posted on 3-Jul-2002 8:56:23 PM
Always Waiting for Someone Else ... a Dupe's Story

Disclaimer: You know the drill, I know the drill, we all know the drill, but I'll repeat it anyway. I don't own them. If I did, I would have treated them much better. They're owned by JK, KKB, JF, UPN and anyone else who has their finger in the Roswell pie, but it certainly isn't me.

Summary: I have an idea about where I want this to go, but I'm not too sure about the journey from here to there. This is the story of Zan and Elise. Just think DupeLiz here. I'm not a firm believer in offering Liz up like she was the baked ham entree on the Easter buffet. Max has his soulmate and Zan has one too. But, they are not the same girl. Besides, I don't think either guy is into sharing all that much. And one more thing ... I couldn't do the New York talk if I tried, so I'm not going to. I also want to mention that one reason I chose Elise is reading Cookieman1234's wonderful fic "Finding Yourself." I just fell in love with the name.

Always

The absolutely phenomenal banner was done by BordersInsanity. I'm just thrilled with it. It really captures how I see these two characters. I could almost do a happy dance around my computer, I'm so excited.

Prologue

New York, September 2000

He didn't even need to look at a clock. After almost a week of waking up at the same time, he just knew that it was 4:00 a.m. He also knew from experience that he wasn't going back to sleep anytime soon. Wide awake. Damn, he just hated this time of the morning.

Passing his hand over his eyes to clear away the sleep, he rolled off the couch and reached for his clothes. No way he was staying in the hellhole a minute longer than he had to, no matter what time of day, or night, it was. They'd been there for years, and he still felt like he couldn't breathe decently in the crib.

Hitting the streets was a relief, as usual. He never realized how strung out he was until he was alone. Even his slumber wasn't peaceful; he always had the feeling that he had to sleep with one eye open. Never turn your back, Zan, especially on your "family." How messed up was that? The three other beings that were the most like him were the ones who would most likely turn on him, given the right combination of opportunity and benefits.

Lonnie was the unspoken leader of the troika. Sly, cunning, totally amoral ... she reminded him of something he saw on a documentary once about hyenas. When a litter of hyenas is born to the matriarch of a pack, the pup most likely to become the new matriarch will kill the sibling early on. That was Lonnie, the princess looking for a way to be rid of any blood relation standing between and her rightful role, whatever that was. He knew that she thought she hid her ambitions well and that she had his trust. The idea put a small, derisive smile on his face.

Rath was almost pathetic, given how easily led and easily fooled he was. He was strong in the physical, but weak in every other way. And therein lay the danger of Rath. Lonnie had him in her back pocket; she was firmly in control of someone who could take apart just about anyone standing in her way. If Lonnie was the brains, Rath was the muscle, and there was no love lost between him and Zan.

Of the three, Ava was the one who was supposedly the most likeable. She was small, seemingly vulnerable. But there was something in her that gave him pause. A look, a feeling ... nothing tangible, but she almost worried him more than the other two put together. What was that phrase again? A snake in the grass. Yeah, that was Ava. She would make reference to their "life" before this one. They were married, she'd whisper; she was his wife. The mere thought brought the bile rising in his throat. He knew that her gifts were more along the lines of the mind, controlling thoughts and emotions. He had his guard up around her more than anyone else.

It almost amused him to know that he was less lonely when he was on his own than he was when he was with them. Three people who had been with him his whole life brought him the greatest sense of isolation he had ever known. Being different, and understanding what those differences entailed, kept him from interacting with most people in New York. And having a firm grasp of the ins and outs of his "family" made him put up impenetrable walls around his heart, knowing any one of the three would rip it to shreds if he let them. This was his life ... solitary confinement in one of the largest, most populated cities in the US. Ironic.

But, lately, there was another pulse that beat in his blood. Something that woke him up for the past week and set his feet on the streets, and it was damn near driving him crazy. It was incessant, compelling, stirring the alien in him to a new pitch. If the three of them could see him, they'd laugh their asses off, watching him stalk down one street to another, constantly on the lookout for ... for what? Each dark morning brought him to a different street. Like a man coming up for air, he looked around him. Not a bad neighborhood, with large trees and old, brownstone apartment buildings. He stopped for a moment to regain his sense of direction when the lobby door of one of the buildings opened up. And his world tilted on it's axis ....

[ edited 60time(s), last at 9-Feb-2003 7:18:33 PM ]
posted on 4-Jul-2002 9:03:41 PM
Thank you so much for all the awesome feedback. I've enjoyed writing this, partly because I just love Zan and I miss him. He needs representation, although I must admit that no one writes Zan better than Pinky Banana. But there's always room for one more (I hope).

One note: I changed the timeline from 2001 to 2000, which is what I wanted originally. Stupid typo ...

Late October, 2000

Elise slowly became aware of two things as she woke up.  The first was how pleasantly toasty and comfortable she was.  The second was a low, insistant rumble in her ear.  Stretching her toes into the warmth at the bottom of her bed, she buried her head further into her pillow.

"It can't be time to get up yet, Max.  We just went to bed, I swear," she mumbled in a sleepy voice.  The rumble came again.  Elise pulled her pillow up over her head.

"You're a sadist, you know that, right?"  She lifted the pillow up enough to open one eye toward the alarm clock on the nightstand.  She felt a slight nudge on her pillow and again lifted it.

"The alarm hasn't even gone off yet.  It's 3:10 and I have 5 more minutes.  Go away," her voice filled with indignation.  Again, the rumble came, just slightly louder this time.  Elise tossed her pillow off the bed, turned her head toward Max and blew a stray lock of hair out of her face.  

"Fine. I'm up.  Are you happy now?" she asked as she stared at the amber eyes looking into hers, easily seen in the moonlight streaming through the window.  Sitting up in bed, she pushed her hair off her forehead and reached out to Max.  Her fingers automatically went under his chin, giving it a little scratch before turning her attention to his ears.  The rumble became an ecstatic purring, his amber eyes closing in bliss.  

"How's my little feline alarm clock today?  Hungry?"  That was all Max needed to hear.  With his usual kitty grace, he jumped off the bed, landing almost noiselessly on the floor.  'I wish I could land like that,' Elise thought to herself.  

Leaving her bed with great reluctance, the first thing Elise noticed was the chill of the room.  Her tank top and flannel boxers were definitely not going to keep her warm, and she reached for her robe.  Belting it tightly around her slender waist, she made a detour to the thermostadt before heading to the kitchen.  Elise liked sleeping in a slightly chilly room when she had her favorite quilts piled on her bed.  It gave her a cozy feeling, but it was definitely no fun to get up in the morning and wait for the heat to kick in.  After turning up the heat she padded into the kitchen.  The next order of business was always the care and feeding of Max.  In return for being a gentler way of waking her up at such an unreasonable hour of the day, she made sure he had his food and water and a little attention.  It was a decent trade-off in her mind and kept her occupied until the chill was off the apartment.  After about 5 minutes of petting and scratching, paying special attention to his ears, she rose from the floor and turned on the radio.  Her timing was perfect.  

"Good morning, New York!" came an irritatingly cheerful voice.  "It's 3:15 in the Big Apple and the temperature is a chilly 29 degrees."  Elise grimaced, a reaction to both the upbeat dj and how cold it was outside.  

"Ok, I've heard all I need to hear" she told Max as she turned the radio off again.  The 10-second cheerleader weather report was all she could take in the morning.  Realizing that it was still too cold in the apartment to take her shower, she fixed herself breakfast.  Eggs, toast, bacon and orange juice were her standard meal.  She always loaded up on breakfast because of the physicality of her skating.  She needed the calories to keep up her stamina and they were always burned off by the time she was finished practicing for the day anyway.  She saved the light eating for the end of the day, usually salads, vegetables and grilled chicken or fish.

Rinsing her dishes and putting them in the dishwasher, she took her shower and then headed back to her bedroom.  Opening up the closet, she pulled out her practice clothes for the day.  A tank-top style leotard, tights and a rather bulky sweater were what she would wear today.  The sweater would come off sometime during the day when she had worked up a sweat, but the rink would be cold at first.  Digging in her dresser drawer, she came up with leg warmers and socks.  The leg warmers would be put in her bag, as she would don them later.  The socks were paired with jeans that would go over the tights for the 15 minute walk to the rink.  Dressing quickly, she pulled her long, chestnut hair into a high ponytail.  Elise looked closely at herself in the mirror for a moment, her brown eyes serious.  

"How much longer are you going to evade the issue?" she asked her reflection.  "Nope, not going to deal with it today either, are you?" she sighed.  Shaking her head in self-disgust, she turned to her bed and sat down to tie on her sneakers.  The first item on her mother's "Elise's Safety Checklist" was crossed off.  A good pair of running shoes, the operative word being "running."

Moving back into the kitchen, Elise pulled her bag off the shelf and began to fill it with what she would need for the day.  Her leg warmers, her extra pair of gloves to keep her hands warm, bottles of water and snacks to keep her energy up for the 8 hours she would be practicing.  Then she threw in the next 2 items on the checklist, her cellphone and a can of pepper spray.  Her wallet was already in her bag, containing her id's, credit card and her $40 in "mugger money."  Her mother made her swear on her U2 collection that she would never spend it, having this fear that her daughter might have major problems if a mugger wasn't happy with the contents of her wallet.  Last, but not least, she tested the personal alarm that hung from the belt loop of her jeans.  The assault on her ears told her that it was working perfectly.  Throwing on her lined jean jacket, pulling on her gloves and putting on the ski-type headband to keep her ears warm, she was ready.  She grabbed two sets of keys from the table by the door.  One set was for the apartment, the other was to let herself into the rink.  Snapping off the lights, she said good-bye to Max, making a little kissy sound that brought him running to the door.  

"Sorry, bud, but you're an indoor cat.  Catch you later, and go easy on the mice."  She closed her door and walked down the hall to let herself out into the cold, dark New York morning.

From his position across the street from her building, Zan straightened when the lights went out. Stepping quietly into the shadows, he waited ....



[ edited 1 time(s), last at 4-Jul-2002 9:05:39 PM ]
posted on 5-Jul-2002 9:32:42 PM
Well, I have a chance to put in another chapter before I go on vacation. Yep, the family is going Up North, and getting everyone ready is a killer. Why does it always fall on the mom to get everything organized and ready to go, and then dad shows up and spends 10 minutes throwing it in the car? There's something just not right there ...

Thanks for the awesome feedback. If things go well (ha!), I might be able to update one more time before we leave.


Chapter 2

When Elise stepped out of the apartment building, she stopped at the head of the stairs to catch her breath.  There was just something about that first blast of cold air that made her breathing hitch.  Turning around to face the building, she put her foot up on the wall and did some stretching exercises, first one leg, then the other.  Satisfied that the combination of cold air and brisk walking wouldn't give her a cramp because she had stretched properly, she walked down the stairs and then paused to look around carefully.  The last and biggest phase of her mother's safety checklist kicked into place.  

During the summer, when her mother, Karen, realized that she was sending her baby into New York alone, she panicked at first.  There was no way that her mother could leave Elise's younger siblings, plus the family needed both her income and her husband's to keep above water.  And Elise had this determined look on her face that said she not only was going to do this, but she was relishing the idea of doing it on her own.  

"My baby's flying the coop," she thought.  So she did the only thing she could think of.  She called Elise's favorite cousin Greg and invited him to spend the summer.  

Greg was Elise's oldest cousin.  At 25, he had done a 4-year stint in the Marines and had just gotten out a few weeks before.  The timing was perfect.  Greg was looking for a free summer before getting a job in the communications field, so it didn't take much persuading on Karen's part to have him stay with them.  She didn't even charge him room and board.  In exchange for self-defense lessons, he could stay for free.  And Elise had a fabulous time, learning most of what Greg knew about hand-to-hand combat. It probably put her in the best shape of her life, because he was brutal as a trainer.  Elise had a special place in Greg's heart and he worried almost as much as her mother did, so he was thorough in his instruction.  Elise probably knew at least 10 ways to kill a man if she had to.

As Elise started the 15 minute walk to the rink, she was on total alert.  Her eyes moved constantly, checking for anything threatening.  Her walk was relaxed, but she was ready for any form of trouble.  And as she walked that first block, she waited.  

"Soon, soon ... right about now," she thought, and then she felt it.  It washed over her, warm, protective, concerned.  The feeling that someone was watching her ... no, not watching her, but watching out for her.  

She remembered the first time she felt it, two weeks before.  She had been in New York for about 4 weeks, going through the same routine every morning, when she had that feeling come over her for the first time.  Someone was watching her and she almost panicked.  Elise upped her pace, ever on the alert, and made it to the rink in record time.  Breathlessly, she put her key in the lock, let herself in, and locked the door again.  Then she waited for something to happen, her whole body tense.  But nothing did, and the watched feeling went away almost immediately.  It took awhile to calm down, and then her more practical nature came to the fore and she dismissed it as an overactive imagination.  

The next morning she was wary and again in a heightened state of awareness.  And the same thing happened.  About a block into her walk, she felt that presence, watching her.  This time, she didn't walk to the rink, she jogged.  And once more, the presence left after she was in the building.  Afterward, Elise sat down and tried to objectively look at what had happened, at what she felt.  The presence didn't seem at all threatening.  In fact, it seemed just the opposite, as if whoever it was that was watching her was making sure that she was ok.  

"I must be losing my mind," she thought.  

The feeling was there every morning since, and the more time went on, the less threatening Elise found it.  After two weeks, she found herself looking for it every day. She had the idea that she would miss it if it wasn't there.  But now that the threatening aspect of the feeling had died away, her curiosity was asserting itself.  Who in the world was watching her?

As she walked, she turned the dilemma over in her mind.  Someone was obviously making sure that she got to the rink ok, but did she really want to know who it was?  Would it be better to pretend she had no idea, although she probably gave that game away in the first few days that it happened?  Or did she really want to know?

Elise let the feeling wash over her again.  It found a place deep inside of her and shimmered and danced.  Oh yeah, she needed to know.  But how?  

"Okay, let's start small and see what happens," she thought.  Reaching the door of the rink, she put her key in and unlocked it.  Then, instead of slipping right in, she paused deliberately and looked down the half block to the corner and waited.  And waited a little longer.  Just when she had decided that this wasn't going to work, a figure appeared under the streetlight.  He was tall, young, with spiky dark hair.  His stance was loose and easy, but there was definitely an underlying strength.  And the streetlight glinted on what could only be piercings.  

"Piercings," Elise breathed, enthralled.  After a few moments of looking at each other, he sketched her a small salute.  Elise gave a small wave in return and then let herself in and locked the door behind her.  As she leaned back against the door, a phrase from an Alannis Morisette song came to mind.  

"Ooh, ooh, this could get messy ..." she thought to herself as a delighted little shiver skittered down her spine.
posted on 13-Jul-2002 8:53:50 PM
I'm back from Up North, having left the rest of the family up there. I'm here for about 12 hours before I catch a flight down to FLA to visit my dad, so this will be tricky. I can post Chapter 3 no problem, but Chapter 4 is ready and I could just cut loose with that one too. Then I have 5 days in the land of endless sun and humidity to figure out Chapter 5. Hmm, what to do, what to do?

As a side note, this chapter includes my absolute favorite Bob Seger song, one that I actually heard on the oldies station Up North. I just love "Turn the Page" and it seemed perfect for what my character is going thru, being at a sort of crossroads in her life. How lucky that Zan is there to help her make up her mind, in a left-handed sort of way. And that's it for hints.


Chapter 3

"No, no, no Miss Ryan.  Your approach to that jump is wrong.  There is not enough speed going into it.  You will never complete the rotations with enough left over to land correctly."

"Miss Ryan, your foot placement in this spin is not right.  Your spin must be more compact, and it starts with your feet.  Small, tight circles.  Tight.  That is what keeps your body in place.  Appearance, Miss Ryan, appearance starts with technique."

"Your combination spin is rather good, but your back needs to be straighter, and you need more speed when you start so that you can carry it through to the end."

It had been like this since Elise started with her new coach in the middle of September.  She had learned everything that she could with her old coach in Houghton, Michigan, and it was now time to move on to the next level.  If she was to learn enough to be competitive in more than regional events, she needed refinement.  That was why she was here.  Natalya Moskova was one of the best in the country, and Elise had basically auditioned for her at the recommendation of her previous coach.  Madame saw enough talent in Elise to take her on and get her ready for national competition.  Elise had never worked as hard in her life as she had these last 6 weeks.  Some aspects of her skating were fine, others needed some improvement, and some moves needed to be totally broken down and built back up again with the proper technique.

"Miss Ryan, I want you to focus on the double axel this morning.  We need to correct your approach, and we will work on the speed of the lead-in.  Miss Ryan.  Miss Ryan!"

"I'm sorry Madame.  My thoughts were wandering.  What would you like me to do again?"  Elise bit her lip, knowing she was caught daydreaming.  That encounter in the morning was something that she just couldn't put out of her mind.  It was all she could think about.  The feelings now had a face to go with them.  Not that she got a good look at his face, because the lighting was definitely not the best.  But what she had seen had evoked a response in her that went right to the pit of her stomach ... lower, even.  She brought herself up short with a mental scolding.

"Stop it!  This isn't the time or place to start mooning over someone you haven't even met."

"...yet," her mind continued.  Elise brought her hands up to her ponytail and clenched her fists in her hair, hard.

"Aargh!!  Enough!" Elise thought as she looked over at her coach.  Ooh, not good.  Madame looked exceedingly pissed off, if there was such as expression for such a proper Russian lady.  

"I'm sorry, Madame.  I won't let it happen again" she said, trying to soothe Madame's obvious irritation.  

"I hope not, Miss Ryan.  You cannot afford lapses in concentration.  Let's continue with this jump.  I want to see some real speed in your approach.  Begin."

The rest of the day was spent in total concentration on the faulty double axel.  Madame had been appalled at Elise's execution.  This was one of the moves that needed total overhaul and by the time the session was over, she was nearly exhausted and so frustrated she could barely speak.  

"That is enough for today, Miss Ryan.  Take some time to cool down and we will start anew tomorrow" Madame said.

Elise nodded her head.  "Thank you, Madame.  I'll see you in the morning."

Finally, she was alone.  Elise made a few rounds of the rink, then stopped by the ledge where she had left her towel, her bottle of water and her boom box.  Blotting her face and taking a drink, she pulled out one of her father's old cd's.  Her dad absolutely loved classic rock, so Elise had been raised on it.  When she left for New York, she had gone through her father's collection and pulled out a few cds that had special feeling for her.  And there was one song that she played over and over again lately.  One that spoke to her heart and seemed to convey everything she was feeling at this moment.

She popped in the cd and let Bob Seger's voice wash over her.  Oh sure, Metallica had done a remake, but she preferred the original.  "Turn the Page" haunted her lately.  To her, it was the story of a singer who had become jaded.  The joy of what he was doing  had become a routine that he went thru because it was expected.  The sameness of life on the road was choking him.  Letting the music take her, she launched into her own interpretation of the song.  

In a darkened corner of the rink, Zan watched her, his amber eyes following her every move.  He was smitten, as he had been from the first moment he laid eyes on her.  In the beginning, he had kept his distance, worried only for her safety.  She never knew that he kept tabs on her from almost the first day she arrived.  But the distance came to be too much, so he allowed her to catch a feel of his presence.  His lips quirked into a lopsided smile, remembering her reactions.  She was so damn cute, the way she didn't panic, but speed-walked or jogged to the rink.  He kept up easily and saw her safely inside.  He knew that she was aware of him now, felt the change in her feelings as the weeks went on.  He didn't worry her in the least anymore; in fact, he would venture the guess that she looked for his presence.  That idea became reality this morning.  She wanted him to show himself.  He debated, because he knew that they were different and that nothing could ever come of it.  But he had been so damn lonely all his life, and this one girl had captured his imagination as no other could ever hope to.  So he had finally decided to give in, and stepped into the light.  That small wave she gave him before she went inside nearly brought him to his knees, a reaction that startled him with it's intensity.  

So he brooded as he watched her.  Where did it go from here?  And should it?

Unaware of his presence, Elise continued to express her conflicted state to the raspy voice of Bob Seger.  Where did she go from here?  And should she?

(Turn the Page)
On a long and lonesome highway, east of Omaha
You can listen to the engines moanin' out it's one old song
You can think about the woman, or the girl you knew the night before
But your thoughts will soon be wanderin', the way they always do
When you're ridin' 16 hours, and there's nothin' much to do
And you don't feel much like ridin', you just wish the trip was
through

Here I am, on the road again, there I am, up on the stage
There I go, playin' star again, there I go, turn the page

So you walk into this restaurant, strung out from the road
And you feel the eyes upon you, as you're shakin' off the cold
You pretend it doesn't bother you, but you just want to explode
Yeah, most times you can't hear 'em talk, other times you can
All the same old cliché's, is it woman, is it man
And you always seem outnumbered, you don't dare make a stand

But here I am, on the road again, there I am, up on the stage
here I go, playin' star again, there I go, turn the page

Out there in the spotlight, you're a million miles away
every ounce of energy, you try and give away
as the sweat pours out your body, like the music that you play
Later in the evening, as you lie awake in bed
with the echoes of the amplifiers, ringing in your head
you smoke the day's last cigarette, remembering what she said

Here I am, on the road again, there I am, up on the stage
here I go, playin' star again, there I go, turn the page

[ edited 1 time(s), last at 13-Jul-2002 8:55:13 PM ]
posted on 14-Jul-2002 12:31:17 AM
Ok, since I love putting pressure on myself, I'm going to post Chapter 4 too before I leave. I hope being all hot and sweaty is conducive to getting Chapter 5 together in my head. It doesn't help that I have the middle and end of the story figured out and those parts are just begging to be written. Aargh!

Thank you all for the awesome feedback. This has been an interesting experience, since this is the first time I've ever written anything. Parts of the process are so much harder than I thought they'd be, and the feedback really does help to push me along. Thanks again.


Chapter 4

Elise was more than a little anxious as she finished up in the locker room. Her shower was quicker than usual, her hair still slightly damp from the hurried blow drying she gave it. No ponytail, leave it down, because it took too long to mess with it. She stuffed her things haphazardly in her bag, wanting nothing more to get out of the building and on the streets.

'Hold it,' she scolded herself. 'There's no reason for you to believe he's out there waiting for you. You've never felt him at this time of day.'

'Ah, but you've never seen him before today either,' she thought, and she gave up even pretending to be in control. Grabbing her jacket, she left the locker room and was out the door. She didn't have to worry about locking up, because there were still a few coaches and skaters that had ice time later in the day. She paused, and looked around carefully. Disappointment washed over her as she realized that he wasn't there. She started on the walk home, berating herself inwardly for acting like a some 13 year old in the throes of her first crush.

It was a beautful day, the kind of day that comes in the very late fall that makes you want to take your time and savor it. There were still a few leaves on the trees, the sun was brilliant and she was comfortable in her sweater and clean tank top. In no hurry, she strolled down the sidewalk and decided to indulge herself and get a cappucino. The small coffee shop that she had discovered was a favorite of hers, sort of the halfway point between the rink and her apartment, and a place to stop and watch the world go by.

Opening the door, she smiled at the girl behind the counter.

"Hi Angie, how's life treating you today?" she asked.

"Same shit, different day, Elise. How about you? You want your usual?" Angie responded with a slight roll of her eyes. Angie was a regular sweetheart when you got to know her, but she had a rather abrasive manner. Still, there was never any bullshitting with her and if there was one thing Elise appreciated, it was honesty. Angie had it in abundance.

"Well, discounting the fact that I fell on my ass about a million times today, things are good. Yeah, I'll take the usual, but make it to go. I think I'm going to stop at that little park on the way and drink it there. Hopefully, I'll be able to sit." Elise had to restrain the impulse to rub her behind.

"It'll be up in a minute," Angie responded. "You want anything else to go with that?"

"No, just the ..."

Elise's voice trailed off as the familiar feeling washed over her again. Holy moley, he was near. She felt breathless as she let the sensations play over her skin. She was lost in it, she was bathed in it, she was ...

"Elise! Can you come back from whatever planet you're on? It's ready. That'll be $2.50," Angie said impatiently.

"Huh? Oh, yeah, right. $2.50. You know what, Angie? Can I have another one to go too? I'm sorry, but I forgot that I was meeting someone," Elise stammered.

'Pull it together, Elise,' she thought to herself. Her mouth was suddenly dry, her tummy felt like it had dropped to her feet, she was dazed. 'This is so not good. I haven't even met him. He could be the asshole of the ages for all I know'

"Earth to Elise," Angie sighed. "Your order is ready. That'll be $5.00."

Fishing thru her wallet, she came up with the correct amount, slung her bag back over her shoulder and grabbed the two cups of cappucino. Pushing the door open, she was back on the sidewalk and looking around expectantly.

There was no one there.

Her heart fell, her expectations dashed. What now? Without thinking about it, she started off in the direction of park, detouring momentarily to place the extra cappucino on top of a nearby garbage can, mentally sticking her tongue out at it. It was just a small park, only about 2 blocks big, but it was a place to watch people go by and make her feel like she was part of the world, instead of being this driven skater with no life beyond the oval of the ice rink.

Once she found a park bench, she rather gingerly sat down. Yep, her ass was killing her today. Setting her bag on the ground beside her, she pulled her legs up underneath her to ease the burden on her sore butt and sipped her drink. She stared at the ground without really seeing it, her mind a million miles away.

She was so lost in thought that the battered pair of boots that stepped into her line of sight didn't even register at first. Finally startled out of her reverie, she looked up. She wasn't sure what she had expected when she saw him earlier in the morning, because the lighting and distance didn't really give her a decent picture in her mind of what he looked like. But her imagination didn't even begin to do him justice.

Probably 6 feet tall, he was lean and well muscled, if his arms were any indication. Elise swallowed hard, her mouth gone suddenly dry again. His face was nothing short of arresting. Under dark brows, his eyes were an incredible shade of amber. These were eyes that she couldn't look away from; they seemed to see right into her soul. Pulling herself out of his gaze, her eyes fell to his mouth. Her imagination immediately ran along the lines of how it would feel to kiss that mouth, and she bit her lower lip uncertainly. Her mind vaguely registered the spiked hair, goatee and tatoos, inwardly snickering at what her mother would think.

Elise suddenly focused on the to go cup he held in his hand and all of her previous disapointment channeled itself into irritation.

"Nice of you to finally show up," she snapped.

"So this *was* for me," Zan's lopsided smile made her weak in the knees. Good thing she was sitting down.

"Well it was, until you pulled that 'now you feel him, now you don't' act again. Then it became the property of New York," Elise huffed, turning her head away.

Zan stepped onto the park bench and planted his feet next to her, sitting on the top of the back of it. Crap, that gave him a height advantage. Now she'd have to look up at him. That is if she decided to talk to him at all.

"Don't be like that. Could be I was just shy," Zan's voice was filled with amusement.

But actually, that wasn't far from the truth. He hadn't had much experience with the opposite sex, other than Lonnie and Ava. Somehow he doubted that he could draw on any interactions with them as a basis for getting to know this incredible girl. He'd always kept his distance from the earth girls, as he called them, seeing no future and therefore unwilling to waste his time. But all that changed on that night 6 weeks ago when he first saw her. There was an inner recognition, almost an internal alignment that took place. He realized that while he never bought into Ava's claim of previous marital bliss, and he had always thought that it meant that he would be alone, part of him was always waiting for someone else. Something deep inside of him somehow knew she was out there.

Elise gave a small laugh, the kind that a person makes when they are trying to stay mad, and hearing something funny makes it hard for them to hold on to the anger. She leaned back and looked up into his face. Now it was his turn to be floored. He had watched over her at night, and sometimes snuck into the rink and watched her from a distance, but never this up close and personal. She took his breath away. Her hair, which he had never seen out of a ponytail before, was a chestnut waterfall of silk. His fingers literally ached to touch it. Her eyes were a deep shade of brown, but you could see little gold flecks in them if you looked closely enough. And wonder of wonders, she had the lightest dusting of freckles across the bridge of her nose. He was enchanted. Her mouth was a dream, the most kissable lips he'd ever seen. She was petite and slender and he just bet that they would fit perfectly together.

"So, I'm forgiven ... back in your good graces ... all that jazz?" he asked.

"Nope. You'll have to work harder than that," Elise scoffed.

"Damn, you're a hard woman to please. What do you need? It's cold out here in the land of the unforgiven. I need to come in and warm up." Zan had to fight the grin that was begging to be turned loose. He struggled to look appropriately abject.

"It won't cost you much," Elise raised an eyebrow, "but the entrance fee starts with telling me who you are and why you're following me."
posted on 19-Jul-2002 1:27:42 AM
FLA was hot and sticky, and hot and sticky does nothing to motivate me. However, I came home to a Canadian cold front that came thru, so I was a little more inspired to write. I'm done with frittering around the country for awhile. It's nice, but after awhile I just want my own house and my own bed.

Thank you for all the feedback that you've given me. I originally had this idea going thru my head because I wished that the writers would have done more with Zan. They introduced him, and then they left him hanging there, which was soo unsatisfactory. Zan deserves better than ending up underneath some truck.


Chapter 5

Zan hesitated for a moment. It was on the tip of his tongue to give her some flippant response, but looking down at her rather serious face, he paused.

All his life, he'd been hiding behind the walls that he built to protect himself. He'd put up barriers to conceal himself from the world, not needing anyone to draw him a picture of how things would be if he were ever discovered to be an alien. Everything from making the 6 O'clock News with film at 11, to headlining the tabloids ("I'm Having My Alien Boyfriend's Baby") came to mind. But he only thought that way in his more facetious moments. Most of the time, visions of alien torture/autopsy were in the forefront of his imagination ... his very vivid imagination.

But his strongest and most impenetrable barriers were reserved for his "family." He didn't trust them, not a single one of them. There were no finer feelings among any of them; they were stunted emotionally. Lonnie and Rath had what could be called a mutually beneficial relationship, which only meant that they humped like bunnies whenever they could, while Lonnie used Rath for other things on an as-needed basis. As far as Zan could tell, either Rath was totally unaware of what Lonnie was doing, or the sex was so good that Rath didn't care. As for Ava, there was something going on there, but he was unable to pinpoint what it was. Just intangible things that didn't add up right, but made him nervous.

Now he was face to face with the girl of his dreams, and the desire to show himself, his real self, was a force that couldn't seem to be contained. The need to step out from behind the walls and show himself to her was gut-wrenching in it's intensity. Was it so wrong for him to want to have one person in this world know who he really was?

Yes ... it was.

Who he was, what he was, was dangerous. No matter how much he wanted to confess it all, he couldn't. He knew he shouldn't involve himself in her life, but he couldn't stop himself from taking this small piece for himself. Zan wouldn't tell her about his alien side, but the side of him that was human craved the contact with her. After years of denying himself, he couldn't do it anymore.

'Just a little time with her,' he told himself. 'It wouldn't hurt anyone ...'

"Zan," he said quietly. "My name is Zan."

Elise immediately sensed the change in his attitude. The lighthearted exchange between them was fun, but insubstantial. However, this was a pivotal moment. What was happening now was going to take her places that were deep, she could feel it right down to her bones. Why she felt that way, she couldn't really say. But she knew. Step up or step off.

"Mine's Elise," she said softly.

"Pretty name ... it suits you," Zan said.

Elise could feel the blood rushing to her cheeks. That small compliment made her blush and she dropped her gaze to her hands still holding her cup of cappucino.

Zan shifted from the back of the bench to sit next to her, his eyes intent on her face.

"You're blushing," he said incredulously, as if it were some phenomenon that he had never encountered before.

"I know. It's something I thought I'd have outgrown by now," Elise sighed. "My family thinks it's just the cutest thing, but it drives me crazy."

Elise turned her head to look at Zan while she spoke, and she once again became lost in his eyes. She couldn't look away, her heart beginning to pound. The late autumn breeze lifted a lock of her hair and blew it across her eyes. Elise raised her hand to push it away, but Zan beat her to it. He tucked the wayward strands behind her ear, his hand very gentle.

Zan's voice was low. "You had a ..."

"...hair thing," Elise finished his sentence.

"Yeah."

"Zan, why have you been following me?" Elise asked.

"Doing my part to prove chivalry is alive and well?" Zan responded, his voice slightly amused again.

Elise just raised her brow, her expression skeptical.

"Ok, I don't sleep very well, so I'm out at night alot. I saw you leave your building one morning and it worried me ... you all by yourself, I mean. So I figured I'd make sure nothing happened to you. End of confession," he shrugged.

"Zan, I can take care of myself. I'm a big girl now," Elise pointed out gently.

"Famous last words," Zan retorted, his own voice skeptical now.

"It's nice to know that chivalry isn't dead and all, but you don't need to follow me. I really can watch out for myself," Elise said.

'Great,' Zan thought to himself. 'It's the brush-off. Nicely delivered, but the brush-off just the same. If she can take care of herself, what she's really saying in a very diplomatic way is that she wants me to step off.'

Zan was devastated. This first step he had taken toward coming out from behind his walls had been rejected. Maybe it was just as well. He knew it shouldn't go anywhere, but he couldn't stop himself. It was selfish on his part to want someone to care for, so it would be better to have it end right away.

Then Elise continued, and all his hope came rushing back.

"I don't need someone to lurk in the shadows and watch over me, as sweet as that is, but I do really want someone to walk with me in the morning and keep me company," she said with a small smile.

[ edited 9 time(s), last at 19-Oct-2002 9:26:24 PM ]
posted on 19-Oct-2002 9:33:07 PM
Okay ... board changes, so my stuff got lost. Can't have that now, can we? Zan should never, ever be lost in the shuffle, so I'm gonna go find him and bring him back. This will take awhile.

I want to start working on my next chapter, but my regular writing muse seems to have her nose all out of joint because my nookie muse has had center stage for so long. This could be a problem ....


Chapter 6

Zan let out a slow breath of relief, even though his thoughts were more along the lines that he was in deep shit. That panicked minute he'd had, when he thought that it was over before it even got started, told him that.

Elise felt awkward for a moment. She had pushed it ... letting him know beyond any doubt that she wanted his company. Inwardly, she was cringing. Rather than wait for him to tell her what he intended on doing, she changed the subject.

"Are you a native New Yorker?" she asked.

"You mean you can't tell by the accent?" Zan teased her. "I could tell right away that you aren't from around here. Where're you from?"

"Midwest. Upper Michigan actually, the land of endless snow. When we get alot of it, it'll come up to my waist at least, but the skiing is great," Elise informed him.

"What brings you here? And why are you running around the city at all hours of the morning? Gotta admit, it's been buggin' me," Zan inquired.

"I'm a skater. I've been doing it since I was 7. When it's winter 9 months out of the year, you have to get involved in some sort of winter sport or just go stir crazy. We're just a skating family. My younger brothers are involved in pee-wee hockey. They're 11 and 8 ... Matthew and Mikey. I miss them, even though they seem to feel it's their mission to make my life hell on earth," Elise said with a smile.

"Anyway, I've supposedly learned everything there is to know from my original coach, and now I'm here to see if I can do anything beyond regional stuff," Elise frowned.

"Not a good thing?" Zan asked, seeing that her light mood had changed like quicksilver to something reminiscent of her attitude on the ice before.

"I don't know, that's the whole trouble. I was so sure this is what I wanted, but now that I'm here, I'm not sure anymore. It involves more work, which isn't a surprise, but it's also a more cutthroat approach. I'm not happy with it, but I don't know that I'm supposed to be happy about it. I had my life all planned out, and now the plan doesn't feel right anymore. It's confusing. And then there's the fact that my parents are putting their butts in a financial sling to let me do this, so I'd feel guilty if I told them that I'm having second thoughts. I just keep going round and round with this and I don't know what to do," Elise explained.

"Oh well," she sighed, "I'm sure it'll come to me eventually. I just hope my folks don't kill me if I let it go. What about you? What do you do?" Elise was more than a little curious.

"For a living? I know a guy who does motorcycle repairs. Harley-Davidsons, mainly. I work for him here and there when I need the money," Zan informed her.

"Zan and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance?" Elise teased.

"Ha, ha ... funny girl," he said.

"Well, it is a classic," she snickered in response. His laugh, low and deep, sent an ecstatic little shiver down her spine.

"Do you know what I miss most since I came here?" Elise turned to face him and pulled her knees up to her chest. "Trees. I'm an Up North girl, and I'm used to trees everywhere. Sometimes you can drive for miles in certain parts of where I live and it's just trees that go on forever," her voice had a nostalgic tone.

Zan gave her a speculative look, and then suddenly got to his feet. He held out his hand to her.

"Come on. We gotta jet," he urged.

Elise tilted her head to look up at him. Hesitating only briefly, she grabbed her bag and put her hand in his, allowing him to pull her smoothly to her feet. His hand was warm, his grasp firm as he closed his fingers around hers. Once she was standing, he merely repositioned his hand, lacing her fingers through his. Every part of her hand that he was touching felt electric. Their palms were pressed together, and the phrase from Romeo and Juliet came to her mind.

"... and palm to palm is holy palmer's kiss," she thought.

"Where are we going?" Elise asked. Not that she cared at this point. Anywhere, nowhere, it didn't matter to her as long as Zan held her hand for the duration.

"It's a surprise," is all that he would tell her, "but you have to ditch the bag. We'll stop at your place so you can unload it"

They made a quick pitstop at her apartment, with Elise running in to drop her bag inside. Max came at the sound of her entrance, but she just shut the door quickly. That's all she'd need, having her cat get out into the hall and having to chase him down. She flew down the hall, passing the elevator to hurry down the stairs. Zan was waiting for her when she opened the outer door, casually leaning up against the wall.

"Ready," she beamed, as he reached for her hand again. When he threaded his fingers through hers once again, she wondered how such a little thing could feel so right. They walked down the streets together, Zan shortening his stride so as not to hurry her. They had all afternoon. The few blocks they traversed led to the entrance to the subway station. Leading her down the stairs, Zan felt in his pocket for some tokens, which he inserted in the machine to allow them to pass.

The planets were aligned, because the subway train was there. Zan led her through the doors, but all the seats were taken.

"Looks like we're standing," Elise said, as she took a spot near one of the poles. The doors closed quickly and the train jerked to a start, causing her to stumble.

"I got you," Zan said in a low voice, as he reached out to steady her. Elise took a tight grip on the pole and he came up behind her. He reached around her, waist-high, to grab the pole with both hands. His arms now encircled her, and she could feel his warmth at her back, so close. Elise closed her eyes and swallowed hard.

"You okay?" his voice was quiet, his lips just a whisper from her ear.

"Yeah," she breathed.

Much too soon for her liking, Zan told her that it was time to get off. He took her hand to lead her up an escalator to another level, where they waited for another train. Her curiosity was peaking, but she didn't ask him again what their destination was. With subway rides like the one before, she really didn't care if they went all the way to California.

The next train was also crowded, so they had to stand yet again. This time, Elise took her grip on the pole right away, and Zan was right behind her, his arms encircling her just as before.

"Just making sure you don't get knocked off your feet," he said.

"Thanks," she turned her head to look up and him and say, and her voice faded at his nearness. Her eyes met his and neither one could look away, becoming lost in each other.

'How does he do that?' she thought. 'All I have to do is look at him and my heart pounds, my mouth gets dry, my palms are sweaty, my stomach rumbles. I am such a goner.'

For Zan, this was uncharted territory. Every cell in his body knew her, wanted her. There were so many feelings running through him that there was no way to identify them all. He desired her, was possessive of her, wanted to protect her, wanted to know every part of her ... body and soul. She could hold his heart in the palm of her hand. This was what he waited his whole life for, and even knowing the little that he knew at this moment, he understood now why Ava could never fit, would never fit.

The subway jerking to a start brought them both back to the surface again. Elise smiled when Zan closed that last small space between them by taking a step forward.

"Relax," he said in a husky voice. Elise leaned her head back against his shoulder and allowed him to cradle her with his body, adjusting to the sway of the train.

'I could stay this way forever,' she thought idly, surrounded by his warmth, his strength.

She felt so perfect in his arms, her scent filling his senses. Her hair smelled like strawberries and vanilla and was soft against his cheek. Her petite frame fit against his as if she were made to order for him. It was with a regretful note in his voice that Zan later informed her that it was time for them to get off.

Taking her hand, he led her off the subway and up the stairs, the sign saying 59 St & Columbus.

"Close your eyes," he said when they were about to come out on the street. Elise shut them obediently and caught her breath when she heard his whisper in her ear.

"Do you trust me?" Zan asked. Elise nodded her head, unable to speak.

Zan led her up the last few stairs and then a few paces further. He turned her slightly, so she would be facing in the direction he wished, and then again stepped behind her and wrapped his arms around her waist.

"Okay, open your eyes."

Elise did as he asked and just stared at the tableau before her ... Central Park in all it's glory.

"Trees," she said in an delighted voice.
posted on 19-Oct-2002 9:43:57 PM
Chapter 7

Zan strode down the darkened streets, unwilling to do what he knew needed to be done, which was simply to go back to the crib. Never a fan of what he derisively christened the "hellhole" before, to go back there now was even more of an effort than usual.

As he walked, he thrust his hands in his pockets, slowing as he felt something unfamiliar there. He pulled out the item, letting it rest in his palm. It was a small ring, a slim band of silver. The precious metal glowed under the rays of the streetlights, and his mind drifted back to the afternoon he spent with her, replaying events that were nothing short of revelations to him.

Zan stood behind Elise as she drank in the panorama of Central Park. She was totally still, resting easily in his grasp. Eager to see her reaction, he turned his head to look down and catch a glimpse of her expression. She was staring, her eyes wide and brimming with tears.

Damn, had he done something wrong? This was the last thing he expected. Lonnie never, ever cried for any reason, but Ava only cried when she was upset or angry or hurt. The last thing he had wanted to do with his surprise was cause any of those emotions. He screwed up.

"Lise?," he said uncertainly.

Elise turned in his embrace and threw her arms around his neck, holding on to him tightly.

"I'm sorry," he muttered, needing to fix whatever mistake he had made. "I didn't mean to upset you. I wanted to make you happy, not make you cry. We can just go ..."

"No, Zan, no ... you didn't upset me, not in the least. This is one of the sweetest things that anyone has ever done for me," Elise was anxious to reassure him. She pulled back from him so she could meet his gaze and he released his grip on her. She gave a small laugh and sniffled at the same time.

Zan reached out his hand and cradled her cheek.

"So this," he questioned, using the pad of his thumb to wipe away a glistening tear, "this is a good thing?" still a little unsure of her feelings.

Elise nodded, and in her eyes he could see the truth.

"Yes, this is a very good thing," she said in gentle affirmation.

Elise was in high spirits after that, her enthusiasm wending it's way to him. She wanted to explore as much of Central Park as she could. After all, she told him, there might not be another day as perfect as this one. They walked for hours, content in the day and in each other's company. Elise would constantly tug on his hand, wanting to change directions when something caught her interest. She would scuff her feet as she walked, kicking up leaves. She made him take her to the small petting zoo when she saw it up ahead, delighting in the animals that were there and laughing when one would tickle her palm while she fed it. And she had no qualms about letting him know when she wanted to eat, too.

They had been sitting on a backless bench, drinking in the late afternoon sun, when he heard her stomach growl.

"Are you hungry?" he asked her, his voice holding a hint of amusement.

"Yep," she replied, refusing to be embarrassed. "I haven't really had anything to eat since about 11:00 this morning, so I'm starving."

"How about a hot dog? I can just get a couple from that vendor over there," Zan asked her.

"Perfect. I want one with ketchup, mustard and relish," she ordered. "No onions," she wrinkled her nose.

"Hold the onions ... got it. Be right back."

He brought back two hot dogs and a couple of bags of chips, along with a bottle of water for her and a bottle of cherry coke for himself. He sat down, giving her the items he'd purchased for her and started pulling small packets of hot sauce from his pocket.

"Here," he said, "hold this." He'd opened his hot dog, but left it laying in the wrapper as he handed it to her. He proceeded to tear open the packets of sauce and liberally drench his food. She eyed his laden hot dog in disbelief.

"You're really going to eat that?" she asked.

"Yeah."

"And you're going to live to tell the tale?"

"Un-huh."

"I've gotta tell you, Zan, I don't know CPR. If you cease to breathe because of all that tobasco, you're on your own," she told him.

He stopped short at the vision of her performing CPR on him. Her soft lips closing over his mouth, exchanging her breath for his ...

Mentally shaking himself, he finished what he was doing and took his hot dog back from her. She watched with interest as he took his first bite. It was just right. He waved away her offer of her water bottle, but paused in mid-chew to put his finger under her chin. He gently pushed up her jaw to close her slightly open mouth, and then swallowed his bite.

"Didn't your mother ever tell you not to watch people eat?" he teased.

Elise pointed to his food and shook her head.

"My mom," she informed him in all seriousness, "never saw anything like that when she made up that rule."

Once they had finished the small meal, they continued to sit on the bench, feeling no need to explore any further. The sun had gone down and it was getting dark. Elise was sitting cross-legged, facing Zan as he straddled his seat. The breeze had picked up, blowing her hair back from her animated face. Curious, he reached out and grazed the back of his finger along her soft cheek.

"Who do you take after in your family, your mom or your dad?" he asked.

Elise gave a slight shrug of her shoulders and looked away, her demeanor becoming more serious.

"Neither, really. My mom and dad aren't my real parents. I was adopted when I was 5 or 6 years old. They tell me I was an orphan, but I don't remember. My folks don't have much information to share with me about the whole thing, other than the fact that it was an out-of-state adoption," Elise had become rather subdued.

"Do you ever think about trying to find your birth parents?"

"No! Not at all. I love my mom and dad, and my brothers are the best siblings a girl could ever ask for. They've given me everything that I could ever want or need, including their unconditional love. I've never felt the need to look any farther than my own backyard for my place in the world. I don't think there is anyone else out there that could give me any more than they already have," Elise said with unshakable conviction.

"What if you changed your mind about looking for your real parents?" Zan wondered out loud.

"I know that they would support me if I felt the need to do that. That's just the way they are," she said.

Zan felt a twinge of envy. What must it be like to have someone love you like that, he wondered. Elise was sure that her adoptive parents would be behind her decision if she ever felt the need to search out her roots, even if it meant that they themselves would be hurt. How does it feel to have someone solidly in your corner? He wouldn't know. In his entire existance, he couldn't recall a single instance of loyalty from the other three aliens, unless it was in their best interests. What he had was the grudging acknowledgement of his position of leader, nothing more. And it was a shaky throne ...

Elise had shivered a little as the breeze blew, and Zan realized that, with the sun having gone down, it was getting chillier. He got up and extended his hand to help her to her feet.

"It's time to get you home," he said regretfully, not really wanting to end the day.

As they were leaving Central Park, Elise wanted to make a stop to use the restroom before getting on the subway again. Before she entered the ladies' room, she stopped to pull a ring off her right ring finger.

"Here," she said. "Could you hold this for me? I always take it off before I wash my hands and I am forever forgetting it. If I forget it there, I'll never see it again"

Zan held out his hand, and she dropped the band onto his palm. He had the ring in his grasp as he put his hands into his pockets, watching her walk away. He was mesmerized by the sway of her hips. When she came back to him, he closed his fingers around hers, warming her hand with his touch, and the ring was forgotten by both of them.

The ride home, in some ways, was much too short. Having to stand yet again, Zan knew she was tired; he could tell by the way she leaned back against him, allowing him to support her. Her head was again nestled against his shoulder, turned slightly toward him so that her temple rested against his jaw. Her eyes were closed, and there was the slightest expression of contentment on her face.

The walk back was made in comfortable silence. Zan had wrapped his arm around her, lending her what warmth he could, and Elise took full advantage of his unspoken offer, snuggling close with her arm around his lean waist. Walking her up to the door of her building, they were a little awkward.

"Will you be here tomorrow morning?" she asked softly. "I mean, in-front-of-my-face here, not hiding-in-the-shadows here."

"Absolutely."

A happy smile spread across her features. She closed the distance between them, reaching up to curl the fingers of one hand under his jaw, her other hand coming to rest on his hip. Standing on her toes, she pressed a soft kiss onto his lips, lingering for just a moment. Her mouth was warm and sweet, and when she began to break the contact, his lips chased hers, prolonging the moment, unwilling to let her go.

Elise finally pulled away with a regretful sigh, backing up to the door as her gaze clung to his. Digging into her pocket for her keys, she turned and unlocked the door. Turning back, she smiled.

"See you tomorrow."

He had watched her enter her building, and then turned to leave. It took everything in him to physically walk away. He had been lonely before. He knew it and understood it. But he had never realized the depths of his loneliness until her bright presence had come into his life. This taste of her company made him realize that his soul was literally starving.


And now, he had to go back to the crib. He had to. If he didn't do some damage control, they would be on him like a pack of dogs, sniffing out a weakness to be exploited. He wouldn't let their darkness touch her. He pulled in a shaky breath, mentally steeling himself to step back behind his walls. How could he go back to that desolation? He was reaching inside himself to find the strength when he put his hand in his pocket and pulled out her ring. He looked at it for a moment, this tangible link with her, and then his hand fisted around it gently. His talisman. He could do this ...

[ edited 1 time(s), last at 19-Oct-2002 9:47:35 PM ]
posted on 19-Oct-2002 9:50:48 PM
Chapter 8

The sound of the subway train and the blur of it's lights as it sped by formed a familiar backdrop for Zan as he picked his way along the path to the crib. The farther he walked, the more it faded, but it was always a constant in his life. The hum was forever there, meaning in some ways he never had a quiet moment.

He took his time, mentally pushing himself to get back behind his walls of protection. His hand, thrust in his pocket, constantly turned her ring over. It soothed him, calming him and allowing him to focus on what lay ahead. Just before the entrance, he stopped, drawing in a steady breath and passing his hand over his face. He stopped short, catching a whiff of her fragrance from his fingers. Breathing it in again, he closed his eyes, seeing her beautiful face before him.

Shit, he'd almost made a huge mistake.

Experimentally, he pulled the neck of his t-shirt up to his nose, sniffing. Her scent was there too.

Damn, damn, damn. If he could smell it, so could they. If he walked in there like this, the game would be over before it got started. They would know something was up and wouldn't rest until they found out about Elise. That could never, ever happen. Shaken, he walked over to the nearest wall and leaned against it, closing his eyes and taking deep, even breaths.

Okay, he'd almost made a major blunder, but it would be alright. He just had to get rid of the evidence, that's all. His heart wrenched at the thought of erasing a part of her from him, but he pushed that aside.

'You do what you have to,' he thought.

Zan pulled up his t-shirt once more, taking in her essence, and then he resolutely passed his hand over himself, removing all traces. His hand immediately went into his pocket to grasp hold of her ring. He still had this ...

Once again in command of himself, he entered the crib. He hated the place, this den of constant unrest. Everything in it had been used and abused at some time or other. Secondhand furniture filled the open area, ratty and dirty. The items chosen to "decorate" the walls were a hodgepodge of things that had at one time been rather nice, but were now just someone else's castoffs that had caught the fancy of one of the other aliens and brought back. And, hanging in a prominent place of honor, were the remains of the pods that they came from. Just another reminder of their differences from the rest of the planet.

In the rather dim light, he could see Ava sitting on a chair, her expression slightly accusing, as always. That was nothing new.

'How can you be so cruel,' she seemed to say wordlessly.

But Zan had long ago stopped feeling even the slightest twinge of guilt. Now, her constant reminders of their shared past, and her attempts to evoke some sort of response in him, brought him nothing but irritation.

"Ava," he gave her a short nod and moved his attention on to the other two. He missed the quick malice that skittered across her features before she schooled herself to show nothing but hurt at his rejection her.

His wary attention was now totally on Lonnie and Rath. They were sprawled on the couch, making out like the horndogs that they were. Check that. Rath was going after it with great enthusiasm. Lonnie, on the other hand, had the bored expression of someone who was tolerating what was happening. Zan laughed inwardly. She looked like she was thinking about king and country while engaged in something faintly unpleasant. His amusement ceased when her focus became fixed on him. The game was about to be engaged.

Suddenly annoyed, she pushed Rath away from her.

"Step off," she said dismissively, as she got to her feet.

Lonnie walked up to Zan and circled him slowly, her eyes mocking.

"So, the prodigal brother returns," she commented, all the while taking in every aspect of his appearance, as if it would give her clues as to what he'd been up to. Zan stood impassively as she looked him up and down. Seeing nothing out of the ordinary, her gaze snapped back to his face.

"You wound us, brother, with your seeming need to be away from us lately. Are we not good enough for you? After all, you're our fearless leader, and there's precious little leading to be seen from you lately," Lonnie's voice held a wealth of disdain.

"Yo, Duke, you picked the wrong time to go missing," Rath took up where Lonnie had left off.

Zan turned his head to address Rath.

"Why? What happened?" he asked.

"We got contact from the hood," Rath's voice was filled with excitement. "They want a summit. They want the Royal 4 there."

Zan's attention swung back to Lonnie. If he wanted details, he'd get them from her.

"True," she shrugged. "There's to be a summit. The hood's a war zone and the meeting's to hammer out some sort of peace. There're 4 other planets in on it, and they want to meet with us, even though Antar is ruled by some dude named Kivar. This Kivar has some sort of deal he'll put on the table, but we gotta be there," Lonnie explained.

Zan went on high alert.

"How'd they find us? How do they know who we are? They just walked right in here like they owned the place and want to meet with us? Where the hell have they been before this?" Zan was getting bad vibes about the whole thing.

"Yo, chill. It seems on the up-and-up. Freakin' little dude Nicholas says he's Kivar's rep. We get the shit from him. He shows tomorrow and we know more. And you, brother, are the man. You had best be here to do the deal. We all want off this pisshole of a planet and you will not screw this up for us," Lonnie's voice was commanding.

Zan rarely picked up the gauntlet that Lonnie threw down, but this one he couldn't let go unchallenged. He slowly stepped toward her, his face hard. Lonnie's eyes widened with alarm before she masked it. She stood her ground, but Zan knew that he had her.

"It's a good thing, little sister, that you remember that I'm the man," he said sardonically. "The final decision is mine and I'll be the one to decide if we leave this pisshole of a planet ... not you, not anyone else. I'll hear this Nicholas out, but that's all you get from me right now," Zan's voice was low, but there was steel behind it.

"Whatever," Lonnie said and Zan knew she'd backed down.

"Just be here at 10 tomorrow. Nicholas will be here then," her voice followed him as he strode away, heading for the small space off of the main area where he slept.

Ironic. His life was just so damn full of irony. Six weeks ago, he would have welcomed the chance to leave the planet, only because he didn't care much one way or another about living here. Now that he had met the one being he knew he belonged with, these interplanetary assholes show up.

Zan entered his sleeping area and pulled the curtain down for privacy. Stripping, he lay down on his mattress and pulled out Elise's ring. In the faintest of light coming thru the curtain, he stared at his talisman. He'd meet with Nicholas and hear him out, but Zan wasn't going anywhere. Not now.
posted on 19-Oct-2002 9:53:35 PM
Chapter 9

Elise rushed thru her morning routine, her mind already focused on her walk to the rink, her stomach rumbling in anticipation.  Zan would be out there, waiting for her.  He promised ...

She had to literally stop what she was doing, take a few deep breaths, and calm down.
 
"Honestly," she told Max, "you'd think I'd never even met a guy before."

But she already knew in her heart that this was special, he was special.  She hurried to stuff the things that she needed into her bag, going quickly thru her mother's checklist of items.  Yep, they were all there.  She had listened to the weather report a little more closely this time around and heard that it was going to be another beautiful late fall day.  She would bundle up warmly for the chilly morning walk, as usual, but made sure that her clothes were appropriate for a cool day.  Elise gave Max a little more attention to make up for the fact that she had deserted him the day before, and then slipped out of her apartment a few minutes earlier than normal.

Zan wasn't there when she opened the door to let herself out of the building.  Her heart fell a little.
 
'It's ok.  You're just early,' she reassured herself.

Elise started her stretching, taking her time to do a thorough job.  Having finished with that task, she sat down at the top of the stairs and waited, looking up and down the street.  She kept glancing at her watch, becoming more and more disappointed when Zan failed to appear.  Why, after these last two weeks, would he not show up today ... the day he told her he would?
 
After waiting ten minutes past the normal time that she left for the rink, and feeling almost tearful, Elise decided that she couldn't wait any longer.  She started to get up, and then sat back down again when Zan rounded the corner.  She felt a wave of relief flood thru her as she watched him stride toward her.  As with the day before, her intense feelings found their way into slight irritation.

"You're late," Elise frowned slightly when he stopped at the bottom of the stairs.

"I know.  I'm sorry," Zan apologized.

"I almost left without you, you know," she said, still miffed.

"I'm glad you didn't," he said in a low voice.  "Am I in the doghouse again?"

"Maybe."  Elise started down the stairs and came to a halt in front of him.  Zan smiled at her and her heart began beating a little faster.

"What can I do to make it up to you?" he asked, giving her ponytail a gentle tug.

Elise moistened her lips, her mouth having suddenly gone dry.

"You'll think of something.  You seem like a bright guy," Elise struggled to keep from smiling back at him.

"How about," Zan said, reaching out to pull the collar of her jean jacket closer around her throat, "I take you to the top of the Empire State Building this afternoon?  Ever been there?"

"No ... no, I've never been there," she said, feeling suddenly slightly breathless.

"Then it's time you went.  There's nothing like it; you'll feel like you're the queen of the world," Zan grazed her cheek with his knuckles.
 
Elise tilted her head back to look up at him and couldn't look away.  She felt a soaring in her spirit that could have lifted her straight off the ground.  She put her hands on his hips, needing to steady herself. 

"Queen of the world?  I think you could be on the right track," she said, mesmerized by his intense gaze.

"Yeah," he said in a husky voice.

Zan moved closer, his hands drifting to her waist.  Elise watched his eyes darken and her lips parted slightly in anticipation.  He pulled her to him and her eyes fell closed as his mouth lowered to hers, ever so slowly.  Just when she thought she would die with waiting, his lips brushed hers, gently, and then moved away.  She gave a small whimper, and his lips returned ... touching, clinging.  She rose on her toes, her hands coming up to fist in his jacket front, aching to get closer.  Zan responded, deepening the kiss, taking her lower lip between his, sucking, tugging.  Finally he broke the caress, giving her lip a final, tender pull before releasing her.

Feeling the loss, Elise shook her head.

"More," she sighed.

Zan smiled slightly, and once again lowered his head, capturing her lips in a kiss that instantly became so much more than the previous contact.  Her lips again parted in unspoken invitation and Zan's tongue searched for hers, touching tentatively at first.  Feeling her instant response to him, his tongue became more demanding, exploring every part of her mouth, and allowing hers to do the same with him.

To Elise, the whole world had become Zan. She knew nothing beyond his mouth on hers, his tongue caressing, his hands holding her so surely to him. She forgot everything, wanting to know nothing beyond this. When he regretfully pulled away from her, she was dazed, disoriented, needing his arms holding her so steadily. She followed him, nuzzling her nose underneath the side of his jaw, breathing him in. He pressed a tender kiss to her temple.

"We should get moving," Zan told her.

"Don't want to," Elise mumbled.

"You're late already, remember?"

"Who cares?" she told him as she shifted to lay her head on his chest, her arms going around his waist. His heart beat slow and steady under her ear. It was such a calming, soothing sound.

"I do ... and you should," Zan chuckled a little in reply. "I don't want you getting in trouble because I didn't get here on time."

Zan didn't bother elaborating why he was late, and at that moment, Elise really didn't care why either. He was here, that's all that mattered. He pulled back from her a bit, and he again adjusted her jacket collar, his hands shaking just slightly with his pent-up feelings. When he was finished, he ran the side of his finger down her nose, his lips quirking in that lopsided smile that just melted her insides.

"Have I told you how much I love these?" he asked her seriously.

"Love what?" Elise was slightly confused.

"Your freckles."

"You love my freckles? They are like the bane of my life. They make me look like I'm 14 or something. If I'm not skating, I try and cover them up. I hate looking so young," Elise was flabbergasted.

"No! Don't cover them up. Please. I really, really like them," Zan's voice contained a quality that assured Elise that he meant what he said. She sighed.

"Okay. I won't cover them up, I guess, although I'll probably be carded until I'm 35," Elise muttered to herself.

Zan reached for her hand and laced his fingers thru hers, trying to get her moving toward the goal of the rink. Elise had a small, inner smile. She had deliberately left her gloves in the apartment. She had been hoping that he would take her hand, and didn't want anything between her skin and his. They started walking, Zan again adjusting his stride to hers and holding her hand closely. Her other hand was stuffed into the pocket of her jacket.

"So, how come you've never seen the Empire State Building? Or Central Park? Haven't you seen any of the sights at all?" Zan was curious.

"My mom and I didn't have a chance. Once we decided I would be doing this, we took a week to find a place for me to live. We basically stayed at a motel in this area that was reasonably priced and used it as a base of operations, so to speak. It had a little kitchen," Elise smiled at the memory.

"We spent all our time looking at places for me to stay, figuring out where the subway was, meeting with my coach, stuff like that. Sight-seeing was out of the question at the time. And once I got settled in and got a routine going, I didn't go because I didn't want to go by myself. I'm not very confident about getting around on my own," Elise shook her head.

"Well, since you've seen almost nothing of New York, I'll just have to show you everything there is to see. And there's alot to see. It could take days, weeks even," Zan told her.

"So, you're volunteering to be my own, personal tour guide?" Elise was almost giddy at the thought. "You'll be totally at my beck and call?"

"Absolutely. Starting this afternoon."

"Wait. What's your fee? I'm not exactly rolling in the dough, you know," she said.

"Oh, I'll think of something," Zan smiled.
posted on 19-Oct-2002 9:59:26 PM
Chapter 10

After seeing Elise safely to the door of the rink and saying goodbye, Zan turned away, walking slowly with no particular direction in mind.  His feet took him to the small park where he had first talked to her the day before.  He strode over to the same park bench, stepped on the seat and sat down on the back, pulling out her ring.  He slowly turned it over in his fingers, while his mind worked furiously.

He had so much to think about.  In the past six weeks, his life had gone from same shit, different day, to total upheaval.  With Elise, it was all good.  When he first saw her, he was stunned, smitten.  He had quickly gone from watching her from afar, to yearning to have some sort of contact with her.  Alien origins be damned, he couldn't help himself.
 
What confused him, though, was how he felt such recognition of her.  How do you explain a total stranger, human at that, being the missing puzzle piece?  Someone who took an incomplete life and made it whole ... who took a slightly skewed perception and aligned it to crystal clarity? She did that for him and he didn't understand it.  And he worried too.  What if she didn't feel the same way?  From what he could see, she was attracted to him, wanted to spend time with him.  But he had fallen deep, hard and fast.  What if it wasn't the same for her?  How deep did it go for her?  He knew that when he allowed her to catch a feel of his presence, she had responded.  That meant that there was, at the very least, some slight connection with her, something he'd never had with any human, ever.  Why was that?  The more he searched for answers, the less the answers came to him.

And what if he told her exactly who he was, what he was?  Would he lose what he had just gained?  But the more he held his true self back from her, the less their relationship could be.  This was the only person he had ever, ever wanted to be totally honest with, but the honesty would come at an extremely high price.  Even now, so early in the scheme of things, if she rejected him, was repulsed by him, his heart would die.  He had to tell her ... he couldn't tell her.  The dilemma was killing him inside.

And in the meantime, he coveted any amount of time he could spend with her.  It was unfair, to pursue a relationship that had the real possibility of hurting her.  Even if he told her and she rejected him, she would still be hurt because he knew that at least some of her feelings were engaged.  And if she didn't reject him ... took him to her heart ... the life he led would become hers.  The constant looking over his shoulder, wondering if someone had figured out who he was.  Not exactly the life for a small town girl with alot of talent and dreams.

After searching his soul, and coming to the conclusion that it would have to be all or nothing, he made a decision.  He'd tell her.  There was nothing else he could do, because he didn't want her to be hurt farther down the road.  If he told her the truth now and she turned her back on him, at least she wouldn't be in so deep that her heart wouldn't recover.  She would still be okay.  He would do that for her.  He would reveal himself totally and the chips would fall where they would.
 
Zan was terrified.

He had to think about something else.  Now that the decision was made, he couldn't think about it anymore or he'd totally lose his mind.  So he turned his thoughts to the meeting with Nicholas. Why now? Of all the times in his life when he looked for answers, answers that never came, why now? It must be some sort of cosmic joke. He was destined to never have any kind of love or joy in his life. The proof was in the timing.

Deciding that the direction his thoughts were taking on the meeting was not helping matters, he tried to think of the whole thing dispassionately. He thought back on all that they had learned about themselves. There was precious little to think about, because they knew next to nothing. Hatched from pods, reincarnations (if that was what you could call it) of previous lives, losers of a battle for control of their home planet, sent to earth for the express purpose of one day returning and wresting control back, dumped in a sewer.

Their names were the only tangible links to the past. Names and titles. Zan the leader, Lonnie the sister, Rath the second in command (now why did that whole idea just amuse the hell out of him anyway?), and Ava the bride. They had a protector at one time, but he had long ago washed his hands of them, after giving them the bare facts that he had just gone over in his head. And they had been on their own ever since, a loose alliance of aliens that would sell each other out in a heartbeat, while waiting for the call to go home.

Now this Nicholas shows up, and wants to put a deal on the table. Kivar suddenly needs them? Something wasn't right there, he could feel it in his bones. Why the hell would the conqueror suddenly need the conquered? It didn't make sense. And it also made him uneasy that Nicholas' first contact was with Lonnie. The very idea sent a shiver thru him, like someone walking on his grave.

If there was ever a time to realize that he was on his own, it was now. Whatever this deal was, it could shatter the shaky bond that held them together as personal ambitions and desires took over.

Zan thought of Elise again, and the yearning he felt for her nearly did him in. He had never felt his heart cry out as it did at that moment.

'I need her,' he thought. 'Is it too much to ask for ... someone to love me?'

Just as quickly as the thought came, he ruthlessly crushed it. It would be better for her not to be with him. He was wrong to start this ... it was just too dangerous. He would tell her and he would hope that she would turn from him in disgust.

And she wouldn't be touched by this fucked up mess that was his life.        
posted on 19-Oct-2002 10:08:40 PM
Chapter 11

Lonnie sat back on the couch, her head tilted to allow Rath access to her throat. He was kissing a path from her ear to her collarbone and back again, while his hands were roaming her breasts. All familiar territory to him, places he never got tired of. Sex with Lonnie was the best thing going on this lousy planet. He nibbled on her earlobe, thankful that he was once again in her good graces. You never could tell with Lonnie. For awhile there, she hadn't been putting out and he'd be damned if he knew why. But, whatever her deal was, it was over now and the sexual smorgasbord was once again open for business. Alien sex ... accept no substitutes.

Lonnie was grinding down hard on her growing irritation. How much longer? Her eyes were closed and her fists were clenched. If she didn't need to keep this idiot in her back pocket so badly right now, she'd send his ass flying. How do all the little humans get thru mechanical sex? Oh yeah, think about king and country. Lonnie actually snorted in amusement. Well, England had a queen, not a king, and she was old as dirt. There was always the heir and the spare. Young, good-looking ... a possible 3 way. Something to think about. Oh wait, there was daddy in between the queen and the young guns. That hair, those ears! Holy chastity belt, Batman!

Lonnie'd had enough. Her shove sent Rath off the couch and onto the floor, where he looked up at her in amazement. Dumb amazement. It was all she could do to keep from rolling her eyes.

"What the hell?" Rath yelled.

"I got something to do. We'll finish this later," Lonnie told him, doing her best to keep her voice level and her annoyance from showing.

"And it couldn't wait?" he was totally steamed. "It couldn't wait 5 minutes until we were done?"

"Not," she hissed, "if you want to get off this friggin' miserable planet, it couldn't." Lonnie was right up in his face. "We meet with Nicholas in a couple of hours. Zan's gone AWOL again and no one seems to know where he is. Wasn't that *your* responsibility, O Second in Command?" Lonnie's voice mocked him.

"I lost him, alright? So sue me. It's a fact that none of us has a clue where he goes every day. You want to know so bad, you tail him," Rath was seriously pissed himself by now.

"Chill," she pulled herself together with an effort. It behooved her to remember just what was at stake here, and she couldn't afford to lose control now. She still needed him.

"I'm outta here. Gonna check out the lay of the land before this whole thing goes down. When I get back and this deal is over, we can pick up where we left off," she forced herself to say. She was gagging, but she was good. Rath backed down immediately, his feelings soothed. A smooth tone, the promise of meaningless sex, and he was right back where she wanted him. Ready, willing and able to do anything and everything she required.

Leaving the crib, she hopped on a subway train downtown. Her destination was the building that the summit would later be held at. Being familiar with the tunnels, it took her no time to be directly underneath it. Nicholas was waiting for her.

"Where's Mohawk? And the gerbil?" Nicholas' voice held a derisive quality.

"Don't need 'em, don't want 'em," Lonnie's response held a touch of arrogance. She was really born to this. "Why? You looking to deal with the riff-raff? Or you want to deal with the one who'll help you get exactly what you want?"

"What is it exactly that *you* want?" Nicholas was more than slightly turned on by her. What a woman. "I can get it for you, too. A mutually beneficial alliance."

"Ever since you contacted me and told me about Kivar, I've been remembering. I remember who he was. I remember what it was like to be Vilandra, how it was on our home planet. I want that again. And I'll do whatever it takes to get it." she said.

"What about your brother?" Nicholas was quick to get down to the crux of the matter. He was positive that Lonnie would do exactly what they wanted her to do, but he needed to hear it anyway. If she was a chip off the old block like he figured she was, betrayal meant nothing to her. It helped their cause immensely that she had no conscience to speak of.

"What about him?" Lonnie said in a dismissive voice.

"What if he stands between you and going back?"

"Then he goes down," she said, and Nicholas was pleased. History was about to repeat itself.

"He gets the invite to the summit," Nicholas told her. "Kivar'll put out a deal that requires him to become king in name only. The throne and control of the planet stay in Kivar's hands. Zan tells his people to lay down their arms and support the new government. And he gives up the granolith."

The reaction Nicholas was waiting for wasn't long in coming.

"The granolith. What the hell is the granolith?" Lonnie was confused.

"It's a religious icon, revered by the people of your planet and the 4 others involved. Kivar wants it back."

"We don't have it. Never even heard of the damn thing," Lonnie finally showed signs of uneasiness. The mothership back to Antar was crashing on the launchpad. How could they have a deal when a key component was not in their possession, something they knew nothing about.

"I know you don't have it. That's because I know who does. Zan's dupe. His name is Max Evans; he has the granolith," Nicholas smirked.

"What the hell are you talking about? What dupe?" Lonnie's voice was raising as her confusion was getting her angry. She didn't like this. He seemed to know so much about them, things she never knew. This was touchy ... balancing anger at their cluelessness with needing him for answers.

"Poor rejects. You really know nothing about yourselves, do you? Let me clue you in. When you were sent to earth, there were 2 sets of pods. One set was very carefully concealed in New Mexico. The other set, the flawed set," Nicholas emphasized with great glee, "was tossed in the sewers. That would be you. The New Mexico contingent is just like you in alot of ways. But they're better, faster, stronger .. the new and improved version. Max Evans is Zan's dupe. He has the granolith."

"If this dupe has what you want, why are you bothering with us?" Lonnie was suspicious. "You want something. You're not wasting your time here. You need us for some reason."

Lonnie stepped closer to Nicholas, looking down at him with a seductive gleam in her eye. She had seen his reaction to her, his very blatant reaction. Kinda creepy in such a small fry, but that didn't bother her too much. His obvious lust was just another weapon to be used to get what she wanted. She knew all about sex as a weapon. It put her on familar turf and made her more sure of herself.

"So, just tell me what it is that you need, and I'll get it for you," her eyes dropped to his lips while her voice carried a suggestive tone.

"I need Max ... here. I need him here alone, so that we have a better chance of getting what we want when we put the screws to him," Nicholas explained. "He's easier to manipulate when he doesn't have his circle of friends around him. And his life is sucking mightily right now, so he's distracted."

"The reps from the other planets want to see the Royal 4 come home, don't ask me why." he continued. "Must be that old money, loyalty amongst the aristocracy mentality that you see here on earth. Kivar needs the Royal 4 to keep up appearances on Antar. He needs to show them to the people so they'll lay down their arms. But, Kivar knows the New Mexico 4 will never go for the deal. So he wants the New York contingent, because you'll do anything to get out of here. We need Max, because he was entrusted with the granolith. We want to separate him from the others and graft him into the New York branch. We get the granolith and the people get a Royal 4 figurehead to make 'em happy. Everybody wins."

"How are you gonna pressure him to give up the granolith? I assume you tried before," Lonnie was curious. Her expression became amused as she put it together in her head. "You failed. More than once I bet. That look on your face .. he held out on you."

Nicholas held himself in check, even though he longed to blast her, just to remind her who was in charge here. Memories of his unsuccessful efforts to score the granolith off Max were as acid in his mouth. Any arousal he felt for her was totally deflated, something Lonnie noticed. She realized she had pushed it too far and did some fast talking.

"Whatever. Don't care what happened before. How you plan on convincing him now?"

"We're trying a different tactic. Something that'll play on those bleeding heartstrings of his. He's got a major failing, which is he always wants to do the right thing. Before, we tried to bully it out of him. This time, we let him know how many millions of people are dying in the streets because he's holding out on us. That the war involving five planets ceases once he gives it up. The greater good and all that crap," Nicholas sneered. "And having the reps from the other 4 worlds add even more pressure."

"Where does Zan figure into all this? How can you substitute Max for Zan?" Lonnie asked. "He won't go for it. He won't just roll over and play dead for you."

"Good choice of words," Nicholas approved.

"You want Zan out of the way. Permanently," she said with a speculative look on her face.

"Kivar wants Zan dead. Both Zans. We need Max for now, but your brother is nothing but a liability. His time is up. Is that a problem?"

"Not for me," she shrugged. With those words, Lonnie committed the final betrayal yet again. Damn, but she loved being in the driver's seat. "One thing though," she said after giving the matter further thought.

"Rath's an ass. You tell him any of this and he's sure to spill it eventually. Now, I'm assuming you don't want to soil your hands with offing the man, which means you want us to take care of this little detail. But I think the best way to go about it is to give Zan enough reasons to not take the summit. He rejects the whole thing, and Rath will be more than happy to kill him. He'll be pissed as hell that Zan screws up the way home. We make it Rath's idea and he'll keep his mouth shut about it. And he'll come to me, because there are times that the boy can't string two thoughts together decently. I'll just help him figure out what to do. Piece of cake," Lonnie had it all planned out in her head.

"One more thing," Nicholas told her. "We say nothing about the granolith. That's our little secret, princess. Zan has to reject this on the other parts of the deal alone. I think that between us, he'll be convinced to give it a miss."

Lonnie's grin was feral.

"Let the games begin."
posted on 19-Oct-2002 10:11:07 PM
Chapter 12


Zan paced back and forth in front of the rink, waiting for Elise to come out.  The meeting was every bit as bad as he had thought it would be.  From the very first minute, Nicholas made him edgy, wary.  He cursed his faulty memory of their previous "lives" as he listened to all that the little shit had to say.  He could catch glimmers of what had happened on Antar .. times of civil unrest, betrayal, death at the hands of Kivar.  And somehow, Nicholas figured into the hodgepodge of memories.  It was something horrible, something that had ripped his heart out. But it was elusive, just on the edge of recollection.  Whatever it was, it was something that predisposed him to immediate hatred and total distrust.

And then there were the others.  To Rath, Nicholas was the magic train ride back to the mother planet.  All he had to hear was that the way home was waiting for them, and he was ready to do anything and everything to get there.  Ava?  Well, he had a pretty good idea what she thought.  In her mind, if they took this deal, she would go home to be queen.  Somehow, it would force Zan to finally acknowledge her as his "wife."  He could feel the bile rising again at the very thought.  For Ava, it was all good.
 
Of the three of them, however, it was Lonnie who bothered him the most.  The mere fact that she was totally behind the deal made him uneasy.  And he would catch glimpses of some secret exchange between her and Nicholas.  They were on the same page, whatever that was.
 
His instincts were screaming that it was all wrong, it was a set-up.  The idea of going back under the auspices of Nicholas to hand control fully and finally over to Kivar, to be some puppet danced out in front of his people to make them lay down their arms ... no, absolutely not.  They were all furious, of course.  All except for Nicholas.  Zan caught an expression of something that looked remarkably like satisfaction before it was hidden.  The other three were in varying degrees of anger.  Rath was the worst, threatening everything from taking the deal himself to doing him bodily harm.  Zan shut him up with a look.  Ava's face reflected pained resignation and resentment, as if she was not surprised that her desires were once again being thwarted.  Lonnie was incredibly pissed, but he had the feeling that was all an act.

Zan didn't like any of it.  He took on the mantle of leadership, and let Nicholas know that there would be no deal.  They would not be attending the little summit.  He then told Nicholas to pass the decision on to Kivar.  Zan waited until he was gone and then let his "family" know the same thing in no uncertain terms.  He was the man, this was his decision.  And it was final.  Lonnie and Ava came to a grudging agreement with him, while Rath just stewed in silence.

Zan then left them, unable to deal with them any longer, but being careful to make sure he wasn't followed.  He felt like his entire life was crashing down around him.  His rejection of the deal just widened the gap between himself and the others.  It had become a cavern, something that couldn't be bridged anymore.  But, for all of that, he took on the role of leader and used his best judgment on their behalf.  As always, he tried to do the right thing.
 
One down, one to go.  What he had just done was child's play compared to what lay ahead of him.  He had some time before he was to meet Elise, and he used it to steel his heart toward letting her go.  Now, more than ever, it was the only thing to do.  So he walked, coaching himself to say the words that would reveal what he was.  He played the scene out in his head ... making his confession and seeing her shock and revulsion.  The mere thought of it was enough to shred his heart in his chest, the pain taking his breath away.  How could he do this?

Mentally, he aligned them.  Elise was on one side.  On the other were his "family," Nicholas, Kivar, the FBI and anyone else who could possibly destroy him.  He could see their varying degrees of hatred, fear, loathing of him.  He couldn't move to her side without all of those things being turned toward her as well.  To protect her, he would move away from her so that she wouldn't be touched by it .. so that it would all be directed strictly at himself.

It was time to meet her, and he felt he was as ready as he was ever going to be.
 
'Just tell her and get it over with,' he told himself.

The door opened, and his resolve was as nothing.  It almost hurt to look at her, she was so beautiful.  Elise saw him right away, and her face flushed with pleasure, her eyes sparkling, her smile ready and joyous.  She flew to him.  When she was by his side, she reached for his hand, holding it in both of hers as she beamed up into his face.

"I missed you," she said in a rather breathless voice.  "I was so excited about you taking me to the Empire State Building that it was all I could think about.  I'm afraid I didn't do very well today.  Madame is very upset with me, and I'll have to work really hard tomorrow to make up for it."

Elise stood on her toes and grazed his cheek with a kiss, before nuzzling her nose underneath his jaw.  She pulled back and looked at him expectantly.

"Well ... let's go.  You're on the clock now, remember?  Being at my beck and call for all things touristy?" she teased.

Zan was overcome.  He couldn't do it .. not yet.  Putting his free arm around her, he pulled her to him and laid his cheek against her hair, pressing a gentle kiss to her temple.  He took in a deep, shaky breath before agreeing with her.

"Yeah," he said in a husky voice.  "I've been waiting all day for this too.  And I know that you didn't miss me half as much as I missed you."
posted on 20-Oct-2002 12:27:53 AM
Previously, in Chapter 12 ...

"I missed you," she said in a rather breathless voice.  "I was so excited about you taking me to the Empire State Building that it was all I could think about.  I'm afraid I didn't do very well today.  Madame is upset with me," she shrugged, "and I'll have to work really hard tomorrow to make up for it."

Elise rose on her tiptoes and grazed his cheek with a kiss, before nuzzling her nose underneath his jaw.  She pulled back and looked at him expectantly.

"Well ... let's go.  You're on the clock now, remember?  Being at my beck and call for all things touristy?" she teased.

Zan was overcome.  He couldn't do it .. not yet.  Putting his free arm around her, he pulled her to him and laid his cheek against her hair, pressing a gentle kiss to her temple.  He took in a deep, shaky breath before agreeing with her.

"Yeah," he said in a husky voice.  "I've been waiting all day for this too.  And I know that you didn't miss me half as much as I missed you."

Chapter 13

When Elise first left the building, her mind was on everything her coach had talked to her about. Her practice session hadn't been a disaster, but it was close. She found herself totally unable to concentrate, losing herself in dreams of Zan ... dreams of a developing relationship between them. She would find herself caught up in different scenarios. Subway rides, going to the Empire State Building, walking hand in hand through Central Park, taking the Staten Island Ferry, seeing the Statue of Liberty, eating hotdogs and walking through the twilight, him catching her close for a passionate kiss. Her mind wanted to go further, but she would be interrupted by the scolding voice of her coach. Madame's impatience with her was growing, and she voiced some of her concern at the end of the day.

"Miss Ryan," Madame had said in a business-like tone at the conclusion of her session, "I have been hesitant to bring this up before now, but it is becoming more and more apparent to me that, for all your talent, you lack the focus and inner drive that is necessary to take your skating to a higher level.  I am not saying that we should abandon it altogether, because this is not a decision to make immediately. But I think you must take some time and decide if this is what you really want to do.  There are some inner adjustments that you have to make if you are going to be competitive.  We will continue for now, but I want you to really give it some thought.  Talk to your parents and get their input as well.  They can contact me anytime they like if they wish to speak with me directly."

Elise was rather subdued after that.  All her coach had done was verbalize everything she herself was feeling.  She would have to call her folks and talk with them about it, but she wanted to really think it through before she did so.  She went to the locker room, took her shower, and changed into comfy jeans and a slightly bulky black sweater and tank top.  The sweater was a little oversized, although it only came to the waistband of her jeans.  It would slip down on her shoulder occasionally, exposing her creamy skin.  She wondered what Zan would think, and she got goosebumps at the thought.  She pulled her hair back into a loose french braid, using a small scunchy to hold it at the bottom.
 
When she was ready, she thrust her jacket into her bag and hurried out the door.  The expression on Zan's face when he saw her made her heart rate speed up, and she couldn't get to him fast enough.  She had never been so forward before ... holding his hand, kissing his cheek, feeling this overwhelming need to be close to him.  But with Zan, it all felt right, natural. This was where she wanted to be.  And the note in his voice when he told her he missed her too made her heart skip a beat.

"You ready to go?" he asked, after hugging her close.  "We should probably lose the bag again.  We'll stop at your place like we did yesterday."

"Okay, sounds like a plan," Elise agreed.
 
She was ready to start the walk back to her apartment when Zan pulled on her hand.  She turned back, slightly confused, stopping directly in front of him to gaze up into his face.
 
He had an intent look in his eyes as he reached behind her.  She could feel a small tug and he had her scunchy in his palm.  Taking her hand, he pulled the cloth band over her wrist.  Her eyes closed in pleasure when she felt his hands return to loosen her braid, beginning to free her hair from the plait.  He worked slowly, carefully, taking his time until it was totally undone.  Once he was finished, he threaded his fingers into the hair at the nape of her neck, moving them up to graze her scalp.  Elise allowed her head to fall back and his hands seemed to cradle her.  Zan finally pulled away, fanning her hair around her face.  She opened her eyes to find him smiling down at her.

"Better," his voice was low.  He reached down to lace her fingers with his again.
 
"Let's get going," Zan's expression was slightly amused as Elise stood there, staring at him.  She was rooted to the spot, still lost in the sensuous realm his hands had taken her to.
 
"Lise? Lise, it's time to go.  Empire State Building, remember?  I'm trying to do the tour guide thing, but you have to work with me here.  You have to go to it ... it's not gonna come to you," he teased.

"Huh?" she was slow to come back to reality.  "Oh, yeah, right, Empire State Building.  Sure, let's go."

They started the trip back to her place,  Zan leading the way as Elise was walking slower than normal.  She was still a little disoriented, wondering how in the world he managed to do such things to her.  One thing was certain in her mind, though.  He had a hair thing, a major hair thing.  Oh, there were possibilities here, she thought as he continued to walk slightly ahead of her.  Her eyes were filled with mischief.  Two could play this game ... and she loved games.

When they arrived at her apartment, she unlocked the lobby door and turned to him.

"You want to come up?" she asked.

"Yeah," Zan replied, curious to see where she lived, where she ate, where she slept ...

"It's not very big, and most of the things I have are secondhand, but Max and I like it," Elise told him, missing his sudden start at the mention of a guy's name.

She had no idea that the mere thought of someone else ignited a firestorm of jealousy, a reaction he tried to quash. He had no right to feel that way; she didn't belong to him. She was free to see anyone she wanted to, and once he told her his origins, it would all be over anyway. He had no doubt that it wouldn't be long before she was snatched up by someone human, normal. It was on the tip of his tongue to start the confessional ball rolling when she unlocked the door to her apartment. Inside, he could see a small calico cat.

"Max! Have you been good? Did you catch any mice?" Elise stepped inside the door and gathered the cat up in her arms, rubbing her face in his fur.

Zan closed his eyes as relief flooded through him. Max was a cat, only a cat. No rival there.

"Come on in," she said, placing Max on the floor and pulling on Zan's hand to usher him inside. "I'm just gonna go get rid of this. Oh, and do you think that what I'm wearing is okay for the afternoon?"

Elise walked into the center of the living room and did a quick pirouette, causing her hair to fly about her face. The sweater did exactly what she had hoped and fell down just a bit, exposing the strap of her black tank top. She saw his eyes darken slightly as he gazed at her shoulder before they moved up to her face. Zan walked up to her, lifting his hand to tuck her hair back behind her ear. His fingers followed her hair to skim down along her throat and dip, just slightly, underneath her sweater. Finding her collarbone, he brushed the backs of his fingers across it.

"This is fine," his eyes held hers.

"Good," Elise breathed, "I don't want to be overdressed."

"You're perfect, absolutely perfect," Zan said, and his lips captured hers for the briefest of moments. She felt the impact of that kiss right down to her toes.

Stepping away from her in order to keep things under control, he looked around. Her apartment was small and cozy. The furnishings might be secondhand, as she said, but they were lovingly taken care of. There was a couch and two chairs, bright with slate blue slipcovers. Pillows were scattered on them, and a small trunk served as a coffee table. The entertainment center fit the size of the room, not too big, with a television, vcr and stereo system. On top were pictures of her family, candid shots of her parents and two boys that looked like they could be rambunctuous. His eyes were drawn to one in particular. It had been taken at an indoor hockey rink. Elise was bending down with her arms around her brothers, both of them wearing hockey jerseys. They were leaning into her and smiling and the affection between the three of them was clearly evident.

The whole room was filled with light and his eyes were drawn to a bay window. It had a cushioned seat, and from the pillows and the end table which stood next to it, he could tell that it was a favorite place to sit. The table held a coffee mug, magazines and her cordless phone.

"Nice place," he commented, loving the feel of just being in the room. It was ... peaceful.

"Thanks. Most of the stuff came from my parents. It was so handy that they decided they needed new furniture," Elise raised her brow in a way that made it clear she didn't believe in their sudden desire to update the furnishings.

"These are your brothers?" Zan pointed to the picture of the three of them.

"Yeah. We were at a hockey game. Michigan Tech Huskies, the worst team in college hockey for awhile there, although I think they're getting better. I haven't been able to follow them as closely this season, but we went as a family alot. That's where the guys developed their love for the game," she smiled.

"Hey, are you hungry? I'm famished. I haven't had anything but snacky stuff since this morning. I can make us some sandwiches and we can eat before we go, if that's alright?" Elise was already on her way to the kitchen.

"That sounds really good, as long as it's no trouble. I can help," Zan followed her through the door.

The kitchen was very small. One person was okay, two people was a little crowded, and three would have been impossible. Elise opened the apartment sized refrigerator to pull out deli meat, cheese, bread, butter, condiments and jars of pickles and olives. She was bent at the waist, searching purposefully and giving Zan a wonderful view of her backside. He closed his eyes to ask for strength. Straightening up and kicking the refrigerator door closed with her foot, Elise handed him bread and butter.

"Here. You can start with this, and I'll pull the lunch meat apart. You like ham or turkey? I have both," she asked.

"Um, I'll take ham," Zan cleared his throat to say.

"Okay. I have swiss and american cheese, and there's ketchup, honey mustard and mayo. Oh, I also have hot sauce, believe it or not. I use it in my chili. You want some of that?" Elise wrinkled her nose at the thought.

"That would be great," Zan was pleased. Even though she had it on hand for other reasons, it almost seemed as if she had it because of him. He frowned a bit. Okay, that was reaching more than a little in some effort to link them together. He sighed inwardly. Idiot.

He was deliberately putting off what he knew he had to do, and he knew why. Once he revealed what he was, it would all be over. In the loneliness he could see stretching out in front of him, he would have only the recollection of these two days to treasure. Even though he knew he shouldn't, he wanted to add just a few more precious bits of time to the small store of memories that would be all to sustain him.

So, they worked together. Elise constantly moved around Zan, reaching in cabinets to come up with chips and salsa, plates for the food, cups for soda and digging into a drawer for silverware. Then she was looking something to drink. She had brushed up against him quite often and he willed himself to calm down. When she straightened up from her latest foray into the refrigerator, triumphantly holding a bottle of water and a bottle of coke, he gave it up.

Zan spun her into his arms, his hands at her waist pulling her close. He heard her small squeak of surprise before his lips closed over hers. There was no easing into this embrace. He was hungry for her. Her lips parted and his tongue searched for hers as she gave back as good as she got. Elise dropped the bottles and her arms were tight around his neck, needing him to anchor her as his voracious need carried her to a world where only the two of them existed. Before she knew it, her legs came up to wrap around his waist and he had her pressed against the refrigerator.

He broke contact and she gave a moan of protest, only to feel his teeth as he gently bit her earlobe. She gave a small shiver, and his lips kissed a trail down her throat ending at the small hollow at the base, laving his tongue around it once, twice. The sound of their harsh breathing filled the room. Zan felt dazed as he came up for air, watching as her eyes slowly opened. She was looking down at him, but her gaze was slightly unfocused. She was still in that realm that he seemed to take her to so effortlessly.

"Wow," Elise breathed as she felt him tenderly brush the hair back from her face.

"Yeah," Zan agreed.

"That was amazing, fantastic ... darn, where's that really good SAT word when you need it?," she was giddy.

"Okay," Zan was still panting a bit, "we have to slow this down a little. At this rate, we'll never get out of the kitchen, much less to the Empire State Building."

"And that would be bad?" Elise was supremely unconcerned about going anywhere.

"Not bad, just too fast. I don't want to rush things," Zan told her.

His reasons for pulling back had less to do with the speed at which things were progressing, and more with the fact that he was feeling guilty. She went to his head, like fine wine, and he forgot himself. He had to rein this in. It was unfair to her to keep the physical aspect of their relationship motoring along, like some speedboat with the throttle wide open, when things were going to come to an end. Zan knew somehow that she totally trusted him with herself and her emotions. Elise was the most straightforward and honest person he had ever met; she had the most guileless eyes he had ever seen. He felt even more like a jerk than he did before, knowing that this whole day was selfish on his part. But he couldn't seem to help himself.

And in the back of his mind, there was a small hope. Maybe, just maybe, he would tell her about himself and she wouldn't care ... the fact that he was a different species wouldn't matter to her. His inner chuckle was without amusement. Yeah, right ...

So he slowly lowered her, and she let her feet hit the floor. Elise wasn't sure what happened, but somehow he had pulled back from her. There was an expression in his eyes that she didn't understand, a sort of sadness, a resigned hopelessness that wrenched at her heart. It made her tighten her arms around his neck, suddenly fearful.

"Hey, are you alright?" Zan questioned her, surprised at the strength of her embrace.

"Yeah. It was just a silly moment. I'm fine," she whispered, unwilling to question what she had seen.

'Coward,' she thought to herself. Elise pulled back, and smiled up into his face.

"Let's eat, and then I'm putting you back on the clock. Ooh, at this rate, we'll get to the top of the Empire State Building at sunset, right?" she asked, and he nodded in affirmation.

It sounded so romantic, and she was excited again. Maybe what she had seen was just her imagination. He seemed fine again. Yeah, it was just her imagination ....
posted on 20-Oct-2002 1:19:17 AM
Chapter 14

As Elise and Zan made the short walk to the Empire State Building from the subway, she couldn't help constantly looking up.  There were so many tall buildings and she was gawking like a tourist.  Zan was slightly in the lead, holding her hand closely in his, and she was distracted by all that she saw.  Once, he deliberately stopped and she bumped right into him, causing him to put his arms around her to steady her as he smiled.

"Sorry," she mumbled, her cheeks flushing slightly.

"I'm not," his voice was husky in her ear as he kept his arms around her in a gentle hug.

"This is awesome," Elise tightened her arms around his waist as she looked around again.  "I've never been in a city that had so many skyscrapers before.  The streets almost feel like the bottom of a canyon, and I can't see the Empire State Building at all.  I thought I'd be able to see it from anywhere in New York, but all these other buildings get in the way.  I'm soo glad I have you with me; I'd be lost for sure."

"That's why I'm here," he said softly as he ran his finger down her nose, "so you don't get lost."

Deciding that just holding her hand kept her too far away, Zan slung his arm casually around her shoulders.  Elise beamed up at him.

"Let's go," she said.  "There's a sunset I want to see."

When the Empire State Building came into view, Elise was suitably impressed.  She stopped in her tracks to stare up at it, and Zan grinned at her reaction.  He'd lived here all his life, so nothing about New York was new to him, but her obvious delight did something to him.  She had such an ingenuous spirit and her enthusiasm was contagious, helping him to see it with fresh eyes.

"This is amazing.  I love old buildings; the architecture has so much more depth and detail than alot of the newer ones do.  You know," she laughed at the idea, "the only time I've ever seen this building is in movies like 'An Affair to Remember.'  Oh, and 'Sleepless in Seattle.'  I love that one.  Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan were destined to be together and they kept missing each other.  They finally met here, at the top of the Empire State Building," she sighed happily. 

"It almost seems as if this building helps lovers find each other," Elise mused. "At least in movies, anyway."

Realizing that she had just said what she was thinking out loud, she blushed furiously and looked at the sidewalk, wishing it would swallow her.  Could she be anymore obvious?  Finally getting up her nerve, she lifted her head and caught his expression, surprised to find that it was wistful. She felt that little skitter of fear again.

"Zan? Is everything okay?" she asked uncertainly.

"Hmm? Yeah, it's all good," Zan was startled out of his reverie.

Her words had conjured up a picture of them as lovers, something he knew would never happen. The sudden pain of loss took his breath away. He was mourning something that could never be, caught up in incredible sadness. Somehow, he knew it was all over his features. Damn, he had to do better than this. Putting a smile on his face, he led her into the building and to the elevators that would take them to the top. Elise held his hand tightly, feeling a little subdued.

The ride to the top was quiet and fast. She kept her grip on his hand and rested her cheek on his sleeve.

'Something's wrong, something's wrong,' she thought to herself.

When they reached the top, they left the elevators and walked through the doors onto the observation deck. Zan held her hand up ceremoniously, leading her as though she were royalty.

"Your kingdom, Your Majesty," he grinned at her.

"Why, thank you, kind sir," she smiled back at him, caught up in the moment as he had hoped she would be.

Then Elise caught her first real glimpse of New York, all laid out in front of her, with the sun setting in the distance, and she was overwhelmed. Turning to Zan, she threw herself into his arms, hugging him and whispering words of thanks in his ear.

"Zan, it's just so incredible. I can't believe it. It seems to go on forever," she said, pulling back to look up into his face.

"What? Still no suitable SAT word?" Zan snickered.

"No," Elise grinned back at him. "I'll have to hire a tutor. It would seem I'm woefully lacking in the ability to express myself."

Her arms were still around his neck, her body pressed to his.

"Oh, I don't know. You seem to express yourself just fine," he teased.

Elise and Zan walked around the deck. He pointed out the Statue of Liberty, the World Trade Center, Ellis Island. They stayed at the top for a long time, watching the sunset and seeing the lights of the city wink on as it grew darker. Zan stood behind her while she gripped the railing, the breeze lifting her hair so that he could catch the scent of strawberries. He put his arms around her and pulled her close against him, wanting only this for the rest of his life. His eyes closed as she leaned back against him and rested her head on his shoulder. He moved one of his arms from around her waist and brought in up to cross in front of her, resting his hand on the curve of her neck. He kissed her temple, feeling his throat tighten as he tried to commit everything to memory.

Elise turned in his embrace to wrap her arms around him, laying her cheek against his chest.  She felt wonderfully secure as she continued to gaze at the city, aglow with lights.

"It's so beautful at night, even more than during the day.  Thank you for this," she reached up to brush his lips with a quick kiss. 

Zan felt her slight shiver and realized that she was probably getting chilled in the breeze.  He was still loath for the day to end, so he suggested they go for pizza.  He knew a little place that was close by, if she was hungry.  Elise nodded in agreement and took one last look around before letting him know she was ready. 

Alone in the elevator on their way back down to the street, she couldn't resist teasing him a bit.

"I have to say, you're impressive as a tour guide.  I'd recommend you to anyone, although I like being your only client.  Great one-on-one skills you have there," her expression was impish.  "Of course, I wouldn't want you to hone those skills with anyone but me."

"So, we're talking exclusive contract here?" Zan turned to her.  Elise was leaning up against the wall of the elevator, and Zan placed a hand on each side of her head, coming in close.  "I don't come cheap, you know."

"Just name the price," she said breathlessly.

Zan couldn't resist her.  The way her eyes darkened with desire before she looked down so her lashes swept her cheeks.  The way she bit the corner of her lip in anticipation.  The way her hands came to his waist as she took a step closer to him.  The way she tilted her head to gaze up at him again, her expression seeming to say 'What are you waiting for?' 

Zan bent his head, pressing his lips to her forehead.  He kissed his way along her cheek and then moved to the shell of her ear, causing a shiver to race through her when his tongue traced it.  He gently tugged on her lobe with his teeth and nuzzled his nose along her jawline, finally taking her lips in a heated kiss.  Elise rose up on her toes to meet his mouth, parting her lips to swirl her tongue with his.  Her exploration of his mouth was fervent as she pulled him closer by fisting his t-shirt, for Zan's hands had never left the wall.  There was something so incredibly erotic about him keeping his hands off her, narrowing the experience to just what his mouth could do. And holy moley, he was good.

They came back to reality with a thud when the elevator came to a stop on the ground floor.  They were both breathing hard, and Elise pressed her face to his shoulder, needing a moment to pull herself together.  Zan wrapped his arms around her and held her close while waiting for the doors to open.

"You ready?" he whispered in her ear, and she pulled back to take a deep breath and nod her head.

"Yeah," she replied.

The elevator doors opened and they stepped out, her fingers threaded with his as he led the way.  After exiting the building, they paused to get their bearings.  Zan smiled down at her.

"I have to say, I loved the first payment installment.  I think we're onto something here.  Who needs money, anyway?" his voice was a combination of amusement and latent desire.

"True.  This way, you don't have to worry about insufficient funds and I can make a payment anytime I want.  I like to keep current, you know.  Pay as I go, that sort of thing," Elise grinned.

Zan took her to a small pizza place that was a favorite of his. They were seated in a corner booth, trying to figure out what to order. They eventually agreed to get a pizza with half extra cheese, mushrooms, and black olives for her, and half with the works for him. He also requested a bottle of hot sauce, something that made Elise smile even as she gave a disbelieving shake of her head.

"Do you put tobasco on everything?"

"Yeah. You should try it," Zan's lopsided smile made her tummy rumble. She loved that smile.

"I can't. I just can't. I mean, it's not an abomination against mankind or anything, but I can't imagine putting it on half the stuff I've seen you put it on already," she shook her head.

When their pizza came, Zan uncapped the bottle and started to shake some sauce on his half of the food. Elise happened to be reaching for a slice at the same time, and he got some on her finger. She held it up for him to see, her eyebrow raised. He grabbed her hand and used a napkin to wipe the sauce off her finger, bringing it to his mouth to kiss it, giving it a slight flick of his tongue while gazing into her eyes. The pit of desire in her tummy was getting bigger by the minute.

Elise had a wonderful time. She fed herself with her left hand as she kept her right in Zan's grasp on top of the table. She told him stories about her parents, her brothers, her life as a skater and living in a college town. He was just so easy to talk to and he encouraged her with his interest and his leading questions. He seemed to want to know so much about her.

Zan just sat back and drank everything in. These were the things he was going to remember when it was all over. These were the things that would carry him through the days without her. Her love for her family, her dream of being a skater and how it was changing, her honesty about her confusion ... all these things spoke to his heart in a way that deepened the love that he already felt for her.

They lingered for a long time, neither one anxious to end the evening. Eventually, they walked slowly to the subway station, riding back to her neighborhood in contented silence. It wasn't until they were taking the short walk back to her place that it dawned on her. For all that Zan knew about her, she came to the conclusion that she knew next to nothing about him.

"What about you, Zan?" she asked him.

"What about me?" he looked down at her in confusion.

"Well, you know so much about me, but I know hardly anything about you. Were you born and raised here? Do you have a family? Brothers and sisters? I ... I'd really like to know you," her expression was serious as she gazed up at him.

Zan's heart fell as the moment of truth stared him in the face. His eyes were bleak, realizing there was no putting it off any longer.

"Let's go upstairs, and I'll tell you all about me," he said.

[ edited 3 time(s), last at 18-Nov-2002 12:56:07 AM ]
posted on 20-Oct-2002 11:26:04 AM
Chapter 15

Elise sat on her couch, watching Zan as he paced the small room, stopping to look out of her bay window.  He was nervous, and his obvious distress was bringing that skitter of fear back again.  She took some deep breaths and waited for him to talk.

Zan tried to collect his thoughts, to put his fucked up existence into some semblance of order.  There was just no good way to reveal all of this.  He turned with a sigh to face her, as ready as he was ever going to be.  He almost closed his eyes at the fresh pain that gripped his heart as he looked at her.  She was beautiful, special, human.  The impossible chasm opened up in front of him ... this gulf between them ... the one that she had been unaware of until now.  He plunged right into the sad narrative of his life.

"I've lived here all my life.  I've been pretty much on my own all my life, too, because there was no parental figure to speak of.  I'm an orphan, like you are, but I was never adopted and never went into foster care.  I was abandoned, along with three others that were my age ... 2 girls and a boy.  One of the girls is my sister, Lonnie.  The boy's name is Rath and the other girl's name is Ava.  We've always been together, but only because of survival, not because there is any sort of love between us.  They need me and I need them, and as long as that's the case, we'll be this messed up version of a family.  I don't like them, I don't trust them.  But, they're all I've ever known," Zan's eyes took on a distant quality as he spoke.

"I've always been what you would consider the head of the house.  I make the major decisions and I take responsibility for them, good or bad.  They resent me, but none of them wants to take the job away from me.  They look to me to be the authority figure, but they hate me for it at the same time.  I'm the necessary evil," the slightest note of bitterness crept into his voice.

"We've always lived under the radar.  We never went to school, we always scrounged for everything we got.  The closest thing we've ever had to what you would call a "home" is where we live right now ... the areas off of the subway system.  We're the homeless that you've heard so much about," he winced as he said it.

"I'm the only one that holds down what you could probably call a job.  I told you that I work on motorcycles, and that's true.  I work when I need the money, because I'm the only one of the four of us that refuses to steal anymore.  We did it when we were younger because we had to, but now I work because I don't want to do that anymore.  And it gets me away from them for long periods of time, so it's all good.  I'm sure they find it amusing as hell," Zan paused to take a deep breath, and ventured a glance at Elise to see what she thought.

Somehow, he wasn't surprised to see the tears that filled her eyes.  In some way, he had known that the bare bones recital of his life's story would touch her.  He already knew, just from the past two days, that she had a very tender heart.  If only this was all that he had to reveal to her, everything would be okay.  But he still hadn't cut loose with his true origins.

"I'm so sorry," Elise brought her hands up to her cheeks to wipe away the tears.
 
"There's nothing to be sorry for," Zan shrugged.  "Everyone gets dealt a hand, and that was mine."

Elise shook her head, her expresson sad, her heart breaking for him.

"But that's not everything there is to tell you about me.  There's more ... and it's not good," Zan plunged on, afraid of losing his nerve if he didn't keep this moving right along.  He took a deep breath and blurted it out.

"Lise, I'm an alien."

"You're a ... what? An alien?" she repeated, total confusion in her eyes.

"I'm not from around here," he continued.

"Where are you from?" Elise asked.  Zan put out his hand and pointed his finger toward the ceiling.  "Up north ... you're from Canada," her face cleared.  "You're a Canuck.  Zan, that's not that big of a deal.  You forget, I live in the UP.  Canada is right across Lake Superior.  The Thunder Bay station is one of the three you can get if you don't have cable tv or a satellite dish."

Zan didn't say anything, just pointed up a bit higher.
 
"The North Pole?" she frowned, trying to think of anything farther north than Canada. Zan just shook his head and pointed a little higher than before.

"Okay.  You can't go any further north without leaving the planet."

"Bingo," he said.

"Zan, there's no such thing as aliens.  Not that kind," Elise said gently.

"You're wrong.  I'm an alien,"  Zan's voice came out a little more forcefully than he wished, wanting her to understand what he was saying.  "I am a 100%, certifiable, green-around-the-gills alien."

"You're serious.  You really believe that?" Elise was uneasy.  How whacked out was this?  Okay, if he really thought it was true, then he was some kind of a nutjob.  Certifiable was right.

"I don't just believe it, I know it.  I was part of the Roswell crash of 1947.  I ended up here in New York, but I was a part of that.  I was in an incubation pod until 1988.  When I came out, I looked like a 6 year old.  I've always known that I was different, but I hid it and never told anyone until now.  You're the only person I've ever told this to, because I wanted to be honest with you.  Ever since I saw you," his voice cracked a little and he took a breath to get himself back under control, "ever since I saw you, I knew I'd have to tell you."

Zan's heart was shredding in anguish.  He could see it in her face.  She was afraid of him now.

Elise went from that little skitter of fear to full-blown terror.  This was the wildest story she had ever heard, and he believed it.  He totally, completely believed in what he was telling her.  He was crazy ... and she was alone with him.  She had to get him out of here, yet there was some perverse desire in her to press him for more.

"How can you know that?  What makes you think you're an alien?  Is it some story you made up to account for your abandonment?" she demanded, keeping her voice level with an effort.

"I can prove it to you," Zan sighed.  "One of the things I can do is heal ..."

Worse and worse. He not only thought he was an alien, he had a messiah complex as well.
 
"... but I can also manipulate molecular structures," he continued.  "I'll show you."

Zan reached into his pocket and pulled something out, holding it in the palm of his hand.  Elise could see that it was her ring, the one she had given him the previous night for safekeeping.  Zan touched it with his finger, concentrating on maneuvering the molecules.  It slowly melted, becoming a pool of silver in his hand.  He heard her intake of breath as she saw it happen.  Watching her, he could see her eyes widen in shock.  He closed his fist and concentrated again, finally opening his hand to reveal her ring in it's original form.  Then, just to make sure that she really understood, he passed his hand in front of his t-shirt, changing the color from black to grey and then changing it back again.

Elise simply stood there, her mind refusing to grasp what she had just seen.  She wanted proof of his craziness, and instead, she got proof of his alienness.  Suddenly, all she could think about was the movie 'Alien' and the scene where that nasty entity came bursting out of John Hurt's chest.  Zan wasn't a nutjob ... he was a different species. 

There's no such thing as aliens ... Zan is an alien.

He watched the emotions flit across her face, and the fear and uncertainty he saw broke him.  The way she was just staring, with her arms wrapped around herself, alarmed him and he reached out to touch her face before he even thought about it.  She flinched back slightly, and his hand fell to his side, a searing wretchedness filling him.  It was every bit as bad as he had thought it would be.  He had to get out.  Now.

Walking toward the door, he stopped just before he opened it.  His eyes took their fill of her one last time.

"I'm sorry I let this happen, but I want you to know that the last two days have been the best I've ever known.  You have no idea what they mean to me.  They're something I'll always treasure, and I want to thank you for that.  I won't inflict myself on you again," his voice cracked once more, despite his best efforts,  "but I do ask one thing.  Please don't tell anyone about me, about what I've told you.  Please. Now my life is in your hands."

Zan carefully placed her ring on the small table that stood nearby and walked out, closing the door quietly behind him.

[ edited 1 time(s), last at 20-Oct-2002 11:28:09 AM ]
posted on 20-Oct-2002 1:58:09 PM
Chapter 16

Elise had never felt so cold. She had her arms wrapped around herself and shivered so badly that her teeth chattered. Mechanically, she walked over to the thermostadt to turn the heat up, and then went into her kitchen to put some water on for tea. Her hands were shaking and she almost decided to forget the idea. But she clenched them at her sides and willed them to stop. Getting her body firmly under control, she put the kettle on the stove to heat. Turning away, she saw the bottle of hot sauce on the small counter.

Elise picked it up, staring at it almost accusingly ... as if it had somehow known Zan's secret and hadn't told her. Was this why he liked hot sauce so much, because he was an alien? She put it down quickly and turned away. The water had come to a boil, so she made her mug of tea and then took it into the living room, sitting on the window seat. She almost immediately got up again. She couldn't just sit. She paced, back and forth, back and forth. She wanted to think this through, but her mind couldn't seem to grasp hold of anything. She couldn't think.

She had no idea how long she paced. Somewhere in there, she called her coach and told her she wouldn't be at practice the next morning. Elise had no idea what she told her, something about a touch of the flu maybe. She wasn't sure. She went back to pacing, finally taking a sip of her tea and grimacing when she realized it was ice cold.

Zan is an alien. There is no such thing as aliens. Zan is an alien. There is no such thing ...

He is the best thing that ever happened to me. He's not the same species.

I'm human ... he's not human. I'm human ... he's not.

Elise never went to bed that night. Oh, she had tried. She lay down for about 10 minutes, staring at the ceiling, and then her inner turmoil got her up again. She watched the sun come up from her window seat and thought to herself that maybe she should have just gone to practice. But she knew she had absolutely no concentration, no focus, and it would have been a disaster.

Elise went on auto-pilot. She cleaned her small apartment, and kept busy. Her mind was a mess. She still couldn't sort through any of what had happened the night before. She did dishes, vacuumed and dusted. When she went to dust the table by the door, she found it. Her ring. The ring that Zan had melted into a pool of so much silver and then restored. She remembered when he had pulled it from his pocket, the intent look on his face when he gazed at it, like it was somehow precious to him.

She turned the ring over and over in her fingers. She was about to put it down again when she noticed that the inside seemed to be scratched. Looking closer, she realized that he had inscribed something there.

"Always yours .. Zan"

Elise felt like she couldn't breathe. She cared for him, she realized. She could be in love with him. But he wasn't ... human.

Suddenly, Elise was overwhelmingly tired. Looking at the clock, she realized it was almost 6:00 in the evening. She had been up for 38 straight hours. Her ring was still in her hand when she went into her bedroom and fell onto her bed, falling asleep almost immediately.

****

Elise looked up at the building in front of her. Large, square, brick, with very few windows, placed seemingly in the middle of nowhere. She hated it immediately. It appeared innocuous, but it was almost as if she could sense the malevolence it contained and she shivered at the dread that skittered up her spine. The day was sunny, but it's warmth never touched her.

'What am I doing here?' she thought, looking around. 'I have no idea where this is.'

She thought about going inside to ask for directions to the nearest town and maybe the use of the phone to call a cab when she could see the van in the distance. It was traveling down the highway at a very high rate of speed, tires squealing as it turned the corner to come down the long access road to the building. Elise was alarmed, as it seemed to be heading straight for her. She jumped out of the way, running to the side of the building, hiding. She peered around the corner as the van came to a halt, so very close to her. Two people, dressed in dark clothing and ski masks, got out of the driver and passenger sides of the van. The driver raced to the back of the van to open the doors, while the passenger followed very slowly, almost mechanically.

Elise had to crane her neck to see. Standing in the back were two more darkly clad figures, supporting someone who sagged between them. His head hung low on his chest and it was obvious that he was out of it. The driver jumped up to stand next to him and pulled his head back by his hair. Elise let out a whimper ... it was Zan.

The doors of the building burst open and two people raced out with a gurney. Zan was roughly pushed onto it and he was taken into the building. The driver pulled his ski mask off to reveal a dark haired man with the coldest eyes she had ever seen. He walked up to the passenger and pulled the ski mask off.

Herself ...

Elise stared at her dream-self, shocked beyond belief. The dream version of herself had no emotion on her face at all. Her eyes seemed to see nothing. The driver leaned down to whisper in her ear, and somehow, Elise heard him.

"Come along. We have some things to do, tests to run. It won't matter what we do to him because, after all, he's not human, is he?" the cold voice somehow rang in her head.

"He's not human," her dream-self agreed as she allowed herself to be led into the building.

The doors clanged shut. Elise ran up to them, pulling on them frantically, trying to get in, pounding on the doors with her fists.

"No!" she screamed. "No! You can't do that to him! Please, don't hurt him ... please!"

She couldn't get in. She finally stopped beating on the door and put her forehead against it in despair, closing her eyes.

****

"Lise," a groggy voice moaned, "help me. Please ..." the broken voice fell away on a sigh.

Her head snapped up and she looked anxiously around, scrubbing at the tears on her cheeks.

How did she get here? A large, brightly lit room was in front of her. It had white walls, a white ceiling, white floor, sterile and cold. She could see him, strapped to a table, dressed in hospital scrubs. Her heart broke ... they had taken his piercings. She had no idea why that little detail affected her, except that he seemed so much more vulnerable somehow. His face was ashen, and the skin around his eyes had a bruised look, brought about by pain.

"Lise, please," he whispered, "don't let them do this."

"I won't, Zan, I won't let them hurt you," Elise cried, running toward him. She was thrown violently to the floor. Looking up, confused, she realized that she had run right into a clear plastic barrier. It stretched the length of the room. There was no way in, no way to get to him. Again, she beat on it, to no avail. There was nothing she could do but watch the scene play out in front of her.

She had been so focused in on Zan, she didn't realize that there were other people there. Fresh tears spilled down her cheeks. Zan hadn't been talking to her. He had been begging for help from her dream-self. There she was, off in the corner, watching everything with those eyes that had no feeling, no emotion. Zan's eyes were locked on her, so hopeful that her dream-self would come to his aid.

And that driver ... he stood right next to her dream version, callously informing her of all they would do to him. All the tests they would run, samples they would take, tolerances to heat and cold and electric shock they would explore. They haven't had an alien to run tests on in years, he gleefully informed her.

"No ... please, no," Zan's voice cracked.

"Shut up. Inhuman," the driver's voice was filled with loathing.

"Inhuman," her dream-self echoed, eyes staring ahead at nothing.

Zan turned his head in despair. Nothing mattered now.

Elise had to look away. The things they did. She couldn't believe that people were capable of such things. Ice baths, electric shock, sample taking, drugs .. Zan's screams of pain filled the room, reducing her to sobs of anguish as she knelt on the floor, covering her ears. She refused to leave him, but she couldn't bear to watch what they were doing to him.

The last was the worst. The driver wanted to open him up, with no drugs to ease the pain. Zan was barely alive by then. Elise was standing with her forehead again pressed against the barrier, dry eyed. She had no tears left. She listened to the driver telling Zan what they were going to do. Her dream-self stood next to him, staring at nothing, as always. Zan had long ago given up looking at her. His voice held a wealth of contempt as he whispered with great effort ...

"Who's ... inhuman ... now?"

"Inhuman," her dream-self agreed yet again.

Suddenly, Elise was beating against the barrier in a frenzy.

"I hate you!" she screamed at her dream-self. "You idiot! Stupid, fucking bitch! You're the one who's inhuman! You are! You let them do these things to him! You broke his heart and let them hurt him! I hate you, I hate you ..." she pounded her fists until they were bloody. She slid down the barrier in despair, moaning ...

"I'm sorry, I'm so sorry."


****

Elise's eyes snapped open, looking around. Her own room. She was in her own room. It had all been a nightmare. She sat up in the middle of her bed and brought her knees up to her chest, rocking back and forth.

He's okay, he's okay. They didn't hurt him. It was only a dream.

Pushing her hair back off her forehead, she checked the clock. It was midnight. She got up and walked into the kitchen, opening the refrigerator to get a drink from a bottle of water. She was reaching for it when she realized she still had her ring clutched in her hand. She remembered the inscription, and tears filled her eyes.

Taking her bottle, she went to sit on her window seat. Looking at the moon, she realized something. That dream had been her subconscious mind's way of taking all of her confusion and sorting it out. Human and inhuman had nothing to do with species and everything to do with what was on the inside. She no longer cared about Zan's otherwordly status, she just cared about him.

The ever-present tears spilled down her cheeks as she remembered what he said before he left. He wouldn't inflict himself on her again, he had told her, his voice desolate.

She had come to her realization too late.
posted on 20-Oct-2002 6:27:37 PM
Chapter 17

When Elise awoke again, she had a terrific pain in her neck.

"Damn, I must have slept on it the wrong way," she thought.

It took her a moment to realize that she had fallen asleep in her window seat, and at an incredibly awkward angle at that. She could feel an insistent nudging and realized that Max had once again done his job as her alarm clock. She was moving her head gently back and forth on her shoulders to ease the kink of out her neck when all the events came flooding back.

Her every thought was now fixed on Zan, as tears brimmed in her eyes. All of the emotions that she had seen and heard from him the night before were played out in front of her again. His monotone voice and detachment as he talked about his family told her how lonely he was. The anxiety in his eyes, replaced by resoluteness, let her know that he feared her reaction, but was determined to tell her anyway. And his desolate voice when he left told her that she had reacted exactly as he thought she would. She had been weighed in the balances and she hadn't been found wanting at all. She had been all that he thought she would be ... a human afraid of an alien.

And that nightmare. It had been the most intense dream she had ever had, chilling her all the way down to her bones. Never had she had such a dream before.

'Never again either, I hope,' she thought with a shiver.

Elise frowned. She didn't have *that* vivid of an imagination. Was it something that she had picked up off of Zan to play out in her own head? She remembered what he had said before he left, that his life was in her hands. Clearly, he felt that there were others out there who would possibly take his life if they knew that he was an alien. That made sense, she could understand that.

She knew too that she could feel his presence. When she had first realized that his presence wasn't threatening, and then when she finally met him, she just rather blindly accepted it as something between them. She didn't necessarily believe in the psychic realm, but had thought that maybe there was just a sensitivity there. Now she understood that it was because he was an alien. She didn't get the mechanics of why it happened, but it made more sense to her now. Somehow, he could pass the feel of his presence to herself. If that was the case, could pass his fears on to her as well?

Elise knew that telling her the truth had to be so much on his mind. The glimpses she had of his sadness on their date told her that. Up until that point, he had never considered telling anyone, so he was safe. Maybe when he knew he was going to tell her, all his fears came to the surface again. And maybe, without knowing it, he had passed them on to her, and her subconscious mind took them and wove them into her dream.

She had taken his fears and hers and concocted a terrible nightmare. When Zan told her the truth, for that moment it had changed the way she saw him. He became someone to be afraid of. Every stupid alien movie she had ever seen played out in her head, coloring her perception. Suddenly, he was the alien who was 3 feet tall, green and slimy. He wasn't "human."

Her one dream-self saw Zan as alien and therefore unworthy of simple human treatment. Thus her passive allowance of everything that happened to him. Her other dream-self hated what was happening and loathed what she was seeing in herself. That dream version saw Zan's true worth. That he was honest and loving and honorable and so many other things that put him head and shoulders above the monster who wanted to kill him.

The tears once again spilled over when she thought of the version of herself that Zan had seen that night. In that moment, was she his every fear come to life? And what must he be thinking ... feeling ... now, at this moment? Elise wanted nothing more than to see his face and beg his forgiveness. To assure him that his origins didn't matter to her at all. To let him know with her hands and her lips that he was everything she could possibly want ... and to then have him see that truth reaffirmed in her eyes.

Elise got up and stretched to get the final kinks out. She realized she still had her ring clutched in her hand. Walking into her bedroom, she went to her jewelry box and rummaged through it. She wasn't much for jewelry, but she remembered a long silver chain. Finding it, she threaded her ring onto it and slipped it over her head. The ring came to rest between her breasts.

It was infinitely precious to her now. The inscription told her all that she meant to him, that she had held his heart, at least for awhile. Somehow, she knew that his heart had never been given before.

She held the ring in both hands. More than anything, she wanted Zan in her life. Did he really mean what he had said, that he wouldn't inflict himself on her again? She could only hope that his decision wasn't final.

"Please come back to me," she whispered. "Give me one more chance, that's all I ask for ... just one more chance."

Wiping away her tears, Elise got ready to face the day. She would go back to the rink. She had a responsibility, to her coach and her parents, to carry on, even though she had no desire to practice. She went through her usual routine, said good-bye to Max, and left her apartment. She did her stretching, constantly looking down the street, hoping against hope to see him. She took all the time she dared, and then started the walk to the rink. It was lonely. Not once did she feel his presence. She couldn't help the tears that came again, realizing that he wasn't there. When she got to the building, she stopped and waited once again. All she wanted was to see his figure underneath the streetlight ... but he never came. Biting her lip, she pushed her way into the building.

It wasn't until a few minutes later that Zan stepped out of the shadows. His eyes were filled with longing and a hopeless love as he ended his morning vigil over the girl who meant everything to him.
posted on 20-Oct-2002 6:35:17 PM
Chapter 18


In my twisted face, there's not the slightest trace
of anything that even hints of kindness
And from my tortured shape, no comfort, no escape
I see, but deep within is utter blindness

Hopeless as my dream dies, as the time flies
Love, a lost illusion ... helpless, unforgiven ...
cold and driven to this sad conclusion
No beauty could move me, no goodness improve me
no power on earth, if I can't love her

No passion could reach me, no lesson could teach me
How could I have loved her and made her love me too?
If I can't love her, then who?

Long ago I should have seen all the things I could have been
Careless and unthinking, I moved onward
No pain could be deeper, no life could be cheaper
No point anymore, if I can't love her



If a man closes a door, and leaves his heart behind, does he still live?

Zan didn't know. The organ he called his heart still pumped the blood through his veins. It still beat in his chest. He didn't really understand how that could be, because he left it with Elise. It didn't matter that they were as different as light and darkness. It didn't matter that she was human and he was less than that. It didn't matter that she was afraid of him now. He was hers, body and soul, and she held his heart in the palm of her hand. He had freely given it to her. Now, he had to learn how to go on without it.

When he left her, his one thought had been to get as far away as possible. Maybe if he walked long enough, and far enough, he could get away from the pain of loss. Maybe this longing to return to her would go away. Maybe this masochistic desire to gaze into her eyes, even if all he saw in them was fear, would dissipate.

So he walked. He had to keep moving. If he stopped, the grief would crush him. He couldn't go back to the crib ... not now. He was so shattered inside that even years of schooling his features into an expressionless mask wouldn't work. They would know in a minute that he was at the most vulnerable point in his life, and the feeding frenzy on his soul would begin. And he would be finished.

His feet carried him, yet he had no idea where he was going.

'Just keep moving, just keep moving,' was his mantra.

He walked himself into exhaustion. Eventually he stopped, collapsing onto the bench in the little park where he and Elise had first talked. Somehow, his feet had brought him there and he could go no further. He closed his eyes and slept. It was a restless sleep, filled with dreams of Elise. Good times turning into bad, love turning into fear and hate.

When he woke, he knew it was time for her to go to the rink. He couldn't just let her walk by herself. He couldn't just stop watching over her ... he needed to do it now more than he ever had before, because of what she meant to him. He got to his feet and went back to her apartment building. She never came out, never went to practice. Though he thought he couldn't feel any more pain, a fresh wave hit him. Was she so afraid of him now that she wouldn't come out? Of course she was.

The anguish spread through him as he turned away. Zan didn't know what to do, where to go. So he walked again, somehow ending up at Central Park. He sat on their bench and pulled out every memory of her. He relived every moment they were together ... every kiss, every smile. Her sweet, laughing face was ever before him. He closed his eyes and he could remember every touch. She had been falling in love with him, he thought. But he had killed it, and now there was nothing left but the ashes of what might have been, if only he'd been human.

The sheer unfairness of it took his breath away and in his mind he railed against the beings who, in their "wisdom," had placed him here. A lonely alien on a crowded planet.

This wouldn't work. He had to remember the reasons why he left her as he did. His life was just too dangerous. His "family" would chew up and spit out anyone who was important to him. There was always the threat of the government finding out about him. And then there was the fact that she was a nice girl with talent and dreams, and he was an alien orphan with no prospects. He was from the wrong side of the universe.

He recalled the look on her face when he told her the truth. Even as stacked as the deck was against him, this was what made it all impossible. She was afraid of him now.

The exhaustion returned, and he merely curled up where he was and slept again. And, as before, he woke with just enough time to get back to her. He jogged to the subway and took it back to her apartment building once again. This time, she came out and his breathing almost stopped. He closed his eyes against the incredible desire to be with her, and he just watched over her, as he had done in the beginning. He stayed in the shadows and never let her catch the feel of his presence.

Elise stopped at the entrance to the building and looked down the street to where he had first shown himself, but he steeled his resolve and kept out of the light. She eventually went in the building and he waited a few minutes before finally stepping out under the streetlamp. He sketched a small salute, and was gone.

No spirit can win me, no hope left within me
Hope I could have loved her and that she'd set me free
If I can't love her
Let the world be done with me



** The words to the song are from the Broadway version of Disney's Beauty and the Beast **

[ edited 5 time(s), last at 1-Dec-2002 12:42:11 PM ]
posted on 20-Oct-2002 6:45:55 PM
Chapter 19

Elise awoke to Max's gentle nudge and rolled over onto her back, staring at the ceiling.

"Everything is a mess," she told Max as he sat on her chest and gazed at her with unblinking amber eyes. All he did was purr ... fat lot of help that was. She pushed him aside and got up to start the routine of another day.

It had been almost a week since it all fell apart, the loneliest week of her life. Every morning she left for the rink and took her time with her stretching, hoping to see Zan. And every day, the hope died just a little more. No watchful, protective feeling washing over her, no glimpse of him; it would seem he was well and truly gone. The only thing she had left of him was her ring, hanging around her neck. She would pull it out from underneath her whatever she was wearing and constantly hold it. It was her only tangible link to him now.

She had spent alot of time crying, mourning her loss, cursing her stupidity. She called her parents, just to talk to them. She hadn't told them anything about Zan yet, not even saying that she had met someone. The pain was still too fresh, and how do even begin to tell your folks that you're in love with someone who's not of this earth? But she needed to fall back on her family's love for awhile. Hearing their voices helped a little, as did talking to her brothers. They were full of stories about the pee-wee hockey games they were involved in, how school was going, and letting her know that it had already snowed a little. They even told her they missed her, something that brought tears to her eyes.

"Lisa, when you coming home, huh?" Mikey asked her during one of their conversations.

"Christmastime, bud. You know that. Why?" Elise gave her little brother her undivided attention, focusing on what he had to say.

"Cuz I want you to see me play. And nobody cheers as loud as you do. All the guys on our team miss you, too. Who's gonna yell when I score a goal?" Mikey demanded.

"Mikey-bikes, I think that Mom and Dad would yell. I bet Matthew would too, if he's not too cool now. And you know that Mom tapes all the games and sends them to me. So I'll get to see it, just a little later than everyone else." Elise soothed.

"Sucks," Mikey was succinct in his opinion of the whole thing.

"Mikey," Elise warned, "I could tell Mom what you just said and she'll wash your mouth out with soap. You know, like in A Christmas Story."

"You won't tell," her brother was confident.

Elise just laughed. Mikey had managed to lighten her mood. There was something special about the unconditional love that her brother had for his "awesome big sister," something she needed.

Elise also started to confide her doubts to her parents about whether she wanted to continue with her skating. They weren't very happy, but hearing how subdued she was, they were careful with her. They didn't know that she was so downcast because of Zan. They assumed she was fearful of their reaction to her news. Her parents assured her that the decision they eventually made would be the right one for her, because they wanted her to be happy above everything else. However, they felt she should continue on at least until the Christmas holidays, when she would be coming home and they could spend some quality time discussing her future.

Elise felt some slight relief to have that aspect of her life out in the open. It was the only glimmer of a bright spot on a very dark horizon.

'I just have to keep moving, I guess,' she thought, although it was the last thing she wanted to do.

She finished packing her things for the day and walked out the door. She did her stretching, keeping a watchful eye out, and tried not to let the first tear fall when Zan didn't appear. She wondered if it would ever get any easier to bear, this loss.

Letting herself into the building, Elise did her warm-ups and waited for her coach to appear. The practices had been nothing short of awful, and she could tell that Madame was more than a little impatient with her. She tried to explain that she was having trouble because she was unhappy about a relationship that had ended badly, but her coach didn't care. In the skating world there are no excuses, Elise was told. If you want to be the best, you have to put these little annoyances behind you.

'Little annoyances!' Elise had a momentary flare of rage that was breathtaking in it's scope.

She soldiered on. She had never fallen so much in her life, because her concentration was totally off. She felt like her body was one gigantic bruise. Jumps that were easy took everything she had in her. And the faulty double axel they were working on brought her to tears more often than she cared to think about. The only good thing about the practices was the fact that they kept her busy and exhausted her. It made it a little easier to fall asleep at night.

Once Madame showed up, they went through everything that she wanted Elise to work on that day. It was a bad practice, because the emotions roiling around in her were very close to the surface. For the first time since Elise got to New York, Madame cut the practice short.

"This is just an exercise in futility today, Miss Ryan," her coach was exasperated. "I've worked with 12 year olds that have more concentration than you do. We are going to stop now and we will begin again Monday. Take your time to cool down, because there is plenty of ice time left. And then consider doing something to break your routine. Maybe a fresh perspective will help. I admit, I'm at a loss as to how to help you right now."

Elise nodded her head and made a small apology, mentally giving her coach the finger as she left. Then she smiled a little ruefully at how her brothers would react to such a gesture from her. Once they got done rolling on the floor, laughing, that is.

She skated over to where she kept her boom box and pulled out an old Journey CD. The song had a driving beat, but the words were sad.

One day, love will find you,
break those chains that bind you,
one night will remind you,
how we touched and went our separate ways


Elise poured every emotion she had into her skating. It was a relief to express her misery at how easily she let Zan walk out the door. He would never know that her whole perspective had changed.

If you must go, I wish you love
You'll never walk alone
Take care my love, miss you love


Her heart had gone out that door with him. That gave her some measure of comfort, that her love went with him, so that he wasn't alone. But she wanted him with her, so that her words and her hands and her body could make it real for him. After listening to him open up about his life, she knew that he never had anyone to give him the unconditional love that she grew up with. She wanted to be the one to give that to him, so he could finally have the love that he deserved.

Elise finished pouring her heart out and skated back to the boombox to turn it off. Blotting her face with a towel, she realized that she wasn't ready to stop yet. She decided to practice the double axel a few more times. It was bothering her that she let the stupid jump get the best of her.

She circled the rink to build up the necessary speed and tried it out. Almost, almost she had it. She could feel the jump starting to come together in her head, which was translating itself to how her body performed the move. She circled and tried it again. Even better. Just a few more tries ...

The last time, the approach was good. But when she took off, something was radically wrong. Elise just knew she was going to fall. She tried to salvage it, but it was no good. When she fell, her momentum put her flat on her back, sliding on the ice. That's when she panicked, realizing that she was way too close to the wall and she was heading right for it.

'Oh shit, oh shit,' she thought. 'I'm going to hit my head.'

At the last second, she pulled her head up, trying to avoid knocking herself out. It was the worst possible thing she could have done. There was an incredible crack that filled the air as she came to a stop, crumpled on the ice.

"Nooo!!" a cry of anguish came from a darkened corner of the rink.

[ edited 1 time(s), last at 20-Oct-2002 11:33:14 PM ]
posted on 20-Oct-2002 6:50:52 PM
Chapter 20

Zan hadn't really liked his life before. It consisted of 11 years of living in limbo, going thru motions, waiting for someone from the mother planet to contact them. 11 years of being on hold, thinking they would get the call to go home. All that time trying to hold everyone together and not kill or be killed. There were no moments of happiness, love, pride of accomplishment ... any of the things that give a person a feeling of worth. And through it all, he had a feeling that there was someone out there for him. Someone to love him. Someone who would care about his feelings, his innermost thoughts, all the things that made him Zan.

If he hadn't liked his life before, it was nothing compared to how he felt about it now. He had finally been given everything he had ever wanted, only to lose it in the space of two days. It would seem that in the grand scheme of his life, he was entitled to two days of happiness ... two days to glimpse the things that most people could have for their lifetimes. And then it was all taken back.

It had taken him two days just to try and pull his shattered existence back together. Two days to get to the point where he could function again. Two days to go back to the way it was before he ever met Elise, when the most contact he had was strictly by sight as he followed her. Back to square one.

That Zan continued to follow her was a given. He worried about her being alone so early in the morning and he wasn't going to stop keeping a vigil over her. It was bittersweet, what he was doing. To have her so close and yet not let her know he was there took his anguish and kicked it up another notch. And yet, it gave him his greatest joy, to drink in the sight of her.

He deliberately blocked any feeling that she could get off of him, something he had alot of experience with. For the most part, the aliens were all aware of each other, like a slight hum in the background that you didn't miss unless it wasn't there. White noise. There were numerous times that he hadn't wanted his "family" to know where he was or what he was feeling. It was an ability he had that bothered the others. They all wanted to keep tabs on each other ... a trust issue. Well, he didn't trust them at all, so he cultivated the ability to more or less hide his presence. It annoyed the hell out of them, that he could do something they couldn't, which in turn amused the hell out of him. They all had different gifts and this seemed to be one that he had that the others didn't.

It was so hard for him ... to watch her in the morning and not go and kiss her senseless. Just holding her hand would have been enough for him. But he stayed strictly in the background, making sure she was okay. Then he would leave, going nowhere in particular. Sometimes he went back to the crib to make an appearance, once he had his emotions back under stern control. Years of keeping his face expressionless stood him in good stead at those times. He could tell they were searching for a weakness, but got nothing out of him. Rath in particular was after him, constantly wanting to talk about the summit and change Zan's mind. Zan just blew him off, unable to deal with him.

In the afternoons he would go back to the rink. He would sneak in and linger in the shadows, watching her graceful figure. He'd frown when her coach was particularly harsh with her. Didn't the woman understand that Elise was under alot of strain? Those moments tested his control in other ways, as he longed to come to her defense. It broke his heart to see how she was struggling, realizing that she still hadn't recovered her equilibrium after his stunning revelation. But he stayed in the background. She didn't need him, didn't want him ... not an alien. One day, she would move on, find some nice human boy and live a normal life.

But until that day came, he would watch out for her.

After a week, he was adept at reading her feelings, even from a distance. Elise was less shaky than before, but she was still having a hard time performing the easiest of her routine. Her coach was clearly unhappy with how the practice was going. He frowned. That bitch! Why couldn't she see how hard Elise was trying and lay off her? He watched her coach call her to the side and talk to her. Elise was nodding her head in a way that made him realize she was apologizing yet again. His anger was rising, all his protective instincts coming to the forefront. And he felt guilty as hell too, realizing it was all his fault that she was having so much trouble. If he'd never met her ...

Her coach was heading to the exit, saying something about cooling down and taking her time. He was glad the woman was gone. Turning his attention back to Elise, he watched her pull out a cd and skate, throwing her whole heart into what she was doing. He was too far away to really hear the music, but while it had a fast beat, somehow her skating seemed sad. She was so amazing! He was enthralled with every move she made, mesmerized. When the music stopped, she looked like she was ready to quit and he started to head for the exit, not wanting her to see him. He turned for one last look, and was surprised to see that she had decided to practice the difficult jump.

Elise looked determined, and after a few tries, she seemed to be getting it. She took another pass around the rink to build up speed and took off. But something was wrong. She totally lost her control and landed on her back, sliding toward the wall. Zan moved closer, anxiously watching her try and save herself.

'She's not gonna to be able to stop. Shit! She's not gonna make it! Come on, baby. You have to stop!' he thought frantically.

At the last minute, he saw her pull up her head to try and keep from hitting it. Her momentum carried her into the wall and he heard the sickening crack even from where he was.

"No!" he cried out in anguish. "No, not her! Please, not her! Elise!"

Zan was down to the ice in a heartbeat. He vaulted over the low wall, racing to her side, sliding the last few feet on his knees.

'Oh God, please let her be alright. Please!' he begged in his mind.

She was lying on her back, her head at an awkward angle, staring up at the ceiling.

"Lise! Lise, baby, come on, you have to be okay," his voice was broken.

"Zan?" her eyes moved toward him.

"Zan, I can't move," she sounded confused. "Why can't I move?"

"You hit your head, baby. Maybe you just need a few minutes ..." his voice trailed off. He knew better. This was alot more serious than her hitting her head. He was pretty sure, based on what he had seen and what she was saying, that her neck was broken.

"Zan, I can't move! I'm scared! Oh God, I'm so scared! I felt it in my neck; I think I broke it!" Elise's voice was starting to get panicked. She was staring up at him and her eyes were filled with terror.

"It's gonna be ok, baby. I promise, it'll be ok. You have to calm down," Zan soothed.

"I can't calm down! I can't! Am I gonna die? Am I gonna be paralyzed for the rest of my life?!" her voice was rising as the fear was starting to overwhelm her.

"Lise, listen to me. Listen to my voice. You have to calm down. Stay with me here," he coaxed, trying to keep her attention on him.

"Lise, you have to look at me. You have to look at me," Zan said as he carefully placed his hand behind her neck.

She kept her eyes fixed on him and he formed a connection with her. He was in. Immediately, he began to get flashes of her life.

Elise as a young girl, helping her mother with dishes.

Elise, going with her father to the ski slope that overlooked a frozen lake. Her dad strapping on her skiis and watching her on the bunny hill. She was still so young then.

Elise, skating while her coach and her parents looked on.

Going to hockey games with her family, cheering and groaning with her brothers.

An older Elise, watching her brothers play hockey, laughing at her younger brother as he slid into the net, knocking the little goalie down.

Going out with her friends for pizza and shyly accepting the attention of some guy.

Traveling with her mom to New York to find a place to live.


Zan pushed all the images aside, concentrating on what he had to do. He had healed before, usually when one of the "family" got hurt in some form or another. What he had were wonderful inate instincts. Somehow, he just knew what to do, how to follow the path of an injury and do what needed to be done to heal it. In his mind, he could clearly see the break in her vertebrae and the damage to her spinal column. He held nothing back, using his gift to the limit, repairing the damage. He took his time and was thorough, even as he felt it draining his energy and sapping his strength. He had never taken on anything of this magnitude before. He should pull out, but he refused to, making sure that he had done everything required first. It was only when his vision began to blur and darken that he broke the connection.

"You're alright now, you're alright," he gasped as he swayed precariously back and forth on his knees, his strength gone.

Elise looked up at him in wonder. She had felt the rush of warmth that flowed from his hand to her neck, knowing that, somehow, he was healing her. She put her hands up to her neck, carefully rolling her head back and forth. She gazed at her hands, realizing she could move them. She could move every part of her body. Her focus shifted from her hands to Zan. He was still swaying, his eyes closed, clearly exhausted. As she watched, he pitched forward onto his hands, his head hanging, before collapsing completely on the ice.
posted on 20-Oct-2002 7:04:04 PM
Chapter 21

From Chapter 20 ...

"You're alright now, you're alright," he gasped as he swayed precariously back and forth on his knees, his strength gone.

Elise looked up at him in wonder. She had felt the rush of warmth that flowed from his hand to her neck, knowing that, somehow, he was healing her. She put her hands up to her neck, carefully rolling her head back and forth. She gazed at her hands, realizing she could move them. She could move every part of her body. Her focus shifted from her hands to Zan. He was still swaying, his eyes closed, clearly exhausted. As she watched, he pitched forward onto his hands, his head hanging, before collapsing completely on the ice.


Chapter 21

Elise stared at Zan as he lay sprawled face down on the ice, his head turned towards her. He was pale and his eyes were closed, the dark lashes emphasizing how drawn and tired he was. She was still flat on her back, her head turned towards him, close enough that she skimmed his cheek with the back of her hand. Tears brimmed in her eyes as she said his name, her voice small.

"Zan ... Zan, are you okay? You have to be okay. I have so much I want to tell you. Zan, please ..." her voice broke as the tears spilled down her cheeks.

He stirred slightly, his eyes fluttering open to gaze at her in return.

"Lise," his voice was a sigh. "You ... alright?"

She nodded her head, carefully. She was a little leery about moving, but everything seemed ... normal. Unbelievable.

"I'm fine. Completely fine. What about you?" she questioned anxiously. She sniffled as she tried to get herself under control. The last thing he needed right now was her falling apart.

"Tired. Just ... so tired," Zan's eyes closed for a moment before he forced them open again. With great effort, he lifted his hand to touch her beautiful face, before it fell away again.

"I'll ... be okay soon. Don't have to ... stay. I know you're ... afraid ... me," his voice faltered, eyes closing again. He didn't want to see her disgust of him.

Elise rolled on to her side to get closer to him. The tears fell in earnest as she cradled his cheek with her hand.

"No, Zan, no. Never afraid. Never again. I'm sorry ... so, so sorry that I even for a moment caused you pain by being scared. I can't explain why I reacted the way I did, but any fear, any doubt that I had is over. All that's left is how I feel about you. I've missed you, so much. Please, please tell me that you forgive me for hurting you like I did," Elise could barely speak around the tears that seemed to clog her throat. Oh, the damage she had done ...

"No. Were right to not ... want me. We're ... too different," Zan told her.

"I don't care," she said with a small sob. "I don't care if you're from across the galaxy or across town. Zan, look at me," she implored, and he struggled to open his eyes again.

"All I care about is you."

He was lost in her gaze. Those fathomless eyes always told him the truth. And in their depths, he could see her sorrow at hurting him, her hope that he would forgive her, and above all else, the love she had for him. She loved him! It was almost too much for him to bear, this love. He nodded, tears beginning to well up, and he closed his eyes as the feelings raced over his heart.

At that moment, Elise realized just how wrung out he was. She could see him begin to shiver, both from weakness and from being on the ice. Berating herself, she pulled it together. Now that he knew the truth, there would be enough time for the rest later. She had to get Zan away. Carefully sitting up, because she still a little fearful after all that had happened, she shifted to her knees. Reaching her arm underneath his far shoulder, she helped him turn over so he was lying on his back.

"I'm taking you home," she told him.

Again reaching under his shoulders, she helped him to sit up. He moaned and his head dropped onto her shoulder, his forehead pressed to the soft skin of her throat, his eyes closed. Her arms came around him closely as she kissed his cheek.

"Dizzy. Gimme ... minute," he panted.

Elise could feel him try to gather himself for the effort of getting on his feet. She tightened her grip to hold him to her, wanting to give him some time.

"Shh ... just rest," she whispered, keeping her arms around him as the minutes passed. Elise let her cheek lay against the top of his head, her heart so full that it hurt. This is where he belonged, in her embrace, and she defied this world and any other to take him from her.

When Zan told her he was ready, she helped him to his feet. He swayed for a moment, and Elise worried that he would tumble back onto the ice again. But, after a small wait, he indicated he wanted to move.

"Keep close to the wall," his voice was breathless, "and I can make it."

Elise wrapped his arm around her shoulder, and she had her arm around his waist. Slowly, they made it to the door built into the low wall. After passing through it, Elise led him to the audience area and eased him into a seat. He fell back with a grateful sigh, closing his eyes in relief. She had to keep from crying out in panic at how ashen he was. Under normal circumstances, she would be thinking doctor or hospital, but knowing his alien origins, these were out of the question.

"I'll be right back," she brushed a quick kiss across his lips.

Even exhausted as he was, his mouth instinctively chased after hers and she kissed him again, nuzzling his cheek for a moment. Then she was gone, hurrying to the locker room to remove her skates and change in record time. She rummaged in her bag to pull out her cell phone. Blessing her mother for insisting she have a cab company on speed-dial, she called for a taxi.

'I'll never tease Mom about going down Anal Road again," she thought to herself.

She gave the company her number and asked them to call her when the cab pulled up, and to tell the driver there might be a small wait. Then she hurried back to Zan. He was slumped over in the seat, his head in his arms, which were laying on the armrest. She went to sit next to him.

"Come here," she said, as she shifted him so that his head was once again resting on her shoulder.

"Missed you," Zan's voice was barely above a whisper. She somehow knew that he meant more than just the few moments she was gone. He was referring to the week without her, how lonely he had been. She understood, because it had been the loneliest week of her life too.

It wasn't a long wait, and Elise wavered between being anxious because she wanted to get him home, and being content, of all things, because he was back and in her arms. When her cell phone rang, she told the cab company that they would out in a few minutes.

"Zan," she said gently, "it's time to go. Can you make it?"

"Yeah," his voice was slightly blurred with exhaustion.

Elise helped him to his feet and then put her arm around him again to support his weight as they headed for the exit. Once they were outside, she got him into the cab and then ran back in for her bag. It was a short ride and he rested in her embrace the whole time. The cab driver helped her get him up the stairs of her building and into the elevator, handing Elise her bag. She pulled out her wallet and paid for the fare, along with a generous tip.

It was a short walk down the hall to her apartment, something she was thankful for. She could feel that Zan was at the end of his strength. Once they were safely inside, she led him to her bedroom.

"Almost there," she coaxed him the last few feet to her bed.

Zan sat down heavily, scarcely aware of where he was. Elise removed his jacket and then pulled on the hem of his t-shirt, asking him to raise his arms. Once his shirt was off, she shifted him and put her arm behind him to support his weight as she pushed him to lay down.

"Lift your hips," she asked and he blindly complied. Elise slid his pants down, her eyes widening as she realized he was going commando.

'Holy, moley,' she thought as she gazed down at him, a blush suffusing her cheeks.

She quickly removed his shoes, socks and pants and then covered him with one of her quilts.

'Breathe, girl, breathe,' she told herself. 'Now is hardly the time ...'

Elise sat down next to him on the bed, her fingers skimming down his cheeks and tracing his mouth as he slept.

"You have no idea how much I missed you," she whispered to him as she continued to touch him, tears in her eyes. "Don't you ever even *think* about leaving me again."

Elise got up and went to her dresser. Pulling out a pair of flannel boxers and a tank top, she went into the bathroom and changed. She pulled her hair out of her ponytail and brushed it quickly. Then she returned to the bedroom and crawled under the quilt next to Zan. He lay on his back and she curled up next to him, resting her cheek on his chest and wrapping her arm around his waist. Even in sleep, his arm came around her to hold her close to him. Elise could feel her eyes getting heavy as all the emotional upheaval of the last week caught up with her. Reaching up to brush a small kiss on his lips, she snuggled close to join him in sleep.

[ edited 1 time(s), last at 20-Oct-2002 7:09:34 PM ]
posted on 20-Oct-2002 11:27:08 PM
Chapter 22

If Zan never moved again, that was fine with him.  He came awake slowly, gradually aware that he was warmer and more comfortable than he had ever been before.  He took a slow, deep breath, keeping his eyes closed and allowing his body to remain a boneless heap of total relaxation.
 
He took inventory with his other three senses.  Used to the constant background noise of the subway system, the quiet was wonderful.  All he could really hear was the slight purring of Max and the even breathing of Elise as she slept.  The scent of strawberries and vanilla was all around him.  And touch ... ah, that was the best sense of all.  He could feel her soft hair on the bare skin of his chest, feel her smooth cheek as she nestled there.  He could feel her warm, silky skin touching him in so many places, her breasts pressing against him, her feet all tangled up with his.  She was all around him, surrounding him and filling him with a contentment he had never known before.

When he opened his eyes to gaze down at her, his heart clenched to see her close in his arms, something he thought would never happen.  It was still dark outside, but in the faint light from the window, he could see her lashes laying on her cheeks.  The rest of her face was covered by the quilt and he lifted it up to drink in her peaceful beauty.

His arms tightened around her, wondering what the hell he was going to do now.  He told her his alien origins, counting on her fear and disgust to keep her away from him ... and she didn't care.  He had seen it in her eyes, the eyes that never lied to him.  Her leaving him because of being afraid of him wasn't going to happen, because she simply wasn't afraid.  His life was still too dangerous for her to be a part of, but he had lost his best means of keeping her out of it.  He honestly didn't think he could find the strength to push her away, give her up again.  He couldn't look at her beautiful face and tell her that they could never be.  Damn, damn, damn.

As he lay there thinking, Elise quietly woke up herself.  She knew that Zan was awake, because she could feel his fingers sifting through her hair again and again.  Yep ... a definite hair thing.  She could hear the rhythmic beating of his heart under her ear, the most soothing sound in the world to her, outside of his voice.

"Mmm. How are you feeling?" her voice was blurred.

"Tired, but good," Zan replied. "And you ... you should still be sleeping. You've had a rough time."

"How can I sleep when the wheels turning in your head are so noisy," Elise teased. She turned her face slightly to look up at him, her eyes concerned.

"How are you really feeling? You scared me before, when you were lying on the ice like that," her voice trembled a bit.

"I'll be okay. I've just never used that much energy before. Whenever I've healed any of the others, it took alot out of me, but I've never passed out. I just need to sleep for awhile yet and I'll be fine," Zan reassured her.

Elise got on her knees and reached over him to turn on a small light on the nightstand by the bed. Zan was again asking for strength as her breasts seemed to be right above him. He swallowed hard. Nirvana.

Once the light was on, bathing the room with a soft glow, she sat back down crosslegged next to him on the bed. Zan sat up slowly and then pushed himself back to lean against the headboard. Before he did, Elise reached behind him to place a pillow there to make him more comfortable. She searched his face anxiously and although he looked much better, the fatigue was still evident. She reached out to gently trace his features with her fingers, her eyes filling with tears as he caught her hand to press a kiss onto her palm.

"I don't know how to ever thank you for what you did this afternoon. That was the scariest time in my life, and you were right there. You kept me from going totally crazy. You know that, right? And then, when you healed me ... Zan, I don't even know what to say. There are no words that even come close to describing how I feel right now," Elise's throat was tight, her eyes luminous with tears that spilled down her cheeks. Zan reached out with his free hand to gently wipe one away.

"I think I get it," he gave her a small smile, trying to lighten her mood.

"Where do we go from here? I spent the worst week of my life being without you. I know that's my fault, because I was afraid and silly. And I know that I hurt you, something that I will regret forever. But, maybe if you can forgive me," her voice got small as she hoped against hope that she could fix the damage she had done, "maybe we could start over?"

"Lise, I don't want to start over," Zan said softly, and her heart broke.

"Starting over means that we lose everything that's happened up until now. That means the good things, as well as the bad. I don't want to lose the good things. I told you the truth before ... those two days were the best days of my life. I don't want to lose them by going back to the beginning. I wouldn't trade them for anything."

Zan reached out to brush the hair back from her face, skimming his knuckles down her soft cheek. How could he explain this to her?

"Lise, we're good together. But, look at how things stand. I have a "family" that basically hates me and would hate anyone that I cared about. There's always the chance that the feds would find out about me. It's not a life that I would want for you, constantly being on guard and watching over your shoulder. We're different ... we're not meant to be. And I just don't want you to get hurt," Zan's voice was low, and he winced as he thought about how much he had hurt her already.

"Zan," Elise's voice was earnest, "if you want to back out because you don't care about me, I understand." She hurried to continue as he shook his head vehemently in negation. "But if you're backing out because of what you think is best for me ... well, I love you for being so protective, but it's not your decision to make."

He opened his mouth to argue with her, and she gently placed her hand over his lips, shaking her head.

"I know there are risks involved. I'm willing to take my chances," she said with a shrug of her shoulders.

Zan knew he should argue with her. He knew he should try and open her eyes to how naive she was being, but he just couldn't. He didn't have the strength or the will to even try. He gave her up once, he couldn't do it again.

"Okay," he sighed in resignation.

"You haven't really given up that easily, have you?" Elise was suspicious.

"I'm conceding defeat for the moment. I'm just too tired to try and do justice to this anymore tonight," he said, rolling his eyes as her expression became triumphant. "The jury's still out on this," he warned.

"Who cares?" was her blithe response. "We could end up with a mistrial, a hung jury, the possibilities are endless. Could take years before you'd get to argue your case again," she grinned, but then her expression sobered.

"Zan, I'm not taking this as lightly as I make it sound. But if the week that we were apart showed me anything, it's that I was miserable without you. I did it for a week. I can't do it anymore. Don't ask me to," her voice cracked a little as the ready tears came to the surface yet again.

"Shh ... don't cry, please. We'll figure something out," Zan soothed as he pulled her onto his lap. Elise pressed her face into the warm column of his throat and allowed the tears to fall.

Zan held her close in his arms as she cried, whispering all those little nonsensical phrases of comfort that seem to be universal during times of emotional upheaval. He pressed small kisses to her forehead while letting the silken strands of her hair slip through his fingers. He could feel her slowly relax in his arms, and when he pulled back a little to check on her, she was asleep. Carefully, he shifted her off his lap so that she was lying on the bed. He reached over to turn out the light and stretched out next to her, gathering her into his arms again. She curled up into his side, her head resting on his shoulder, her arm once again coming around his waist. His breath caught for just a moment when her leg ended up resting between his. It would take a little while before the body part that came to attention at that innocent act would allow him to go back to sleep.

There had to be a way for them to be together ... there had to be.
posted on 20-Oct-2002 11:31:52 PM
Chapter 23

The next time Zan awoke, the sun was shining brightly in the window and he was alone.  Damn, he missed having Elise in his arms already.  All those years of sleeping by himself ... he had her close beside him for one night, and suddenly it came to him that sleeping alone was going to suck mightily from now on.  He lay there contemplating it for a few moments before tossing the quilt aside to go hunt her down.  He pulled on his pants and figured he'd follow his nose, since the smell of coffee and frying bacon hung in the air.

Zan walked through the living room to the open door that led to the small kitchen.  His eyes widened a bit before he casually leaned against the doorjamb to watch her.

Elise loved Saturdays, the one day she got to sleep in late and basically fritter the day away, doing whatever she felt like.  When she awoke, she spent some time just watching Zan as he slept, thankful that the exhaustion seemed to have cleared from his features.  She even lifted the quilt and checked him out.  Oh, wow ...

Elise got up, taking a quick shower and pulling on a tank top and some low-riding jeans.  Barefoot, she padded into the kitchen to make breakfast for them.  She turned on the radio that she kept there, turning it to the classic rock station.  Sometimes when she missed her family, she would turn to that station, since it was always on in her house in the UP.  It brought them closer to her somehow.  She started coffee and then took out bacon, eggs and bread for toast, figuring that once everything was ready, she'd go and wake Zan up.

Elise had just pulled the last of the bacon from the frying pan, setting it to drain on a plate covered with a paper towel.  She put a lid on it to keep it warm and gave the scrambled eggs on the stove a stir.  As she passed the radio, she cranked the volume a bit, singing along with the song.  Nothing like ZZ Top ...

I've been bad, I've been good
Dallas Texas, Hollywood
...

... Elise moved toward the refrigerator, intent on pulling out some orange juice,

I ain't asking for much, mmm-hmm ...

... she sang as she bent over, pushing the milk carton aside to grab the juice from the back,

Oh lord, take me downtown,
I'm just looking for some tush
...

... her ass swayed in time with the music as she found what she was looking for.  She pulled it out and straightened up, turning and giving the refrigerator door a nudge with her hip to close it.  She put the carton on the counter and was turning back to the stove when she saw Zan, watching her with one brow lifted and the lopsided smile that always raised her heart rate.  All he was wearing was a pair of loose-fitting cargo pants, riding low on his hips.  Her voice died away as they stared at each other.  As if pulled by a magnet, Elise came to him, pushing him up against the doorjamb and reaching up to capture his lips in a long, searing kiss.  It wasn't enough.  His mouth opened and her tongue was instantly exploring every inch, reacquainting herself with his taste.

Zan threaded one hand up into her hair, while his free arm came around her waist to pull her closer to him.  Now it was his turn.  His lips and tongue were everywhere, leaving Elise weak in the knees and needing his arm around her to hold her up.  She shivered when his tongue trailed a path from her earlobe to her collarbone.  He moved to gently trace her other ear with his lips when she realized that the eggs were well on their way to burning.  She gave a moan of regret and pushed back in his arms.

"Zan," her voice was breathless, "the eggs are burning."

"So?" his voice was low and husky in her ear, giving it a small lick.

"So ... I don't want to burn the building down around us," she said distractedly.

"We've got a few seconds left before we have to worry about that," Zan informed her, sucking on the tender skin of her neck.
 
'Ooh, that'll leave his mark,' she thought happily.  'Screw the eggs.'

"Okay," she panted, "you're in charge."

Zan gave her throat his undivided attention for a few more heated seconds, before reluctantly turning her loose to go and pull the pan off the stove.  Elise had her back up against the doorjamb, watching him dump it in the sink, waving his hand over it to put out the fire.  So much for breakfast.

"That," she said admiringly, "is a very handy skill you have there."

Zan just smiled at her.  He walked over and leaned up against the other side of the doorjamb, so that they were facing each other in the small space of the doorway.

"What else can you ... you know .. do?" Elise asked softly.  She was hesitant to inquire, yet at the same time she was soo interested.  She was thankful that Zan didn't seem to think her morbidly curious, treating her question as a legitimate desire to know.  That last thing she wanted to do was make him uncomfortable.

"Well, like I told you before, I have this ability to heal people.  I've never used it on anyone other than Lonnie, Rath, Ava, and now you.  I can't really heal something like a disease, but I can heal wounds and breaks, stuff like that.  I can also manipulate molecular structures, which is what you saw just now.  And we have the ability to connect with people," Zan explained.

"What do you mean, connect with people?" Elise's brow wrinkled in confusion.

"When I healed you, I seem to have formed this ... connection.  I could see things from your past," he elaborated a little further.

"What things?" Elise had a moment of alarm.  Good heavens, there were enough embarrassing things in her background that she really didn't want anyone to know about.

"I got these images of you at different times of your life.  I could see you as a little girl, going skiing with your father on some little bunny hill.  I could see your mom teaching you how to cook; you watching your brothers play hockey.  I saw you going out for pizza with your friends and some guy paying alot of attention to you," Zan's voice was tight as he described that last scene. 

"I was wondering," he looked down for a moment and then met her eyes again, "did you get any images from me?"

"No, no I didn't," Elise's voice was slightly wistful.

Zan heard the note of longing in her voice and decided to take the chance to open himself up further to this incredible girl.  It was what he had always wanted, to have someone special know the real him, the part of him that no one had ever seen.

"I've never tried this before," he said slowly, "but maybe I could make the connection go the other way."

Elise nodded her head, indicating that she was agreeable, and Zan placed his hands on either side of her face.

"Just look into my eyes, and let your mind go blank," he said as he concentrated on reversing the inner path to her, allowing her access to places in his heart that had never been opened before.

Elise's breath caught as she could feel a channel open between them.  She followed it, seeing the images of his past.  She could see him break out of his pod to enter a world of cold and dark and filth ... the sewers of New York.  She could feel the wrenching confusion that came with being alone in these first moments of existence.  She saw him with the other three aliens when they were young, gradually taking over the reins of leadership, witnessing their growing resentment.  She could see myriad confrontations with the others, knowing that they hated him, feeling his incredible loneliness.

She saw him at the moment he had first laid eyes on her.  He was smitten.  The moments between them were all there for her to see and feel ... how very much they meant to him.  Her heart broke again to feel his anguish when he revealed his origins and she was afraid, reliving the terror and exhaustion when he healed her. And then she caught a glimpse of something that amazed her.  She sensed that she was being shown the one thing never seen by another ... the well-protected core of his soul.  The sweetness of it, the tender vulnerability, sent the tears spilling down her cheeks.

"Did it work?" Zan asked, his gaze intent as he gently wiped the tears away with his thumbs.

She could only nod.
posted on 20-Oct-2002 11:38:53 PM
Chapter 24

After the reversal of the connection, by unspoken consent Elise and Zan returned to fixing breakfast. It was almost as if what happened was so emotionally charged that they needed something rather mundane to bring back their equilibrium.

Elise made more scrambled eggs while Zan passed his hand over the bacon to heat it up again. She plated the food while he poured orange juice. She dug into the refrigerator for the hot sauce while he gave her ass a gentle swat. When she straightened up to give him an indignant look, he schooled his features to total innocence. She raised her brow at him and he just shrugged, and smiled.

They took their plates, along with the juice and mugs of hot coffee, into the living room and sat in the window seat, putting their food on the end table. It didn't take anytime at all for Zan to polish off his share, and she passed him a couple of strips of her bacon and some of her eggs as well. He finally sat back, replete.

"That," he sighed in satisfaction, "was good. Thanks," he reached over to brush his knuckles over her cheek.

Zan could see that the curiosity was getting to her again, but she wasn't saying anything. He knew that it wasn't because she was afraid of what she'd hear. He thought that after the connection between them had blown open, she maybe felt that he would think he had revealed enough for one day. He figured he'd help her out.

"You can ask me whatever you want. I know you have questions," he told her.

Elise toyed with the last of her food. She did have so many questions, and she didn't know where to begin. She decided to start with the thing that bothered her the most in the flashes she had seen of his life.

"So," she asked, taking Zan totally by surprise, "who's the chick?"

"The chick?" he snorted in disbelief.

"Yeah, the blonde bimbo-looking type with the pink streaks in her hair. The one who looks at you like you're the baked ham entree on the Easter buffet. Who is she?" Elise demanded.

"That would be Ava," Zan told her, amused at her description.

"I'm assuming she's not your sister, based on the looks she gives you. She wants in your pants in the worst way," she sniffed.

"Nah, she just pretends that she does. Actually, she hates my guts ... they all do," Zan tried to soothe her.

Elise was sounding rather hostile about the whole thing, sort of like she was being all territorial or something. He almost thought she was jealous and he laughed inwardly at the idea. Why in the world would she be jealous? Ava couldn't hold a candle to her. There was no comparison ... not in looks, in personality, in beauty of spirit. It was no contest.

"I know what I saw. It's a love/hate thing. She may hate your guts," she informed him, "but getting in your pants is her number one goal in life."

"And you know this, why?" Zan teased. "Because *you* want in my pants?"

Elise's cheeks pinked and she lifted her nose in the air, just a bit.

"Maybe," she conceded, with a slight smile.

He felt a rumbling in his stomach at her admission. It was getting alot harder to be around her and keep his hands and his mouth and his tongue and his *other* body part in the PG rating, when he was starting to get these R and NC-17 ideas. While he really didn't have much experience with the opposite sex, actually none at all, she seemed to be a complete innocent by comparison. He would have to be so careful of her, to not rush her. But he was right about what he had told her before ... they were good together. Very good. Everything they did was totally by instinct, and while it was a bit awkward at times, it was amazing. Fumbling toward ecstasy.

"You don't have a thing to worry about. She's not my type," Zan leaned forward to rub his nose against hers. "You, on the other hand, are definitely my type."

He was going in for a kiss when she pulled back, her expression serious.

"Zan, she's dangerous. It's all over her face," Elise said anxiously. "I don't like it. I don't like them. All three of them seriously weird me out"

"Hey," he said softly, surprised and touched by her concern, "it'll be fine. I can take care of myself around her ... and them. I have for years now."

"Just promise me you'll be careful, okay? They give me the willies," she shivered.

"Okay, okay," Zan was quick to reassure her. 

This was totally new territory for him.  He never had anyone worry about him before, someone who cared one way or another what happened to him.  The feelings that went through him at the idea were hard to describe, because they were so new to him.  It was wonderful to realize that he was important to her, so important that she was getting rather fierce and protective of him.  He had this sense of belonging, as if he had found a niche for the first time, instead of wandering through life with no place to really call home.  Elise was watching him, her eyes filled with worry, biting the corner of her lip.  Zan reached out to cradle her cheek with his hand.  He closed the fingers of his other hand around hers and brought it to lips, brushing a tender kiss across her knuckles.

"I promise, I'll be careful," he told her solemnly.

"Okay," she whispered as she nodded her head, satisfied with his response.

The sun was shining on her face, highlighting the freckles that he loved so much.  He smiled as he brushed his thumb over them, and then his hand trailed over her cheek and down her throat.  He could feel the chain that she wore around her neck and he gave it a tug, pulling it free from her tank top.  He was surprised to see it threaded through her ring and his eyes went to her face, questioning.

"I saw what you put on the inside," Elise's voice was soft, "and it made the ring that much more special to me."

She watched him as he toyed with it, and it suddenly came to her.

"It was special to you too, wasn't it?" she asked.

"Yeah," Zan admitted in a low voice as he nodded his head.

Elise started to pull the chain over her head.  She wanted to give it back to him, even though her heart wrenched at the idea of giving it up.  She was so torn about it.  She wanted to keep it because of the inscription, but she wanted him to have it too, because it was so obvious that it meant a great deal to him.  She took it off the chain and held the ring out to him, resting on her palm.  Zan reached out to close her fingers around it, shaking his head.

"No, you keep it," he told her.

"Zan, I want you to have it," Elise protested.

"And I want you to have it," he responded.

A stand-off was definitely in the making.  Both of them were adamant about the other keeping the ring when Elise had an idea.  Maybe, since Zan could do the molecular manipulation thing, he could melt it down and make two.  She asked, and Zan shook his head.  No, there wasn't enough silver there for two. He could only manipulate, not manufacture.  Not a problem, she informed him.  She took a silver stud earring she was wearing from her ear and then reached out to him to do the same, since he had one too.  She placed the ring and the studs in his hand and he smiled.  Yeah, there was enough there now.  He reached out his finger to melt the silver and then concentrated on making two rings.  Elise had one small request.  She wanted her ring to have the exact same inscription as before and she wanted his to have one too, telling him what it should say.  Again, not a problem.  When he was finished, she reached out and took the ring she wanted him to have, threading it onto the chain again.

Zan reached out for her hand, and carefully placed the ring on her finger.

"Always yours," he told her, expressing aloud the sentiment that was inscribed on the band.

Elise leaned forward and put the chain around his neck so that the ring rested over his heart, and repeated the words that were written there.

"Forever your girl," she smiled.
posted on 20-Oct-2002 11:45:16 PM
Chapter 25

Zan told Elise the truth when he confessed to her that the two days they had spent together were the best of his life ... and they were, up until this new day.  For even though the other days were filled with her bright presence, the fact that his unrevealed origins weighed heavily on his mind had rather dimmed the lustre of those moments.  His guilt over being less than completely open and honest with her had tarnished that time a bit.  It was like looking at a bright and beautiful day through a dirty window .. the sunlight still streamed through, but it was filtered.

Now, there was nothing to dim his pleasure, his incredible rush at being with her.  The truth was out there and it made no difference to her.  Added to that was the connection that had blown wide open between them, and Zan didn't know if he could contain his happiness.  Having her know him, really know him as no one else ever had or had ever wanted to, left him with no words to express how he felt.  His wonder translated itself into a completely physical response.  He couldn't stop touching her in some way.
 
They had spent the rest of the morning watching cartoons.  Cartoons.  He couldn't believe it.  Who would have thought she was a big Bugs Bunny fan.  They were on the floor in front of her couch, and she sat between his legs, leaning back against his chest while his arms held her close. She'd rest her head in the crook of his neck, sometimes turning her face in that nuzzling gesture he loved so much.  He would occasionally press his lips to her cheek, or she would reach back with her arm to encircle his neck and pull his head down for a kiss.  She laughed her way through the Acme Hour on Cartoon Network, pointing out her favorites to him.  The cartoon with Daffy Duck as Robin Hood had her practically rolling on the floor, and her eyes were bright with expectation after it was over.

"That's Mikey's absolute favorite cartoon.  We watch that one together all the time.  When I'm home and it comes on, he yells for me to come and sit with him," her voice held fond amusement.  "I bet he calls."

It wasn't two minutes later that the phone rang, and Elise jumped up to answer it, smiling as she felt Zan's hand on her ass to give her a boost.  She turned back to look at him with her brow raised and he shrugged.

"Always ready to help you out ... or up ... or whatever," he said with a lopsided smile.

Elise's eyes got soft as she absently reached for the phone, fumbling a bit since her eyes were locked with his.  That smile of his was lethal, destroying her ability to think without a lusty haze of desire.
 
"Hello?" her voice held a distracted note.  Hearing her brother shook her out of her momentary absorption with all things Zan.

"Lisa," Mikey's voice was loud in his excitement, "did ya see it?"

"Yeah, I did, Boo-Bear," Elise laughed in response as she came to sit back down between Zan's legs again.  She pulled his head close so he could listen in on her conversation with her brother.

"I am *not* a bear.  I keep telling ya that," Mikey's voice was disgusted.

"Oops, sorry kiddo, forgot," she was blithely unrepentant.  This was a regular game between them.  "Hey, you played yesterday, if I remember right.  How'd you do?"

"I amost had a goal, Lisa.  It was so close.  I bet I get one soon and then Mom said she'll let me call you, even if it's late at night," Mikey told her.
 
Zan grinned at his exuberance as Elise teased him.

"I don't know Mikey.  You know how crabby I am when someone wakes me up.  I'd probably get all huffy and tell you that it better be good, although I wouldn't be able to throw my pillow at you like I normally do."

"Yeah, then you'll feel all bad and apologize cuz you hurt my feelings.  And if you were here, you'd take me to the video store to make me feel better," Mikey snickered and Zan had to turn away as the conversation made him laugh out loud.

Elise spent a little more time with her brother before hanging up.

"That kid knows me way too well," she smiled.  "I can't wait for you to meet him.  I can't wait for you to meet all my family, actually."

Zan's mouth went dry.  Meet her family?  Okay, he wasn't sure about that idea at all.  Would she expect him to tell them all about himself?  And he meant *all,* as in that little alien detail as well?  What would he say to them?  He didn't have alot of experience with interacting with others, especially a regular family.  How awkward was that gonna be?  Elise leaned back in his arms to gaze at him and was surprised at the anxiety in his eyes.

"Hey, you're looking a little green there, and I don't mean in an alien way.  Are you all right?" Elise was a little concerned at the expression on his face.

"I ... I'm not sure about meeting your folks and all.  What if they don't like me?" Zan was panicked at the notion.  "What if they think I'm out to steal their daughter .. which I am, of course," he informed her,  "but still ..."

"Zan, relax. It's just an idea, something to think about later. Much later. But I would like you to meet them. They'll love you," Elise was quick to reassure him.

It just turned her into a puddle of so much mush, that he was worried about meeting her family. It was endearing that this guy, who looked so strong and tough, would be anxious about a simple little thing like meeting her parents, that he wanted them to like him. And it was all because he knew it was important to her, that her family was such a vital part of her life.

Zan was relieved that he had dodged that bullet, at least for the moment. Looking out the window at the bright sunshine, he realized that it was going to be another decent day. Maybe a trip to Times Square was in order, he told Elise. They could go exploring and then, if the weather held, they could go back to Central Park for awhile. Elise jumped up to throw on a warmer shirt and grab her jean jacket, and they were out the door. They were walking toward the subway station when she got an impish expression on her face. Zan was striding a little ahead of her, holding her hand when she stopped in her tracks. Pulling on his hand with a strength that rather surprised him, she swung Zan around to face her and stepped up close. Elise put her free arm around his neck and pulled his head down for a fervent kiss. His mouth opened to allow her tongue to caress his and she gave a low moan of approval, taking the time to do justice to her exploration. Finally pulling back, she pressed her forehead to his temple as she gently bit his earlobe, tugging on it slightly.

When she pulled away, Zan opened his eyes to find hers full of tender amusement. He raised an eyebrow to her.

"And that was ..." he questioned.

"Payment in advance to my all-time favorite tour guide. I don't want to be in arrears, you know," she grinned.

"If it wasn't for the fact that I enjoy the payment arrangement so much, and I appreciate the way you keep current, I wouldn't mind letting you fall behind a bit so that I could put you in collection," Zan teased.

"Ooh, I'd have to double up on payments. Now there's a thought. But I don't like the idea of falling behind ... messes up my credit rating," her lower lip came out just slightly in a pout.

Zan couldn't stop himself from coming in and taking that adorable lip between his in a fevered kiss, tugging, sucking, giving it a small pull before releasing her. He smiled.

"I do believe you're up to date," Zan informed her.

He laced her fingers through his again and they caught the subway to Times Square. Elise was impressed. It was bustling with activity and there was plenty to see and do. Zan took her to the Virgin Mega store, which specialized in music, books and videos. Elise spent alot of time looking over the U2 collection, but she ended up buying "Born in the USA" by Bruce Springsteen. There was a song on the album that she really wanted to hear again, and her father had absolutely refused to hand over the cd when she came to New York. He didn't budge, even when she pouted.

She also bought a copy of Meet the Parents. She had never seen it, and heard that it was hilarious. It was perfect, considering the conversation that she and Zan had that morning. Elise had visions of the two of them snuggling on her couch under a quilt, eating popcorn and "watching" the movie. Oh, the possibilities made it definitely worth the price of owning it.

After they left Virgin Mega, they walked to Bar Code. Although they were both underage and couldn't get access to the bar floor, there was a video arcade floor that they could patronize. Elise picked out games she wanted to play, and Zan used the opportunity to stand behind her and give her pointers on her play. She really could play very well, since she had two younger brothers that loved video games, but she took it down a couple of notches just so she could get some one-on-one coaching.

Elise had never had a better afternoon. Zan took her to a small restaurant where they ordered chili. By then, it was pretty late and the sun had long since set. They caught the subway back to her place and he walked her to the door. He felt a little awkward, leaving her after the night they had spent together. He felt this incredible tightening in his chest at the idea of walking away from her and the closest thing to a real home he'd ever known. He brushed the hair back from her face and threaded his hand into her hair, pulling her close for a kiss that held just a hint of desperation. How had he come to need her more than the air he breathed in such a small space of time? He slowly broke the contact and pulled back, his arms releasing her. He was about to turn away when her voice stopped him.

"Aren't you staying?" she asked.
posted on 20-Oct-2002 11:48:14 PM
Interlude

"Aren't you staying?" Elise asked.

She was confused, wondering why he seemed to be leaving her at her doorstep.  She put her hand on his arm to nudge him around to face her and his uncertainty melted her heart.  Gazing into his eyes helped to unfurl the connection between them enough that she understood.  Zan wanted to be so careful of her.  He didn't want to rush her, or pressure her, or overstep boundaries.  Dates usually ended with good night kisses at the door and then the guy goes home.  He was trying to play it by the book.

The sweetness of what he was doing made her throat tight.  She realized that the pacing of their relationship to a certain extent was totally up to her.  She knew that he wanted to stay, but he wouldn't unless she asked him to.  Elise also had a good idea where he would go if he left her now, and a fierce protectiveness welled up within her.  He belonged with her and not anywhere near those alien bastards that hated him so much.  She slid her hand down his arm to lace her fingers with his.

"I don't want you to go," she told him in a soft voice as she pulled him closer to her.

Zan allowed himself to be moved, loath to leave her side.  He never wanted to be away from her again, but it was way too soon for that.  He cursed his inexperience with normal relationships.  The problem was that, in his heart, this was where he belonged.  And in the regular scheme of things, if he felt a certain way, he acted on it.  If he needed to take control of a situation, he took control.  If he needed to make changes, he made them.  If he needed to be with her all the time ...

This is where he was messed up.  For the first time, he couldn't just act according to how he felt. How caveman was that? Just walk right in and let it be known that he was staying? So he went in the opposite direction, and tried to do the "normal" thing, not realizing that things hadn't been "normal" between them from the start ... and that Elise liked it that way.

"Did you want to go? I mean, maybe I got it all wrong and ... and," Elise stammered as she started to over-analyze the situation. Zan put his finger to her lips and shook his head.

"No, I really don't want to leave," he gazed earnestly into her eyes.

"Then stay," Elise drifted closer, her body taking on the langorous feeling that she got right before he kissed her.

"Okay," Zan whispered, his eyes closing as he unerringly found her lips with his own.

Time just stopped. Zan's mouth was warm, his taste unique and addicting. His hands were sure, yet always gentle, every place he touched making her achingly aware of her body in ways she never had been before. And the connection ... it left his very heart exposed and vulnerable, which meant that his trust in her was absolute. Never had Elise been handed such power over another. She could break him as no one else could, because he had freely given that ability to her. She was in awe. His soul was so tender for her, always for her. He yearned for her ...

Zan finally had the one thing he had been searching for all his life. He finally belonged.
posted on 20-Oct-2002 11:54:11 PM
Chapter 26

Zan waited in the shadows, observing Elise as she worked with her coach. She would be quitting soon, and he had gotten there with just time enough to indulge himself in one of his favorite pastimes ... watching his girl. From where he was standing, he could just make out what Madame was saying to her.

"Miss Ryan, I must compliment you on how well you've been doing these last few days. I admit, on Friday I had my doubts about your ability to focus, but you've exceeded my expectations this week. Whatever it is that you're doing, keep it up," her voice was approving.

Elise just grinned in response. The difference was Zan. Ever since that night when she had invited him to stay, he was never far from her side. He had been a constant presence these last 4 days and she had blossomed under his tender attention, content as she had never been before.

"I promise you, Madame, I will follow that suggestion to the letter," Elise nodded solemnly as her eyes searched the darkened areas of the rink. She could feel Zan's amusement, and his warm regard skittered over her skin, stealing her breath away. Spying him in the corner, she blew him a kiss through their connection.

"We're finished for the day. Take some time to cool down and we'll continue tomororw," Madame told her before exiting.

Elise let out a sigh of relief. Damn, if her coach would have lingered much longer, she would have pushed the woman out the door. When had she become so chatty? Elise stood still, watching Zan as he sauntered down to the low wall where she kept her things, her mouth going a little dry. How in the world did his hips do that? They operated on independant suspension or something. The guy just had the sexiest walk ... sometimes she allowed him to get a little ahead of her just so she could watch him move.

Zan could see where her gaze was resting and he just smiled. Vaulting over the low wall, he leaned against it and waited for Elise to close the small space between them. He got a kick out of this, because skates changed the angle of their embrace. It was just an added variation. Elise liked it because alot of times when they kissed, she would get up on her toes to get closer to him. No need to do that when she was wearing skates.

She laced her fingers through his and he caught her close, his lips grazing hers in a small, tender kiss. Zan pulled away, and waited for Elise to open her eyes and come back to earth. When she did, her lower lip came out a little in a pout at the length of the embrace. He smiled and gently turned her around, so her back was facing him. He pulled down the collar of her turtleneck.

"Let me look," he said. "I want to see if it's gone yet."

Elise held her hair out of the way as Zan checked the back of her neck, still able to see the faint outline of a silver handprint that was there. It was barely detectable now, so he was hopeful that soon it would be gone. They had both been surprised when Zan first spied it. Because she had been wearing her hair down, he hadn't seen it before, and since it was on the back of her neck, she hadn't either. Zan remembered how he had finally noticed it.

Elise had a habit of dancing around the apartment alot. There were times that it seemed she was this constant blur of activity, set to a classic rock beat. He had come into the living room and leaned in the doorway to watch her. She was busy dusting the entertainment center and she had the stereo cranked a bit, as usual. She was dancing to "Refugee" by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. She tossed her head a bit as her hips swayed to the rhythm of the song. Finishing her dusting, she threw the cloth over her shoulder and put a little more enthusiasm into what she was doing. Zan just grinned. If her hips were sensuous before, they were even better now. He loved those hips ....

He was just getting ready to walk over and put his hands where they really, really wanted to be when the song ended. Elise stopped, and because she was a bit heated with the exertion, she gathered her hair in her hands and pulled it up off her neck.

What the hell was that? Zan came up behind her in a hurry and put his hands on her waist. He needed to get a closer look.

"Lise, keep your hair up," he said, wanting to inspect the silver on her neck.

"Oh sure, you just want me to make it easy for you to kiss my neck. Well, I approve, so I'll help you out," Elise laughed.

"Um, Lise? You have a handprint on your neck ... a silver one ... and it's mine," Zan was filled with uncertainty. This was new ...

"I have a what?!" surprise laced her voice, which had risen a bit.

"It's a handprint. It had to have happened when I healed you," Zan told her as he gently rubbed the area. It wasn't coming off.

"Ya think? I have to go look at this," Elise was already moving to the bathroom.

She grabbed a hand mirror from off the vanity and turned around so that her back was facing the big mirror hung there. Pulling her hair up, she looked in the little mirror and her eyes widened in dismay. How in the world was she going to hide that? Was it permanent? She turned her head to look at Zan as he stood in the doorway, before taking a washcloth in her hand. Wetting it under the faucet, she scrubbed at the mark, but it wasn't going anywhere. She threw it into the sink, upset.

"I'm sorry," Zan apologized. "I've never seen this. I've healed the others sometimes, but this has never happened before. I don't know if it's because you're human, or because I used so much energy," he cursed the fact that, once again, they knew so little about themselves.

Every new revelation put him at a disadvantage, having no idea what to expect. This was just another prime example. Would it stay forever? Might as well hang a sign saying "Healed by the Alien" around her neck, for crying out loud. He felt awful that something good he had done had to have some stupid side effect. Figures.

Elise watched his face fall and realized what was happening. She had to do better than this. Under Zan's tough exterior he was so sensitive, especially when it came to her. Her careless words and actions had hurt him, after she had promised herself that she would never do that again. She came up to him and wrapped her arms around his neck, pulling his head down to capture his mouth in a tender kiss. When his lips parted, she explored his mouth yet again, never tiring of his warmth. Finally pulling away, she cradled his cheek with her hand, her eyes luminous.

"I'm the one who's sorry. You saved my life and saved me from a life in a wheelchair. This is small stuff in comparison. We'll deal with it," she nudged him with her hip as he continued to look at her uncertainly. "Just please tell me you forgive me for being so silly yet again."

"This is going to be hard to hide," Zan said as he caressed his mark with his hand.

"I'll just wear turtlenecks for awhile and we'll see what happens," Elise gave an airy shrug.

For the next few days, Zan checked almost continually to see what was happening with the mark. It was a good thing that Elise didn't mind being grabbed at different times of the day and night, and she obligingly pulled her hair out of the way every time so he could see. Zan was thrilled that it seemed to be fading.


"So, how's it look?" Elise asked when he turned her around to check yet again.

"Really faded," Zan's voice was satisfied. "Another couple of days, and it'll be gone for good."

"Alrighty then. I'm going to change and then we can get moving. I want to make chili and it needs to simmer, so I'll shower at home," Elise was moving to the locker room.

After she finished changing, she rummaged in her bag and pulled out a small mirror. Going over to the larger one that dominated the room, she turned and pulled her hair up. Yeah, it was almost gone. She felt kind of bad ...
posted on 21-Oct-2002 12:09:20 AM
Chapter 27

Zan and Elise walked slowly back toward her place, enjoying the afternoon sun and each other's company.  For Zan, the last four days had been magic.  He and Elise spent every moment together, sometimes leaving to go exploring, most times just sticking close to home.  They spent alot of time learning more and more about each other.  He already knew quite a bit about her, but he was gradually revealing himself under her gentle questioning.  He elaborated further on what he had told her about coming out of the pods to find themselves alone, having their protector show up to give them some miniscule guidance and information before disappearing altogether, fending for themselves and becoming streetwise ... all things that Zan seemed to spell out very matter-of-factly, but revelations that wrung Elise's heart.

He also told her alot about the other three aliens.  Elise could tell that, even though these three sounded like the family from hell, Zan still felt responsible for them.  He explained the dynamics of the group and what each alien's special "gifts" were.  Lonnie was a dreamwalker. On more than one occasion, Zan had to literally throw her out of his dreams, hating the intrusion.  Once he was on to what she was doing, Lonnie never really tried it again.  Rath's powers were more destructive.  He was a destroyer.  Ava was a mindwarper, but Zan was on top of that too.  She also had tried to show Zan some things, like the two of them in a romantic relationship.  Elise's hand tightened on his when he told her this, feeling very territorial.  He told her that once he had confronted Ava on what she was doing, and given her the warning that he'd kick her ass if she ever tried it again, the mindwarping stopped.  They could all manipulate molecular structures, and they also had a certain amount of defensive power.  Zan said that by channeling the power through their hands, they could all use that power to take out an enemy, if they needed to.

Elise thought that, based on what he had told her, he seemed to have a special discernment as far as the other aliens were concerned.  Not much got past him.  What amazed her was how, in spite of the constant backstabbing and undermining of his authority, he still tried to do his best for them.  He was so alone, keeping involvement with humans to a minimum, yet he was isolated in his own "family" situation as well.  The loneliness just bled through his narrative.

He told her about the first time he saw her.  Elise was surprised to learn that he had been watching out for her for weeks before he ever let her know that he was there.  She was incredibly touched by his selfless regard for her ... that he would get up early during all that time and keep track of her because he worried about her.

Zan realized he hadn't talked so much during one interval of time in his whole life.  On their way back to her place, he even told her some of the details about the summit.  He tried to give her the ins and outs of the deal as he understood it.
 
"I don't understand.  Why does the evil Emperor Zurg want you at this summit thing?  Why do they need you and the three stooges anyway?" Elise was getting more and more confused as he tried to explain the situation.  "Just who are you in the scheme of things?"

"The evil Emperor Zurg?" Zan was mystified.

"You know, wants to control the universe ... this Kivar guy.  You've never watched Toy Story, I take it," Elise laughed.  How many of her references in life were based on cartoons and videos she watched with her brothers?  Time to break that habit, or Zan would be perpetually confused.

"When we were sent here, it was because our home planet was taken over.  According to what our protector told us, we were the ruling family.  I was the man," Zan sighed.

Holy moley ... the ruling family?!  She stopped in her tracks, suddenly feeling very small and insignificant.  Things about Zan's bearing and character began to make sense to her now.  If she had to describe him in one word, kinglike suddenly seemed to be the word of choice.  She was the smallest of smalltown girls.  What was she doing, getting involved with someone who had been a king on another planet in another lifetime?  This was all wrong.
 
Zan turned when he felt the tug on his hand, realizing that she wasn't moving.  Coming completely around, he could see that she was gazing at the ground, biting her lip uncertainly.  He closed the space between them and put his finger under her chin, lifting her face.  She wouldn't look him in the eye and he was startled to see a tear fall onto her cheek, followed by another.

"Lise?  What's the matter?  Why are you upset?  Did I do something wrong?" Zan asked in a low voice, suddenly terribly worried.

She shook her head vehemently, never looking him in the eye.

"Talk to me, baby," he coaxed her as he pulled her into his arms.  Damn, she was stiff.  He leaned back to look down at the top of her head, which was all he could see.  "Lise?"

"You were a king, Zan," her voice was small.  "What are you doing with someone like me?"

"Someone like you?  What are you talking about?" Zan demanded, more than a little scared at the way she seemed to be withdrawing.

"Look at me.  I'm a skater from a small town near a big lake.  You're a king from another planet across a big universe.  I'm not good enough.  What could I possibly offer you?" Elise's voice trembled as she struggled with her tears.

Zan took her hand and led her to the small park where they first met.  He marched her over to the bench and made her sit down, taking a seat next to her.  Putting his hands on her shoulders, he turned her to face him.

"You listen ... don't you ever, ever think that you're not good enough," he shook her gently.  "You wonder what you have to offer?  Lise, you're so beautiful you make my head spin sometimes when I look at you.  Any king would be proud to have you on his arm.  But as beautiful as you are on the outside," he brushed the hair back from her face, "it doesn't do justice to the beauty on the inside.  Your soul, your spirit just take my breath away.  They're pure and sweet and true.  Your loyalty is unswerving and unfailing ... do you know what it means to me to know that you're solidly in my corner?  That I just know you'd back me every step of the way, no matter what?  I may be a king, but I've never, ever had that.  And you're smart, you see things.  Like the way you had Ava and the rest of them pegged right away, before I even had a chance to tell you about them."

Zan brushed his thumb over her lower lip before cradling her cheek with his hand.
 
"Besides, look at where I came from," Zan's voice held a hint of self-mockery.  "Whoever sent us here sure didn't care too much about us, royal family or not.  Who abandons the ruling family in the sewers?  If anything, I'm not good enough for you."
 
The longer Zan spoke to reassure her, the more hopeful Elise became.  Maybe he was right.  Maybe, when it came right down to cases, they belonged together in spite of the differences in station.  That the meshing of their individual characters and integrity was far more important than social hierarchy.  One thing was certain though.  Zan didn't care, and if he didn't, then she wouldn't either.

Elise took a deep breath and brushed the tears away.  Zan searched her face anxiously, relieved to see that her features had cleared and that, when her eyes met his, they were no longer filled with that heartbreaking self-doubt.

"Better?" he asked.

She nodded vigorously.

"Not planning on leaving me for my own good, are you?  My heart seriously couldn't take that," Zan said facetiously, although he worried about just that very thing.

Elise shook her head just as firmly in negation as she gave a laughing little sniffle, and Zan blew out the breath he was holding. His hand brushed her cheek and threaded it's way into her hair, letting it slip through his fingers.

"Remember what I said before, about the jury being out on our being together?" Zan's voice was serious, and she nodded her head, waiting.  "Screw that.  I don't need a jury to tell me what I already know.  We just fit, and I don't feel like fighting it anymore."

"Really?" Elise breathed, enthralled.

"Yeah, really. All my life, I hoped there was someone out there, someone just for me. Now I know I was waiting, I was always waiting for you.  I want to be with you, Lise," Zan's gaze was intent on her face, and she bit the corner of her lip under his tender regard, her eyes once again filling with tears.

"I love you," he confessed, his voice husky with emotion.

The last hurdle between them was crossed. She already knew it in her innermost being, but to hear the words ... 

He was so hopeful, so earnest. He laid his heart open before her as he offered it to her to hold forever, totally vulnerable. She sent up a small prayer that she would always cherish it, nurture it and protect it with everything she had.

'Please let me be worthy,' she thought, as she lifted her hand to his cheek. He covered it with his as he pressed a kiss into her palm.

She gave him a small, tremulous smile as she told him what he had been waiting all his life to hear.

"And I love you," she said softly.
posted on 21-Oct-2002 12:16:14 AM
Chapter 28A

Elise stood in front of the bay window of her apartment. The sun had long gone down and she gazed at the darkened streets, unseeing, her mind a million miles away. Well, actually only as far away as from where she was standing to the bathroom.

She and Zan had come home in a state of euphoria, walked in the door, closed it and stopped. The elation on their faces faded as their gazes clung to each other. Elise could feel her breathing begin to quicken and hitch, just a bit. They started to drift together. Then, just as suddenly, they pulled back. Not yet, not yet ...

Elise broke away with a nervous laugh and went into the kitchen to start the chili. She took her time, not yet ready to face the blatant desire that seemed to have taken up residence in both of them. When it was done, she and Zan sat together in her window seat and ate, then she jumped up to take a shower, promising to leave him hot water. Now, Zan was taking his turn to clean up.

Her breath came out in a sigh at the thought. She felt langorous, sensuous, scared out of her mind, unsure ... a myriad of feelings that had her confused, excited. The awareness between them was becoming unbearable. They had moved around each other all night, coming close and skittering away, the dance of two people on the brink of something explosive. She ached with the anticipation of his touch, her eyes fluttering closed as, in her imagination, his hands traced every line and curve of a body that begged for his caress.

Hearing the water stop running, her eyes slowly opened, her mouth going dry. There was only one small light on in the room, bathing it in a soft glow. Elise walked over to the stereo and pulled out the cd she had bought the other day. While she waited, she turned it on and let Springsteen's raspy voice move her, her hips swaying, lost in a haze of wanting ...

Hey little girl, is your daddy home
Did he go away and leave you all alone, mmm-hmm
I got a bad desire
Oh, oh, oh I'm on fire


She pulled her hair up off her neck, lifting the soft tresses to pile them on top of her head, closing her eyes, her body thrumming with the beat, the moisture already beginning to pool. She felt seductive ... eternal feminine wiles wending their way to the surface from something as deep as her bones.

When Zan walked out, he was stopped cold. Elise had her back to him, hair pulled up high, wearing nothing but a small tank top and a pair of soft boxers. He took her in from head to toe. Her hair was held only by her hands, her slender body swaying. As he watched, one of her hands drifted down to come to rest low on her stomach as her hips continued to move.

Tell me now baby is he good to you
Can he do to you the things that I do, mmm-hmm
I can take you higher
Oh, oh, oh I'm on fire


Zan came up behind her, closing his hand around her wrist, gently tugging it to release her hair. It spilled around her shoulders and he buried his face in it as he closed the distance between them. Elise let her hips continue to move, brushing against him, moving away, coming back again and again. Zan slid his hand away from her wrist and up her arm, caressing her shoulder and moving to push the hair back away from her neck. His lips closed over the tender skin of her throat, sucking and then laving his tongue over the area, soothing. Their connection was unfurling, and the haze of desire he felt from her nearly weakened his knees.

Elise's head had fallen back onto his shoulder, turning her face away to allow him access to her throat. She was becoming mindless, carried away by something she couldn't name ... achy, needy. She felt Zan's hand run down her arm, grasp her hand for a moment, and then release it to move to her hip. She felt his warm touch under her top as he followed the curve of her waist upward over her ribs to graze the side of her breast. He felt her intake of breath and he moved to cup it in his palm. He nuzzled his face next to the shell of her ear, taking the lobe in his teeth, his voice husky.

"How have I been without you for so long?" he breathed.

Elise could only whimper as his thumb brushed over her nipple. Her hips began a different rhythm, back and forth, coming into contact with what could only be his arousal before skittering away, only to return again. And again. She could feel his lips and tongue bathing her throat with tender attention and she wanted to turn in his arms, but he wouldn't let her.

"Let me do this for you, Lise," he whispered.

Sometimes it's like someone took a knife, baby,
edgy and dull and cut a six inch valley
through the middle of my soul


Zan watched an expression of rapture spread over her features. Her lashes were dark on cheeks that were flushed, her lips had parted slightly as her breathing quickened. Her tongue moistened her lips as if her mouth had suddenly become too dry. She turned her face to him, blindly seeking him, as her arm came up to encircle his neck and pull his head down to her. Zan's lips captured hers and his tongue immediately sought her warmth, the prolonged exploration fevered and fervent.

He placed his other hand over her arm, sliding his fingers down to where she still had her hand resting on her stomach. He guided his hand slowly downward, and Elise could feel an aching need that grew stronger as Zan's fingers caressed her. No one had ever touched her there before and he followed the rhythm of her hips as she moved them forward into his hand.

At night I wake up with the sheets soaking wet
and a freight train running through the middle of my head,
Only you, can cool my desire


"Zan," she moaned, as she pulled her lips from his, "I want ... I want ..."

"Shh," his voice was low, "just ride it out, baby, ride it out."

She was panting. The heat was incredible. There was something building inside of her, and she was begging for a release. Everything in her world had come down to everywhere he touched. His lips on her throat, his nose nuzzled next to her ear, his hands, his body behind her, cradling her and anchoring her as she moved through a sensuous realm. Her other arm came up behind his neck, needing to hold him as she came closer and closer ....

A soft cry escaped her lips as she shattered. And his arms tightened as her legs gave way totally, lost in the greatest pleasure she had ever experienced.

Oh, oh, oh I'm on fire


TBC (did you have any doubt?)
posted on 21-Oct-2002 12:20:53 AM
Chapter 28B

For a moment, the room was filled with a soft, keening cry. Zan stood behind Elise, cradling her body as she pressed her face into his neck. It was only that support that held her up as she came apart in his embrace. He held her firmly, his eyes fluttering closed as he felt the incredible wave of pleasure that rushed over her. It actually weakened his knees, for their connection was wide open and he could hear her whispering his name over and over in her mind.

He shifted a bit so he could gather her in his arms. He put his arm under her knees to lift her feet off the floor and hold her close against his chest. Her face was still buried in his neck and her breathing was coming in soft pants as she slowly came to awareness of the world around her again. She moistened her lips and took a deep breath, trying to bring her thundering heart back under control.

Elise pulled back to gaze into Zan's eyes. They were dark with latent desire and heady with triumph, pleased beyond all measure at what he had done for her.

"Zan, that was the most incredible thing that ever happened to me," her eyes were wide with wonder. "I don't know what to say ..."

He slowly began to put her down, watching to see that she was able to stand on her own again. When she looked steady, he stepped back a bit to tenderly brush the hair back from her face, smiling that smile that turned her insides to mush.

"Speechless? Never thought I'd see the day," he teased as he wrapped a lock of her hair around his finger.

Elise reached up and closed her hand around his wrist. She was finally getting her first good look at him since his shower and her mouth was going dry. Again. His hair was damp and spiky, just the way she liked it. His eyes were fathomless and filled with a heady mix of love and yearning, his lips were just begging for her to touch them. She raised her other hand and ran her finger over them. Zan opened his mouth and took her finger between his teeth, giving it a gentle nip and then swirling his tongue around it, his eyes never leaving hers, before letting it go.

Her lips parted as her breathing began to quicken. She took her hand away from his wrist and put on his shoulder, her touch feather light. Fascinated, she ran her hand down his chest, her fingers skimming, grazing over his skin, as her other hand rested on his hip. He was so warm, so solid. There was a strength about him that she knew would be her bedrock for all her days. Her hand brushed over his stomach and she turned her hand so that the backs of her fingers caressed him. Feeling bold, she let her fingers dip under the waistband of his cargo pants, which were riding low on his hips. Damn, she loved the way he wore his pants. Her eyes followed the path that her hand took, her head bent as she drank in the sight of his body. Zan hovered above her, watching her take him in, the need for her getting ever stronger as he could see her mouth form a soundless O of awe. He rested his cheek against her temple for a moment and then began to move his nose in a nuzzling gesture, her scent fueling his desire. Elise raised her face in response and he brushed a kiss across her lips before pulling back. Now it was his turn ....

Zan ran a gentle finger down her cheek, following the natural path to come to rest under her chin. He tugged it a bit to bring her face closer to his, wanting nothing more than another kiss. He closed the distance between them as he took her lips in a tender caress. He deepened it, his tongue coming into contact with hers again and again as he explored every recess of her mouth. He broke away, breathing hard, to see that her upturned face was flushed, eyes closed in rapture.

Zan raised his hand to her cheek, and she turned her face into his warm palm, her eyes still closed. She wanted to savor his touch, and her body's awareness was heightened by going on feeling alone. He threaded his fingers through her hair and she felt his hand brush lightly along her throat, down her collarbone, along the soft skin above her breasts, just above her tank top. She was breathless as she waited for him to take his exploration lower.

He skimmed over her breast once, twice, before cupping it in his hand. It fit perfectly, he thought in amazement. His other hand was resting on the small of her back, and he slipped it underneath her top. She was so soft. Her skin felt like silk under his rough fingers, and he marveled at the contrast. He watched her expression, checking for any hesitation or feeling of discomfort at where they were going, but all he saw was her total involvement in what he was doing.

"Lise," he whispered, "Lise, I want to see you."

Her eyes opened, a little lost in that world of just him and her. His amber gaze was full of tenderness, and through their connection she could feel his wonder at how they were progressing. She knew that he had seen things at the crib that made him vacate the room in disgust. More than anything, he wanted what happened between them to be the antithesis of everything he had witnessed. He was being so careful of her feelings, and she realized that the pacing was up to her. She nodded, her inate shyness falling away.

Zan ran his hand down her arm to grasp her fingers closely, leading her into her bedroom. The small nightstand light was on next to her bed. They stood close to each other, and Zan's gaze darkened as she slowly pulled her top over her head, her eyes never leaving his. She smiled as his regard moved to her breasts, his hand reaching out to touch them. She moaned as he skimmed them with his fingers, his rough thumb brushing her nipple repeatedly, first one, then the other.

"You're so soft, Lise. I've never felt anything so soft," his voice was thready.

"Please, please kiss me there," she whispered, her voice aching with desire.

Zan lowered his head to one of her perfect breasts, giving it a small lick before taking it in his mouth. Elise thought she would die with the feel of his tongue laving her nipple, the way he sucked fulfilling some primal urge within her. She moaned when he gave it a gentle nip before releasing it. He started to move back and she put her hand behind his head, bringing him back and arching close.

"More," she pled, and Zan smiled before giving her other breast the same attention.

Elise was lost in what he was doing when a sudden, overwhelming desire to see him, really see him, came over her. She put both hands to his face and gently pulled him away, stepping back. He was a little lost himself when he raised his head to look at her, straightening up. His brow raised in question.

"Zan," she repeated his words back to him, "I want to see you."

He nodded, and his hands went to the snap of his pants, when she stopped him.

"Let me," she said in a throaty voice.

He stood perfectly still, his arms at his sides as she stepped close to him and unsnapped his pants. Her hand slowly pulled his zipper down, and he smiled as her nose scrunched up in concentration. Elise pulled his pants open and they fell off his hips to pool around his feet. Still commando, she thought. Stepping out of them, he watched her put out a small hand to tentatively touch him.

Elise was enthralled. His size amazed her and gave her a moment of doubt, thinking 'how in the world is that going to fit?' She touched him and he gave an involuntary shudder at the feeling of her hand in the place he most wanted to feel her. She wrapped her fingers around his erection, brushing her thumb over the tip and Zan's low moan of pleasure shook her to the core, moisture pooling. She looked up to see his head slightly thrown back, his eyes closed, breathing quickly.

"Am I doing this right?" she asked in a soft, husky voice, and Zan moistened his lips before responding.

"Yeah, oh yeah," he said hoarsely.

Their connection continued to amaze her. She could feel the pleasure that her touch gave him. But what really wrung her heart was his wonder that she actually wanted to please him. No one had ever wanted to please him before. He had seen sex used as a weapon, as leverage, as recreation. But never had he seen making love as the most overwhelming gift that two people who loved each other to distraction, and were committed to each other for all time, could give. Elise could feel how stunned he was at what was happening, and that fiercely protective side of her came roaring to life again. Never, ever would he be anything but safe with her. He was her lover, soulmate, protector. She was his lover, soulmate, refuge.

Overwhelmed, she released him and pulled his head down to capture his lips in a caress. Her kiss was open-mouthed and fervent. Zan's arms came around her, and he lay her on the bed, never breaking the kiss. He knelt between her legs, one hand cradling her cheek, the fingertips of his other hand moving down her side from her breast to her hip and back again. He broke away to hover over her, his eyes searching hers for any doubt. All he saw was a gaze luminous with love and dark with desire. The chain that held his ring was dangling in front of her, and she wrapped her finger around it, tugging on it to bring his head down to hers again, arching up to meet him.

His lips clung to hers for a long moment before moving to her throat and then her collarbone. She whimpered when he once more turned his attention to her breasts, and he heard her breathing hitch when his fingers went lower, skimming the place that only he had ever touched. He groaned, feeling how incredibly ready she was for him. He tugged at her boxers and she lifted her hips, allowing him to pull them off. No panties. He brushed his hand against her, feeling her rise up to meet him.

Zan settled back on his heels, waiting for her to open her eyes. When she did, she found him staring at her with an earnestness that tightened her throat.

"Are you sure?"

"Absolutely," she whispered.

"What about ..." Zan started to ask, but she shook her head.

"Already taken care of," she assured him.

He took her slowly, taking his time, allowing her to adjust to the feel of him inside her. Elise thought she would die from the fullness. He was so gentle with her, the rhythm of his hips taking him closer to her barrier. What was he going to do about this? He didn't want to hurt her in any way, but there was no way around it. He stopped, unable to press through. Elise knew that he had qualms and she took the initiative, reaching behind him to bring him forward to meet her thrust. She bit her lip as the tears welled up in her eyes. Zan placed his hand between them to ease her pain and kissed the tears away.

"I'm sorry, Lise. I never want to hurt you," his voice was filled with regret.

"I'm okay," she told him as she lost herself in his gaze.

After giving her some time, he began to move, a steady pulse of motion that charged the air around them with something wild and primal. Zan's eyes closed, his face tightening in concentration, every part of him aware of her. Elise could feel her heart begin to pound in a rhythm that matched his, their breathing synchronized, their souls meshing as they reached for what neither one of them had experienced before. Elise's head began to toss on the pillow as she could feel her body clench like the constant winding of a spring. In her mind, she begged him to help her find the elusive "something" that she needed. When she found it, she bit down on her fist to keep from screaming out loud at the explosion that shook her. She opened her eyes to see Zan hovering above her, eyes still closed. He rocked his hips into her once, twice, and his head fell back. He moaned as his body shuddered in release. His awe was staggering.

Elise reached up to pull him into her arms, and he fell bonelessly into her embrace, panting. He buried his face in her neck, never wanting to move again.
posted on 21-Oct-2002 12:24:48 AM
Chapter 28C

Elise gave that little hitching intake of breath that everyone seems to make when they first wake up, and turned her head as she slowly opened her eyes. She smiled at what she saw.

Zan was sprawled on his stomach next to her, dead to the world. His arm was flung across her waist, his face buried in her hair. In the moonlight streaming through the window, she could see only part of his features. His impossibly long lashes lay against his cheek and his face was relaxed in slumber, looking almost boyish. She ran the back of her finger along his cheekbone and he stirred a bit before settling back into sleep.

The rumble in her tummy made her realize why she had woken up, so she carefully moved Zan's arm and got out of bed. Elise held her breath as he mumbled her name before pressing his face into the pillow in a nestling gesture. She gave herself over to a few moments of just looking at him before fishing around on the floor for her boxers and her tank top. Putting them on, she left the room and went into the kitchen. Ice cream was calling ...

Elise snapped on the light and shut the door so that the rest of the apartment would stay dark. She turned the radio on, adjusting the volume so that it wouldn't wake Zan up, and walked over to the refrigerator. Popping open the freezer, she pulled out a carton of French Vanilla and went to get herself a spoon. Hopping up on the counter, she pulled off the cover and started digging in. She was methodically creating a small crater in the carton when Zan came stumbling into the kitchen, squinting a little at the light.

"Hey," he said in a voice still rough with sleep. "What are you doing up?"

"I was starving," she smiled as she watched him take the few steps to position himself in front of her. He moved between her legs and splayed his hands on her hips, nuzzling her neck.

"Want some?" she held out her ice cream laden spoon in front of him when he came back up for air. He opened his mouth and she popped the spoon in, watching him clean it off and then grimace a bit.

"Needs something," he grinned.

"Hot sauce is in the fridge. You'll have to get it yourself," she laughed.

Elise watched Zan as he opened the refrigerator and bent over to look for the sauce. He was wearing his pants again, but the view of his ass was making her feel rather hot and bothered. She took a bite of ice cream, slowly pulling the spoon out of her mouth as she got a lusty gleam in her eye, watching him. When he found what he was looking for, Zan straightened up and shut the refrigerator door, coming over to stand in front of her again. She had a spoonful of ice cream ready for him, so he opened the bottle and shook some sauce on it. Elise then guided it into his mouth, watching in fascination as his lips closed over the spoon. She pulled it back out of his mouth and his eyes closed, giving a small moan.

"Mmm .. damn, that's good," he sighed.

Elise watched him swallow and put just a little ice cream on the spoon again before placing the carton on the counter next to her. Taking the spoon, she put it on his neck, hearing him gasp at it's chill, his eyes opening. He watched as she slid it slowly down his collarbone, leaving a trail of ice cream.

"Let me take care of that for you," she said in a sultry voice as she tossed the spoon aside.

Leaning forward, she took her time as she lapped it up, continuing to follow the path of his throat toward his ear. She sucked and nibbled at his neck before soothing the area with her tongue.

"You're right," she whispered in his ear, "it's very good."

Zan turned his head and captured her lips in a kiss that was immediately hot, open-mouthed and ferocious. Her lips parted and his tongue was exploring, taking in the unique taste of ice cream and hot sauce and Elise. It went straight to his head. He threaded his fingers into her hair before trailing his hands down her throat toward her breasts, and then to her waist. He reached under her top to move again to her breasts, cupping them in his warm palms. They were so perfect in his hands, the skin like silk. He brushed her nipples with his thumbs, listening to her breathing quicken as they hardened. He grazed the soft skin of her stomach as he moved his hands to her hips, splaying his fingers.

Elise had her arms wrapped tightly around his neck as she held him close to her. She tore her mouth away from his to take in air and he turned his attention to her throat. Her head fell back as he sucked and nipped at the tender skin, swirling his tongue over the area in soothing strokes. His hands traveled to her thighs and he ran them along the tops, his thumbs skimming the soft inner skin, moving ever upward. He came to the fabric of her boxers and he was more than grateful to find that the loose cotton allowed him plenty of maneuvering room. His warm fingers brushed her, discovering that she was incredibly ready for him.

Elise gave a throaty moan as she pressed her face into his neck. She pushed her hips forward into his hand, wanting his touch more than her next breath. Her fingers grazed over the solid warmth of his chest, loving the feel of it. A different sort of hunger was taking over now and she wrapped her legs around his waist, pulling him closer and trapping his hand.

"That feels so good, Zan, so good," she whimpered in his ear.

Zan gently freed his hand and put his arms around her, lifting her into his embrace. His mouth found hers again in an explosive kiss and he whirled around, putting his back to the door to push it open, stumbling through to head to the bedroom. The kiss was a frantic exploration of tongues that he never broke as he found the bed he was after on instinct alone. He fell backwards onto it and Elise pulled away so she could straddle his hips.

"Feel like driving?" Zan's voice was breathless as he watched her hover over him, her hair tousled around her face.

He put his hand behind her head to guide her down to him, and he rose to meet her halfway, the kiss searing.

Elise reached back and grabbed his hand, pulling it from her neck and placing it on the pillow over his head. She reached for his other hand and did the same, crossing his wrists and holding them in place.

"Keep your hands and arms above your head for the duration of the ride," she instructed in a low voice and Zan swallowed hard, more than willing to see where this was going.

Elise slid down his body, her hands going to the waistband of his pants. Undoing the snap and pulling down on the zipper, she freed him as she pulled them off him. She made that little soundless O of amazement as she gazed at his erection.

"Like what you see?" Zan's voice was amused and aroused at the same time.

"Oh, yeah," she said as she moistened her lips, suddenly feeling very dry.

It took her no time at all to remove her boxers and she carefully positioned herself, taking him in a little at a time. The slow, tight penetration had Zan gasping and he started to move his hands to just touch her in some way. Elise reached up to put one hand on his wrists, admonishing him with a shake of her head.

"No putting your hands on the steering wheel, bud," she said with a smile. "I'm an excellent driver, so just sit back and enjoy the ride."

Zan was astounded. Where had this wanton girl come from? He would have never guessed that she had a naughty side to her, much less seen it come out so soon. He was so aroused that he worried he wouldn't make it long enough for her to get her pleasure too. He hung on to his control with every intake of breath as she held his wrists and set her pace. He wanted to die, it was so intense. He couldn't stop watching her as her eyes closed in bliss, her lips parted, her nose scrunched in concentration. She was throwing everything into it and it was amazing. When she reached her peak, her head fell back as she shattered, moaning.

Zan took over the rhythm with his hips, and Elise brought her head forward to open dazed eyes, meeting his gaze. The love and desire he saw there were enough to bring him to a mind blowing climax. She dropped her head to kiss him as he opened his mouth, catching his moan. She released his wrists and his arms immediately came around her, pulling her to him. Needing air, they ended the kiss and she pressed her face into the warm column of his throat, breathing hard.

Zan held her close in his arms, loving the tangle of arms and legs that was them. He could feel her beginning to relax as her respirations started to go back to normal. He pulled the quilts up over their rapidly cooling bodies and she snuggled into his side, throwing her arm around his waist. He dropped a light kiss on the top of her head and was just nodding off when he heard her sleepy voice.

"So," she teased, "did the universe move for you?"
posted on 22-Oct-2002 9:41:07 PM
I'm sorry ... the time just got away from me. I wanted to post something before this, but my nookie muse had me all distracted, and then my regular muse had her nose all out of joint and just wasn't cooperating.

I'm still trying to decide how I feel about the new digs. I suppose Zan and Elise aren't a conventional couple in the technical sense. I just don't want to feel like I'm inhabiting the house by the side of the road that nobody notices. We'll see.

In the meantime, gotta start motoring (Did I really use that word? Yes, I believe I did) things along.

Always looking for feedback ...


Chapter 29

A constant, gentle bumping on her head brought Elise out of the sweet oblivion she had been wrapped in. Not always in the best of moods when someone woke her up, she threw out her arm in a sweeping motion, pushing Max right off the bed and onto the floor with a thump.

"Stupid cat," she mumbled, moving her cheek in a nestling motion on her pillow.

As she lay there, trying her hardest to come to life, Elise realized that her pillow was moving gently up and down, and that it had a regular beat. She smiled. This was her favorite part of waking up these last few days, opening her eyes to see what position she was in today. It astonished her to discover what an abandoned sleeper she had become. It would seem she wasn't the type to be neatly and tidily tucked into Zan's side. Nope, she was usually draped over him in some fashion that was just this side of wanton.

Taking a peek, she found Zan was flat on his back. She was on her stomach, sprawled across his chest, her cheek resting on his far shoulder. One of her legs was between his, remarkably close to his energy source, and their feet were all tangled up together. He had one hand in her hair, as if it fascinated him even in sleep, and the other was resting on her ass. As she lifted her head, careful not to wake him, his hand fell away, giving her tresses a slight tug. Elise laid her palm on his chest and propped her chin on it, watching him breathe.

It still amazed her, how lucky she was. He was all she had ever asked for, hoped for, yearned for. Human, alien, it didn't matter. Everything about him spoke to her. Just looking at him made her weak in the knees, he was so handsome. His eyes were truly the windows of his soul ... a soul of tenderness, love, integrity. His hands had such strength, yet were always so gentle with her. And his heart ... ah, his heart was honorable and steadfast and beat only, always for her.

Elise let her gaze drink him in for awhile before finally, reluctantly, slipping out of his grasp to face another day. She had changed her routine slightly in the morning to accommodate having him around. She kept the heat up a little higher at night, because she now took her shower right away. That way, she could start breakfast while Zan took his. He usually woke up while she was still in the bathroom, not being able to sleep when she wasn't in his arms. He said he only slept well when she was with him.

Elise showered quickly and towel-dried her hair until it was damp, running a comb through it. Putting on her bathrobe, she came out and glanced at the bed, not surprised to see Zan awake. She blew him a kiss and then headed for the kitchen, figuring it wouldn't be long before he caught up with her. She could hear him taking his shower as she puttered around, making the usual eggs, bacon, toast and coffee. For good measure, she made some hash browns as well. Breakfast was well in hand when Zan came into the kitchen, stifling a yawn.

"Hey," he mumbled as he came up next to her.

He leaned back against the counter, spreading his legs, and pulled her to stand between them. She rested her forearms on his shoulders as he searched her face carefully, his hands on her hips.

"How are you? Are you feeling okay? I mean, I know it was your first time and ..." his slightly anxious voice trailed off.

Elise had to bite her lip to keep from smiling. Some of the things he did were just so endearing. Sometimes he could be almost shy, which did not go with his tough guy exterior at all. And now he was all worried about her morning after. She wondered if he had the unspoken idea that she might have second thoughts. For all of his certainty about how he felt about her, she had the feeling that he might still think she would regret being involved with an alien. A little reassurance was definitely in order.

"Zan," she said gently, "I feel fine. In fact, I feel wonderful. I'm a little sore, which is to be expected, but it's more than worth it. Last night," her voice trembled a bit, "was amazing."

"Yeah?" Zan smiled, his face brightening at her words.

"Every girl dreams of her first time, what it would be like. What happened between us was soo far beyond anything I ever imagined. Nothing I ever thought of even came close," she elaborated.

Zan curled his fingers into the collar of her bathrobe, pulling her to him for a lingering kiss. His tongue made a tender exploration of her mouth as one hand fisted in her hair. Elise's arms were tight around his neck, holding on for dear life as she became lost in the feel and taste of him. He finally pulled back, breaking the kiss and smiling at her as he rested his forehead against hers.

"In case you're still wondering" he said in a husky voice, "the universe definitely moved for me."

"Yeah, me too," Elise breathed. "A couple of times, as a matter of fact."

Zan spent some time getting reacquainted with the tender skin of her throat. He nipped and sucked and then soothed with his tongue. Elise's head was thrown back in rapture.

"Lise?" Zan mumbled against her neck.

"Wh .. what?" she moaned.

"Better go check those eggs," he teased. "Don't want them burning now."

Elise dropped her head to look at him, her eyes narrowing at the innocent expression on his face.

"I swear, sometimes you're just evil," Elise sighed, giving him a bump with her hip before she turned back to the stove.

It didn't take long to finish making breakfast. Eating fast, Elise hurried back to the bathroom to dry her hair and get dressed for the day. She packed her bag with what she'd need, and once she was ready, they headed out. Zan leaned against the building, watching with a lusty gleam in his eyes as Elise did her stretching. When she finished, she straightened and pushed her hair back from her forehead.

"You know, it wouldn't hurt you to warm up a bit," she told Zan. "Keeps you from pulling a muscle or getting a cramp."

"You're kidding, right?" Zan's voice was amused. "I've never had that problem in my life. Never did all that ... whatever it is that you do ... either."

"All that 'whatever it is that I do,' keeps me limber," Elise informed him. She came up close to him and got on her toes to whisper in his ear. "And you do like me limber now, don't you?"

Zan swallowed hard before answering.

"Mmm, you have a point there," Zan nuzzled his nose into the soft hair at her temple, breathing in her scent.

Elise laughed as she pulled back from him, grabbing his hand and pulling him down the stairs.

"Come on, I'm gonna be late."

"I thought you didn't care if you were late," Zan said as he allowed himself to be led.

"My innate punctuality is coming out. It's a built-in family trait, like having a mental White Rabbit running around saying 'I'm late, I'm late for a very important date.' Normally, I hate being behind. I just made an exception for you that day because you kissed me and made me all mindless like that," Elise told him.

In spite of her words about hurrying, they really didn't break any speed records walking to the rink. Zan had his arm slung around her shoulder, holding her close to his side, and his hand would occasionally drift to thread his fingers through the hair at the nape of her neck, skimming upward to graze her scalp. She had her arm tight around him, her hand tucked into the waistband of his pants, loving the feel of his warm skin beneath her palm.

"What are you planning on doing today?" she asked him as they strolled.

"I'm gonna go work for a friend of mine. I need some cash, and I figure I can make a couple of hundred bucks. I'll probably be tied up all day, so don't be surprised if I'm not here when you're done. I'll meet you back at your place later," Zan said.

"Okay. Should I make us something to eat?" Elise wanted to know.

"Nah. We can order pizza when I get back. It'll probably be really late. I'm gonna stop by the crib ... check out what's up there," Zan informed her, waiting for the explosion.

She didn't disappoint him.

"No!" she exclaimed as she stopped in her tracks. "Zan, that's crazy. Why would you even consider doing that?!" Elise's voice was rising as she got more upset with each word. "I don't want you going there."

"Because they're still my responsibility. I can't just turn my back on them."

"Yes. Yes you can. They're all grown up now, they can fly or fall on their own. You can't trust them. Besides ... they scare me," her voice trembled with her anxiety.

"Why? Because they're alien?" Zan asked quietly.

"No, because they're mean and vicious and they hate you," Elise cried. "Please, just stay away from them."

"Lise, I can't. If nothing else, it's in my best interests to see that they don't do anything stupid, which would call attention to us. If they get caught, I get caught. You don't really think they wouldn't let the feds know that there's another alien out there, do you?" Zan was patient as he gave her some insight as to how the family's twisted relationship worked. "I have to keep on top of them. I have no desire to be the latest alien autopsy."

Zan hated being so blunt with her, but he had to make her understand that he was the buffer between the aliens and the rest of the planet. If he didn't do this, one day their stupidity would get them caught, and they'd sell him out in a minute.

He regretted putting things so harshly, though, when he watched the color drain from her face. He had no idea, because she hadn't really told him about her dream, but it was so close to her nightmare that she actually felt faint. Zan wrapped both arms around her, holding her close to his chest.

"I'm sorry, babe," he apologized. "I didn't mean that. Nothing like that will happen to me, I promise," Zan soothed her as he pressed small kisses on her hair. "I'll be careful."

Elise had her face buried in his jacket, more terrified than she had ever been before. She gazed up at him when he put his finger under her chin, urging her to look at him, taking in her anxious, worried frown.

"I'll be fine," he said.

[ edited 2 time(s), last at 24-Oct-2002 2:05:45 AM ]
posted on 28-Oct-2002 7:58:59 PM
In the spirit of trick-or-treating, which I did waay too much of yesterday while taking my boys here, there and everywhere in pursuit of free candy, I'm posting the next chapter.

Thank you to all my faithful readers and welcome to all the newbies. Your feedback means so much to me and I appreciate each and every word. You're the best ...

There is a small author's note at the bottom of the page that I hope you'll read. It'll give you a bit of insight as to where I got some of the inspiration for this chapter. So, without further ado ...


Chapter 30

It was late in the day when Zan walked into Tom's office, wiping the grease from his hands with a rag. He stuffed it into his back pocket and walked over to the chair that faced the old, beaten desk, falling into it and slouching automatically. He thrust his legs out in front of him and let out a sigh.

"I finished the Electra Glide. Damn, what a machine. What I wouldn't give to have one," Zan's voice was filled with admiration.

"You'll be working for me for a long time before you have the cash to pony up for one of those babies," Tom chuckled. "There's a reason why you see so many doctors and lawyers and CEO's riding Harleys. They cost so damn much. They're way out of your league, at least right now."

"Don't I know it. One day though, I'll have one of my own," Zan's voice was confident.

Tom smiled. He had a soft spot in his heart for this kid. He remembered when he first saw Zan, walking past his garage, admiring the Harleys that were lined up, waiting to be worked on. Zan had been dumbstruck, a look Tom was well acquainted with. For some reason, the kid reminded him of himself when he was that age, practically drooling over his uncle's machine. So Tom had walked out and introduced himself, asking a 15 year old Zan if he was interested in learning more about the cycles. Zan's face just lit up, and his eagerness made Tom realize that taking the kid under his wing would be a good thing.

He started Zan off as he had started off, with an old Sportster that was in pieces in the back of his garage. The Sportster belonged to Tom personally and he was always meaning to get around to fixing it. Zan started with that and worked his way to where he was now, taking on almost anything that came into Tom's garage for repairs. He was like a sponge, learning everything he could. Tom got the feeling that beyond his absolute love for the motorcycles, Zan's working for him was an outlet. No, more than that, it was an escape from some unpleasant aspect of his life. But Zan never volunteered any information, and Tom never asked.

"I gotta say, you were a Godsend today. I'm a little swamped right now and I really needed the help," Tom said as he slid some money across the desk.

Zan reached out and took the cash, stuffing it into his pocket without even looking at it. If there was one thing he knew, it was that Tom always gave him generous wages, so whatever he was paid was more than fair.

"Thanks. Glad I could help. I needed the money too, so it's all good," Zan gave Tom the brief nod of acknowledgement that seems to be universal amongst Harley enthusiasts. Tom's wife would have recognized it ... she referred to it as "The Harley Head-nod."

"Gonna use it to take out your girl?" Tom grinned.

"Huh? What do you mean?" Zan's head shot up at that remark.

"Your girl," Tom laughed. "Zan, I have four kids. Two of my girls are in love. Amanda just got herself engaged, and Angela is head over heels for a kid in the Air Force. I'm hip deep in the love connection right now. I know all the signs and they're all over your face. What's she like? Is she a nice girl? You gonna bring her around and introduce her?"

Shit! Zan's thoughts were racing. Was it really written all over his face? He was going to the crib after this. If his love for Elise was this easily read, how would he ever keep it from the "family?" He took a deep breath to calm himself down. Maybe it was because he wasn't, and never really had been, on his guard with Tom. True, he never confided in him about his "family" or his alien status, but Tom was one of the few people on earth that he considered a friend, and as such he didn't hold himself in tight control when he was around him. He would just have to do better than this, now that he was aware of the fact that his emotions were alot more out there than he figured they were.

And in the meantime, Zan couldn't resist talking about Elise, just a bit. He needed this outlet, because for once in his life he was happy, and it was just waiting to explode from him.

"Tom, she's beautiful. I've never seen anyone as beautiful as she is, and she's just as sweet. Her name's Elise. She's a skater. Her family lives in Upper Michigan, but she's here to train. I met her because she would walk to her practices in the morning by herself. The first time I saw her, I was a goner," Zan smiled at the memory. "She's talented and smart and fun to be with. I've never met anyone like her. My dreamgirl? She's it."

"How does she feel about you?" Tom asked quietly.

He was incredibly fond of Zan, and didn't want to see him get hurt. He was reassured when he saw Zan's eyes light up even more in amazement.

"She feels the same way about me," he told Tom. "We love each other."

Tom got up, preparing to close down the garage for the day. He came around the desk and gave Zan a quick slap on the back.

"I'm really glad for you," he told him. "Bring her around, I'd like to meet her. Now, I have to lock up, because I have to stop on the way home and get Laura some flowers. It's her birthday. She's 11 years old today."

At Zan's questioning look, Tom elaborated a bit.

"I've been buying all my daughters flowers since they were born. Every birthday, they get flowers from me. My girls know that their dad loves them. But," Tom's voice got serious, "I want them to know that they're special. I give them flowers every year and it's one more thing that all the future boyfriends have to surpass. Sets the bar a little higher, in my mind. Maybe I'm wrong, but that's how I feel. And it's a fact that there were alot of boys that my older girls rejected because they didn't come close to how their father treated them."

"Do you think that Lise would like flowers? Even though it's not her birthday?" Zan asked anxiously, wanting to make her feel special too.

Tom smiled inwardly. He didn't know much about Zan's personal life, but he figured he knew enough to understand that Zan had no one to give him even the basics on how to treat a girl. He seemed to have decent innate instincts, but a couple of tips here and there wouldn't hurt. It would be practice, because he had a boy of his own that was starting to look at girls in a whole different light, and Tom would need to teach his son.

"I think your Elise would love to get flowers," Tom told him, knowing that Zan would be spending some of his hard-earned money at the florist.

"So Laura's 11, huh? Is she as pretty as Amanda and Angela? I haven't see her in awhile," Zan asked.

"Yeah, she'll be a heartbreaker. I'll be beating them off with a stick soon. Good thing I've had lots of practice with that," Tom laughed.

"By the way, how's John," Zan wondered about the only son in Tom's family.

"John? He's 13," Tom said, as if that explained everything.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Elise wandered around her apartment, not quite knowing what to do with herself.  She shook her head, laughing inwardly.  Zan had been with her a grand total of 5 days and she was already at a loss when he wasn't with her, feeling slightly bereft.

She had put in her usual 8 hours of practice time, took her shower and left the rink to walk home by herself.  She missed his presence, his warm hand holding hers so tightly.  When she got back to her apartment, she put her things away, straightened up a bit and turned the television on, only to turn it off again when nothing caught her interest.  She would have started something for dinner, but Zan told her to hold off on that, promising to order pizza when he got back.  Now it was getting dark and she was bored and anxious.  The more time went by, the more her anxiety increased, and she was getting irritated with herself.  She was tired and sore, cranky and nervous, and at this rate, when Zan finally did walk in the door, she'd probably take his head off.  Elise needed a distraction, so she did what she always did at times like this.  She called home.

"Hello?" a soft, female voice answered on the third ring.

"Hi Mom, it's Lisa," Elise said, using the family nickname.

"Hey Baby Girl.  How are you?  Everything going okay?" her mother asked.

"Everything's fine.  I just missed all of you, and I guess I wanted to hear your voice.  How are the guys?  Are they still busy with school and practices?" Elise was hungry for news of her family.  Her last phone call to her brother wasn't very long, and she really hadn't had the time to catch up on all the lastest doings at home.

"Matthew is busy with some rec thing after school today.  I think it's basketball," Elise could almost see her mother wrinkling her nose in confusion.  "I swear, I sign them up for this stuff and then I can never remember what it is that they're doing.  Sometimes I think they're too busy and I should just keep them home and let them run around like the kids that they are," she laughed, "although Matthew would kill me if I even considered such a thing.  Mikey's here, but he's watching his favorite movie right now, so I'll just tell him you say hi.  You know how he can't be bothered when he's watching Tremors.  His rec thing is tomorrow.  I think it's soccer."

"How's Daddy?  Is he still at work?" Elise wanted to know.

"No, he took the snowblower in to make sure that it's ready for the winter.  He'll be back later.  So, how are you?  I've been worried about you, but when Mikey called you on Saturday, he said you were in a good mood, so I didn't want to pressure you.  Practice is going better?" her mother questioned gently.

"Yeah, it's going much better, almost back to normal.  I know you and Dad were worried.  I'm still not sure about if I want to continue this, but we can really talk about it when I get home for Christmas," Elise told her.

"I know.  Lisa, I don't want you to make a quick decision, so I think it's wise that you haven't just quit outright.  I'm glad you're waiting.  I know these last 2 weeks have been really hard on you."

"Mom, my skating isn't the only thing that made these last 2 weeks so bad," Elise said in a hesitant voice.

"Oh?  What else was wrong?" her mother's voice rose a bit in anxiety.  "You weren't harrassed or anything, were you?"

"No, I wasn't harrassed, nothing like that," Elise was quick to reassure her.  "Mom, I met someone."

"Okay," her mother's voice was cautious after a small silence. 

"I met a guy.  He's ... he's special.  He's sweet and gentle, and if I could describe the guy that I want to spend the rest of my life with, he's it.  Mom, he's the one," Elise breathed out the last sentence, wincing as she waited for an explosion.

"You ... you think he's the one?  Good grief Lisa, you're only 17.  You can't know something like that at your age.  How do you know that this guy isn't taking advantage of you, of your age and inexperience?  This is crazy," her mother's voice was harsh with worry.  "I should be there," she muttered.

"Zan isn't like that!  He isn't anything like you described.  You know when I was so unhappy two weeks ago?  It was because he tried to stay away from me.  He loves me, Mom, and he thought that I would be better off without him.  I missed him so much .. it was like trying to go on with my life without my heart.  I know what I want and I know my own mind," Elise said in an earnest voice.  "Zan and I are right for each other and we love each other and we don't ever want to be without each other again."

"Lisa, you're too young for this.  You can't know your own mind at this age.  Not for something as important as who you're going to spend the rest of your life with," her mother cried.

Elise could see that this was going nowhere in a hurry.  She was sure she knew what she wanted, and her mother was sure that she didn't have a clue.  And then Elise found the perfect argument.

"Mom," she said softly, "tell me the story about how you and Daddy met again."

There was a long period of silence on the other end of the phone and then her mother responded.

"Lisa," she said in a small voice, "that's not fair."

"You know how much I love that story.  Please?  Tell it to me again?" Elise asked.

"Your father and I went to the same high school," her mother started out in a resigned voice.  "We used to see each other in the halls all the time, but we never actually met.  We graduated without ever even talking to each other.  That summer, we both went to the same dance at a country club; I went with my friends and he went with his.  He saw me across the room and decided he wanted to dance with me, so he sent his friend over to tell me he wanted to dance.  Like I was supposed to go over there or something ... a command performance," her mother's voice still got a little indignant remembering the event.

"What did you do?" Elise asked, even though she knew this story by heart.

"I told his friend that if your father wanted to dance with me, he should come over and ask me himself.  So he did, and we danced together, and he took my phone number.  Except, he didn't call me for 6 weeks.  I was so mad that I just wrote him off.  Then it turned out that Daddy had something he wanted to go to that he needed a date for.  He called this other girl, but she couldn't go.  He was wondering what to do when he remembered he still had my phone number.  So he called me, and we went out together and had a wonderful time," her mother's voice was far away as she got lost in one of her favorite memories.

"And ..." Elise said in a leading tone of voice, because the next part was crucial.

"And we had been dating for 8 days when your father asked me to marry him.  Got down on one knee and everything.  I told him that this romance was going at the speed of light, and he agreed, but he said that he knew his own mind.  Then he asked me if I knew mine and I told him that I did and I accepted his proposal," Elise's mother knew she had lost her best argument.

"How old were you and Daddy when you got engaged?" Elise asked.

"We were 18.  We were about 6 months older than you are right now," her mother sighed.

"Were you ever sorry, Mom?  Did you ever think you made a mistake?" Elise questioned.

"No, I was never sorry.  There were times, in some of the rockier moments, that I thought we were horribly immature, but I never thought I'd made a mistake.  Your father never did either," there was a fond smile in her mother's voice that Elise could hear.

"You know how you always told me and the guys that you just knew that Daddy was the right one?  That's how I feel too.  Mom, I just know.  There's no room for doubt. Yeah, the romance has gone at the speed of light, but I've never been more sure of anything in my life.  I know it's hard, but you have to trust me on this, trust how you raised me," Elise said in a firm voice.

"I know, Baby Girl, I know.  Still, I won't be happy about it until I meet him, and even then I probably won't be thrilled.  It's a little different when it's your only daughter that's following in your footsteps.  Somehow, what was right for me is harder to accept as being right for you.  But, I'll reserve judgment and try and be fair," Elise's mother said.

"That's all we want, Mom.  Just a chance and an open mind," Elise replied.


Author's Note: The conversation between Elise and her mom has part of it's roots in reality. The story of how Elise's mom and dad met is really the story of how *my* mom and dad met. It was just too perfect not to use.

My other inspiration, for the character of Tom and how he feels about his daughters is also rooted in reality. My brother-in-law has been buying his girls flowers since they were born, has never missed a birthday. I always thought it was such a cool thing for a dad to do.


[ edited 2 time(s), last at 3-Jan-2003 12:52:23 PM ]
posted on 1-Nov-2002 8:52:26 PM
Wow, it's November already. I started this four months ago. Amazing.

:sigh: I'm feeling guilty, because I'm supposed to be packing to go Up North. I'm supposed to be cleaning so I can go Up North. I'm supposed to be doing a whole lot of things so I can go Up North. But ... I'm posting instead. I wanted to get this chapter in before I left. Although I'll be back by Sunday afternoon, I don't think I'll have anything ready, because there's no computer where we're going. Alot of cold weather so that I can freeze my tuckus, but no computer.

I'm so thrilled that there are more new readers. Thank you so much for joining this little journey and for leaving feedback. And thanks to all my regular readers, who keep me going with this.

I'm pretty happy with it on the whole, although Devil Kitty wasn't around for me to send it to first. She beta's me and makes sure I stay on track. I'm sorry we didn't connect, but I'm going to turn it loose anyway.

As always, tell me what you think. Oh, and there's another teeny, tiny author's note at the bottom, an acknowledgement of sorts.


Chapter 31

Zan picked his way through the filth and refuse as he made his way to the entrance of the crib.  Damn, he did not miss this at all.  He just wanted to get there, check out the lay of the land, and get the hell out again.  Elise was waiting on him, and he couldn't wait to get back to her.  It hadn't even been a whole day that they'd been apart and he missed her like crazy. 

'Just make sure everything's good and then jet,' he told himself.

He stopped at the entrance, checking himself over to make sure there were no signs that would tip the others off as to where he'd been.  He grinned at the idea of how crazy it must be driving them to not be able to keep tabs on him.  Zan always knew that the ability to block the other aliens was a skill that was worth cultivating.  Now, it was the only way he was able to stay with Elise, because if they could ever figure out where he was, it would put her in danger and he would never subject her to that.  Once he was sure that his appearance gave nothing away, he schooled his face to expressionlessness and walked in.

How had he ever taken this for so long, he wondered. The saying "same shit, different day" definitely applied.  Did Lonnie and Rath ever do anything besides hump like bunnies?  Did Ava ever do anything else but watch tv and give him sad and resentful looks?  It would seem that the same scenario was destined to keep playing over and over, like a tape that was on one long, continuous loop, he thought as he stood inside the entrance, leaning against the wall.  He nodded to Ava and waited for Lonnie to notice him.  It took awhile and as he waited Zan had to look away, before he gagged at the sight.

He did a quick scan, noting that all was as it should be.  And no Nicholas, which was a relief.  Zan was hopeful that he could get out of there without Rath turning the screws to him about the summit.  He watched as Lonnie finally took notice of his arrival and nearly laughed when she pushed Rath off her.  She rose to her feet with all the imperiousness of a self-proclaimed queen.  She strolled over to Zan and gave him an assessing look.

"You're still alive.  I'm relieved," she said in a sarcastic voice.

"I'm sure you are" he replied in a sardonic voice as he pushed himself away from the wall.

"Sticking around this time?  Or is this another one of the revolving door visits from the absentee leader?" Lonnie ground out, struggling to hold on to her resentment.

Lonnie and Rath had come up with a rather solid plan to take care of the "Zan Problem," as she had come to refer to his anticipated demise, but Zan never stayed long enough to put it into effect.  Lonnie was starting to get worried, because Nicholas was getting on her back about her lack of results.  She took a deep breath and made herself calm down.  She definitely wasn't all sweetness and light, because that would be a major tipoff that she had something up her sleeve, but she didn't go into a towering rage either.

"Just making sure everything's good, and then I'm gone," Zan told her.  "That should work for you.  You get to be Queen-For-Another-Day."

"All the show, none of the go," Lonnie said angrily.  "There isn't an ounce of power that goes with that.  Or are you finally handing over the reins, brother?"

Zan walked up to Lonnie and casually put his hand to her chin, holding it rather tightly.  His implacable gaze locked with hers.

"I'm still the man.  Anything that comes your way is because I allow it.  Just keep repeating two words to yourself ... 'alien autopsy.'  The day you prove to me that you can run the show and still keep our asses safe is the day I turn the power over.  Until then, remember that I'm all that stands between you and the feds and whatever twisted experiments they can think of," Zan's voice was hard.

Zan turned Lonnie loose with a small push as he released his grip.  She stumbled a little, and then righted herself. She glared at him, furious. Zan was turning to leave, being more than done with the lot of them after that little confrontation, when Ava spoke up.

"Zan, you just got here. You can't leave yet," she was practically whining. "Besides, we got nothing to eat in this place and I'm hungry. There's no cash, and you know that I'm not good at stealing. I'll get caught. Can't you take me to get something before you go?"

"I'll leave you a couple of bucks," Zan reached into his pocket and pulled out a five. "Go get yourself something. I gotta jet."

Ava walked up to Zan and put her hand over his as he held out the money, pressing up close to him and looking into his face with eyes that were swimming with tears. She pouted.

"You know that Rath'll just take it away from me as soon as you're outta here. Why don't you just take me somewhere? You and me. Please, Zan? I'm so hungry and I swear I'll just pass out on the floor if I don't eat. There's that Korean grocery stand that's close and they sell hotdogs," she wheedled. "If you don't buy me something, I'll end up trying to steal, and I don't wanna get caught."

Zan closed his eyes in frustration. Ava was right about one thing. As soon as he was gone, Rath would take the money. Then Ava would go out and try and steal something, because Zan swore she had space for rent inside her head. Lonnie was watching with a rather speculative gleam in her eye, so Zan gave it up.  He figured it was out of the ordinary enough that he wasn't around much lately. Although he normally came and went as he pleased, he used to take Ava to get something to eat on a fairly regular basis.  Ava was a miserable failure as a thief, and it was more along the lines of making sure she didn't get arrested than because he was overly concerned about her eating habits.

Zan would take her to the Korean grocery stand, get her whatever she wanted, and then take off.  At most, it would take about another 20 minutes, and then he could get back to Elise.  He would have to spend some time making sure that Ava wasn't following him, but he should be home in less than an hour.  He couldn't believe how much he missed Elise ... and it was getting stronger the longer he was away.  He just ached to touch her, to feel her soft skin beneath his fingers, to lose himself in her gentle presence.  He stopped his wayward thoughts in a hurry, not wanting them to show up on his face.  Elise's apartment was rather close to the crib, but it was a neighborhood that the aliens had never gone into ... too nice, not enough action.  It was just by accident that Zan found himself there that fateful morning.  Or was it?  Was the pull he felt from her something that affected him even before he saw her for the first time, something powerful but beneath the surface?  He didn't know.

Mentally shaking himself, Zan looked down at Ava, biting down on the desire to physically back up.  She was looking up at him with that pout that always grated on his nerves and she was standing waay too close.  His personal space was really getting crowded, and he started moving back before he could help it.  He jerked his head towards the door.

"Let's go," he said, indicating that they should be on their way.

"Okay," Ava said with a triumphant smile on her face as she turned to Lonnie and Rath.

"See ya later," she said in a slightly mocking voice.

It wasn't far to the grocery stand and Zan walked quickly, in a hurry to get this whole deal done and be on his way.  His stride ate up the distance, and Ava had to hurry to keep up with him, something that angered her.  He might be taking her to get something to eat, but he was making damn sure that she understood there was nothing personal about it.  Ava was slightly out of breath when they reached their destination.  The grocery stand was set up for fruits, vegetables, snack foods and beverages, but they also sold hotdogs.  She took her time, looking everything over, and Zan was practically grinding his teeth in irritation.  How long did it take to pick out something to eat?  She finally decided on a hotdog, some chips, a piece of fruit and a bottle of cherry coke.  Zan took her over to the cash register to pay for her food.

"Aren't you getting anything?" she asked.

"Not hungry," he replied as he watched the vendor put the purchase in a bag.  "I got some things to do, so you'll have to get back to the crib on your own.  I'll be back later," he said, not intending to be back at all that night.

Zan paid for the food, pocketing the change and turning to leave.  He stopped, surprised as hell to see Lonnie and Rath standing in front of him.  He narrowed his eyes in suspicion as Lonnie smirked.

"What a surprise, brother.  Seems you and Ava aren't the only ones who were hungry," she said in a sarcastic voice.  "The cupboard was bare.  Of course, so are our wallets."

Lonnie watched with amusement as Rath strolled past a cart loaded with fruit. A slight wave of his hand, along with a push of power, and the cart came apart, sending fruit everywhere. While the owners of the stand were distracted, Lonnie casually walked up to the now unattended cash register, helping herself to the money. Ava helpfully picked up a couple of pieces of fruit, handing them to one of the owners. Rath and Lonnie snagged a few items and started walking away, Ava following close behind. Zan brought up the rear, listening carefully to make sure that they weren't being followed by someone ready to accuse them of theft.

Zan was pissed as hell at them for tracking him down, and their carelessness while stealing the money and the fruit infuriated him. He was thinking furiously. He was beginning to see that it was more than time for him to separate himself from them, the consequences be damned. At this rate, it wouldn't be long before one of them was caught anyway, and he couldn't play nursemaid anymore. His authority over them was diminishing at a rapid rate, if this little stunt was any indication.

While Zan was distracted by his thoughts, Lonnie sauntered up to a couple of guys dribbling a basketball. She passed them slowly, giving them plenty of time to look over the merchandise and then turned quickly to face them. She walked up to the one now holding the ball with a sly look on her face. It was obvious the guy liked what he saw.

"Hey, what's up girl?" he asked, looking her up and down.

"What's up, man?" she asked in return, her grin almost feral.

"You look good," he exclaimed in admiration.

"She knows it!" Rath said rather loudly from behind her shoulder, jealous. "Yo, gimme the rock, G."

He tossed the basketball to Rath, who started walking away, dribbling. Lonnie gave the guy one more look and smile and then turned and strolled away.

"Hey, yo! My man! My ball!" the guy yelled in dismay as he watched the four of them continue on. He didn't feel like taking them on, especially Rath, so the ball was a lost cause.

"They contacted us again last night," Rath said in a tight voice. "Same invite. We gotta tell 'em something."

"Tell 'em no," Zan said firmly.

"Yo, you sayin' we ain't going to the summit?" Lonnie asked, looking over at Rath.

"That's what I'm saying," Zan wondered how many times he would have to say the same thing.

"Yo, that's messed up, Duke," Rath was furious, watching his ride to Antar slipping away.

"Whatever. That's it," Zan's voice had a note of finality to it.

"We tell 'em no, they won't ask again," Ava chimed in.

"Tell 'em hell no," Zan said.

"What is up with you, man? I'm tired of you. I'll go by myself," Rath threatened.

Zan was fed up. He stopped in front of Rath and got right up in his face.

"They don't want the number 2," he said disdainfully. "They want the Royal 4."

"Why don't we go and see what they got to say. Why don't we go and get the answers," Rath challenged.

"What if it's a setup?" Zan asked in a dangerously soft voice.

If there was one thing that Rath was woefully lacking in, it was the ability to see beyond what he wanted. The proverbial blinders were on when he really wanted something and he never weighed the pros and cons before going after it. Something that could get them killed. Or worse.

"No, it's not a setup. They need us," Rath shouted.

"I'm the man. Don't forget," Zan stood his ground, his eyes fierce as they stared into Rath's.

"Yo, guys. It's been a mad long day. Let's just chill," Lonnie said, trying to bring the stand-off to a halt.

Zan stayed exactly where he was. No way he was letting this go until Rath backed down. There was too much in this summit that made him uneasy. Rath finally broke the gaze and nodded tightly in acknowledgement.

"Yeah, you the man," he said.

Zan waited a few seconds and then turned, walking ahead of the rest of them, never seeing the exchange of glances between Rath and Lonnie. All he wanted to do was lose them and find his way back to Elise. He was trying to figure out a way to get rid of them when he saw the basketball bounce past him, heading for the road. He reacted without even thinking, bending forward and reaching for it. A tremendous shove sent him sprawling in the street, the breath knocked out of him. With effort, he raised himself on his elbows, turning his head in time to see the lights of the oncoming truck, headed right for him and speeding up.


Author's Note: Nothing exciting, just wanted to acknowledge that I got the dialogue at the end from the episode transcript at Crashdown.com.

And yes, I also know that I'm totally evil to leave it there. Sorry, just not enough time.
*sad*

[ edited 3 time(s), last at 1-Nov-2002 9:23:57 PM ]
posted on 5-Nov-2002 7:05:50 PM
Thank you, thank you, thank you for all the wonderful feedback. You're simply awesome readers and I appreciate how faithful you've been to this story.

I'm sorry I didn't get a chance to update yesterday. I got about half of this chapter done, which I wrote at work by the way, and I emailed it to my house. Somehow or other, it got totally lost in that vast expanse of "out there" that exists but you never, ever see. Kinda scary to think about. So I had to wait until today and make a hardcopy of it.

Thank you for being so patient. Without further ado ...


Chapter 32

The moan that permeated the air of the alley was filled with pain as the dark, huddled mass stirred.  In the bad light, it looked like nothing more than a large pile of rags, shifting ... not at all like the alien leader of another planet.

Another groan, more anguished than the first, escaped Zan's lips as he tried to lift his head.  His attempt, which took all his strength, was woefully unsuccessful.  At most, it was just enough for him to slide his right hand under his cheek, which was a more yielding surface that the cement. 

He was sprawled on his stomach, that much he knew, but he had no idea where he was or what had happened.  All he knew for sure was that the pain felt like it was everywhere.  The left side of his face throbbed continually, and there was something warm running down.  He tried to take a deep breath, steeling himself to attempt to raise his head again, but he couldn't breathe very well.  Something was wrong with his ribs.  He had to get off his belly, because his weight was pressing down and the pain was quickly becoming unbearable.  He started to roll over onto his left side, but realized that his shoulder also couldn't take the weight.  Broken?  Dislocated?  He rolled to his right, relieved that this seemed to be the side that hadn't sustained as much damage. 

He carefully raised his head to look around, but the dizziness created another problem, as if he didn't have enough already.  Suddenly, overwhelmingly nauseous, he retched, and the pain to his ribs was too much.  He passed out.

When Zan came to, he tried to rest before again attempting to look around.  This time, he just opened his eyes to try and figure out where he was.  He could only see out of his right eye, the other swollen completely shut and still dripping blood.  His nose was broken and his jaw was aching with unrelenting pain.  His left shoulder hurt like hell, the arm numb and totally useless.  He knew that there were broken ribs, causing him to breathe shallowly in an attempt to ease the agony.  His biggest concern at the moment, though, was his left leg.  The lower part was broken in numerous places, and his hip was completely messed up.  The only good thing, as far as he could tell, was that there seemed to be no internal bleeding.

Zan's survival instincts were on overload.  He had to get out of here, but he lacked the power to heal much of the damage.  The pain and trauma had sapped his strength.  He tried to remember what happened.  The clearest memory was the confrontation with Rath about the summit, and everything after that was a blur of anguished misery.  He remembered headlights, throwing up his hand instinctively, surprised to see a greenish glow in front of him.  Whatever it was that he did, it blunted the initial contact, but he hadn't been able to sustain it.  After that, the memory was more disjointed ... the feeling of being dragged, his ribs on fire, only to be thrown clear and tumble helplessly, unable to stop until hitting something with a force that knocked him out.

Whatever happened, he had to get moving.  If he stayed here, he'd die.  Somehow, he was sure of that.  He summoned up every ounce of energy he had and healed the broken bones in his leg.  His first concern was getting mobile, and he'd wouldn't get anywhere without the use of both limbs.  By the time he was done, though, his senses were swimming and his breathing was harsh, which was murder on his ribs.  He couldn't do this ... the pain and weakness were killing his will.  He just wanted it to stop. 

He was at his lowest point when he remembered Elise.  Suddenly, the image of her beautiful face was in front of him, the boundless love she was capable of washing over him. All he wanted was to see her again.  His will stiffened, and he began to try and move.  He pushed himself back until he was against the wall, using it and his right arm to maneuver into a sitting position.  His head fell back against it as he closed his eyes and waited for the dizziness to subside.

After the short rest, Zan concentrated on the daunting task of getting up. He used the wall behind him as leverage, splaying his right had against it to help push himself upright. His first attempt was less than successful as he collapsed to his knees. The edges of his vision darkened as unconsciousness threatened, but he clenched his teeth and held on. When the feeling subsided, he tried again. This time, he managed to get to his feet, leaning his right side against the wall. He had to fight the urge to breathe deeply to try and get air into his lungs.

Now that he was standing, his left arm was hanging at his side, useless. The stress on his shoulder was incredible. He was thankful that his leather jacket, which had taken a severe beating, was zipped up. Zan lowered the zipper to the middle of his chest. He carefully grasped his left forearm in his right hand and placed it inside his jacket, the zipper acting as a support of sorts.

Zan looked around carefully, trying to get a handle on exactly where he was. He couldn't be far from the crib, which was not good. He also couldn't be too far away from Elise's apartment. Wrapping his right arm around his stomach, he lurched away from the wall, swaying with the effort. He couldn't stop the moan that came from him as his damaged hip took his weight. He could feel something running down his leg, and realized that his hip was bleeding. Well, there was nothing he could do about that right now. He had to get moving. He was bent slightly at the waist, hunched over like an old man, shuffling as he tried to spare his left hip as much as he could.

Zan now had his destination in mind, and since he knew where he was, he headed off in the direction of his sanctuary. All he wanted to do is find his safe place, and then try and take care of his wounds. Getting there took on the characteristics of a nightmare ... pain, confusion, strength that seeped away ... and in the back of his mind was a voice urging him to move, move, move, like some unseen drill sergeant. He stayed in the alleys, away from the streets where someone could see him and stop him from reaching his destination.

Staggering at the end, he finally entered the alley of his goal, and his strength failed him totally. He knew where he was ... the wall that he was suddenly leaning against was part of the rink. Zan could go no further and he sank to his knees, leaning his right side against the building. By this time, he was barely conscious, his eyes closed, his breathing harsh as he clutched his ribs in misery.

He never heard her as she came up to his side, kneeling down next to him and running tender fingers gently over his battered face.

"Oh, Zan," she whispered, her voice brimming with sympathy, "my poor Zan. How you must be suffering."

Zan lifted his head, unable to see out of his swollen left eye. It couldn't be her. He turned his head so that he could bring her into his line of vision. Zan took in Ava's mocking, malicious face before his eye closed in resignation. He had been found after all.


Yep, still evil ...

[ edited 2 time(s), last at 5-Nov-2002 8:34:43 PM ]
posted on 8-Nov-2002 11:19:06 PM
Ah Gentle Readers, don't you just love the date? I'm posting on the 8th, but it's just too close to the 9th, so I'm taking liberties and using tomorrow's date. Why? Because I want to, no other reason. Well, that and the fact that it makes the update seem fresher somehow.

Anyway, I hope this chapter works for everyone. I had DK read it over to make sure it all made sense, because it's packed with info. If something's not clear, let me know and I'll try and address it in the next chapter.

As to my evilness, hmm ...

Let me know what you think, because your opinions are what drive me on.


Always

Special Note: I wanted to thank BordersInsanity for the awesome banner that she created for me. I'm thrilled with it, because she really captured my characters ... and I think it adds to the story.



From Chapter 32:

He never heard her as she came up to his side, kneeling down next to him and running tender fingers gently over his battered face.

"Oh, Zan," she whispered, her voice brimming with sympathy, "my poor Zan. How you must be suffering."

Zan lifted his head, unable to see out of his swollen left eye. It couldn't be her. He turned his head so that he could bring her into his line of vision. Zan took in Ava's mocking, malicious face before his eye closed in resignation. He had been found after all.



Chapter 33

"Ava," Zan faltered, "wh .. what you doing here?"

"Why Zan, I should think it's pretty obvious," Ava's voice was filled with satisfaction.

"You're here to .. to finish the job," Zan struggled to get the words out.

"Such a smart guy," Ava said approvingly, as she patted his bruised cheek roughly.

Zan winced at the contact.  He was in real trouble.  He was too weak to mount even the smallest of defense, and the unremitting pain was fogging his senses, leaving him with no idea of what to do.

"I can't think," he moaned in distress.

"Poor baby," Ava said rather gleefully, "it's been a bad night, hasn't it?"

She watched with little sympathy as Zan fought to stay conscious.  He really was in terrible shape and this was going to be just too easy.  Where was the fun in that?  What satisfaction would there be if he never knew how she had played him, played them all really.  The three of them thought they were so superior to her, always holding her in contempt, never realizing who she was.  And it grated on her immensely that Zan would die never knowing how much she hated him ... and why.  Two lifetimes she had waited for this moment, and she was going to milk it for all it was worth.  Seeing him nearly broken physically was good, but not quite enough.  He had to know ....

Ava put her hand under his jaw, which was nearly touching his chest, and pulled his head up.  She really wanted to be rough, but could see that if he took much more abuse, he'd just pass out on her.

"Zan ... Zan, come on," she hissed.  "Wake up."

"Why?" his voice slurred over the word, his eye still closed.

"Because, I've waited lifetimes for this moment.  No way you're going to be a non-
participant," she ground out.

"Let me be.  Whatever you're gonna do ... do it," Zan sighed.  "Finish what ... they started."

"They?!  You think Rath and Lonnie are the ones responsible for this?  You think I'm some kind of clean-up crew?" Ava huffed.  "Oh no, Zan.  You're mistaken.  We used them to plot your death, but your final end is in my hands alone, which is as it should be.  The two of them are so stupid ... they have no idea that they're the used, not the users."

"Why?  Why .. hate me so much?" Zan tried valiantly to open his eye and sit up straighter.

"Because I was never good enough for you.  Two lifetimes!  And I was always somehow beneath you as if I was ... what's the earth phrase? ... oh yeah, trailer trash," Ava's voice rose as she began to unleash her resentment.  "I could have loved you.  I could have made you happy, made you so much more than what you ended up being, which is nothing."

"... don't understand," Zan said in a weak voice.  "I don't ... remember hardly anything from ... then."

"Let me clue you in," Ava bit out.  "Are you up for a little Antarian history lesson?"

Zan really didn't care at this point, but maybe if he kept her talking, he could recover some of his strength.  It was highly unlikely, but there was nothing else he could do.  Right now, he didn't stand a chance against her.

"You were the Crown Prince of Antar when your father made a mutually beneficial alliance with mine, a long time ago. Our betrothal was a condition.  After your family, mine was the most powerful on Antar.  We used to come to the palace often, so we grew up together. You were always nice enough, but never in the romantic sort of way that I was beginning to expect when we got older.  You never treated me as your future wife.  By the time we were in our late teens, you made it abundantly clear to your father, and mine, that you were unhappy with the idea of marriage to me.  Me!"

Ava got up and started pacing as old slights made her edgy. 

"You said that you weren't "in love" with me.  You said that your heart belonged to another ... as if there was someone out there who was superior to me!  You cast me aside as if I was nothing, all for her.  She was a nobody!  The youngest daughter of some lowly Antarian lord, and you put her ahead of me," Ava strode back and forth in front of Zan while he struggled to take in everything she was saying.

Why couldn't he remember?  All of it was news to Zan.  He had only the slightest recollection of his previous life, and yet Ava knew it as if it was burned into her brain.

"What happened?" Zan dared to ask.

"We came to the palace for the bonding ceremony ... my father, my brother and myself, but it was too late.  You had already secretly bonded yourself to that slut.  My father and brother were enraged, and I was humiliated, but there was nothing we could do.  The bond was irrevocable.  Your father tried to smooth over the damage, but you made two enemies that night.  Myself and my brother.  His pride is a phenomenal thing, and it took a direct hit when you refused me.  No one rejects Kivar's sister ... no one."

Zan's head came up at the mention of the name.  Kivar?  Ava was Kivar's sister?

"Surprised?" Ava laughed scornfully.  "As I said, you have absolutely no idea who you've been dealing with," she was warming to her tale, taking center stage at last.  It felt so damn good to be able to let her real personality finally come to the forefront.  She was no dummy.  She was the sister of Kivar and woe be to anyone who didn't give her the respect due her.

"We had barely gotten back to our lands when Kivar set the wheels in motion for revenge.  He's always been ambitious.  My brother used to tell me all the time that we were born to rule, he and I.  His original plan was to ingratiate himself into a position of power, once we were married, and then for you to have an unfortunate accident," Ava snickered.  "He had no idea that I was playing both ends.  I had feelings for you, back then, and if you would have loved me I would have handed him over to you as the traitor he was."

She crouched beside him and casually reached behind Zan's head, which was sagging from weakness, grabbing his hair, pulling his head back.  He couldn't bite back the moan that escaped him and he struggled to open his good eye.  When she felt she had his attention again, Ava continued.

"Kivar is ambitioius, but so am I.  Oh, he taught me well.  He instilled it in me from my earliest memories that I was born to sit on a throne.  I used to ask him how much power was enough, and he always said 'just a little bit more.'  If you had died before we conceived a child, he and I would have ruled together.  If I would have gotten pregnant, he would rule as regent, with me as the Queen Mother," she wrinkled her nose at the phrase, thinking it made her sound old.  "I agreed to his plan, but waited to see how our relationship panned out.  If you would have loved me, I would have betrayed him to you.  But you didn't."

Ava's grip tightened just a bit more, making Zan wince in pain, his eye closing.  She leaned close to him, resting her arm on his ribs, feigning remorse when he groaned an involuntary "don't ... please."  She pulled her arm away and sat back on her heels.

"And now, history is repeating itself," she said in bitter amusement, "except that Kivar is ruling the planet solo ... for the moment.  He still wants you dead, just like he always did.  It's the only way to legitimize his claim and solidify his hold on the throne.  You and I would grow up together on earth and I would marry you.  When we got back to Antar, he would have you killed, and he and I would rule together.  If I was pregnant, he would rule as regent."  Her amusement faded.  "If you would have loved me, I would have handed him to you, and we could have ruled Antar together ... a golden couple."

"But history really did repeat itself.  You never gave me the time of day.  I was never good enough for you in this life either.  The way you were acting, I would almost think that you were waiting for her again, your precious Elise," Ava said in a scornful voice.

Zan's head came up at the mention of her name.  What the hell?  He forced himself to look at Ava, his confusion evident.

"That was her name ... Elise.  They say that the first time you saw her, you were smitten," there was raging jealousy in her voice.  "She was a tiny thing, always came off as so shy and sweet. Gag me.  I have no idea what you saw in her," she sniffed.

"But," Ava said with satisfaction, "we don't have to worry about her here.  Nasedo made sure of that."

At Zan's continued confusion, Ava elaborated a little further.

"Originally, your mother sent you as a foursquare ... you, Elise, Vilandra and Rath.  Your essences were cloned and mixed with human genetic material.  They made two foursquares, one being for insurance.  They podded the results and then sent you to earth, both with protectors.  Your mother never knew that Nasedo, one of the protectors, made a deal with Kivar.  He not only agreed to betray you when you came out of the pods, but he also pulled a switch once you got to earth.  His other objective was to get rid of Elise and substitute me, which he did.  Kivar and I wanted you to take me as your bride in this life, so my brother made the special provision with Nasedo to get rid of her.  The other protector never knew that Nasedo pulled a fast one.  He thought that I was the young bride, because none of us look like we did on Antar.  He has no idea, which is amusing, because he's an old friend of Elise's family.  He never liked you much, but he adored her.  It helps too that he's never around.  Too busy leading his own life. He turned out to be just another selfish, self-serving bastard. Antar's full of 'em."

"What ... happened to us? On Antar?" Zan moistened his lips with his tongue. He was parched, barely able to get the words out at all. What he wouldn't give for a cool glass of water.

He was stalling, trying to buy some time.

"Kivar instigated a civil war. There are two races of people on Antar. The "true" Antarians, and the lesser race that some have referred to as the skins. Kivar aligned himself with the skins and incited them to revolt. Your father had died about 3 months prior to that, and you inherited the throne. It was almost funny, really. You had only been ruling 3 months and my brother had the skins whipped up into a frenzy of imagined slights. You had been trying to institute some reforms when the civil war broke out, and you were totally unprepared. Taking over the palace was easy, because my brother played your sister like a cheap violin. She was so in love with him that she gave away all the palace's defenses without a second thought," Ava said with pleasure.

"Lonnie betrayed us?" Zan's voice was hushed.

"Seems to be as easy as breathing to her," Ava laughed sardonically. "She gave my brother all the details and he walked right into the throne room. He made sure to kill Lonnie himself, right after he killed you and Rath."

"What about ... Elise?" Zan asked.

Somehow, he knew what he was about to hear was going to be bad. This former wife had his angel's name. Was there a possibility? No, Ava said that Nasedo made sure that Elise from Antar would never be born. There was no connection between them, there couldn't be.

He was so glad that when he first recovered consciousness all those protective instincts were on overload. Although he had wanted nothing more than to go to his Elise, he couldn't do that without putting her in danger. The aliens had no idea that he was even involved with anyone, so she would be safe. That's all that he cared about right now. There was no way the aliens could hurt her, because they didn't know about her at all.

Zan was resigned to his fate, yet he railed against it in his mind just the same. He was grateful for the moments he had with Elise, but he was selfish and wanted more. He wanted to spend every waking moment with her, marry her and grow old with her, have children with her. And yet, this seemed to be the end of all things. It just wasn't fair.

Zan dragged his attention back to Ava, slightly alarmed by the intense gratification on her face. This was definitely not going to be good.

"I killed her myself. Right in front of your eyes, while Kivar held a knife to your throat. I think, right up to the end, you never thought I'd do it."

Zan sagged against the wall in despair as the sudden remembrance of that moment washed over him. He could recall the total defeat that gripped him when he saw her die, her eyes never leaving his, all her boundless love reaching for him even in death.

"You bitch," he grated, and then cried out as Ava yanked his head back painfully.

"Don't you ever call me that," she spat.

"Why not? I happen to totally agree with him," another voice came from the end of the alley.

Zan moaned in dismay, recognizing the voice of his angel. Elise was here. Damn.

[ edited 6 time(s), last at 10-Nov-2002 1:15:12 PM ]
posted on 11-Nov-2002 9:20:11 PM
Gentle Readers ... all I can do is agree with you.

Go Elise! Kick her ass!


Always


Author's Note: The awesome banner, in case you didn't catch it on the last chapter, was made by BordersInsanity. I am absolutely in love with it, and she included my favorite Zan pic, which is the one where he's looking over his shoulder (happy sigh).


Chapter 34

Elise ran into the alley entrance ... frantic ... stopping short at the scene before her under the murky glow of the lights.

At first, her entire attention was fixed on Zan, and her heart broke.  Never, even in her nightmare, had he looked so bad.  The whole left side of his face was caked with drying blood, his eye swollen shut.  He was hunched over, clutching his ribs, his pain clearly evident.  Everything in her was yearning, with a force that nearly took her breath away, to run to him.  He needed her.  She ruthlessly pushed the feeling down as she turned her focus to the small figure beside him.  Even though she had only seen her through her connection with Zan, she'd recognized the chick anywhere.  Ava.

As Elise watched cautiously, everything that her cousin ever taught her over the summer kicked into place. 

"Rule number 1 ... never, never rush into anything, no matter how bad it looks.  It'll get you killed.  Take as much time as you can to assess the situation and your opponent," Greg told her at the very beginning. 

Neither Zan nor Ava were aware that she was there.  Elise was still too far away to hear what she was saying, but it was obvious that Ava was giving Zan an earful.  When it seemed that Zan was losing the battle with staying conscious, Ava would pull his head back painfully, causing him to cry out.  Elise struggled with the rage that flared inside of her at the abuse, again exerting ironclad control over her emotions.  She looked Ava over carefully ... small, punky-looking, arrogant.  The later quality came across clearly, even from as far away as she was standing.  It was all in the way that she carried herself, as if the world owed her something. 

"Arrogance is useful," Greg told Elise as they sparred.  "If your opponent thinks that he's better, smarter, faster ... then you can get the drop on him.  People like that never expect to lose, and they never expect you to mount a credible defense."

As Elise continued her assessment of Ava's physical characteristics, she thought back to something that Zan told her.  The aliens' main defense was the channeling of power.  It would pool inside them and pass through their hands toward their target.  So one thing was certain.  She had to get Ava close to her.  She wouldn't stand a chance at a distance ... she had to bring Ava in.

Elise let her attention pass once again to Zan, this time trying to gauge his condition in an almost clinical manner.  The fact that he seemed to be at Ava's total mercy told her that he was too weak to stop her.  Whatever had happened to him, it left him defenseless, which meant that he wouldn't be able to help her.  Elise clenched her fists at her sides as she watched Ava again pull Zan's head back, because his attention had drifted from her as he seemed to be losing consciousness.  Elise's rage was mounting at a breathtaking rate.

Your anger is getting the better of you," Greg smirked as he taunted her with light slaps and kicks.

They were sparring, and Greg was using his superior skills to bring about her rage.  As Elise's emotions ruled her, she let her technique and her attention break down.  In less than no time, Greg had her pinned to the ground, laughing at her.  Elise struggled to push him off her, more upset with him than she had ever been.  Eventually, when she realized that she was getting nowhere, Elise stopped squirming, a pout on her face. 

"Rule number 2 ... always, always stay on top of your emotions," Greg told her seriously.  "The minute you let them take control, you lose any advantage you have, especially if your opponent is better than you.  Anger is great, but only if you channel it and use it.  It can kick your defense up a notch, but only if it's under your control.  Otherwise, you become mindless and sloppy and the game is over."


Elise took deep breaths, exerting all her will to make herself calm down.  She consciously loosened her stance, feeling herself become more fluid.  Her adrenaline was moving, sharpening her focus and helping her transfer her emotions into her defense.  She was in control and she was ready. 

As she moved forward, Elise finally came into earshot and could hear Ava taunting Zan, his pain and anguish obviously amusing her.

"... right up to the end, you never thought I'd do it," she said.

"You bitch," Zan's voice was weak as he cried out in anger.

"Don't you ever call me that," Ava hissed as she pulled back on his head.

"Why not?  I happen to totally agree with him," Elise said from her place close to the alley entrance.

Ava turned so abruptly at the interruption of her tirade that she fell out of her crouch and onto her ass. 

'Good,' Elise thought.  'A nice little loss of dignity to help make her angry.'

Although she kept her attention fixed on Ava, never wavering, Elise could hear Zan's moan of despair.  She allowed the connection to unfurl between them, taking in how weak he actually was.  Her heart clenched because it was so much worse than she thought.  She was amazed he had held on for as long as he had, realizing that his gut instinct for survival had pushed him along, his will alone keeping him going.  She could feel his distress that she was placing herself in danger, something he had tried so hard to keep from happening.

'Get out of here,' she could hear his plea in her mind.

'Not without you,' she responded in like fashion.

She wished she had time to reassure Zan that she wasn't quite as helpless as she seemed, but Ava had risen to her feet, her eyes narrowing in anger.  Elise let the connection go, giving Ava her undivided attention as the alien started to stroll away from him. 

Ava sauntered over to Elise, her eyes travelling up and down her frame.  She could tell that Ava was unimpressed by the expression on her face ... superior, sneering.  Elise supposed she really didn't look all that imposing, something else in her favor.  Her hair was pulled back in a ponytail, she was wearing a Michigan Tech Huskies sweatshirt, jeans and sneakers.  They were both about the same height, although Ava was heavier than she.  Elise didn't look like a formidable opponent at all.  Perfect.

"And just who might you be?" Ava said in a mocking voice as she came to a halt in front of her.

Elise looked her right in the eye, but never answered.  This caused Ava some surprise, and then irritation flared in her gaze.  She took a step closer, invading Elise's personal space, thinking to intimidate her.  Elise stood her ground, never looking away, her face expressionless, her eyes emotionless.  This gave Ava another moment's pause, because it was obviously not the reaction she was expecting.  She stepped back a pace.

"I asked you a question," Ava's tone was threatening as she began to walk around her.

Again, Elise didn't answer.  What she did do, however, was always keep Ava in front of her, turning as Ava circled.

Rule number 3 ... never, ever turn your back on your opponent.  Never walk away from him, never allow him to get behind you.  Only in the movies is anyone stupid enough to let themselves be caught in such a vulnerable position.  Always keep the enemy in your sight," Greg instructed her. 

To prove his point, when Elise turned away after his speech, Greg swept his leg around while her back was turned and knocked her legs out from under her, dumping her on her ass.  When she glared up at him, outraged, he just shrugged his shoulders.

"See what I mean?  You thought the fight was over ... and it wasn't.  It isn't over until one of you is lying on the ground, unable to continue.  Until then, you keep your opponent where you can see him."


"You don't belong here, little girl. Time to go running home to mama, before I kick your ass. You have no idea who I am and how much I can hurt you," Ava's voice was tight.

She stopped, confusion skittering over her features before she could hide it. Elise watched her with an impassive gaze, her arms loose at her sides, her weight settled on the balls of her feet. She could tell that Ava was seeing her position of control slipping, because Elise refused to be baited.

One more thing, and this is a pet peeve of mine. When you're faced with a life-or-death situation, that moment is *not* the time to get into a blow-by-blow account of what you're going to do to your opponent ... or to give out your life's story. Trash talking is a distraction. Your focus has changed from defense to some touchy-feely moment of self-validation. If your enemy wants to engage in it, that's fine, but you don't respond," Greg told her. "It's just long-winded bullshit that's meant to make you angry, which in turn makes you more vulnerable. Don't get sucked into it."

As she continued to watch Ava, Elise could tell exactly when the alien girl decided that enough was enough. She was confused, angry and definitely not in control of the situation any longer. Elise knew that now was the time to take her down.

Greg would have been proud as Elise put his last, and most crucial, lesson to good use.

Rule number 4 ... and this is the most important rule of all ... when you decide that you're going to commit, there's no going back. And there's no holding back either. You go in hard and fast, and you don't ever let up. There are no finer feelings in this. If you feel sorry for your opponent and ease up, he'll take you out. You're not done until the enemy is either unconscious or dead," Greg's voice was implacable as he hammered home his point. "Anything else is unacceptable ... and trust me, anything less *can* get you killed."

She judged the distance, realizing it was perfect. As Ava opened her mouth to utter one more threat, Elise lashed out with the heel of her right hand, striking Ava's nose with all the force she had, driving it upward as Greg had taught her. Ava shrieked as the blood spurted everywhere, her nose broken. Ava fell to her knees, blinded by the pain, her left hand coming up to hold her face as the blood poured down. Elise could see her right hand coming up, and remembering what Zan had told her about alien defense, she grabbed the hand and twisted with all her strength, breaking the wrist easily. Ava was doubled over, her broken wrist held tight to her stomach. She was mindless with agony and never saw the last blow coming.

Elise sized her up and backed up a step. Spinning in a perfect martial arts move, she turned, bringing her leg around with every ounce of her 102 pounds. The side of her foot connected with Ava's temple and it was all over. Breathing hard, she gazed down at the alien wench, who was down and decidedly out.

"Fucking bitch," she hissed.

Elise stared down at her for one more moment before backing away from her. Every thought was now focused on Zan. He was still sagging against the wall, barely conscious. She knelt beside him, making sure Ava would remain in her line of sight. Carefully, she put her hand under his chin, raising his face to her. Tears welled in her eyes as Zan had to turn his head so that he could see her out of his good eye. It was dulled with pain.

"Lise," he sighed, "you ... okay?"

"I'm fine Zan, just fine. Can you move? We have to get out of here, before that slut comes to," Elise tried to sound encouraging, although she was scared to death at how badly he was hurt.

"Try," he said simply.

With Elise's help, and using the wall as leverage, he got to his feet. She stayed on his right side, knowing by the way his arm was cradled in his jacket, that his left side was useless. He wrapped his right arm around her shoulders and tried to keep as much of his weight off her as he could as they staggered to the entrance of the alley.

Zan needed a moment to rest, propping himself up against the wall, taking small moaning breaths against the pain of his broken ribs. Even in the weak light, his face was ashen where there was no bruising or dried blood. His condition was alarming.

"Lise ... can't walk back ... too far," he gasped.

"It's okay, Zan, I have a car. I borrowed Debi's. She's a neighbor and a really good friend. It's right around the corner. You can make it," Elise coaxed.

Zan nodded, pushing away from the wall to again wrap his good arm around her shoulders. The small distance to the car felt like miles, and Elise was breathing hard when they finally reached their destination. She opened the passenger side door and helped Zan ease himself into the seat. He immediately curled himself to the side, his right arm protecting his ribs. Slamming the door, she ran around to the driver's side, pulling out the keys and jumping in.

'No doctor, no hospital. It's all up to me,' she thought as she drove the short distance back to her apartment.

Elise was terrified.

[ edited 5 time(s), last at 12-Nov-2002 4:10:32 PM ]
posted on 16-Nov-2002 1:12:38 AM
Ah, the joys of remodeling. Drywall dust everywhere. A hole in my bathroom floor that goes straight down into the basement. 3 trips to the dump to get rid of the debris.

But now the fun part starts ... shopping at Home Depot for all new stuff! It's fun to spend this kind of money, because when you spend such large amounts, you get the attitude of "what's another $50?" I love it.

I get the feeling, based on the feedback, that everyone was impressed with Elise. I know I was. Her cousin Greg would have been proud at how she took out that skanky slut.

I said at the beginning that Zan deserved better than ending up underneath some truck. He is in dire need of attention. The kind of attention that is too long for one chapter, so it's divided into more than one part. How many parts this chapter has depends on how bad off he is. I can't tell yet.

Thank you all for the tremendous feedback and, as always, tell me what you think ....


Always


Chapter 35A

Elise drove back to her apartment as fast as she could without getting stopped for some stupid traffic violation.

She was still shaking.  It was a combination of the adrenaline rush from taking Ava down and the incredible anxiety she felt over Zan and his appalling condition.  She had to scrub at the tears that seemed to want to stream down her cheeks as she constantly looked at the huddled figure next to her.

Zan was turned away from her so that he could rest his good shoulder on the seat.  He was hunched over, the sound of his labored breathing filling the car.  Elise could hear the little moan of pain that seemed to accompany each breath, a sound that told her he had broken ribs.  She wondered what had happened to him, even as she thanked God for the connection between them.  Without it, she would have never known that he needed her.

Elise had become increasingly worried as the evening wore on and Zan didn't appear.  She missed him so much, just in the day that they had been apart.  At first, she had been a little angry at how long it was taking him.  He was wasting soo much of the evening checking on those alien morons, and she resented the time that it stole from her.  But, as it got later and later, her anger died and anxiety took it's place.  Her stomach was clenching with it, and she couldn't seem to keep still, pacing around the apartment. 

Trying to calm down, she grabbed the remote and looked for something to watch on cable.  She finally settled on a reality show that held her attention and she lay down on the couch.  She must have been more tired than she thought, because she dozed off after only a few moments.

When she woke up with a start, she knew.  Somehow, she just *knew* that Zan was in serious trouble.  She could feel it skittering across her skin ... tremendous pain, betrayal, dogged determination to find a place of safety.  Elise flew up off the couch as the impulse to go to him overwhelmed her.  She ran into the bedroom and pulled on her sweatshirt, sitting on the bed to put on her sneakers.  She grabbed a band to hold her hair back, hurrying into the living room as she pulled it into a high ponytail.  She grabbed her keys and then stopped short.

She had no idea where to go or where he was.  The need to *move* and find him was so intense, but he could be anywhere. 

'Think, Elise, think,' she told herself.  'Where would he go?'

She paced around the living room, trying to get some idea of his thought process, straining to grasp something from their connection that would give her a clue.  The impressions were clear enough, distressing as they were.  He was in so much pain, something that brought tears to her eyes.  Damn, when would they stop hurting him?  Emotionally, and now physically, he had been bruised and battered by them all his life.  She wasted a few moments in utter hatred of the aliens before pushing the feelings aside.  There had to be something that would tell her ...

Safety.  He had this need for it that was driving him along.  He was looking for a refuge, somewhere that he could go to regroup, somewhere that would give him a chance to rest.  Her first thought was that he would come back to the apartment, and then she shook her head.  No.  He wouldn't come here, because more than he wanted safety, he wanted her to be safe.  Coming here might lead them to her and he would never do that.  He was almost pathological about making sure that the aliens had no knowledge of her very existence.

So ... if he wouldn't go to the apartment, where would he go?  Someplace he was familiar with, but the aliens weren't, where he could try to recover.  Where? 

And then she knew.  The rink. 

Elise was out the door and on her way down the hall when she stopped again.  If her impressions were right, he was hurt ... badly.  He would never be able to make the walk home.  She needed a car.  Switching directions, she ran down to the apartment of her neighbor.  Debi was one of the first people to make her feel welcome in New York, coming over with an invitation to stop in for coffee.  It didn't take long before they were fast friends. 

Elise stopped at her door, pounding on it frantically. 

'Come on, come on,' she thought, resisting the impulse to pound on it again.

When Debi opened the door, Elise didn't waste any time in small talk.

"I need to borrow your car.  It won't be for long, but something's come up and I really, really need a set of wheels," she told her in a rush.

"Sure, no problem," Debi answered.  "Let me get my keys.  Is everything alright?" she asked as she walked back into her apartment to find them.

Elise shifted from foot to foot in her desire to get going.  She had tried to hide her anxiety, because she didn't want to answer alot of questions, but she was sure that at least some of her worry was showing.

"Yeah, everything's fine.  I just got a call from a friend who's stranded and I need to go and pick him up.  I won't be long.  I'll just bring you the keys when I get back," she said.

"Here," Debi handed Elise the keys to her car, "it's parked out back.  It's a little late, and I was planning on going to bed, so if you want to stop by tomorrow morning and drop them off, that would be fine.  I don't have to be at work until 8:30, so I'd need to be on my way by 7:45."

"Thanks ... you're a lifesaver," Elise said as she turned away, running down the hall. 

She flew out of the back door of the building, jumping into the car and taking off.  The short drive to the rink practically shredded her nerves.  She wanted to get there as fast as she could, but she struggled to maintain a legal rate of speed, because the last thing she needed was to get pulled over.  When Elise got to the rink, she threw the car in park and was out the door, slamming it behind her and pulling her keys to the building out of her pocket.  She was just about to unlock the door when she heard a faint cry, seeming to be coming from behind the rink.  Because the building was so big, she had to run all the way around the corner to get to the entrance to the alley.  And there in front of her was Zan, slumped against the side of the building, Ava crouching next to him.


'I hope I hurt her really, really bad,' Elise thought with a flare of rage as she drove back to the apartment.  'I hate them ... I hate all of them.  Zan never asked for any of this and all he's ever tried to do is the right thing.'

She looked over at him again, her heart wrung. She wanted to touch him, but she wasn't sure where she could do that and not hurt him.  The back of his jacket was a mess and there was a large, dark, damp-looking spot high on his pants near his left hip.  His left arm was still cradled in his jacket, so she knew that there was something seriously wrong with it.  Elise could see the slight tremors that shook him as he tried to breathe as shallowly as possible.  She was scared to death over his condition, especially when she realized that he was just semi-conscious at best. 

The only plus that she could see in the whole situation was the fact that injuries were nothing new to her. Being a skater, she'd had her share of them.  And she had also seen other skaters hurt themselves.  One of the things her mother, in another one of her anal retentive moments, had insisted on was that Elise be sure to have supplies in case of an emergency.  She was well-stocked with ace bandages, gauze, tape, ice packs ... everything she'd need if she were ever injured.  Elise mentally blessed her mother yet again for her foresight.

Finally reaching the apartment building, she pulled into the back parking space.  She flew around to the passenger side, opening it slowly in case Zan was leaning against it.  He was still hunched over, curled up in pain.  Elise knelt on the ground next to him, carefully placing her fingers underneath the right side of his jaw, lifting his head.  He gave a small moan as his right eye fluttered open, turning his head so he could see her.

"Hey, we're home," she said in a low voice.  "How do you feel?"

"Like ... was run over ... by ... truck," Zan faltered.

"Can you make it upstairs?" Elise asked. 

"Try ..."

Elise gave him a few moments to gather himself for the effort.  She tenderly caressed his right cheek, tears brimming in her eyes when he turned his face into her hand in a nestling gesture, moving against the soft skin of her palm.

"Feels ... so good," he whispered.

"Zan, you have to get up now," Elise's voice was gentle, but firm. "We have to get upstairs. I promise, just a little bit more, and then you can rest. Almost done," she coaxed.

He nodded, starting to shift himself to get out of the car. He slid to the edge of the seat and Elise nudged her shoulder under his right arm, putting her arm around his waist. She helped him push himself to his feet, steadying him as he swayed.

"Lise," he gasped, "I ... I can't ..."

"Yes, you can. Zan, you can do this. Just lean on me and I'll help you. Look at me," she urged, and he gazed into her eyes. "You can do this," she told him again.

How they made it, she would never clearly remember for sure, but somehow Elise helped him into the building and up the elevator to her apartment. As before, she led him into her bedroom and had him sit on her bed. He was so tired, so battered and in such pain that she was ready to panic.

Was she up to this latest challenge, she wondered.

TBC

[ edited 5 time(s), last at 16-Nov-2002 11:21:39 AM ]
posted on 19-Nov-2002 10:31:14 PM
I'm sorry about the length, but tomorrow is just a total blow-off day, between work and shopping for new bathroom stuff (woohoo!), so I wanted to get something out today.

Thanks for all the incredible feedback that you give. I have to admit, when I originally had the idea for this story, I hadn't thought about it much past Zan finding his own soulmate and the whole truck incident. I'm not sure exactly where I'm going to take it from here, but the story seems to have taken on a life of it's own, so it's not gonna end in the next few chapters. There seems to be more to it than that. Color me surprised ....


Always


Chapter 35B

Elise switched on the small light on the nightstand by her bed, bathing the room in the soft glow, and turned to look at Zan.  He was sitting hunched over on her bed, his right arm resting on his thighs, his breathing labored, his eye closed.  The part of his face that she could see, where it wasn't covered with drying blood, was drained of color.  He was so incredibly wounded, and she was scared to death.  These were the types of injuries that demanded a doctor's care, or at least a trip to the emergency room.  Yet, because of his alien status, these weren't options and it was falling on her shoulders.  Her feeling of inadequacy, of being unequal to the task, held her momentarily frozen in place.

As she watched, Zan made the mistake of trying to take a deep breath.  He knew he shouldn't, but he had been trying to breathe shallowly to ease the pain of his broken ribs for so long.  Now he had reached the point where he just needed the air, so he took the risk and filled his lungs.  He groaned, his features twisting in misery.

The sound snapped Elise out of her indecision, and she moved quickly to him, kneeling down on the floor so she could look up into his face.  She placed her hand to his right cheek and he opened his eye, turning his face so he could bring her into his line of sight.

"Zan, you have to talk to me.  Going to the emergency room or getting you to a doctor are out of the question, right?" she asked.

Zan shook his head slowly.

"Can't ... too dangerous," he whispered.

"Okay," Elise agreed.  "I know it's hard, but you have to tell me where you're hurt, so I can help you.  What can I do?"

"Ribs ... broken, left shoulder is dislocated, left hip ... messed up," Zan struggled to get the words out as he took inventory of his wounds. "Jaw ... is broken, feel dizzy ... sick."

"Is there any internal bleeding?  What about your head; do you think you have a concussion?" she questioned him gently about the two things that worried her the most.

"No ... no bleeding.  Head aches," he narrowed his eye as he tried to assess the injuries to his head.  "Don't know ... concussion," he gave up trying to figure it out. 

"Zan, can you heal any of this?"

"Can, but ... not yet.  Not strong enough ... need to rest," his voice was weak. 

Elise nodded, and sat back on her heels, thinking.  Zan would recover some of his strength, only to deplete it again after he tackled an injury ... a cycle of rest and healing, rest and healing.  In the meantime, there were some things that she could do to make him more comfortable.

Elise got to her feet and went into the bathroom, going over to her linen closet.  Inside were the ace bandages, tape and gauze that her mother insisted she have on hand.  She pulled them out and went back into the bedroom, taking a seat next to Zan on the bed.  He was exhausted, and she would have to work fast, because his grip on consciousness wasn't going to last much longer.  Taking one of the shorter lengths of bandages, she tied the ends together to form a loop.  Elise then carefully unzipped his jacket, holding his left arm in place as she pushed the leather back from his right shoulder. 

"Can you pull your arm out?" she asked him quietly.

"Yeah," he said, as he struggled to shrug out of the material. 

Once his right arm was free, she carefully removed his left arm from the jacket, wincing at his low moan of pain when he had to straighten it.  Tossing the jacket aside, she pulled the bandage around his head, placing his arm in the loop so that it was again supported.  Rummaging in her nightstand drawer, she found the scissors she kept there and proceeded to cut his tee shirt away. 

"Oh, Zan," her voice was small as she took in his exposed chest.

The bruising, from what she could see, was going to be tremendous.  Already, the flesh from his left armpit all the way down to his hip was darkening, along his side and across his stomach.  She reached out with careful fingers, skimming them lightly down his skin.  Zan flinched involuntarily, then closed his eye as he absorbed her gentle touch.

"This is awful," Elise said as she struggled against the ready tears.  "I have to tape this up, and it has to be tight, so it's going to hurt ... alot. You have to sit up really straight while I do this,"  She took a deep breath.  "Are you ready?"

"Do it," Zan held himself erect, bracing himself against the pain that was sure to follow.

After the first pass, she pulled the bandage tight and he couldn't help the groan that escaped him.  Elise faltered for a moment, but at his tight nod, she continued.  Zan was practically shaking with the effort to hold back the cries, savagely biting down on his lip. 

Elise worked as quickly as she could.  When she used up one length of ace bandage, she would tape the end, pick up another one and continue.  She knew that she was hurting him, and by the time she was done, she was in tears, almost sobbing.

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry," she would whisper whenever Zan flinched, despite his best efforts to spare her.

"I know ... it's okay," he would soothe her, reaching with his good hand to touch her face, brushing away the tears.

When she was finished, Elise sat back, scrubbing at her cheeks as she gazed at him.  He was ashen and totally wrung out.  She couldn't help herself, and she slid closer to him, carefully pulling him into her arms.  He allowed his right cheek to fall onto her shoulder with a sigh, his forehead pressed to her throat, and she laid her cheek on his tousled hair.  She had to let him rest, just for a little while, before moving on to his next injury.

"Zan," she said in a hushed voice, "I don't know what to do about your shoulder. If it's disclocated, it has to be put back in place, and I'm not strong enough to do that. What are we going to do?"

Elise had seen a skater once that had disclocated a thumb during a fall. She had watched a trainer pull it back into place and, even now, the memory was enough to make writhe in sympathy. The mere thought of trying to reset Zan's shoulder, especially in the condition he was in, made her want to run from the room. He took care of the dilemma for her.

"I'll ... heal that first," he told her, his voice blurring with exhaustion. "Just ... immobilize it for ... now. Be fine."

"Okay," Elise whispered, kissing the top of his head before gently releasing him.

She had felt him begin to slump against her and realized she didn't have much time left to take care of the injuries that required his cooperation. She reached for another ace bandage, pulling his left arm carefully out of the makeshift sling.

"Zan," she said in a soft voice, "show me where it feels most comfortable."

He held his arm with his right hand as he tried to find a position that didn't hurt too much. When he did, he raised his head and looked at her.

"Here ... feels good here," he told her. "Lise ... almost done?" he sounded like a tired little boy, swaying a bit with the effort to stay awake.

"Almost done," her voice broke a bit as she nodded.

Elise made fast work of immobilizing his arm, a few passes with the bandage all that was needed to hold it against his chest. When she finished, she put her arm behind his back to support him as she helped him to lie down, covering him with a quilt. His good eye fluttered closed, the lashes lying against his cheek, making his pallor all the more evident. She got up, needing to get some things from the kitchen to bathe his battered face. She was turning from the bed when Zan grabbed her hand.

"Love ... you," he whispered as he brought it to his lips, brushing a kiss across her knuckles.

When he released her hand, she skimmed his right cheek tenderly.

"I love you too," she said softly before leaving the room.

Elise walked into the kitchen, leaving the light off. She walked up to a cabinet and pressed her forehead against it, finally breaking down into sobs.

tbc

[ edited 8 time(s), last at 20-Nov-2002 9:58:05 AM ]
posted on 26-Nov-2002 8:04:06 PM
Gentle Readers ... I'm sorry for how long it's taken me to get this part out. You can blame it on a combination of too much going on around my house, and the mistake of buying each of my boys a new computer game. They hogged it for days, playing Backyard Hockey and Spongebob Squarepants. I won't be making that mistake again for awhile (well, at least until Christmas).

This part was rather wrenching for me to write, because I was trying to convey alot of emotions. I hope that the love that Elise has for Zan comes across very clearly, as well as how much he loves her in return.

You've all been awesome in your feedback and your loyalty to this story really makes writing it worthwhile. Welcome to Old Enough, a new reader, and many thanks to the rest of you for your continued faithfulness. You're truly the best ....


Always


Chapter 35C

Elise rubbed her forehead back and forth against the cabinet as the sobs shook her. They were deep and gut-wrenching and held a myriad of emotions in them. The feelings that swamped her had an intensity that scared her. She didn't know what to do with them, other than to let them out this way, because she was afraid of what holding them in would do to her.

Elise was a small-town girl with an incredibly loving family, and her approach to life came from that solid foundation. She'd never encountered any of the world's darker, seamier side. She had wonderful adoptive parents that thought the world of her, and younger brothers who thought she was an amazing sister. Family ties and loyalty were something that she took for granted, and now she realized how lucky she was.

That Zan's "family" had turned on him was something she had feared, but still couldn't comprehend. They had hurt him so badly. Elise didn't know the details about what occured, but that the three aliens were responsible was something that was clear. She had felt enough through her connection with Zan to know that ... he had been trying to get away from them.

Now, every protective instinct welled up from deep inside her. Mother bear and cubs was a totally inadequate description for what was going through her. And that was what scared her. Elise had never felt such hatred and rage directed at anyone, and it would seem it was bottomless ... it just kept coming. If she had alien powers herself, and the three bastards were standing in front of her, her feeling was that she could easily rid the world of them and hardly blink an eye. The sheer bloodthirstiness running through her terrified her. Nothing in her life had prepared her to handle such raw emotion.

What put her into a free-fall of anguish, however, was Zan. In her sheltered existence, she had never seen anyone as horribly treated at the hands of others. During her years as a skater, she had seen injuries before. But never anything like this. And she felt so helpless. There were limits to what she could do for him. She could bandage him up, but she couldn't take the horrible pain away or do anything to help restore his strength. He couldn't even heal himself right now.

Elise felt incredibly fierce. This final, ultimate betrayal had left him alone in a way that he had never been before. Zan told her enough of his life for her to realize that there really were no finer feelings between the members of his "family." She knew that he understood it, but she had figured out early on that he still, in some strange way, depended on them. They had been the last bastion against the loneliness of a world that he didn't belong to, while he waited for another planet to bring the prodigal son home. Elise very much doubted that Zan even realized he thought that way. When he talked about them he was very matter-of-fact, declaring quite clearly that the three aliens hated him and couldn't be trusted.

But, because she was so tuned in to him, she could see what his loneliness had caused him to accept all this time. Better the smallest warmth of a family situation that reminded her of a pack of dogs, than to be totally alone in a cold, dark world. And now, that last stronghold of security, slight as it had been, was blasted to nothingness, leaving him adrift.

Elise clenched her fists. No, that wasn't true ... not anymore. Zan had her. He had given her his heart, and unlike the unholy three, she would never betray him. Zan trusted her completely, and she was thankful that they had met before all this happened, because it would have destroyed him. That much she knew.

Elise cried until she had no more tears left, and then she wiped her eyes and pulled away from the cabinet. She felt marginally better. She needed the outlet for her emotions, and now she was in charge of them again, instead of them ruling her. There was still alot she had to do to make Zan as comfortable as she could, but now she was under control. She pulled a piece of paper toweling from it's holder and blew her nose, throwing it in the trash. She then washed her hands and dug around in a cabinet for a large basin. Filling it with warm water, she took it back into the bedroom, intent upon bathing Zan's face.

Placing the basin on the nightstand, Elise sat down on the bed, staring down at him as he slept. She thought she was all cried out, but looking at Zan's battered features brought the tears welling up into her eyes again. She swiped at them with the back of her hand, mentally scolding herself that crying wasn't helping him. She got up and went into the bathroom to find some washcloths and towels, grabbing antiseptic, gauze and a tube of antibiotic.

Returning to the room, she again sat down next to him, placing the supplies within easy reach.  Remembering what Zan had told her about his hip, she figured that she would start with that.  Elise pushed the quilt aside and removed his boots and socks, before moving to unfasten the snap and lower the zipper of his pants.  She stopped short.  The material around his damaged hip was torn, parts of it imbedded in the wound.  Before she could remove them, the fabric would have to be soaked so that it would come free more easily.  Elise took a small hand towel and saturated it with the warm water from the basin, placing it over the area.  It would take some time before the material was wet enough for her to try and free it, so she turned her attention back to his face.

The swelling on the left side had worsened with the passage of time, and the blood around his eye had totally dried.  She dipped a soft cloth into the warm water and then, wringing it out and scooting closer, she carefully began to clean the area.  Zan stirred, but seemed to lapse back into sleep.  Elise rinsed out the cloth repeatedly as she removed the dirt and blood from his features.  The bruising along the left side of his face wrung her heart.  There were small lacerations that she applied the antibiotic to and, having finished, she again turned her attention to his hip.

During the time that she had spent bathing his face, the material adhering to the wound had loosened and Elise carefully pulled it away.  It stuck in a few places, so she again soaked the towel and applied it to the areas until it came free.  Once loose, she shifted Zan so she could remove his pants. She shook her head in fond amusement, sniffling a bit. The guy just didn't seem to believe in underwear.

The wound was nasty ... a long, jagged laceration that looked painful.  It was still bleeding a bit and there was alot of imbedded dirt that needed to be removed.  Elise went to get clean water and a fresh cloth before settling on the bed to begin the task.  Zan again stirred as she worked, but didn't wake up.  Once it was clean, Elise reached for a gauze pad and the bottle of antiseptic.  Liberally drenching the pad, she bit her lip uncertainly and then applied it to the wound.

Zan awoke with a cry, his right hand lashing out to grab her wrist tightly.  His breath came in harsh pants, which was murder on his ribs.  Retaining his hold on her, he curled onto his right side, groaning.

"Don't ... hurts," he gasped.

"I know, I know.  I'm sorry ... I was hoping you would stay asleep while I did this," Elise was in tears again.  "I should have tried to wake you up and warn you."

Zan seemed to realize that he was still gripping her wrist and let go.

"Did I ... hurt you?" he asked as he struggled to get his breathing under control again.

"No, I'm okay," Elise reassured him as she wiped her eyes.

"Gimme ... minute and then ... finish," Zan told her as he shifted onto his back again.

Elise had this overwhelming need to touch him in some way that wouldn't add to his misery.  She skimmed his right cheek with her fingers again and again as she waited for the hurt to ease, and he concentrated on the soothing caress as he tried to recover.  Despite his pain, the moment took on an intimacy as she watched Zan continually turn into her hand, taking such comfort in her tenderness.  Time slowed as she continued her gentle ministration.

With a small sigh, Zan finally indicated he was ready, and the closeness fell away as he braced himself.  Looking up over his head, he grasped one of the rails of the headboard with his good hand and, turning back to her, he nodded. Elise had to steel herself as she soaked another pad and again applied it to the wound. She winced as Zan sucked in his breath with a hiss, gripping the rail fiercely as he shook. His eye squeezed shut and he turned his face away, unwilling to distress her with his anguish. She worked as fast as she could, realizing that prolonging the process was harder on him than just getting it over with as quickly as possible.

When she finished, she sat back and watched Zan try and ride out the pain, her heart clenching wretchedly in her chest. Her breath came in short pants, and she realized that she was straining to synchronize her breathing with his, as if she could somehow share his suffering and ease it in that way. As his respirations slowed to normal, hers did too, and she emulated his sigh of relief when the pain eased.

"The worst is over, Zan," she said softly. "I'm going to bandage it in a bit, but I think that I got everything."

She left the gash exposed to the air, thinking that it would do some good. She would cover it with a gauze pad and tape it, after she treated it with the antibiotic, but for the moment she just left it. Unable to resist, Elise climbed up onto the bed to settle herself close to his uninjured side. Zan stretched out his right arm, and she answered his unspoken invitation, her head coming to rest on his shoulder. As he slowly sifted her hair through his fingers, his cheek resting on top of her head, she could feel her slow tears start to fall.

"I'm sorry that I hurt you," she whispered. "I hate that I had to do that."

"S'ok," Zan's drowsy voice reassured her.

As the time passed, Elise could feel him relaxing into slumber, his hand falling heavily onto her shoulder as he slept again. She carefully pulled away from him and, taking a gauze pad, taped it into place over his wound. She then got up and undressed, wrinkling her nose at the blood on her sweatshirt. Ava's blood.

'Damn, now I have to throw it out. This is my favorite sweatshirt, too,' she thought, tossing it into the corner in disgust.

When she finished changing into a tank top and flannel boxers, she set her alarm clock, as she would be waking Zan up every two hours. She then climbed up onto the bed again, covering them both with the quilt. Grabbing his right hand, she laced her fingers through his and laid her cheek on his arm. She fell asleep, listening to him breathe ...

[ edited 6 time(s), last at 26-Nov-2002 10:31:02 PM ]
posted on 27-Nov-2002 12:02:17 AM
Thanks to everyone for the kind words in your feedback. It's been rough for both Zan and Elise. I'm not sure what's harder ... having to go through all that pain, or having to watch someone you love go through it. They both try so hard to ease each other's burden, because they love each other so much.

Moonbeam ... Mikey, my little guy, got SpongeBob SquarePants: Operation Crabby Patty, just because I happened to be in a rather generous mood while at Target and he caught me at right moment. Ah, timing is everything. He loves it. If you have boys that are around the ages of 8-11, there is a Backyard series that both my guys are into. Backyard Baseball, Backyard Football, Backyard Hockey ... they love them all.

Again, thank you for all the feedback ...

[ edited 1 time(s), last at 27-Nov-2002 12:03:32 AM ]
posted on 6-Dec-2002 1:37:17 AM
I am so sorry, Gentle Readers, that it took me so long with this part. It gave me fits, don't ask me why, because I really don't know. Maybe it's because it's rather transitiony (nope, still not a word), and I don't do well with that.

Thank you to all the faithful readers, Dragon7, Strawbehrry Shortcake, Devil Kitty, Jeremiah, Faith Evans, Roswellluver, Ganges Girl, Moonbeam, Isis7777, Shelly 2, LEL, Roswell428, mpls muse, Lyra, SilverDreams, Flora, Jessibelle47, LindaCrazy4Jason, CarenicoleIQ, Pinky Banana(happy birthday again!), masweetthing, tanky, b4echstarrynite, wild_child_uk, and anyone else I might have missed ...

Welcome to the new readers, OldEnough, SweetCherryKat, Deejonaise, BelevnDreamsToo ...

Your feedback astounds me. Thanks for staying with me on this bumpy ride.


Always


Chapter 35D

The next morning, Elise was in the kitchen, warming up some beef broth and making weak tea, hoping to be able to entice Zan to get something into his stomach. As she moved around the stove, she thought about the previous night ...

Elise awoke to the insistent beeping of her alarm clock and swept it to the floor in irritation. She realized that she was pressed up to Zan's right side and that his arm had come around her again. She was relieved, because when they slept together she would usually be all over him by morning. She figured her subconscious mind knew that Zan couldn't take that right now.

Elise sat up next to him and turned on the light by the nightstand. He was lying on his back, his face turned toward her so that all she could really see was the bruised left side of his face. The area was swollen, the colors ranging from dark purple to that really sick-looking green, his eye completely shut. She reached out to touch it with gentle fingers, but pulled back, not wanting to add even the smallest of discomfort. Elise shifted onto her knees.

"Zan," she leaned forward to murmur in his ear, "Zan, you have to wake up."

He turned onto his right side in his sleep, muttering something that she couldn't quite catch.

"Come on, Zan," she coaxed, raising her voice a bit, "I need you to wake up for me."

"Later," he grunted.

"No, you have to do it now," she said.

Zan again turned onto his back and, with an effort, opened his right eye.

"Wh .. what do you want?" he asked in a hoarse voice, moistening his lips as if he was parched.

"Who am I?" Elise asked him.

"What? You're Lise," Zan answered in a fretful voice. "Why are you ... asking me this?"

"I need to check out how alert you are," she said in a soothing voice. "Where do you live?"

"New York," he answered in the same tone as before.

"How many fingers am I holding up?" Elise held up her hand, showing four fingers.

Zan squinted and then told her the correct number, before asking her in a plaintive voice if he could go back to sleep. When she told him it was okay, he closed his eye and was almost immediately lost in slumber.


Elise turned off the burner underneath the broth, checking it to make sure it wasn't too hot. When she was sure that it was warm enough to not turn his stomach, but not so hot that it would burn him, she poured it into a mug. She figured that it would be easier for him to drink it that way than to try and spoon it into his mouth. She placed it on a tray, along with the mug of tea and the bottle of hot sauce, and took it into the bedroom, setting it on the nightstand.

As she settled herself on the bed, Elise pulled the quilt away to check the bandage on Zan's hip. There was a slight bloodstain on it, and she realized that she would have to change the dressing soon. As Elise figured it, he would soon have recovered enough strength to start the healing process. He had said he would start with his dislocated shoulder, but she wondered if he wouldn't try and heal his ribs first. Zan's breathing was still labored, although not quite as bad as before. Which would give him the most comfort ... healing his ribs so that he could breathe easier, or healing his shoulder?

How much of his strength had he recovered overnight? She woke him up several times. One of those times made her stomach flip when she remembered how much he had scared her.

Elise restrained herself from tossing her alarm clock across the room when it went off once more. She lost track of how many times she had gotten up to awaken Zan, asking him questions to see how alert he was. Narrowing her eyes at her clock, she realized it was 4:00 in the morning. With a sigh, she turned to him to wake him yet again. He was getting a little testy with her as she went through the routine, giving a little sigh of relief when she finished. So far, Elise was encouraged by his responses. Zan was upset about being woken up, but his answers were clear and left no doubt that he understood what he was being asked ... a good sign.

She was settling down to go back to sleep after setting her alarm for two hours away when she realized that she'd never let her coach know that she wouldn't be at practice. Elise wasn't going anywhere for the next few days. There was no way she could bring herself to leave Zan alone, even though she knew he would do nothing but sleep after healing an injury. Elise tossed back the quilt to get up, turning back to make sure Zan stayed covered. She walked into her living room and made the call to her coach, letting her know that an emergency involving a friend would keep her from practice for the next few days. Madame was extremely upset, but Elise was firm. She couldn't leave her friend alone and that was that.

Walking away from the phone, she knew her coach would be in communication with her parents very soon. There was no way that Madame would not call them and tell them that Elise was blowing off practice. She shook her head as she headed back to the bedroom. She'd deal with her parents when the time came. As she moved slowly, lost in thought, she was startled to hear a loud thump. Elise flew into the bedroom, stopping in the doorway as she took in the sight of Zan on his knees on the floor, swaying a bit.

"What are you doing?!" she was by his side in a heartbeat. "Why are you out of bed? You shouldn't be moving at all, let alone without me to help you."

"I gotta go," Zan muttered as he curled his right arm around his ribs.

"Zan, you're in no shape to leave. And there's no need to. Ava was down for the count when we left and there's no way that any of them know about me or where I live," Elise soothed as she grazed his right cheek with her fingers.

"No, I gotta go," Zan insisted as he struggled to get to his feet.

Elise stopped the caress as she put her shoulder underneath Zan's arm. Finding the leverage, she helped him to his feet and then put her arm around him, steadying him.

"The only place you're going is back to bed. We're safe," she told him.

"Lise," Zan's voice held frustration, "I gotta pee."

She stared at him blankly for a moment before realization dawned. Looking at his strained features, she quickly helped him to the bathroom. She shut the door to give him some privacy and hovered there, listening anxiously, worried that he wasn't strong enough. After a short wait that somehow seemed like an eternity, he opened the door, leaning against it for support.

"How do you spell relief?" Zan said with a faint smile on his face.

Elise gave a little snicker, the unexpected comment striking her as funny, and Zan laughed a bit in response. He winced, grabbing at his ribs.

"That was a ... mistake," he said in a rueful voice.

"Yeah, I think starting your career in comedy can wait until you're better," Elise came up to him, wrapping her arm around his waist.

He leaned heavily against her as she led him back to the bedroom, easing him onto the bed. As he sat there, his breathing slightly harsh, Elise knelt in front of him, resting her arms on his thighs as she gazed up into his face. The right side of his mouth quirked up into a small smile as he reached out with his good hand to touch her cheek. She placed a kiss onto his palm, nuzzling into it.

"How did you know ... to come?" his voice held a note of wonder.

"I don't know," she whispered. "I just knew you needed me. Something in our connection told me."

"I would have died ... without you," Zan's voice was husky.

His fingers trembled a bit as he brushed the hair back behind her ear, his gaze following the movement of his hand. Elise reached up to gently pull him down, placing a tender kiss on his lips. When she broke the caress, he put his forehead against hers, closing his eye with a sigh.

"I love you," he breathed. "Thank you ... for saving my life."

Elise could feel how tired he had become again, and she wordlessly urged him to lie down. As she covered him, Zan reached out his right arm to her.

"Stay with me?" he coaxed, as his eye fluttered shut.

"Always," she smiled, as she climbed in with him to snuggle close to his right side.

She felt Zan relax as he started to fall asleep. She was just beginning to nod off herself when she felt him give a slight chuckle.

"What?" she asked in a sleepy voice.

"Got me a kick-ass girl," he replied.


Elise grinned to herself as she thought about what he said. A kick-ass girl. She considered it high praise from someone as tough as he could be. Although she never really saw that side of him, she knew it was there. It made his tenderness toward her that much more amazing. She watched him for awhile as he slept, drinking him in. She'd give him a few more minutes to rest, and then it was time to wake him up and see if he could get the healing process started. She wanted him healthy and strong again.

[ edited 2 time(s), last at 6-Dec-2002 2:08:36 AM ]
posted on 12-Dec-2002 5:28:51 PM
I have to apologize (again) for the amount of time this has taken me. Real life is after me with a vengeance, and if I ever decide to do some remodelling in the future, I will definitely not wait until the holidays roll around to try and tackle such a thing.

Thank you for all the marvellous feedback. Sometimes, when I was hip deep in sheet rock and lumber, with drywall dust everywhere, it was the only thing that kept me moving on this ...

Always



Chapter 36

"Zan," Elise crooned in a soft voice as she gently stroked his cheek. "Zan, it's time to wake up."

He muttered under his breath as he turned his face into her hand, reminding her of a cat arching into a caress.

"Come on, babe," she coaxed, "time to join the land of the living."

"10 minutes," Zan told her. "I'll join them in 10 minutes."

"Noo," Elise disagreed, "I need you to wake up now."

Zan was lying on his back, his lashes dark on his pale cheek. The skin around his swollen left eye was really bruised and colorful now, especially in the sunlight that streamed through the window. The quilt was down around his waist, exposing his taped-up chest and stomach, the bruising from his broken ribs also clearly evident. His left arm was immobilized across his chest, and his right was lying loosely by his side.

As she sat next to him, waiting for him to fully wake up, she picked up his hand and held it between hers. She idly ran her thumb over the skin of his palm, toying with his fingers. She loved his hands. They were so strong and sure whenever he touched her, yet they were always gentle. When he threaded his fingers through hers as they walked, she felt safe. When he cradled her cheek, or brushed the hair back from her face, she felt cherished.  And when he skimmed them over her body, caressing places only he had ever touched, she felt aroused, desired.  There were some lacerations that marred the skin now, and the sight of them gave her a pang.

When Elise looked up from her contemplation, she found Zan awake and gazing at her. She smiled, and his mouth quirked up a bit in response.

"How are you feeling?" she asked softly.

"My ribs are killing me," he replied as he shifted uncomfortably.

"Do you think you're strong enough to try and heal them?" Elise questioned.

"Gonna try," Zan closed his eye. "I would give just about anything to ... take a deep breath," he said as he opened his eye to look at her again.

Elise still held his hand, and it tightened on hers as he rode out a moment of pain that left him gasping a bit. He started moving a bit restlessly.

"Do you want to sit up for awhile? I brought some tea, and something for you to eat, if you can. It's just some broth, but I did bring the hot sauce, too. I was hoping you could get something into your stomach," Elise informed him.

Zan actually wasn't hungry at all, and the thought of food didn't appeal to him much, but Elise was so concerned, and so hopeful that he would try, that he didn't have the heart to refuse her.

"Yeah," he said in a tight voice as he started to sit up, "I think I can manage."

Elise was quick to place her arm behind his shoulders to help him, and when he was upright, she couldn't resist pulling him carefully into her embrace, letting him rest against her for a moment.

"You feel so good," he muttered as he rubbed his cheek against her shoulder, "so damn good."

Elise merely hugged him closer, unable to speak as her throat clogged with unshed tears.  She had let the connection between them unfurl a bit, reaching for him, and sensed a sadness in him that being in her arms eased.  She could feel him drawing comfort from her, and she concentrated on sending him all the love and solace she could.  Something was bothering him, something he needed to talk about.  She allowed herself some time to get back in control, and then pulled back, giving him a watery smile and sniffling a bit.  She reached behind him to arrange the pillows, and he eased himself back to sit against the headboard, wincing.

When he had settled, Elise grabbed the bottle of hot sauce, uncapping it.  Taking the mug of broth, she held them up in front of him, her brow raised in question.

"I'm not sure how much to put in, so you just tell me when," she said, shaking some of the tobasco into the cup.

When Zan indicated that she'd added enough, she put the bottle down and picked up a spoon from the tray, giving the broth a stir.  Putting the spoon aside, Elise settled closer to him, handing Zan the mug.  He was a little shaky.  He took a careful sip, taking the time to judge how his stomach was handling it.  There was no nausea, so he slowly drank the contents, savoring the taste and the way the broth eased the parched dryness of his throat.  It would seem he was hungrier than he thought.

Once he finished, he handed the mug back to Elise, leaning back against the pillows with a sigh.  She put the empty cup on the tray and climbed onto the bed next to him, sitting close to his right side.  She laced her fingers with his and laid her cheek on his shoulder.  With her free hand, she absently caressed the warm skin of his arm, comfortable with the silence that had sprung up between them.  The undemanding quiet, and the inner knowledge that he could trust her totally, allowed Zan the freedom to unburden himself.

"I screwed up, Lise," his voice was bitter.  "I screwed up bad."

Elise was tempted to reassure him that he had done no such thing, but held her tongue, sensing he needed to talk about it more than he needed to hear what she had to say.

"I don't know how I could have been so .. stupid.  I knew that they hated me, and that they would probably try something like this, but I ... I guess I never really believed it," he shook his head a bit in self-derision.

"Zan .. what happened?" Elise asked.

She knew the aliens were responsible, but had no idea what they had done.  As weak and wounded as he was last night, she never questioned Zan while she tended to him, because she knew he wasn't capable of giving her a clear picture and didn't want to add to his misery by demanding enlightenment.

"They tried to kill me. When we left the crib, Ava and I, Lonnie and Rath followed us.  I took Ava to get something to eat ... I didn't want her trying to steal, because she's really bad at it.  I didn't want her ... getting caught," Zan started to explain.  "We all left together, and Rath just kept ragging about the summit.  I told him it was a no-go and I thought he finally agreed.  I ... don't remember much after that.  Being pushed, a truck coming fast, lights, pain ..."

Zan's voice fell away, as if the memory exhausted him.  His recital of the events, as he remembered them, had Elise's stomach tied in knots.  She ached for Zan, hearing the note of desolation in his voice.  The final betrayal ... one that he probably knew would happen in his head, but never saw coming with his heart.

"I needed to find a safe place," Zan voice picked up the story again.  "I was ... so glad you weren't with me.  I was going to rest ... and then Ava was there.  She said all these things, but I couldn't understand them right.  All I wanted to do was pass out.  Then, you were there.  I was so ... so scared for you, and I was too weak to do anything for you."

Elise tightened her grip on his hand as his voice cracked a little, remembering how helpless he felt.

"I underestimated them, and it cost me. I won't get caught like that again," Zan's voice was filled with anger.

Because of the connection between them, Elise could feel that, in some ways, the rage was a cover.  It was easier for him to feel that, than to deal with the loss and loneliness that came from the knowledge that his "family," such as it was, had turned on him.

"Zan," she said softly, "you weren't stupid.  The only thing you did was judge them from your own character. The fact that you wouldn't do such a thing makes it harder to believe that they could.  It's not easy to know what someone else is capable of.  You can't read the motives and emotions of another."

"You did," Zan's voice was tight.  "You knew right away."

"I'm an outsider.  It was easier for me to see because my judgment wasn't colored by familiarity.  I haven't lived with them for years.  It's hard to be constantly on your guard against evil, day after day. You just get tired and can't sustain it ... I don't think anyone can really do it," she told him.

Elise pulled away from him a bit to gaze into his face.  He was pale and there was a pinched look around his mouth.  That was enough soul-searching for one day, she thought to herself.  He would have a long way to go when it came to dealing with this betrayal, but it was enough that he had started talking about it.

"I think you should do that healing thingy, and then I want you to sleep again.  You have a ways to go before you're better," she said as she moved away from him a bit. 

"Healing thingy?" Zan laughed a bit, before making a grab at his ribs.  "I think you may be right," he winced.

Elise watched with great interest as he placed his hand lightly over the area.  His eyes took on an inward focus, and she looked on in amazement as she saw a glow spread from underneath his hand, bathing the area with a golden light.  She became concerned when her focus returned to his face, noticing that his body was shaking with fine tremors.  He looked strained, and his breathing came in short pants.  After what seemed like forever, Zan pulled out of his trance-like state, falling back against the pillows.  He had used all his strength, and was barely conscious.

Elise got to her knees next to him and put her arm behind his shoulders.

"Come on, Zan," she soothed, "time to lie down.  You need sleep in the worst way."

She helped him push himself so that he was again on his back.  His eye had already fluttered shut, and she reached for the quilt to cover him.  As he had before, he grabbed her hand when she skimmed the back of  it over his cheek.  He brought it to his mouth to place a tender kiss on her knuckles.

"Love you," he said in a drowsy voice and was then lost in a world of healing slumber.

[ edited 4 time(s), last at 13-Dec-2002 3:26:23 PM ]
posted on 12-Dec-2002 10:41:56 PM
Wow ... Happy Birthday, Believer Evans.

If I could, I would giftwrap Zan, send him to you and hope you were of legal age so I wouldn't get in trouble.

Wait ... to send him I would have to have him. Now, if I had him, would I give him away? Only if I had totally lost my mind ...

*big*

Hope your day is awesome.

[ edited 1 time(s), last at 12-Dec-2002 10:44:25 PM ]
posted on 20-Dec-2002 7:00:19 PM
It's just sad, how far behind I am.

I'm so sorry, again, that it's taken me so long to get this out. Remodelling, Christmas shopping, and an absolutely horrendous week at work have taken all my time. I apologize for not being more timely with this chapter, but it too gave me some trouble. Real life in ganging up on me, and it's just not fair. I'm considering going away and pouting for awhile.

Thanks for the bumping and the wonderful feedback. It's kept me going ... I know I've said it before, but you really are the best.

Always



Chapter 37

For Zan, it was all a blur. Healing his broken ribs had taken everything out of him, and he slept straight through into the following morning. When he next awoke, Elise was sitting beside him, whispering in his ear that it was time for him to get up and eat something. She came with something a little more substantial ... scrambled eggs and toast.

Zan again sat back against the headboard of the bed, tackling the breakfast with a moan of approval. He really was hungry this time, and Elise made sure to bring the hot sauce, so the fluffy eggs were just the way he liked them. Funny, he'd never really had them before he hooked up with her, and now they were his favorite morning meal. When he finished, rinsing them down with some orange juice, he wiped his mouth with the napkin she brought along. He then reached out to cup his hand behind her neck, pulling her close for a tender kiss.

"Thanks, that was really good," he said as he rested his forehead against hers.

"You're welcome," Elise's voice was soft as she gave him a small smile.

"I can't tell you how good it feels to be able to breathe again," Zan sighed as he leaned back again. "That was the worst, although now I'm really aware of how much my shoulder hurts. Before, it was like a secondary pain. Now, it's number one on the hit parade."

"Do you feel strong enough to heal it?" Elise asked.

"Yeah, I think I can handle it now. It's gonna probably take everything out of me again, but I'm ready to try," Zan told her. "It just throbs."

"Okay. You do the healing thingy and I'll tuck you in again," Elise grinned.

"No, not yet. Know what I really want right now?" Zan's voice was low.

"No ... what?" Elise scrunched up her nose as she tried to think of what he might need.

"I want you to come and sit by me, like you did yesterday. I want to just talk to you for awhile. I've been out of it, I know, but not so out of it that I haven't missed you," Zan patted the space beside him.

Elise didn't need any more encouragement than that. She crawled up next to him and laced her fingers with his, laying her cheek on his shoulder as she did the day before. Zan sighed, content.

"You've been running yourself ragged, taking care of me," Zan's grip on her hand tightened a bit. "Can you just stay with me when I go to sleep again? I want you to rest," his voice was filled with concern.

"You've been an easy patient to take care of," Elise responded with a smile. "All you really do is just lie there and snore. You're hardly any work at all."

"I do not snore," Zan was indignant.

"Sure you do," her voice was impish. "You sound like a freight train. I'm surprised the whole building doesn't shake down around us. Who needs a wrecking ball, when we have you?" she turned to rub her nose against his.

"You're seriously wounding my ego here," he complained, his voice sounding remarkably like he was pouting.

"Poor baby," she soothed, as she rubbed her free hand up and down his arm.

"Can I ask you something?" Zan asked rather hesitantly after a short, but companionable silence.

"Sure," Elise nodded, and turned her head to gaze at him expectantly.

She got a little worried when she took a good look at his face. Whatever it was that he wanted to ask her, he almost looked as if he was bracing himself for a less than favorable response.

"You've gotten a good taste of what life can be like with me. I mean, I'm pretty sure that you've never had to deal with crazed alien encounters or whacked-out girlfriend wannabes before I came along," he said with a hint of self-mockery in his voice.  "And then there's hiding the truth of who I am. It's not like we can go up to your parents and have you introduce me as your alien boyfriend. They can't know who I am.  Nobody can."

This was what Zan feared would eventually happen.  He just hadn't planned so much of it arising at one time, and right at the start of their relationship.  There was so much baggage that came with his life, but that was just it ... this was his life.  It was what he was used to.  The constant upheaval of dealing with the other three aliens, the worry about someone finding out about him and his otherworldly status, guarding against being taken and experimented on ... all of these were reasons why he kept to himself so much.  It was lonely, but it was safe, both for himself and for anyone with whom he would get involved.

Now, Elise had been touched by his messed up existence.  Actually, it was much more than that.  It was truly a baptism of fire.  He was so incredibly proud of her and how she had handled herself in the whole disaster.  She hadn't panicked, she had been wary and street-smart, and had not only taken care of herself, but him as well.  He really would have died without her. 

But, should she have to deal with any of this?  True, this was his life, but it wasn't hers.  Her life, up until he met her, was filled with a loving family and reaching for a goal.  She was beautiful, talented, well-loved and had the sweetest of spirits.  Could he justifiy burdening her with the secrets in his life?  And she was so honest.  How would she feel, having to lie to everyone she knew, or at best, keep a whole part of her life hidden away from the people she loved most?

His love wouldn't be worth a damn if he didn't at least offer her a way out.  It was one thing for her to tell him that she didn't care how weird her life would become if she was with him.  It was something else altogether to have the whole ugly reality thrust into her face in such a spectacular fashion.  Zan wanted her with him more than he wanted his next breath, but he couldn't just assume that she hadn't changed her mind in the face of such an ugly reality.  He knew that she said the decision was hers, and he would respect that, but he had to give her a graceful exit, if that was what she wanted.  So he gathered up all his courage, ruthlessly pushed back visions of his former loneliness again being his way of life, and extended a way of escape.

"Lise, you were amazing, and I was so proud of you.  You were right, what you told me when we first met.  You really can take care of yourself," Zan shook his head in wonder.

"But ..." Elise said in a leading tone, because she knew that something else was coming.

"I really don't know how to say this.  You mean everything to me ... you know that, right?" he said in a hesitant voice.  When she nodded her head, he continued.  "But, I can't ask you to do this.  My life is so screwed up, my being an alien and all, but it is my life.  It's all I know, and it's all that I can offer you.  You're special.  You deserve so much more than this.  You've already had so much more than I could ever hope to give you.  I guess what I'm saying is that I would understand if ... if you wanted out," his voice cracked a little at the end, and he looked away as he uttered the words of release.

Elise sat still for a moment, holding tightly to his hand as she processed all that he had to say.  Her eyes brimmed with tears as she thought about his unselfish love for her.  If there was one thing that she knew, it was how very much he loved her.  She had seen his tender, vulnerable heart and how it beat only for her.  He desired only what was best for her, and he was willing to go back to his empty existence, if that was what she wanted.  She shook her head in disbelief, and shifted so that she was on her knees, facing him, still tightly gripping his hand. She carefully placed her free hand against his bruised cheek, turning his face back toward her.

"How did I ever get to be so lucky?" she asked in a soft voice. At his rather bewildered expression, she smiled through the tears. "All my life, I've had so many people who love me. My parents, my brothers ... and now you. All of you want nothing but the best for me. It just amazes me."

Elise leaned close, brushing his lips in a quick kiss before resting her forehead against his.

"But you amaze me most of all," she said in a husky voice. "I know how you've always worried that something might happen to me because you're not from around here. I love how protective you are of me, and I understand it, because I feel the same way about you. But I think you need to realize something," her voice became firm with conviction as she pulled back to look him squarely in the eye.

"Zan, we're two pieces of a whole now. When I think about us, the two of us together, I think of something that's so interconnected ... something that's so "one" ... that to separate it would impossible. Not without mangling the two pieces beyond recognition. It could be done, but not without ruining my heart past all healing. Your's too. I know it," she told him.

What she didn't say was that she knew the misery he would be consigning himself to. She would have family and friends to fall back on, while he would have nothing. The thought of him, so alone, wrenched her heart.

"I want to be with you, regardless of the circumstances. I know it won't necessarily be an easy life, but as long as I'm with you, it's the life I want. Anything else would just be existence," her voice was gentle as she watched the emotions chase across his battered features.

"All I want is you," she smiled, and wrapped her finger around the chain that hung around his neck ... the one that held her ring. "Remember? Forever your girl."

He nodded. Once again, she took his breath away. Her love and loyalty were so far beyond anything he had ever known before. He had to wait for the tightness in his throat to ease before he spoke again.

"You're sure?" he said in a low voice.

She nodded vigorously, her hair bouncing around her face in a way that made him smile.

"This can never be normal," he warned her.

"What's so great about normal?" she shrugged as she gave her blithe response.

Zan leaned back, the pounding of his heart finally slowing. While he knew he had done the right thing, the mere thought of possibly losing her had scared him to death. He reached out his right arm, pulling her into his embrace, and she rested her head against his chest.

As is normal with all soulmates who face a crisis, they sat close together, whispering words of love to each other. They talked of everything and nothing, content in their commitment. Finally, when Zan seemed to be getting tired, Elise encouraged him to heal his left shoulder. She carefully unwrapped it, while Zan held his left arm with his right hand, supporting it. Once she had finished, she sat cross-legged, facing Zan and helping to hold his arm while he covered his dislocated shoulder with his right hand. He again got that look, reaching deep inside for his gift, channeling it. Elise looked away, not wanting to watch the whole process this time, thinking it might make her queasy to see him reset his shoulder. By the time he was done, he was incredibly tired. She helped him to lie down, but he wouldn't settle until she lay beside him. She turned on her side and he curled up behind her, nuzzling his nose into her hair. He wrapped his arm around her waist, his warm fingers splayed over her stomach.

"I love you," he said softly.

"And I love you," she responded, snuggling closer.

Elise planned on just staying where she was until Zan fell asleep. There was alot she could be doing around the apartment. But, as she lay there, listening to his breathing deepen and even out, she closed her eyes. In no time at all, she was relaxed against him as she joined him in slumber.

[ edited 5 time(s), last at 20-Dec-2002 11:47:46 PM ]
posted on 30-Dec-2002 5:33:33 AM
Aargh! I hate Author's Notes. I am so sorry about this ...

My computer died. It just totally died. I've been without my favorite toy for 4 days now. I'm writing this at work, which bites. I'm waiting impatiently for FED-EX to send me recovery disks, so that I can correct the problem (crossing my fingers) and get back on track, but I'm not sure how long it's going to be. If all goes well, I can maybe get everything fixed and hopefully have something up by New Year's Day sometime. If not, I'll probably be leaving another note from work on Thursday, letting you know how things are proceeding.

Thanks for all the faithful bumpage ... y'all are just the best.

Wishing you all the best of the holiday season and a wonderful New Year (just in case my computer woes continue ...)

[ edited 1 time(s), last at 30-Dec-2002 6:10:14 AM ]
posted on 2-Jan-2003 5:23:17 AM
Just another Author's Note, because I love them so much ...

I'm still without my favorite toy. The HP tech guy lied to me and didn't send me any recovery disks. I should have known better than to look a free gift horse in the mouth. I reordered the disks on Tuesday, so I'm pretty sure I'm going to be without my computer at least thru the weekend. Dang.

Hope y'all had the best New Year's and I'll try and have something by Monday. I am just so bummed ... I could cry.

[ edited 1 time(s), last at 2-Jan-2003 11:22:19 AM ]
posted on 3-Jan-2003 3:10:33 PM
Computer's still dead in the water, but I'm posting this from work ...



Always


Chapter 38

Elise came slowly to the surface, surrounded by Zan's incredible warmth. He was still pressed up closely to her back, his feet all tangled up with hers, his left arm wrapped around her waist. She smiled as she listened to him breathe, easily and deeply. She felt positively joyous at the sound of his respirations, a feeling that echoed through her as she relished his tight embrace. She noticed that he kept his left hip slightly away from her, accommodating the ugly laceration that still needed to be healed. That would next on the list, which was good, because she was starting to get a little worried about the gash. When she changed the dressing, it looked puffy and painful, and she wondered if it was getting infected. It also concerned her that Zan had to keep draining all of his strength to heal himself. He had already been weakened severely by the original trauma, and as soon as he built up enough energy, the healing depleted him again.

Moving to rest her hand over the one that was splayed over her tummy, Elise laced her fingers through his. More than anything, she wished she could give Zan some of her strength. It hurt to watch him drain himself, unable to do much to help. Feeling rather morose, she mentally shook herself. The last thing that he needed right now was her being all gloomy and bummed. Zan was getting better ... that was the important thing. The worst was over.

Deciding that she needed something else to occupy her mind, Elise gave some thought as to what Ava had told him. Whatever it was, it was devastating to him. She got the feeling that Ava had given Zan all kinds of information, because she seemed to be talking his ear off when Elise arrived on the scene. She remembered what Zan had told her about their origins, and how they knew next to nothing about themselves. If Ava cut loose with the 411, Elise felt that they were going to have some serious conversations in the near future.

And as she lay there, she came to the conclusion that she would be digging out her old journal. It used to be a combination diary/training log, and she hadn't written in it for quite a long time ... not since she arrived in New York. But she had this urge to start writing down all the things that Zan knew about himself, along with any new information that Ava had given him.

Elise carefully lifted Zan's arm and slid away from him, getting out of bed. She wanted to find the journal right away, because as soon as he felt better, she was going to start questioning him about everything he knew about himself. If Ava gave him anything useful, she wanted to get it down while it was still fairly fresh in his memory, undistorted by the passage of time. This was Zan's history, and what happened in the past was having an effect on his life now ... who knew what ramifications there would be for the future? He had been kept in the dark long enough, ever at a disadvantage, always having to react without the benefit of even the most miniscule amount of knowledge to aid him.

She dug her old journal out of her dresser drawer, placing it on the nightstand next to the bed. Elise gazed down at Zan's battered features, relaxed in slumber. Unable to resist, she sat down next to him, grasping his hand and holding it closely. She carefully ran the fingers of her free hand down his bruised cheek, her caress feather-light. The contact soothed her, and she stayed for a long time.

The ringing of the phone startled her out of her reverie, and she hurried to answer it, hoping that it wouldn't wake Zan up. Elise ran into the living room, picking up the cordless handset and pushing the talk button.

"Hello?" her voice was breathless.

"So, how's my Baby Girl ... the one who should be at practice even as we speak?" her mother said in a dangerously conversational tone, one that let Elise know in a hurry that she was in big trouble.

"Mom!" Elise exclaimed. "Um, how are you? How are the guys?"

"I'm fine. The boys are fine. The boys are at school, which is where they should be on a Friday morning. Interesting how that works ... I send them to school, they go to school. Funny, it doesn't seem to work the same for you. I expect you to be at practice, and by golly, you're at home," her mother said tightly.

"Madame called you, didn't she?" Elise said in a resigned voice.

"Yes, she did. It seems you've blown off practice for 3 days now. Your coach called me Wednesday evening, telling me you wouldn't be at the rink for awhile. Silly me, I waited two days for you to call me and at least tell me what's going on," her mom said angrily. "The only thing ... the only thing ... that keeps me from leaving today is the fact that you'll be coming home for Thanksgiving next week."

"I wasn't coming home for Thanksgiving," Elise was confused. "I was coming home for Christmas."

"Oops, surprise! Change of plans. I'll be leaving here on Tuesday to come get you, and we'll be driving home on Wednesday ... home for the holidays."

"Mom, I can't! I can't come home for Thanksgiving. I can't leave here," Elise's voice rose in panic.

She was frantic. There was no way that she could leave Zan. Even if he was remarkably better, which was possible, the very last thing that Elise wanted to do was go home. Just the mere thought of being away from him made her stomach clench wretchedly. She belonged with him. They had been through so much ... he had been through so much. Every instinct was clamoring inside her that she couldn't be away from him now. He was at such a vulnerable time in his life. He had been betrayed by his family and seriously wounded by them, both physically and emotionally. If she left now, he'd have no one. He'd be totally alone.

"Mom, please. Please don't make me come home now," Elise begged, her voice cracking as she began to cry. "This is the worst possible time ... please!"

"Lisa, what is going on with you? What's the matter? Come on, honey, you have to talk to me," her mother reined in her anger with an effort.

Elise and her mom had always had a good relationship. She had tried very hard to keep the lines of communication open when Elise had entered her teen years. She made it clear to her daughter that she was still her mother, even though the relationship was changing. There were moments when the two of them seemed more like friends, but her mom maintained her authority. What her mother did try to do, though, was begin to loosen her grip. She allowed Elise to make more of her own decisions, realizing that the only way to prepare her for the outside world was to slowly relinquish more and more control of Elise's life. Her mom wanted her to be independent. But she still exercised her authority when she felt that it was needed. This seemed like one of those times, but rather than just jump in and take control, she consciously calmed down and made a real effort to listen. She trusted Elise, and now it was one of those times to have some faith in how she raised her.

"Come on, sweetie. Tell me what's going on," her mom coaxed.

Elise sniffled as she tried to stop crying. She was going to tell her mother as much of the situation as she could, without compromising Zan's secret. And nothing succeeded like the truth, so that's what she decided to use.

"Zan got hurt," she said in a hushed voice. "He got jumped the other night, and he was hurt really bad. He didn't have anyone. I've been taking care of him."

"Oh, baby, I'm so sorry. Are you ok? Was he in the hospital at all? Didn't they want to keep him for observation?" her mother asked.

"No. You know how hospitals are now. They never keep anyone overnight, and he doesn't have any insurance either, so ..." her voice trailed off as she sniffled again.

"So you've been taking care of him. Doesn't he have any family?" her mom was a little edgy.

"That's the problem, Mom. It was his sister and her boyfriend who did it," Elise said miserably. "It was awful. They hurt him so bad ... and it's not just physically, Mom. This just devastated him."

"Why didn't you call me? You didn't have to handle this all alone," her mom's voice was gentle.

"I didn't know what you would think. Well, actually, I did know what you'd think. And I didn't want you telling me that I should let someone else take care of him, or that he was taking advantage of me somehow," Elise said.

"I would never say that," her mother protested.

"Yes, you would. You think that I'm too young, and that I got involved too quickly. You think that he's being a burden," she accused.

Her mother was shocked. It would seem that, as well as she knew her daughter, that knowledge worked the other way too. Because these were exactly the things that she was thinking. All she could see was her daughter leaving the path that had been laid out for her. She was questioning her desire to continue skating, she had become involved with a boy who put her through some very unhappy moments ... a boy who convinced Elise that he loved her and she loved him. And all this was happening hundreds of miles away.

'Tread carefully,' her mom told herself, 'she's on a roller coaster and you need to help level things out.'

"Maybe you're right. I admit, I have thought alot of the things that you've just said. I can't help it. I sent you to New York to train, and now everything's upended. I'm worried, baby. I'm your mom, it's part of my job description," she said.

"I know," Elise laughed just a bit.

"Honey, I can't just let this go. I can't just pretend that things are going along normally. You need to come home, so we can straighten all this out. I try not to pull out the mom card often anymore," she hurried on to say at Elise's intake of breath, "but I have to this time. I'll be there next week Tuesday to pick you up. I really should come out today, based on what you've told me, but your father's out of town and won't be back until Sunday night."

"Mom, I'm not leaving Zan. I'm not. Even if he was totally fine by then, I'm not leaving him alone. He doesn't have anyone," Elise's voice broke.

"So, he'll come home with us. It's not like the house isn't big enough that we can't put him up. The boys can just bunk in together for awhile and we'll give Zan one of their bedrooms. Lisa, I'm not heartless. Nobody should be alone, especially if they've been hurt. And the holidays are coming up, so that would be just too cruel," her mother soothed.

As much as she hated the idea that her daughter was involved with someone at such a young age ... although there was that annoying voice in her head that said she too had found the love of her life at a similar age ... this was a great opportunity to meet the boy and get to know him. Better to have the two of them under her roof, where she could observe them closely, than to have to depend on scraps of information from a daughter who seemed to be remarkably close-mouthed of late. And her mother's heart really was wrung at the idea of Zan being all alone, especially for Thanksgiving. That just wasn't right.

"Do you mean it?" Elise's voice was hopeful.

"Of course I mean it," her mother responded. "All I have to do is convince your father that this is a good idea. He's barely gotten used to the idea of you dating."

"I'll handle Daddy," Elise was confident in her ability to wrap her father around her little finger.

'I'll bet you will,' her mother thought. 'You're in for a rude awakening, if you think your dad will be easily won over by any boy who wants to take his baby away.'

"We'll just deal with that when the time comes. I'm glad we started talking about this. There's alot to think about. Just remember, your father and I want only what's best for you. We're not the enemy ... we love you," her mom said.

"I know, Mom. I'm sorry I didn't tell you more of what's going on. I'm gonna go now, because I have to check on Zan. And I have to blow my nose, too. Kiss the guys for me," Elise smiled.

"Yeah, sure. I do that and they go 'ew.' It's just not the same when I do it. Must be that mommy-germs thing. Sisters don't seem to have germs. It's just not fair," her mother laughed.

"Bye," Elise said.

"Bye, baby. I love you," her mother sighed as she hung up.

Elise went into the bathroom and splashed some cool water on her face. As she patted her face dry, she looked in the mirror. Her eyes were puffy, her nose was red, she was a mess. She went back into the bedroom, looking down on Zan as he continued to sleep. The way had been paved with her mother ... now, all she had to do is convince Zan.

[ edited 3 time(s), last at 3-Jan-2003 3:22:25 PM ]
posted on 9-Jan-2003 11:57:48 PM
Gentle Readers ... I can't believe the incredible feedback that you've given this story. That you've been reading it faithfully warms my heart, and that you've recommended it to others is amazing. Thank you all so much for your kind words and encouragement ... and thank you for waiting so patiently as I wrestled with my stubborn computer. I'm still mad at the tech guys, btw, although I'm sure they could care less. Ah well, maybe some form of cosmic justice will come around and bite them in the ....

Nevermind. I apologize for the length of this chapter. I originally had much more in mind for it, but I wanted to get something new on the board. I'm posting it as part A of a rather lengthy scene. However, part A is all I have written. I'm going to try and get part B out at soon as I can.



Always



Chapter 39A

Elise sat on her window seat, holding a mug of tea, gazing with unseeing eyes at the street below. All the leaves were off the trees that lined the avenue, but there was no snow on the ground. At home, they already had about six inches, and she could imagine the snowmen that the guys were building. And she was sure that Matthew had already pulled out his snowboard, wanting to get in as much time as possible on the ski slopes that were built into the hillside on the Hancock side of Portage Lake.

Feeling restless, she placed her mug on the small end table next to her, and stood up. She went to the entertainment center, thinking to turn on some music, but the idea didn't appeal to her. Maybe she would do some stretching. She spent about ten minutes loosening up when she abandoned that too. She just couldn't settle on any one thing and, unconsciously, she began pacing the small living room. In her mind, she replayed her conversation with her mother, realizing that it was the cause for her unease. Elise hadn't counted on her mom changing the plans for Thanksgiving. Originally, Elise was supposed to spend the day with her coach, because her mother couldn't bear the idea of her being all alone for the holidays. So, while it wasn't the best of options, at least her mom was comforted by the knowledge that her baby wouldn't be by herself. Now, she was going home, and who knew what kind of decisions would be made? Elise's idea that she would have at least until Christmas before she and her parents sat down to discuss her future went right out the window.

One thing she knew for sure ... if she were to abandon her skating, she wouldn't be coming back to New York, except to pack everything up and ship it back home. That would leave her with only these next four days with Zan before her mother came to pick her up. Even if he came with them for the holidays, the period of time would be short and then she had absolutely no idea what would happen. That terrified her. Elise could already feel her stomach start to turn over and over, as her anxiety climbed.

"Lise? What's wrong?" Zan's quiet voice made her turn around.

He was leaning up against the wall near the entrance to the room, the quilt wrapped around him. He didn't look very steady, and an occasional tremor shook him, but
his gaze was concerned as it rested on her face.

"What are you doing out of bed?" Elise scolded him softly as she started moving to his side. "You should be sleeping."

"I woke up, and then I couldn't go back to sleep. I could feel how worried you are," he said.

Zan held his arms out as Elise went to him, the quilt opened invitingly. She longed to just rush into his embrace, but she could see the bandaging that still encircled his chest, the bruising standing out darkly against the lighter material. Although Zan had healed his broken ribs, he didn't have enough in him to take care of the outer evidence of his ordeal. That would have to come later, when he had all of the more serious injuries taken care of.

Elise carefully wrapped her arms around his waist, laying her head against his chest. Zan enfolded her in a gentle hug, the quilt cocooning them. He rested his cheek
on her silky hair and closed his eyes.

Just being in his arms soothed her, nothing in her life feeling as right as this. Overcome with emotion, Elise blindly lifted her face to him. Zan bent his head, his lips touching tentatively at first, and then clinging to hers as she welcomed his caress. How he had missed this! Their connection was such a wonderous thing to him. He could feel the upheaval, the tension building inside of her. He didn't know what the cause was, but that didn't matter at the moment. She could tell him later. All that concerned him was helping her through her emotional disarray. While he allowed the kiss to deepen, it didn't become fiery and passionate, taking them to dizzying heights they seemed capable of. It became a way to soothe her spirit, a gentle assurance that radiated from his heart to hers, settling her soul.

Elise's feelings had been swirling, reminding her of leaves tossed about by a fall wind. The more she thought about everything that had happened, the more churned up they became, and the need for Zan became irresistible. When she had lifted her face for his kiss, her thought had been to throw all the turmoil into it, channeling it into something heated ... creating an outlet. What amazed her though was that, as their connection unfurled, he had become this wellspring of calm that she could tap into, easing her troubled thoughts.

Zan finally broke the contact, taking a deep breath before looking down at her beautiful face. A slight smile graced her features, her eyes still closed. When she opened them again to gaze at him, there was a shimmer of tears.

"Will it always be this way, with us?" she breathed.

"I don't know," he answered softly, "I hope so."

He continued to hold her close, a deep sense of quiet making words unnecessary. It was only when Elise could feel him begin to tire that she stepped away. His face was weary, and she moved to his right side, wrapping her arm around his waist, leading him back to bed. He sat down with a relieved sigh, but when she asked him to lie down, he shook his head, opting instead to sit back against the headboard. Elise crawled up to sit next to him.

"Talk to me, baby. What's the matter?" Zan's voice held a note of concern as he placed his right arm around her shoulders, his hand idly sifting her hair through his fingers again and again.

"Mom called. It seems my coach called her and told her that I'd been away from practice for awhile. Now she's is all worried and upset. So the upshot is that she's coming next Tuesday to pick me up and take me home for Thanksgiving," Elise told him in a hushed voice.

Zan could feel his heart fall at the thought of her leaving. Instinctively, he tightened his grip, as if he could somehow keep her from being ripped away from him. No one would come between them ... no one. But, just as quickly as the thought came, he pushed it away. This wasn't some rival for her affections he was thinking about. This was her family, and if there was one thing that came through to Zan loud and clear, it was how very much she loved her parents and her brothers. He knew that she got lonely for them sometimes, so how could he begrudge her a chance to see them? And the last thing he wanted to do was tarnish her time with them by acting possessive and demanding that she stay with him.

"It .. it'll be okay. It's not like I've never been alone before. I'll miss you like crazy, but it won't be for that long. I'll be fine," Zan struggled to reassure her.

Elise's throat tightened as she caught the inflection in his voice. He was attempting to make this as easy as possible for her, trying for a light tone that would mask how he really felt about her being gone.

"Zan, there is a way around this. I told Mom I didn't want to be away from you. Heck, I practically begged her not to make me go home. She wouldn't budge. But, she said that you're more than welcome to come with us," Elise's voice became hopeful as she turned to look at Zan, wanting to see his reaction to the idea.

"Come with you?" Zan said blankly. "You mean, go to the UP ... to your house ... for Thanksgiving and all?"

"Yeah," she gave a small laugh at his obvious confusion.

"Meet your parents and your brothers? Get to see where you grew up?" he asked.

"Uh huh," Elise nodded vigorously.

"I don't know," Zan said doubtfully. "I don't want to screw this up, mess up what we have. What if they don't like me?"

"They'll love you," she hastened to reassure him. "I think my parents trust my judgment," she chose to ignore that voice in her head saying that it wasn't going to be nearly as easy as she was leading him to believe. They'd deal with the obstacles as they arose.

For Zan, the choice in the end was easy. He just didn't want to be away from her, so he would do the best he could with the situation, if it meant they could be together.

"Okay," he said quietly.

[ edited 2 time(s), last at 10-Jan-2003 12:08:51 AM ]
posted on 19-Jan-2003 8:16:36 PM
Gentle Readers, I'm sorry. I'm so very sorry that it took forever to get this out. But ... if you saw my house, you'd know why. The bathroom remodel is motoring right along. In a moment of insanity, however, we also decided to take out two drop ceilings, put up new drywall and add about a foot and a half to both my bedroom and my living room. We had reached the point where you have to sand the new drywall. Gotta have that smooth surface. So drywall dust has been falling in those two rooms like snow, coating everything. It's a good thing I have a sense of humor ... and a really decent vacuum.

I also have to tell you that, for some reason, I feel this need to write another story. It will also be a Zan/Elise story, because I love them, but the perspective will be totally different. I must feel this need to be one of the authors that has more than one story floating in the air. I don't have enough stress in my life, I guess. I need just a little bit more.

So, here's the latest chapter ... and thank you all so much for the bumps and the feedback and the patience. You're the best, as always ....


Always



From Chapter 39A ...

For Zan, the choice in the end was easy. He just didn't want to be away from her, so he would do the best he could with the situation, if it meant they could be together.

"Okay," he said quietly.

Chaper 39B

Elise pulled away a little, staring at him in surprise. She had expected ... well, she wasn't sure exactly what she expected, but this easy acquiesence really wasn't it.

"What?" Zan turned to look at her.

"O-kay. That was interesting. I figured you'd be a whole lot more, I don't know, nervous or something. I thought I'd have to work alot harder to convince you. You seem really ... calm," she said.

"I am calm," Zan answered. "Nothing's going to happen for a couple of days. I'll be alot more nervous by Monday."

"Zan. My mother is totally harmless. She's not going to bite your head off or anything," Elise grinned.

"Yeah, well, we'll see. Besides, at this moment, I'm more worried about what else is bothering you. The way you were feeling before ... it has to be more than just your mom coming to take you home for a visit, even if you were upset that we might have been apart," Zan's voice held a note of desolation at the mere thought of them being separated. "What's wrong?"

Elise bit her lip. Sometimes, this connection could just be too revealing. How in the world could she possibly even begin to explain how radically things would change if her parents decided that she wouldn't be coming back. After Thanksgiving, he would be going back to New York and she just bet she would be staying home. She looked away, her heart plummeting to her feet, and she could feel the tears begin to well up in her eyes. Before she knew it, one had spilled over to wend it's way down her cheek.

'Shit, this can't be good,' Zan thought as he pulled into his embrace.

She turned her face into the warm column of his throat, and simply cried. Zan held her close, whispering endearments and words of comfort, while his hand traced small, slow circles on her back.

"Shh ... it'll be okay. Whatever it is, we'll work it out," he soothed.

The rich timbre of his voice washed over Elise, his words easing her heart. Her sobs slowed to a stop and she continued to rest in his grasp, her breath occasionally catching the way it always did after she'd had a really good cry. Eventually she turned in his arms, reaching to grab a kleenex to wipe her eyes. Zan kept his arm around her, pulling her back so that her head lay on his shoulder again. Elise tossed the kleenex aside and took his free hand, pressing her palm to his. She marveled at how his hand dwarfed hers, before intertwining their fingers and holding their clasped hands to her chest.

"Better?" Zan asked.

Elise gave a small, vigorous nod of her head, still wondering how in the world she was going to tell him what she thought was going to happen.

"Did I ever tell you," he said, thinking to distract her for awhile longer, "about the first time I saw you?"

"A little. I know that you saw me and worried about me. I know that you started watching me to make sure I was ok," she lowered her head shyly as she continued, "and that you wanted to meet me."

Elise looked up again and the look on his face made her heart go still. The tenderness there almost hurt, it was so strong. Zan shook his head. The words she used merely explained the event itself. They were totally inadequate for what had happened to him inside at that very first moment. He would have said that it was like an earthquake to his soul ...

"When I first saw you, it was like finally finding the reason for why I was here. It was as if every part of me recognized every part of you, in that very first minute. As if everything in my life, up until then, was just a little out of whack and it all just fixed itself," Zan's voice was husky as he described his reaction.

"But all that was before I saw your face. When you turned and I saw you ... really saw you," his voice trailed away as his gaze seemed to turn inward.

He still couldn't seem to find the words that would do justice to how he felt.

"They say that the first time you saw her, you were smitten."

Ava's jealous voice came, unbidden. There was so much of what the alien had told him the other night that he couldn't recall. None of it was very clear in his mind. But he remembered this. He remembered what she told him about the girl he loved in another lifetime. It would seem that he stayed true to his character, in that he had fallen head over heels on that other world too. And her name was Elise.

This was something that Zan knew he needed to pursue, but he had to do it carefully. The chances of Elise from Antar being Elise from Earth were remote at best. And his dealings with a former "Wife from Antar," in the guise of Ava, were enough to give him pause. That had been a disaster.

He didn't want to screw this up. He didn't want to cause her even a moment of pain or self-doubt. In some ways, he was glad he didn't remember much about what had gone on before, because it would be hard if Elise felt that she was competing with memories of a great love. It was in the past, and in some ways, he wished he could leave the whole previous life thing buried.

But he knew that he wouldn't be able to, because the damn thing kept coming out of nowhere to trip him up. And, quite frankly, he was tired of always being at the disadvantage, always having to react to what was thrown up in his face. It had been enough of a pain in the ass before, when it was just himself and the other aliens he had to worry about. But now, not only had his life changed out of all recognition, but he had to worry about how it would affect Elise as well, since she refused to leave him.

Because she had made that choice ... and his throat tightened again at the memory of her words and her fierce loyalty ... he couldn't just let things happen anymore. He hadn't cared much one way or another before, since it was just him, and one planet was just as good as the other. The life he'd made for himself here was just a mere existence, so it didn't matter if he did it here, or he did it on Antar.

And what kind of a name was that, anyway?

So, he just took things as they came. If he found out some things, fine. If not, that was fine too. Now, he had someone who meant more to him than his own life did. And those days were over. He would learn everything that he could, because he could never protect her if he was operating out of ignorance. But one thing was sure ... this Elise was everything, not the one from before. And no matter what he learned about his previous life, this was the life that counted now. He refused, he absolutely refused, to have it any other way.

Zan shook himself out of his reverie, unwilling to go into any of that now. He was getting tired, truly weary, and he didn't want his current weakness to cause his tongue slip. Elise had gone through a very traumatic time too, and something her mother had said to her was making her shaky. She had enough on her plate, and all he wanted to do was take care of her in this small way.

"When I saw you," he said with a note of wonder in his voice, "I just knew. Does that make sense? That I could see you, and just know that you were the one I was always waiting for?"

Elise nodded. Once she saw Zan, that was it for her. She finally understood everything that her mother always told her when she was young. She used to love to tell her daughter how she met her dad, and it became Elise's favorite bedtime story. All it had taken for her mom was that first encounter, and she knew that she had met the man she would spend the rest of her life with.

She would laugh a little fondly when she told Elise the tale. Her mother said that her father was a little "slow on the uptake," was how she described him. It had taken him a little bit longer, but once he knew, he more than made up for lost time, proposing in just 8 days. Elise would lay in bed and dream of what it would be like to meet that one special someone, that someone that her heart would recognize as being the one for her. And once she met Zan, she knew that everything her mother told her was true.

"It makes total sense," she said softly, "because I felt the same way."

"Yeah?" Zan asked.

"Absolutely," Elise smiled as she answered.

She shifted to her knees and turned to face him. Very gently, she reached in to give him a kiss. She made it short, thinking that she wasn't sure how much his split lip was bothering him, but as she broke the contact, he chased after her. Threading his fingers thru the hair at the nape of her neck, Zan pulled her back, deepening the caress. She tentatively parted her lips to allow access, if he wanted, and she moaned when she felt his tongue explore her warmth. Finally! She couldn't wait to do the same in return, her tongue searching every recess of his mouth as if she'd been away for years, instead of mere days.

Her hands were resting on the bed on either side of him. She wanted to put her arms around him, but wasn't sure it wouldn't cause him pain, and she surely didn't want him to have to stop because she had inadvertantly hurt him. Elise had missed this way too much, so she was ultra careful. Through the connection, she could feel how much Zan needed this too.

When he felt himself becoming tired, he broke the contact, sitting back. His respirations were labored, but he smiled. He was breathless again, but in a good way. He reached up to wrap a lock of her hair around his finger, something he loved to do.

Elise looked at him carefully, noting that the weariness was back.

"You should lie down and sleep for awhile. You've been up long enough, I think," she chided, her expression tender.

"Not yet," Zan moved his regard from the tress that he was playing with back to her face. "You haven't told me what's been bothering you yet."

He watched with dismay as her face fell.

"When Thanksgiving is over, I don't think I'll be coming back," she blurted out, her eyes filling with tears.

[ edited 6 time(s), last at 19-Jan-2003 10:20:17 PM ]
posted on 19-Jan-2003 10:04:47 PM
GWN ... it'll be totally new, not a sequel, just something different.

I'm using Zan and Elise just because I love 'em so much ...

Thanks so much for asking and for the interest. Hopefully, I'll have something up in a couple of days, along with something for this story.

[ edited 1 time(s), last at 19-Jan-2003 10:06:43 PM ]
posted on 27-Jan-2003 9:25:59 PM
Gentle Readers ... sorry for the delay (again!).

Remodeling is a pain. My next house is going to be totally new, so I don't have to deal with stuff like this anymore. My dustrag is a permanent extension of my hand. I might have to have it surgically removed when this is all over.

Anyway, I had a little trouble with this part, but I think I'm happy with it now. As always, let me know what you think ....


Always



From Chapter 39B

"You should lie down and sleep for awhile. You've been up long enough, I think," she chided, her expression tender.

"Not yet," Zan moved his regard from the tress that he was playing with back to her face. "You haven't told me what's been bothering you yet."

He watched with dismay as her face fell.

"When Thanksgiving is over, I don't think I'll be coming back," she blurted out, her eyes filling with tears.


Chapter 39C

Zan's hand went still and he stared at Elise a little blankly.

"What do you mean, you won't be coming back?" his voice was low.

Elise gave a small sigh as she sat back on her heels. Zan's hand fell away from her hair, and she reached out to take it, lacing their fingers together and holding on tightly. She searched his face, and bit her lip at what she saw. He'd schooled his features to impassiveness, but his eyes gave it all away. They held a heartbreaking combination of anxiety and resignation.

When she continued to hesitate, Zan gave her a verbal nudge.

"Come on, Lise," his voice had become as emotionless as his face, "just spit it out."

"When I first came here," Elise shifted a little so that she sat crosslegged in front of him, "it was so that I could train to become good enough to compete at a national level. What I found out in a hurry was that I don't have it in me to do that. I love to skate. I love everything about it ... how I feel when I'm on the ice, the confidence it gives me, the self-expression I have, even the shape that it keeps me in. You know," her hand gave his a little squeeze, "how it keeps me limber."

Zan smiled a bit as he remembered her throaty little whisper in his ear the other morning when she did her stretching. It faded quickly as she continued.

"But, in order to be good enough for nationals, it has to be all-in-all. I have to eat, sleep, breathe skating. Everything else, everyone else, has to be a secondary consideration. Skating isn't everything, it's the only thing," she said, unconsciously taking Vince Lombardi's quote on football and adapting it to describe her situation in a nutshell.

"When we were apart," her voice caught and she took a moment to get back under control, "after you told me about your roots, I was so devastated. I couldn't even go to practice that first day, and when I did go after that, I made a mess of it."

Zan lifted his free hand to cradle her cheek, catching the tear that welled over despite her best effort at self control. Elise turned her face into his hand, placing a quick kiss on his palm before continuing.

"I tried to explain to Madame how I was feeling ... that I loved you and I missed you and I was worried about you ... and she told me that if I wanted to be truly competitive, these were all minor considerations. That I couldn't let it affect me. That I had to be able to 'rise above it.' Like it was nothing," her voice rose a bit in anger as she remembered how callously her coach dismissed the whole thing.

"I can't do that. I can't take everyone I love ... you, my parents, the guys ... and make them second to a sport. I love what I do, but it's doesn't come first. It never could. Even if I would have never met you," her voice became hushed at the mere idea of them never finding each other, "even then, I still couldn't do that. It's just not as important to me as it has to be to succeed."

She watched Zan's features carefully. While his eyes had darkened with shared sadness at her mention of them possibly never meeting, his face remained still. Elise didn't know that what she was seeing was his way of protecting himself. So many times, when he dealt with the other aliens, they had said things specifically to hurt him. And his reactions to the verbal anguish they'd inflicted, especially in the early years, gave them alot of pleasure. So he'd learned to school his features to remain impassive, never giving away his pain. Somehow, he knew what he was going to hear was going to be bad, and his self-defense mechanism kicked in without him even realizing it. But his eyes betrayed him. What was in them was something akin to panic.

Maybe if he wasn't still so tired and weak, he'd think about it differently. Maybe if he hadn't been soullessly betrayed by the other aliens, he could see things more clearly. Maybe if his life hadn't been one long, lonely existence of never having anything that made him truly happy, he could be more rational in his reaction. But the combination of all these things clouded his judgment, and all he could see is that the best thing that ever happened to him was going to be snatched away too. He didn't believe for a minute that she would voluntarily walk away from him, but he believed that outside forces were going to do their damndest to pull them apart. And he wasn't surprised. Why should this be any different than anything else in his life?

He pulled his attention back to Elise when she continued.

"The thing is, even though I felt this way ... and I did talk to my mom about it a little ... we originally decided that we would hash the whole thing out at Christmas, which is when I was going home. That was the plan, that I go home for Christmas. But Mom changed all that. She knew that I was unhappy before, although she thought it was because of my skating. And then my coach called her to tell her that I was blowing off practice. So, now Mom thinks I need an intervention or something," her voice got tight with resentment, "and she's coming to pick me up. We're going to 'talk' about my future," Elise said, squeezing Zan's hand hard.

"If we sit down and go over the whole situation while we're there for Thanksgiving, if I tell them the whole truth about how I feel, I won't be coming back. My parents can't barely afford this as it is. There's no way that they will continue to pay for my coach and my training if it's not going anywhere. So, the most that would happen is we would come to pack everything up, and then it's back to the land of endless snow for me," she finished in a rush.

"What are we gonna do?" Elise's eyes brimming with tears as she stared at Zan. "I don't want to go home, but I don't think I'll have a choice. I won't be 18 until March, so they can pretty much make me do whatever they want, unless I run away."

"You can't do that," Zan sighed. "It would hurt your family too much."

"What?" he said as she gave him a slightly surprised look. "I know how much they mean to you, how much you miss them. I wouldn't ask you to do that."

"If I can't stay here, and you don't want me to run away, what else is there?" Elise asked, her voice trembling.

"The only other option is that I come to you," Zan said, "if you want me to."

She stared at him, her eyes shining with hope.

"You'd do that? You would leave New York and come to Houghton?" Elise's voice was verging on ecstatic.

"Lise," Zan shook his head in amused disbelief as he gently rubbed his thumb over the back of her hand, "you were more than willing to run away to be with me. Why do you think I'd do anything less for you?"

Elise bit her lip, trying to bring her thundering heart under control. She had just been shown a light at the end of a long, dark tunnel. Somehow, they could do this. They survived incredible odds thus far ... his revelation of his other-worldly status, her injury, the attempt on his life. And their love just got stronger. If they'd made it this far, they could wrestle with this latest obstacle and make it work too. She gave Zan a beaming smile.

"And of course I want you," her voice got a little sultry as she referred to what he'd said before. "I just wish you'd hurry up and get better so that I could show you how much."

[ edited 1 time(s), last at 27-Jan-2003 9:31:31 PM ]
posted on 9-Feb-2003 6:57:26 PM
Gentle Readers, sorry for the delay again. It's getting really tough to balance all the stuff going on right now. Remodeling is motoring, really motoring. My bathroom is done and I'm amazed. It's awesome. Makes the rest of the house look like ... you get the idea. We're moving on to more storage space and then a new bedroom for my boys. My little guy also had a birthday in there, so it was a combination birthday/let's-all-look-at-the-new-bathroom party. Oy.

But, I haven't forgotten this, or my other story. I just haven't balanced everything as well as I'd like to. Working on that ...

As always, tell me what you think. You're the best.


Always


Chapter 40

Elise gave a sigh as she rolled over onto her back, slowly opening her eyes. The room was dark, lit only by the faint light streaming thru her window. It had been a very long day, one that was filled with alot of emotional ups and downs, and she had come to bed rather early. Zan was still asleep when she slipped under the covers, having tired himself out with healing the gash on his hip. Once the laceration was gone, his hand had started to move to his face, intent on taking care of the damage there, when her hand gently closed around his wrist.

"Zan," Elise bit her lip uncertainly, hating what she was about to say, "I don't think that you should heal that."

At his confused look, she rushed to continue.

"It's just that when Mom called, I kinda told her that I was blowing off practice because you had been jumped, and she kinda thinks that the emergency room released you because you didn't have insurance, and that I'm kinda taking care of you, and if you heal your face, it'll sorta look like I'm lying," Elise finished in a rush before taking a deep breath, peeking up at him.

Zan thought quickly. She was right. He couldn't do anything about his face, or it would negate everything that she said to her mom ... a terrible way to start things off when meeting her parents. He slowly let his hand drop to his side, nodding.

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry. It just all came out before I thought about it," she said in an anxious voice, looking down at her lap.

Zan couldn't believe that Elise was actually worried that he would be upset with her. She had been such a trooper thru all of this. She saved his life and took care of him when he couldn't so much as even breathe decently. The most amazing thing to him of all, though, was the love he felt from her during the whole ordeal. He had been so out of it, but even then, the tender concern and fierce protectiveness that came from her wrapped around his being ... soothing him, nurturing him. He could drop his guard and rest, because her presence was cocooning him and she would never leave.

"Baby, it okay," he hastened to reassure her. "Really. It's not like it's not the truth. I did get jumped, sorta, and I did get hurt, and you have been taking care of me. I'll just let this heal on it's own."

Zan put a gentle finger under her chin to raise her face. She still wouldn't look at him.

"Lise? I'm not mad. How could I be? I wouldn't want you to lie to your parents if you can help it. We can't tell them about my being an alien, but we can tell the truth as much as possible," he said.

"It's not that," Elise's voice was small as she finally turned her eyes to his. They were filled with tears. "It's just that I hate that you can't heal this," her fingers skimmed over the bruises on his cheek. I
hate seeing you in pain."

Zan reached for her and Elise carefully wrapped her arms around him, conscious of the incredible bruising that still covered his left side and chest. He threaded his fingers thru her hair as he kissed her temple.

"Hey, lots of other people go thru stuff like this, and they can't even heal themselves. It's not that bad, not like before. It'll be fine," he soothed as he laid his cheek on the top of her head.


Elise remembered all the things they said afterward ... whispered words of love and commitment, followed by tender kisses and caresses. Zan finally went to sleep, waking long enough during the evening to eat something before nodding off again. He really was exhausted. The good part of not healing the rest of his injuries, as a backup to their story, was that he could start regaining some of his strength. He wouldn't be depleting himself anymore. The silver lining.

Elise turned her head, wanting to just look at him as he slept, and found herself staring at his lap. Surprised, she looked up to see him sitting with his back against the headboard, a pillow behind him. In the dim light, she could see him gazing out the window. She raised herself on her elbow, and seeing the movement out of the corner of his eye, he turned his regard to her.

"Did I wake you up? I'm sorry," his voice was low as he brushed the hair back from her face.

"No, no you didn't," she shook her head, before shifting to sit up herself.

Placing her pillow behind her, she laced her fingers with his and laid her cheek on his arm, content to just be silent and let him tell her what was on his mind when he was ready. She didn't have to wait long.

"I can hardly feel them," he said. "I was too out of it to notice before, but what I feel now is so faint, it's like it's barely there."

"The other three?" Elise asked. At his nod, she continued. "What do you think that means?"

"I'm not sure. They've always been there, you know? In the back of my mind, their presence has been something I could feel for as long as I can remember. It's kinda like white noise," Zan explained. "You're so used to it that you don't even know it's there anymore. Not unless it's gone or it changes somehow. That's what this feels like. It's still there, but it's definitely different."

"Do you think they're gone? That they left?" Elise questioned. "What did it feel like when one of you was away before?"

"That's just it. We've never left. We've always been around each other. Maybe not totally in each other's back pockets, but never far away and never for long," Zan replied. At her look, he elaborated. "We're the only aliens on the planet, other than our prodigal protector. It tends to make you hang together. I doubt any of us has ever been outside the city limits."

"So their presence has always been strong," Elise commented. At his nod, she continued. "Do you think that they went to this summit thingy," Zan snickered a bit, but she carried on "and they left the planet?"

"No, I don't think the summit happened yet. But it was supposed to be here, so I would think they'd still be in New York, since they want to get off the planet so bad and all," Zan's voice held a disgusted note. "They have no idea if they're walking into a set-up or not. All they care about is leaving. That's what started this whole thing."

"Because you didn't trust it," Elise continued for him.

"There's just something that's not right about the whole deal. Of course, now I have no idea who's playing who, because Ava isn't exactly the poor little clueless thing that everyone thought," Zan gave a sideways glance in her direction. "Everyone but you, that is. At first, I thought it was Lonnie and that little shit Nicholas, but now Ava got thrown into the mix and it's all screwed."

"But all three of them feel really far away," Elise said. "So, does that mean that they all skipped the planet? Or just skipped town?"

"Wherever they are, they're not around here," Zan shrugged. "Not now. I get the feeling, though, that if they were on the fast track to Antar ... damn, what a funky name ... I wouldn't be feeling them at all. Too much distance."

"So, they could be anywhere, doing anything," she continued.

"That's about the size of it," he responded. "I wish I knew what the hell was going on."

Elise reached over him to snap on the light, hovering above him with her hand on the switch. After the two of them blinked a few times to adjust to the sudden brightness, Zan was a little taken aback to see her pinning him with a fierce glare.

"Don't you even think about trying to go to the crib, or trying to check things out, or trying to figure out where they are. You're in no shape for that, and if you take all this good nursing that I did and ruin it, I'll kick your ass. Am I clear?" Elise grated out.

"Crystal," Zan replied faintly.

Elise snapped the light off again, and the settled back beside him to take his hand in hers, as calm as if she'd never just nearly taken his head off. Time to talk about something else, because he knew a doghouse when he saw one, and there was something close to that looming right in front of him.

"Tell me more about where you're from," he said as he settled back, his cheek resting on her shining hair again.

"Right now, everyone's ready for winter. There's already snow on the ground, and the Mount Ripley ski hill is open. The nights get really cold, and the stars are so clear and bright, you feel like you could reach out and grab a handful. Lake Superior gets wild, just wild ... all windswept and huge waves that crash on the shore. That's one of the things I love about the Big Lake, it's just so untamed. Things start getting icy, the snow gets higher and higher as winter goes on ... sometimes it feels like it's up to my waist. You can walk down sidewalks and there's just piles of snow on either side of you," Elise stopped when she felt Zan shiver a bit.

"Damn, sounds really cold," she could hear the grin in his voice.

"Oh, it is. But I'll be there to keep you warm," she said in a throaty voice. "There are lots of ways to keep you warm."

"Lise, I'm not sure how this is going to work. I'm more than willing to follow you, but I'm not sure what's going to happen once I get there," Zan said uncertainly.

"I have an idea about that. You just leave it to me," Elise assured him. "Now, it's time for you to get back to sleep. You've been up long enough, you're starting to sound tired again."

"I'm laying down right now," Zan said in mock alarm. "Whatever you say. I sure don't want you kicking my ass."

"I love a guy who knows the score," Elise laughed.

[ edited 7 time(s), last at 10-Feb-2003 2:05:51 AM ]