not like that heinous day so long ago. Serena shivered, drawing in a steadying breath, feeling a bit disoriented by her surroundings. She lowered her head, blinking quickly, as she pushed the past solidly behind her. It was the first moment she’d realized how uneven her breathing had become, how frantic her heart rate.

“It is difficult …for me to speak of these things,” she explained, battling with her emotions, determined to gain control. “Please understand. For you, it was another lifetime, but not for me.”

“Of course,” Liz assured her with an encouraging nod of her head, rocking back on her heels. “We all understand.”

“We can take this slowly, Serena,” Max agreed, his voice patient and kind. With his words, Serena couldn’t help but remember what a fair and just king Zan had been—how his reign would have meant peace for their planet, if not cut so painfully short by Khivar and his assassins.

Liz slowly rose, reclaiming her seat beside Max. “First, you must understand the racial composition on Antar,” Serena began, swallowing hard. “I am Antarian, and that is the heritage of every alien in this room…whether hybrid or pure-bred.”

Serena paused as her eyes traveled to where Ari and Devon sat quietly beyond the main circle. They nodded their silent support, and it strengthened her. They were the only ones in the room who truly understood, because although the rest of the unit had heard the stories, Ari and Devon remembered.

“But there is another race, the one we call the skins here on earth. On Antar, they are known as Antousians. They are not like us in physical form.”

“How are they different?” Max asked.

“At one time, they were very similar to Antarians, only a bit…larger,” Serena answered, aware that her voice had become thick with emotion. “But about a hundred years ago, Antar was plagued by a terrible virus, and the Antousians were nearly destroyed as a race.”

Serena paused, sipping her coffee before she continued.

“The Antousians were affected by the virus, but not the Antarians…they remained immune,” she explained solemnly. “Suddenly, our two races became divided. The Antousians accused us of releasing the virus intentionally, as a form of biological warfare to wipe out their race.”

“Wait, I’m confused,” Max interrupted, his soft voice edged with tension. “Why would the Antousians have thought that?”

“Because their race was not indigenous to the planet. They’d migrated there thousands of years before, and the Antarians had welcomed them. Their numbers had increased over the millennia, and there’d been some unrest growing over the fact…the feeling that the Antarians had welcomed them on their planet, but were starting to lose control over their own home.”

“Who felt that way?” Max questioned, his amber eyes narrowing intently. “Was that the general feeling among the Antarian population?”

“Not at all. It was only a small, militant band of Antarian intellectuals,” Serena explained, closing her eyes as she remembered the first time she’d read one of their racist pamphlets. “Antarians never thought that way…it was a total anomaly. But then the virus struck shortly thereafter, and…”

“It was enough to convince the skins of a conspiracy against them,” Max finished.

Serena nodded slowly, her heart aching at the memory. Even though the Antousians as a race were her enemies now, there were many she still considered friends. “But there’s more, Max,” Serena continued, her eyes again sweeping around her. She was surprised to see how drawn the expressions around the room were, how everyone stared at her in obvious disbelief. Even Riley, Anna and Cecilia bore the same stricken expressions, and they’d heard the story before—yet it obviously left them shaken even in its retelling.

“The Antousians were shape shifters, just like our people, only they had the additional capacity to move in a formless state,” Serena explained. “The virus destroyed many of their bodies, but before the onset of death, they simply vacated. You see, they didn’t die, they just drifted among us…formless.”

“What do you mean formless ?” Max demanded and Serena’s throat tightened. This was the point when the story became truly difficult for her to share. She sought Ari and Devon with her eyes, feeling suddenly unsteady and desperate, and fortunately she found them watching her with tremendous concern.

Devon stepped quickly from his position in the back of the room, drawing near her, and Serena instantly relaxed a bit. She swallowed hard, clearing her suddenly dry throat, as Devon stood beside her, placing a strong hand on her shoulder. Max watched, his eyes flickering a bit in confusion at her hesitation.

“We’re shape shifters, Max, as you know,” Serena answered quietly. “We can change form by altering our molecular structure. But the Antousians were able to exist void of form. Only, the void was their form. They could assume the composition of the atmosphere surrounding their bodies.”

“That’s horrible,” Liz whispered. “That means…they were like ghosts.”

“Somewhat, yes,” Serena agreed, blinking quickly. “But it was different. Sinister in its own way. Because while displaced they were constantly seeking sentient beings to…overtake . Yet it was too difficult for them to possess all but the weakest Antarians.”

“Possess…how?” Max asked.

“They were very much alive, Max,” Serena answered. “They considered their formlessness a curse, as if they’d been reduced to nomadic stature. And they blamed us…the Antarians.”

“So they sought to possess you?” Liz asked. “As a way of taking form again?”

“Unsuccessfully, yes,” Serena answered. “Which only fueled their hatred of our race.”

“How does this relate to Earth?” Michael demanded suddenly, folding his arms across his chest in a defiant gesture.

“There was a remnant, rebel group of them who hadn’t suffered the effects of the virus, and they pirated expedition ships to other planets, seeking an appropriate life form. One they could seize control of. Inhabit…” Serena’s voice cracked, and she looked up at Devon for help. He squeezed her shoulder lightly, and cleared his throat.

“This is…a painful story for us,” he began. “That’s something you must all understand. This is our home we are speaking of.”

Serena felt strengthened by Devon’s support, and nodded briskly, ready to continue. “The skins made their way to Earth…and found the perfect specimens.”

“Specimens for what?” Michael demanded, jumping suddenly to his feet. “What are you saying?”

“I’m saying that humans were brought back to Antar,” Serena answered solemnly. “At first in very small numbers, then the captures grew in quantity as the skins verified what they’d suspected. That humans were perfectly compatible for body spirit fusion.”

“What the hell is that?” Max roared.

“The formless Antousians possessed the captured humans, fusing their own essence to the host bodies. It would instantly kill the human subject, and the Antousian would take full possession. It’s where the name skins came from…they came here to earth and stole the host bodies they needed.”

“Oh. My. God.” Maria cried. “I think I’m going to be sick!”

“You’re telling me that Antar is populated with humans?” Max asked intensely. “Is that what you’re really saying?”

“I’m saying that approximately a hundred years ago, the skins began capturing humans, fusing their own alien essences with the bodies of the human subjects. Now Antar consists of three races: the Antarians, the Antousians--though only a remnant and threatened population remains--and the human-Antousian hybrids.”

“What is Khivar then?” Max asked, his jaw set tightly, yet Serena noticed that it twitched almost imperceptibly.

“The man occupying your throne…is every bit as human as you are, Max.”
Liz felt her stomach knot convulsively, utterly unsettled by Serena’s words. All this time, they’d never once guessed that Khivar was a human-alien hybrid, and somehow it made him seem imminently more threatening. Something about the story was more than chilling, and her mind rushed to fill in unspoken details. She could only imagine how the wars had broken out, all the blame and finger-pointing that had occurred. These two races that had once existed peaceably, had grown fractured and filled with accusation.

Yet there was a question that nagged at Liz’s mind, one above all else. She knew that Khivar had assumed Max’s throne after his death, and she found herself needing the details—driven to understand how the racial conflict had brought about a revolution.

“Serena, tell me one thing,” Liz asked. “How did all of this…lead to the war?”

Liz watched as Serena, Ari and Devon all glanced quickly at one another, and the grief she saw shimmering in their eyes tore at her heart. Then, she allowed her glance to roam to the other members of the unit, and observed how they all stiffened visibly at her question.

“What?” Max asked. “What aren’t you telling us?”

Serena tilted her chin upward, her back straight as a rod. “Max, your family had brought a beautiful unity among our two races over the centuries. Your father was beloved by most Antousians. But when the virus came, they blamed him for it.”

“How could they have?” Liz asked, feeling her chest tighten. She felt protective of a father-in-law she had no memory of. Of a husband that was lost to her.

“The people felt it was a political blight. Brought to them on purpose…and so they blamed your father, the king.”

“And then later Zan,” Max finished quietly.

“Yes, Max. Your father died suddenly, and you took the throne in the midst of a great deal of unrest,” Serena explained quietly. “Despite the Antousians’ illegal expeditions, the unauthorized hybridization of their new race, you were willing to seek peace. Any other leader would have punished them for what they’d done…for the act of open defiance. But you had radical ideas of how the three races could unite. Work together.”

“When you say three races…” Liz asked.

“The skins were reproducing, creating their new human-hybrid race rapidly. The human genetic pool proved vastly more fertile than the original Antarian and Antousian races,” Serena explained. “Zan and Khivar were both second generation. Neither of you remembered a time pre-dating the viral plague.”

“That means that Khivar is…” Max shrugged uncertainly, his voice trailing off.

“Pure hybrid. He was not one of the original Antousians,” Serena answered. “His parents were humans brought from Earth, then fused with their alien possessors.”

“So this race…the skins, really is a new breed?” Liz asked. “Something now truly indigenous to Antar?”

“Yes, and Khivar wants to commit genocide against every living Antarian. He only wants the skins and original Antousians,”

“They were never interested in Zan’s peace treaties,” Devon offered quietly. “Zan could have forged a new order, a way for all three of our races to co-exist, but the bitterness among the skins had been growing for so long.”

“And a very small band of political leaders didn’t want to lose their control, either,” Serena explained. “And so they mounted a revolution against you, Max. The entire royal house was murdered in one afternoon some seventy years ago.”

“Seventy years ago?” Isabel cried in disbelief. “If you remember all of this, then how old does it make you?”

Liz was surprised to see Serena’s face flush a bit at Isabel’s question. She couldn’t recall ever seeing her embarrassed or unsettled before. “Well, let’s just say a lot older than you might think,” Serena laughed huskily, tucking a stray blonde hair behind her ear. “Our race has a greater longevity than human…though human-alien hybrids have similar life capacity to our own race on Antar.”

“Serena, please,” Liz asked softly. “I would really like to know how much you actually remember. It’s important to me…to my understanding all of this.”

“I remember the virus…and before, also.”

“From what you’re saying, that’s more than a hundred years,” Michael insisted, stepping closer toward her. He’d been moving restlessly around the room for a while, just listening to the conversation silently, despite his unsettled movements.

Serena sighed heavily, rising to her feet. She moved away from the group, walking toward the window that faced the driveway, and stared out of it a moment. “I am one hundred and thirty-eight years old,” she proclaimed quietly. “I remember everything of which I speak. I lost everyone I’d ever cared for in the space of two years. My king, my queen… my family. And I remember it all.”

Serena remained with her back to them, and a shroud of silence fell over the room. No one dared speak, nor could any of them formulate an appropriate reply to Serena’s statement—especially not when she wiped silent tears away with the back of her hand. Liz doubted that she’d ever forget the image of beautiful, strong Serena crying as she spoke of the war that had torn her planet apart, and had ripped her family away from her forever.

“Khivar wants the Granolith so he can transport approximately five thousand more humans back to Antar,” Serena finally continued, her voice raspy and thick. “It’s why we sent all of you here, Max. Not only to create a new Antarian-hybrid race, one that could co-exist with the skins on Antar. But to defend Earth against Khivar.”

“Defend Earth…how?” Max asked, rubbing his neck nervously.

“Khivar intends to capture as many humans as necessary, Max,” Serena explained. “He won’t stop until all the displaced have fused with the bodies of their human donors. He will destroy anyone who stands in his way. He’ll destroy Earth if necessary.”

“Why?” Max insisted, springing to his feet. Liz watched him pace restlessly, running a shaky hand through his dark locks. “Why is he willing to destroy this planet? He has no right to simply take these people.”

“His ego demands it,” Serena whispered. “He is insatiable in his need to rule, for his race to dominate. He will not rest until he has populated Antar with his own hybridized race. He murders Antarians daily, Max. You must know that…our race is severely diminished now. He is slowly committing genocide against our people.”

Liz shivered as she watched Max’s chest rise with heavy pants. She yearned to connect with him, to enter his mind and know what he was feeling about all this. She longed for the bond like she would a phantom limb that no longer existed—she could still feel it, as if it were a vital, living thing, despite how Nicholas had crushed it.

“If they have the capacity to possess humans as you say they did after the viral plague, then why haven’t Nicholas and his men done that?” Max insisted. “Why do they occupy husks, not humans?”

“Because the atmosphere here is hostile to their race. They cannot take possession of humans on this planet, only on Antar.”

“And what happens to these displaced Antousians if we defeat Khivar?” Max asked. “They will remain formless? Just drifting and alive?”

“No,” Serena answered softly. “They will die once their life spans are fulfilled. That time is nearing anyway, which is what makes Khivar’s plan even more self-serving. He is only concerned about the supremacy of his hybrid race, not with helping his own people who need him. He doesn’t care if the displaced live or die.”

Serena turned to face Max from where she stood at the window. “And that’s the tragedy. When you were our king, Max, you truly cared about them. You were fighting for a scientific solution that would have helped.”

“So if Khivar is coming to Earth now, as we suspect, it is to implement this next phase of his plan?” Max asked.

Serena nodded briskly. “Yes.”

“But he doesn’t have the Granolith,” Liz offered.

Max rubbed his eyes wearily, answering for Serena. “I suspect he intends to get it by whatever means necessary.”

“Maybe,” Serena agreed, reclaiming her chair near Max. “But I’ve had another thought since speaking with Tess.”

“What?” Max asked.

“Khivar may no longer need the Granolith to accomplish his directives,” Serena answered. “His scientists may have finally duplicated the technology, building their own version. Which would mean…that Khivar might actually be on his way here, just as Marco told Tess.”


The winter sun hung low in the sky, ducking partly behind the snow capped mountains in the distance. Liz thrust her hands deep in her coat pockets, as she hiked down the long, winding path that Riley has seen Max take earlier. He’d set off alone mid-afternoon, needing some time to digest all that Serena had shared, but as the hours had passed, Liz had begun to worry.

Liz knew her own mind was reeling from all the revelations, and she could only imagine how heavily it had impacted Max. How hard it must be for him to know that their home planet was in such a state of ethnic unrest, so fractured and warring—and how overwhelmed he must feel knowing that the fate of so many rested on his shoulders.

The earth was frozen and crunched loudly beneath Liz’s feet as she stepped over a fallen tree, shielding her eyes against the crimson colors of the setting sun. She could hear a bubbling stream just down the path, but it was difficult to see with the sun glaring from its position so low in the sky.

But as she brushed a stray hair from in front of her eyes, she caught the glint of something down by the stream, right as Max’s scent flooded over her. She hurried down the incline, skidding a bit on some loose rocks, and she glimpsed him where he sat on a large boulder by the water’s edge.

“Hey,” he called out dully, without ever turning to face her. He recognizes your scent, just as you did his. Even now, with the bond rent between you, he recognizes you blindly.

“Hey,” Liz answered softly, stepping near the rock where he sat, and immediately saw how lined his face had become with tension in the past hours. He shifted silently, making a place for her beside himself on the rock.

“What are you doing down here?” she asked gently. “Running away?”

“No,” he snapped, as she settled beside him. “I’d have to run a hell of a lot farther than this.”

“Max, I know you…”

“That doesn’t mean you know how I’m feeling right now.”

Liz smarted at his words, at their implicit reminder of their absent bond. But she also sensed that Max needed her strength at the moment, not her sensitivity. “Then tell me what you’re thinking, why you’re down here instead of up there with the rest of us,” she answered with forced calm.

Max sighed heavily, burying his face in his hands, which Liz noticed shook with slight tremors. She slipped her arm around his shoulders, and lightly rubbed his upper back with her open palm. “Just tell me,” she urged.

“I’m thinking that this whole revolution is completely fucked up,” he groaned. “I’m trying to lead a group of people I’ve never even met, trying to defeat an enemy I don’t know…and all we keep doing is hiding while he keeps killing people. They need someone else, Liz…the Antarians need someone like them, not a human…because we both know that’s what I am.”

“Max, you’re not human,” Liz argued quietly. “It’s taken me a long time to really understand what we are, but more than ever I know that neither of us is human.”

“We’re not Antarian either,” he answered, lowering his hands from his face with a heavy sigh. “That much is obvious.”

“And you know this because you’ve seen so many Antarians?” Liz asked, her voice edged with faint sarcasm.

“I’ve seen Serena.”

“We’ve all seen Serena.”

“No, Liz, I’ve seen Serena…when Nicholas captured her,” he admitted softly.

Liz was silent a moment, processing the depth of what Max had just confided in her. “You never told me.”

“I…wanted to protect her,” Max explained haltingly. “Nicholas was unbelievably cruel to her, Liz…she was naked…in her natural Antarian form. She couldn’t speak English…these are horrible people, Liz. And I don’t know if I’m strong enough to defeat them.”

“I’ve never heard you doubt like this before, Max.”

“I don’t think I ever really understood just what Khivar was until today.”

They fell silent and Liz stared at the stream as it bubbled and frothed over the rocks in the creek bed. Before, she would have felt Max’s heart more clearly, could have helped him sort through his confused emotions, but now she felt as powerless as he apparently did—only in her case, she felt impotent to help her own mate. Max sat up, glancing in her direction, and there was a lost look in his amber eyes that tore at her heart. She slipped her hand onto his thigh, resting it there as they remained quiet.

Finally, Max cleared his throat and spoke, his usually soft voice even quieter. “The thing is…if I don’t stop him, no one else will, Liz.”

“And so you will do it.”

He nodded silently, covering her hand with his own where it rested on his thigh. “As scared as I am, Liz, I know it’s my destiny. I feel it in my core.”

“That’s the most important thing, Max,” she answered, feeling hope flame anew within her heart. “Ignore the fear, ignore the doubt…and focus on that knowledge.”

“How can I ignore the fear I feel for you, Liz? For Marco? He’s in real danger…I sense it.”

Liz dropped her head, closing her eyes a moment. She’d felt the danger hovering around Marco, too, ever since she’d caught Tess staring at Riley, her blue eyes wide with understanding. Tess had known something in that moment, and then it had simply resonated right through Liz’s heart—Marco was definitely in some kind of imminent trouble.

“Me, too,” she admitted quietly, opening her eyes again.

Max nodded, bowing his head at her words. “I want to tell Tess…have her urge him to leave Khivar’s camp tonight.”

“He won’t do it,” Liz observed.

“How do you know?” Max asked, turning toward her in surprise.

“Because he’s like you, Max,” Liz laughed wryly. “Far too much like you.”

“Am I really that stubborn?” He asked, frowning in disbelief.

“Hello?” Liz laughed, leaning over to kiss Max lightly on the lips. When she did, she felt sudden fire course down her spine, unexpected flame, like heat lightening illuminating the night sky.

“Max?” she murmured softly, as he quickly cupped her face with his hands. She felt gentle tremors shaking from his palms all the way up his arms.

Instantly, she pulled back, feeling electricity simmer across her skin. “When did this happen?” Her voice had left her, coming out all choked and throaty.

Max’s eyes fluttered closed, yet he continued to hold her face within his trembling palms. “Hours ago,” he finally admitted. “All day, really.”

Liz leaned closer, pressing her lips to his warm ones again. “I think I’m starting to understand…”

“The timing just sucks,” he lamented quietly.

“No, it makes all the sense in the world, Max.”

“How’s that?” He opened his eyes, which had darkened a bit, just as the evening sky had grown heavy above them. “I should be formulating war plans, not wrestling with my alien urges .”

“Except don’t you see? Our bond has been broken, Max…it’s almost a protective instinct that has settled over you…the need to join with your mate.”

Liz noticed how labored his breathing had already become, and felt it answer somewhere deep inside her own body, low and insistent as heat swept repeatedly across her chilled skin.

“Liz, I need you…without our bond, I’m just off-center.”

“Precisely, Max,” she whispered, stroking his cheek with her fingertips. “Which is why this has happened…it’s your body’s way of righting things between us.”

“What about you?” he managed to murmur, drawing her closer within his arms, aware that the aching had begun thrumming insistently throughout his entire body now that he’d admitted his need to her.

“I’m feeling it now, too,” Liz agreed huskily. “From the moment we kissed, something changed…shifted. It’s coming upon me quickly.”

“Where?” Max managed to groan, leaning his forehead against hers. “God, the house is full of people…and I really need you, Liz. It’s at its peak already…somehow it’s happened this quickly.”

“Right here is okay,” she whispered against his cheek.

“It’s cold as hell…we can’t…”

“We can do whatever we need to do,” Liz answered with determination, sliding her hands beneath his jacket, as she stood and straddled his lap. “Right here and now…this is an important part of your battle. I feel it, Max. We may not understand just why…at least not completely, but it’s your alien side that’s crying out.”

Max nodded, swallowing hard, as Liz settled easily on his lap. She faced him, her soft down jacket rising up in bunches at her waist. So much material and all he wanted was to touch her warm, soft skin…to feel her bare body brush against his own. The moment was far from ideal, yet somehow he knew Liz was exactly right—that his alien side was awakening again, and that the sudden build up of their mating urge was related to the battle that lay immediately ahead—even if he didn’t understand how.

And as Liz deepened her warm, gentle kiss, reaching between his legs with her small hand, he felt the warrior within him rise up from the hills…drawn out by his soul mate, his alien bride. As he threw his head back at her touch, at the way she instantly electrified every part of him on the deepest levels, it wasn’t just the moan of a lover that escaped his lips—it was the war cry of an Antarian king preparing for battle.

Tess stood outside Riley and Anna’s room, and raised her hand to rap on their door, yet something caused her to hesitate. Slowly, she dropped her balled fist, and drew in quick breaths. She had no idea why it frightened her so intensely to confront Riley directly with her fears, except perhaps she was afraid of them gaining validity by his confirmation. For now, she only had her suspicions that he’d glimpsed something ominous for Marco, and that was easier than hearing the words pass Riley’s lips.

The room on the other side of the door was completely silent, even though it was only just past five p.m., and she wondered if perhaps it was an inappropriate time to disturb Anna and Riley. They’d been in their bedroom for several hours, without so much as opening the door, and Tess had tried to wait patiently, but her restlessness had finally grown beyond manageability.

Her mind kept arguing that if Marco were in genuine jeopardy, Riley would have instantly told Serena—or gone to Max. Instead, he’d retreated along with Anna into their private quarters, only to remain silently sequestered for the past few hours.

But she had to know, because the panic was tearing her heart into pieces. It was difficult enough understanding how vulnerable Marco’s position within the enemy camp remained, but ever since glimpsing the expression on Riley’s face in the meeting, it was like a dark shadow had fallen over her spirit. Unshakeable, undeniable…the prescient sensation that her near-mate was in terrible jeopardy.

With stalwart determination, she rapped her knuckles loudly on the wooden door, and a light shuffling sound answered from within. The door opened and Tess was met by Anna’s green eyes, as she peered out from the dark bedroom. Beyond the door, Tess could see tiny candles shimmering all around the room, casting eerie shadows and light against the white terracotta walls. She could just glimpse Riley’s blonde head, where he sat cross-legged on their bed.

“Um…maybe this is a bad time,” Tess mumbled, irritated with herself for sounding so uncertain.

Anna smiled faintly, her large green eyes shining with sudden sympathy as she opened the door wide for Tess. “No, Tess, please come in.”

Tess stood transfixed, staring into the candlelit room, marveling at the scene before her eyes. There seemed to be nearly a hundred tiny lights dancing all around the room, on shelves, on the dresser…in the window frames. Anna drew Tess’s hand into her much larger one, leading her numbly into their room, and quietly closing the door behind her.

Tess instantly felt strange emotions ricochet across her skin, an almost dizzy unfamiliarity as she glanced between Riley and Anna, but not because of the strange state of their room. It was deeper, she realized, something unique between Riley and Anna that she’d stumbled upon inadvertently—there was an almost mystical sense that permeated the air around them.

Tess blinked rapidly, trying to regain her equilibrium. Her legs trembled as intense emotions flashed like photographs in rapid succession, cresting across her spirit with each impulse.

“Tess?” Anna questioned softly, clasping her by the elbow. “Do you need to sit down?”

Tess shook her head, staring up at Anna almost blindly. “What…what is it about this room?” She finally managed to ask, feeling her throat draw tight.

Anna laughed, but it wasn’t a mocking sound as she guided Tess closer toward the bed. “Here, Tess, you should sit down.”

“I…feel…” Tess stammered, rubbing her eyes. It was so fuzzy, so unclear, as if she’d been given a drug of some kind. “Not sure…”

Suddenly, the floor seemed to shift beneath her feet, and Tess felt her legs give way beneath her, as she watched Riley leap from the bed to catch her.

“God, what’s wrong with me?” Tess cried, as she landed on the floor with a soft thud, the fall broken by Riley’s sure grip on her arm. “This whole room is just…making my head spin.”

“It’s not the room, Tess,” Anna explained, kneeling beside her on the floor. Tess closed her eyes, willing the room to stop its erratic gyrations. “It’s what you’re feeling in it.”

“It’s all just coming at me so quickly…so unstoppable,” Tess explained.

“Tess, you’re empathic now,” Riley offered, squatting on the floor beside her. “Do you understand what I mean? Did Marco explain?”

She nodded, swallowing hard. “I understand…but it feels so strange…different, you know?”

Anna stroked Tess’s hair away from her eyes. “Of course it does. It’s a lot to get used to so quickly.”

“Is that why the room was spinning like that? I mean, there was just this sudden intense… explosion when I walked in.”

Anna and Riley exchanged a quick glance, and Tess had the sensation that they were speaking, as their expressions shifted silently for a moment.

“What?” Tess cried in confusion. Riley rubbed his jaw a moment, then slowly began to speak.

“Tess, I know you understand what Marco is…that he’s empathic…but do you really understand what happened when the two of you joined powers last night?”

Tess nodded. “Yes, Serena explained that we’re…what was the word?”

“T’Lasthre ,” Anna answered.

“Yes,” Tess nodded. “That we’re near mates…and I know I’ve been feeling things ever since last night… about the people around me.”

“The problem, though, is that Marco spent years taming his gift,” Riley explained quietly. “I’m not sure you know how difficult that was for him.”

Tess nodded, feeling a sudden wave of grief, originating from outside of herself. Riley…deep grief and anguish over Marco’s suffering because of his gift.

“I know how he suffered, Riley,” she replied, her voice much stronger. “I know more than you probably imagine.”

“When you joined the way you did last night, he changed you, Tess. It’s that simple,” Riley explained. “It’s more than his giving you the gift. He made you like himself. That means you inherit all his discipline and wisdom about what is the most unstable of all Antarian gifts. But you’re also very vulnerable right now, while you grow accustomed to the sensations, learn to filter them into your mind and spirit.”

Tess bowed her head, feeling suddenly very weary. Riley’s grief for Marco had drained her a bit, taken something from her—just as the sensation of being in their bedroom had drawn energy from her.

“What’s so special about this room?” She asked suddenly, glancing up at Anna where she knelt right beside her on the floor. “Why did it affect me so powerfully when I first walked in?”

“Riley and I have spent the afternoon synchronizing our powers…it’s a form of meditation we do together.” Anna answered, running her hand through her shiny auburn hair. For some reason, Tess noticed the way the candlelight drew out flashes of color in her tresses, crimsons and golds that danced in the shimmering darkness.

“As lifemates, it makes us more unified, fluid…as soldiers it makes us more powerful,” Riley explained, staring at Anna while he spoke. Tess didn’t miss the wonder in his gentle brown eyes. “As protectors, it makes us… unstoppable.”

Anna met Riley’s gaze, her smile radiating across her entire face at his words.

“Do…you all do this? Max and Liz? Ari and Devon?” Tess asked, shaking her head in confusion. Was this something she and Marco would eventually do? Was it part of the bonding that would happen between them?

“No,” Riley said, rising suddenly to his feet. He stepped away from them, toward the window, where he gazed outside for a moment. “Every lifemate union is different, depending on the gifts. But the urge and need to deepen the bond is always there. You and Marco may be very different…it’s difficult to say how it will be for you.”

She’d never asked about Marco, yet he’d known her unspoken question instantly—and she hadn’t missed the heaviness in his voice as he’d spoken, either. She closed her eyes and again felt grief from him, only this time it was tempered with something else. She pressed harder.

Raw fear…worry.

“Riley?” She cried, her voice unexpectedly shrill, even to her own ears. “You’ve got to tell me what it is you’re sensing about Marco…please.”

Anna rubbed her hand down the length of Tess’s arm, and she felt comfort and deep affection resonate through her spirit. For someone who seemed on the surface to be so feisty and strong, Tess always found Anna to be surprisingly gentle.

“I can’t pinpoint it, Tess…neither can Anna.” Riley replied, as he continued to stand at the window, candlelight playing across his partly darkened features. “You already know that I sense danger around him.”

“What else?” Tess demanded. She jumped to her feet, which she quickly realized was a mistake as the floor shifted uncertainly beneath her boots. “I’ve got to know.”

“Danger…more than at any point since he’s been in their camp…” Riley shook his head, turning slowly toward her. “Yet I am certain that you aren’t to warn him, nor to ask him to leave. He is most definitely supposed to stay, despite the danger that Anna and I both sense.”
Tess collapsed onto the edge of the bed, swaying a bit as she closed her eyes. “Why not?” Her voice sounded vulnerable and defeated, even to her own ears.

“Because he needs to be there, that is the only answer we keep hearing,” Riley said, moving toward her. He settled beside her on the bed and she met his warm brown eyes. “He’s my brother, Tess. I know you’re worried, but it’s killing me, too.”

“Answer from where? I mean, where does all this come from?” Tess asked, chewing on her lip to fight the tears that threatened to pool within her eyes.

Anna and Riley exchanged another of their glances, silently speaking between themselves, Tess was sure of it—she’d seen Max and Liz do that enough times to recognize the body language.

“That depends on what you believe,” Anna said, sitting on Tess’s other side. “Some say the knowledge comes from God…others call it the energy of the universe…it all depends on who you are as to where you believe it comes from.”

“But it doesn’t affect the outcome,” Riley finished.
Tess nodded silently, staring into the flickering light of a candle on the dresser, feeling a strange comfort as she watched it. Peace had begun to settle upon her the longer she’d been in their bedroom, something that seemed resident within both Riley and Anna, despite their deep concern for Marco.

“I’ll be…communicating with him later tonight,” Tess explained, her throat painfully tight. “You know I’ll be talking to him about everything. Does this mean I shouldn’t even warn him to be careful?”

Anna placed an arm around her shoulders, drawing her close. Ordinarily, Tess would have resisted such unexpected intimacy, but for some reason, she felt solidarity with Anna—perhaps because she and Riley had been parted by the revolution for so many years themselves.

“Tess, open your heart when you’re with him, and you will feel what he’s to know…whether or not you should warn him,” Anna answered softly. “The two of you are forging the most powerful bond that can exist between any of our people…your gifts are utterly entwined now. Trust yourself to know what to tell him in the moment.”
Tess nodded in silent agreement, feeling tears threaten again. Not even because of her intense fear for Marco, but from a sudden, intense loneliness for him—an ache so palpable she could taste it—and she knew it was a product of his being her M’Lasthre.

The candlelight shimmered mystically on the dresser, moving in cadence to an ancient rhythm. Sweet Marco, beloved Marco , she breathed, closing her eyes. M’Lasthre.

Max had managed to ease Liz backward onto the large, smooth rock beneath them. He’d spread his thick jacket underneath her, and now he’d covered her small frame with his own larger one. The cold air had grown nearly bitter as the sun had quickly set behind the mountains, leaving only a red glow in the dusk sky. Yet Liz didn’t seem to notice, as she urged him further, opening trembling legs to him.

She remained clothed in her own sweater and jacket, with only her jeans and shoes piled loosely on the ground beside the boulder. Max’s hands roamed hungrily underneath her clothing, as he pushed between her thighs, feeling her warmth envelop him instantly as he entered her with ease. He closed his eyes, drinking all of her inside his soul, and she arched her back, crying out against his neck.

“Max,” she moaned on a sigh, thrusting up against him hard. “Oh…oh.”

Their lovemaking felt instantly different, including his taking her nearly clothed out in the wilderness. The terrain reflected their emotional state, the way it had instantly mutated after their first kiss earlier. Wild, feral…their joining had instantly acquired an exotic tenor it only ever assumed at the height of their mating season. Yet there’d been no prelude at all, there’d been no weeks of mounting desire and need.

The season had come upon them with the very swiftness of a visitation, asserting itself with mystic insistence.

Max drew Liz’s legs around him as firmly as he could, feeling the icy rock chaff his knees. It didn’t matter, because he needed more of her, it was all he could focus on. Somewhere in his mind, he knew that war plans needed to be laid, yet here he was, his lifemate in his arms, drumming her into his soul with resounding insistency.

And it felt absolutely right. As if it were the only place that could make sense on the eve of their battle…the plans would align and fall into place, but not until he became one with his Zillia.

Along the periphery of his spirit, he heard strange words, alien phrases. With every time he drew deeper into Liz, the chants became more demanding, surfacing until suddenly he found himself crying out in her ear, allowing the words to assume form.

L’leathna mea’sa d’lasthre…” he whispered in her ear, and Liz felt her body grow taut in response. Zan’s words charged her, sent shivers down her spine, stoked all the desire she already felt for him.

She thrust her cold fingers deep into his thick hair, and even it was cool to her touch, though her body was on fire. He’d set her ablaze…he’d led her instantly into their season, by only the merest of kisses.

“Zan,” she cried out loudly, unable to suppress her need to speak his alien name. She longed to answer his Antarian cries, yet couldn’t lay claim to the words that pressed insistently against her conscious mind. “Ah…Zan….Zan.”

She bucked hard against him, needed him deeper, nothing was enough without the bond. There could never be enough of him, no matter how long they lay like this. She felt his jeans bunched around his ankles, as her feet tried to gain the leverage for drawing him further inside herself.

His energy shimmied across her skin, all over her body, wooing her like the most insistent of lovers. So familiar, so like their connection, yet only their bodies answered the call. Their lips crushed together, as wave after wave of energy resonated through their souls—culminating where they joined in their most intimate places. And then, the words erupted, couldn’t stop and Liz gasped, drawing in burning breaths of frozen air.

“L’llethe miet dasne…” she panted in his ear, the darkened sky nearly spinning above as she opened her eyes briefly. I take you now, my deepest love, I bind you again to myself…

“Ayet, ayet
!” He cried, his body shuddering suddenly, as her own trembled in immediate answer.

“L’llethe miet dasne, miet ziestet Zillia…”
Yes, yes, I bind you again to myself, my most precious Zillia…

And with that, Liz felt the empty bond between them lurch a moment, ignite a bit as if to live, then as they found their release deep within one another, the bond shuddered again and relinquished. Only this time, they were deeply sated, and even without their connection, they stroked one another’s cheeks and whispered the deepest words of love. It wasn’t that the bond didn’t matter exactly, but that they’d found a deeper place together, even without it.

Tess stood transfixed in the wooded clearing. She’d left for a brisk walk, wanting solitude with so much to absorb from her conversation with Riley and Anna. But she’d never expected to hear such strange, foreign cries along the trail. She’d stopped, just listening to the strange noises, then began to recognize voices…heavy breathing and moans. Right as the facts began to assimilate into stark reality, she’d caught sight of them just below her on the trail—and had been so mesmerized, she couldn’t move for a good twenty seconds.

Not only had she never seen anyone make love, but she’d also never imagined it could be like what she saw in the darkened woods below her. Max and Liz were hardly unclothed at all…were making love right on top of a large rock beside the creek. It all seemed strangely shocking, surprising to see her dear friends entwined in such a visceral way.

Yet indescribably beautiful, something she at once longed for and feared would never come for her. Her small hand flew to her mouth, as the tears she’d managed to fight earlier finally filled her eyes. Her vision blurred, as she observed the most perfect example of human love she might ever hope to witness—for even if Marco made it home to her arms, she’d never stand on the outside and watch herself together with him like this.
Tess backed slowly away, swiping quickly at the hot tears, feeling like more than a voyeur, despite the accidental nature of her discovery.

Finally, she managed to turn on the path, and hurry back up the hill, but not before a barrage of emotions overwhelmed her—like in Riley and Anna’s room, only different. She stumbled silently on the path, falling to her knees, as the sensory experience washed over her…
Max and Liz’s need for one another, the deepest throes of their mating season, she was sure of it…their perfect love, utterly fulfilled.

Painful absence of something , Tess realized as she collapsed face downward onto the trail, struggling for breath. This last emotion had choked the very breath from her lungs.

Marco , she cried out within her spirit. Help me…I don’t understand this…I don’t know how to control your gift. Marco…come back to me.

As her cries subsided a bit, she felt the sudden painful absence of Max and Liz’s bond. More clearly than anything else, that fact stood in sudden clarity--something had happened to Max and Liz’s bond…it was what Nicholas had done to them.

she cried again silently, stretching her arms above her on the icy ground. Help me understand what you are, what I have become because of loving you…

And then like the warmest water, soothing like the summer ocean, she felt his arms around her. His spirit wrapped itself tight around her, and his energy enveloped her protectively. There weren’t words—the bond between them was too new and fragile for such direct communication—but she felt him.

He surrounded her with his essence, even where words could not be spoken, and as she buried her face against the icy path, she knew that he’d come home to her…if only for these few precious moments.

posted on 10-Dec-2001 11:46:52 AM

This is the link to the rest of the story, so far ch's 36-40. Enjoy!